While perusing the hundreds of booths at the 43rd California Antiquarian Book Fair in Los Angeles this last February, I happened to bump into a book dealer who, in response to my queries about WPA materials, mentioned that he knew of a gentleman in Albuquerque, New Mexico who had a fantastic collection of rare New Deal books and ephemera. Soon after returning to Miami, I made my first call to Chris DeNoon hoping he might consider donating his collection to our rare books and special collections library. Although this was my first conversation with Chris, this was not my first encounter—I had long ago read his pioneering Posters of the WPA and marveled over the bold color graphics reproduced within, and had purchased at the Miami International Book Fair in November 2008 a copy of Posters for the People (for which he contributed the foreword).
Little had I known at the time, that Mr. DeNoon was not only a serious scholar, but also a serious collector, especially after he took the time to send me a detailed inventory of the New Deal materials he had assembled over the years. After conversing with him intermittently over the course of the next few months, I realized we shared not only an interest in New Deal Americana, but also a serious love for films of that era. I have been teaching a course on the Great Depression and New Deal Era in Film and History for several years now at the university, and had organized and supervised several library exhibitions of Depression-era books and library ephemera curated by some of my students. Naturally, our conversations never lagged for want of common interests. This month I had the pleasure of being able to accept Chris’ generous invitation to visit him in New Mexico to view his collection directly and to discuss the possibility of a donation of the same to the Wolfsonian-FIU Library. Soon after arriving at his Pueblo-revival home in Albuquerque and being treated to a delicious lunch set out by his charming wife, Susan, Chris and I spent the afternoon reviewing the rare books set out in boxes in his living room and began making plans to wrap, box, and ship them off to Miami Beach posthaste! Much to my surprise, this same Monday that I arrived back at the museum, the eleven boxes shipped book rate via the Albuquerque Post Office arrived as well! So much for “snail mail’!
Having opened and begun processing the first of eleven boxes, I thought I’d begin publicizing some of the contents of The Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture. Today’s blog features a few of the wonderful CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) materials included in the donation.
The CCC was one of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first (and most popular) relief programs—designed to deal with the serious social problem of unemployed youth in the nation. By the time he took office in 1933, there were hundreds of thousands of young men (and women) who had dropped out of school, left home, and had taken to “riding the rails” in search of work and opportunity. A 1933 film directed by William Wellman entitled Wild Boys of the Road captured the plight of the depression-era’s “Lost generation,” as you can see in this sensationalized original trailer:
The newly inaugurated president’s answer was to enroll immediately some 250,000 young men in the CCC, or what was affectionately dubbed Roosevelt’s “Tree Army.”
Between 1933 and 1942, as many as 3 million young men enrolled in the CCC, living in barracks in the nation’s national forests and parks, where they were put to work planting trees, battling forest fires and soil erosion, and building recreational facilities in state and national parks.
The Wolfsonian-FIU is extremely grateful to Christopher DeNoon for his generous gift which will not only ensure his collection’s preservation, but will also provide many generations of FIU faculty, students, and scholars from across the globe with a window into our nation’s New Deal past.