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D-Day. June 6, 1944.  

The words bring to mind images of hundreds of landing craft, machines, and American fighting forces landing on the beaches of faraway places. D-Day was the largest seaborne invasion in modern history. Thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Forces invaded Normandy to liberate Western Europe during World War II.

And this flag was there. 

This flag, which flew aboard LCC 60 on D-Day, was donated by Bert Kreuk and Theo Schols to the people of the United States in memory of the service and sacrifices made by all Americans in the liberation of Europe during World War II.

In the early hours of D-Day, a massive naval armada floated several miles off the enemy-held coast of France. The ships would soon deliver soldiers to five beaches. Aboard the ships, orders bellowed over loudspeakers, telling soldiers to stand by and prepare to board an array of landing craft to bring them to shore.

A few specialized ships, called “Landing Craft, Control” or “LCC,” would guide the vessels carrying tanks and personnel to the correct sectors of the beaches and help control the movement as vessel after vessel approached the shore.

This flag flew aboard LCC 60, a vessel that guided waves of swimming tanks and landing craft to the “Tare Green” and “Uncle Red” sectors of Utah Beach.

Landing Craft, Control (LCC) were 56 feet long and cruised at a maximum speed of 13.5 knots, about the size of many modern sport fishing boats. They had practically no creature comforts for their 14-person crew, and the little craft sported considerable specialized equipment, including radar and radio transmitters, direction finders, and underwater sound equipment. Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

LCC 60 was captained by a 26-year-old English major from Oskaloosa, Iowa: Lieutenant (junior grade) Howard Vander Beek. His orders were to move LCC 60 into its position as a secondary control ship, providing backup to the primary control ship and guiding landing craft to “Tare Green.” 

As they waited, Vander Beek and his crew heard enemy shellfire directed at them. Suddenly, the primary control vessel for “Uncle Red” sank—victim of an enemy sea mine. Moments later, in LCC 60’s sector, a landing craft carrying tanks struck a sea mine and sank.

Meanwhile, a deafening roar swept the area as American bomber aircraft hammered the beaches. Naval gunfire erupted, with dust and smoke soon enveloping the entire coastline ahead of LCC 60.

Vander Beek received word that his craft’s counterpart in “Uncle Red,” LCC 80, was unable to maneuver after a buoy line fouled the propeller. The primary control ship for “Tare Green” directed LCC 60 to shepherd all the invading ships to shore in “Uncle Red” as well as continue providing support for “Tare Green.”

As the sun began to rise, Vander Beek turned to see what he called “the greatest armada the world had ever known, the greatest it would ever know” behind him. 

He later recalled the “many great, gray ships majestically poised in their positions; larger numbers of unwieldy landing vessels heaved by the heavy sea; and countless numbers of smaller amphibious craft tossed mercilessly by the waves.” 

Then the aquatic invasion began.

Soldiers disembarking on Utah Beach. Courtesy of the Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie / National Archives.

LCC 60 helped move the tank landing craft in closer, then turned to control duties in “Uncle Red,” directing waves of tanks and men ashore.

Unbeknownst to the men of LCC 60, the combination of limited visibility with a strong ocean current and winds caused the first wave of landing craft they directed to come ashore about 1,000 to 1,500 yards south of the intended landing zone. Fortunately, this section of the beach had few obstacles and even fewer defenders. Among the men landing on that section of beach was Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Assistant Division Commander of the Fourth Infantry. He scouted the landing area and declared, “We’ll start the war from right here!”

Crew of LCC 60. Courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

The LCC 60 was relieved of her duties that afternoon. Vander Beek was summoned to brief senior leaders and war correspondents on the landings. After answering their questions, he returned to LCC 60 and spent the remainder of the day shuttling personnel from ship to ship. “Finally, somehow, the day that had begun an eternity before back in England ended sometime before the sun set,” he recalled.

A circular hole found in the blue field is believed to have been made by an enemy machine gun bullet off Utah Beach.

In published recollections of his wartime experiences, Vander Beek never mentions his one souvenir of D-Day: LCC 60’s flag. The 48-star flag, its leading edge tattered and worn from ocean winds, was used at D-Day and again in a later invasion of Southern France, Operation Dragoon. A circular hole found in the blue field is believed to have been made by an enemy machine gun bullet off Utah Beach.  

Vander Beek later removed the flag and kept it safely in his home until his death in 2014.

Flags do many things: they tell stories about our nation’s battle for independence, they symbolize sacrifices made, and they often unite the nation during key historic moments. Vander Beek understood this. In his memoir, describing the flags of D-Day, he wrote, “Flashes of color lifted our spirits, particularly those of the American flag waving majestically over the beach. Knowing that it had been raised by men whom we had led in the assault fed our pride.”

This year, as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we also celebrate the homecoming of this important flag as it joins the National Museum of American History’s collections.  

Jennifer Jones is a curator in the Office of Curatorial Affairs. 

Frank Blazich Jr. is a curator in the Division of Political and Military History.


 

Author(s): 
Frank Blazich and Jennifer Jones
Posted Date: 
Thursday, July 18, 2019 - 15:30
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The Stonewall Uprising began June 28, 1969, in response to a police raid at The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York, and has since been commemorated around the world with pride parades and other events. Curator Katherine Ott reflects on the significance of the uprising.

I’m a Stonewall skeptic. I don’t doubt that it happened, but I question how it has been used over the years. Because this is a big anniversary year, there is a compulsion to heroize the people who were there and elevate the event.

Those sweaty summer nights of rebellion were certainly important and unique and have reverberated for 50 years. However, an event like the Stonewall uprising was inevitable—young people with 1960s political impatience and righteous indignation had a lot of LGBTQ+ history to fuel them. Other protest and resistance had already happened in places such as Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Much of the staying power of Stonewall’s reputation rests upon the Pride marches that began on the first anniversary of the uprising.

Donation can from the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, the first Pride march, New York City, 1970. Gift of Mark Segal.

Stonewall’s outsized fame has a downside—skewing both understanding of LGBTQ+ history and misrepresenting how historical change comes about. There is no universal LGBTQ+ history in which any one event is primary. The only commonality in LGBTQ+ life is the risk people take in being themselves.

Stonewall is often pointed to as the birth of the modern gay rights movement or the biggest news in LGBTQ+ history. But that is not accurate. For many gender-non-conforming people, Stonewall had little effect or held no interest. For many disabled LGBTQ+ people, change has been glacial—many people were institutionalized in the 1960s and still constitute a large percentage of those incarcerated. The largest psychiatric facilities today are prisons. In the 1960s, many people of color were putting their energy into civil rights work, antiwar activism, or the Chicano Movement. People living in small towns and rural areas outside of the metropoles of New York, San Francisco, or Chicago did not hear about what happened in New York City or take it up as a rallying cry.

Rainbow wheelchair button, 2016.

Some 12 years after Stonewall, the AIDS epidemic more broadly modernized the gay rights movement and propelled gay liberation by decimating and restructuring communities, creating solidarity, and necessitating out-of-the-box confrontations.

"AIDS: Bearing Angry Witness," by Jennifer Camper, printed in The Blade. HIV and AIDS have had a profound effect on communities, science, medicine, social services, and everyday behavior. Courtesy of John-Manuel Andriote Victory Deferred Collection, Archives Center.

We often think of history with testosterone-fueled events such as battles, riots, and assassinations being the source of lasting change. Violent outbreaks are dramatic and the pain that comes in their wake are attention-grabbing. But real change generally does not come about in a moment. It happens over time and is sustained by people who hold on to an idea and push it forward: the World War II soldiers who came out to each other and stayed out, the 1950s and ’60s journalists who mailed their newsletters in plain brown wrappers, the court cases, picketing, cafeteria rebellions, and everyone who showed up to challenge ignorance. Before Stonewall, there were dozens of legal actions around jobs, marriage, housing, and the right to be yourself. Violence may accompany change, but it does not sustain it.

Mattachine Review, May–June, 1955. The cover story discusses one of the many police raids in Los Angeles.Picket signs carried by protestors at the White House and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, 1960s. Frank Kameny Collection.

For me the reason to remember the Stonewall uprising is in recognition of the daily acts of courage the rioters took that got them to the bar that night. It is the multiple, unremarkable moments of inbreathing “Yo Soy, I am” that people on the margins take every day that is the watershed for change.

Katherine Ott is a curator in the Division of Medicine and Science. She has also blogged about objects she collected from the parents of Matthew Shepard and collecting LGBTQ+ objects of the past.

A display titled Illegal to Be You: Gay History Beyond Stonewall is currently on view at the museum.

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Posted Date: 
Friday, June 21, 2019 - 10:30
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I’m a lifelong resident of the Washington, D.C. area and a hockey fan. So imagine my excitement (and surprise) last year when my team, the Washington Capitals, finally won a Stanley Cup championship! I was going crazy. My family was going crazy. The whole town was going crazy! Fans were celebrating in the streets until all hours of the night, welcoming the team home at the airport, and lining the streets for a massive parade to cheer on the players for “bringing home the Cup.”

Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup parade, held in Washington, D.C., on June 12, 2018.

I was lucky enough to attend that parade in my capacity as a curator and look for cool stuff to collect. That’s right: curators collect fan paraphernalia to document the whole sports experience, and these objects can tell quite a story about the fan, the team, the sport, and what’s happening in society at a particular time. The museum has been collecting fan items for years—handmade and mass-produced material, from the famous Wisconsin cheesehead hat to game-day giveaways (and those infamous bobbleheads).

The author enjoying the Caps Stanley Cup parade before venturing into the crowd to collect fan items.

So, dressed in my trusty Nicklas Bäckström jersey and armed with business cards, I walked through the crowd looking for homemade items that expressed a certain spirit and dedication to the team. I saw many objects that were either not appropriate for our collections or just too big to care for. The Stanley Cup made of beer cans was one of my favorites, but we have no place to store it (plus it smelled of stale beer, and that’s not a smell I wanted to bring into the museum).

Homemade Stanley Cup made by Suzanne Tank and carried to many Caps games, from 2008 until the Caps finally won the cup in 2018.

I did find a smaller version of the cup that was handmade by Suzanne Tank and carried by her husband the day of the parade. I walked up to him and asked if I could have his Stanley Cup for the Smithsonian’s sports collection. By the look on his face, he was not expecting a curator in a Caps jersey to ask him for his Stanley Cup. He took my card and said he would ask his wife, since it was really her art project. A few weeks later, Suzanne got in touch and was happy to donate the cup to the collections—along with a few photographs taken through the years at games and at the parade, providing a complete history of the cup and an insight into the Tanks’ fandom. I asked Suzanne why she made a replica cup instead of just buying a foam finger. Like most fans, she said it was superstition—to visualize and then create a cup would bring luck to the team and perhaps induce a win.

Suzanne’s son, Sam, with the cup at the first playoff series in 2008.The cup at the Stanley Cup parade, June 12, 2018.

I was also able to collect a couple of cool homemade posters from Tom Blonkowski and Nicole Svajlenka that show their dedication to the Caps, their feelings about the players, and their unique game-watching traditions. The donors also offered a guide to the posters’ slogans and images, providing a totally different aspect of fan art and dedication.

Homemade posters by Tom Blonkowski and Nicole Svajlenka showing a photo of Braden Holtby making “The Save,” an incredible stop against the Golden Knights in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.This “Shots Vodka” poster includes a photo of Caps players and coaches the moment they became Stanley Cup champions. The “shots vodka” reference is to a commercial starring a young Alexander Ovechkin, in which the Caps player asks for “shots vodka.”

Although I only came away with a couple of fan art objects, I had a blast cheering on the Caps and hanging out with a few (thousand) fans—and now those crazed fans are represented in the national collections, helping us to create a full picture of the whole sports experience, from athlete, to team, to fan!

Jane Rogers is an associate curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts. 

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Posted Date: 
Wednesday, June 12, 2019 - 12:00
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The Transcontinental Railroad was completed 150 years ago, in 1869. In 1800s America, some saw the railroad as a symbol of modernity and national progress. For others, however, the Transcontinental Railroad undermined the sovereignty of Native nations and threatened to destroy Indigenous communities and their cultures as the railroad expanded into territories inhabited by Native Americans.  

I asked Dr. Manu Karuka, American Studies scholar and author of Empire’s Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad, about the impact of the railroad on Indigenous peoples and nations. 

A Native American man looking at the Central Pacific Railroad, about 1869. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Traditional histories of the Transcontinental Railroad often exclude Native Americans. How does including Indigenous peoples and nations transform these familiar narratives?

Indigenous people are often present in railroad histories, but they form a kind of colorful backdrop that establishes the scene. Rarely, if ever, do we get an understanding of the interests that drove Indigenous peoples’ actions in relation to the railroad. Rather than analyzing Indigenous peoples’ commitments to their communities and their homelands, railroad histories have emphasized market competition and westward expansion. Focusing on Indigenous histories reveals how Indigenous nations have survived colonialism. 

“Indigenous people are often present in railroad histories, but they form a kind of colorful backdrop,” explains Karuka. That is literally the case in this illustration of the Transcontinental Railroad created for a souvenir booklet. Courtesy of Archives Center, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana. 

Your new book reinterprets the building of the railroad as a colonial project. Your book also challenges readers to consider the Transcontinental Railroad as a form of “continental imperialism.” Colonialism and imperialism are two very distinct processes. How are they different, and how are they related in your analysis of the Transcontinental Railroad?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines colonialism as “colonization by settlement.” In the case of the U.S., Canada, and other settler colonies, colonialism is a process that replaces existing, Indigenous communities and ways of relating to the land with settler populations, and settler ways of life. 

The Transcontinental Railroad facilitated the colonization of western territories by encouraging new settlements on Indigenous lands. 

This colonization was an extension of what I call “continental imperialism.” I draw from the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Vladimir Lenin to understand imperialism as a process through which finance capital becomes ascendant over industrial capital. This results in the increasing concentration of wealth under fewer hands, through corporate trusts and mergers. Du Bois and Lenin argued that the hyper-concentration of wealth led to the territorial division of the world. Railroads were a core infrastructure of imperialism in North America, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

What roles did Native Americans play during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad?

It is important to distinguish between different nations and their relationships to the railroad. The railroad did not impact Native peoples in a uniform manner.

Lakotas, for example, had developed a way of life organized around the expansiveness of the Plains and of the life on it, especially the massive buffalo herds. As the Lakota writer and political leader Luther Standing Bear described it, Lakota people moved through their land, following buffalo herds. “Moving day was just like traveling from one nice home to another.” When the Union Pacific Railroad was being built, Lakota expansiveness confronted the expansionist drive of the United States. This represented two distinct and competing ways of living in relationship to the land and the living beings on it. 

Sioux drawing of a bison, 1898. The Transcontinental Railroad dramatically altered ecosystems. For instance, it brought thousands of hunters who killed the bison Native people relied on.

The Cheyenne experience was different. The railroad disrupted intertribal trade on the Plains, and thereby broke a core aspect of Cheyenne economic life. Cheyennes responded to this crisis by developing annuity economies, based around regular payments by the U.S. federal government, as stipulated in treaties, and raiding economies. This signaled a long-term strategic shift within Cheyenne communities.

Other Indigenous peoples found themselves drawn into a closer relationship with railroad construction. For instance, some Pawnee men worked as scouts for the U.S. Army, defending railroad construction parties. Their work provided an avenue to wage labor, shaped in a historical context of the imposition of commercial farming and boarding schools on Pawnees. Both of these impositions sought to replace Pawnee women’s agricultural and pedagogical work and relationships.

After the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, indigenous populations continued to have different relationships to the railroads. Some nations resisted, while others worked with the railroad. In this photograph, a group of Native American people are attending a last spike ceremony to complete the Northern Pacific Railroad, 1883. Courtesy of National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. 

How did the U.S. government’s role in railroad construction affect Indigenous peoples?

The U.S. Congress granted millions of acres of land to railroad companies. According to treaties ratified by Congress, these lands belonged to different Indigenous nations. In other words, Congress granted land to railroad companies that was not legally under its control. The different forms of Indigenous resistance to railroad construction were neither savage nor illegal. These were forms of resistance to uphold treaties, the supreme law of the land.    

The possibility of Indigenous resistance posed risks to investors. In response, the U.S. government enlisted the U.S. Army to ensure that resistance could be contained. The Army and state militias enforced the progress of construction through military occupation of Indigenous communities, deliberately targeting villages and food sources. This took the form of massacres of entire villages, as at Sand Creek and Blue Water Creek; assassination of tribal diplomatic leaders; attempts to isolate children from their families; and the wholesale destruction of the buffalo herds. The goal was to destroy the ability of Indigenous nations to contest the invasion and occupation of their lands. The railroads themselves facilitated these military tactics by enabling swift troop and supply movements over great distances in harsh weather. 

Despite the efforts of both railroad officials and military authorities, Indigenous peoples resisted. In the summer of 1867, for example, Cheyenne raids led to the complete disruption of railroad construction. Massive villages conducted strategic attacks on military outposts, settler communities, and the overland trail, completely isolating Denver from the United States for a time.

Resistance continued well after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1873, Lakotas took up armed resistance against the Northern Pacific Railroad’s illegal incursion of their homelands. Despite genocidal violence and ecological destruction, the Indigenous nations invaded by railroad colonialism are still here today. Some are at the forefront of contemporary struggles against fracking, pipelines, coal mining, and monopoly agro-business.

This illustration comes from the United States Pacific Railroad Surveys, which were commissioned by the U.S. Congress and conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers to map potential routes for the Transcontinental Railroad. This document not only shows the government’s investment in the railroad, but the perspective from which many of the surviving historical documents were created. 

What are some of the challenges in telling a history of the Transcontinental Railroad through the lens of Native Americans?

Corporate, military, and Indian Office officials created documents to facilitate the capture of Indigenous lands and the exploitation of Chinese labor. For example, I have read census records of Paiute Native Americans that tabulate the size of populations, and “propensity to labor,” with question marks next to each number recorded. These records have been cited in scholarship as facts, essentially removing the question marks. In other words, historians have cited supposed facts from documents that actually recorded rumors. A core challenge for historians working in these archives is to expose these rumors, and the impulse behind them, rather than repeating them at face value. In a larger sense, I think there is work for all of us to better understand the histories of the places where we live, rather than repeating the stories we have been told. For the great majority of us, I think our survival depends on it.

Sam Vong is a curator of Asian Pacific American history at the National Museum of American History.

Manu Karuka is an assistant professor of American Studies at Barnard College.

Digital programming for the Transcontinental Railroad anniversary is made possible by John and Ellen Thompson.

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Posted Date: 
Monday, June 3, 2019 - 01:00
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In 2017, in response to a slew of racist incidents in the Gayborhood, Philadelphia added black and brown stripes to the traditional six-color LGBT rainbow flag. The backlash was severe. Many rejected the alteration of such a supposedly sacred symbol. Apart from failing to recognize the intersectional interests of queer and trans people of color, critics invoked the rainbow flag as something constant and abiding. You can’t just change it . . . can you? Well, it turns out that the rainbow as a symbol has appeared in many places and in many forms over the past century.

Miscellaneous objects from the museum’s collection that feature rainbows, including “That’s So Gay!” trivia game, coasters, and flags promoting marriage equality and immigration equality

Where did the so-called “pride” flag come from anyway? I went on a research journey to find out, exploring works of fiction, newspaper articles, autobiographies, political parties, rock bands, a certain Technicolor movie, and more. Here are the highlights of what I learned about this colorful, often-changing symbol.

The origin myth

Queer iconography once included pink and black triangles—re-appropriated by the LGBT community after the Nazis used them to label gay men and lesbians in concentration camps—and the labrys—a double-headed ax associated with the mythological, matriarchal Amazons. A Los Angeles Times article recently dispelled the popular belief that artist Gilbert Baker was solely responsible for the design of the symbol that came next—the rainbow. In collaboration with other volunteer members of San Francisco’s 1978 pride parade decorations committee—among them tie-dyer Lynn Segerblom (also known as Faerie Argyle Rainbow) and seamster James McNamara—activists departed from the most popular queer symbols of the time to create the original, eight-color flag (complete with pink and turquoise stripes).

Novel metaphors 

So the rainbow has only been a queer symbol for the past 40 years? Not necessarily. Even a quick perusal of historical LGBT periodicals and magazines reveals a plethora of colorful references as far back as 1915, many of them in fiction writing. The chronology begins with D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow, featuring a lesbian affair between a student and a schoolteacher. Nadia Legrand’s 1958 The Rainbow Has Seven Colors features another lesbian May-December love, though unrequited. In both novels, the rainbow symbolizes new beginnings, different stages in life, and the gradations of time itself.

Everyday stories

Queer rainbow symbolism continued in the form of short stories—though it is hard to say who influenced whom or, indeed, if some simply claimed the rainbow independently as a symbol of their desires. Two short stories appeared in The Ladder, a lesbian magazine published by the Daughters of Bilitis (the first lesbian organization in the United States)—"End of the Mixed-Up Rainbow" by Diana Sterling in 1961, and "The Christmas Rainbow" by L.A.L. in 1962. Sterling’s work is slice of life, recounting the Sunday morning musings of two lovers. She uses vivid color imagery to evoke quotidian details and draw an extended metaphor. Meanwhile, L.A.L. tells of true love and tragedy, the rainbow taking on a particularly personal and aspirational meaning. The story concludes:

“… to those of you who have found your Christmas rainbow, we extend a sincere hope that it will remain yours for always. To those of you who still may search, we extend the hope that you may be very close to attainment.”

Ruby Slipper activism on a T-shirt made by the National Gay and Lesbian Task ForceFriends of Dorothy 

One might be quick to point out the significance of the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the 1939 queer classic The Wizard of Oz. “Friend of Dorothy” has proliferated as slang for being a gay man. Some historians have attributed its origin to the publication of the original turn-of-the-century children’s book series—their diverse characters (the dandy lion and Polychrome, a fairy princess and daughter of the Rainbow) and themes like inclusivity. Others have pointed to the Technicolor film and its star, Judy Garland—a queer icon in her own right. The rainbow as a symbol of hopes and dreams remains as significant as ever 80 years after the movie was in theaters and 118 years after L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published.

“Somewhere over the rainbow way up high
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”

Shirts from the museum’s collection feature rainbow symbolism Headlines and headliners 

Meanwhile, an article in The Advocate recounts a nonfiction, newsworthy moment featuring a rainbow. At a 1971 sex law reform rally in Sacramento, California, several speakers noted the appearance of a rainbow ring in the sky. Among them, Assemblyman John L. Burton of San Francisco, who joked, “I’ve heard of gay power, but this is ridiculous.”

Rainbow was also a San Diego, California, rock group—not to be confused with the British band of the same name, founded in 1975—that performed at a pride parade in 1972 organized by the Christopher Street West group in Los Angeles. The group also played a gay-straight dance organized by the Gay Students Union of the University of California, Irvine. Given the existence of the Rainbow Valley and Rainbow settlement of San Diego, one might wonder whether the band’s name is simply a queer coincidence.

Okesa stole worn by Rev. Ronald Kobata of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco (BCSF) with the BCSF patch.Coming out

Activist Arnie Kantrowitz’s 1977 autobiography Under the Rainbow: Growing Up Gay is much more explicit in its use of symbolism. The title draws directly from the Garland song, comparing the highs and lows of life and gay politics to Dorothy’s journey to Oz. The author describes his experience at New York’s first gay pride march: “Arms linked, the legions of gays were marching to Oz. We were off to see the Wizard. We were coming out.” Kantrowitz’s work was widely reviewed in a number of periodicals, wherein fellow gay men faulted him for his “trivial, obvious metaphor” and “unfortunate title.”

Love poems

With each new interpretation, the rainbow was revealed to have universal and flexible connections to a variety of experiences—not just for queer people, but for all folks othered by society. With Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreopoem (dynamic poem combining different types of artistic expression) "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf,” the colors of the rainbow are embodied by the characters themselves, exploring themes of sexuality and misogynoir. As the playwright and poet herself put it:

“The rainbow is a fabulous symbol for me. If you see only one color, it’s not beautiful. If you see them all, it is. A colored girl, by my definition, is a girl of many colors But she can only see her overall beauty if she can see all the colors of herself. To do that, she has to look deep inside her. And when she looks inside herself she will find . . . love and beauty.”

Solidarity forever 

In the world of politics, the Rainbow People’s Party (formerly the White Panther Party) was a white allies offshoot of the Black Panther Party founded in 1968. Meanwhile, the Original Rainbow Coalition was an alliance formed between the Chicago Black Panthers (led by Fred Hampton), Puerto Rican Young Lords, and poor white Young Patriots Organization in 1969 to address issues of classism—a group later replicated by Jesse Jackson’s National Rainbow Coalition, founded in 1984. The mid-20th century were a time of vibrant social change and activism, with rainbows providing potent political symbolism for unity and diversity.

Buttons with rainbows in the museum’s collectionThe future of the rainbow

Today, the pride flag is ubiquitous. From parade floats to boutique swag, a confluence of commercial interests and respectability politics have rendered it the go-to logo of “the gay agenda,” along with hashtags and slogans that have helped frame watershed moments like marriage equality and media representation in palatable and punchy terms. But what about the issues that persist, such as homelessness, discrimination, and access to health care? Where are the battle cries and banners under which we can rally for these causes? The rainbow is a flexible symbol, and we’re curious to find out how and where it will appear next. How will you draw on these histories of the rainbow to create your own?

GVGK Tang was a summer 2018 curatorial intern with Dr. Katherine Ott in the Division of Medicine and Science.

 
Author(s): 
GVGK Tang
Posted Date: 
Friday, May 31, 2019 - 16:00
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Remember these?

Getting free stuff in the mail can be exciting, especially if the stuff that’s free is new and novel. On the other hand, it can be frustrating to have unsolicited stuff pouring into your mailbox. From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, households across the United States received promotional disks in the mail from online service providers. These mailings contained free floppy disks (and later CD-ROMs) for software that provided access to the World Wide Web (WWW), a browser-based application for connecting to the internet made available to ordinary consumers in the early 1990s. Disks in flashy packaging with eye-catching slogans hawked several free hours of web browsing to entice newcomers to the online experience.

The museum’s Computing Collection contains examples of these direct-to-consumer mailings of web browsing software. America Online (AOL) is well represented in our collection, but we also have disks from CompuServe, Prodigy, and Global Network Navigator.

A group of mailings from several online service providers in the museum's Computing Collection.

AOL was notorious for aggressive direct-to-consumer marketing campaigns, as the company competed with other providers to get more consumers online, browsing the web, and paying to access it. Why did AOL opt for this aggressive and undifferentiated approach to gaining more clientele? The newness of browsing the web, joining chat rooms, and sending and receiving electronic mail were mediated by desktop computers outfitted with bulky monitors. To a consumer unfamiliar with computing technology in the early 1990s, gaining access to a personal computer and experiencing the dial-up process of connecting to the web were far from trivial activities. AOL’s “bundled solutions” offered a one-stop portal on a user-friendly interface at a time when more discriminating consumers could instead purchase separate providers, search portals, news sites, and map providers in an à-la-carte fashion. So how do you get a population unfamiliar with the experience of connecting to and browsing the web to buy into it? AOL’s approach amounted to bombarding consumers with promotional material from several avenues.

In addition to shipping disks to mailboxes across the country, AOL distributed disks as part of promotional sample packages at Blockbuster Video and placed them at stadium seats at NASCAR races, at the Super Bowl, at seats on American Airlines commuter flights, and even in flash-frozen packages for Omaha Steaks!

Jan Brandt was the mastermind behind the AOL marketing strategy. In an interview conducted by Brian McCullough for the Internet History Podcast, Brandt reflected on the marketing tactics she developed throughout the 1990s at AOL. “At that time floppies had value," Brandt said. "They weren’t cheap. If you went into the store, they probably cost 10 or 20 bucks for a 10-pack. So the fact that you got a floppy disk in the mail for free, it felt like it had some value.”

The mass mailing campaigns were effective in reaching households across the United States, but not without complaints from recipients who considered the unsolicited mail unwelcome. Over the mid to late 1990s, criticism of AOL grew in part because of the carpet-bombing method of advertising—as well as connectivity issues from enrolling too many users in a short period of time and the company’s sale of customer e-mail addresses.

A closer look at the packaging of the disks provides a window into AOL’s target markets, imagined users, and promises to its customers. One AOL mailing features a man in a business suit, tearing apart his white buttoned shirt to reveal a blue T-shirt bearing the AOL logo. The slogan at the bottom reads, “Experience the POWER of America Online!” Playing on the superhero subtext, the promotional material suggests that the target consumer was a white man who might work a routine office job by day and harness the power of the World Wide Web by night.

The still-unopened cardboard envelope encloses a 3 ½ inch floppy disk containing AOL Version 2.5 for Windows, 1994-1995.

Another example from AOL appeals to the transformative potential of the internet, promising more knowledge, prosperity, and happiness to its users. It also emphasizes the ease with which one can connect, simply by inserting a disk—a novel activity for amateur computer users. “If you want to be more capable, powerful, connected, knowledgeable, productive, prosperous, and happier,” the mailing reads, “Just insert this disk!” It’s that easy. Just point, click, and connect . . . the more hours the better!

A mailing from America Online Version 2.5, 1994–1995.

The novelty of receiving a computer disk for free in the mail was one thing, but being able to put the free disk to use was another. In the early 1990s, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, only about 15% of households in the United States owned a personal computer. According to a study from the U.S. Department of Labor, by 1997, that figure rose to about thirty-five percent. Despite the steep rise in computer ownership over much of that decade, many people did not own their own computers. Folks who didn’t have a computer in the home could choose to access their e-mail and browse the web at a local library or a web café. While many promotional software mailings were never opened, the carpet-bombing technique paid off, as AOL became the largest service provider by 2000.

AOL’s direct-to-consumer mailings were phased out in 2006 as organizational and internet infrastructures evolved, along with evolving architectures of personal computing devices. In the last 30 or so years, the promotional mailing landscape has also changed, as our virtual inboxes get flooded with e-mails for online deals and other offers. Whether you’re excited about or frustrated by getting free stuff in the mail unsolicited, AOL’s legendary campaign maintains a special place in the history of the World Wide Web, as well as in the history of American marketing.

Alana Staiti is a curator in the Division of Medicine and Sciences.

The Computer Oral History Collection in the Archives Center at NMAH contains interviews with several notable figures in computing history, including Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, and Marc Andreessen, founder of Mosaic.

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Posted Date: 
Friday, May 24, 2019 - 04:45
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Many noses are pressed against the case that houses Dorothy's Ruby Slippers each day. The famous shoes from The Wizard of Oz attract a lot of attention—the site of many selfies and squeals during the gallery's opening weekend.

But how many people notice the case that holds them? Very few.

Acting like a "preservation chamber," it does much more than provide security for the precious shoes. It keeps all 20 materials in the Ruby Slippers in an ideal environment to preserve them for generations to come.

Here's what's special about the case of the Ruby Slippers.

Back on display after a trip to the museum's Conservation Lab, the Ruby Slippers sparkle in a new, hard-working display case.Finding just the right environment for an 80-year-old pair of shoes

Each material in the Ruby Slippers reacts to temperature and humidity differently, so identifying the perfect environment for long-term preservation was a big challenge for Objects Conservator Dawn Wallace and Chief Conservator Richard Barden. To determine the conditions preferred by each material, Wallace and Barden worked with scientists at the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute to identify the materials and research their particular needs. Most of the materials are organic—the leather in the shoes' construction, the gelatin in the sequins—and those can be tricky because they can be very sensitive to some humidity and temperature ranges.

After identifying ideal conditions for each material, it was a game of finding just the right compromise. Many materials require a cooler temperature with a steady humidity level around 47–50%. If the humidity level drops too low, other materials may become brittle.

Objects Conservator Dawn Wallace installs the Ruby Slippers in the museum's new gallery.Lights! Camera! No wait, LESS lights! 

Light is one of the most damaging environmental factors and has to be minimized, but visitors also need to be able to see and appreciate Dorothy's sparkling shoes. The case's glass protects the shoes against harmful ultraviolet wavelengths.

Keep it steady

Once Wallace and Barden had the light, temperature, and humidity settings just right, their work wasn't done—and it never will be. Maintaining a steady environment with minimal fluctuations is critical. In Washington, D.C., we have heat waves, snow days, and lots of unpredictable weather in between. Our Preservation Services team will be monitoring carefully to make sure conditions for the Ruby Slippers remain optimal. The Ruby Slippers' case provides that data in real time and can detect sudden changes. It will notify staff so they can set things right.

Keep out the bad guys

Yes, protecting against theft is important. Another pair of Ruby Slippers was stolen from a Minnesota museum in 2005 and recently recovered—and we take object security extremely seriously. But there are other baddies we need to keep at bay: pollutants. Dust and other environmental pollutants are not welcome in the case, thanks to a sophisticated system to filter out harmful particles. After Wallace individually cleaned each sequin with a tiny vacuum, she's especially motivated to keep this pair of shoes as clean as possible.

Surrounded by a curtain and a mural featuring big, colorful poppies, the Ruby Slippers gallery is carefully lit to maximize visibility while protecting the objects.Don't steal the spotlight

Despite the many components working hard within the case to keep the Ruby Slippers preserved, the case's exterior remains sleek to give the shoes the spotlight. The case fits attractively into the gallery's overall design without calling attention to itself. When the Ruby Slippers move to our entertainment exhibition, the case will work seamlessly into its new setting.

So when you come to admire the Ruby Slippers, take a moment to behold the case that preserves them. Everyone at the museum is especially thankful for our "Keep Them Ruby" Kickstarter backers who not only supported the conservation of Dorothy's shoes but also helped us provide them with this hardworking, sophisticated case.

The museum's staff members pose with their red shoes to celebrate the return of the Ruby Slippers.

Erin Blasco manages the museum's social media and blog. She highly recommends this blog post on 10 things you should know about exhibition installation

The Museum extends its thanks to supporters of the Ruby Slippers conservation effort through Kickstarter.

Author(s): 
Erin Blasco
Posted Date: 
Monday, April 22, 2019 - 08:30
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There has been a lot of debate over the last few years about whether sports should be political. From NFL players taking a knee to a range of athletes refusing to visit the Obama and Trump White Houses, it might seem as if American sports have become politicized to an unprecedented degree. In truth, however, sports have always been political. Few items in the museum’s collections make this point better than an 1882 banner honoring boxer John L. Sullivan.

When Sullivan claimed the heavyweight boxing title by defeating fellow Irish American Paddy Ryan in February 1882, his supporters celebrated by immediately ordering silk banners such as this one. The banner copied Sullivan’s “colors,” an embroidered cloth that identified a fighter and was tied to his corner of the ring. The National Police Gazette, America’s leading sports magazine in the late 1800s, described Sullivan’s colors as “a large white handkerchief with a green border” bearing “a flag of stars and stripes with the Southern cross and an Irish flag coupled with it in each of the four corners, and a spread eagle in the center with the motto neatly worked beneath it: ‘may the best man win.’” The museum’s banner is nearly an exact replica, upgraded to blue silk and updated to note that Sullivan won the fight.

But this banner is no simple statement of victory. It is loaded with political symbols that asserted Sullivan’s views on pressing political issues of national, partisan, and racial identity.

See the green flags with harps on the banner? This was the most popular flag supporting Irish independence from the 1600s until the early 1900s (when Ireland’s current tricolor flag surpassed it). Yet Ireland was not an independent nation in 1882. Sullivan’s use of the flag was a statement against British control of Ireland. Many Irish Americans supported Irish independence, and the harp flag features in prints commemorating the several hundred Irish Americans who joined a failed transatlantic uprising for Irish independence by raiding British Canada in 1867.

This print commemorating the Battle of Ridgeway portrays Irish Americans, clad in green, fighting for the independence of their homeland by raiding British Canada in 1869. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Just as importantly, the banner intertwines the Irish flag with a version of the U.S. flag and other symbols of the United States: an eagle, national shield, and the motto “E Pluribus Unum.” Together, these elements declared that Sullivan was as American as he was Irish. Sullivan was born in Boston to Irish immigrants. The Irish were never held as slaves in America, but into the late 1800s Irish Americans continued to battle long-standing prejudices that led many people to think of them as inferior to other European Americans. British and American writers blamed Irish people themselves rather than imperialism and bigotry for Irish poverty. They cited Irish allegiance to the Catholic Church, unsupported applications of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the pseudoscience of phrenology—which wrongly claimed a link between people’s intellectual potential and the outline of their heads—to claim that Irish people were less independent and less intelligent than “Anglo-Teutonic” people from Northern Europe. Often, as the illustrations below demonstrate, the alleged differences were described in racial terms, with the Irish either not considered white or considered less human than other whites.

This illustration from the 1890s shows how writers in that period distorted science to falsely claim a basis for racist hierarchies. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Dozens of cartoons from the 1800s depicted Irish Americans with ape-like faces, worn frock coats and caps that symbolized their poverty and allegedly uncivilized character. African Americans had long been subjects of similarly demeaning stereotypes, drawn with exaggerated lips, bare feet, and torn clothing. This particular cartoon uses these stereotypes to suggest that Irish voters and African American voters equally make up “The Ignorant Vote.”

For Irish Americans like Sullivan, boxing offered one way to establish their equality as “whites.” Historians have noted that the vast majority of prize-fighters in America in the late 1800s had traditionally Irish names. By physically beating other white men in the ring, Irish Americans demonstrated that they were not inferior and, by extension, were entitled to all the rights and privileges traditionally granted to white Americans.

John L. Sullivan, with an American flag as his belt, in 1898. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

If boxing presented Irish boxer an opportunity to assert equality as white men, Sullivan made that statement not just through his victories but also by identifying himself with specific political movements that supported his claims and denied the claims of others. Sullivan’s U.S. flag features a “Southern cross” from the Confederate battle flag, an announcement of his empathy for the South in the wake of the Civil War and his desire to see the South and North reconciled in a nation that valued white supremacy. Such sentiments certainly played to local interests, since his fight against Ryan took place in Mississippi. But his statement also played to the Democratic Party, which in the late 1800s was rooted in two constituencies: White southerners and Irish Americans.

The popular news magazine "Harper’s Weekly" recognized an alliance between White southerners and Irish Americans in this graphic portrayal of how the Democratic Party overturned Reconstruction and disenfranchised African Americans in the 1870s and 1880s. Democratic presidential candidate Horatio Seymour, a northern Irish American (again portrayed as ape-like), and a white southerner (note the Confederate States of America belt buckle and knife inscribed “The Lost Cause”) are three allies trampling an African American man holding a flag and reaching for a ballot box. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Given his sympathy for the Confederacy and his desire to claim whiteness, it is not surprising that Sullivan refused to fight African American contenders. It was only when Canadian-born white boxer Tommy Burns agreed to fight African American Jack Johnson in Australia that boxing’s color barrier was temporarily broken in 1908. By incorporating the Confederate battle flag into the U.S. flag, and tying that symbol to an Irish nationalist flag, Sullivan asserted that he was an Irish, Democratic, and white American. Who he fought and how he represented himself established his political equality, in part by denying that equality to African Americans—at the same moment Southern states began to pass segregation laws that were later upheld by the Supreme Court in the Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896.

Kenneth Cohen is an Edward and Helen Hintz Secretarial Scholar and a curator of American culture and politics. Alex Fergus was an intern in the Division of Cultural and Community Life, and is currently an archival assistant at Whitworth University.

Author(s): 
Kenneth Cohen and Alex Fergus
Posted Date: 
Monday, April 22, 2019 - 10:45
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Every April, people throughout North, Central, and South America celebrate Pan American Day. The roots of Pan American Day go back to 1890, when the First International Conference of American States convened to establish the International Union of American Republics, an organization that would strengthen the bonds of friendship, mutual understanding, and respect for diverse cultures and peoples.

In 1930, the 24 countries of the Pan American Union’s governing board adopted a resolution to commemorate that first meeting and reinforce the common bonds and mutual goals established to promote goodwill between the countries of the Western Hemisphere; Pan American Day was born! A few years later, in his 1933 inaugural speech, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted the importance of the Good Neighbor Policy, recognizing the United States’ need for strong personal, political, and economic relations with its southern neighbors. When Roosevelt delivered his speech, few would have guessed that, just a few years later, Donald Duck would become an "ambassador at large" to facilitate U.S. policy.

"Fiesta Pan Americana" flyer, put out by Disney Company, promoting the Good Neighbor Policy and referencing our shared holidays—Pan American Day and Columbus Day. The 1943 calendar is bordered by Disney characters that starred in the 1943 film "Saludos Amigos," including the star of the cartoon shorts, Donald Duck.

As a diplomatic strategy, the Good Neighbor Policy increased in importance in the years leading up to World War II due to the rising influence of the Nazi regime throughout Europe and its attempts to make inroads into Central and South America, especially Argentina. As the Nazi propaganda machine became a serious threat to the Allied powers, the United States was compelled to develop its own campaign to strengthen support for South America. To develop closer economic and personal relationships, Roosevelt established a new agency, the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. Nelson Rockefeller was appointed as the new agency’s head but, in time, the affable Donald Duck would become the agency’s most successful spokesman.

Sheet music for song from the 1947 film "Road to Rio," one in a series of popular movies starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Lana Turner. From the early 1930s to the 1950s, Hollywood increased the number of movies featuring Central and South American stars, themes, locations, and stories as part of a diplomatic gesture toward the Good Neighbor Policy.
Sheet music for the song "Aquarela do Brasil" or "Watercolors of Brazil," which was introduced in Disney’s movie "Saludos Amigos." Written by Ary Barroso and performed by Aloísio de Oliveira, both South American artists, the song extolls the beautiful countryside of Brazil.

Early attempts by the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs to encourage Hollywood studios to produce films targeted at both U.S. and South American audiences had failed miserably. Instead of feel-good movies accentuating the diverse peoples, traditions, and cultures found in South America, the American film studios created movies rife with stereotyped bandits, thieves, and buffoons. South Americans found the films racist, insulting, and pandering. Hoping to smooth over relations, Rockefeller approached Disney and requested some movie shorts. By this time, both Snow White and Pinocchio had been translated into Spanish and Portuguese, and Disney enjoyed widespread popularity in South America.

Walt Disney saw this as an opportunity to promote his own publicity tour. From August to October 1941, he and a handpicked team of musicians, artists, animators, writers, and soundmen toured the countries of Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, and Mexico. The group was encouraged to explore and record the geography, architecture, music, art, and traditions of the different South American cultures. They returned with an abundant supply of story lines, design concepts, and ideas for new characters. Donald Duck, who by this time had surpassed Mickey Mouse in popularity, was the obvious choice to be the star of the films.

In the years that followed, the Disney studio developed books, film shorts, and comic books that celebrated the people and cultures of Central and South America.. In total Disney produced 12 cartoons, four of which—"Lake Titicaca," "Pedro," "El Gaucho Goofy," and "Aquarela do Brasil"—were released in 1942 under the movie title Saludos Amigos. In it, Donald Duck played a bumbling American tourist traveling around South America with a new friend, José Carioca, a Brazilian parrot. The film was an overwhelming success in both North and South America.

These are lobby cards from the Disney movie "Saludos Amigos," or "Hello Friends." "Saludos Amigos" premiered in Rio de Janeiro in 1942 and was released to U.S. audiences the following year. A smaller version of movie posters, lobby cards (11x14) were displayed inside movie theaters to publicize upcoming releases. Produced in a set of eight, the cards included a title page featuring the stars of the film and credits, while the remaining seven cards were highlights from the movie.

Two years later, in December 1944, Disney released its second South American-themed movie, The Three Caballeros, in Mexico City. The film introduced viewers to a host of new characters, including Panchito Pistoles, a Mexican rooster. The first half of the movie featured only cartoon subjects, but in the second half Disney introduced a technology called live-action animation, which included real actors who appeared alongside and interacted with the animated characters. Disney chose Aurora Miranda, a popular actor across North, South, and Central America, to play opposite Donald, José Carioca, and Panchito Pistoles.

Cover of "Collier’s Magazine," February 1945, includes Aurora Miranda, Donald Duck, and José Carioca from Disney’s second South American-themed movie, "The Three Caballeros." Following Donald Duck on a tour of South and Central America, the film introduced new characters such as Aracuan Bird; Flying Gauchito with his donkey, Burrito; Panchito Pistoles, the Mexican rooster; and the Cold-Blooded Penguin.

The success of these films suggests that Disney’s promise of a new version of the Good Neighbor Policy worked. North, South, and Central Americans welcomed Donald Duck and his crew of creative characters, and Roosevelt’s work to foster "international good-will and cooperation" were realized. Who would have guessed that the Good Neighbor Policy would be carried out by a duck?

Melodie Sweeney is an associate curator in the Division of Cultural and Community Life. She has also blogged about the Marx Brothers, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, and Wilkins and Wontkins.

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Posted Date: 
Friday, April 12, 2019 - 09:15
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“We were picking dandelions on the lawn there and we would boil them up,” Henry T. Chamberlain remembered. During the Great Depression, Chamberlain’s mother lost her job and couldn’t pay rent. The family moved to the grounds of the Nebraska Territory capitol building (now Omaha Central High School). “There were a million people living on that lawn,” Chamberlain said. “They all were in the same boat.”

An illustration from Bibliothèque de poche du naturaliste, published in 1894. Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library/Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (MBLWHOI Library).

With little money, he learned from his new neighbors about survival. After watching others rooting around in the lawn, the young man learned that dandelion flowers were free food. In addition to boiling them, “sometimes we went over to a park where the dandelions were prolific and we would pick the dandelions and wash them off and eat them green,” Chamberlain said.

Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the nation’s economy slowly began to rebuild and Chamberlain’s dandelion-eating days seemed to be over. On his 18th birthday, in 1940, he enlisted in the army. Though he was a crack shot and his first sergeant wanted him on the rifle team, Chamberlain said he wanted to help people—not shoot them—and trained first as a medic, then later as a surgical technician.

U.S. Army medic Henry T. Chamberlain, around the 1940s. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Chamberlain.

After completing his training, Chamberlain was transferred to the Philippines. By December 1941, Japanese planes bombed points in Manila and Chamberlain found himself on the front lines of Bataan serving as a combat medic.

In late January 1942, as Chamberlain transported a group of wounded men south to a hospital behind the front lines, he ran into a colonel who knew him. “He asked me where’d I been so I told him, and he said ‘well, I’ll tell you what. I badly need surgical technicians here, so you aren’t going back,’" Chamberlain said, with great thanks.

Chamberlain stayed at the hospital after American and Filipino forces surrendered on Bataan on April 9, bearing witness to horrors that took a grisly toll on the Filipino and American troops. The movement of American and Filipino prisoners of war from the Bataan peninsula, which became legendary for its brutality, was forever known thereafter as the Bataan Death March.

Under Japanese control, Chamberlain found himself at Cabanatuan Prison Number 1 assigned as a medic in a hut adjacent to the camp hospital known as the Z, or “Zero” Ward. Here prisoners too weak to stand were sent to die. Without any medicines to treat the ill, often sheer kindness and willpower became the deciding factor between life and death.

Beginning in mid-June, cases of diphtheria appeared daily in the camp hospital. As a child, Chamberlain had contracted diphtheria and survived the illness. He volunteered to be a medic in the diphtheria ward because, as he explained, “first of all, I had had it and I thought I was immune from it, and secondly it was a way to get away from the Japanese and the labors they were putting us through.”

In the prisons there was no medicine to treat the sick, and the ill prisoners were missing key nutrients. Recalling the situation over 75 years later, Chamberlain observed how “there was a whole profusion of dandelions, so I told the guys ‘let the things blossom and we’ll pick the seeds, and don’t pull them up, just pull the leaves off them and eat them that way.’ And that’s what they did, they ate them green and I think that saved a lot of lives there because we were not getting any green stuff at all and we were not getting any protein.”

After considerable deaths from malaria, dysentery, and diphtheria, the Japanese guards at last began providing medicines to the prisoners at Cabanatuan in August 1942, albeit too little too late. From June through December 1942, 2,556 American prisoners of war had died at Cabanatuan.

Chamberlain’s humble dandelion garden adjacent to his diphtheria ward went unnoticed by the Japanese guards, who feared nearing the darkened building that housed the sick and dying. He continued to work in the diphtheria wards in the Cabanatuan prison camp throughout the remainder of 1942 and into 1944.

As for the dandelions, “What few dandelions there were we fed to the sick guys in the sick bay,” he said. “I think it may have kept them going, I’m not sure, but that’s the only vitamins they got. Whatever protein was in them, that’s what they got.”

Malnutrition was dangerous at Cabanatuan.“One of my friends died in my arms,” Chamberlain said, "He would not eat the rice. They were so full of maggots, rice maggots. I think for every grain of rice there was a rice maggot. One of our doctors said ‘you just as well eat them fellas because that’s all the protein you’re gonna get.’ That’s the way that was, but my friend would not eat those things. He said ‘people were not meant to eat worms,’ so he died in my arms, mostly from starvation.” Chamberlain’s friend remains interred at Cabanatuan, having asked that he be buried there, to “let these people know what we did for him,” with his grave marked “known but to god.”

In October 1944, the Imperial Japanese Army shipped Chamberlain and approximately 1,100 prisoners out of the Philippines to work as forced laborers. Before leaving Cabanatuan, Chamberlain made sure his dandelions came with him. Throughout his time at Cabanatuan, he “let the seeds grow and when I left there I had picked a whole bunch of seeds and put them in various places in what was left of my uniform, in pockets and things. The Japanese guards never suspected them.” After laboring in Formosa (present-day Taiwan), Chamberlain arrived in Moji, Japan, in January 1945 and was moved to Hosokura to a lead and zinc mine owned by the Mitsubishi Mining Corporation.

At Hosokura, Chamberlain served as a medic for his fellow prisoners in Sendai #3-B Prisoner of War Camp. Chamberlain worked with one doctor to take care of all the 284 American and British prisoners. “Taking care of them didn’t mean much because we were not given any medicine, we were given very little food. If you were sick they put you on half rations because you wouldn’t work, and so that’s the way it was,” he said.

“We never saw any dandelions up there so I planted the seeds and boy, I’m sure they got lots of dandelions up there now,” Chamberlain said with a chuckle. The dandelions again provided critical nourishment to the sick and dying, a humble weed turned heavenly manna.

As the war closed in on the Japanese home island, Chamberlain too found himself working in the zinc and lead mines. The grueling work of loading ore into carts and pushing them out of the mine strained all the prisoners, with food and water barely available on any occasion. At least 15 prisoners died at the camp, mostly from malnutrition. Relief for the Hosokura prisoners arrived on September 12, 1945, when American forces reached the camp and accepted the surrender of the Japanese guards.

In 2017 Chamberlain returned to Japan to visit the former Hosokura lead and zinc mine where he was held for almost a year as a forced laborer. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Chamberlain.

Thereafter, Chamberlain would not need to tend any dandelions. He chose to remain in the military, transferred to the new United States Air Force, and retired after 28 years as a Senior Master Sergeant and a trained paramedic. At 96, he continues to enjoy carving, and as he reminded me, “I get to sleep in every day.” As I stated in reply, “you’ve earned it.”

Frank Blazich Jr. is a curator in the Division of Political and Military History. He has previously written about the life and legacy of Corporal William T. Perkins Jr., a 20-year-old Marine deployed to Vietnam as a combat photographer, and Captain James K. Redding’s experience in the Battle of Hue. He was honored to meet Chamberlain at the annual meeting of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society and appreciative of the opportunity to learn about Chamberlain’s experiences.

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Posted Date: 
Tuesday, April 9, 2019 - 17:15

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