A new decade is almost upon us. Since we’re counting down to 2020 maybe it’s a good time to look back 100 years ago to the 1920s.
Top news of 1920 included the passage of the 18th and 19th Amendments. The 18th brought on Prohibition and the rise of bathtub gin and the speakeasy. The 19th Amendment, passed on Aug. 18, 1920, giving women the right to vote. The KKK originating during Reconstruction was revitalized in 1920 giving rise to domestic terrorism. A bombing blamed on Italian anarchists took place on Wall Street in September of 1920 when a horse-drawn cart carried an IED exploded taking 38 lives and injuring hundreds. And then there was a sales scheme orchestrated by Charles Ponzi taking the money of thousands and making his name synonymous with pyramid marketing.
Those were some of the headlines, but what comes to mind when you think of the Roaring ’20s? Jazz? The Charleston? Flappers? “The Great Gatsby”? F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel tells of Jay Gatsby and Daisy, their love and the excesses of that era. Movies based on the book — the 1974 version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow and the 2013 remake with Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan — bring to life the fashions and decadence of the day.
But Fitzgerald wasn’t the only author to publish works in that decade which have stood the test of time. Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” and James Joyce’s “Ulysses” came out in the 1920s as did books by Langston Hughes, Sinclair Lewis, Zane Grey, William Faulkner, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Willa Cather, and T.S. Eliot. Eliot later wrote a little book of poems that inspired a record-breaking musical, now a movie. Anyone want to go with me to see CATS? Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” is set to open on stage at the Salina Community Theatre in February. These authors’ writings are still relevant, continue to check out and remain important parts of our collection.
What about songs of the ’20s? Al Jolson’s, “Swanee,” topped the charts. Louis Armstrong recorded “West End Blues” and Fats Waller put out “Ain’t Misbehavin’” That song is one of my favorites. We even had it played at my dad’s funeral in 2006. You would have had to know my dad to understand that it was an appropriate tribute! I loved watching Barbra Streisand in her role as Fanny Brice sing “My Man” in the movie, “Funny Girl.” “My Man” was a hit for Fanny Brice in 1921.
There may not have been “Star Wars” or “Frozen” blockbusters in the ’20s, but many of the movies of that decade left their mark. “The Jazz Singer” with Al Jolson came out in 1927 and was the first feature film talkie. Charlie Chaplin entertained with “The Goldrush” and “The Kid.” There were Buster Keaton comedies, “Broadway Melody” ushering in big musicals, action-adventure with Douglas Fairbanks in “The Mark of Zorro” and the science fiction film “Metropolis.” Check out “Hollywood Singing and Dancing: The Dawn of the Hollywood Musical” for an overview.
The Art Deco style of architecture took off in Europe in the 1920s and quickly reached across the Atlantic. The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in New York City are two shining examples. But we also have a beautiful example here in Salina at the corner of Santa Fe and Walnut. The Fox-Watson Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts opened in 1931 and is a wonder to behold. The Craftsman style home became very popular, and even now those homes are in demand due to the enduring style and, well, craftmanship. Big porches, wide beautiful woodwork, lots of windows — houses made for families and built to last. These homes were available as kits through the Sears. Imagine looking through a catalog, ordering your house and then putting it together from the ground up. Learn more about 1920s architecture with “The Houses That Sears Built: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sears Catalog Homes” and “Art Deco House Style: An Architectural and Interior Design Source Book”
When it comes to literature, style, music, art and architecture, I think the next decade is going to have a hard time topping the Roaring Twenties!