Ghosts of Train Stations Past: New York Pennsylvania Station

07/02/2012 § 5 Comments

I promise a train and train station moratorium after this post. 

Maaaaaaaaaybe.

Images of the old New York Penn Station (1910 – 1963), designed by the architectural powerhouse McKim, Mead & White.  Every time I have to pass through the wretch that is the new Penn Station — dark, subterranean and horribly bland — I catch myself wishing earnestly that it had survived the 1960s.  Wishing that what is now the busiest train station in North America was something beautiful to look at.  Wishing that it rivaled the glory that is my beloved Grand Central.  But alas, it is not…

Henry Crane had the right idea.
(Sidenote: Mad Men! March 24! Finally!)

For more pictures of Penn, be sure to check out my earlier post Farewell at Penn Station, poignant moments captured by LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt of WWII soldiers shipping out.

Images via the Library of Congress and the NYPL

Girl of the Hour: Billie Samuels

06/02/2012 § 4 Comments

Billie Samuels, kick-ass girl cyclist, 4 July 1934.

Via The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 5 July 1934:

CYCLING.

GIRL’S RECORD ATTEMPT.

Miss Billie Samuels started on her attack on the women’s record from Sydney to Melbourne, held by Miss Valsa Barbour, at 10 o’clock yesterday morning. She will ride to a schedule which will bring her to the Melbourne G.P.O. at 2 p.m. on Saturday, a total time of 3 days 7 hours. This is about three hours faster than the present record. Miss Samuels provides for stoppages of about four hours in Goulburn (132 miles), five hours in Holbrook (333 miles), and five hours in Seymour, Victoria (501 miles), in addition to regular meal stoppages of about 30 to 40 minutes every 40 or 50 miles.

Miss Samuels arrived at Moss Vale at 4.39 p.m., almost 2 hours ahead of schedule time. She encountered rain from Camden to Moss Vale, but is looking fit.  Miss Samuels resumed her ride three-quarters of an hour later.

Images via the State Library of New South Wales.

Previous Persons of the Hour: 
Photographer Gerda Taro

Race car enthusiast, sailor and playboy Briggs Swift Cunningham II

Style Icons: The Women of the Wild Bunch

21/12/2011 § Leave a comment

Image via Tomboy Style.

Because I had a number of flights over the last couple of weeks, I had the opportunity to revisit some of my favorite films.  One of them yielded a bit of style inspiration in a roundabout manner and it has been on my mind for days now.  The film? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Robert Redford as Sundance, Paul Newman as Butch.  If you haven’t yet seen the film, I highly recommend you make the time — it’s even on iTunes, in fact.  Loosely based on true events, the film follows real-life turn of the century bank and train robbers Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, members of the Wild Bunch and the Hole in the Wall Gang, through a series of heists and concurrent efforts to outrun the law.  Katharine Ross plays Etta Place, a woman who was companion to the Sundance Kid and traveled with both men across the country and to South America.  There are only two known pictures of the real Etta Place — in fact, it’s actually not even clear that Etta Place was her real name — and she vanished without a trace around 1909.  Quite the mystery.

The real Etta Place, with the Sundance Kid

At its heart, the film is about the relationship between Butch and Sundance and the chemistry between Newman and Redford is spot on. But I couldn’t help but be drawn to Etta Place, the school teacher who somehow became enmeshed with two of the most prolific thieves in history.  My favorite scenes are when Etta dresses a bit boyishly, but truth be told, she spends most of the film in very proper and very ladylike attire, usually complete with hats and gloves.  (Sidenote: The costumes in this film are a.MAY.zing.)

Image via The Selvedge Yard

A bit of further research led to an unexpected discovery.  While the film version of the Wild Bunch was men-only (with the tangential exception of Etta), there were in fact, a few female members of the gang.  Most notorious among these women, was Laura Bullion, “The Rose of the Wild Bunch.”

Laura Bullion’s 1901 mugshot

Far be it from me to glorify any real-life criminals, but I was taken aback by Laura’s mugshot and the scatty details of her life.  Born in 1876 to an outlaw father, she is linked romantically to Ben Kilpatrick, also a member of the Wild Bunch.  Her crimes tended toward robbery, prostitution, and forgery, for which she ended up spending almost 4 years in jail around the turn of the century.  After serving her time, she eventually moved to Memphis, where she posed as a war widow under assumed names and oddly domesticated herself, becoming a seamstress, drapery maker and interior decorator.  She died in 1961, the last living member of the Wild Bunch and last person to have actually known Etta Place.

The 1901 mugshot is arresting.  It’s almost like she dares you to look away.  Her gaze is all hardness and resolve.  For a woman at that time to choose such an unconventional lifestyle, one can only guess what her life must have been like, growing up surrounded by criminals.  Also, can we please note the bow tie?!

Interestingly, as I researched more female outlaws, I came to notice how frequently their sexual activities and partners were mentioned — distinctly different from the characterizations of their male outlaw counterparts — and how the accounts that were made at the time have a distinct impact on the accounts that are written today.  It is interesting to note that these women were frequently made out to be sexual deviants, loose women, and/or prostitutes — defined by that all too-familiar double-standard.  Not only did they break the laws of the land, but since they shirked sexual mores with abandon, society made it clear they were outsiders.  Perhaps even more so than male outlaws.

From Laura and Etta, I’m taking a sense of rebellion and adventure.
But I will leave it to them to break the laws.

Rabbit Hole: Interviews After the Day of Infamy

07/12/2011 § Leave a comment

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, in which 2,402 Americans were killed, and 1,282 were wounded.  Japanese planes inflicted heavy damages to the US Pacific Fleet stationed in Hawaii, particularly to her battleships: all eight were damaged, four were sunk, and two were never to be raised again — the Arizona and the Oklahoma.  In an instant, the isolationism that had dominated US politics and popular sentiment vanished and America was galvanized to war.

The following day President Roosevelt requested (and immediately received) a Congressional declaration of war on Japan in what has become known as his Day of Infamy speech.  That same day, the Archive of American Folk Song (now the Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center), dispatched their fieldworkers to collect “man on the street” reactions to both the attack and the declaration of war.  By February 1942, fieldworkers had recorded over twelve hours of opinions from more than two hundred individuals across the country.  Touching on topics such as race relations and national pride, the interviews are a revealing look at the American state of mind in the wake of Pearl Harbor.

Head here to listen to these interviews for yourself, courtesy of the US National Archives.  You will find them cross-referenced by subject, name and location.

Personally, I found these interviews to be quite the rabbit hole and I am sure you will also find this to be the case.  I have a close connection to the Pacific Theatre, as both my grandfathers served there and one of my grandmothers was born and raised in Guam.  I have been to the USS Arizona, the battleship still quietly sleeping at the bottom of Pearl Harbor with over 1,000 souls entombed.  It is amazing to have the opportunity to hear exactly what Americans thought and felt in those bewildering months, without the filter of nostalgic memories.

USS Arizona, sinking in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
She was born in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

All images via the US National Archives.

Related: Happy Liberation Day: Battle of Guam – July 21, 1944

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