Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2012 Issue

A Fascination with Disaster in Ulster County

Disastersa

Ulster County Railroad Disasters

Read some history books and you’ll notice they tend to focus on triumphs, jumping from one signal event to the next, illuminating reconciliation following the Civil War rather than wartime casualties; or development of the railroads rather than their relentless bankruptcies.  Every triumph has its side dark and although not often emphasized such details occasionally still see the light of day.  The caliginous side of industrialization is part of this forgotten story, was in its time well documented in newspapers, magazines and photographs, then repressed and since in the main ignored.  It turns out that in war we expect and honor casualties, in peace casualties are simply the price of progress and we forget them soon enough.

Today almost everything is regulated.  If you want to sell milk it has to be tested.  If you want to introduce a drug it will be years before approval is granted.  If you design a car figure three to five years for certification.  Nothing it seems is easy today but it once was.  In the later 19th into the early 20th century you needed only capital and ideas.  Manufacturer’s claims were as strong as the paper they were written on and buyers and customers the guinea pigs to confirm or disprove them.  Along the way some few became bacon.

The development of steamboats and railroads are a case in point.  Their speed, comfort and majesty have come down to us as talisman of the emerging industrial era but they also crashed, burned and blew up.  We know this because their destructions, in the era before photography, were chronicled in print media and occasionally books.  One of the famous early disaster editions was S. A. Howland’s 1840 “Steamboat disasters and railroad accidents in the United States” … later amended in 1846 to include further accounts of recent shipwrecks, fires at sea and other mayhem.  Photography would add enticing detail but wait a half-century before becoming the norm.

In the intervening decades Currier & Ives would sell prints of the great disasters, recording the human price paid as industry and commerce bounded on, at every step a good twenty years ahead of safety regulations.  Enterprise, it turned out, developed quickly while law evolved slowly.  “Get it done and see what happens.  The techniques and equipment may be untested but we’ll know soon enough.”  Come the turn of the 20th century, inexpensive photography and higher speed film made it possible to record the outcomes of an economy that favored lax standards in an era of progress at any cost.   In 1906 in Upton Lewis’s account of food packing, The Jungle, brought conflicts in the meatpacking field into view.   At the local level these conflicts played themselves out in other ways.  Safety issues, long ignored, in places like Rondout and in Ulster County became visible.

 

In 1992 I bought a copy of Howland’s Disasters to read, never expecting that a national subject could become a local collection.  The book itself mentioned next to nothing about the Hudson Valley but the idea took hold that such events had occurred everywhere with depressing regularity.  Ten years ago I began to notice random appearances of Ulster County and nearby disasters that are the basis for this article.     

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.

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