Friday, August 26, 2016

New Deal Basketball

Above: The caption for this photo reads, in part: "Seeing no reason why this signboard should be discarded once it had outlived its usefulness [i.e., after the new school was built], Cabot school officials [Vermont] ingeniously discovered that it was just the right size for a basketball backboard..." The New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA) funded hundreds of new schools across America, and many of them had gymnasiums with basketball courts, as well as outdoor basketball courts. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The work-relief programs of the New Deal also built or improved basketball courts. For example, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built many thousands of schools, gymnasiums, and playgrounds. In 1940, the WPA developed Taylor Park in Keedysville, Maryland (pictured above). Today, area residents can pass the time--and stay fit--playing basketball at the park. Photo by Brent McKee.

Above: For many decades, before it was neglected and demolished, this WPA-built gymnasium and basketball court served the town of Manteo, North Carolina. Photo by Brent McKee.

The WPA not only constructed and repaired basketball courts, it also fielded a basketball team - the "District WPA." According to a 1937 Washington Post article, "Crack WPA Quintet Becomes Favorite to Capture Crown" (March 1), the WPA basketball team was coached by George E. Allen (head of the WPA in D.C. and also a D.C commissioner) and consisted of the players Dopey Dean, Reds Scheible, Chick Hollidge, Bobby Lucas, Bernie Lieb, Bill Noonan, Ollie Tipton, and Ollie Mayfield. Competing teams included the "Navy Yard Marines" "Flying Eagles," "Treasury Department," and "Silver Spring Merchants."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

New Deal Rum

Above: The Great Depression contributed to the destruction of the Virgin Islands' sugar and rum industry. So, in 1934, the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA) provided $1 million in seed money to start up the "Virgin Islands Company" (about $18 million in today's dollars). The Virgin Islands Company (VIC) provided much-needed employment on the island of St. Croix. The women above are working in the rum distillery of the VIC, 1941. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

   Above: A man working in the VIC's rum distillery, 1941. During its first few years of existence, the VIC virtually eliminated unemployment. However, drought in the late 1930s and shipping disturbances during World War II limited the VIC's economic contributions. After the war however, the VIC played a more prominent role in the Virgin Islands, providing loans, building infrastructure, promoting tourism, and more. For more information about the VIC, see the Living New Deal's summary here. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: The VIC produced three types of "Government House Rum" - White Label, Gold Label, and Dark Label. In the advertisement above, from the October 11, 1943 edition of Life magazine, we learn that White Label was good for making daiquiris, Gold Label was good for making Rum Collins, and Dark Label was good for making Planter's Punch. Image used for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Above: This (empty) 1937 mini-bottle is probably one of the few remaining bottles of Government House Rum. A few sources note that the artwork may have been designed by President Roosevelt (see here, for example). With respect to the rum itself, reviews were mixed. In 1948, attorney and famous amateur bartender David Embury wrote: "I have never yet tasted a good Virgin Islands rum, but Old St. Croix and Cruzan are probably the best I have tried and Government House the worst" (in Wayne Curtis's, And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, p. 181). On the other hand, an article in the Virgin Islands Daily News--titled "Government House Rum Is Popular In U.S."--reported that Government House was "making quite a hit on the liquor markets of the United States. In New York City it is the best seller of all rums" (November 15, 1937). Photo by Brent McKee.

Above: A closer view, showing "Virgin Islands Co." This White Label rum was made with molasses, and it was reported in 1938 that "Americans use a light type of rum for cocktail purposes during the summer months and a heavier type of rum, such as 'Government House' Rum Gold Label for winter drinks. The aged 'Government House' rum Gold Label can be used successfully in any cocktail preparation in the place of whiskey" ("Virgin Islands Company Puts Out New Rum," Virgin Islands Daily News, July 15, 1938). Photo by Brent McKee.

The story of the VIC is an interesting and forgotten piece of American history. And it's another example of how President Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers tried to address the needs of struggling Americans - in this case, jobless men and women in the Virgin Islands. Often they succeeded and sometimes they failed, but the important point is... they tried. Compare that to our policymakers today, many of whom twiddle their thumbs and look away as children drink lead, wild fires rage, Zika spreads, and college graduates suffocate under oppressive student loan debt.

Monday, August 22, 2016

New Deal Art: "Interior"

Above: "Interior," an oil painting by Stuart Edie (1908-1974), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1938. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Federal Theatre Lives on in "The Lost Colony"

Above: This is a scene from the August 18, 2016 production of Paul Green's The Lost Colony. In 1937 the WPA's Federal Theatre Project helped start the play and, with the exception of a few years during World War II, the play has been performed on Roanoke Island every year since. Author Susan Quinn writes: "One piece of live theatre survives from the days of the Federal Theatre Project. The Lost Colony, the Paul Green pageant about Sir Walter Raleigh's failed attempt to establish a European foothold in the New World, continues to draw large crowds to Roanoke Island in North Carolina every summer. Otherwise, the Federal Theatre Project lives on only in the archives and in the stories of those who took part" (Susan Quinn, Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art Out of Desperate Times, 2008, p. 283). In the scene above, the Spanish ship captain Simon Fernando (on the steps, third from top) tries to warn the English colonists about the danger and folly of their upcoming journey. Photo by Brent McKee.

Above: This scene depicts a tense confrontation between the Europeans and the American Indians who inhabited the area. In 1937, theatre critic Brooks Atkinson described the New Deal's contribution to The Lost Colony: "From the WPA Theatre in New York have come six actors for leading parts and several assistants and counselors... The open-air theatre has been built by local WPA labor. The costumes have been made by local WPA seamstresses. From the CCC camp nearby [Camp Virginia Dare] have come the boys who play the parts of the Indians" ("Paul Green's 'The Lost Colony' Performed on Roanoke Island," New York Times, August 15, 1937). Photo by Brent McKee.

Above: A battle erupts between the colonists and the Indians. Hallie Flanagan recalled Paul Green's philosophy on history and theatre: "[He said] that historical plays should concern themselves not with the leading characters of history but with the surge of common men and women who make history though they are seldom recorded in it" (Hallie Flanagan, Arena, 1940, p. 108). Photo by Brent McKee.

Above: The dance scenes of The Lost Colony were exceptional, as were the fight scenes. According to the play's website: "Each summer, over 200 actors, technicians, designers and volunteers rehearse to bring The Lost Colony Roanoke story to life. The production is enormous. The stage itself is over three times larger than most Broadway stages in New York." Photo by Brent McKee.

Above: Queen Elizabeth, not overly interested in the New World to begin with (at least not in this version of events), tells Sir Walter Raleigh that a growing war makes further assistance to the colonists impossible. The Lost Colony is full of interesting set pieces and costumes. Photo by Brent McKee.

Above: After much hardship, and with no resupply in sight, the colonists realize that they have to leave their settlement. What happened to the colonists of Roanoke Island? Theories abound, but perhaps we'll never know for sure. Photo by Brent McKee.

Above: Cover of the 2016 program. Scanned from personal copy, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Above: Cover of the 1939 program. Courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A bust of Paul Green, playwright of The Lost Colony, at the Waterside Theatre. A plaque beneath the bust highlights that Green was not only a playwright, but also a "Human and Civil Rights Leader." Photo by Brent McKee.

Above: A plaque commemorating President Roosevelt's attendance at The Lost Colony in 1937. The Lost Colony play means different things to different people of course, but for me it's an example of the New Deal's investment in the American people: A play was created, the people of Roanoke Island dedicated themselves to making it work, and FDR, New Deal policymakers, and formerly unemployed Americans lent a hand. And for nearly 80 years the play has provided employment for theatre workers, entertainment for many thousands of people, and preservation for one of America's most intriguing mysteries. It's a great example of what can happen when we work together (as opposed to the modern ideology of hyper-individualism) and what can happen when our government is truly for the people. Photo by Brent McKee.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

New Deal Art: "Starvation"

Above: "Starvation," a lithograph by Bernard Steffen (1907-1980), created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1943. The farmer appears to be wondering if he's next. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Friday, August 19, 2016

New Deal Art: "Flood Victims"

Above: "Flood Victims," a wood engraving by Dan Rico (1912-1985), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1938. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

New Deal Dollmakers in North Carolina

Above: The description for this photograph reads, "Three of the 26 NYA girls who are at work in the NYA sewing room in Winston Salem, North Carolina, repairing dolls to be distributed by the Forsyth County Department of Public Welfare and Associated Charities to needy children at Christmas time." Photo (ca. 1935-1943) courtesy of the National Archives.