“My soul has drifted down the stream”: Highlights from American Pamphlets, 1820-1922

This month we focus on three heavily illustrated works found in the April release of American Pamphlets, 1820-1922: From the New-York Historical Society.


The New York and Brooklyn Bridge Illustrated (1883)

Interspersed with many illustrations, this pamphlet describes the Brooklyn Bridge from its first conception, to its construction, to its opening in May of 1883. There is no doubt that its creation was an astonishing achievement, and the writer, using superlatives generously, returns to this fact often as he recounts the history. He writes, “The details of constructing the towers have been performed under the eyes of all Brooklyn people. Since the tower of Babel and the great pyramid of Egypt, there have been no more massive structures.”

The construction took its toll, especially on the workers. Caissons—large, bottomless wooden boxes into which compressed air was pumped to keep out water—were dangerous places for the laborers who dug out mud and bedrock until they had a solid footing into which concrete was poured:

In the New York caisson the pressure of air at the last was equal to 35 pounds to the square inch. Breathing was a labor, and labor extremely exhausting. Yet brave men subjected themselves to physical suffering of this sort day after day, that the great work might go on, until in many cases nervous disease and paralysis would follow.

The writer refers to the illustrations as “photographs [that] were redrawn by careful, trained artists, and their drawings reproduced and reduced to the present size by photo engraving.” Here are several examples:

 

 


The Hudson (1881)

By Wallace Bruce
Illustrated by Alfred Fredericks

Wallace Bruce wrote this poem in celebration of the Hudson River, and he dedicated this illustrated publication to Washington Irving. He has structured his poem from morning to evening all along the river, beginning:

        Gray streaks of dawn are faintly seen;
          The stars of half their light are shorn;
        The Hudson, with its banks of green,
           Lies tranquil in the early morn.

The style of this work is reflective of late 19th-century American popular tastes. Throughout the text of the poem are 14 pen-and-ink drawings by Alfred Fredericks which illustrate specific references in the poem and contribute much to the reader’s enjoyment. A few examples follow:

 

 


Sau-ke-nuk, the Story of Black Hawk’s Tower (1905)

By Julia Mills Dunn
Illustrated by Alice C. Walker

Julia Mills Dunn has written a sympathetic account of the Sauk, or Sac, Indian chief whose name, Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, the author explains, means Black Hawk. Before the native tribes were displaced by the settlers moving west, Dunn tells us “the united possessions of the Sauk and Fox Indians included the whole of the state of Iowa, on this side of the Mississippi River the lands lying along the Illinois River from its mouth as far as Peoria, then north to the Wisconsin River about seventy or eighty miles from its mouth, down the Wisconsin to the Mississippi, and thence to the Illinois.”

Dunn describes the largest native village, Sau-ke-nuk, which was near Black Hawk’s Watch Tower, as a town of 11,000 people. She details how the town was laid out, how the summer lodges and winter tepees were constructed, their hunting and fishing forays, their spiritual life, and their how their quotidian life was conducted. She describes the Watch Tower as “a bold promontory more than two hundred feet high…” and adds:

Those who regard these people as little better than animals or beasts of prey, say that from this lofty eminence that overlooked the village Black Hawk used to sit and watch for his foes to anticipate their attack and destroy them.

Dunn has great respect for Black Hawk and provides many examples of his evident stature and wisdom. However, not surprisingly things do not end well in this account:

When our government—unjustly, as many believe—gave the order for Black Hawk and his people to give up their village and lands to the white settlers the order was met with stubborn resistance…

The U.S. Army arrived and forced the Sauks out, burning the village. The Indians were driven beyond the Mississippi and the result of this expulsion became the Black Hawk War.   


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