Undoubtedly, the most fascinating aspect of the 1920s for me has been how similar contemporary times and the 1920s are.
“What did this man want?” – Tagline from the cover of Babbitt
From everything I’ve been reading, it feels like the 1920s is where “American” society came from. All the extremes, the attitudes, the swings of the pendulum, the craziness… (Granted, when you look at other countries and their dictatorships and cults of personality, it isn’t really that crazy. But it’s crazy for a bunch of upstart Protestants from the wilds of England… Right?)
I really feel like most of our attitudes, the way our society thinks, feels, and reacts–they’ve all honed themselves from this one significant decade. It all seems so familiar now. Not just right now, but in everything that’s happened since the 1920s.
In another post that I wrote about Washington DC maps from the 1920s, I featured a plate from a survey atlas that showed Blagden Alley and Shepherd Alley. This time I’ve chosen to explore more about alley life in Washington DC in the 1920s.
Alley Life in Washington DC Blind Alleys, 1920s
Blagden Alley was one of the most infamous of the “blind” alleys. This means that it had dark corners and dead ends in which nefarious activities could take place, and typically only had one way in and out. Social workers and the government focused mainly on the “blind” alleys when Washington DC tried to reform alley life in the early 1900s. The featured photo (and others that I found on the very cool Shorpy blog) gives you a good idea of what it must have been like. Compared to the wider streets and grand avenues of Washington, the alleys are narrow and confining.
I am cocktailly. Very cocktailly.” – Eugen Boissevain
For more insights into the Twenties, I’ve started reading research books about flappers – which focus mainly on Zelda Fitzgerald, of course. As one of the reviews below points out, Zelda defined and encompassed the decade. Her escapades may have started in 1914 or 1915 in Alabama, but she came to New York in 1921 and made an impression on everyone she met, partied through Paris and the South of France, then crashed pretty much as soon as the market did.
I don’t know if I would have liked her very much, I can’t help but realize how important she was to both defining and being defined by the decade.
Reason # 27 why I heart the Internet:
The maps. Oh, the maps…
Map of Washington DC from 1892 from the Engineer Corps
Washington DC streetcar map from 1891
A Bird’s Eye View of Washington DC from 1929
Baltimore and Ohio train map of Washington DC, dated 1936
The Mall and Vicinity of Washington DC, dated 1917
Especially the one featured from Washington DC in the 1920s. It’s from a survey done by “G. Wm. Baist, Wm. E., & H.V. Baist, surveyors” and is amazing.