Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Belle Époque Paris in Color

Paris 1914 has a collection of color photos of Paris taken between 1907 and 1930.  The Lumière brothers patented Autochrome in 1903, and this process was used to take color photos until the 1930s.  Banker Albert Kahn, commissioned photographers to record the era across five continents.  The Albert Kahn Museum has about 72,000 of these color photos.  Some of the photos go a few years beyond the Belle Époque, but I thought they were fascinating.

 Grand Palais exhibition in 1909, by Leon Gimpel


Notre Dame in 1909, by Leon Gimpel

 The airship Zodiac III, 1909

 Quai de la Corse, 1910

 Place de la Concorde on November 14, 1918

Mess Nessy Chic compares turn of the century color photos of Paris with contemporary ones.  You can also find more photos at Paris Unplugged.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Les Misérables: Paris in the Early 19th Century

The new movie tries to capture the turmoil, splendor, and misery of post-revolutionary France. The government of the early 19th century was always changing. There were abdications and assassinations. In 1820 the Duc de Berry, son of the eventual Charles X of France, was stabbed to death on the steps of a Paris opera house in front of his pregnant wife.

The opera was an important place for the nobility, but was increasingly where the emerging bourgeoisie went to socialize. After the Revolution, the bourgeoisie wanted to emulate the nobility rather than take its place. They wanted to keep their ideals, but live in the same opulence as the nobles. The opera was one of the best places to do this. Patrons attended to gossip and mingle with each other.

Winter balls were also popular. And the summer balls took place in public gardens and in salons on the Champs-Élysées. There were balls for all social classes, some of which were described as “of a lower description”, while others were considered more respectable. Like the opera, the Champs-Élysées was where Parisians could socialize, as they strolled past theaters, restaurants, and shops.

Madame Récamier by François Gérard

The early 19th century salons of Paris were a gathering place for intellectuals who wanted to discuss politics, society, and culture. Socialite Jeanne-Françoise Julie Adélaïde Récamier was renowned for her beauty; some male patrons reportedly visited her salon to be in her company, instead of for the usual debates and conversations. Juliette, as she was called, was also admired for her charm and kindness. Actresses, artists, and composers flocked to her salon. Women’s magazines gossiped about her style. Wearing white gowns with pearls was her signature fashion statement. She had a love of the arts could play the harp, piano, and organ. A rival, Madame de Krudener, persuaded a friend to beg Madame Récamier:

"I acquit myself with a little embarrassment of a commission which Mme. de Krudener has just given me. She begs you to come as little beautiful as you can. She says that you dazzle all the world, and that consequently every soul is troubled and attention is impossible. You cannot lay aside your charms, but do not add to them." 

She was the toast of Paris, but she was not without scandal. She married a banker in 1793 at 15, and there were rumors that her husband, Jacques might have been her father. Perhaps he married her so that she could be his heir and keep her inheritance. In any event, she and her husband lost their fortunes in 1805. Prince Augustus of Prussia wanted to marry her, and though her husband seemed to open to a divorce, she declined his offer – she didn’t want to deal with the inevitable scandal. Napoleon attempted to bring her to his court, and he asked her to be lady in waiting to his wife, Joséphine. Madame Récamier refused, and he would come to see everyone who visited her salon as a threat. He later exiled her from Paris.

 Prince Augustus of Prussia in front of a painting of Madame Récamier

 Life was of course, a different matter for the poor in Paris. Children worked alongside adults in workshops under appalling working conditions. Many children were deserted or placed in unsuitable homes.

Impoverished women often had no choice but to turn to prostitution or theft. Women turned to prostitution if they were unemployed or had family members to take care of. Child prostitution wasn’t uncommon. Girls were forced to sell themselves for sometimes a mere franc. Girls usually worked on certain streets, in back alleys, or under bridges. These unregistered prostitutes had to watch out for the police who constantly looked for prostitutes working without a permit. There were dangers to prostitution, rape and assault especially.

But the poor tried to shape their own lives.  As difficult as life was, they organized and demonstrated against the government over the treatment of the country’s least fortunate.

You can read a travel article in the Telegraph about Paris landmarks associated with the movie.  There are some spoilers. 

Childhood in Nineteenth Century France by Colin Heywood
France in the Age of Les Misérables 
Galignani's New Paris Guide, 1830
Juliette Récamier, the darling of Europe
The Women of the French Salons by Amelia Ruth Gere Mason

Further Reading
Paris: Capital of the 19th Century by Dana Goldstein

Monday, January 21, 2013

Remembering Presidential Inaugurations in Eight Photos

George Washington was the first president to have an inauguration.  While his inauguration was on March 4, 1789, the date was eventually changed to January 20.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to be sworn in on January 20 in 1937.  The change was supposed to decrease the amount of time between the election and the beginning of the president's term.

The Inauguration of James Buchanan at the Capitol on March 4, 1857.  This is the first known photograph of a presidential inauguration.

President Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration on March 4, 1865.  It rained during the day, and it was the first time that African American troops took part in the inaugural parade.
First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln wore pearls and diamonds with her ball gown to President Lincoln's second inauguration.

Theodore Roosevelt on his way to the Capitol on March 4, 1905.

Helen Taft's gown for the 1909 inaugural ball.  She was the first wife to ride with the president from the Capitol to the White House.

Outgoing president, William H. Taft and the newly elected Woodrow Wilson at the inauguration in 1913.

Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace right before the inaugural celebration begins in 1925.   Coolidge's address made history as the first one broadcast on national radio.

 Fireworks at President Harry S. Truman's inauguration on January 20, 1949.

 What are your inauguration memories?  Which is the first one you can remember?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nikola Tesla on the 70th Anniversary of His Death

This month marks the 70th anniversary of inventor Nikola Tesla’s death on January 7, 1943.  Born in 1856, in modern day Croatia, Nikola Tesla arrived in New York in 1884, and began to work for Thomas Edison.   Their working relationship didn't last for long after a financial dispute, and by 1886, Tesla had resigned and started Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing.

Tesla's contributions to science eventually included improvement and developments to alternating current, fluorescent lighting, radio, x-rays, and the first hydro-electric power plant at Niagara Falls. 

But, Nikola Tesla has never had the same level of fame that his rival Thomas Edison has.  At least, not in America.  There are Edison museums and memorials. His achievements are taught in schools. I even vaguely remember watching Spencer Tracy in Edison, the Man.  (As an aside, Edison, the Man was not the only Edison movie to come out in 1940.)  But for Tesla, there is no permanent museum dedicated to his work in the United States. I certainly never learned about him in school.  I don't intend to add to the endless (and exhausting) Edison vs. Tesla arguments, and on this occasion, I'd rather focus on remembering Tesla as a historical figure.

As overlooked as Tesla has been by history, it seems that over the past several months, there have been announcements about Tesla projects that are in the works.  There were rumors about two big budget movies - a sci-fi movie starring George Clooney, and a film about Tesla and Edison starring Christian Bale (Bale’s attachment turned out to be too good to be true).  There's also a docudrama, a cartoon pilot about a time traveling Nikola Tesla with bonus Josephine Baker in their concept art:

And best of all, there might be a Tesla museum in America after all.  An online fundraiser to buy and renovate Tesla's lab, Wardenclyffe ended up raising about $1.8 million.  Before the fundraiser, there were reports that Wardenclyffe was going to be demolished or transformed into commercial property.

Tesla's plans for a laboratory and a tower, Wardenclyffe on Long Island, New York started in 1898.  Funded in part by J.P. Morgan, the tower was meant to transmit wireless energy, and building started in 1901. Tesla moved his lab to Wardenclyffe in 1902, but the construction went over budget and by 1904 financiers stopped their funding. Wardenclyffe was closed by 1905 and never completed.  The location is probably in disrepair but maybe, thanks to the fundraiser, Tesla’s equipment might be found on the site. 

People are interested in Tesla for different reasons – for his contributions to technology, his role as a turn-of-the-century historical figure, his eccentricities.  Being an admitted fool when it comes the science, it’s the last two that interest me. 

Tesla's personality is part of the reason why a non-geek like me actually wanted to learn about a scientist for once.  He didn't own many of his patents, since his financier, George Westinghouse had purchased them.  He might have earned millions from the royalties, but when Westinghouse was in financial trouble, Tesla agreed to forgo his royalties, instead of letting Westinghouse go bankrupt.  Part of this is why the public never associated Tesla with his innovations since Westinghouse owned the patents.

 He was the quintessential mad genius.  He reportedly spoke 8 languages, and his eccentricities were numerous.  Numerous enough for people to suspect he might have had a mental illness.  He was celibate his whole life, insisting that he would rather focus on his work.  He was closer to pigeons than he was to some humans, and would often leave what was his home for the last decade of his life - the New Yorker Hotel - to go and feed pigeons.  Of one particular injured white pigeon, he professed:
“I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.”

He avoided going to see doctors. On one occasion in the autumn of 1937, he was hit by a taxi. There were broken ribs, but most of his injuries are a mystery since he never got medical attention.  He stayed in bed until the spring of 1938.

He dined at New York landmarks – Delmonico’s restaurant and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel – naturally from precisely 8pm to 10pm.  One editor described him as “almost the tallest, almost the thinnest and certainly the most serious man who goes to Delmonico’s regularly.”  But, the eccentricities probably don’t paint the entire picture of a man described as also being refined and gentlemanly. 

He was friends with other historical figures including Mark Twain and actress Sarah Bernhardt.

Tesla on the July 20th, 1931 cover of Time

When asked about the future, he made all kinds of predictions - some were extremely accurate:

“We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.

We shall be able to witness and hear events--the inauguration of a President, the playing of a world series game, the havoc of an earthquake or the terror of a battle--just as though we were present.”

 Most of the attention Tesla gets comes from the science community, but I always gotten the sense that history has under-appreciated him.  Naturally, it's the science geeks who try to remind the world about him, though I think Tesla can be just as fascinating for the history geeks too.

Further reading
Selected Tesla Articles
My Inventions by Nikola Tesla

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Tutmania in the Roaring Twenties: When Ancient Egypt was in Vogue

When archaeologist Howard Carter uncovered King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922, it set off a global firestorm.  The beginnings of the decade's Egyptomania started five years earlier with Cleopatra starring Theda Bara.  Bara's transparent, wispy costumes became iconic at a time when fashion was turning away from corseted silhouettes.  The press had covered Carter's earlier six seasons of excavations in the Valley of the Kings before his find, so there was a move towards Egypt in fashion and architecture before Carter actually found Tutankhamen's tomb.  Grauman's Egyptian Theatre, for example, opened a mere five weeks after Carter's discovery in 1922.  The design plans had originally been Spanish style, but those plans were mostly scrapped and replaced with an Egyptian design.  But the real craze came after the discovery.

 Unbroken seal of King Tut's tomb

Applications swamped the Patent and Trademark Office.  A whole slew of companies wanted to trademark Tutankhamen for products targeting women.  Businesses were eager to cash in on the craze and there were advertisements with Egyptian references.  The Saturday Evening Post ran Palmolive ads with ancient Egyptian imagery.

The New York Times reported on America's Tutmania:

"There is only one topic of conversation…One cannot escape the name of Tut-Ankh-Amen anywhere. It is shouted in the streets, whispered in the hotels, while the local shops advertise Tut-Ankh-Amen art, Tut-Ankh-Amen hats, Tut-Ankh-Amen curios, Tut-Ankh-Amen photographs, and tomorrow probably genuine Tut-Ankh-Amen antiquities. Every hotel in Luxor today had something a la Tut-Ankh-Amen…There is a Tut-Ankh-Amen dance tonight at which the piece is to be a Tut-Ankh-Amen rag."

A sheer evening ensemble with Egyptian inspired patterns from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The American fashion shows of 1923 in were filled with Egyptian inspired garments. Silk merchants saw a typically slow period improve. Silk company Cheney Brothers sent one of their designers to Egypt for inspiration, and designers from other companies went to the Metropolitan Museum for ideas. The 1925, International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris featured clothes that used Egyptian patterns to influence geometric shapes and simple, basic lines.  Colors came in shades like Nile green.  There were ancient Egyptian patterns on handbags, cigarette holders, and jewelry. Images of sphinxes, lotuses, camels, and palm trees could be found in stores across the country. Fashionable women wore headpieces.  Scarab-shaped jewelry mimicked Egyptian jewelry, and the trend influenced jewelers like Boivin, Lalique, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany, and Cartier. Cartier used striking, bright precious and semi-precious stones like emeralds and lapis lazuli on some of its designs.

 Egyptian revival Cartier ring, circa 1928 from FD

 Evening dress with ibis or vulture motif, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Perhaps as a way to cope with the rapid changes of 1920s society, Americans noticed the similarities they shared with ancient Egyptians. One Egyptologist saw the era's shortening hemlines in the dress lengths of Egyptian art. A headline in the Los Angeles Times read "Ancient Egypt Lives Again in Hollywood: Even the Bobbed Hair Reincarnated From the Flappers Who Lived When Tombs Were Built. The article included what were thought to be parallels between Hollywood and Egypt - scarab jewelry, bobbed hair, makeup. If ancient Egyptian women bobbed their hair, how bad could it be? Art and Archaeology noted the similarities between modern and ancient vanity that were unearthed in the excavations - jars and boxes for cosmetics and metal hand mirrors. Kohl was fashionable as eyeliner in the 1910s and 20s, and this vampish look was altered to a heavier, more authentic Egyptian look.

 Louis Brooks

These interpretations of ancient Egyptian art and design were of course, not entirely accurate either. Some attempts at hieroglyphics were pure gibberish. And there were skeptics about the longevity of the Egyptian trend. Art and Archeology called it a "passing fancy. National Geographic agreed. And while announcing increased silk sales in July 1923, the chairman of the Dress Fabric Association called the trend a "thing of the past".

1926 flapper dress with Egyptian inspired lotus detail from Vintage Seekers

In many ways these skeptics were right. The frivolity and decadence of the Egyptian revival began to taper off with the 1929 stock market crash. And while more toned down styles came with the Great Depression, the Egyptian revival is one of the most recognizable fads of the 1920s.

 Egyptian inspired showgirl costume

"Ancient Costume and Modern Fashion" in Art and Archaeology by Mary McAlister
Ancient Style Icon: King Tut Returns
Cleopatra & Egyptian Fashion in Film by Tove Hermanson

Egyptian Influences on Dress in the 1920s
Egyptian Theatre by Howard B. Haas and Ken Roe
Egyptian Revival in Art Deco by Aileen M. Mason
Fashions of a Decade: The 1920s by Jacqueline Herald
Old World, New World: America Meets Tutankhamen by Mary Rekas

Friday, January 4, 2013

Christmas on a Pirate Ship

17th and 18th century pirates celebrated just about everything.  Passing over the Equator, Valentine's Day, King Charles Day, religious holidays.  Christmas was the most significant for some, though New Year's Day didn't get nearly as much attention as it does now.  Some of that might be in part because of the confusion over when exactly the new year started.  France began the new year on January 1, while countries like England and Wales started on March 25th, perhaps because it was close to the equinox.

At Christmastime outright pirates and buccaneers participated in the usual carousing.  They celebrated at sea and on shore, sometimes for days.  Barrels of wine, liquor, and their limited fresh food were brought out.  During the festivities they might have their first taste of meat for the first time in weeks.  Pirates kept livestock on board their ships when they could, so it wasn't unusual for a pig to be killed for the Christmas feast.  Buccaneer Basil Ringrose recalled that in addition to a large hog, "we bought a Spaniel-Dogg of the Quarter-Master for forty pieces of Eight, and killed him; so with the Hogg and the Dogg, we made a Feast, and we had some Wine left, which made us merry".

Christmas on shore could mean even better meals of fresh beef, goose, chicken, rice, even fruit.

For other pirates however, Christmas was more solemn.  French Catholic pirates sometimes took mass unbelievably seriously:
"...the pirates asked the curé to say Mass on their barque, and he was unable to refuse this request. They sent for the church ornaments, and put up and alter on the poop under and awning, and then chanted Mass lustily.

A salvo of eight cannons marked the commencement of the service, they fired a second salvo at the Sanctus, and third at the Elevation, a fourth at the Benediction, and lastly a fifth after the Exaudiat, while the prayer for the King was followed by the most hearty 'Vive le Roi'.

Only one incident slightly marred this ceremony. One of the pirates adopted an offensive attitude during the Elevation, and on being rebuked by the captain, he replied insolently with a horrible oath. [French pirate Captain] Daniel promptly drew his pistol and shot him through the head and swore by God that he would do the same to anyone else who showed disrespect to the 'Sainte Sacrifice'."

 Not all Christmas celebrations were quite so grand.  If there were no fresh provisions, pirates might be forced to eat meager rations of pickled salt beef.  Naturally the officers on board got first choice.

As for New Year's Day, there doesn't appear to be nearly as many references to it as Christmas.  Woodes Rogers mentioned it briefly, though Rogers would probably have been outraged at being labelled a pirate.  Nevertheless, Rogers the privateer, and later the first Governor of the Bahamas noted:

"This being New Year's Day, every officer was wished a merry New Year by our music; and I had a large tub of punch hot upon the quarterdeck, where every man in the ship had above a pint to his share, and drank our owners and friends healths in Great Britain, to a happy new year, a good voyage, and a safe return.  We bore down to our consort and gave them three Huzza's, wishing them the like."

A Buccaneer's Atlas by Basil Ringrose

A Cruising Voyage Round the World by Captain Woodes Rogers
Christmas Holidays at Sea in the Golden Age of Piracy

A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson
A New Voyage Round the World by Captain William Dampier

 The Sea Rover's Practice: Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730 by Benerson Little