Unhappy Anniversary: A Wolfsonian Reflection on the Abandonment of the Czechs and the Appeasement of Hitler, Munich, 1938

•September 30, 2015 • Leave a Comment

As is clear from some editorial cartoons published by the American cartoonist Vaughn Shoemaker (creator of “John Q. Public”) in September, 1938, Europeans experienced another great “war scare.” That month, Adolf Hitler made demands for a “greater Germany” and initiated a campaign of threats, bluff, and bluster designed to carve out more territory in the “heart” of Europe.


The WolfsonianFIU, Anonymous donor

Flushed with his recent success in engineering the relatively bloodless annexation of Austria into his “greater Germany,” in September, 1938, Herr Hitler turned his attention and appetite on the “German-speaking Sudetenland,” determined to wrest it away from the Czechoslovakian Republic created in the wake of the First World War. Hitler’s demands on September 22nd for the “immediate cession” of the territory and the removal of the Czech population by the month’s end triggered troop mobilization in Czechoslovakia and France and the threat of another European war.



The WolfsonianFIU, Anonymous donor

In an attempt to avert the crisis, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier traveled to Munich to meet with Herr Hitler. If the Czechs hoped that Britain and France would honor their commitment to defend their nation in the event of a German invasion, the pact signed in Munich must have come as a grave shock.


The WolfsonianFIU, Anonymous donor

While Daladier was against appeasing and encouraging Nazi Germany’s aggressive and expansionist aims, his British counterpart was unprepared and unwilling to go to war over Czechoslovakia. In fact, Chamberlain not only cheerfully signed the Munich Pact, but stayed behind to sign another document with Hitler to ensure the future of an Anglo-German peace. Returning to England, Chamberlain addressed crowds of ecstatic Londoners claiming that the Munich Pact had secured “peace with honor” and “peace in our time.”


The WolfsonianFIU, Anonymous donor

The peace celebrations were decidedly short-lived, at least for the Czechoslovaks. The day after Chamberlain’s self-congratulatory speech in London, the Czechoslovak government capitulated to Hitler’s annexation demands, knowing their tiny army could not stand alone against the mighty German Wehrmacht.


The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Having whetted his insatiable appetite with the Sudetenland, Hitler annexed the remainder of the country in March 1939 and the Czech nation ceased to exist.


The WolfsonianFIU

While Neville Chamberlain momentarily appeared to be the master negotiator who saved the world from the threat of a second “Great War,” history has been less kind to his image and his influence. In a political parody of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland published before the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Chamberlain is depicted as the hookah-smoking caterpillar besting a diminutive Hitler.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Pamela K. Harer

After Nazi Germany invaded Poland and provoked the Second World War, the British Prime Minister’s policy of appeasement fell into immediate disrepute, and images of Chamberlain are far less flattering.


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Martijn F. Le Coultre


The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The WolfsonianFIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

For the Czechs, of course, that disillusionment came much earlier.


The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Making of…The Making of Miami Beach: New Wolfsonian–FIU Library Exhibit Opens Today

•September 18, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The last in a series of three library installations celebrating the City of Miami Beach’s centennial anniversary, Miami Beach: From Mangrove to Tourist Mecca, opens to the public today. This exhibit focuses on the early transformation and development of the island from a barren wilderness populated by crocodiles, rattlesnakes, raccoons, rats, and “mosquitoes by the millions,” to a burgeoning winter resort community for the nation’s well-to-do.



Images courtesy of the City of Miami Beach Historical Archive

Today’s post will focus not so much on the historic publicity photographs, brochures, and other printed materials that are on display, but on the installation of those works and on some of the other items considered, but left out of the show.

Three Florida International University graduates, James Little, Jeremy Salloum, and Paula de la Cruz-Fernandez, worked cooperatively to research, make the initial selections, and write the draft interpretative and descriptive labels for the exhibition, and put together a Powerpoint slide presentation for a kiosk screen. That raw material was then edited by myself, and sent on to exhibitions manager, Lisa Li Celorio and others in the curatorial department for further refining. As the curators did their fact-checking and proofing, and formatted and printed out labels, exhibition designer Richard Miltner, senior preparator William Kramer, and art handlers Steve Forero-Paz and Carlos Alejandro began the work on installing the artifacts in the display cases.




Because of the constraints of space, curators are constantly required to make difficult decisions as to what to include and what to “cut” from the final checklist of items to go on display. Fortunately, the internet offers an opportunity to provide our virtual visitors with a selection of materials–(many of them from the Washington Storage Archive)–that might also have been included in a larger exhibit about Miami Beach in the nineteen-teens and twenties. Vintage photographs not included in the exhibit picture the mangrove and palmetto scrub originally covering the island and an early view of Ocean Drive;

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…the work done to cut and clear, dredge and fill, and expand and create new land for development;

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…the bathhouse casinos, aquarium, and luxury hotels built to attract and accommodate winter-weary Northern guests;

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…the tea dances, swimming, golf, and tennis competitions, polo matches, and boating regattas organized to entertain those visitors;



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…the damage done to those early structures by the Great Hurricane of 1926;

August 201594177

…and the building of and renovations made to The Washington Storage Company edifice now serving as The Wolfsonian museum.

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Another photograph not included in the exhibit pictures “a ‘big day’ at the Roman Pools Bathing Casino” on 23rd Street, circa 1918, when a lighter-than-air craft flew overhead.

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Another depicts the view of the same bathing casino with its distinctive windmill used to pump seawater into the pools.

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Another features an airplane race on the bay side of Miami Beach, capitalizing on the mania for the new flying machines and integrated into the Miami Midwinter Regatta boat races organized by Carl G. Fisher to promote tourism to his luxury hotels.

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Another photograph not included in the exhibit shows the “up-scale” guests at an exclusive dinner party on Miami Beach held inside one of the early “casinos” (or bath houses).


While we displayed a photograph of the exterior of one of the electric trolleys that ran from downtown Miami, across the County Causeway, and made a loop on Miami Beach, there were others I would have like to have included as well. A final couple of photos that didn’t make the “final cut” reveal quite a bit about societal norms in this period were shots of the interior of the trolley car with the signage for segregated seating.

August 201593399


Cuba, “So Near And Yet So Foreign”: A Wolfsonian Glimpse Into An Era of Easy Access from the U.S. by Ship

•September 5, 2015 • 1 Comment

Even as most travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba remained illegal, as early as the summer of 2013 the American tour company, Road Scholar, began offering U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned “people-to-people” trips to the island with educational and cultural exchange itineraries. Road Scholar visitors could travel by chartered flights, or could travel by ship from Jamaica and Miami to Havana. Now, after more than fifty years of a policy of embargo, the Obama Administration has restored diplomatic ties, reopened an American embassy in Havana, and signaled its receptivity to potentially lifting the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba sometime in the near future. Ironically, after so many years of isolation, the island has truly become for most Americans a destination “so near and yet so foreign.” Ironically, this was the slogan coined by the (pre-Castro) Cuban Tourist Commission, which was intent on playing up Cuba’s exoticism to attract American visitors in the 1940s and 1950s.



Today’s blog post will take a look at some promotional materials from this earlier era when travel to the island “only 90 miles from Key West” was a simple thing for American tourists.

As I prepared to launch a new Wolfsonian-FIU library exhibition, “Miami Beach: From Mangrove to Tourist Mecca,” I chanced across an old photograph while rummaged through the Washington Storage Archive. On the verso of the vintage photo of The City of Miami was a handwritten note dated 1920 claiming that this was “the only ship in 1920 running between Miami + Havana, Winters only.” It would not monopolize the trade for long.

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The Munson Steamship Line’s first passenger liner, the Munamar, had been built by Maryland Steel in Baltimore, and after the First World War served the eastern Cuba route. The New York based firm continued to offer cruises with stops in Nassau, Miami, and Havana until the company declared bankruptcy in 1937.



Eastern Steamship Line’s S.S. Evangeline, built in 1927 to accommodate more than 751 passengers, offered cruises of various lengths and regular weekly runs between the ports of New York, Nassau, Miami and Havana.

Eastern Steamship Lines 1

Clyde-Mallory Lines had a couple of ships providing direct overnight passenger service between Miami (“A Nation’s Winter Playland) and Havana (“Paris of the Western World”) during the winter season of 1929/30.



Even after the onset of the Great Depression, the Clyde-Mallory Lines’ S.S. Iroquois and S.S. Evangeline continued to offer summer vacation getaway packages with stops in Miami and Havana. In fact, the S.S. Evangeline’s sister ship, the S.S. Yarmouth, sailed out from the port of Havana on January 1, 1959, the same day that Fulgencio Batista formally resigned his position as head of state, and afterwards boarded a plane at 3 a.m. and flew to the Dominican Republic.



The P&O (Peninsular & Occidental) Steamship Company also had a couple of ships regularly sailing to our island neighbors to the south. The S.S. Cuba sailed to Havana, Cuba from Tampa, and returned by way of Key West, Florida.


Built in 1931 and capable of accommodating more than 600 passengers as well as automobiles, the P&O’s S.S. Florida was also sailing between Miami, Key West, and Havana in the thirties.



Passenger services were interrupted in the wake of the 1934 hurricane that destroyed the terminal and railway connections to Miami, and were suspended during the Second World War, but resumed in the postwar period until the Castro regime closed Cuba to cruise ships in 1960s. After that, the S.S. Florida sailed between Miami and the Bahamas.




P&O even encouraged passengers taking the S.S. Florida to Cuba to explore the island in their own automobiles, as the ship was “equipped for safe and rapid automobile handling.”


Although primarily a cargo ship operation, the United Fruit Company’s “Great White Fleet” also carried tourists to “Cuba…pearl of the Antilles” and other ports of call.

Ships and ports

Ships and ports 1Ships and ports 2


United Fruit’s six great sister ships offered “Complete Facilities for Fun on Deck,” “spacious” public areas, and “attractive” staterooms for 95 passengers in “exclusively first class accommodations.”


The West India Fruit & Steamship Company’s City of Havana Special also provided convenient ferry service from Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba.


In the years leading up to the Cuban revolution, the cruise line industry increasingly had to compete with airlines for passengers interested in visiting the island, but that will be the subject of a future post.

The Social Security Act Turns Eighty Today: A Wolfsonian-FIU Library Reflection

•August 14, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Today marks the eightieth anniversary of the signing by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935. To mark the occasion, today’s blog post will consider the origins and history of that federal program that has benefited many millions of Americans over the span of eight decades.

Gift of Francis Xavier Luca and Clara Helena Palacio Luca

It is worth noting that the idea for a national social insurance plan did not originate solely with the Roosevelt Administration. Then, as now, the prevailing economic climate and presidential politics played important roles in shaping social legislation. The Wall Street Crash of October 1929 and the resultant Great Depression had thrown one-quarter of the American workforce into the ranks of the unemployed.


Illustration by Giacomo Patri (1898-1978) from his White Collar: Novel in Linocuts

The Wolfsonian-FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The bank failures of the early 1930s, further exacerbated the crisis by stripping away the life savings of millions of older Americans.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Many of the post-depression generation, if we think back at all on the banking crisis, likely remember the actor Jimmy Stewart staving off a panic and bank run in Frank Capra’s Christmas holiday classic, It’s A Wonderful Life.

During the early years of the depression, then President Herbert Hoover believed that it was not the responsibility of the federal government to provide relief, but neither the states nor religious and volunteer charities were up to the challenge. While seventeen northern states adopted varying forms of old age pension laws by 1932, only about 3% of the elderly population benefited from such programs, and nearly ninety percent of these resided in California, Massachusetts, or New York, the home state of Hoover’s Democratic challenger, Franklin Roosevelt. Not surprisingly, in the November elections of 1932, President Hoover was turned out of office in a landslide decision.


Gift of Francis Xavier Luca and Clara Helena Palacio Luca

In 1933, sixty-six year old Long Beach, California resident and public health officer, Francis Everett Townsend (1867-1960) found himself out of work, and, like so many other elderly folk, without any savings to depend upon.


“Social Security” print by Stefan Hirsch

The Wolfsonian-FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In September of that year, Townsend penned a letter to the editor of the Long Beach Press-Telegram promoting an old age pension plan. The Townsend Plan, as it would be called, advocated a 2% national sales tax to fund a $200 per month pension for every citizen aged sixty and over, provided they had no criminal record, were retired from work, and agreed to spend all of the money they received each month in the United States. The plan was thus designed to encourage older people to retire, to provide more work opportunities for younger people, and to stimulate the domestic economy. Townsend’s Old Age Revolving Plan garnered considerable support, given that in 1934 more than half of the nation’s elderly population were unable to support themselves. By 1935, the doctor had attracted 2,200,000 devotees and spawned 7,000 Townsend Clubs, all urging the government to adopt the old age pension plan.

XC2012_07_1_059Caricature of Francis Townsend by Will H. Chandlee, published in Mother Goose in Washington.
Gift of Francis Xavier Luca and Clara Helena Palacio-de Luca

Even as the “grassroots” Townsend movement was gaining momentum, Louisiana governor, populist, and Democratic presidential aspirant, Huey Pierce Long (1893-1935) was making headlines (and waves) denouncing rich banking interests and advocating his own “Share the Wealth” program as “the only defense this country’s got against communism.” His plan advocated a radical restructuring of the economy, capping and taxing personal fortunes with a progressive tax code, funding public works projects, providing a guaranteed minimum family income, free education, veteran’s benefits, and old-age pensions. When the U.S. Senate rejected one of his redistribution of wealth proposals, Long infamously rebuked them, telling them that a “mob is coming to hang the other ninety-five of you damn scoundrels and I’m undecided whether to stick here with you or go out and lead them.”

Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

By 1935, the Democratic challenger that President Roosevelt uncharitably described as one of the “most dangerous men in America” commanded a radio audience of 25,000,000 listeners, and had attracted 7,500,000 members to 27,000 Share the Wealth Clubs operating under the motto “Every Man a King.”

Long’s Communist detractors seized on his campaign song and slogan and lampooned it in their efforts to paint him as ingenuous.

Gift of Francis Xavier Luca

Many historians have argued that it was the threat posed by a Long presidential candidacy that was responsible for President Roosevelt’s shift to the left in 1935. In fact, Roosevelt admitted that many of the second wave of New Deal initiatives that year (including the Wealth Tax, Works Progress Administration, National Youth Administration, and the Social Security Act) had been enacted in an attempt to “steal Long’s thunder,” to co-op Townsend’s supporters, and to silence critics like the popular “Radio Priest” Father Charles Coughlin.

Caricature of the “Radio Priest” Father Coughlin by Will Chandlee, published in Mother Goose in Washington.
Gift of Francis Xavier Luca and Clara Helena Palacio-de Luca

Just one month after announcing his bid for the presidency, an assassin’s bullet claimed the life of the forty-two year old Huey Long, thus ending any serious Democratic or third party challenge to Roosevelt’s reelection in 1936. But the retirement proposals put forward by Francis Townsend and Huey Long did find life in Roosevelt’s second New Deal, with the passage of his Old Age Assistance (or Social Security) program.

Even Roosevelt’s less ambitious plan was greeted with great skepticism and opposition in the Senate. The Democratic Senator from Oklahoma, Thomas Gore, grilled Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins during a Finance Committee Hearing, asking her “Isn’t this socialism?” and responding to her denial, by insisting again, “Isn’t this a teeny-weeny bit of socialism?”

Caricature of Frances Perkins by Will H. Chandlee, published in Mother Goose in Washington.
Gift of Francis Xavier Luca and Clara Helena Palacio-de Luca

Even after the passage of the Social Security Act in August 1935, Townsend and others continued to lobby, demonstrate, and push for more generous benefits and provisions.


Gift of Christopher DeNoon

Social Security passed its first great hurdle in 1937 when the conservative members of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act. In 1939, spouses and minor children, and the survivors of retired workers were added as beneficiaries to the original program; the following year the first monthly benefit check was mailed off, providing just a little bit more security for the average American family.


“Security for the Family,” a watercolor mural study by Seymour Fogel (1911-1984)
The Wolfsonian-FIU, purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

It is ironic that today’s polls indicate that a majority of Americans fear that the Social Security system they have paid into will not be there to help them through their own “golden years.” To this one can only respond using the phrase from President Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance….”

The Old Maine and the Sea, or, Spanish-American War Sheet Music at The Wolfsonian-FIU Library

•August 13, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Today’s blog post comes to you courtesy of Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn. Ms. Pienn is responsible for cataloging a wealth of rare books, photograph albums, and diaries gifted to The Wolfsonian-FIU library by Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. The Sharf Collection has greatly strengthened our holdings of primary source propaganda of the military conflicts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and various colonial endeavors in Africa and the Far and Middle East. We owe the Sharfs a debt of gratitude for providing us with great materials from the Spanish-American War, with an emphasis on the Cuban independence movement, and American naval action and colonial intervention in the Philippines. In making The Wolfsonian rare book and special collections library an important repository of such materials, the Sharfs inspired others to help us build on those foundations. Anne Layton Rice, the Library Administrator of the Monroe County Public Library in Key West, recently facilitated the donation to our institution of eight banker boxes of rare and scarce sheet music covers dating from the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine-American War (1899-1902). These music titles for piano and voice had originally been amassed by long-time Key West resident, Joseph K. Albertson. In the era before radio, sheet music circulated widely and functioned as popular entertainment in people’s parlors and homes; the music titles gifted to The Wolfsonian inspired American support for the conflicts with patriotic marches and sentimental songs often played in dance halls and other public venues. Famirka Then, our library intern has begun processing and cataloging the sheet music; afterwards, each work will be digitized and made available online to the Florida International University community, scholars, and general public.


Wolfsonian-FIU Library Intern, Famirka Then

Our thanks to the original collector, Joseph K. Albertson for preserving these important materials, and to Anne Layton Rice for facilitating the gift of these music titles which perfectly complement our Spanish-American War holdings. Here is Rochelle’s report:

Six-toed Hemingway cats and mojitos on Duval Street: Key West, Florida contains the quirkiest delights this side of Cuba.

EH8505P Ernest Hemingway at table with his cat Cristobal at Finca Vigia.

Ernest Hemingway at table with his cat Cristobal at Finca Vigia.

Ernest Hemingway Photographs Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Along with the great American novelist’s paw-trodden home and the classic rum-based cocktail, Key West features settings and side-trips awash in history. The Monroe County Public Library keeps local archives documenting Key West’s colorful past. Key West branch Librarian Anne Layton Rice recently visited the Wolfsonian-FIU Library to facilitate a gift of Spanish-American War period sheet music, which originally belonged to Joseph K. Albertson, long-time resident of Key West.


Anne Layton Rice, the author, and Chief Librarian Frank Luca, photo by David Almeida

I recently met Ms. Rice at the Society of Florida Archivists Annual Conference in Coconut Grove (another Florida town filled with eccentric tales and pit-stops). Once Ms. Rice learned of Wolfsonian-FIU Library’s strong holdings in Spanish-American War materials, primarily as a result of the generosity of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, she decided that the Joseph K. Albertson Collection would be a perfect fit for us.

June 201592910 The Joseph K. Albertson Collection, Gift of Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Fla.

The polarizing patriotism rallied by the suspicious but unexplained explosion on the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor instigated anti-Spain sentiment in America. The Spanish-American War soon ensued, accompanied by much pro-independent Cuba propaganda in the form of yellow journalism, books, and songs.

June 201592906The Joseph K. Albertson Collection, Gift of Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Fla.

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The Joseph K. Albertson Collection, Gift of Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Fla.

June 201592904The Joseph K. Albertson Collection, Gift of Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Fla.

June 201592905The Joseph K. Albertson Collection, Gift of Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Fla.

Miss Evangelina Cisneros became one of the first “reality stars” of American media. Daughter of a Cuban revolutionary, Cisneros languished away in a Cuban prison at the hands of her Spanish jailors until an American reporter, Karl Decker of William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, intervened. Splashy tabloid-esque newspaper coverage fueled public outcry. A daring rescue catapulted the young beauty into instant international stardom.

June 201592908The Joseph K. Albertson Collection, Gift of Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Fla.

This new acquisition of sheet music complements the Spanish-American War period imprints and souvenir keepsake books from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection. Karl Decker wrote this 1898 book on behalf of Miss Cisneros and from her point of view. Photographs are dispersed throughout the thrilling account of bravery and daring in the name of freedom.


Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf


Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf


Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

African Americans joined the United States armed forces in the war. Their valorous actions in battle impacted popular culture.

June 201592909The Joseph K. Albertson Collection, Gift of Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Fla.

This regimental history published in 1899 contains a rare photograph of African American military officers.


Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

XC2010.08.1.30_322Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

Publishers’ decorative bindings attracted readers with red, white, and blue,and Army green covers, with silver and gold lettering and borders, and graphic illustrations of the U.S. Navy.


Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf


Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

XC2010_08_1_64_000Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

For access to more rare materials on the Spanish-American War, we invite you to search our online databases at library.wolfsonian.org and digital.wolfsonian.org, or schedule an appointment to visit us at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library. More items are cataloged every day. Let us know if you come across something that inspires you!


•July 31, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It was another era altogether. It was an era of safaris and heroic “Big Game” hunters—white men wearing pith helmets and carrying rifles to shoot “wild” animals in “Darkest” Africa. “Manly” American men like Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway, and Europeans stationed in the colonies prided themselves on pitting their lives against nature’s most dangerous beast.


But all that is over now, or should be. We have entered an age where most of the world’s wild places have been reduced to national and provincial parks, game preserves, and wildlife sanctuaries, and where cheetahs, leopards, white rhinoceroses, panthers, and countless others have been added to the list of endangered species. The idea of men continuing to kill “big game” for taxidermy trophies is as environmentally atrocious as poachers killing elephants and rhinos to “harvest” horns and tusks. Thanks to the internet, people the world over are now familiar with the pathetic story of Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist (and spare-time big game hunter) who paid $50,000 for the privilege of going on safari and shooting a lion with a crossbow. His victim, Cecil, a celebrated lion fitted with a GPS collar, had been lured out of the Hwange national park, wounded with an arrow, and then killed and decapitated some forty hours later. The dentist and his guides may now be facing serious poaching charges in Zimbabwe.

But this new story is only one in in long line of such scandals. I recall the outrage provoked in April 2012, when it became public that while the Spanish people were suffering through the greatest recession since the Great Depression, King Juan Carlos of Spain was spending more than $50,000 for a safari in Botswana for the privilege of killing and posing proudly with two African buffalo carcases and a dead elephant.


The recent flurry of international righteous indignation that has arisen over the senseless slaughter of Cecil the lion got me thinking about some related material in the Wolfsonian library collection: items from the era of colonialism, “big game” hunting, captive animal spectacles and other antiquated customs.


My own thoughts turn to Frank Buck (1884-1950), an American adventure-seeker who won world-wide fame as a “big game hunter” and wild animal collector in the 1930s and 1940s.


Buck had first sought adventure in South America in 1911, returning from Brazil and making a tidy profit selling exotic birds. Appointed temporary director of the San Diego zoo in 1923, he quickly grew bored and quit after only three months to resume his passion for animal collecting. To recoup his losses after the 1929 Stock Market Crash, he co-authored and published an autobiographical book with Edward Anthony in 1930, titled Bring ‘Em Back Alive.


The book made the bestseller list and Buck published a steady stream of sequels, including Wild Cargo (1932), Fang and Claw (1935), an elementary schoolbook On Jungle Trails (1936) and Animals Are Like That (1939). Buck won instant fame starring as himself in movie versions of Bring ‘em Back Alive (1932), Wild Cargo (1934), Fang & Claw (1935), Jungle Cavalcade (1941), Jacaré (1942), Tiger Fangs (1943), and even encountered the (Bud) Abbott and (Lou) Costello comedy team in Africa Screams (1949). Disney even spoofed Frank Buck’s popularity in a Donald and Goofy cartoon “Frank Duck Brings ’em Back Alive” in 1946.

Buck also won notoriety for setting up his “Jungle Camp” (complete with “Monkey Mountain” on the Midway Boardwalks of the Chicago world’s fair (1933-1934), a brief appearance with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (1938), and another spectacle at the New York World’s Fair (1939-1940).


Scenes from this home movie from a fair-goer includes shots of Frank Buck’s Jungle Camp in which monkeys hang out on a giant rock formation.

“Bring ‘em back alive” Buck had become such a household name in the 1930s, that a poster designed to ridicule overly-popular protests had demonstrating simians clamoring “Down with Frank Buck.”


Frank Buck’s popularity extended even beyond the grave, when a series about his life (starring Bruce Boxleitner) aired in the early 1980s. In this comical clip of one episode, another discontented monkey threatens revenge on the animal collector.

Despite Buck’s “Bring ‘em back alive” trademark, several of his films did include staged “fights to the death” between wild beasts. While Frank Buck’s wildlife harvesting methods would raise more than a few eyebrows today, the tally of wild animals he captured and sent back alive to the world’s zoos and circuses remains impressive. The list includes more than 100,000 wild birds, 120 Asiatic and 18 African antelope, 100 gibbons, 90 pythons, 63 leopards, 60 tigers, 60 bears, 49 elephants, 40 kangaroos and wallabies, 40 wild goats and sheep, 25 giant monitor lizards, 20 tapirs, 15 crocodiles, 11 camels, 10 king cobras, 9 pigmy water buffalo, 5 Indian rhinoceroses, 5 Indonesian babirusas, 2 giraffes, 2 gaurs, and more than 500 different species of other mammals. Perhaps this is why his name and legacy are a far cry from the sullied reputations of contemporary “big game” hunters in pursuit of stuffed trophies.

I thought that a fitting end to this post would be to describe one last item in the library collection. Kubwa Simba is a children’s book written by George D. Lipscombe, illustrated by Joseph Marro, and published by the WPA New Reading Materials Program in 1941.


Most interestingly, even in this story that predates decolonization, the decline in hunting safaris, and the rise of eco-tourism, the hero is not the “great white hunter” but a black maned lion who roams the Athi Plain between Mount Kilima Njaro and Lake Tanganyika. The book tells the tale of the biggest, bravest, and strongest lion in East Africa, Kubwa Simba, who defends his pride against Masai warriors and even vanquishes a huge black buffalo.


Towards the story’s end, Kubwa is pursued by a “great white hunter” from New York determined to trap him and bring him back alive.


This tale, at least, has a happy ending as Kubwa Simba uses all his brute strength to tear a hole in the enclosure and escape into the night, and into legend.


Whenever I step into the public elevator in the museum and look up at the ornamental lions’ heads mounted there, I will think of Cecil and how much more beautiful it is to contemplate this work of art than a grotesque, stuffed trophy head.



•July 15, 2015 • 1 Comment

This past week, we had two sets of visitors interested in the native peoples and cultures of the American and African continents. The first set of visitors were Luz Helena Ballestas Rincón and José Jairo Vargas (professors teaching in the Escuela de Diseño Gráfico de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia). As I guided the two professors and their daughters through the galleries, Dr. Vargas was particularly impressed by a group of Art Deco commercial posters on display which had recently been donated to the collection by Avram and Jill Glazer. Where I have a tendency in my own tours to focus on the visual expression of the messages, Dr. Vargas was very much more interested in and animated by the particular techniques used in the printing processes.


Dr. Ballestas is a specialist in Native American art, having published (and donated to our library) a book on faunal imagery and symbols in the material culture of the indigenous peoples of her native Colombia. She was very interested in a series of New Deal mural studies on display that depicted North American Indians.


In anticipation of her library visit, I had pulled a variety of artwork drawing on the material culture of the Navajo, Pueblo, and Blackfeet Indian peoples.



One of the items I had chosen is an oversized portfolio titled Where the Two Came to their Father: A Navaho War Ceremonial. Jeff King (ca. 1865-1964) was born on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Pinedale, New Mexico where he was known in Navajo as Hashkeh-yilth-e-yah. King served as an U.S. Army scout between 1891 and 1911, and rose to prominence as a respected hataałii (singer of sacred songs, or medicine man). In that latter capacity, King performed a two-day long war ritual designed to protect the souls of the Navajo youth leaving the reservation in 1941 to fight for the United States in the Second World War. Maud Oakes, an ethnologist living on the reservation at the time, was granted permission to record the ceremony and the sand paintings. King’s text and Oakes’ paintings were published as a large-format portfolio, which included commentary by the famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell (1904-1987).


Other Navajo-inspired materials on display were several works on Navajo rug design and a series of English-Navajo language primers published by the Education Division of the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs under the direction of John Collier, Sr. During the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Administration promoted a New Deal for the Indian that recognized native self-governance and tribal sovereignty over communal lands and reservations, stimulated the domestic production of carpets, blankets and other native handicrafts, and encouraged the Navajo to retain their native tongue while simultaneously teaching them English.


Written by Ann Clark, the Navajo primers describe the lives and seasonal responsibilities of native shepherds and include illustrations by Hoke Denetsosie.


The guests were also interested in a book on Frijoles Canyon Pictographs which recorded the symbols in hand printed woodcuts by Gustave Baumann.


But it was Handbook of Indian Dances, (a vibrant color block book about the Pueblo peoples published by Dorothy N. Stewart in Santa Fe, New Mexico), that really drew them in.



The Wolfsonian-FIU library also holds numerous books, portfolio plates, and Great Northern Railway commercial calendars reproducing Blackfeet Indian portraits made by German-American artist, Winold Reiss (1886-1953).




Later in the week, the library hosted a larger group of Sub-Saharan Africans visiting Florida International University as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.



The Wolfsonian museum collection is primarily focused on the period 1851 through 1945. Given Europe’s political, economic, and cultural dominance in the world in this era, much of what we have related to Africa is focused on military conflicts—such as the South African (or Boer) Wars—and materials documenting Italian colonial ambitions in Ethiopia and Somaliland. Much of our discussion consequently focused on propagandistic images of Africa and Africans produced in the context of colonialism. The library holds a couple of games designed to “educate” Italian children about the geography, history, and natural resources of Ethiopia, and to celebrate the conquests being carried out by their fathers.


Other items include a set of postcards illustrated by Aurelio Bertiglia (1891-?). These postcards use images of children in colonial uniform to emphasize the supposed “humanitarian” mission of the Italian colonizers, and to imply that the conflict was as bloodless as “child’s play.”





Many of the visitors were taken with the cover illustrations of Akbaba, a Turkish periodical that provided strong criticism of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s expansionist designs in the region.






Thanks to the generosity of long-time library supporter Frederic A. Sharf, the library also possess a large number of original diaries, journals, photograph albums and sketchbooks documenting the earlier colonial struggles and conflicts in South Africa.





There are also hundreds of advertisements, brochures, and passenger ship menus in the library collection referencing travel to Africa. Not unlike the “native” themed calendar art of the Great Northern railway, much of these materials were designed to encourage European and American tourists to visit by emphasizing the “exotic” landscapes and peoples likely to be encountered on such trips.





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