Our issue this month is full of venerable institutions, if we may use both those words rather broadly; and the things that have happened to them, taking the long view, are fine examples of what makes history so endlessly fascinating. Several institutions are changed almost beyond recognition, like the three-hundred-year-old Hudson’s Bay Company, whose dramatic tale we tell on the following pages. Or they have a new “image,” like the philosophical squire of Topeka, Alf M. Landon, interviewed on page 93 in his eighty-third year. Some institutions that might have been thought certain to endure for centuries, such as the Amoskeag mills (page 110) and the Everglades (page 97), are in dire peril, while others look very much the same, like Jay Gould’s mansion, Lyndhurst (page 46), where the table is still set for a dinner that seems to be indefinitely postponed.
Another institution that looks much the same, albeit refurbished on the outside, is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The picture above was taken there some sixty years ago, when art was representational and old-fashioned patriotism was very popular. The demure little group are inspecting Emanuel Leutze’s heroic canvas Washington Crossing the Delaware. That picture was later relegated to the basement and finally went out of the collection altogether on permanent loan to a smaller museum near the site of the event portrayed. This month the Meropolitan celebrates its hundredth anniversary, but the scene behind the unchanging facade is rather different. The little mod group below is looking at Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic; the picture speaks its own proverbial thousand words about the fate of art and old-fashioned patriotism without any further help from us. We must confine ourselves to wishing all these institutions well and to suggesting that another picture taken in the same place some ten or twenty years hence will be just as surprising, and that the only thing is change itself.