Well, it’s been a heckofa holiday weekend, U.S. American-style: rodeo Thursday, marching in the Stampede Parade with the Weld County Democrats Friday morning, swimming in the smokin’ heat Friday afternoon (thank goodness for friends with access to pools!), a neighborhood cookout Friday night along with a viewing of the legal fireworks display at the rodeo grounds, errands and a movie Saturday (Kit Kittredge–see the review below), and a visit from friends on Sunday. Land sakes, a cowgirl needs a vacation from all of this time off!
There was lots of history in the news this weekend, of personal and professional interest. So, herewith, is my latest roundup:
- The Black American West Museum has come into the possession of most of the land that once was home to the Dearfield Colony in Weld County, Colorado, an African American agricultural community from 1910-1948. They’re working with a Weld County Commissioner and hoping to attract volunteers and donors to turn it into a historic site for its 100th anniversary in 2010. See the Rocky Mountain News story on it, which also includes an interview with two men who lived there, and an audio slide show of Dearfield. The history of African Americans in the west is overshadowed by a mythology that overwhelmingly privileges the perspectives of white settlers. The preservation of the Dearfield Colony would be a tremendous contribution to the history of black Coloradoans in the early twentieth century.
- University of Pennsylvania historian and McNeil Center Director Daniel Richter was featured in a Weekend Edition Sunday look at colonial and early national Philadelphia. He waxes eloquent on the crowding and mucking up of William Penn’s “greene countrie towne.” Next week, they’re doing an in-depth investigation of Charles Wilson Peale and his museum as a hook for moving into an exploration of the nineteenth century city.
- Historiann took advantage of the air conditioning in a local movie theatre Saturday afternoon to see Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. Yes, it was inspired by a book that’s part of the insidious “American Girl Doll” borg, but it was more than halfway decent. Set in the midst of the Great Depression in Cincinnati, it renders a kid’s-eye view of living with the tumult of hard times when Kit’s father moves to Chicago to find work, while she and her mother turn the family home into a boarding house, plant a garden, and even sell eggs to make ends meet. It was entertaining for adults without resorting to double-entendres and trashy jokes in the fashion of so many movies putatively for children. And, one bonus of films set in a reasonably distant historical period: absolutely no product placements or advertising, despite the movie’s connection to the American Girl marketing juggernaut. (It would have been in very bad taste to advertise anything in a movie about the depression, in any case.)
More on KK: Well-known character actors from the American film repertoire like Wallace Shawn, Joan Cusak, Glenne Headly, Jane Krakowski, and Stanley Tucci, did their jobs quite well in their roles as the eccentric adults that come into Kit’s life as she lives in the boarding house and struggles to get her articles published in the local newspaper. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, these adult actors overshadow the lead character, played by Abigail Breslin.) The movie turns into a caper when a rash of local burglaries cast suspicion on the inhabitants of the local hobo jungle, and on the young day laborers who work for Mrs. Kittredge. It’s also an extended exercise in nostalgia for twentieth-century childhood, with a tree house, a secret club, strap-on roller skates, children who are permitted to take streetcars downtown without chaperons, bullies in school who get their comeuppance, and a heroine who’s writing it all down with her typewriter, complete with stuck keys when she types too fast. All in all, wholesome fare that was well-received by the under-12 set in the theatre–and when you consider the absolute absence of decent movies that feature a girl heroine and leader of her kid gang, well–it’s more than worth a look if you’ve got 4-11 year old girls or boys in the house on a too-hot or too-rainy summer afternoon.
Historiann’s only complaint about Kit Kittredge is that Julia Ormond and Chris O’Donnell are too glamourous and good-looking to be cast as Kit’s parents. You just can’t believe anything could really be all that bad with those two as the resident loving authority figures. (Am I crazy, or does O’Donnell look better than ever with some grey hair and a bit of a middle-aged paunch? A few imperfections make him look almost like a real man instead of a cookie-cutter himbo.) Willow Smith is adorable as hobo sidekick Countee–which turned out to be a great “passing” role!