As for myself, I’m totally engrossed in my constant reading of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I’m convinced that history not only repeats itself but has gotten even worse. At least the failures of the past were often intriguing and worthy of further study. Today’s failures are merely the nauseating punch lines of stale jokes at our expense.
If one had to choose a single photographer whose work would serve as a visual biography of New York City in its postwar Golden Age — when Gotham became, in a sense, the capital of the world — the name Andreas Feininger would have to be in the mix. Paris-born, raised in Germany and, for a time, a cabinet-maker and architect trained in the Bauhaus, Feininger’s pictures of New York in the 1940s and ’50s helped define, for all time, not merely how a great 20th century city looked, but how it imagined itself and its place in the world. With its traffic-jammed streets, gritty waterfronts, iconic bridges and inimitable skyline, the city assumed the character of a vast, vibrant landscape
- Spectacular Skylines Around the World (thestratfordresidences.wordpress.com)
- Photo of the Day: Rosie the Router: 1942 (thoughtsandrantings.com)
- Sirens of The Lambs (lifestyledezine.com)
- Banksy’s Sirens of the Lambs (matadornetwork.com)
- Sirens of the Lambs (whowearswhatk.wordpress.com)
If it was known at all outside of New York City, it was because of a chapter in Betty Smith‘s A Tree Grows In Brooklyn where Francie dons a mask and becomes an urchin on the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn at Thanksgiving. Indeed, long before Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade appeared in New York City, there was the Ragamuffin Parade; a much smaller but equally cherished tradition. However, unlike Macy’s annual event, the Ragamuffin Parade was an occasion solely for children; and, similar to Halloween’s custom of trick-or-treating (also preceding it by many years), it was a time for kids to masquerade and visit door-to-door.
Actually, the Ragamuffin Parade wasn’t a single parade but a series of improvised parades (or gatherings, to be more specific) held throughout the city. Beginning in the early part of the 20th century, the parades usually occurred in immigrant neighborhoods and historians suspect that the custom may have originated in Europe. While their mothers were cooking Thanksgiving dinner, hordes of kids would transform themselves into paupers. Smearing burnt cork or charcoal on their faces (sometimes they merely wore masks), they’d dress in their parents’ old and, naturally, over-sized clothing and went off “begging.” Making their way down adjacent streets, they held out their hands for apples, pennies or candy with the chant, “Anything for Thanksgiving.”
In the early days of the tradition, “Ragamuffin” parades were held and children dressed in more elaborate costumes as well as the more tattered ones. The parades became a chance for the poorer immigrants to march through the street in extravagant costumes. More organized parades were established in 1923 by a director of the Madison Square Boys Club for the sole purpose of discouraging begging on the holiday among the youth of the city. An item in the New York Times of November 25, 1938 notes that eight year old Frank Manino came dressed as the mayor (“Fiorello”) and others impersonated John L. Lewis and Thomas E. Dewey, with the piece de resistance was “Ferdinand the Bull.” The first prize of a 15 lb. turkey went to an 11 year old boy dressed as a scarecrow. UE
The custom continued into the early 1960s, despite being replaced by Halloween as an excuse for such frivolity in the late 1940s, but is still observed in certain parts of Brooklyn; the Bay Ridge section, in particular. Having been born and raised in Bensonhurst (which is adjacent to Bay Ridge) in 1954, I myself haven’t seen nor do I recall any ragamuffins on Thanksgiving or any other day (beyond the usual unfortunates who play the part all year round) but I’ll take urban lore’s word for it.
Even though my pre-Thanksgiving dinner time was spent absorbed in watching Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers and other televised holiday treats, dressing up as a ragamuffin and annoying my neighbors could have been just as delightful.
Sources: Long Live the Ragamuffin Parade
Related External Links
- KalNuLib: Polar children’s book collection
- Verge of Twinsanity: Daddy Got a New Job, Etc.
- Top Hot Unique Halloween Costume Ideas 2010 : World Correspondents
- Upstream for the Holidays | MyFDL
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began floating down 7th Avenue in 1924 and, probably to put parade spectators (to wit: holiday shoppers) into a buying frame of mind, was originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade. There were, however, no huge balloons in the parade’s first three seasons; instead, live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo drew in the crowds. While a menagerie of lions, tigers and bears, along with a herd of goats and donkeys, may have been a success among the adults, many children were terrified by the animals, forcing Macy’s to replace them with giant character balloons in 1927.
Between 1928 and 1933, the balloons were allowed to float away when they reached the end of the parade route. Rewards were offered by Macy’s to anyone finding either a whole or partial piece of a landed balloon. In 1947, Miracle on 34th Street made the parade famous throughout the world; the film was broadcast on the fledgling medium television the very next year.
The balloon photos on this post are circa 1960-5 when my parents brought me to the parade. Personally, I would’ve enjoyed the live animals much better because the balloons actually scared me!!! Maybe it was because I saw every larger-than-life balloon as a potential Hindenburg just waiting to explode. Then again, I was really a dumb kid…what did I know?
Happy Thanksgiving to All,
Michael & Steffie
- Balloons to fly at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade- PHOTOS: 87th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (foxnews.com)
- Balloons Will Fly For Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (newyork.cbslocal.com)
- Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons may be grounded by bad weather (globalnews.ca)
- The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloons Used To Be Extremely Creepy (thewire.com)
- Wind could ground Macy’s parade balloons in NYC (sacbee.com)
- Vintage Photo Wednesday, Vol. 41: Superman Balloon at the 1940 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (grayflannelsuit.net)
On the night of September 7, 1964, during a telecast of David and Bathsheba on the NBC Monday Movie, the advertisement was aired for the first time; one of the most controversial, arguably most shocking, ads in American history. Despite being aired only once commercially, in the intervening 50 years it was viewed and analyzed millions of times on political news shows, in high schools and universities, 1960s historical documentaries, as well as having an influence on campaign advertising, down to the present day.
The ad became known as “Daisy” (sometimes “Daisy Girl” or “Peace, Little Girl”). It begins with a little girl in a pleasant meadow replete with ambient chirping birds (reminiscent of James Whale’s Frankenstein) picking petals off a daisy. Her counting is childishly awkward and unordered (“1,2,3,4,5,7,6,6,8,9”), but when she reaches “nine” she seems to hesitate. A male voice suddenly bursts upon the girl’s hesitated count with a count-down. As she gazes up from the daisy at something in the sky, the camera zooming until her pupil envelops the screen in darkness, the countdown reaches “zero” and the darkness is replaced with the mushroom cloud of a nuclear blast.
As the firestorm rages, a voice over from Johnson states, “These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.” Another voice over (sportscaster Chris Schenkel) then says, “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” Wikipedia
The Daisy ad clinched Lyndon Johnson’s victory over Barry Goldwater (the ad’s implicit “voice of doom” ) in the 1964 Presidential Election. Sid Meyers was involved in casting Olsen as the Daisy Girl. He recalls that she was a “cute little Norman Rockwell freckle-faced girl.” Meyers was also present at Highbridge Park in Washington Heights (Manhattan) where the ad was shot in just two hours. A contract cameraman by the name of Drummond Drury shot the film; an extraordinary bit of “atomic coincidence” because Drury was also the cameraman for the Citizen Kane of civil defense films: Duck and Cover (1951).
Director Tony Schwartz, the ad’s mastermind, was reportedly not present at the shoot. However, he was responsible for mixing the soundtrack; the New York-accented director’s prompting of Olsen (“Count for me, sweetheart…”) and the attendant background noise in Highbridge Park is “like eavesdropping on history.” Raw tape of this footage was provided to CONELRAD.
It has often been asked by students of the Daisy ad whether Olsen’s counting out of sequence was scripted. Judging from the multiple takes on the tape and Schwartz’s own statement that he used what was on the recording to preserve credibility (“It was reality. It was the way the child talked.”[ 57 ]), the answer to this question is “no,” the counting sequence was not preordained.
I was a rambling 10-year-old in 1964 and wasn’t watching David and Bathsheba that night; hence, I missed the Daisy ad’s original airing. Nonetheless, it was such a sensational conversation piece, I believed that I had seen it; and many people at that time, of all ages, shared the same belief. Perhaps this was my first taste of political hocus-pocus…and Johnson was extremely skilled at such strategy.
- Daisy Girl (whitmanvisualrhetoric.wordpress.com)
- We must love each other, or we must die! (history204group2.wordpress.com)
On the day of John F. Kennedy‘s inauguration (January 20, 1961), the Northeast was paralyzed beneath 1-2 feet of snow. The president’s speech was carried on the heels of fierce winds and biting cold. Most people were relatively more optimistic in those days (oftentimes against their better judgment) and somewhat more trustful of government; if anything, they were more or less respectful (however reluctantly) towards the Office of President of the United States. The beneficent visions and/ or illusions of the Kennedy era would become frozen amid the dim light of a harsher reality on November 22, 1963 and beyond. A re-imagined Camelot became a peculiarly eternal, because somehow enthusiastic, dream of yesteryear for at least two generations of Americans.
In 1961, America was fighting the Cold War: that uncertain battleground where a clouded alignment of real, imagined or contrived threats suspended reason and modified talk. Both America and Russia were acquiring stockpiles of nuclear weapons with the potential to blow the world up twenty times over. The Soviet Union’s breakthroughs in space exploration (or first-strike capability), with Sputnik and manned-orbital flight, increased the stakes.
While America’s economy had been declining for two years, Russia’s had been growing and causing us political embarrassment. The Soviet Union was also gaining increased strength with more countries (especially former Asian and African colonies) looking to it for leadership and alliance…with Cuba in the lead. The United States, for the first time since 1812, felt vulnerable to invasion.
So, it was not surprising that the new President would give an inaugural speech that was essentially a cold war battle cry. Only two words in Kennedy’s speech even touched on domestic affairs. Those words were “at home,” and they were added by Kennedy and his gifted speechwriter, Theodore Sorensen, at the very last minute. NY Times
Because Kennedy was relatively young and dynamic-looking (actually, he was in extremely poor health), his untimely death leaves an eternal “What If?” imprinted on history and in the imagination. The character and charisma he (and certainly his wife Jackie) exuded, more than the handful of goals that JFK achieved, played a crucial part in JFK’s presidency and served as a dazzling smokescreen to his administration’s less appealing side. Yet, even more than Lincoln or FDR, Kennedy stood as the role model for aspiring political leaders. (To paraphrase critic Greil Marcus: JFK’s reputation is too much to live up to and too much to escape.) The fact that he and especially his brother, Robert, would be seen as politically conservative by today’s standards is lost in the myth and romance of JFK’s legacy.
While it’s often forgotten that the well-publicized dreams and presumed ambitions of Kennedy were, in fact, carried out by his successor Lyndon Johnson (his Great Society, ironically, a primary factor that led to his downfall), JFK’s martyrdom earned him the glory. No one remembers whether or not Kennedy balanced the budget (at best, it was stabilized) or that he was often reluctant to take a direct stand on civil rights issues. Whether or not the war in Vietnam would have escalated if he had lived (Kennedy often acceded to war hawks) is still a matter of speculation. Indeed, the overall importance of his presidency is debatable. Unfortunately, he’s best remembered as being the tragic victim of an assassination that ranks as one of the most perplexing events in world history.
At his inauguration, JFK’s main worry was, of all things, in being upstaged by Robert Frost who was to deliver “The Gift Outright,” a poem written by the great poet in tribute to Kennedy. While Frost, his poem, the blizzard that froze the Northeast 50 years ago, are barely remembered (if not totally forgotten), Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” would be forever remembered long after the words diminished in importance. Kennedy, like all supposed heroes, wasn’t really beloved for what he actually did or said but for what people believed he was; as it turned out, beyond the pomp and ceremony, he left much to be desired.
But I, along with many of my Baby Boom contemporaries, spent the past 50 years engaged in this psycho-therapeutic nostalgia; alas, I’ll most likely spend the remainder of my life engaged in it. I wish it were otherwise, but the 50-year-old list of presidential hacks and frauds helped to make this nostalgia terribly addictive. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to recover from such a lengthy period of political sentimentality, where a once and future yesteryear glimmers ceaselessly along a hopeful horizon of possibility.
- The JFK legacy: Camelot and conspiracies (capitolhillblue.com)
- JFK: the myth that will never die (telegraph.co.uk)
- Dennis: Dismantling the myth of JFK’s Camelot (vtdigger.org)
- The incomplete president (steveprestegard.com)