I talked a little bit in How Patriarchy Crumbled about the motivation of the Silent Generation in selfishly arrogating to itself the economic resources produced by that great mass of well-educated white baby boomers: generational envy. A major point in the article was that at some time about mid-century, fathers started encouraging women to want to go to cube farms rather than to serve their vocation as wives and mothers
As this was Jane Jacobs’ birthday weekend, around the country different groups hosted Jane’s Walks, where a local explored the city and the connections between people, buildings, economy, and society. I took the tour led by Linda Fisher through the NY Civic Center, a City Beautiful collection of early-20th-century structures. As the tour leader was a court reporter, we got many details of the goings-on in the fine courthouses around Foley Square, many of which you have seen if you’ve watched Lore and Order, as a New Yorker would call it.
These are all government buildings, make no mistake; but they lack the cinderblock-ugly brutalism of post-war construction, with bean-counter citizen’s groups demanding lowest-dollar rather than maximum beauty. The mosaics in the ceiling of the Hall of Records are gorgeous and priceless, and are repeated throughout the courthouses of the area. How did a society that built so well, and so beautifully, devolve to the one we live in?
My next walking tour was due in Brooklyn Heights, so rather than pay for a subway ride, I elected to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. The photos on my journey illustrate some of the points made in How Patriarchy Crumbled.
This is the view back towards Manhattan from the Brooklyn tower. The two-toned tower visible through the cables on the extreme left is the under-construction “Freedom” tower to replace the World Trade Center; it exceeded the height of the Empire State Building in the past fortnight, and will rise to 1776 feet when complete. At one point, the tallest structure in New York was the Manhattan tower of the bridge, which stands on a foundation of oak planks resting on concrete, which rests on sediments at the bottom of the river. The reason why that tower does NOT rest on bedrock is that the construction of the Brooklyn Tower, which was shallower and does rest on bedrock, crippled so many men that the effort was considered not worth the cost in human lives.
One of those crippled during construction was the chief engineer, Washington Roebling. The following plaque gives some credit; note the date of 1951:
Note the quote at the bottom: “Back of every great work we can find the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman.” Roissy’s Third Commandment could not have stated it any better, but we see some creeping pedestalization.
The walk off the bridge towards Brooklyn’s old City Hall took me through Cadman Plaza. This was once a thriving collection of commerce and transportation that headed into economic decline along with downtown Brooklyn, a consequence of the merger with Manhattan in 1898 to become a part of the 8-million strong New York City. Now it is an underused park with a number of elements from the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
Here is the 1891 statue of Henry Ward Beecher, advocate for children, originally in the area of Cadman Plaza (see the 2:49 mark in this video.)
From the same era as the highly representational Beecher statue (the young negress [using 1891 terminology] on the left would probably not get sculpted today that way) is the Brooklyn Main Post Office, visible to the right of Beecher’s shoulder. Yes, kids, this is what used to be built for public buildings:
In the middle of Cadman Plaza is the Brooklyn War Memorial, built in 1951 to recall the big one. As Wikipedia notes: “two figures representing Victory and Family stand to the sides of the inscription which reads:
This memorial is dedicated to the heroic men and women of the borough of Brooklyn who fought for liberty in the second world war 1941-1945 and especially to those who suffered and died may their sacrifice inspire future generations and lead to universal peace”
It commemorates the “men and women” of Brooklyn who died in WW2; such verbiage is almost entirely absent from the WW1 memorials I have seen.
Across from Cadman Plaza is the Brooklyn Korean War Veterans memorial:
Note that this is a .8 acre park, compared to the 10 acres for the Cadman plaza. Note also the focus on foreign dead as well as Brooklyn dead, and the creeping moral relativism. It looks like the following:
Note the absence of any representational figures, and the copying of Maya Lin’s style for the Vietnam Memorial in DC, with a listing of all names in granite.
John F. Kennedy was the first President who fought in World War 2; George H W Bush was the last. This span of 32 years in the Presidency by one generation will probably never be repeated, and goes to show the estimation in which society held this generation. The Silent generation produced no Presidents, and is unlikely to. JFK’s brother, RFK, was born at the leading edge of the Silent Generation, and unlike his older brother saw no combat in WW2:
(Note how much Kennedy has a goofy, Alfred-E-Newman look here.) There is a quote from Kennedy at the base of his bust:
Note how far Kennedy rhetoric fell from “Ask not what your country can do for you…” We can see the mealy-mouthed musings of PC in this Silent take on society.
As a reminder of what great public statuary can be, take a look at Columbus, presiding nearby:
What’s that building behind Columbus? It is a courthouse built in the 50s by the same firm that designed the Empire State Building. Let’s take a close-up of the left side:
Yes, New York State, liberalism central, has carved in stone an image of Moses bringing the Ten Commandments, on its Brooklyn Courthouse. Note that the style is less bold and representational than the Beecher statue of 60 years earlier, but it still isn’t bad for a piece of public art.
Another supreme court building from the 30s nearby also shows some nice medallions:
Note the “AD MCMXXXVIII” at the top.
We can see in these photos some of what influenced the Silent Generation. Unlike the “greatest generation” of WW2, they did not get a huge memorial six years after their war ended, with a large public park to set it in, and with representational figures idealizing male strength, reserve, and vigor. Lacking the bold thrusts of WW2, their rhetoric was confused and rambling. They were young adults in an age that was starting to tack “and women” onto every achievement of men, and elevating that effort to the sacrifice of men (contrast the subordinate role given to Emily Roebling.)
I will argue in the next installment that this feminizing was part and parcel of an overall plan, removing heroic representation and elevating women’s public achievements to an equal status with men’s. But for now, let’s take a look at what has happened to the churches of Brooklyn Heights, where Beecher was a preacher. The first Presbyterian Church lists the following roster of pastors:
Pastoresses Ruth, Flora, and Amy now lead this flock, and Pastor Emeritus Paul Smith is the only masculine name. What effect does this have on rhetoric? “God is love is God” on this side. The other is even worse, and seems like a complete contradiction of Christian Doctrine:
“There can be no genuine personal religious conversion without a change in social attitude.” Quote by the appropriately named Bill Coffin. The stone of the church is brownstone, a type of sandstone prone to easy weathering, and to my eyes appears to be weeping as it crumbles into dust.