Wall Street by Paul Strand

In the current choleric atmosphere of financial sector bashing, scapegoating and blame games, Wall Street’s biggest critics can find solace in the above photograph by Paul Strand. In this photo, taken by morning light 1915, the recently built J.P. Morgan Co. building appears sinister and foreboding and dwarfs (perhaps consumes even) the humanity of suited men and women, their long shadows dragging behind them, walked alongside its facade.

Paul Strand studied under Lewis Hine and Alfred Steiglitz. Although he set up in New York as a portriat photgrapher, Strand often visited Stieglitz’s gallery to see the new European painting which it exhibited. In 1914-15, under the infunece of this new form of art, Strand turned from soft-focus pictoralism towards abstraction. It was in this spirit that the above photo was taken, originally named, “Pedestrians raked by morning light in a canyon of commerce”. Strand did not intended to show Wall Street in a bad light, he admitted. However, as the Great Depression happened (criticism was squarely towards Wall Street back then as it is today) and Strand turned more communist, he later spoke of “sinister windows” and “blind shapes” inherent in the above picture.

The photo, now simply titled “Wall Street”, was one of six Paul Strand pictures Stieglitz published in Camera Work. In three of the six pictures, humanity strides out from abstract ideas, and each figure was a study in itself — an irregular item complimented by modular formats that surround it. Another set of eleven Strand photos were published in the magazine’s final issue in 1917, and those pictures, overwhelmingly endorsed by Stieglitz as ‘brutally direct’ made Strand’s reputation.

(Wall Street’s dramatic growth from curbside deals of the 18th century into America’s financial centre was not finalized until the 1900s. Although many pivotal events in the American history — the California Gold Rush, the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the Civil War — happened far away from the Wall Street, it firmly remained as the nation’s financial centre. It says something about the vast American capital that in 1901, J.P. Morgan was already creating a billion dollar merger of the U.S. Steel and that in 1907, $800 million dollars in securities were unloaded within a few months of panic. Many recognizable practices and institutions were starting to form as well: bank runs and bankruptcy of the Knickerbocker Trust led to the formation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. From 1910-1915, hostile takeover of General Motors was fought primarily in Wall Street, and brought Wall Street into national consciousness. In 1914, the House of Morgan moved in to 23 Wall Street, which was for decades the premier address in American finance and industry. In 1920, a bomb exploded in front of the bank, killing 38 and injuring 300, prompting fueling the Red Scare. The damage from this blast can still been seen on the bank’s facade. In 1929, it was in front 23 Wall Street that many ordinary people learnt that the stock market crash had vaporized their life savings.)

 

Ticker-Tape Parades

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Fresh off their 27th World Series win, the New York Yankees will take a victory lap through lower Manhattan this morning. It will be their record-setting ninth trip down the so-called “Canyon of Heroes,” the skyscraper-lined stretch from the island’s southern tip to City Hall. And if past ticker-tape parades for sports champions are any guide, they can expect to be showered with up to 50 tons of confetti and shredded paper.

The stock ticker — a machine that tracked financial data over telegraph lines and stamped it on strips called “ticker-tape” for the sound the printing made — had barely been around two decades before Wall Streeters realized that throwing its ribbony paper out the window was a fun way to celebrate. They first did it on October 29, 1886, inspired by the ceremony to dedicate the Statue of Liberty. The practice was still a novelty ten years later, when the New York Times reported that office workers had “hit on a new and effective scheme of adding to the decorations” at a parade for presidential candidate William McKinley by unfurling hundreds of ticker-tape reels out the window.

By 1899 two million people turned out to make Admiral George Dewey, hero of the Battle of Manila Bay, the first individual honored with a ticker-tape parade. Former President Teddy Roosevelt got one in 1910 upon returning from his African safari. But it wasn’t until 1919, when Grover Whalen was made New York City’s official greeter, that ticker-tape parades took off: from 1919 to 1953 he reportedly threw 86 of them, many at the urging of the State Department. The luminaries he feted in his early years included Albert Einstein in 1921 — the only scientist ever honored with a ticker-tape parade — as well as the U.S. Olympic team in 1924 and Charles Lindbergh in 1927. By then, of course, the tradition had spread: thousands of Chicagoans showered boxer Gene Tunney with paper that year when he arrived in the city to defend his world title; Boston and St. Louis have also held ticker-tape parades, though New York remains their epicenter.

However, all were not happy. A 1904 letter to the editor urged the New York Times to speak out against the “evil” practice, suggesting that parade horses spooked by falling ticker tape might plow into the crowd on the sidewalk and cause “disaster.” A few years later, an overzealous reveler reportedly neglected to tear the pages out of a phone book and instead threw the whole thing out the window; it struck a passerby and knocked him unconscious. By 1926, New York Stock Exchange officials had grown concerned about the cost of tossing miles of ticker tape out the window any time someone important came to town: they considered buying confetti to distribute to employees but decided against it. In 1932, another irate Times letter-writer demanded that lobbing paper be “promptly and strictly banned,” to be replaced by tossing flowers or waving handkerchiefs, the more dignified customs of “civilized cities” in Europe and South America.

In 1945, V-J Day prompted the most lavish ticker-tape parade in history–5,438 tons of material were flung on New York City’s streets. On Aug. 14, 1945, three thousand street-sweepers worked through the night to clean it up, only to have their efforts undone when the merriment continued the next morning. A few months earlier, General Dwight Eisenhower and the Allied Forces were celebrated at the same canyon. The April 20, 1951 parade honoring ousted General Douglas MacArthur was the biggest parade thrown for an individual. [Above, photo by Mark Kauffman].

Queen Elizabeth (and her uncle Edward while he was still Prince of Wales) and Pope John Paul II received a ticker-tape parades  and so did the Yankees, the Mets and the Rangers. The Apollo 11 astronauts were also honored, but by this time, the Stock Exchange was upgrading to electronic boards, leaving them little use for ticker tape, and the parades dwindled. There were only a handful in the 1970s and 1980s. John Glenn saw a fete in 1998 honoring him for becoming the oldest person to go into space, at age 77. Coming 36 years after his first one, it put him in an elite club of multiple-parade honorees, including Amelia Earhart, Dwight Eisenhower, and Charles de Gaulle. Rear Admiral Richard Byrd, a polar explorer, had three ticker-tape parades. That is a record for one individual.

[Excepted from Laura FitzPatrick’s article in Time Magazine].

Wrong_Way_CorriganNew York Post cover, featuring the tickertape parade to honor “Wrong-Way Corrigan”.