Running to see Taft

photo taken from the train during Taft's 1908 whistle-stop campaign.
It occurred to a photographer traveling with William Taft during the 1908 presidential campaign to take this picture of the people of De Witt, Nebraska, running to catch up with Taft’s slowing train.  Taft, a Republican and then vice-president, was running to succeed Theodore Roosevelt.  It was the hey-day of the whistle-stop campaign, which Roosevelt had taken to new extremes.  In an age when newspaper was the nation’s reigning mass media, seeing a leading politician in person was rare and precious.  In a small town, the visit of a future president generated universal excitement.

The image registers photography’s growing ability to capture the spontaneous action of everyday scenes.  Despite the movement of the crowd (and the train), the camera captures the running townspeople and the setting with remarkable clarity.  A woman in an enormous hat smiles while shielding her eyes from the sun; the flags’ stripes flap crisply over others as they run;  in the distance, a retreating train billows exhaust.  A decade earlier, such a photograph would likely have been an impossible blur.

Technical advances had widened the scope of photography, which in turn began comprehending more of the scene: not just frozen dignitaries but the living, breathing citizens they aspired to lead.

Image: from this source.

When Nominating a President United a Party

Party leaders calling on Theodore Roosevelt at home following his nomination for president.
This photograph provides a measure of how much our style of choosing presidents has changed.  In 1904, when this picture was taken, there was no doubt whatsoever of the power of political parties to select their presidential nominees.  In the century since, both parties have lost that control.

Admittedly, the star of this picture, Theodore Roosevelt (in the white vest), was immensely popular, and the incumbent.  His rise had been dependent, however, on his skill in gaining support of the major powers in his party–the political bosses who controlled large blocks of delegates, and the senior officeholders whom the bosses supported.  A presidential hopeful had to take into account established figures and personally win them over.  The months leading up to a convention were a period of intense jockeying, as hopefuls and their friends made the rounds, trying to gain traction within the organization.  No way could a candidate hope to become president without the party establishment, because the power to select a nominee really lay, not with voters, but with their delegates.

Ultimately, delegates to the conventions chose the nominee.  They could change their votes during the balloting if they pleased, and such changes were often necessary.  This process forced the people who were most invested in a political party to come to an agreement about competing nominees and decide which of them best served the party’s interests.  In the process of rejecting candidates, the party also closed off undesirable ideological directions it might have taken.  (Both the Democratic and Republican parties curtailed the independence of delegates after the tumult of the 1960s, gutting the conventions of their essential purpose and drama.)

Young Roosevelt understood that his individual destiny was interdependent with that of the GOP.  Early on, he labored to prove his loyalty to the Republican Party, despite his Progressive leanings and reputation for being an impetuous renegade.  He recognized that, whatever his personal talents (which proved to be considerable), he needed the vast organizing structure of the party to propel him upward.  After angling for years to get the party where he wanted it, the party finally acquiesced.

The ritualistic mating game they had played was epitomized in the nominating committee’s formal call on Roosevelt after the convention.  They visited Roosevelt at his home on Long Island, Sagamore Hill, where he personally received them and demurely accepted their invitation to be the party nominee.  The character of the event was not unlike an at-home wedding.

The accommodation that he and his fellow Republicans achieved gave Roosevelt the personal glory he craved, while benefiting the party, which, by organizing itself around Roosevelt, soared to new levels of popularity.  In the general election that pitted him against Democrat Alton B. Parker, Roosevelt won every state in the North and the West, including Missouri, which hadn’t gone Republican since the 1860s.  His margin of victory was 2.5 million popular votes, the largest in American history.

Roosevelt forgot what he knew about interdependence later in life.  Having declared that he would never again run for the presidency, he yielded his place to William B. Taft, who retained the White House for the Republicans in 1908.   In 1912, Roosevelt made a disastrous decision to run against his party, splitting it and effectively giving the presidency to Woodrow Wilson and the Democrats.  It was that party’s first presidential victory since before the Civil War.  Roosevelt’s go-it-alone mentality and determination to defy the stolid power of the parties betokened the ill-conceived and divisive presidential bids so prevalent now.

 Image: from this source.

Theodore Roosevelt Jumping, 1902

Rear view of an action photograph unusual for the time.

As one of history’s most active presidents came on the stage, photography raced to catch up with him.  This rather extraordinary photograph from 1902 shows Teddy Roosevelt, then president, jumping his horse over a split-rail fence.  Such beautifully crisp shots of objects in motion were exceedingly rare at that date. Continue reading

An early aerial view of the University of Chicago

Aerial panoramic view of the Quads taken from west of Ellis Avenue.
George R Lawrence was a pioneer whose specialty was panoramic aerial photography.  A native of northern Illinois, he invented the means to take high-quality “bird’s eye” views using a camera hoisted aloft with balloons or kites.  His most famous photographs are of a ruined San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, but he also photographed Chicago, its waterfront and factories, and various towns nearby. Continue reading

They Partied On

Frances Benjamin Johnson, "Inaugural decorations, McKinley Inauguration, Pension Building" (Courtesy Library of Congress)
On the evening of March 4, 1901, men and women in formal dress began drifting in to the Pension Building to attend the inaugural ball for William McKinley, who had been sworn in to his second term as president earlier that day.  The cavernous Great Hall of the Pension Building had been lavishly decorated for the occasion.  Guests were nearly lost in its magnificence: the endless garlands of lights, the immense stretch of polished floor, the massive stone columns stretching up to a ceiling over a hundred feet high.  Overhead a gold-draped canopy glowed, reflecting the elegant incandescence below.

It was the one-hundredth anniversary of the first inaugural ceremonies to take place in Washington City, and the ball’s organizing committee intended to make it the most spectacular of any.  The official souvenir program they got up preserves the essence of what they wanted to achieve.

THE INAUGURAL BALL

With each recurring inauguration of a President of the United States the festivities in which the people of the nation join are carried out on an ever increasing scale of elaborateness and grandeur.  This year, as on several occasions in the past, the inaugural ball will be held . . . in the Pension Office building. . . . The magnificent court of this immense building affords suitable accommodations for the thousands who gather to make notable this great social feature of the induction of a Chief Executive into an office, which is the highest a republic can give.

The inaugural ball is a time-honored and always enjoyable function.  The newly announced President attends with the members of his personal and official family, and leads the opening grand march.  It forms a fitting and spectacular climax to a day of so much importance to the whole people.  It is confidently expected that the ball this year will be the most resplendent, the most inspiring scene of gayety that has yet marked an inauguration.  Over $18,000 has been spent alone in decorations, bunting, electricity, and flowers being the component parts of a scheme, which surpasses in glory of embellishment and detail the dreams of Oriental royalty.

The general color effect will be a most delicate shade of yellow known as old ivory.  The ceiling will be a canopy of gracefully looped bunting, studded with innumerable incandescent lights burning within frosted glass.  There will be no glare of dazzling arc lights, but an artistic mellow glow from the incandescent bulbs.  The balconies which surround the court, the grand columns that reach from the tiled floor to arching roof, will all be decorated lavishly by the most skilled artisans.   . . . This year American Beauty roses, rare orchids, and thousands of yards of twining vines . . .  form the basis of the floral scheme.

The US Marine Band was slated to play a special program of promenades.  A 125-piece orchestra was also on hand to play dance music throughout the night.  Admission to the ball was $5 a ticket, while tickets to the buffet were an additional $1 each.

On arriving, President McKinley and his family, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt and his family, were first shown to private suites of rooms off the Great Hall before emerging to lead the grand opening march.  President McKinley and his wife Ida were admirable figures, but the night really belonged to the new vice-president Teddy Roosevelt and his wife Ethel, whose youth and glamor threatened to eclipse the president entirely.  Roosevelt’s reputation as heroic leader of the ‘Rough Riders’ who helped liberate Cuba from Spain had endowed him with universal celebrity.  His very presence reminded everyone of the nation’s recent military triumph, further stoking the celebratory mood of the ball that night.

Image by noted photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Click here to go to the source.

March 4: Old Inauguration Day

two matched photographic plates showing the scene around the Capitol on inauguration day.

Historically, March 4 is a day for beginning.  In 1789, it was the day the federal government first convened under the US Constitution. From that date through 1933, it was the day when presidents–from George Washington through FDR–were inaugurated.  Then, pageantry, ritual, excitement, and uncertainty ruled the capital, combining in astonishing scenes richly documented in newspapers, eyewitness accounts, sketchbooks, albumen prints, and later celluloid.

Here is just one such image by way of tribute to our national birthdays past: a magnificent panoramic view of the Capitol on the inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt on March 4, 1905.  Please click on the image for a much enlarged view.

Image: panoramic photograph by George R Lawrence
from this source.

Speed skater Hugh Palliser

Hugh Palliser skating toward the camera circa 1904 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The speed skater circa 1905 stood out as an other-worldly figure, his gear and garb outlandish to those around him.  Here is Hugh Palliser, a gifted amateur skater, manifesting the transformation that a trending obsession with speed brought on.  His clothing, his hat, his skates, his stance: all set him off from skaters out only for recreation.

His simple tunic, tight woolen leggings, and practical beanie register how science was changing the centuries-old sport of skating.  Hugely popular as a late-nineteenth-century pastime, skating was developing a more serious side, as passionate competitors like Palliser pondered how to apply the new principles of efficiency to the business of getting across the ice.

The speed skater shunned the bulky street clothes his contemporaries were wearing.  For the sake of speed, he donned a minimalist outfit one step away from wearing nothing.  Equipment manufacturers like Spalding were producing new kinds of skates, with blades engineered with speed in mind.  American skaters had begun looking beyond their nation’s boundaries, racing against Europeans and Canadians, and forming a cosmopolitan fraternity that fostered a flow of innovation.

Champion speed skater Morris Wood

Palliser skated for the Euclid School in Brooklyn, NY, then one of the nation’s top speed-skating teams.  His teammates included national champion Morris Wood, Allen Taylor, and ‘Gus’ Stolz.  All four appeared as poster-boys for their sport in Spalding Athletic Library’s 1904 How To Become a Skater, which introduced a new generation to the gospel of speed.

Images: from this source and this.
This is the eighth in an occasional series of posts on ice-skating.