When the Illusory is Real: Richard Haas’ Fontainebleau Trompe-l’oeil Mural

Perhaps it was foreboding, ominous, or just plain bad luck, but in 1986, when Richard Haas’s iconic mural on a side addition of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach was christened, the Mayor of Miami Beach Alex Daoud tried to smash a champagne bottle on the wall and couldn’t. The bottle didn’t break. Around a decade later, Mayor Daoud was indicted on forty-one counts of bribery and sentenced to federal prison. Yet another decade passed and Haas’s mural came down, reduced to rubble, despite the pleas of residents fighting for its preservation.

Miami Beach isn’t historically known for its iconic public art, but for nearly twenty years, a beloved 13,000 square foot, six-story trompe l’oeil mural allowed passersby to take an illusionary peek inside the Morris Lapidus designed Fontainebleau Hotel. The mural figuratively opened up the supplemental building that was obstructing the original hotel at the time. That work is still remembered fondly amongst Miami Beach natives and visitors from the old school.  Some still lament the decision to tear down the building with the mural, as Head of Special Collections Cristina Favretto explains, “Miami’s skyline changes at a vertiginous pace. Buildings appear and disappear almost overnight. Sometimes the change is good, and sometimes it most definitely is not.” She goes on to explain that, “the destruction of the Haas mural is not only in the ‘not good’ side of the story, but in the ‘what were they thinking?’ side.”

Richard Haas

Richard Haas (b. 1936) has a decades-long and much-celebrated career of architectural murals. A 2005 book on his work entitled The Prints of Richard Haas 1970-2004, describes his work as “depicting in painstaking detail the physiognomy of particular buildings,” and later, “a clear eyed view of western civilization’s achievement through its mastery of scientific engineering.” Countless of Haas’s murals have peppered the American and international urban landscapes, putting architecture on architecture, in a wondrous and somehow playful style, inspiring and delighting onlookers.

The original Fontainebleau mural design maquettes—or preliminary design sketches—for the project were recently donated to the Special Collections by the artist himself. The larger maquettes, painted in gouache on board, are quite large themselves, measuring at around four and a half by three and a half feet. Today, Haas looks back on the project fondly and describes the mural’s style as it “really related to a kind of deco meets moderne.” Haas and his patrons wanted to respect Lapidus’s original building. They wanted the rest of Miami Beach to see the majestic Fontainebleau. So they opened it up the only way an artist could: through mirage.

Alternative Design No. 1

Also in the donation are three alternative design collages, constructed of mixed media and depicting early scrapped schemes that Haas clearly didn’t utilize. Alongside preliminary street photographs, which appear to be used for references, these images of depictions that didn’t make it are fascinating to show the artist’s working and thinking process.

 

Mural Overlay on a photograph of Collins Avenue

Haas admits that his client, the Muss family, owners of the hotel, asked for more prominence of the pool, which would be a major draw for patrons, and you can see this process unfold in the folders at Special Collections. You can also see extensive documentation about the project, including correspondence between the artist and client, periodicals, as well as later letters from supportive residents when, after more than two decades, the project appeared to be doomed. Favretto explains that she is “very grateful to Mr. Haas for his generosity in donating these materials to Special Collections, where [staff] can retain tangible documentation of the mural as evidence of a time when creativity didn’t automatically have to bow down to practicality or the almighty dollar.”

Haas’ prepared “canvas”

The mural—which stood from 1986-2003—was remarkable; two Art Nouveau style stanchions flank the main image of the Fontainebleau Hotel, itself inspired by the stylings of Finnish architect Gottlieb Eliel Saarinen, father of the famed architect and industrial designer Eero Saarinen. On top are two native birds intertwined with local foliage. The intention is to frame the image of the original hotel, standing firm as guardians of the opening, which by precise detail brings the Lapidus building through a six-story wall. Its lush pool invites the viewer to paradise. The mural itself stood as a striking unity of architecture and art, mischievously showing the hotel behind the hotel. Haas explains that the building “needed a dramatic opening” and then jokes that it was “very hard to come upon the original Lapidus building as you’re driving” because the view is obstructed. So he opened up the wall.

Preparing to photograph one of Haas’ framed maquettes for this post.

Looking back over this work in the context of his career, Haas explains, “I’ve lost a lot of murals, probably that’s the biggest loss.” Haas laments today, and goes on to explain poignantly, “it had been so long [that] it had almost detached itself from me and become part of the city itself.” Favretto puts the work and its donation further into context, explaining that Miami is “now a city of murals,” noting, “but so many of them will be gone without a trace a few years from now. I hope other artists will have Mr. Haas’s presence of mind, and that they’ll think about contributing to our ‘Amazing Things That Aren’t Here Anymore’ collections.”

Much like its home on Miami Beach, Richard Haas’s Fontainebleau mural was a beautiful act of artifice. We are not here to speculate on the future of the island itself (and thankfully, disgraced Mayor Daoud has no christening power), but the mural lives on in Special Collections, forever reminding us of a time when private business took large-scale creative risks and we could all enjoy a brief peek into paradise.

Off the record, the writer was able to confirm one case of a motorist driving into the trompe l’oeil mural staring a little too deeply into that paradise. In addition, there has been unconfirmed speculation that American Pie and Orange is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne ran into the mural during her 2001 Miami Beach DUI. When asked of this potential other outcome of his mural, Haas was somewhat shocked.

“Oh dear,” he gasped. But it seemed a little knowingly.

Maybe this gargantuan symbolic vision of paradise on a multimillion-dollar hotel is like everything on Miami Beach. It is an artificial reality, beautiful and serene, which has the always present potential to hit you in the head. And like all beloved things here, it was eventually destroyed under the guise of making more money.

Nathaniel Sandler, Book Detective for UM Special Collections



The Man Who Built South Florida: The Landscape Designs of William Lyman Phillips

Imagine the wilderness of South Florida. In your head, right now. Born and raised native, resident, or visitor, everyone can concoct a vision of sprawling mangroves clasping the shoreline, sawgrass slicing through the slough, or lush sea grape hanging over the sand dunes. Feel the breeze. Let any version of being outside in the tropics come into your thoughts. Relax.

Fairchild Tropical Garden, Nov. 1943

There’s a man who lived in Miami who is almost solely responsible for whatever you just visualized. And you’ve most likely never heard of him. His name is William Lyman Phillips and he is one of the most important people in the history of Miami’s current physical landscape and throughout its nascent history. In South Florida alone, an incomplete list of places he had a hand in, or led the landscape design on, is as follows: the Overseas Highway to the Keys, Venetian and Rickenbacker Causeways, Royal Palm State Park in the Everglades, Matheson Hammock, Fairchild Tropical Garden, Greynolds Park, Crandon Park, Virginia Key, Haulover, Fruit and Spice and of course, the University of Miami. Outside of students of landscape architecture and scholars of Miami history, his name is almost entirely unknown.

William Lyman Phillips was born in West Somerville, Massachusetts in 1885 and was very much a product of his environment. Born to a middle class family that summered every year in Maine, his mother was a housewife and father was a man of letters. First a high school principal, then a chemist in a paper mill, his father’s interests were varied; he published a book of poetry and believed steadfastly in education for both men and women. Phillips grew up in what we might imagine as an idyllic, white, middle class turn-of-the-century life, all the while diligently sketching his environs in Massachusetts and Maine.

William Lyman Phillips
(photo courtesy of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden)

As a young man, Phillips attended Harvard University in in 1910 in the newly formed and innovative program awarding Masters of Landscape Architecture degrees under Charles Eliot and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the son of Frederick Law Olmsted who famously designed Central Park in New York City and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Harvard was establishing a groundbreaking new field of study that combined architecture, design, civil engineering, the arts, horticulture, geology, and countless other disciplines needed in order to manipulate natural landscapes to enhance both their usefulness and their beauty. They were focused on unifying all of the elements of landscape—such as plants, water, architecture and their form, color and scale—into a seamless and integrated experience for people. There was a need for landscape architects because of the vast swaths of land the United States had that was yet to be properly cultivated in the early 20th century. The program also put into place the basic tenets of the field of study which is still very much in demand today. Phillips graduated and was immediately offered a job with the Olmsted Brothers firm, evidence of his already burgeoning mastery of the field.

But he passed on the offer, hoping to create some distance from his teachers and make a name in his own right. After university, he went to work in Montreal, but ended up returning to America to finally work for the Olmsted Brothers, a partnership that would influence all of them for the rest of their lives. Phillips briefly left their employ to go on “the Grand Tour,” travelling around Europe, sketching every possible landscape and soaking in what his predecessors on the continent had developed. While there, he was offered a position working in Panama in the area surrounding a new canal project. Afterward he bounced around various design and architecture jobs until 1924 when he was sent by the Olmsted Brothers to head up the Mountain Lake Sanctuary, now famous for its gothic revival Bok Tower. He was finally in Florida, where he would find inspiration in the tropics for the rest of his life and make an indelible mark on the land with his work.

A good deal of Phillips’ Florida work was done for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal national public works revitalization initiative launched by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression. Phillips joined this project in 1933 and contributed until 1941 as the project superintendent for Royal Palm Park in the Everglades, Greynolds, Matheson Hammock, Fairchild, and others. Still today, these are many people’s introductory points for understanding and experiencing tropical cultivated landscapes.

As Phillips wrote, “the swamp is silent, windless, monotonous,” a feeling no person wants when outside for a pleasant stroll. In his work, Phillips took the wild and actually dangerous and tamed it for human consumption. He removed the treachery of the swamp and made it leisurely, while still allowing the wild to be present and felt. This is the reality we experience and feel; his work has profoundly affected how both residents and visitors alike understand South Florida.

Matheson Hammock: An early, ill-conceived conservation attempt

It takes two eight foot tables to hold one of the 87 massive folders, that each contain a stack of the original drawings, blueprints and photographs of William Lyman Phillips’ landscape design work. Some of the drawings, nearly 100 years old, have been taped in a show of early and misguided restoration, the adhesive dark brown of the tape deeply aged with chips of the aging paper fallen off. They are meticulously drawn, as architectural designs are, on both blue and brown print paper. The most beautiful moments of handling the old sketches are the considerable and colorful plant bunchings, in various hues, as well as the hundreds of lines of scientific classifications for each species included, representative of Phillips’ methodical style and hands-on approach.

Joanna Lombard, Professor of the University of Miami School of Architecture, knows these drawings well and has written extensively about Phillips. She confirms he was influential in picking these tree and plant bunchings. Phillips, Lombard explains, was hyper focused on the need for local plants, and recognized that taking out the native, and bringing in things people thought were beautiful, was wrong. According to Lombard, he believed in the place—South Florida—and understood that Florida is a place of subtlety. Of Phillips’ mindset in creating, she says he was operating under the assumption that, “we need to frame places that make people live better lives,” and that “it’s not about us, it’s not about this one little moment in time, it’s about how do we connect the deepest ambitions and desires to be significant and how to make places that support that.”

Greynolds Park notes on riverside planting, Dec. 1945

Greynolds Park is a good example of Phillips’ vision, which, according to Lombard, was built upon an ancient marine terrace that reaches as far as Jacksonville. During his time with the CCC, he was hired to build the park, donated by A.O. Greynolds of the Ojus Rock Company. The rock on site was used to build early road systems all over South Florida and the property even included several old quarries, pieces of left-behind machinery, and an abandoned spur of the Florida East Coast Railroad, which created an elevation on the site. He changed the quarry pits into lagoons and lakes, while clearing extensive trails through the mangrove but leaving the hammock intact. Utilizing the elevation—and needing a way to get rid of the abandoned machinery—he collected all of the equipment and covered it with stone and built a coral rock castle on top of it for an observation mound, one of the most iconic features of any Miami-Dade park. In 1936 when the park opened to regular people who didn’t work in a fancy office building or couldn’t afford a trip in an airplane, it was the only elevation they could experience. Phillips’ topographic studies and planting plans for Greynolds are in Special Collections.

The impetus for this particular piece of writing was a request from the Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation department. They reached out to Special Collections in order to continue compiling Phillips’ designs for their archive. Explains Maria Nardi, Deputy Director of Miami-Dade Parks, “his work is instrumental in establishing the framework of the parks system in Miami-Dade County.” Nardi herself studied Phillips as a graduate student and helped save some of his designs from destruction before Hurricane Andrew. William Lyman Phillips designed six of the seven “Heritage Parks” in Miami-Dade County, a designation reserved for the largest and most important green spaces we have. She goes on to explain that “today these drawings are instrumental in the reclamation of an extraordinary design legacy for the Miami-Dade County Parks Department.” It should be comforting to the city of Miami that Nardi, so carefully cognizant of Phillips’ work and overall importance, is overseeing our parks today.

Matheson Hammock Fishing Concession, Nov. 1943

In Special Collections, the drawings and designs themselves show Phillips’ seal and signature, presented in a businesslike and unassuming fashion. The rest of his life’s work is spread out. University of Miami has these 87 crucial folders of drawings which encompass his work at Miami sites such as Woodlawn Cemetery and the Indian Creek Club. There are also designs for Greynolds, Redland, Phipps, Matheson Hammock and Fairchild Tropical Gardens and his work at the University of Miami amongst others. Harvard University has his professional correspondence, more drawings and his thesis, while HistoryMiami has his personal papers, journals, and correspondence.

It’s rare that one person has such a wide sweeping influence on the natural face of an entire city. Green space in Miami today remains what Phillips originally envisioned. What Phillips did with these places was mold a raw and dangerous natural landscape into a polished and imperfect microcosm. Obtained through the balance of the wild and the cultivated, the work of William Lyman Phillips is now the only way we understand the genesis of South Florida as a built experience.

Nathaniel Sandler, Book Detective for UM Special Collections



Presenting the StoryCorps-Warmamas Community Archive

By Patricia Sowers, Director of Warmamas

storycorps-blog_logoThe Afghanistan-Iraq war is described as our country’s longest war. From 2001 to 2014, over 2.5 million men and women were deployed, most of them to war zones. Multiple deployments were not uncommon. Most of those deployed said goodbye to a mother.

Saying goodbye to a son or daughter leaving for war has never been easy. It matters little if it is a first or last deployment—a mother’s anguish is the same. I, too, had to say goodbye to my own son when he announced that he was being sent to the Middle East in a diplomatic capacity. For six years, I lived in secret fear. Eventually I realized that my own feelings of foreboding were dwarfed by what mothers with children in direct combat were experiencing. Their voices were rarely heard and yet were an essential part of our ongoing national narrative on the gravitas of war. There was a need for a place where these women could share their experiences. Warmamas was created out of this need.

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Patricia Sowers (center), Director of Warmamas, converses with StoryCorps-Warmamas oral history donors at Special Collections. Photo by Andrew Innerarity.

None of us were prepared for the kinds of stories we heard. They were beautiful, they were painful, they were inspiring. Some were tragic. They all told a story of strength. There was a story about a mother who takes to bed for three days when her son tells her he has joined the Marines; the mother who sends her second son off to war but refuses to let her third one go; the mother who talks about developing patience when there is no letter for months; the school-teacher whose son returns with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and yet shows a determination to get well that she never expected; the mother talking by phone to her son in Afghanistan and suddenly hearing a bomb explode as his camp is attacked; another mother determined to fly to Kabul when she hears her son is injured; the mother who called an admiral at the Pentagon to complain that her son hadn’t written for six months; the mother who doesn’t cry as her daughter leaves for Iraq so as not to upset her. There are many stories about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how one mother has struggled with her son’s suicide by creating a foundation to help other at-risk veterans.

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An oral history interview is conducted at Special Collections for the StoryCorps-Warmamas Community Archive. Photo courtesy of Patricia Sowers.

Many mothers expressed surprise that anyone would be remotely interested in their experiences. They have come to understand, however, that their stories have value and are part of the larger story of war and peace and that perhaps one day a stranger or even a grandchild would want to listen.

Warmamas is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) founded in Coral Gables by Gail Ruiz, local artist and attorney, Philip Busey, UF agronomist and political activist and myself, an English teacher at Miami Dade College and hand-wringing mother. Warmamas began by filming, documenting and publishing mothers’ stories and later partnered with the University of Miami and StoryCorps in 2014 and 2015 as part of the Military Voices Initiative which focused on veterans and their families. The veteran narratives are stored at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC and are also—along with the Warmamas’ mother interviews—part of UM Special Collections’ StoryCorps-Warmamas Community Archive.

We are presently interviewing mothers of veterans of all wars. Most interviews are videotaped in the mother’s home. Audio recordings of veterans of any war can be done at the veteran’s home or at the studio in Richter Library.

For more information, please contact:

Patricia Figueroa Sowers, Director
Warmamas
Email: pfsowers@bellsouth.net
Phone: 305-461-5193

You can also watch her full oral history interview here.

 



The Bunny Yeager Collection

Bunny Yeager, 1965

Bunny Yeager, 1965

Not long ago I told my mother—always curious about my day-to-day life as a writer—that I was working on this very essay about Bunny Yeager the famous pin-up model and fashion photographer. She laughed knowingly and then instantly demurred. After some prodding on my part, my mother finally admitted that the “world’s prettiest photographer,” had once photographed her in bikini. Apparently Yeager, according to mom, was into “finding regular girls around Miami,” in the 1960s. This conversation then strangely loomed over almost every page I turned in the newly acquired Bunny Yeager Archive at the University of Miami Special Collections. I had decided to tackle her collection before knowing this but, good lord, was I going to happen across some kind of nudie pic of my mom?

On the set of Dr. No

On the set of Dr. No

The contents of the Bunny Yeager Archive at Special Collections is, according to Ed Christin, an archivist working with her estate, “the first major acquisition by anybody,” from the artist’s holdings. It comprises all of her publishing correspondence, all of her audio recordings, one hundred plus original images, a scrapbook, a pair of shoes, a bikini, several magazines she’s featured in and nearly all of the books she published. Christin explains that the photos are a good cross-section of the collection and that the bikini was included because, “a lot of people think that she made the first bikini in America.” Of course this grand claim is made by many. There are Roman mosaics from the 3rd century of women in Bikinis.

Milton Berle (left) and Bunny Yeager (right)

Milton Berle (left) and Bunny Yeager (right)

It’s worth mentioning that that the process of looking through most of the pictures in the Yeager archive is equivalent to looking at pornography in the library.  Many of the models are are topless and if people catch what you’re looking at they can sometimes raise eyebrows. Apart from this nervousness, one can further make themselves particularly neurotic, if you start worrying your mother is going to show up in the negatives.

The archive depicts Yeager as a complicated and fascinating artist who rubbed elbows with the greatest faces of a generation. She was on set in White River Ocho Rios, Jamaica for the very first James Bond film, Dr. No to take publicity stills of Sean Connery and Ursula Andrews. There’s photographs by Yeager of heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano and of Milton Berle, one of America’s biggest television stars. There is a picture of the great jazz artist Sammy Davis Jr. photographing Yeager, who taught him how to shoot models in 1955 segregated Miami.

Miss Bornzeville

Miss Bronzeville

It bears mentioning that only folder that includes visual representation of a black woman is in a manila envelope using a common euphemism of the day that would now be considered racist, “COLORED GIRL CONTEST WINNER,” in Yeager’s hand underneath her branded return address. Perhaps indicative of the times, the picture is also only photograph of Yeager’s in the collection which is not labeled with the model’s name.

Sammy Davis Jr. using the photography techniques Bunny taught him.

Sammy Davis Jr. using the photography techniques Bunny taught him.

The reams of letters that make up Yeager’s publishing correspondence lay in clearly marked folders with major names such as Hugh Hefner the publisher of Playboy with whom she worked intimately for years alongside lesser known players. One thing is abundantly clear from reading her letters; Bunny Yeager was always hustling. Whether with the suits behind a magazine, or a book publisher, or the ad men and music executives of her day, Yeager was sending them letters with exactly what she felt and wanted. She seems to be in a constant pitch mode, spit-balling and brainstorming with men in positions of power. One letter to a magazine editor has a list of 15 prospective book titles and topics, with a handful of them almost ridiculous such as “Unusual Pets You Can Own,” and “All about Houseboats.” In a 1965 letter to a film producer, she pitches a television show twenty years before that show was actually made: “Story about detectives and police and vice in Miami Beach.” Yeager at one point offers, “exclusive pix of Santa Claus at a local nudist camp,” to James Lynch at the Enquirer proving there really was no limit to to her hustle. Yeager was a dexterous mix of cunning business acumen, a large personality, an expert photographic eye and a taste for provocation.

Strangely despite the hordes of naked women in the collection, the most shocking title—at least by today’s standards—is Yeager’s diet plan which she regularly pushed on her models and even dabbled with herself. There are moments in reading The Amazing 600 Calorie Model’s Diet (1980), where you wonder how she didn’t inadvertently cause a death by malnutrition. Indeed, near the end of the book there are countless stretching exercises suggested to help, “overcome fatigue brought on by the diet.” At the end, she hilariously implores her fans: “When you realize that it’s really true, that you are the weight you want to be, you will feel like celebrating immediately. Fine. Just don’t celebrate by eating anything.” Yeager later in the archive admits to trying to get back on the diet herself, but admits how hard it is to stick to

Since her death in 2014, Yeager’s career has begun to come back into focus and many have tried to place to label her as a feminist artist, but it is certainly more complicated than that, especially considering by 21st century standards how casually she seems to objectify other women. In a 1958 letter to Hefner she frets that there are “no big bosomed girls around it seems,” and in an angry response to a rejection letter from Lynch at the Enquirer admits that several of her models were “dogs.” It is clear that she was able to sit at the table with some of the major players of her era because she was churning out naked pictures of other women.

A contact sheet showing Bunny's photographs from the Artists and Models Ball

A contact sheet showing Bunny’s photographs from the Artists and Models Ball

Aquatic performer and photographer MeduSirena is one of the last models that Bunny Yeager worked with before she died. She admits that when she arrived for her photo shoot she wasn’t prepared to be asked to be shot nude, but MeduSirena was Yeager’s first subject in five years and she was truly honored to be working with someone she saw as so great, calling the experience “momentous” and “truly great”. She said she felts “not at all pressured but could see how it could happen,” and goes on to explain that “everyone has their own issues with nudity.” MeduSirena was scheduled to have a beach shoot when Yeager died. She went on to explain that Yeager was so good at using natural light and emphasizing the female figure that she remains one of the biggest influences on her life and work.

Bunny Yeager (left) with MeduSirena

Bunny Yeager (left) with MeduSirena

Models were a part of Bunny’s life and now her indelibly part of her legacy. Her working relationship with the beloved model Bettie Page has become legendary, creating a reel of kitschy pin up images that have become emblematic of the genre. Her pictures have a keen attention to composition that can only be described as art.

Perhaps most indicative of her overall output was her role as the producer and director of the Artists and Models Ball on Miami Beach. An age-worn scrapbook chronicling the event over the years shows the event was all the rage of 1960s Miami society. Inside is a seating chart, letterhead with promotions and newspaper clippings before and after. An entrance ticket to the party held at the Deauville in 1961 was $7.50 (the 2016 equivalent of about $60) and they drew over 2500 people.

amb-scrapbook-1

Yeager’s Artists and Models Ball scrapbook

The proceeds were for the Scholarship Fund of the Miami Artists School and Gallery and the intention was to highlight Miami as a burgeoning cultural art center. The event appears to have been an elaborate and decadent party with 500 models in costumes with awards such as “Best Undressing Job,” “Briefest costume,” “Girl most likely to Enslave an Artist.” Milton Berle himself called the event a “Jewish orgy,” and there are reams upon reams of bizarre images in Special Collections from the party displaying a type creative and bizarre hedonism that today’s Miami Beach no longer has. It is this event and the countless pictures up and down Miami Beach that demonstrate Bunny Yeager’s legacy is uniquely Miami and her dedication to South Florida has made both the city and the University’s collections a better place.

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Entries in the “Briefest Costume” contest at the Artists and Models Ball

And no. I did not find my mother in the files. Praise the gods. She claims it was only bikini, not full nude. The Book Detective will not be digging further into that question.

Nathaniel Sandler, Book Detective for UM Special Collections

Nathaniel Sandler, Book Detective for UM Special Collections



For New Book, Political Scientist Looks to Records of Pan Am Flight Attendants

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Former Pan Am Airways flight attendants of World Wings International, Inc. were back in uniform for the May 20 presentation of Dr. Waleed Hazbun (center).

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Dr. Hazbun is the first recipient of Special Collections’ World Wings International, Inc. Research Grant.

Dr. Waleed Hazbun, a political scientist at the American University of Beirut, came to Miami last month on a mission for his latest book project: to scour the records of former Pan American Airways flight attendants. Hazbun, the first recipient of Special Collections’ World Wings International, Inc. Research Grant, gathered data from flight routes, news clippings, and other historical records for his book Jet Set Frontiers in the Middle East, which focuses on the expansion of American commercial airline networks during the early post-World War II era. “Aviation is a vehicle for studying the world,” Hazbun said in a May 20 presentation at Richter Library. The presentation highlighted discoveries made during the research process, from Pan Am marketing materials advertising expansion efforts to internal and external publications pointing to challenges both in the air and on the ground. The book spans such challenges, from the rise of regional conflict to air piracy to violence targeting Americans and American institutions abroad.

Following the discussion several former flight attendants from the organization, donning official uniforms from their tenures with the airline, formally presented Dr. Hazbun with his grant award.

View our Facebook album from the event.

About World Wings International Inc.

World Wings International, Inc. is the philanthropic organization of former Pan Am flight attendants who seek to maintain the historic Pan Am tradition of global humanitarian assistance, safeguard Pan Am’s place in aviation history, and promote friendship among its members through cultural and civic activities. The organization’s records, housed at Special Collections, include administrative records as well as scrapbooks, photographs, membership and annual meetings files, correspondence, and financial records dating back to 1946.



Class Project Breathes Life into Historical Documents

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Stereoscopic card showing black men with wheelbarrows and shovels with caption, “Negroes at work near Cristobal, Panama.” Slave Documents Collection, University of Miami Special Collections

In her own academic career, English professor and PhD candidate Allison Harris has spent a significant amount of time in archives, using records dating back to the historical periods she’s studying to support research and to breathe life into her writing. Taking her African-American Literature students to the archives for a project focused on the era of slavery, however, was an idea actually inspired in a cemetery, miles away from the archives.

“I was walking there with a friend and we were thinking about the lives of the people buried there and the legal and social constructions of personhood beyond death,” Harris explains. It was in the midst of gravestones, many inscribed with only a name and a range of dates, that she thought about how the briefest details of a person’s life can evoke wonder about a long ago experience. “Together we brainstormed ways that students could use creative writing to engage with these constructions of personhood.”

After the students enrolled in Harris’s course visited UM Special Collections’ Slave Documents Collection in the fall 2015 semester, they created stories based on real individuals from history referenced in letters by plantation owners, bills of sale, and other legal and personal documents preserved from the pre-Civil War era. The eight short stories, together known as the Slave Narrative project, are told from the perspective of slaves documented in the records.

“Part of the goal of the assignment was to make the documents come to life through plot and conflict. But more importantly, they were to give their characters a rich and vibrant interiority that explored the emotional and spiritual limitations and silences of these archives,” Harris says.

Visit the Slave Narrative Project

The Slave Narrative project, now permanently preserved and available to the public in UM Libraries Scholarly Repository, features the following short stories:

The Example
by Nathaniel Bradley
English Literature major (2018) from Aurora, Colorado

Her Taste of Freedom
by Orlandra Dickens
Sociology and Criminology major (December 2016) from Wilson, North Carolina

The Hill, Named after some White Man
by O’Shane Elliot
Political Science major (Spring 2016) from St. Petersburg, Florida

The Match
by Marcus Hines
Computer Science major (2017) from Los Angeles, California

Betsey Simons: Freedom at What Cost?
by Anthony Maristany
Neuroscience major (May 2017) from Miami, Florida

Earth and Ashes
by Michele Mobley
General Studies major (2017) from Wilmington, Delaware

A Narrative of the Torments and Unlikely Freedom of a Child Slave
by Hanna Taylor
Undecided major (2019) from San Rafael, California

Nameless People, Keep Trekking
by Brandi Webster
Sociology major (2017) from Naranja, Florida

To learn more about the Slave Documents Collection, visit Special Collections in person or online at library.miami.edu/specialcollections.