Thursday, September 22, 2011

"The City of the Future." Appleton's Journal, 1872.

Jan. 6 to June 29, 1872, Appletons' Journal of Literature, Science, and Art, The City of the Future. Drawn by Harry Penn.

An illustration out of an obscure journal, but obviously a reference to the Equitable Building, which had opened in 1870, standing in just about the depicted relationship to the spire of Trinity Church on Broadway at Wall Street; in much the same way that 1974's The Towering Inferno was a cultural byproduct of the opening of the World Trade Center towers in the years preceding. Not very imaginative in either case---especially here in thinking the bustle was going to stay au courant into the future---but pretty nonetheless, and meaningful. However, a second illustration just came out spooky:

I don't know a specific publishing date beyond 1872, unless "page 156" can be dated in the series. I post this more to draw attention to a singular source online where I learned of this reference as I researched the Equitable Building and its demise. Being a particularly rich vein of American history, I found it odd that I had this field almost to myself, with a startling lack of attention from professional scholars or historians. It is this sort of energetic disposition I've come to see as a red flag.

However, there was one university source apt to come up in Google searches, in a collection of about 100 files, found at We can see it's from Michigan State University, and looking further, note it's from the history department, and it likely belongs to a professor there, Alan Fisher, who teaches "Europe to 1500" and "The Middle East: Period of Ottoman Domination." But in a larger data dump of files we see areas of his overlapping interest.

I don't mean to be unkind, but if this is college level work than I'm glad I never went. The files consist of completely unedited snippets, without links or identifying data, from different media sources, along with some fresh-to-me material that came directly from the Equitable company's archives. One such file said simply:
Appleton's Journal 1872 pg. 6, Equitable archives
RG 4 Secretary's Dept. Historical collection
Art supplement - Appleton's Journal 1872 pg. 6
RG 4 Secretary's Dept. Historical collection
It wasn't hard to find a web site: Public Domain Images from Appletons' Journal of Literature, Science, and Art (Jan. 6 to June 29, 1872) and locate what I assume to be what the file was referring to. Several other files in this collection have been useful, but the research collection overall gives off an odor that raises my suspicions off syntheticism.

Too bad Mr. Fisher, or his students, didn't take the work a level deeper. This story has one of the most glamorous narratives in all of American history, no matter how you approach the material. So why does his half-assed effort just sit there, seemingly abandoned online?

I'll hazard a guess. This looks like historical blackmail to me. Perhaps an effort was undertaken--with immediate contact directly with the corporate officials and sources, to let them know "what was up." It seems clear to my paranoid mindset that the Equitable fire and building collapse afterward became a no-man's land and blaring silence. It was a chance reference to "Hyde's Equitable collapse" on a JREF thread that got me started on this topic, equally addictive as 9/11, and thank God, it was time to move on! And I have the whole thing almost to myself! Muhahahahaha!

Like that woman, what's her name, who got a faculty job at Yale after researching as an undergraduate, and then writing the definitive book, about the anarchist bombing outside of J. P. Morgan's headquarters on September 16, 1920, another historic episode fallen down the memory hole, and a subject which one might think would also come up with some frequency in the decade of cultural processing that has followed September 11th. (Do I need to be blunt here and say that it looks like J. Pierpont Morgan was the central anarchist in both episodes?)

The Sept. 12 issue of The New Yorker's Talk of the Town opened by mentioning the contemporaneous General Slocum disaster, which is only a warm body count when the Equitable collapse is red hot matching narrative detail! But then the magazine went and spoiled everything with an appalling piece by a NYPD detective, Edward Condon, who helped man the "bucket brigades at the smoking pile, where we sought to cart out nearly two million tons of scorched wreckage by the hapless handful as the voids exploded beneath us and the remaining structures shuddered, threatening to topple over on us."

I hope he wore a face mask while he posed.

There was a third illustration in Appleton's Journal, which seems like a continuation of their aerial theme

Read a satire on newly installed elevators published in an 1870's Evening Post, which I copied to a blog that follows this one, for a much more imaginative take on what the future might hold for a present that was no different than ours---in fact, apparently much worse. And if I misread Mr. Fisher, who instead should be praised for providing a nascent trail of breadcrumbs, then I'll apologize, but I'm not holding my breath.

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