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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

WWII and New York at the New-York Historical Society

State Historical Society of Missouri Art Collection. Art© T.H. and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. 
We stopped by the New-York Historical Society on Friday for the opening day of their new exhibit, WWII and New York, which runs through May 27, 2013.

The show begins with a small section examining attitudes in the city -- and America -- in the years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We're not sure if this is by happenstance or design, but this is also the hardest part of the show to see. Many of the objects on exhibit are hung in cases so that visitors have to stand right in front of them to get a decent view. (This is fine for the person with their nose pressed to the glass, but not so good for everyone else in the room.) The exhibit opens up in subsequent sections, which cover "The New York Home Front," "Going to War," and "Victory and Loss."

The show is best when displaying the ephemera of the era: Chic Young's It's Our War comic strip demonstrating what children needed to do to defend the country; the Maiden Form company's application for a "Declaration of Necessity" for their bras for factory workers; the miniatures from the National War Poster competition at MoMA.

The exhibit also serves as a sobering reminder of the lives lost during the war. Towards the end of the show, there are profiles of thirteen New Yorkers who served -- from Commander-in-Chief Franklin D. Roosevelt on down -- including the tales of those who died in combat. Also affecting are Thomas Hart Benton's paintings -- in particular "Embarkation—Prelude to Death (Year of Peril)" (above), which shows young American servicemen boarding a ship in New York on their way to Europe. If you have the time, step into the small theater nearby and watch WWII and Me, a film by Francis Lee, a New Yorker from East 10th Street who was a combat cameraman who documented his experiences from basic training to Omaha Beach.

Like many exhibitions (and this isn't a critique of the N-YHS as much as it is a criticism of every museum), there's too much in the show to take in all at once. From the U-Boats patrolling New York Harbor to the WAVES in the Bronx, the exhibit tries to cover every possible base. The upside to this approach is that there's something for everyone here, from children to veterans, and you'll surely discover something about wartime New York that will be new to you. You can also explore the show online at

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Read more about New York in World War II in

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