First Medicare patient was in Naperville

Edward Hospital in Naperville will on July 20 celebrate the first Medicare patient in American history:

A Chicago Tribune reporter informed 68-year-old Avery she would be the first citizen to have her bills paid under the then-new program. Her amused reply, “Oh boy! Now I can go to New York and get on the television program ‘I’ve Got A Secret.'”

It was no secret when Avery signed her Medicare forms in her hospital bed on July 1, 1966, the day the program went into effect for nearly 20 million Americans age 65 or older. In addition to front-page coverage in the Tribune, an Associated Press photographer snapped Avery’s picture, which made its way across the country and into numerous other newspapers and publications…

“Edward Hospital, birthplace of Medicare” is how Carlson wryly refers to the event. Carlson is the one who chose Avery for her distinction.

“The reason I was given the right to choose was that I was a member of the communications staff at the national Blue Cross Association,” Carlson said. He and the head of communications at the U.S. Social Security Administration coordinated Avery’s form-signing and photo opportunity.

Although Naperville was still a small town at the time – under 10,000 residents – this illustrates how social networks can help push small communities into the spotlight. Even large bureaucratic programs have to start somewhere and a personal connection between the Blue Cross Association and the Social Security Administration made this possible.

The article says the hospital will dedicate a plaque and hold a small ceremony to make the anniversary. Is this the best way to mark social welfare programs? How many people will know that the plaque exists and view it? The United States regularly crafts memorials for particular people, whether notable leaders (like the proposed Eisenhower memorial in Washington D.C.) or collections of soldiers, but doesn’t mark government programs as well. A memorial to the New Deal? The Monroe Doctrine? The Interstate Act? All of these were incredibly consequential yet it is more difficult to envision where and how these should be marked.

Naperville to commemorate deadly 1946 train collision

Naperville likes its public art so it is not surprising to see that a memorial for a deadly 1946 train crash is in the planning stage:

In 1946, two trains crashed at the Naperville station and killed 45 people, including some military personnel returning from World War II…

Plans are moving forward to place a sculpture as a memorial near the site of the train wreck. The project would be installed on the day after the 68th anniversary of the April 25 crash. The memorial would honor those who died and recognize heroic rescue efforts on that Thursday afternoon in 1946 when the Exposition Flyer, a passenger train heading west from Chicago, plowed into the Advance Flyer, which had made an unscheduled stop at the Naperville station to check mechanical problems.

About 125 people were injured in the crash.

“It’s a story that I bet 95 percent of the people in Naperville don’t know about,” said W. Brand Bobosky, president of Century Walk Corp., a public-private partnership that has installed dozens of sculptures related to the city’s history in and around downtown.

This was a large incident, even among a metropolitan region full of railroad lines (which leads to some smaller accidents), lots of freight moving through the area, and high commuter counts in places like Naperville. To some degree, perhaps it is remarkable train crashes don’t happen more often given the number of at-grade crossings as well as the number of trains.

The majority of the statues and public art in Naperville celebrate important figures, reinforcing the narrative of the suburb’s impressive community spirit as well as it is remarkable growth. At the same time, there is currently a 9/11 memorial along the south side of the Riverwalk. This new memorial might be the first to commemorate tragedy that occurred within Napeville itself. Is building a memorial a signal of the maturity of a suburb (that may or may not be related to how much time has passed or the size of the community)?

Aconsequence of this crash, according to Wikipedia, was that it contributed to lower train speeds in the United States:

This crash is a major reason why most passenger trains in the United States only travel at a speed limit of 79 mph (127 km/h) or below.[2][3] The CB&Q, Milwaukee Road, and Illinois Central were among railroads in the region running passenger trains at up to and above 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) in the 1930s and 1940s. The Interstate Commerce Commission ruled in 1951 that trains traveling faster must have “an automatic cab signal, automatic train stop or automatic train control system”,[4][5] expensive technology that was implemented on some lines in the region, but has since been mostly removed.

An interesting legacy.

The fate of veteran’s memorials that lack funding

Big memorials like the a proposed Eisenhower memorial in Washington D.C. and the Ground Zero memorial in New York City are big deals, but what happens when more local memorials fall into disrepair due to lack of money and attention? Stars and Stripes looks at the tough times facing smaller memorials:

The corroding monument has challenged the community to maneuver a delicate question: How do we honor those who have served when memorials deteriorate and finances are tight?…

The National Trust for Historic Preservation waged a 2 1/2-year fight to restore the aging Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., when some people proposed replacing it. Far less disagreement surrounded a decision to update the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco after a powerful earthquake in 1989.

In Greensboro, N.C., residents have been grappling with what to do with the city’s own decaying tribute to the soldiers of World War I…

In Michigan’s upper peninsula, the Wakefield Memorial Building once stood as a grand structure overlooking a lake in Wakefield, an old mining town. The memorial, built in 1924 to commemorate the sacrifices of World War I soldiers, was expansive, including a banquet hall, meeting room and theater.

By the 1950s, the community couldn’t afford the upkeep of the building and sold it to a private owner. Over the years, there were attempts to renovate the structure. But it was deemed too expensive and by 2010, the building was demolished.

Sociologists have written some interesting pieces about the creation of memorials, like the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington D.C., but this story suggests another approach to memorials: the middle-life and end-life of memorials. What happens when the generations that built the memorials are long gone? What happens when a community decides it has other financial priorities? What is the expected lifespan of memorials or, in other words, what is the half-life of memorials? It could also raise some interesting questions about how local memorials and memorial events should be. How many individual communities commemorate these important events and are there regional, social class, and racial differences in which communities build and maintain memorials?

Arguing over Frank Gehry’s plans for the Eisenhower Memorial illustrates the social construction of memorials

Architect Frank Gehry’s designs for the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington D.C. are drawing criticism. Curbed sums it up:

Anyone who still believes that “any press is good press” doesn’t know a thing about Frank Gehry’s plans for D.C.’s Eisenhower Memorial, which, ever since renderings were released for public fodder well over two years ago, has attracted a publicity buzz not unlike flies swarming a dying animal. Indeed, the memorial’s most hyperbolic and outspoken critic, the National Civic Art Society, has called Gehry’s plans for an architectural memorial park—which, with 80-foot columns and woven steel tapestries, is as nonlinear and flourished as the rest of his oeuvre—”sentimental kitsch,” “a temple to nothingness,” and a “behemoth [that] commemorates Gehry’s ego, not Eisenhower’s greatness and humility.” President Eisenhower’s grandchildren have spoken out against the design, as well, most recently calling it “regretfully, unworkable.” Oh, and don’t even get them started on those tapestries, which have been likened to the stuff of Communist regimes, derided as an “Iron Curtain to Ike,” and described by the NCAS as “a rat’s nest of tangled steel, a true maintenance nightmare.”

This week, Congress joined the clamor: Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, has just introduced legislation that would officially halt all of Gehry’s efforts and start the whole process afresh. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) chimed in: “I want to know how we came up with this monstrosity.” This, of course, has ruffled a whole other set of feathers, namely those of the American Institute of Architects, which has said in a statement that the bill “is nothing more than an effort to intimidate the innovative thinking for which our profession is recognized at home and around the globe.”

This highlights the socially constructed nature of memorials. What are they supposed to look like? To know, we often look at genres. We have memorials that celebrate war victories and they look a certain way: perhaps a big arch, perhaps a leader on a horse. We have memorials to celebrate the loss of life and the ambiguous outcomes of war. See the Vietnam War Memorial or the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe in Berlin. These public discussions can help ensure the public or leaders get what they want out of the memorial but might also stifle innovation.

In addition to this issue of genre, I see a few other issues in this criticism:

1. Why build a memorial for Eisenhower in the first place? Is it for his actions as president in being in charge during a time of prosperity or is it for his leadership in World War II (though we tend not to honor generals in these large ways anymore)? Here is the reasoning courtesy of the official website: eisenhowermemorial.gov.

Why honor President Eisenhower with a Memorial?

Congress approved the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Memorial in 1999 with the passage of Public Law 106-79, signed into law by President Clinton. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission is entrusted with the task of building an enduring memorial honoring Dwight D. Eisenhower as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and the 34th President of the United States. Eisenhower understood war as only a soldier could and believed the possibility of a nuclear or thermonuclear, World War III, would be unwinnable for mankind.  He set in place a strategy for winning the Cold War, that was followed and implemented by future Presidents until the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Eisenhower’s prescience and his strategic understanding of science and technology in establishing the United States as a pre-eminent world power was essential to securing freedom for generations of Americans to come. Eisenhower was influential in bringing World War II to an end and his efforts throughout the War, especially with the planning and execution of D-Day, stopped the Nazi war machine. He also ended the Korean War and maintained active communications with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.This Memorial will not only tell the story of Eisenhower, the young man from Kansas who became a great soldier, a U.S. President, and a world leader, but will also reflect the story of America – humble, isolated beginnings, and a rapid ascension on the world stage.  His example is an inspiration that, through leadership, cooperation, and public service, we too can achieve the American dream and make a difference in the world.  Eisenhower, like America, rose to the occasion with courage and integrity.With the 60th Anniversary of his election to President and the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II, it is fitting to celebrate Eisenhower´s numerous accomplishments as a General, President, and world citizen. Dwight D. Eisenhower´s dedicated service to his country spanned 50 years. It is appropriate that the first national presidential memorial of the 21st century will honor President Eisenhower.  If there was ever a moment in our nation’s history to recognize a leader committed to both security and peace for the good of his nation and the world, now is that time.

How many presidents will receive memorials like this? How many should and who gets to decide?

2. I wonder how much of this is tied to Frank Gehry as architect. Gehry has a particular approach to structures. What if it was a lesser-known architect or even an unknown? Back to the official website:

How was Frank Gehry selected to design the Eisenhower Memorial?

Mr. Gehry was one of four finalists in a competitive process  managed by GSA under the guidelines of the General Services Administration Design Excellence Program.  The process consisted of three stages.  A notice was published in FedBizOpps announcing the opportunity for any designer with an existing portfolio to compete for the project.  Submissions were received from forty-four qualified design firms in 2008. Evaluation factors included previous work, ability to work within the constraints of an urban site, interviews, and responses to the memorial´s pre-design program. That program addressed Eisenhower´s accomplishments as well as the physical parameters of the memorial site. Mr. Gehry´s creativity, ingenuity and inventiveness demonstrated his understanding of Eisenhower as a General, President, and world citizen. An independent panel of reviewers, including Commissioner David Eisenhower, reviewed the presentations by the final four designers and recommended Frank Gehry.  The Eisenhower Commission unanimously accepted their recommendation.

3. How much should the family of the memorialized person be involved? Curbed cites the family’s dislike for the structure. But, isn’t the memorial more for the people of the United States? This is a matter of competing interests.

4. I wonder if there are any critics of Eisenhower’s presidency who might object loudly to the design of the memorial. The Eisenhower administration wasn’t perfect…

In the end, this memorial partly reflects something about Eisenhower himself but also strongly reflects our understanding of Eisenhower from the years 1999 when the Memorial process started to 2016 when the project is supposed to be done.

Using social media to commemorate September 11th

In recent decades, cultural sociologists have spent more time examining how people today create and experience newer memorials like the Vietnam Wall. But the nature of memorials changes quickly; here is a sociologist discussing how 9/11 is remembered on social media.

Brian Monahan, a sociology professor at Pennsylvania’s Marywood University, said social media helps Americans remember 9/11 in an anniversary year that is not a milestone 10th, 20th or 25th.

It also provides ways to remember events other than the structured process of scheduled memorials, said Monahan, who has studied coverage of 9/11. There was a proscribed way before of how to be solemn. The symbolism went through official channels.

“It was an informal process but it was structured,” he said.

Social media takes all the barriers away.

The conversation about 9/11 is also different now on Twitter and Facebook, especially after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Monahan said.

“There was only one way to talk about 9/11 and that was tragedy,’ Monahan said. “But now it’s about core American values.”

Maybe we are headed toward a world where physical memorials simply don’t matter as much. Existing and new memorials may still attract a lot of visitors and certain locations, such as government centers or big cities, might still be expected to commission and maintain memorials. For example, the 9/11 Memorial in New York City which I had a chance to see in July, may still be important because it is rooted in a certain space. Here is one picture from the site (with the to-be-completed museum in the background):

The collective memory may be rooted in the World Trade Center site but it is now more diffuse. Public commemoration can now be done from anywhere. The 9/11 site can be experienced through websites and Google Street View. Videos can be watched online. People can share their memories from that day and where they were when they heard the news. Now participants can more widely share their memories and opinions rather than just relying on the “big narrative” to which memorials often point.

Perhaps these social media expressions were in part foretold by these new memorials themselves which encourage reflection and having viewers read their own interpretation into display. The classic example is the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. which was deliberately designed to move around controversial views of the war and allow people to reflect on the lives lost. See this classic 1991 piece in the American Journal of Sociology by Wagner-Pacifici and Schwartz titled “The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Commemorating a Difficult Past.” Social media simply furthers this process but also possibly gives interpretations from individuals the potential to reach wider audiences.

Pictures of 9/11 Ground Zero memorial

Here is an interesting set of pictures of what the 9/11 Ground Zero memorial is going to look like. The architect talks about his own experiences in putting this together here. See the official website here.

I assume there will be a lot of discussion about the memorial once it is fully open to the public. Does it adequately sum up American feelings and experiences regarding 9/11? Memorials not only invoke the past but also reflect our current understanding of past events and people. Such spaces can both provoke and inspire collective memories, meaning they can reinforce already existing narratives or ask people to develop their own (like the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial).

Teaching 9/11 in schools

Now that we are nine years removed from September 11, 2001, this is something I’ve wondered: how do schools teach about this day? According to the Christian Science Monitor, there seems to be a variety of approaches.

Another place to look would be school textbooks. With evidence that textbooks either just plain get it wrong or present biased perspectives, how younger generations learn about 9/11 will be something to watch.

Overall, both specific school lessons and textbooks will help shape the American collective memory regarding the event. This collective memory can take time to develop and is likely to be controversial; just look at how long the 9/11 memorial is taking to shape up at Ground Zero.