Two Gilded Age Gentlemen

Two dressed-up men smile into the camera on a spring day. One holds a Kodak camera.
Two men in high silk hats breathe the style of the times.  The year is 1889.  They are old enough to remember the century’s watershed event, the Civil War, which is long in the past, it being more than two decades since Appomattox.  These gentlemen, and millions of others, have moved on.  They are Gilded Age creatures, inhabitants of a rapidly modernizing society enjoying ever-increasing wealth.  Their era was empty of historical grandeur: in that respect, the 1880s, with their intense but under-examined social problems (including widening economic inequality), were somewhat similar to today.

Formally attired, but looking like they are often so, the two men smile into the camera of Uriah Hunt Painter.  Painter and the man on the left may be engaged in a mutual photo-shoot, for each has a Kodak camera, a new invention that became the era’s most fashionable ‘toy.’  This picture captures how people had begun to use it—not too differently from how people use their cell phones now.

The sun is shining on this Easter Monday, as all Washington gathers for the first-ever Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn.  The watch-chain of one man snakes along the surface of his taut belly, a symbol of the symbiosis between efficiency and attaining plenty.  He and his friend both sport the flamboyant facial hair that was a hallmark of the Gilded Age—the vast mustaches and expansive mutton-chops that would prevail even it Teddy Roosevelt’s time, the mutton chops first popularized by General Burnside, and eventually leading to the coinage of the enduring term, ‘sideburns.’

Image from this source.

The Once and Future Cyclist

The cyclists in their sports gear, look startlingly modern.

The French cyclists pose for the camera like something out of Gentlemen’s Quarterly.  They exude a cool nonchalance befitting their international fame and unbounded commitment to athleticism. Continue reading

Football: A Romance in Pictures

Black and white photograph of 2 football players shaking hands at the trophy stand.On Super Bowl Sunday, over 110-million Americans tune in to watch football’s grand championship game.  Fans cheer and grimace, drink and eat chili, spellbound by the contest for the sport’s supreme prize.

Black-and-white photograph of well-dressed men and women traipsing across an open field.
Enthusiasm envelops all of society, even presidents, plutocrats, and Paul McCartney.  Few can resist the drama of the grand finale.

Boys watching a football game hanging on a fence.
Only a fortunate few can afford to go to the game.

Ben Shahn, "Watching a football game, Star City, West Virginia" (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
That doesn’t stop all America from watching.

Watching a football game, Star City, West Virginia (Courtesy Library of Congress).
Even a crack in the fence can seem pretty wide.

For few things are as thrilling as a really good game.

The agony of suspense
The agony of suspense is deeply satisfying . . .

Rapt crowds in stands
the rapt suspense that grips and unites a vast company.

Young woman watching football in the sun (Courtesy Library of Congress)
Why do we love football so, anyway?

Costello kicking (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Is it that football players channel our aspirations, reminding us of the days when we, too, played?

a young boy holds a football under his arm.

Two boys on the sidelines in football helmets (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Touch football (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Does it bring back the happiness of childhood games?

Lone football player (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Or remind us of our first date in some way?

Red Grange (holding the ball) and Jim Zeller of the Chicago Bears (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
The acrobatics, the shenanigans, the mock-murderous conflicts:

Football game (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
To society, they bring much-needed cartharsis.

Massillon Tigers, 1905 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
The players, the fans, they all have their reasons.

High-school football players slump in attitudes of introspection and gloom.
Maybe we’ll figure out what it all means next season.

All images courtesy of the Library of Congress.
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