vintage

Posted by Ellen

In April 1947, this photo led off a Coronet magazine spread on taces of people accused of murder and other crimes.. "For men who break or ignore the law, there is no hiding place, no turning back," according to the caption. "His hands eloquently expressing self-pity, this man confessed to killing two people. 'I wish I'd kept still,' he said."

Other photos and captions from the piece are posted here. H/t to John Stein.
 

Posted by Ellen

 When they built the Grand Trunk line from Portland to Montreal in the early 1850s, they had to figure out a way over or around the White Mountains in New Hampshire. They ran the tracks up the Androscoggin River valley past the tiny village of Gorham, just eight miles north of 6,200-foot Mount Washington. Gorham became the railroad maintenance and service center, and this late-nineteenth-century birdseye view of Gorham shows the extensive railroad yards developed there.

Anyone who has been to Gorham, however, will notice something a little odd about this image of the place. The mountains in the background look low and unprepossessing, just some handsome, rolling topography off in the distance. Actually, they loom crazy big over the town, with Mount Washington in particular filling the sky and dominating the view almost like an Alp. Gorham is less than 800 feet above sea level; the peak of Mount Washington is more than a mile higher. Perhaps the artist (and/or his patrons in town) feared that big mountains might scare people away from Gorham. Gentle country would look more hospitable.

But the railroad that created Gorham eventually brought tourists to the hills, and today the town survives as a jumping-off point for vacationers in the White Mountains. An artist publishing a twenty-first-century birdseye view of the town would probably want to emphasize the mountains, maybe even drawing them bigger and steeper and closer than they really are. Wild, dramatic country is what the people want nowadays.

Trains don't stop here any more, but there is a railroad museum.

Posted by Ellen

The Grand Trunk Line went bankrupt in 1920. Cost overruns on its expansion to the West Coast stressed the company, and its route planning out west proved unfortunate, too far north to compete with the fledgling Canadian National Railroad, which eventually absorbed it. The Grand Trunk's U.S. lines were assigned to a holding company that used the Grand Trunk name, but they too declined and faded in the mid-twentieth century along with the railroad industry in general.

The Grand Trunk station in Portland, on India Street near the waterfront, was demolished in 1948.  These pictures actually show a different Portland train station, Union Station on Congress Street near St. John Street, which handled southbound passengers and freight. Union Station opened in 1911 and was demolished in the1960s to make way for the I-295 highway.

Portland lost an elegant building that day--the current Amtrak station is basically just a corner of the bus station lobby--but by all accounts, the destruction awakened people to the importance of historic preservation. And though it couldn't have been foreseen in the 1960s, when urban renewal was thought to lead to future glory for America's cities, Portland's old buildings and cobblestone streets have turned out to be what saved this town--people have learned to make money off of "quaint."

 

Posted by Ellen

The first big railroad operation in the world was the Grand Trunk, a Canadian company that started up in 1852 with a line from Portland, Maine, to Montreal, Quebec. It is hard to fathom today why anybody would invest money in rail transportation between Portland and Montreal--the two cities nowadays have little to do with one another, and there is little travel or freight transport between them.

Back in 1852, however, both cities were important ports. Montreal, which sits closer to Europe than any U.S. port,  was a major terminal for trans-Atlantic shipping. Portland supplied lumber to the world and was the northern terminus of coastal U.S. shipping routes.

And back when railroad technology was a newfangled thing of uncertain commercial value, trains were initially imagined as a means of extending sea transport. A train could load up in the port of Montreal with European goods and deliver them to the port in Portland, from which they could be sent by ship to any of the fast-growing markets in cities along the eastern seaboard of the United States.

The Canadians who thought up this scheme became wealthy men. They eventually expanded the Grand Trunk to Toronto, Chicago, and points west, and they added a second New England line down through Vermont. Within a couple of decades, imitations of the Grand Trunk Line had been built all over North America, stitching the continent together with railroads.

This picture shows the port of Montreal around the time the railroads were starting up. Today, Montreal is the busiest container port in the world and also handles grain and other products from central Canada and the midwestern United States. Most of the grain still gets to the port by train.

Portland's port handles more tourists than anything else these days, though South Portland remains active as a terminal for Mideast oil shipped to the United States. The oil is pumped from tankers into a pipeline that closely follows the old Grand Trunk route up to Montreal, where it is refined to make gasoline and other petroleum products.

Posted by Ellen

Jack Delano's 1940 photo of Pittsburgh has a cinematic feel to it, as the lady on the staircase descends into a dark and cold and spectacular kind of hell. That particular hell--with sulfurous fumes belching from roaring steel mills--went south a generation ago, abandoning western Pennsylvania to rust and poverty. Somewhat remarkably, the city has stirred from its decline and reinvented itself as a clean and shiny, almost high-tech sort of place. But all along, the sons and daughters of Pittsburgh have been growing up into American image-makers, people who have shown us what we look like, or would like to look like, or hope to God we never ever look like. Fred Rogers, with his sweater and sneakers and perfectly detailed little world of children's TV--wasn't Pittsburgh's first or last cultural chronicler.

Early on, there was Stephen Foster, of Swannee River and Camptown Races fame, and then the painter Mary Cassatt, the modernist Gertrude Stein, and the Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller. Some of the Pittsburghers have worked right up to the cultural edge--Andy Warhol--and some have walked us up to the brink, where we could glimpse a frightening future--Rachel Carson.

Most notable, perhaps, were all the guys who played football, generation upon generation of Pittsburghers who were big and tough and fast and focused: Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Mike Ditka, Larry Brown, Nick Saban, and way too many others

Then there were those who worked the cultural currents of the times: e.g., Bobby Vinton, Lou Christie, Charles Bronson. And the ones who have risen above their times, soaring elegantly: Gene Kelly.

But who took the neighborhood in this picture and warped it into a dark corner of the American consciousness? Back in the early days of television, Fred Rogers hired an imaginative young assistant who moved on to Hollywood and directorial fame and fortune--guy by the name of George Romero--whose first big hit opened a seam of movie-dom that has been dug ever deeper to this day: Night of the Living Dead.

And for what it's worth, Pittsburgh still has more than 700 staircases officially registered as city streets.

Posted by Ellen

This mid-1950s photo, according to the little boy with glasses in the middle of it, records the moment he chose his life's work. His older brother, at left, is showing a photo album to a family friend. His older sister shot the picture.

What is the little boy thinking? He claims that the idea going through his mind is: "All I have to do is take some pictures, and everybody will pay attention to me."

I don't know who he is; he submitted the photo and many others to Shorpy, under the username tterrace.

Posted by Ellen

All right, not seventy-six, but definitely one trombone in this band-sextet-plus-string-quartet from the U.S. Marine Corps Band in 1910. And a double-belled euphonium--for real! Over there at the right.

Do you remember the double-bell euphonium, from "Seventy-six trombones" in Meredith Willson's Broadway show "The Music Man"? I'd thought it was a joke, a made-up instrument that the ignorant folks of River City, Iowa, would believe was real. But I guess it was actually more of an in-joke, a real band instrument of the era, with a name so silly that only the cognoscenti would believe it. As always, I ain't no cognoscenti.

This photo is from the middle of the era celebrated in "The Music Man," when towns all over America built bandstands in the park and organized their own brass bands. In the cities, commercial brass bands were making big money. John Philip Sousa, everybody's favorite bandmaster and composer, had joined the Marine Band at the age of thirteen and conducted it long enough to play for five presidents. But before the turn of the twentieth century, Sousa left the Marines to seek his fortune with the baton of his own Sousa Band, which was wildly successful and became the first American musical organization to tour Europe. In the 1920s, the piccolo player in the Sousa Band was none other than Meredith Willson, who who spent the next thirty years working on music and lyrics for "The Music Man," which finally debuted in 1958.

Today's Marine Band is still "The President's Own" and the premier ensemble of the U.S. military, which claims to employ more musicians than any other organization on earth. The band uniforms haven't changed much in the past ninety-nine years, though the shoes are much shinier nowadays.

Oh, and here's "Seventy-six Trombones," as performed by the trombone choir of Anchorage, Alaska.

 

Posted by Ellen

Amidst all the screaming and snarking of the blogosphere is a website that's sweet and wonderful: MyParentsWereAwesome.com

Anybody can send in pictures of parents (or grandparents) from back in the day. I'm going to send in pictures of my parents, because they're still really awesome, and I expect all of you to do the same.

Here are three sets of parents from the site:
     Thelma and Reuben, looking at each other--submitted by Seth
     Jonathan and Virginia, seated--submitted by Rob
     Kathi and Kenney, with the guys in the band--submitted by Ryan

 

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Posted by Ellen

Dorothea Lange photographed this woman in a migrant farmworker camp in Klamath County, Oregon, in 1939. According to Lange's notes, the woman was a young mother, originally from El Paso, Texas, who had just finished her washing.
 

Posted by Ellen

This is the 1905 varsity basketball team from Charlotte Hall Military Academy in St. Mary's County, Maryland. Sylvester Stallone was a Charlotte Hall boy, shortly before the school closed in the 1970s.

In 1905, basketballs had laces like footballs, and dribbling was very tricky.