Art and Healing in the American Body Politic, 1929-1941
Epilogue On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg exploded and burned at its mooring in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Seventeen months later, on October 30, 1938, the Mercury Theatre of the Air threw millions into a panic, convinced that Martians were taking over the Earth. These unrelated events—one terribly real and the other a complete fiction—sustained the climate of anxiety that had characterized American life since the Crash of 1929. The economy veered toward disaster yet again and by March 1938, the stock market had lost almost half its value, four million more Americans were unemployed and industrial production had dropped by forty percent.1 Many Americans who had looked to Roosevelt to solve their problems throughout the decade blamed him for the nation’s apparent inability to extricate itself from a series of disasters. The President’s right–hand man, Harry Hopkins, wrote in the New Republic that Americans were “bored with the poor, the unemployed and the insecure.”2 Congress was emboldened by Roosevelt’s political misfortunes and, in its appropriation for 1940, effectively cut all funding for the WPA and prescribed the dismantling or absorption of its arts–related projects. The pulling of the plug came about largely through the fears of Congressmen Martin Dies of Texas and J. Parnell Thomas of New Jersey—whose Special Committee to Investigate Un–American Activities had just been established—that the Communist Party was using federally sponsored programs, including its arts initiatives, for seditious purposes.3 The convictions of American artists regarding political...
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