When The Past Comes Alive

We’ll return to our traditional posts next week, I promise, but first I wanted to share this addicting YouTube account I found. Guy Jones takes old videos, adjusts their speed (they used to love to speed up film to make it like a cartoon moves), and finally he adds music or background noise to make them even more dimensional. All those stiff or frozen old scenes and photographs you’ve seen have never looked more alive. It’s at once fascinating and sometimes eerie. I’m including a few of my favorites here with their stories, if I could find them, but you can find all of the videos on the YouTube channel – here.

When Jazz Nearly Didn’t Make It To Ireland – 1921

In 1921 jazz music was on its way to Ireland. In October of that year, just months after the War of Independence, the Southern Syncopated Orchestra from London, a black American jazz band, was scheduled to play in Dublin. The 40-some band members were originally from the U.S., the South mainly, and the West Indies. Now they were spreading catchy jazz tunes across the pond.

They boarded the SS Rowan but just after midnight the ship sunk in a strange accident after being struck by, not one, but two other vessels during the foggy night. Official numbers aren’t still available but of the 90 people on board, 25 passengers and 11 crew were drowned (it’s estimated that 8 or 9 of the victims were members of the band). Among those drowned were the band’s drummer, the ship’s captain and two passengers, Irish cattlemen returning from a trip to Scotland.

The orchestra attended the funerals of their drowned members, replaced their lost instruments and traveled to Dublin again, this time successfully. Jazz was a huge hit in Ireland but it was swiftly denounced by the Catholic Church as immoral and the music of “savages.”

A newsreel of the band’s surviving members arriving in Dublin is below:


A Photobooth at a Costume Party – 1920’s

Photobooth’s are nothing new but I’ve never seen an old one in motion, this one was at a London costume party in the 1920’s:


A Trip Through Paris – 1927

In 1927 Burton Holmes, the first traveloguer, recorded several scenes of daily life in Paris. My favorite part is at 0:58 at Cafe de la Paix. Have you ever seen so many suspicious side-eyes before?!


Jewish “Declaration of War on Nazi Germany” – 1933

There’s so much to know about WWII that when you were in school this huge protest was probably skipped over or covered only briefly. I’d certainly never seen a video of it. In the spring of 1933, in New York City, a Jewish-led protest marched through the city protesting Hitler. A whopping 250,000 people took part.

The march came with the “Anti-Nazi Boycott” where people in the U.S. and the U.K., usually led by Jewish organizations, boycotted German products. (Remember, 1933 was the year that Hitler became Chancellor of Germany).

The protest came at a time when the Germany economy was still crippled: 6 million Germans were unemployed and 3 million were on public assistance. The boycott cut German exports by at least 10 percent and the anti-German propaganda, if only temporarily,also strengthened Germany’s enemies like Poland. Such a strong protest was, of course, controversial. Some in the U.S. were concerned that the protest would cause even further trouble for the Jews in Germany. Little did they know what was to come anyway.

In any case, it was enough to demand a response from the Germans.

Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels declared the first official Jewish-owned business boycott in April of 1933. Soldiers stood outside Jewish-owned businesses with signs reading “Germans! Protect yourselves! Don’t buy from Jews!” and “The Jews Are Our Misfortune!” Goebbels warned that their boycott would be resumed if the anti-Nazi protests in other countries did not cease…or “until German Jewry had been annihilated.” A not so veiled hint at the horrors that were to come.

*As a side note, I grew up in Beachwood, Ohio which has the second highest Jewish population by city in percentage in the world, outside of Israel (a complicated way of saying it’s a little over 90% Jewish). Many residents maintain strong ties to Israel, some students even join the Israeli army after high school. But more to the point with this post, German products, especially German cars are still a rarity there.


The Cotton Club – Harlem – 1930’s

The Cotton Club was first started by celebrity boxer Jack Johnson, although its first incarnation was a intimate supper club called “Club Deluxe.” Gangster, Owney “The Killer” Madden, took over the club in 1923 while serving time in Sing Sing and eventually changed the name to the “Cotton Club.”

The Cotton Club was initially used to sell liquor during Prohibition. More interesting, it was a whites-only club featuring many performing acts seeped in racism. Blacks were depicted as savages, jungle dwellers, cotton pickers and were often in skimpy or cliched outfits (you’ll see a few of the costumes in the video).

The performers were paid well despite the racist tone of the shows and numerous popular black entertains performed there. This video shows Duke Ellington who was encouraged to write “jungle music” for his act. Ellington’s fame skyrocketed from his association with the Cotton Club. He gained national exposure through radio broadcasts of the shows and had a worldwide hit with Creole Love Call.

Considering black American culture was often cartoonishly portrayed by the media, this video of Harlem in the 1930’s shows a much more fascinating look into a time when your headlining performer, though payed handsomely, wasn’t allowed to use the front door and when Harlem was in its most culturally romanticized period.


Prohibition Ends – 1933

The first case of (legal) beer, after Prohibition, was delivered to New York City in March of 1933 in a ceremony:


Survivors of the Titanic Dock -1912

The story of the Titanic doesn’t need repeating here but this footage shows some of the survivors as they departed their rescue ship:


Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4