Manhattan is history. A block from where I stood was the Plaza Hotel--Saturday brunches, red-jacketed doormen, and Eloise. Due North stood Central Park. Walking west on 56th Street, I was fortunate to be heading toward AMERICA House for a visit.
Once inside, a great tradition welcomes you. A framed letter from Archbishop Romero of El Salvadore is translated into Spanish from English, and the smiling portrait of the soon-to-be martyr seems incongruent with his bloody fate.
Landmark issues of AMERICA magazine line the hallways, each a window into the past. The Vatican II issue caught my eye, and so did letters from Presidents Reagan and Truman. To absorb everything, let alone see everything, would require more time than a casual visit allows.
Libraries fascinate me. If a person or group has a well-stocked library, you can peer into the heart or even tough the soul. I felt present to 110 years in the life of AMERICA magazine, the events shaping its stories, and even the stories that helped shape events.
Scanning bound volumes of various decades, I discovered design changes. The volumes of the first decades of the 20th century were stamped in small type, size 9 or 10, I think. Several decades later small advertisements appeared, and the print/graphics layout evolved into the visually appealing and award-winning format we have today. An editorial in the 1940s bemoaned the increasing use of photos in the media--this was leading toward the loss of complex, sequential, and rational thinking, the writer opined. Time, Life, and Newsweek became successes soon afterward, but what do you think of the editorial question?
Exactly a century ago--the week of August 10, 1910--a national debate occurred (as reported in AMERICA), about whether or not a statue of General Robert E. Lee, in his Confederate general's uniform--should be displayed in the Capital in Washington, D.C. Many argued that this was unrealistic and inappropriate, as 45 years was not long enough to heal the devastating wounds from the Civil War. Others argued that it was "magnanimous" for the nation to allow the statue to be erected. What would your view have been?
Recently I viewed the movie "The Book of Eli," and saw it twice so I could understand its full meaning. Across a devastated American landscape of the future, Denzel Washington carries one book to restore civilization. His destination: a library.
Someday I hope for another invitation to examine and enjoy the AMERICA House library. There is an emergent and exponential quality, yes, let's call it Teilhardian, that can't be grasped by reading individual books or volumes of magazines. I'd love to see a century of the field of psychology through the prism of AMERICA's writers and editors.
To rephrase Norman MacLean, "I am haunted by libraries."
William Van Ornum