Interviews

Ruth Abram: Explaining Today through Stories of Yesterday

Posted on: November 19th, 2014 by Guest Writer 4 Comments

 

Written by Sophia Dembling

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Left: Ruth Abram, former president and now trustee emerita of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Right: Museum visitors enjoy a guided tour.

Ruth Abram believes museums can and should be more than repositories of the past; they should also provide insight into the present and inspire hope for the future.

That was Abram's vision in 1992, when she co-founded (with Anita Jacobsen) the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (a National Trust Historic Site) in New York City, one of the most interesting museums in a city full of them. Past president and now trustee emerita, Abram leaves the running of the museum to others these days ("I don't fiddle," she says. "They're doing a great job."), but remains busy with other projects, including Sites of Conscience and Behold! New Lebanon, a living museum being developed in the rural New York town where Abram lives.

We caught up with Abram to talk about the development of the Tenement Museum and her vision for it. (Responses have been edited for clarity and length.)... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

 

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The 1834 Classic Revival-style home at Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana, is hosting two artists in residence for the Art & Shadows program.

This past spring, National Trust Historic Site The Shadows in New Iberia, Louisiana, welcomed two artists in residence as part of the yearlong Art & Shadows program, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Visual artist Lynda Frese and fiddler David Greely were selected for the program and have been working at The Shadows to create new works within their respective mediums inspired by the site's history.

Completed in 1834 for owner David Weeks, the Classic Revival-style plantation estate on the Bayou Teche remained in the family for four generations prior to being acquired by the National Trust. The site's storied history is documented through archival photographs and letters, as well as preserved artifacts found in and around the estate.

We spoke with Lynda and David about finding inspiration at the Shadows and the projects they are working on for the remainder of the residency, which will culminate in April with a celebration melding art and music.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Geoff Montes

Geoff Montes

Geoff Montes is an Editorial Intern at the National Trust. He enjoys Art Deco architecture, any activity that can be done at the beach, and cotton candy.

 

Choreographer Hattie Mae Williams and her dance troupe, The Tattooed Ballerinas, are presenting site-specific performances at two historic sites in Miami: Miami Marine Stadium and the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables.
Choreographer Hattie Mae Williams (left) and her dance troupe, The Tattooed Ballerinas, are presenting site-specific performances at two historic sites in Miami: Miami Marine Stadium and the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables.

Miami native Hattie Mae Williams is on a mission to change how we see public spaces. And she’s set her sights on her hometown.

Through her Miami Sites Project, Williams, a recipient of a 2013 Knight Arts Challenge Miami grant, is celebrating two of her city’s iconic, historic sites: Miami Marine Stadium and the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, which is celebrating its 90th birthday this year.

Her method? Dance.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

Q&A with Sherry Williams of the Bronzeville Historical Society

Posted on: September 15th, 2014 by Katherine Flynn 6 Comments

 

A photo of a Pullman Porter on display during a 2009 exhibit on the Great Migration at Pullman’s Hotel Florence.
A photo of a Pullman Porter on display during a 2009 exhibit on the Great Migration at Pullman’s Hotel Florence.

While the historic neighborhoods of Pullman and Bronzeville in Chicago’s South Side are 11 miles apart geographically, they are linked by a common industrial thread. Pullman, a company town established by businessman George Pullman in 1880 to house workers in his Pullman Palace rail car factory, was segregated, and the company’s numerous African-American employees were relegated to the not-so-nearby community of Bronzeville. Some made the trek to the factory every day, while others did laundry or prepared food in Pullman-owned buildings in Bronzeville.

With legislation pending for Pullman to be designated as a National Park site, history buffs in Bronzeville, like Sherry Williams, the president of the Bronzeville Historical Society, are advocating for their community’s rich history to be included in the story told at Pullman. I spoke with Williams about the Great Migration, the role that African-American workers played at Pullman, and her own personal connection to Bronzeville.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Katherine Flynn

Katherine Flynn

Katherine Flynn is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores and uncovering the stories behind historic places. Follow her on Twitter at @kateallthetime.

The Truth Behind the TV Show Manhattan: Part II

Posted on: September 12th, 2014 by Julia Rocchi 1 Comment

 

The original interior of the gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
The original interior of the gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

One post couldn’t contain your questions about the WGN show Manhattan, so we’re bringing you a second dose of Q&A with Heather McClenahan, executive director of the Los Alamos Historical Society.

Today’s entry digs deeper into the social history and context at the Los Alamos site (one of three locations that make up our National Treasure, Manhattan Project Historic Sites).  Read on to discover which characters are real, what “computers” really meant, and what historical storyline McClenahan would like to see most on the show.

[Note: No big spoilers ahead, though we do refer to some plot points. So watch first if you’d like, then come back here for more fun facts!]

What was the nature of diversity at Los Alamos?

As far as we know, only one African-American was at Los Alamos during the Project. We only know this from pictures, and he was a military man.

A significant number of Native Americans from the nearby pueblos and Hispanics from ancient northern New Mexico villages worked on the project. They served in many capacities, especially housekeeping for women and construction trades for men.

Internationally, the project was quite diverse, with, among others, Hungarians, Poles, Germans, Italian, British, and American scientists working on the project.

Robert Oppenheimer at a party in Master Cottage at Los Alamos, New Mexico.  Credit: Los Alamos Historical Society
Robert Oppenheimer at a party in Master Cottage at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

What were security protocols/screenings like for these foreign scientists? What trumped security/spying concerns?

Security screenings consisted of long interviews with the subject, as well as the subject’s family, friends, neighbors, supervisors, and colleagues. Personnel files, FBI files (if they existed), and other documents were thoroughly combed. It was a long, slow process. One scientist complained that it took as long as a dog’s gestation period, and couldn’t the Army get it down to that of a rabbit?

Scientific ability and know-how trumped security concerns. The “gadget” needed to be made before the Nazis could get one, and American boys needed to be brought home from the war.

Were letters screened and edited to the degree depicted in the show -- for example, Dr. (Mrs.) Winter’s scientific paper?

Yes. The censorship was quite strict. Residents of The Hill [as the Los Alamos townsite was called] couldn’t even write home about the weather because censors were afraid the location of the lab might be pinpointed.

Characters on WGN's Manhattan at the Oak Ridge compound in Tennessee.
Characters on WGN's Manhattan at the Oak Ridge compound in Tennessee.

Which characters in the show are real? If fictional, are they based on anyone in particular?

So far, the only real characters are Robert Oppenheimer and Niels Bohr. Unfortunately, while cast well, Oppenheimer’s character in the show is nothing like he was in Los Alamos. He was beloved and respected for his care and concern for the scientists and their families, his ability to successfully interface with the military on behalf of the civilians, and his leadership in moving the project along.

Frank Winter seems to be based upon a few folks. He has a few characteristics from Oppenheimer (driven to succeed, the family cook), Seth Neddermeyer (advocate for implosion), and perhaps George Kistiakowsky, the head of the explosives division for the project. Liza Winter also seems to have some Kitty Oppenheimer characteristics.

Charlie Isaacs seems to be a little bit Richard Feynman and a little bit James Franck, but married to the wife of Louis Hempelmann (the project’s medical director, who was married to Elinor Pulitzer, heir of the famous newspaper fortune).

Colonel Cox seems to be based on Peer de Silva, who was head of the security office in Los Alamos. He disagreed with General Groves about giving Oppenheimer a security clearance.

The Hungarian who appears to be the assistant lab director (Occam?) is, of course, based on Edward Teller. Teller was not as high in the project or as close to Oppenheimer as the character [is].

Gen. Leslie Groves (center), head of the Manhattan Project, presented the Army-Navy "E" Award flag to the Laboratory on October 16, 1945, with Lab Director J. Robert Oppenheimer (left) and University of California President Robert Sproul (right) looking on.
Gen. Leslie Groves (center), head of the Manhattan Project, presented the Army-Navy "E" Award flag to the Laboratory on October 16, 1945, with Lab Director J. Robert Oppenheimer (left) and University of California President Robert Sproul (right) looking on.

Is the real-life Dr. Frederick Reines portrayed in the show?

Not yet. We’re keeping an eye out for him, though! Dr. Reines, who discovered the neutrino, is the only person to receive a Nobel Prize for work done directly at the laboratory in Los Alamos (although more than two dozen folks associated with Los Alamos have won Nobel Prizes).

Computers were women?

Yes! At the beginning of the century, women's minds were considered better suited for detailed, repetitive tasks. Some of the computers brought brilliance and innovation to their work despite men's underestimation of their abilities.

Before the Manhattan Project, computers worked in the Harvard College Observatory in the 1890s. Henrietta Swan Leavitt made discoveries which allowed for the realization that our universe is expanding. Computers also worked for the Army during WWII at the University of Pennsylvania on ballistics research. Some went on to be among the first programmers for the ENIAC.

What's one interesting storyline/issue you hope is portrayed on the show?

Speaking personally, I’d like to see the Special Engineer Detachment. Some 1,600 young men who were studying physics, chemistry, and engineering in college were drafted and brought to Los Alamos to help in the tech area with all sorts of tech-related jobs. After the war, many of these young men went on to get their Ph.D.s, and at least six of them won Nobel Prizes.

Still have a question? Ask it in the comments, and also follow the post-episode Q&As at Los Alamos Historical Society for more information.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.