History's Midpoint II
I saw men standing on the sidewalks clapping their hands in a queer way, obviously just to be doing something. I saw men talking to themselves, walking around, stopping, looking into shop windows, walking again.
The situation, however, was not as bleak for everyone. Here was a generation that could feel its pulse and deeply believed that five horrible years of its optimistic and idealistic world had been taken away by war. Despite the Depression, the generation strove boldly onward. Science and technology had brought forth the automobile-the one true love of the decade. Between the years of 1920 and 1929, thirty-one million automobiles had been manufactured and in the decade that followed millions more would be sold. In Manhattan the Waldorf Astoria opened its doors to the public in 1931 alongside the newly christened Empire State Building, the tallest structure in the world. Baseball continued to be the favorite sport as stars such as Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio stunned audiences nationwide. Without the lavish lifestyle of the 1920s, Americans of the 1930s adapted and found other ways of enjoying themselves. Board games and hobbies became popular among other things; miniature golf became widely accepted-so well, in fact, that the Department of Commerce estimated that it was a one hundred and twenty-five million-dollar industry. Comic strips like "Blondie," "Dick Tracy," "Prince Valian,." and "Terry and the Pirates" brought adventure and laughs to Americans nationwide. Movie theaters also boomed in this era. To escape the reality of a depression-hit country, Americans flocked to movie houses and stared dreamily at adventures in far off lands. By the end of the 1930s it was estimated that more than 50 million people went to the movies weekly. John Steinbeck remembered:
For entertainment we had the public library, endless talk, long walks, any number of games. We played music, sang and made love. Enormous invention went into our pleasures. Anything at all was an excuse for a party: all holidays, birthdays called for celebration. When we felt the need to celebrate and the calendar was blank, we simply proclaimed a Jacks-Are-Wild Day.There was, however, one community, that could not afford the joys of celebrating any day they wanted-the farmers of the Midwest. In November of 1933, the first in a series of devastating dust storms pounded South Dakota. Remembered one witness:
By mid-morning a gale was blowing, cold and black. By noon it was blacker than night, because one can see through night and this was an opaque black. It was a wall of dirt one's eyes could not penetrate, but it could penetrate the eyes and ears and nose. It could penetrate to the lungs until one coughed up black. If a person was outside, he tied his handkerchief around his face, but he sill coughed up black; and inside the house the Karnstrums soaked sheets and towels and stuffed them around the window ledges, but these didn't help much.From Texas to Canada, a swath of destruction settled upon the land. The "great black blizzard," which blocked the sun in Chicago and was witnessed in New York State, was a mere taste of the years of devastation to come. Thousands of farms were laid waste by the wrath of Mother Nature, who had long witnessed the careless destruction of the Great Plains. It took years and many millions of dollars before this natural scrooge was finally contained.
Yet, neither nature nor financial ruin could halt some who had their eyes not only on the distant past but also, still looking-like a weary boxer near the end of his rope-for a bright glimmer of hope that the future they had dreamed of in their youths would still survive. As they looked back five thousand years they also looked forward five thousand more. Somehow it came to be that a group of scientists and intellectual leaders got together enough funding, in the fall of 1938, to create what was known as the "Time Capsule of Cupaloy". With this time capsule, they hoped "that we might leave records of our own day for five thousand years hence; to a day when the peoples of the world will think of us standing at history's midpoint."
Aesthetically the Time Capsule of Cupaloy-so named for it was made from the newly discovered copper alloy "Cupaloy"-looked more like it came from the 1960s when space exploration and the discovery of extraterrestrial life seemed not so distant. The Capsule was seven-feet, six-inches long with a streamlined-missile-shaped body. The alloy Cupaloy was supposed to withstand the effects of time, as its main component was copper. Inside the Capsule, there were placed microfilm reels of literature and historical records, a lady's hat, a safety pin, a copy of the U.S. Constitution, copies of newspapers, magazines, and a copy of the Holy Bible. Also included was a guide for future civilizations-who were assumed to have moved beyond the use of the English language-to reconstruct our speech and communications. Finally, the Time Capsule also contained letters from leading men of the time: the Noble Prize winning physicist Robert A. Millikan, the German novelist Thomas Mann, and the well known theoretical physicist Albert Einstein. Specially sealed in vacuum containers, these suspended elements of the 1930s were placed in a nitrogen filling and sealed in the Capsule. On September 23, 1938, on the site of the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-in Queens-New York, the Time Capsule of Cupaloy began its journey, fifty feet into the ground and five thousand years into the future-not to be disturbed until the year 6939.
But who would remember such a bold and daring endeavor by men who were thinking of the future and who were perhaps also thinking of the vulnerability of their times? Thousands of copies of The Book of Record of the Time Capsule of Cupaloy were sent to libraries and religious structures all over the world. The book, specially printed to be able to resist the effects of time as long as possible, found its way across the globe to Tibet where the cold spires of nature's own skyscrapers breathed a heavenly wind down upon man. Copies were sent to Shinto Shrines in Japan where a powerful military regime was swiftly planning the conquest of the rest of Asia. In India where religious unrest was overshadowed only by protests of colonial rule the Book of Record also made its way.
In North America copies of the Book of Record were sent across the nation, from the Library of Congress to the small libraries in the farming towns of Nebraska and North Dakota. To New England's shores the book also came. Across the gray, cold beaches and wind swept hills of Massachusetts to the coast of Maine, where lobsters continued to congregate in the shallow waters in the millions, the book traveled by post-bag or by special delivery. As it neared the town of Brunswick on the Androsscoggin River a copy found its way to Hubbard Hall, that gothic, owl-like building on the campus of a college that had been unchanged in its tradition and its mission in decades.
On a clear night in the fall of 1938, there were lights across Bowdoin College as young men from all walks of life walked to and from the ancient buildings, partied in the fraternity houses, drank to their youth, discussed their future, and prepared for whatever the world would throw at them. These were the boys who had lived through the Great Depression and the boys who would lead the future, which had been so derailed from its intended glory almost forty years ago at the dawn of the new century.
Yet there was more derailing to do as the world moved on its course through history's intended path. Away from the cigarette smoke and the fine suits of the young men of Bowdoin, there was worry and concern in the midnight air. Deep in the ground below the World's Fair there was a letter from Robert Millikan who looked with foreboding glances into the dark clouds of a new world conflict and wrote to an audience he could never imagine five thousand years from his time:
At this moment, August 22, 1938, the principle representative ballot government, such as are represented by the governments of the Anglo-Saxon, French, and Scandinavian countries, are in deadly conflict with the principles of despotism, which up to two centuries ago had controlled the destiny of man throughout practically the whole of recorded history. If the rational, scientific, progressive principles win out in this struggle there is a possibility of a warless, golden age ahead for mankind. If the reactionary principles of despotism triumph now and in the future, the future history of mankind will repeat the sad story of war and oppression as in the past.
To Be Continued.