Author Archives: Paul Mullins

Segregating the Fairways: Golfing and Public Leisure in African America

In January, 1928 the Indianapolis Recorder dryly proclaimed that “it is indeed gratifying to see how many of our group have taken up the ancient and honorable game of GOLF since the city turned the cow pasture at Douglass Park over to us for a golf course by the placing of six tin cans around said pasture.” In 1926, the African-American newspaper had spearheaded the course’s construction, arguing that “Indianapolis Negroes want to play golf.” By 1928, though, it lamented that the six-hole course at “Douglass park has plenty of hazards, bunkers and the like, but they are not artificial. They are just as God made the land, rough, uneven, uncut grass, trees in the fairways, even the `teeing ground’ is like a bunker.”

Much of the 20th century battleground for African-American citizen privileges and human rights was waged in public spaces like workplaces, schools, and the voting booth. Nevertheless, that activism reached into nearly every corner of everyday life, finding some of its most powerful activism at seemingly prosaic lunch counters, bowling alleys, and municipal parks. African America’s grassroots struggle for citizen rights in seemingly mundane leisure places like golf courses was a critical dimension of 20th-century African-American activism. Such activism remains preserved in traces of the contemporary landscape, but the significance of such spaces—and the persistence of many color line divisions in those very places–risks passing without notice today.

The Riverside Park links and a story on the novel game appeared in the June 29, 1902 Indianapolis Journal.

The Riverside Park links and a story on the novel game appeared in the June 29, 1902 Indianapolis Journal.

Indianapolis’ first public nine-hole course was built at Riverside Park in 1900, just as golf began to be played in the US; simultaneously, the Great Migration and color line segregation were transforming the world of 20th-century African-American golf. In 1901 Henry Alfred Fleming, an African-American caddy at the Indianapolis Country Club, was appointed as Riverside Park’s golfing instructor. Many African Americans like Fleming found work as caddies at the nation’s earliest country clubs and golf courses, quietly becoming skilled players themselves. John Shippen, an African American and indigenous Shinnecock Indian, was a caddie who played in six U.S. Opens alongside White golfers between 1896 and 1902, but golf clubs and tournaments soon excluded people of color. Fleming’s position as an African-American golf instructor at a public course would be nearly unimaginable by 1910, when golf became a segregated mass leisure.

John Shippen competed in six US Opens between 1896 and 1902 (imageWikipedia).

John Shippen competed in six US Opens between 1896 and 1902 (image Wikipedia).

In the earliest moments of American golfing, caddies like Henry Fleming and John Shippen were cast as service laborers relegated to carrying the clubs of wealthy golfers. Price Collier argued in 1901 that caddies must be “as obedient as a servant,” complaining that golfers “suffer from their ignorance, indifference, and carelessness.” Fleming began his career at the Indianapolis Country Club, which became Indianapolis’ first country club in 1891. The club built a two-hole golf course in 1896 that was expanded to nine holes the following year (a course that is now the grounds of the Woodstock Country Club).

Within a year of hiring Fleming, though, the Indianapolis Journal somewhat ambiguously concluded that “undesirable persons gathered at the links every day and the Park Board discovered that the links would have to be placed under proper management if the sport was to become popular at Riverside.” In May, 1902 Fleming was replaced by Frank V. Lennon. Fleming went on to serve as Director of the Negro Bureau of the Democratic Party in Indiana, and at his death in 1964, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that “he was a golf player above the average through the years. Again, according to legends, he was … the first professional (tutor) in the state of Indiana.”

Like racially exclusive clubs and professional golf organizations, Indianapolis’ municipal courses and public parks rapidly became segregated after the turn of the 20th century. In 1908 Ray Stannard Baker found that Indianapolis parks were patrolled by “crowds of rough and lawless white boys.” Baker almost certainly was referring to the privately owned Fairview Park, the scene of race riots since 1901, when he indicated that “although no law prevents Negroes from entering any park in Indianapolis, they are practically excluded from at least one of them by the danger of assault by these gangs.”

Riverside's golf course in an undated early 20th-century postcard.

Riverside’s golf course in an undated early 20th-century postcard.

Players were complaining about Riverside’s un-groomed course by June, 1900 and again in September, but within a year the sport’s popularity warranted adding nine more holes. In November 1903 the city granted permission to Highland Golf Club to build a course south of Riverside Park, links that are today known as Coffin Golf Course. Highland’s course was opened in 1904 for exclusive club play, but in 1919 the lease was terminated and in 1921 the course became public links. However, the first African-American golf course in the city was not open until the modest links at Douglass Park were constructed in 1926. Douglass Park was created in 1921 from a swath of the Eastside informally known as Claypool’s Woods, and Douglass Park was intended to be the segregated “Jim Crow” park for African-American residents (its pool sported “Negroes Only” signs).

By 1922 Indianapolis had 25 parks, and the city had four municipal golf courses in 1925. Construction of the Douglass Park golf course was approved by the Parks Board in September 1926, and in Fall 1927 a committee led by African-American lawyer Robert Brokenburr successfully campaigned to expand the course to nine holes. Construction inched along in May, 1928, though, and Indianapolis Recorder columnist and golfing champion Morris R. Taylor derided the course as “six tomato cans around the pasture.”

The Parks Department consistently denied African Americans access to public parks and municipal golf courses. In 1923 Parks Superintendent R. Walter Jarvis celebrated the offerings at Douglass Park in The Playground, proclaiming that since “the date of its opening it has demonstrated conclusively how eagerly the colored population of our city welcome opportunities for recreation.” In contrast to Jarvis’ picture of the park, Douglass Park was described by the Indianapolis Recorder in May 1927 as a “space for a few people to walk about and inhale large volumes of dust.” The park had “no comfort stations. There are no improved walks, a few trees, a very few flowers, a little shrubbery, and the area of the park is a little more than a breathing square. The area of the park would hardly afford standing room for the 60,000 people persumably [sic] who must use the park.” African Americans were systematically denied access to other city parks. When the Indianapolis Recorder attempted to secure a permit to meet at Brookside Park in 1926, Jarvis refused to approve permits for African Americans “in order that they may not antagonize other citizens.”

Golfing at Douglass Park mirrored national patterns in the segregation of public courses and competitive golfing. In 1916, the Professional Golfers Association specified that membership was open only to Whites, a code that was not changed until 1961, so Black golfers formed their own organizations. Founded in 1925, the Colored Golf Association had a Fourth of July tournament in 1925 and held tournaments in 1926, 1927, and 1928 at Mapledale Country Club in Stow, Massachusetts. The Mapledale Country Club in Stow, Massachusetts was among the earliest Black country clubs, opened in 1926 with a nine-hole course, but it closed in 1929. Most African Americans played on municipal courses like Douglass, but in 1938 Time ran a story on the 13th annual Negro Open and reported that there were “20-odd private Negro courses” in the country.

Indianapolis’ local Colored Golf Association chapter held its first state tournament in 1927. The Colored Golf Association was renamed the United Golfers Association (UGA) in 1929, and national championship tournaments continued through 1941 and resumed after the war in 1946. The UGA National Negro Open Golf Championship was held at African-American courses throughout the country, including Douglass Park in 1932.

Douglass Park golfers claimed five UGA National Open Women’s Championship. Douglass Park player Lucy Williams won the women’s championship in 1932 after being runner-up three years in a row (she was again runner-up in 1933). Fellow Douglass Park golfer Ella C. Able competed in the first UGA Open Women’s Championship in 1930 before her first win in the 1934 tournament in Detroit and a repeat championship in 1935. Lucy Williams reclaimed the title in 1936 (Able finished second), 1937, and 1946. After her 1936 victory the Indianapolis Recorder observed that “the case of Mrs. Williams is almost like Cinderella; she has but very little time to play, works seven days a week, off a half day on Thursday and Sunday, and yet she sits at the highest peak in golf.”

Lucy Whitehead Williams spent much of her life working as a domestic, cleaning houses as a teenage girl in Georgia before coming to Indianapolis around 1927 and marrying Ralph Williams. When she arrived in Indianapolis Williams worked as an attendant for African-American physician Ezra Dee Alexander, a talented golfer who was the Douglass Golf Club’s President in 1941 and competed for the amateur crown in the 1948 UGA National Championship. Williams worked as a maid or chef throughout her golfing career, and she played with former men’s national champion T. Edison Marshall at Douglass in the late 1930s. Native Louisianan Thomas Edison Marshall became the Douglass Club pro in 1935 after winning the UGA National Championship in 1930 and 1931 and losing the 1932 championship at Douglass Park in a playoff (one of his three runner-up results).

Crispus Attucks High School golf coach won the UGA National Open Championship's amateur division in 1930, 1936, and 1937. He appears here with players in the 1957 Attucks yearbook.

Crispus Attucks High School golf coach (and Industrial Arts teacher) George Roddy won the UGA National Open Championship’s amateur division in 1930, 1936, and 1937. He appears here with players in the 1957 Attucks yearbook.

Most African-American golfers aspired simply to secure access to reasonably well-maintained courses and the social circles that revolved around the game. Perhaps the first African-American golf club in Indianapolis had formed by December, 1926, when the Elite Golf Club aspired to “weld together enough sentiment among the better class of Negro citizens to put over a first-class nine hole golf course.” The reference to the “better class” of African Americans did not necessarily cast golfing as the leisure of the wealthy, but it implied somewhat ambiguous social discipline and breeding. In 1927, the Kilt Golf Club formed with a membership of upwardly mobile African Americans and prominent figures like attorney Robert Brokenburr. The club spent $10,000 on a clubhouse on East 30th Street adjoining Douglass Park. The clubhouse opened in August, 1928, but the club appears to have disbanded in 1929.

Douglass Park’s Golf Club formed around 1924 and had regular events and meetings by 1930. Among its earliest members and its President in the early 1930s was Sea Ferguson, who claimed the title of Indianapolis’ African-American golf champion in 1930 and 1932. Ferguson served as national Secretary of the United Golf Association in 1933, he managed Indianapolis’ well-known Cotton Club, and the enormously influential Ferguson became known as the “Mayor of Bronzeville” in 1938. When Douglass’ pro T. Edison Marshall died in 1945, the Indianapolis Recorder suggested that he was “induced to come here in 1935 by Sea H. Ferguson.” Douglass Park’s Golf Club was part of the United Golfers Association throughout its existence, one of nine national clubs that were members of the UGA in 1935. The UGA represented the highest level of African-American golf in segregated America until the PGA integrated in 1961 (see Sanjeev Baidyaroy’s thesis on postwar Black golfing).

In March, 1928 The Indianapolis Recorder included this celebration of local golfer Robert Obleton.

In March, 1928 The Indianapolis Recorder included this celebration of local golfer Robert Obleton (click for larger image).

The Elite Golf Club’s President Robert Obleton also presided over the Colored Golf Association’s Indianapolis chapter in 1927 and taught at a short-lived golf school on Indiana Avenue in 1927.  During its coverage of a 1927 tournament the Indianapolis Recorder referred to Obleton as the “Scepia [sic] Bobby Jones.” Obleton worked as a barber, a car salesman, and hospital janitor during his working life, and he had an especially long history of African-American political advocacy. He ran unsuccessfully for the State Legislature in 1932, and he was the long-time President of the United Colored Non-Partisan Protective Association, which conducted political and working place advocacy for African Americans between the 1930s and his death in 1959.  Obleton’s advocacy as a Board member of the Indianapolis Waiter’s Association was almost certainly fueled by his own employment as a waiter at the exclusive University Club of Indianapolis, a men’s club where Obleton worked from about 1951 until his death. Obleton golfed throughout his life and was probably among a very small handful of African Americans in the whole nation who appeared in the 1940 census with an occupation of “professional golfer.”

In the wake of World War II golf courses emerged as one of the many public battlegrounds in the civil rights movement, and racially segregated public courses gradually began to be forcefully integrated. In 1949 Miami proposed to open a municipal course to African Americans one day a week, and after state courts approved the policy in 1950 higher courts ruled against the Miami strategy. Atlanta nevertheless enacted the same tactic in 1954 before a federal judge required the links to be open to all citizens in December, 1955. When the National Negro Golf Open was set to be played in Atlanta’s Adams Park course in 1959, White neighbors “publicized plans to clutter the course from daybreak to dusk,” and the tournament was cancelled. Birmingham, Alabama opened a new segregated course in 1952, and when the city was directed to desegregate it they closed all of Birmingham’s municipal golf courses for 17 months until forced to integrate them in June, 1963. In 1956 Tallahassee leased a course for a dollar a year to make it “private” and extend existing segregation policies (that tactic also was used by some municipalities seeking to preserve segregated pools and beaches).

In 1948 the UGA held its tournament at the Coffin Golf Course in Riverside Park, and they returned for the 1964 championship (former Heavyweight champ Joe Louis, who had often golfed at Douglass Park, competed in the 1948 tournament and was runner-up for the 1964 amateur crown). Nevertheless, golf courses and country clubs were among the last bastions of segregation. Indianapolis’ Highland Golf and Country Club was established in 1908, but it did not accept Black members until an Indiana Civil Rights Commission complaint was filed in 1992. In 1969 the exclusively White Indianapolis Athletic Club rejected a membership application from African-American physician Frank P. Lloyd. A year later the Columbia Club was accused of rendering “humiliating treatment” to African-American guests, a continuation in a long history of racism at the venerable businessmen’s club founded in 1889. After an African-American clergyman was denied admission to a May, 1959 meeting at the club, its President observed that “this is a private club and is limited to members and their friends. We reserve the right to keep this a private club.” In 1966 an African-American member of a Grand Jury being accommodated at the Columbia Club was refused service in the dining room and ushered to a solitary table on a separate floor.

Many of these segregated clubs shared the Columbia Club’s clumsy defense that they were “private” collectives. The Riviera Club was founded in 1933 as an expressly “White Gentiles only” club, but by the 1950’s the recreation and swim club (which does not have a golf course) was the target for desegregation protests from African Americans and Jews alike. The club still required face-to-face interviews in 1974, when a member was barred from bringing an African-American friend to the club, and a civil rights suit was filed. The club argued that as a private establishment it was not subject to civil rights law, and the case dragged on for eight years before the club settled it; its lawyer proudly proclaimed that the settlement did not make any concession of discriminatory practices, and the Indianapolis Recorder complained that the Riviera “still can reject members.”

The rich history of African-American golf is at some level about athletic accomplishment in the face of segregation, but it perhaps is as much a story about the consequence of apparently prosaic leisure. Relatively few of Indianapolis’ African-American golfers appear to have seen themselves as activists, but they certainly did champion fundamental fairness in municipally supported public spaces. That everyday politics characterized much of the civil rights movement in Indianapolis over a century, but most of the men and women golfing at Douglass Park were humble advocates who did not often celebrate their own importance confronting public segregation. Beyond celebrating the legion of players who negotiated the links at Douglass Park, perhaps a central part of that narrative should examine the political consequence of such everyday anti-racism in a host of seemingly commonplace spaces.


Sanjeev Baidyaroy

2011 Blacks, Golf, and the Emerging Civil Rights Movement, 1947-1954. Honors Thesis, Carnegie Mellon University.


Ray Stannard Baker

1908 Following the Color Line: An Account of Negro Citizenship in the American Democracy. Doubleday, New York.


Price Collier

1900 The Rise of Golf in America. American Monthly Review of Reviews 22:459-464.


Marvin P. Dawkins

2003 Race Relations and the Sport of Golf: The African American Golf Legacy. The Western Journal of Black Studies 27(4):231-235. (subscription access)


Marvin P. Dawkins and Graham C. Kinloch

2000 African American Golfers During the Jim Crow Era. Praeger, Westport, Connecticut.


Walter Jarvis

1925 Municipal Golf in Indianapolis. The Playground 19(5):281.


Mikell Johnson

2010 Heroines of African American Golf. Trafford, Bloomington, Indiana.


Robin D.G. Kelley

1993 “We are not what we seem”: Rethinking black working-class opposition in the Jim Crow SouthJournal of American History 80(1):75-112.


Kevin M. Kruse

2005 White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.


Pete McDaniel

2000 Uneven Lies: The Heroic Story of African-Americans in Golf. American Golfer, Greenwich, Connecticut.



1933 Eighth Annual Golf Meet to be Held in Chicago next Month. Plaindealer 18 August:5.


Ian J. Reynolds

1998 Reading the Green: Interpretations of Golf and Country Clubs at the Turn of the Century. Master’s Thesis, University of Wyoming.


Robert J. Robertson

2005 Fair Ways: How Six Black Golfers Won Civil Rights in Beaumont, Texas. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.


Calvin H. Sinnette

1998 Forbidden Fairways: African Americans and the Game of Golf. Sleeping Bear Press, Chelsea, Michigan.


United States Golf Association

2014 Bill Powell: More than a Game.  Moxie Pictures.


L.J. Williams

1951 The Negro in Golf. The Negro History Bulletin 15(3):52-54.


Connie J. Ziegler

2007 Indianapolis Amusement Parks, 1903-1911: Landscapes on the Edge.  Master’s Thesis, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.



George Roddy 1957 Crispus Attucks yearbook image from Crispus Attucks Museum Collection, IUPUI University Library

John Shippen circa 1899 image from Wikipedia

Evil and Everyday Life: Interpreting Nazi Heritage

The "We Were Friends" exhibit

The “We Were Friends” exhibit

In June, 1941 the German military arrived in northern Finland as part of the Operation Barbarossa offensive against the Soviet Union.  The Germans became co-belligerents with the Finns, jointly waging war on the Soviets between June, 1941 and September, 1944 in what is known in Finland as the Continuation War.  At its height, 220,000 Germans were based and living in Finnish communities.

IMG_8567The Arktikum Museum and Arctic Science Centre’s exhibit “We Were Friends”: Finnish-German Encounters in Lapland, 1940-1944 revolves around the premise that in many ways the Finns and Germans experienced all the human relationships common between people anywhere: in various contexts, Finns and Germans were friendly colleagues, indifferent peers, or romantically involved.  “We Were Friends” departs from conventional Nazi narratives dispensing familiar moral judgments and instead plumbs everyday life between Finns and Germans.  That focus delivers a novel if potentially unsettling humanization of Finnish and German people living alongside each other amidst war.  It is an enormously challenging ambition to render the Nazi soldiers in Finland as prosaic and even banal people since the Nazis’ broader legacy has dominated historical pictures of German foot soldiers.  Inevitably, the exhibit also uneasily illuminates the historical implications of the Finns’ reception of the Germans.

The Haus der Komradeschaft in Rovaniemi in 1943 (image SA-Kuva).

“We Were Friends” casts Finns and Germans as utterly recognizable people negotiating difference and their circumstances as nearly any of us would.  The exhibit aspires to humanize the relationships between Finns and Germans, not Nazis and the German military writ large, a mission that may be impossible, naïve, refreshing, overdue, or something anywhere on that continuum.  The exhibit perhaps on some level aspires to salvage German soldiers’ humanity from narratives fixed on the Nazi war machine or caricatures of the German foot soldier as an ideological automaton.  On a novel, fascinating, and potentially unsettling level “We Were Friends” avoids weaving any especially judgmental moral or ideological narrative of the war, Nazism, or wartime Finns, instead painting a picture of everyday life distinguished by its recognizable banality.

Perhaps "We Were Friends"' most interesting juxtaposition of the banal and unsettling is this image of Finns and Germans at a football match (image Provincial Museum of Lapland)

Perhaps the most interesting juxtaposition of the banal and unsettling in “We Were Friends” is this image of Finns and Germans at a football match (image Provincial Museum of Lapland)

The exhibit deploys utterly prosaic everyday experiences to depict Germans who found themselves waging war in Finnish Lapland.  For instance, Finnish elders’ oral histories remember mundane expressions of humanity, like German gifts of candy or holiday parties.  Everyday life in home front communities like Rovaniemi remained rather quotidian, with hockey and soccer played between Finnish hosts and German guests, and Germans visited Finnish homes for coffee and shared a sauna.  The community gathered for concerts and new German movies at the Haus der Kameradschaft (House of Comradeship).  Germans were an aesthetic and physical presence in towns like Rovaniemi (which had about 6000 German residents), with one exhibit placard concluding that “Officers on horseback in their uniforms were a handsome sight.”

An image of a marriage request between a German soldier and Finnish woman.

An image of a marriage request between a German soldier and Finnish woman lies beneath letters between the couple.

Inevitably some Finns and Germans had sexual and romantic relationships, and those relationships have often been an unsettling wartime legacy held as family secrets.  “We Were Friends” paints romance circumspectly, with heartfelt passions and genuine attachments that mostly dissolved in unresolved uncertainties when the Germans left in September, 1944.  About 700 children of German soldiers were born to Finnish women (compare the 2015 Deutsche Welle story or a 2011 Swedish article).  Like much of “We Were Friends” the post-war uneasiness if not outright contempt for these relationships stands at odds with the picture of prosaic everyday life the exhibit paints for the co-belligerence period.  In this sense, much of the force of the exhibit is its unexpected banality, which is heightened by knowing the Finnish postwar history but may be confusing to visitors unschooled in the Finnish war experience.  “We Were Friends” avoids much resolution or any focus on historical consequences—Finnish-German couples are cast to the wind and the eventual fates of the people and places in the exhibit largely unaddressed.  It remains largely in the hands of visitors to make narrative sense of everyday life in the midst of the war.

Generaloberst Dietl, eversti ja ""Lapin keisari"" Villamo y.m.

Generaloberst Eduard Dietl in 1942

Among the mostly anonymous Germans, none secures more attention than Generaloberst Eduard Dietl, the highest-ranking German in Finland for most of the Continuation War.  Ville Kivimäki’s 2012 study of Finnish wartime memory argues that Dietl looms somewhat awkwardly as a “good German” who respected his Finnish brothers-in-arms and hosts and sought amicable relations between Finns and Germans.  In contrast, Dietl’s successor Lothar Rendulic spearheaded the Germans’ scorched earth tactics during the 1944 German withdrawal from Lapland, and he is looked on with much less appreciation (Dietl died in a June, 1944 air crash).  Dietl is a difficult figure to humanize, though, given his devotion to the Nazi cause since the 1923 Munich beer hall putsch.  Casting Dietl as a dashing figure distributing bon-bons in Rovaniemi hazards ignoring the brutality inflicted on his watch (Hitler described Dietl as a “fanatical National Socialist”).  “We Were Friends” does complicate Dietl’s facile caricature, delivering that blow with Dietl’s own damning words on racial purity: Dietl instructed German officers assessing marriage applications between Finns and Germans that “with only a few exceptions, the submitted applications unfortunately concern quite inferior representatives of neighbouring peoples, who can barely be called close relatives.  The attached photographs show almost solely racial driftwood, from girls with clearly eastern features to an ugly and stunted `bride,’ who cannot be considered as suitable German mothers.”

IMG_8578The Dietl example shows how “We Were Friends” is perhaps surprisingly circumspect, somewhat clinically documenting everyday life while eschewing a linear narrative confirming the obvious.  Those visitors seeking historical background for co-belligerence or details on what happened in 1944 after the co-belligerent status ended are seeking a conventional, conclusively interpreted historical narrative that “We Were Friends” largely avoids.  The reluctance or disinterest in fabricating a clear narrative may reflect the distinctively Finnish memory of World War II.  The war may be the single most consequential event in Finnish national heritage, and it is enormously complicated by caricatures, romanticization, and evasion that persist despite an exceptionally rich public understanding of the war’s more-or-less objective facts.

The Haus der Kameradschaft ruins in 1944 (image SA-Kuva)

Many non-Finns in particular may find “We Were Friends”’ detailed exposition of everyday life unsettling and even dangerously apolitical in its unwillingness to simply cast the Finnish-German relationship as unadulterated darkness.  It may be that the popular memory of the Nazis’ war as pure evil strikes a satisfying moral tenor to frame wartime narratives, and at some point we must implicate Germans—including the foot soldiers in Rovaniemi—in that historical judgment.  “We Were Friends” risks disconnecting the German war in Finland from the well-documented barbarity wrought throughout Europe, and its treatment of Dietl and subjects like sexual violence by Germans might deserve a more heavy-handed political voice.  The curators’ motivations for mounting such a challenging and important exhibit pass unexamined in “We Were Friends” as it delivers a fine-grained exposition of everyday life that leaves interpretation of those lives and the war to us.

Nevertheless, “We Were Friends”’ tale of everyday life is a provocative, thoughtful, and compelling examination of easily caricatured German soldiers and Finnish hosts.  The exhibit appears to have been enormously popular even as some of us may feel some anxiety admitting our fascination with the Nazis’ experience in Finland.  The attraction of the exhibit perhaps reflects our fascination with evil and how it captures the imagination of everyday people: in this case, can we reconcile Nazi ideology and deeds with the banality of gifts of German candy or the unsettling image of Christmas parties hosted by Nazis?  Perhaps the challenge of comprehending evil is that it defies such simplistic narrative resolution, and while some audiences will chafe at its apparent failure to pass judgement on the Third Reich’s cause, “We Were Friends” avoids “making sense” of the war itself.  Instead, it ponders the human dimensions of Finnish-German relationships and leaves the unsettling dimensions of the Nazi agenda and Finnish bonds with Germans simultaneously at the heart of the story even as they remain unspoken.



Anu Heiskanen

2008 A Useless War Memory: Erotic Fraternization, German Soldiers and Gender in Finland.  In The Gender of Memory: Cultures of Remembrance in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Europe, edited by Sylvia Paletschek and Sylvia Schraut.  University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


Eva Kingsepp

2006 “Nazi fans” but not Neo-Nazis: The Cultural Community of “WWII Fanatics.”  In Returning (to) Communities : Theory, Culture and Political Practice of the Communal, edited by Stefan Herbrechter and Michael Higgins, pp. 224-240. Rodopi, Amsterdam.



Ville Kivimäki

2012 Between Defeat and Victory: Finnish memory culture of the Second World War.  Scandinavian Journal of History 37(4):482-504.


Ville Kivimäki and Tuomas Tepora

2009 War of Hearts: Love and Collective Attachment as Integrating Factors in Finland During World War IIJournal of Social History 43(2):285-305.  (subscription access)


Sandra Wallenius-Korkalo

2010 Remembering and Forgetting the Second World War in Finland: The politics of Memory in Online Discussions.  In Progress or Perish: Northern Perspectives on Social Change, eds. Aini Linjakumpu and Sandra Wallenius-Korkalo, pp.65-82. Ashgate Publishing Group, Burlington, Vermont.


Lars Westerlund

2011 The Children of German Soldiers: Children of Foreign Soldiers in Finland 1940–1948, Volume I.  Nord Print, Helsinki.



Haus der Kameradschaft Rovaniemi 1943, Haus der Kameradschaft 1944, Eduard Dietl 1943 images from Finnish Wartime Photograph Archives SA-photo archive

Class and Lycra: Style, Wealth, and Cycling Apparel

David Miller in a jersey from his Chpt.III line by Castelli.

David Miller in a jersey from his Chpt.III line by Castelli.

This week cycling insiders are heralding a new line of bike apparel from fabled Italian cycling manufacturer Castelli.  After decades of cycle clothing innovations, Castelli has partnered with recently retired pro rider David Millar to produce an “ultra high-end” clothing line for “discerning cyclists” seeking “sartorial elegance.”  The brand hopes to appeal to a “new breed” of cyclists attracted to “the cutting edge of fashion,” and the first jersey in the line retails for £190; assessing the line’s prices, Bike Radar dryly concluded that “it’s a fair bet that if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Cycling producers are by no means alone in their branding appeal to consumers seeking exceptionally high-end sports garments and gear, and cultish brand appeal has complicated implications on how we view sport in general and cycling in particular.  A massive industry has made cycling an increasingly lucrative industry, and it is attempting to remain profitable and accessible to the masses even as brands like the new Castelli line cultivate social and class exclusivity. Read the rest of this entry

The Boredom of Dark History: Women’s Histories and Jack the Ripper Narratives

Neighbors were startled last week when this facade was unveiled for the Jack the Ripper Museum.

Neighbors were startled last week when this facade was unveiled for the Jack the Ripper Museum.

Last week neighbors in London’s East End were dismayed that a planned women’s history museum had taken an unexpected turn.  Rather than “retell the story of the East End through the eyes, voices, experiences and actions of the women that shaped the East End,” the renamed Jack the Ripper Museum will narrate the lives of late 19th-century women through the familiar but hackneyed legend of a murderer.  The Jack the Ripper story has been told incessantly since the murder of five women in London’s Whitechapel neighborhood in the late 1880s.  The murders are a fascinating tale of extraordinary evil heightened by the murderer’s ability to remain anonymous and escape an analysis of what delivered him to such unthinkable darkness.  Nevertheless, the Ripper’s story seems an especially challenging starting point to narrate the agency of women in 19th-century London.  The Museum awkwardly argues that it “discusses why so many women had little choice in their lives other than to turn to prostitution”; that only seems to confirm that they will tell another theatrical tale about the Ripper instead of reflectively study the scores of women who negotiated the late 19th-century East End. Read the rest of this entry

Gardens in the Black City: Landscaping 20th-Century African America

In July, 1937 Louise Terry was married in the garden at her parents’ Indianapolis home, and her mother Mary Ellen and father Curtis were likely proud of their daughter and garden alike.  In the days leading up to the nuptials the Indianapolis Recorder rhapsodized about the Terrys’ garden: “A beautiful rock garden and lily pond bordered with flowers of variegated hues against a background of Sabin Junipers, Oriental Golden Arbor-Vitae, Colorado Blue Spruce, Virginia Glanca, Blue Junipers, Japanese Cedars, and stately Poplars will create a celestial atmosphere … at the Terry residence, 1101 Stadium Drive.”

Dorothea Lange's 1939 image of a North Carolina sharecropper's cabin indicated "Note also flower garden protected by slender fence of lathes" (Farm Security Administration,Library of Congress).

Dorothea Lange’s 1939 image of a North Carolina sharecropper’s cabin indicated “Note also flower garden protected by slender fence of lathes” (Farm Security Administration,Library of Congress).

The Terrys’ garden lay in the heart of the city’s near-Westside, part of an overwhelmingly African American neighborhood that was routinely caricatured as a “blighted” or “slum” landscape.  In the summer of 1937 that Louise Terry was wed, construction was nearing completion on the city’s first major urban renewal project, Lockefield Garden, just blocks from the Terry home (the segregated African American community accepted its first tenants in February 1938).  There was indeed genuine impoverishment and material hardship in much of the near-Westside, yet the African-American city was dotted with ornamental gardens like the Terrys’ home.  The archaeological scholarship on African-American landscapes includes fascinating analyses of plantation spaces and food gardens, but there is far less scholarship on the scores of ornamental African-American gardens in 20th-century cities and suburbs. Compounding the dilemma in cities like Indianapolis is the reality that many of these gardens have been erased.  Nevertheless, ignoring them allows racist stereotypes of longstanding urban ruin to pass unchallenged, and it risks ignoring that many similar gardens and gardeners remain scattered across the contemporary city. Read the rest of this entry

Heritage Exposed: Nudity at Historical Sites

Tourists at Angkor (image from Poso a poco).

Tourists at Angkor (image from Poco a poco).

In February American tourists Lindsey Kate Adams and Leslie Jan Adams were among the crowds at Cambodia’s Angkor, the 9th-15th century Khmer city and temple complex that UNESCO hails as the most famous archaeological site in southeast Asia.  The World Heritage Site sprawls over about 400 square kilometers, making it among the world’s largest archaeological sites and one of the most visited historical sites in the world.  The Adams sisters were among the thousands of visitors trooping through Angkor in February, with scores of them providing pictures of their journey and the astounding complex.  When the Arizona sisters reached the Preah Khan temple, they likewise documented their visit, yet like a modest but growing wave of contemporary tourists they departed from the conventional monument pose:  the women dropped their pants for a shot of their butts in the ancient temple, only to be nabbed by the authorities.  These increasingly common nude or partially disrobed pictures at historic sites tell us something about the aesthetic power of heritage even as they reveal its irrelevance to many of the Western tourists who are actually visiting historic places.

The Arizona travelers are not alone in their ambition to commemorate their historic site tourism with nude pictures.  In January three French tourists were deported after being caught in Angkor’s Banteay Kdei temple stripping for pictures of their Cambodian trek.  Five days before pictures appeared on Facebook depicting topless women at Angkor as well as Beijing’s Forbidden Palace.  In May a group of ten tourists posed naked in Malaysia on Mount Kinabalu, a World Heritage site distinguished by its botanical diversity (5000-6000 plant species can be found on the mountain).  Israeli traveler Amichay Rab’s My Naked Trip blog documents his tour of South America, where he stripped at a series of sites including Machu Picchu, Cuzco, and Monte Verde.  The facebook page and blog Naked at Monuments document sun-starved butts at sites including the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, and Athens. Read the rest of this entry

Imagining the Racist Landscape

The Avenue of Oaks at Boone Hall Plantation (image Jonathan Lamb).

The Avenue of Oaks at Boone Hall Plantation (image Jonathan Lamb).

Boone Hall Plantation bills itself as “America’s most photographed plantation,” and the Mount Pleasant, South Carolina plantation’s moss-draped oak approach and grounds are indeed magnificent.  The most dramatic aesthetic feature of the plantation may be the nearly mile-long “Avenue of Oaks” approach, which is draped in southern oaks planted in 1743.  Photographed by a legion of tourists whose images crowd the likes of Pinterest, Instagram, and Trip Advisor, the space has also appeared in films including North and South and The Notebook.

Captives quareters at Boone Hall Plantation (image Rennett Stowe).

Captives quarters at Boone Hall Plantation (image Rennett Stowe).

In April the visitors photographing the Boone Hall landscape included Dylann Roof, who later murdered nine African Americans in a Charleston church on June 17th.  In March and April Roof visited a series of South Carolina historic sites such as Boone Hall and included the images on a website accompanying a racist manifesto.  We may find it impossible to fathom the mind of a racist killer and determine how he went from the mimicry of xenophobic talking points to mass murder, but his historic site visits illuminate the somewhat “placeless” historic landscape of the racist imagination.  Dylann Roof’s imagination of these historic spaces is impossible to conclusively interpret, and his online manifesto and pictures did not deny the historical narratives of African-American heritage sites as much as he simply evaded them.  It appears that Roof ignored the complex heritage of all these places even as he felt strangely compelled to visit them. Read the rest of this entry

The Trinkets of Evil: Eva Braun’s Underwear and Dark Heritage

The underwear that may have once belonged to Eva Braun are $7500 (image from Daily Mail).

The underwear that may have once belonged to Eva Braun are $7500 (image from Daily Mail).

Few artifacts associated with dark historical moments are more perversely fascinating than a pair of panties for sale in an Ohio antiques shop.  The lace underwear embossed with the monogram “EB” were reputedly recovered in 1945 from Berchtesgaden, where they were said to grace Eva BraunThe provenience for the $7500 knickers is not clearly established, but the interest in the skivvies of Hitler’s mistress is a telling reflection of our deep-seated curiosity in the human dimensions of evil.  The fascination with such a prosaic thing illuminates our desire to comprehend (if not explain) the most evil people by focusing on their banal humanity.

Few collectibles provoke more anxiety than Nazi artifacts, whose exchange is strictly regulated throughout most of the world.  Many of the codes regulating Nazi memorabilia attempt to keep them from falling into the hands of contemporary neo-Nazis, but many observers simply see the profiteering on Nazi symbols as ghoulish if not immoral.  Harry Grenville, whose parents died at Auschwitz, called a 2015 auction of wartime memorabilia “hugely offensive,” lamenting that “this auction house is set to make a tidy sum of money from the sale of items that are hugely offensive to a lot of people.  It raises again the question about freedom of speech – you can’t force people to stop selling Holocaust memorabilia and making money from it but you can deplore it.”  Grenville is not alone in his uneasiness that Nazi material things have become “collectibles” traded like any other other good.  Nevertheless, this aversion to the trade in Nazi collectibles stands somewhat at odds with the pervasive presence of Nazis in popular culture, where Nazism and Hitler are nearly universally recognized stand-ins for evil. Read the rest of this entry

Burying Fans: Material Culture and Ritual at Fandom Funerals

Star Wars fan Gordon Deacon's funeral carriage was escorted to the church by stormtroopers (image from Wales Online).

Star Wars fan Gordon Deacon’s funeral carriage was escorted to the church by stormtroopers (image from Wales Online).

In February lifelong Star Wars and Liverpool Football Club fan Gordon Deacon died of cancer, and the 58-year-old’s funeral commemorated his passions.  The Cardiff father of four was escorted to St. Margaret’s Church by a phalanx of stormtroopers who then oversaw his pallbearers, who were themselves clad in Liverpool jerseys.  Deacon’s funeral was distinctive, but he is by no means alone embracing his fandom for his final earthly ritual.  For instance, the widow of Pittsburgh Steelers fan James Henry Smith requested that he be placed in his favorite reclining chair as if “he just fell asleep watching the game,” covered by his beloved Steelers blanket and facing a television showing a Steelers game (with the television remote in his hand).  When Doctor Who fan Seb Neale died his family and friends arranged a service at which Neale’s coffin was a TARDIS with a blue flashing light; the service program was a picture of Neale cosplaying as 10th Doctor David Tennant; music from the show was played; and instead of scriptural verses “the funeral consisted of quotes from classic Who scripts, including William Hartnell’s famous speech from `The Dalek Invasion Of Earth’: ‘One day, I will come back.  Yes, I shall come back.  Until then there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties.  Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.’” Read the rest of this entry

Faith at the Brickyard: Ritual, Fandom, and the Indianapolis 500

Ray Harroun in his Marmon Wasp after winning the first running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911

Ray Harroun in his Marmon Wasp after winning the first running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911 (image from Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection)

Memorial Day weekend is among the most cherished holidays in racing fandom, with the Indianapolis 500 culminating a month of racing and community events.  For legions of followers the Indianapolis 500 is an annual rite, and for many fans the journey to the speedway is a pilgrimage to one of racing’s most hallowed spaces.  In 1973 the New York Times celebrated the event and place when it intoned that “the 500 is more than a race.  It is a folk festival, a happening.  Its pageantry, spectacle and corn make it Middle America’s counterpart to France’s pilgrimage to Le Mans.”

The speedway experience involves systematic ritual, intense desire, and visitation to an important place, all of which have some parallels to pilgrims’ religious travel in particular and broader religious experience in general (compare Jean Williams’ 2012 study of pilgrimage to the IMS).  Religious characterizations of sport fandom perhaps risk hyperbolizing the consequence of sport, and some observers have ridiculed the hackneyed definition of sports’ “hallowed ground.” In 2008, for instance, sportswriter Andrea Adelson complained that “There is nothing sacred about Augusta National, Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field.  So why are these places referred to in the same way we talk about the Sistine Chapel, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Wailing Wall?”  Adelson argued that sporting places should be characterized as being “steeped in tradition.”  Adelson’s distinction between sacred and secular places reveals a wariness of projecting sacred authenticity onto the prosaic reality of sporting venues, if not sport itself. Read the rest of this entry


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 18,849 other followers