August 24, 2004

Newark, N.J., July 1937

I spent most of the day at the Library of Congress, and while I had a few humiliating moments (it's been years since I last had to load a microfilm reader, and I managed to screw it up pretty badly the first time I tried today), it made me pine for the days when I spent a good portion of my days doing research. I was looking for information on something that happened in New Jersey in July 1937 (don't mean to be vague, but to explain it, I'd have to write a whole lot more than I want to just now) when I came across this tidbit, from the Newark Evening News of July 12, 1937:

Campaign Book Sale May Not Be Probed

WASHINGTON (U.P.) -- House Democratic leaders indicated today that Republican Leader Snell's resolution for a special investigation into alleged sales of the Democratic campaign book to corporations would be pigeonholded.

Snell charged that the corrupt practices act had been violated in the sale at $250 a copy of books autographed by President Roosevelt.

I think corporate contributions to political campaigns (if that's what we're talking about here; it's unclear whether the $250 ended up in Roosevelt's campaign chest -- unlikely since he wasn't running until 1940 -- or was going to congressional campaigns) would violate the Tillman Act of 1907, which banned corporate contributions, and not the Federal Corrupt Practices Act of 1910 (amended in 1925), which set expenditure and disclosure requirements for congressional campaigns. Interesting to see how at least some things are consistent...

In other news from July 1937, the Navy had all but abandoned hope of finding aviatrix Amelia Aerhart, and Newark was shocked when a 15 year old boy and his 16 year old sweetheart sneaked off to New York City to get married. Intercepted by New York police at the train, the couple was returned to Newark.

I wish I'd printed out more pages, but one of the things that struck me was how much international news there was, how it was prominently played, and how little of it -- as far as we knew at the time -- affected America. Plenty of page one stories on the Japanese in Nanking; analyses asking whether Hitler's advisers were driving him to seek the annexation of Austria, or the other way around; tensions over the British plan to partition Palestine, and so on. And remember, these were Newark, New Jersey, papers -- not exactly the elite press of the day.

The business pages were jarring to read. The stories dealt almost solely with what we would call commodities -- coal production up; copper hits an all time high; Japan is the largest importer of U.S. steel. Labor matters ended up in the A sections, for the most part.

The sports pages seemed not much different than those of today -- particularly the futility of the Phillies...

Posted by Ideofact at August 24, 2004 11:48 PM

In trying to get a better grasp on our historical present, I've found it most illuminating to hang out in decades and centuries past. There's a lot of fascinating audio stuff at The Authentic History Center. I found Lindbergh's 1941 speeches resonated in a rather eerie way with some of our contemporary themes and tones. A lot of the stuff went missing awhile back; instead of audio that used to be there you'd just get a description of it. Some seems to have returned.

A few months ago I stumbled across John Gunther. I'd never heard of him before but apparently he was a mega-famous journalist. There are loads of copies of the books from his Inside series out there, and most of them show up in Amazon's marketplace for just pocket change. I've got the revised addition of Inside Europe, from 1938.

Early on in the present war I read through Orwell's wartime diaries. Thought so much is so different, it's really weird to see the same perceptual habits, the same arguments, the same blunders.

Posted by: tm at August 25, 2004 09:23 PM