1913 Seventy-five Years Ago

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After ten years of construction, New York City’s Grand Central Terminal opened to the public on February 2. It replaced Commodore Vanderbilt’s Grand Central Depot with a fully electrified and expanded skein of tracks in the shape of two fans, one on top of another, that spread from Fiftieth Street south to Forty-second and from Lexington Avenue west nearly to Madison. The engineer William J. Wilgus was responsible for the design Underground; the building above was the work of Reed and Stem, a St. Paul, Minnesota, firm that was greatly influenced by the architect Whitney Warren. But what dropped visitors’ jaws at Grand Central was the huge Grand Concourse and its curved ceiling, which had been painted by the popular French artist Paul Helleu. Inspired by a medieval manuscript on astrology, he had painted in gold leaf some twenty-five hundred stars, including those of the zodiac, on the ceiling of the Grand Concourse. A controversy arose over the fact that he had confused east and west; a New York Central PR man helped quell it when he pointed out that “the ceiling is purely decorative; it was never intended that a mariner should set his course by the stars at Grand Central.”

America was introduced to the latest strains of modern art when the Armory Show opened on February 17 at New York City’s 69th Regiment Armory. Sponsored by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, the exhibition was intended to provide a forum for the work of America’s Ashcan school, but in fact the cubist, abstract, and impressionist work from Europe stole the show. Some critics saw merit in the new styles; most were derisive. One ArtNews writer called the room where cubist art was displayed the “Chamber of Horrors,” describing it as “full of mirth-making spectacles, which no one has yet been found to take seriously.” Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase suffered endless mockery; the ArtNews critic called it a “mixture of leather, tin and broken violins,” adding that it drew “shrieks of laughter from the crowds who gather about it eight deep, in their eagerness to discover the lady on the stairway.” Some two hundred and fifty thousand visitors saw the show in New York, Chicago, and Boston. American art would never be the same.

The silk workers of Paterson, New Jersey, went on strike February 25 to protest the introduction into their factories of new machinery that resulted in cut wages and loss of employment. Organized by the Industrial Workers of the World and led by the likes of Big Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Carlo Tresca, the strike lasted five long, bitter months. “The brutality of the police in arresting strikers at any pretense, clubbing them into insensibility when they resisted, and breaking up their picket lines was notorious,” wrote the historian Foster Dulles. But when union funds ran out and workers’ families went hungry, the strike ended, with nothing to show for the broken bones and the time spent in jail. The defeat marked a turning point in the fortunes of the IWW; within five years the union was nearly dead.

Congress was authorized to begin taxing incomes on February 25, when the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. Until then, tariff duties and excises had been the financial mainstay of the federal government. The new tax rate ranged from 1 to 7 percent on individual incomes greater than three thousand dollars.