Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hero Land

Working with Hoover's poster collection, I came across a poster with a striking image of a bazaar and "Hero Land" in a huge typeface reminiscent of a movie poster, illustrated by J. Carl Mueller. As I noticed similar posters, I began to wonder, what was Hero Land?

Assuming from the poster that it was a movie, I conducted a Google search. Finding Hero Land in a New York Times index from 1918, I went to the New York Times historical full-text database (most public and academic libraries have this newspaper database available from ProQuest).

I discovered that Hero Land was a World War I Allied war relief benefit bazaar held in New York at the Grand Central Palace from November 24 to December 12, 1917. And what a benefit it was!

As an advertisement in the November 24, 1917, New York Times noted: "Hero Land is a 16-Day Military Pageant, Theatrical Entertainment, Oriental Wonderland and Charity Mart; Devised, Created, Managed, and Financed by One Hundred Approved National War Relief Organization for the Benefit of American and Allied Relief."

Sounding more like a world's fair than a relief benefit, "the object … is to bring home in vivid pictures to the American people some of the actualities of warfare as carried on by the Germans."

The Grand Central Palace itself was transformed. The first floor included a grand ballroom modeled after Versailles and the third floor was given over to a re-creation of the streets of Baghdad. There were reproductions of forts, trench lines, bomb shelters, and battlefields, including a British tank and a German submarine. There was also entertainment: five moving picture theaters, an ice skating rink, restaurants, bands, dancing, and shopping, as well as special events every evening.

More than 250,000 people attended Hero Land, creating a net profit of $571,438 (about $10.3 million today) to be dispersed among one hundred war relief charities, including the Commission for Relief in Belgium, whose records are also at Hoover. Hero Land was surely an amazing sight to behold, as was my discovery of its beautiful publicity posters among Hoover's trove of more than 100,000 posters.

Hoover Institution Archives Poster Collection.
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Hoover Institution Archives Poster Collection.
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Hoover Institution Archives Poster Collection.
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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

An Impressive Mission

Who’d think there’d be a connection between Julia Child and Herbert Hoover? Indeed, after seeing the summer hit Julie & Julia (loved it, saw it twice), I plunged into Child’s memoirs, My Life in France, in which she recalled that Hoover had “impressed everyone on a recent swing through Europe.”

The “swing” referred to was the so-called food mission around the world that President Truman had asked Hoover to undertake in 1946 and 1947. The goal was to assess which, among the forty or so countries visited on four continents, suffered most from hunger and which could most contribute to alleviating it. Having saved millions of lives during and after World War I through his humanitarian relief organizations (whose records are housed at the Hoover Archives), Hoover was the perfect choice.

His closest associate on the tour was Hugh Gibson, a U.S. diplomat who had served in many posts during the 1920s and 1930s. His papers are also housed here, including his daily diary of that mission—a fascinating account of conditions on the ground, heads of state they met, geostrategic discussions, and so forth. Despite the tragic subject of war devastation and ensuing hunger, Gibson infuses his comments about the trip with humor and wit, so it is not only very informative but funny as well. We’re in the process of scanning the diary and will post it on our website, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, you can see Gibson’s diary in the archives reading room, as well, of course, as Herbert Hoover’s own papers on the subject.

Hugh Gibson and Herbert Hoover disembark from the "Faithful Cow" during their international food mission, undertaken at the request of President Truman. Photo courtesy of Michael Gibson.