“Tall, Dark, and Tweedy”: Jazz Age Artist John Held Jr. was also an archaeological illustrator – and a World War I spy

Life Magazine cover from 1926, by John Held, Jr. Source: Washington University in St. Louis.

In the 1920s, John Held, Jr., became famous for his drawings in Life, Vanity Fair, and other magazines that enshrined the iconic flapper image: lean and leggy, with beaded necklace swinging as she danced the Charleston with her companion, the round-headed, pencil-necked, Joe College.

The “tall, dark and tweedy” (Shuttleworth 1965) artist had come to New York City from Utah in 1912, where he found work as a commercial artist. As America entered World War I, John Held would take on another, clandestine, responsibility. Continue reading ““Tall, Dark, and Tweedy”: Jazz Age Artist John Held Jr. was also an archaeological illustrator – and a World War I spy”

Mercy, the Mummy Mumbled: the 1918 African American Silent Film

With Halloween approaching, here’s a shoutout to an early mummy movie. Mercy, the Mummy Mumbled, is an all-black silent film from 1918. Several silent movies featured mummies as plot devices; The Egyptian Mummy, for example, was released in 1914 but Mercy is likely the only one made by African-American filmmakers for African-American audiences.

The plots of the two films are very similar: a mad scientist is willing to pay big bucks for a mummy to experiment on; a young man needs money to marry his girlfriend; a fake mummy is created. Mercy adds two Egyptian secret agents tracking down their country’s stolen artifacts to the story, all within an 11 minute run time.

Mercy, the Mummy Mumbled was released by the short-lived Ebony Film Corporation  of Chicago and is included in Pioneers of African-American Cinema box set (but Mercy is only on the Blu-ray collection, not on the DVD collection) by Kino Lorber. The five discs include movies from as early as 1915 and as late as 1946.  See the New York Times review for more details: Black Filmmaking Aborning. Much of the film can also be viewed on YouTube, and stills from Mercy can be seen at the DAARAC site. The Egyptian Mummy, released by the much larger Vitagraph company, can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

The Kaleva Incident and the Death of Henry Antheil, Jr.


Antheil Family Tombstone, Riverview Cemetery, Trenton, NJ

The name Henry Antheil, Jr, is on a tombstone in Riverview Cemetery, but he is not buried there. Henry, the younger brother of avant-garde composer George Antheil, was a Trenton, New Jersey native who joined the U.S. Foreign service as a cipher clerk and was posted in Helsinki, Finland, at the beginning of World War II. Henry Antheil, Jr., could be considered an early American casualty of both World War II and the Cold War.

Henry Antheil, Jr. Source: Killed in Finland. Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2006680357/

As the Nazis advanced on Paris, the Soviet Union moved towards taking over the Baltic country of Estonia. On June 14, 1940, the 27 year old Antheil was sent to pick up several diplomatic pouches from the American legation in Estonia’s capital. He then board a Finnish commercial airplane, the Kaleva, to return to Finland. Less than ten minutes after the Kaleva took off from Estonia, two Soviet bombers intercepted it and shot it out of the sky. Almost immediately, a Soviet submarine arrived at the crash location and seized the diplomatic pouches. There were no survivors. The plane has never been recovered. Continue reading “The Kaleva Incident and the Death of Henry Antheil, Jr.”

Who Really Discovered the First Paleoindian Sites in Vermont?

In 1927, the Folsom site in New Mexico, which contained the distinctive fluted stone points of the same name directly associated with an extinct species of bison, was identified by archaeologists as the first Paleoindian site. In conjunction with the similar, but earlier, Clovis fluted points found at Blackwater Draw a few years later, these two sites provided clear evidence that humans had been present in the United States since the end of the Pleistocene.

As these discoveries became publicized and archaeologists looked for more examples of early sites, it soon became apparent that fluted points had been found in many states by amateur antiquarians, often as surface finds. Without good contextual data, however, no one had realized how old these points actually were.

In 1929, Vermont collector Benjamin Fisher read an article about the Folsom site in the New York Herald Tribune. He immediately wrote a letter to the scientist mentioned in the paper, Barnum Brown, at the American Museum of Natural History: Continue reading “Who Really Discovered the First Paleoindian Sites in Vermont?”

“Women who have really done things:” The Jazz Age Founders of The Society of Woman Geographers

You may known Marguerite Harrison from the silent-film era documentary Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life, which she made with the two men who later went on to make King Kong. In 1925, the same year Grass was released, she and three other women formed The Society of Woman Geographers. The story of The Intrepid ’20s Women Who Formed an All-Female Global Exploration Society, by April White, is at Atlas Obscura.

 

Annie Alexander’s Contribution to Passenger Pigeon Research

An eyewitness account of trapping passenger pigeons in New Jersey in the early 1800s is one of only two publications by the woman who founded one of the premier paleontological museums in America.

In 1927, a short communication was published in the journal The Condor that quoted a letter from John Thomas Waterhouse to his parents back in England. Waterhouse described how the New Jerseyans hunted passenger pigeons using nets and guns. Continue reading “Annie Alexander’s Contribution to Passenger Pigeon Research”