Wednesday, October 27, 2010

19 w. 46th St.

Louis Windmuller, my great-grandfather, moved around quite a bit after he emigrated to New York in November, 1853.[1] He lived in Manhattan boarding houses at first and received mail at a convenience address, 15 Stone Street.[2] In 1856 his home address was 21 Jay Street.[3] In 1859 he lived at 135 Hudson Street and then moved to 222 Bloomfield Street in Hoboken.[4] 1859 was the year of his marriage. In 1862 a first child was born and in 1866 another. By then he had moved to 281 Dean Street in Brooklyn.[5] In 1867, when the second child died in infancy, the family was living in what was then far suburbs, Woodside in Queens.[6]

Because of the length and difficulty of Windmuller's commute between his office at 20 Reade Street and his home at Woodside, he also kept an apartment in Manhattan at 19 West 46th Street. It's probable he took this apartment soon after the building was constructed in 1865. It's still standing and is a remarkable structure, as you can see from these photos.

{The photos show 19 West 46th Street, measuring 12.5 feet wide; source: scoutingny via flickr}

The photos come from a blog post — The Skinniest Building in Midtown — which gives details about the building.[7] A reader comment says "The suggestion from [another commenter] that there might have been a twin to 19 West 46th Street is correct. Number 17 West 46th Street was its sibling, both built on a single 25-foot lot. Both were originally about 60 feet deep on the 100-foot lot, but the now-razed house at number 17 had a two-story extension that brought the back of the lower floors of the house about 15 feet closer to the rear lot line." Another says, "i used to live in this building. the top floor is its own apartment, as well as the floor below it where i used to live. theyre both two bedroom apts.

This photo shows the upper two floors. Notice the handsome decoration on the building to the left.

{Source: scoutingny via flickr}

A third comment tells us that the large buildings on either side of no. 19 were built in the 20th century: "#21 W. 46th was built in 1930, and #15 was built in 1920."[8]

Fire insurance maps show that nos. 17 and 19 were late additions on the block. They show an empty lot in a set of maps published in 1867, presumably from data collected in the previous couple of years.

An article in the New York Times back in 2006 gives some information on the development of the area.
In the 1860’s, the West 40’s just off Fifth were filling up with commodious private houses, almost all high-stoop brownstones, as the center of fashionable New York gradually migrated north from Murray Hill. Some of the houses were 20 or even 25 feet wide, but others were not so grand, like 19 West 46th Street, a sliver of a thing only 12½ feet across.

By 1910, this section of West 46th was evolving into a block of distinctive shops and stores. In 1914, The New York Times said that retailers considered it “a little superior in exclusive trade facilities and artistic building treatment” to other streets, and reported that 46th was sometimes called “the Bond Street of America.”

-- Streetscapes | West 46th Street A Block That Looks as It Did About 1930

Here are two Google street view images of the building and its neighbors.

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

This birds-eye view shows the building in 1879, overshadowed by older and larger neighbors.

The city of New York. Will L. Taylor, chief draughtsman.
{Will L. Taylor carried out this survey of 1879 from hot-air balloons and church steeples. Both mapmaker and chief draughtsman, he created a ten-sheet view of the city in its entirety, from the Battery to Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx. An NYPL curator says "The map features illustrations, an index to points of interest, a directory, a view of 'Manhattan Beach,' and a map of 'New York & Manhattan Beach R.R. & branches.' (Will L. Taylor, New York: Galt & Hoy, 1879); source: The New York Public Library, The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division}

This detail, from an atlas of 1857-62, shows that nos. 17 and 19 were an empty lot at the time.

The is the full sheet from which the detail comes.

Maps of the city of New-York, by William Perris (New York, Perris & Browne, 1857-62); source: Early Real Estate Atlases of New York in the NYPL Digital Gallery

In this detail from a map, published in 1867, the two addresses are still a vacant lot; presumably the survey had been conducted a year or two before then because I'm pretty sure that Louis Windmuller had rented an apartment at 19 W. 46th by that time.[9]

This is the full sheet from which comes the detail.

{Plan of New York City, from the Battery to Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Showing every lot and building thereon; old farm lines, street numbers at the corners of blocks, railroads, steamboat landings, bulkhead and pier lines, etc. Based on the surveys made by Messrs. Randall & Blackwell, and on the special survey by J. F. Harrison, 1867; source: Early Real Estate Atlases of New York in the NYPL Digital Gallery}

This detail comes from a map published in 1885.

Here's the full sheet.

Here is part of the key to the map.

{Atlas of the city of New York : embracing all territory within its corporate limits from official records, private plans & actual surveys / by and under the supervision of E. Robinson & R.H. Pidgeon, civil engineers. 1885; source: Early Real Estate Atlases of New York in the NYPL Digital Gallery}

In 1884, the Windmullers invited friends to their apartment at 19 W. 46th to help them celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, as we learn from this short report in the New York Times.


Some sources:

The Skinniest Building in Midtown

Interview with the Scout on Gothamist

Fire Insurance, Topographic, Zoning and Property Maps of New York City

"Early Real Estate Atlases of New York"



[1] Click the Family History label in right-hand panel of this blog to see other posts on Louis Windmuller and his family. This extract from his entry in a biographic dictionary gives one view of his first dozen years in New York. It's misleading to say he had no acquaintances to assist him since he had the names of relatives who'd emigrated in the preceding couple of decades and one of them, his cousin Henry Lefman, became his mentor, business partner, and eventually father-in-law.
WINDMUELLER, Louis, merchant and importer, was born at Muenster, Westphalia, about 1836. After studying for a while at the Catholic college of Muenster, pecuniary difficulties compelled him to leave before graduating, and he resolved to emigrate to America. In 1853, therefore, he came to New York, landing in that city without money and with no acquaintances to assist him in finding means of support. He had an iron will, fortunately, and went to work courageously and with so much success, that by the year 1858 he had an established business of his own. In the year 1865 he formed a partnership with his old friend and countryman, Alfred Roelker, under the title of Windmueller & Hoelker, which firm now (1893) takes rank among the most prominent importing and commission houses in the country.
-- The National cyclopaedia of American biography, Being the History of the United States as Illustrated in the Lives of the Founders, Builders, and Defenders of the Republic, and of the Men and Women who are Doing the Work and Moulding the Thought of the Present Time, Vol. 4, (J.T. White, 1895).
[2] This fire insurance map shows 15 Stone Street in 1857. It was a business establishment with no dwelling units.

{Atlas of New York by William Perris, 7 vols. (New York, Perris & Browne, 1857-62); source: Maps of the city of New-York}

[3] Although this photo was taken in 1938, the buildings at left are similar to, if not the same as, ones that lined the street in the 1850s.

{Jay Street, west side, south from Front Street; source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

[4] This print shows the character of Hudson Street in 1860.

This detail from a panoramic map of 1881 shows 222 Bloomfield. You can view the whole of this excellent map here.

{The city of Hoboken New Jersey By O H Bailey A Ward 1881; source: Library of Congress}

[5] This modern photo of Dean Street (which I think includes 281) shows houses that may date back to the 1860s.

Here's an 1869 map of the block.

{Map of the city of Brooklyn : being the former cities of Brooklyn & Williamsburgh and the town of Bushwick, as consolidated January 1st, 1855 by an act of the legislature of the State of New York ... showing also a part of the City of New York, by Matthew Dripps (New York, M. Dripps, 1869); source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

[6] I hope to devote another blog post to Windmuller's Woodside estate.

[7] This is an interesting blog by a location hunter who says: "I work as a film location scout in New York City. My day is spent combing the streets for interesting and unique locations for feature films. In my travels, I often stumble across some pretty incredible sights, most of which go ignored daily by thousands of New Yorkers in too much of a rush to pay attention. As it happens, it's my job to pay attention, and I've started this blog to keep a record of what I see."

Here's an update: "Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about my favorite building in midtown, this chopped-in-half brownstone at 19 W 46th Street. The other day, I got a note that a Lego fan had built a Lego version of the building based on my pictures!" -- LEGOizing NY

[8] Yet another commenter says "The city used to sell lots in a standard 25 foot width. Some houses were built to this size, but some developers would buy four lots and build five houses (for 20' each), or buy three lots and put up four houses (for 18.75' each), or various other combinations that lead to the standard widths of Manhattan townhouses to this day. The most extreme measure was to buy a single lot and put up two houses, which would result in two 12.5' houses, side by side. I believe this was rarely done in speculative development, but it would sometimes happen that a father would buy a lot and split it between two children, for example."

[9] According to the New York Times, 19 W. 46th was constructed in 1865.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

the bear that wasn't

My recent recollection of a children's book from my preschool years reminded me of another book. The first was a wartime fantasy and the second a fable for the postwar years. It's The Bear That Wasn't and, always succinct, wikipedia sums it up thus: "a 1946 children's book by film director and Looney Tunes alumnus Frank Tashlin." It tells of a bear who wakes up one spring morning to find that an enormous factory has been built over the cave in which he has been hibernating all winter. He emerges from the cave directly into a factory room where he is accosted by a foreman who mistakes him for a man:
"I must be dreaming," he said. "Of course, I’m dreaming." But it wasn’t a dream. It was real. Just then the Foreman came out of the factory. "Hey, you get back to work," he said.

The Bear replied, "I don’t work here. I’m a Bear."

The Foreman laughed, "That’s a fine excuse for a man to keep from doing any work. Saying he’s a Bear."

The Bear said, "But, I am a Bear."

The Foreman stopped laughing. He was very mad.

"Don’t try to fool me," he said. "You’re not a Bear. You’re a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat."
The foreman is the first of many humans who insist that he is one of them, and, after hearing from bears in zoo and circus that he can't be a bear because he's not behind bars or performing like them, he thinks it must be true. Only much later, years apparently, he comes to his senses and his bearly nature happily reasserts itself. Here are some pages of Tashlin's work from a set on flickr.[1] You can read the text on this web page.

The publisher calls the book a hilarious satire, but I don't recall feeling that way when it was first read to me. As a child I felt the sadness of the bear and though I was reassured by the happy ending, I can vaguely recall a latent sense of fear. Why were the humans so insistently wrong-headed and why did it matter so much to them that he was a silly man and not a bear? I felt there was something wrong in that. I can also remember being awed by the pictures of the factory and the fancy offices of its managers, and I did laugh at the antics of the animals in the zoo and circus.

As a grown up I think the moral lesson of the fable is a little too glib. It seems to say things will go well for you if you only know yourself well enough to resist improper social pressures, but how do you obtain that level of self-knowledge and confidence, how do you recognize which social pressures are OK and which not? I could not hope reliably to accomplish those things in my childhood.[3]

There are questions one doesn't ask of fables. If one did, one might ask why the bear can speak English yet isn't very much able to cope with human culture; why the factory construction takes place in the winter rather than summer months; why the bear goes on two rather than the more usual four feet; what does bear do with his free time -- when not in factory -- evenings, weekend -- how he feeds himself; how he's able to hibernate, at end, without having stored up resources of fat to tide him over?

Here's the author.


Some sources:

Frank "Tish Tash" Tashlin - Cartoon-y Director. The author of this blog post says "The story beautifully touches the problems of urbanization, mass production, human alienation, workaholism and of course, the environment’s. It sounds over-ambitious for a cartoon, I know, but it’s amazing to see how easily these ideas are presented while keeping the cartoon entertaining even for small children."

The Bear That Wasn't, article in wikipedia. Extract:
The story is about a bear that sees that Autumn is here and Winter will soon arrive. It is time for the bear to get ready to hibernate. He goes into sleep, and then wakes up and is thrilled for Spring to have arrived. Unfortunately for the poor bear, a very large factory has been built right on top of his cave and he stumbles in the middle of one of the rooms of the factory and is extremely shocked. He is soon spotted by a foreman, who thinks he is an employee and orders him to get back to work. As the bear explains that he doesn't really work there and it is impossible for him to work in a factory because he is a bear. The foreman does not believe him and dismisses his appearance as "a silly man who needs a shave and is wearing a fur coat". The foreman's superiors also think the same thing. He is persistent that he is a bear. Nobody believes him and he is accidentally hired and forced to work in the factory. After about a year of working there (or the next time that he is able to notice the next Arctic Cold Front and the migrating animals and the leaves falling to the ground), he wants to hibernate, and then doesn't go into a cave. Almost frozen, he gives up the fact that everybody thinks he is a bear and goes into a cave to hibernate anyways.

The Bear That Wasn't, a blog post about a cartoon feature made some years later.

The Bear That Wasn’t Frank Tashlin, from the New York Review of Books, which reprinted the title.

'The Bear That Wasn't' A Laugh-Aloud Read For Kids, on NPR: "Weekend Edition's ambassador to the world of kiddie literature, Daniel Pinkwater, reviews a classic book for children, The Bear That Wasn't by Frank Tashlin. Pinkwater and Host Scott Simon read from the book together and get a couple of good laughs. The Bear That Wasn't will be re-issued next month (MARCH 9th) by the New York Review of Books Children's Collection."

The bear that wasnt, citation on Worldcat with links to library holdings.

Frank Tashlin An Interview by Michael Barrier

The Bear That Wasn't, a web page that gives the story's text.



[1] I'm reproducing the images under fair use provisions of copyright law and will take them down if I'm shown to have erred.

[2] There are quite a few web sites that tell the meaning of the book. Here's one: "No two people are exactly alike. Each is an individual with unique talents, interests, and values. At the same time, each also belongs to many different groups. Everywhere, to be human means to live with others. In groups, we meet our most basic needs. In groups, we learn a language, customs, and values. We also satisfy our yearning to belong, receive comfort in times of trouble, and find companions who share our dreams and beliefs. Even as we struggle to define our unique identity, those groups attach labels to us that may differ from those we would choose for ourselves." -- From Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior, Chapter 1

All the teacher-help pages boil the book's meaning down to a few questions and learning goals, as in this example:
The story will help us to think about:

- How much of who we are is determined at our birth?
- How much of it is something we decide?
- How does our identity change over time, within certain conditions?
- How much of it something that is determined by your experiences with others?
- How do these perceptions affect the relationships we have in society?

Learning goals
• Students will be able to recognize how their own identity has been defined by others.
• Students will begin to recognize the relationship between the individual and society.
These do not strike me as wrong so much as superficial and it's pretty obvious, to me anyway, that the education system itself can be abused in attempting to mold students in ways they shouldn't be molded.

The reviews on Amazon are not dissimilar, as in this example: "The book shows the importance of the sense of self, an important lesson for young people." But there's a bit more in these reviews than in the lesson plans, as here: "The story addresses the beauty of nature, the destructiveness of industrialization, conformity, the hierarchy of capitalism, sadness, despair, joy and - finally - redemption."

While researching this post I stumbled upon a blog run as a resource tool for students taking the senior elective "FACING HISTORY AND OURSELVES" at
Westborough High School in Massachusetts. Here are some extracts from student reactions to the book:
Friday, January 29, 2010.

Rachel A. "I thought the story sent a message about people believing an idea just because it was repeated over and over not because it was actually true. In the story people are constantly saying the bear is a man and eventually the bear believe he must be a man because everyone is saying that he is. Just because everyone says its true doesn’t mean that it is."

Allison S. "I feel that the eventual point of the story was to show that only you know who you really are and you can choose not to fit in. The bear kept trying to tell people he was in fact a bear. They did not believe him. He alone was able to realize, for himself that he did not have to fit into the stereotypes to be happy. He was content to be who he was, a different kind of bear. He knew he was a bear and that was enough for him."

Rachel S. "Before being swayed by other's opinions, the bear should've realized how vulnerable he was and should've stood up for himself at the start (much like Rachel A. said)."

Haemin B. "It all narrows down to advertisement and how they imply towards a person to have an identity that is 'cool'."

[3] It's way off topic, but this business of social pressures reminds me of the debate between those who think immigrants should acculturate themselves and those who think it's right to keep native identity (even language). I've written about this, in a way, in considering Dagger John and Abraham Sutro, two champions.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

a busy life

Here are photos by OWI's Ann Rosener taken in 1943 at a California shipyard. She recorded the experience of workers there, including their construction of a Liberty ship, the SS George Washington Carver, at Richmond Shipyards.* As with my previous post of her photos, these can all be found in collections of the Library of Congress. The captions explain what's on view.

{California shipyard workers. Eight hours of work in a Richmond, California shipyard find these two workers grateful for the calm and quiet of the ferry trip back to San Francisco, 1943 Feb.}

{California shipyard workers. Workers on the day shift at the Richmond, California shipyards leaving the ferry in San Francisco, 1943 Feb.}
Here's a detail from this photo.

{California shipyard workers. This woman worker pushes back her helmet during a moment's pause from her welding job at the Richmond shipyard in California, 1943 Feb.}

{California shipyard workers. Attired in a welder's outfit this worker is one of California's many women shipyard workers employed at the Richmond Shipbuilding Company, 1943 Feb.}

{Rushing the SS George Washington Carver to completion. Negro skilled workers played an important part in the construction of the SS George Washington Carver, second Liberty Ship named for a Negro, in the Richmond Shipyard No. 1 of the Kaiser Company. Approximately 1,000 Negro women are included among the more than 6,000 colored workers in the four Kaiser shipyards at Richmond. Miss Anna Bland, a burner, is shown at work on the SS George Washington Carver. 1943 Apr.}

{Rushing the SS George Washington Carver to completion. Negro skilled workers played an important part in the construction of the SS George Washington Carver, second Liberty Ship named for a Negro, in the Richmond Shipyard No. 1 of the Kaiser Company. One of the best chippers in the yard is Bonaparte Louis, Jr., shown above with a fellow worker as the Carver is being rushed to completion. 1943 Apr.}

{Richmond, California. Women shipyard workers riding to the yards, 1943 June.}


The LC's collections of photos by Rosener show her to have had a busy time during the first half of 1943.

In January she worked in San Francisco, shooting first at a rail yard ("woman railroad worker learning how to grease an engine wheel") then in SF itself "sign on the top of a hill in the residential section" [from a set on headlight dim out signs].

In February, she finished up the SF shoot ("pile of salvaged tin cans at the metal and thermite company") then in Albany, Calif. ("dehydrating potatoes in Western Regional Research Laboratory") then the Kaiser shipyards of Richmond, Calif., from which come the photos I show above, then in El Segundo, Calif. ("Italian-American at work on a model of a military plane at the Douglas Aircraft plant") then in San Pedro, Calif. ("ship undergoing repairs") then Santa Monica, Calif. ("Italian-Americans at work on bombers at the Douglas Aircraft plant") then in Oakland, Calif. "war workers' nursery; Catherine Simmons plays Red Cross nurse at the Bella Vista Nursery School in Oakland, California") then Emeryville, Calif. ("women in essential services; Ethel Peterson, twenty-seven, an expert lift-truck operator at the Paraffine Company in Emeryville, California. Her job demands manual skill and excellent driving judgement, for sharp curves must be rounded and the cargo must be handled with precision and speed at all times") then at unnamed locations ("Major league baseball players in defense work in California" and "women in essential services. Women bus drivers help expedite America's transportation problems").

In March, she was in Glendale, Calif. ("American women volunteer service 'button brigade' sewing on corporal's chevron and mending a ripped shirt seam in the U.S. Army air force barracks") then Brooklyn, New York ("safe clothes for women war workers. How NOT to wear your hair when you work in a war plant. Eunice Kimball's loose, long bob would be a constant danger in any industrial setup. Bendix Aviation Plant, Brooklyn, New York") then an unnamed location ("wartime food demonstration. March, 1943. Home economist showing a group of housewives how to cook in relation to wartime food and nutrition problems").

In April the was in Washington, D.C. ("saving waste fat and greases from which war material will be made") and at unnamed locations ("Kay Francis and Mitzi Mayfair, back from entertaining American troops in the British Isles and Africa, pose in the costumes they wore while traveling. They formed half a United Service Organization (USO) camp overseas unit, with Carole Landis and Martha Raye") and ("slaughtering for the "black market" in meat. April, 1943. Illegally slaughtered animal hanging up and the wasted parts of the carcass left lying on the floor of a makeshift abattoir").

In May she trailed a nursing student around Washington DC and Baltimore ("eager to be of service to her country, nineteen year old Frances Bullock prepares to leave her Lynchburg, Virginia home to enter one of the nation's 1,300 accredited schools of nursing") and did a shoot at Holabird ordnance depot, Baltimore, Maryland, ("a group of WAACS - Women's Auxiliary Army Corps - receive instruction in tire structure and care as part of the automotive preventive maintenance course which all Army men and women at Holabird must take.") then Washington, D.C., again for photos at the OWI office and some visiting dignitaries, including the Honorable MacKenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada, and then she returned to San Francisco for a set of photos of the Bank of America.

In June she was back in the DC area ("a mother sewing a button on her child's overalls. Silver Spring, Maryland" and "Washington, D.C. 'I'll carry mine,' a campaign to conserve transportation facilities and thus save rubber and gasoline. Boys delivering packages," and photos of the 'flying nun' which I showed in my last blog post, and a visit to the Geological Survey "Miss Barbara Austin, Mrs. Mary Keddy, and Miss Martha Hallman, three employees of the U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska branch, making a final checking of the base manuscript, in connection with air navigation charts" and coverage of a "national exhibit at the Library of Congress of paintings, photographs and posters dealing with aspects of the war, made by high school students from all over the country" and finally "Salvaging fats and greases".

In July she was in Michigan ("Ford Motor Company, Willow Run, Mich.") then Rockville Maryland, ("furlough spent by PFC. Harvey Horton, at the dairy farm of N.C. Stiles" and finally Silver Spring again, "people waiting for a train at the railroad station").



* The shipyards in Richmond, CA, turned out 747 ships during the years of World War II, "a feat," as the wikipedia article says, "not equaled anywhere else in the world, before or since." By 1944 it took only a little over two weeks to assemble a Liberty ship by standard methods and costs were about one-fourth those of other shipyards. Shipyard #2 at Richmond later became the home of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park. Shipyard #3 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This is the George Washington Carver being launched, May 7, 1943.

source: wikipedia

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

the war effort

It was while I was looking at photos taken by Ann Rosener that memories of Roald Dahl's Gremlins came to mind. Rosener worked for the Office of War Information which, in 1942, had succeeded the Farm Security Administration as FDR's domestic photographic agency. OWI's main role was to document mobilization within the US to fight the Axis powers. Unabashedly propagandistic, the agency's photos showed Americans doing good things to help the country gear up for war alongside ones reminding Americans what to do or not to do to help the war effort. All in all, OWI can be seen to have achieved some very straight-forward home-front morale-building.

Ann Rosener, who was in its stable of photographers, produced thousands of workmanlike images to further this work.[1] Her speciality, if she had one, was documenting the contributions made by women, members of minority groups, and people with disabilities. She showed these folks at work in defense industries and in their homes busy conserving, recycling, and making do so that consumer resources could be diverted to military production.

I was especially taken with a set of photos showing a nun of the Roman Catholic faith who came to be known as "The Flying Nun."[2]

{Washington, D.C. Field trips for the "flying nun" pre-flight class, including inspection tours of hangars at the Washington National Airport. Here, Sister Aquinas is explaining engine structure to her students, 1943 June}

As the caption says, the photo shows Sister Aquinas and students in 1943 at DC's commercial airport. To take it, Rosener used an elevated camera location and single-source artificial light. Although she normally posed her subjects, this appears to be at least partly candid. She obviously set up the shot, but it's also pretty obvious that Sister Aquinas is instructing the class while a guy in the background does some maintenance work on a radial engine.

Sister Aquinas belonged to Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. She'd graduated from the Catholic University of America and Notre Dame with majors in mathematics and physics. She'd also gotten her flying license in 1938 and, as a teacher at Catholic U, taught military and civilian pilots as well as the nuns which the photo shows. A former student says she went by the nickname "Spike" though no one told him why.[3]

She continued to fly after the war, mostly small commercial aircraft like this one.

{This photo shows Sister Aquinas piloting a Piper Cherokee. It was taken much by an anonymous photographer some time in the 1960s. The caption reads: "The real flying nun, Sister Mary Aquinas Kinskey, arriving at Sheboygan County Airport with two Franciscan sisters in a Cherokee C airplane. Sister Mary Aquinas, whose mother house was in Manitowoc, learned to fly during World War II in order to teach her students. Later she was involved with pre-flight instruction for the military. After the war she continued to fly, and she introduced aviation into the science curriculum in schools in Wisconsin and elsewhere. This photograph is part of the collection of Wisconsin author Tere Rio Versace concerning an unpublished book about Sister Mary Aquinas. Confusingly, Versace was also the author of the 'The Fifteenth Pelican,' from which the fictional 'Flying Nun' was adapted." Source:}

This caption alludes to the TV series, The Flying Nun, which may have been "inspired" by Sister Aquinas's passion for aviation, but took nothing at all from the story of her life.

Here's are some more of Rosener's session with the Sister in June, 1943.

{Washington, D.C. Sister Aquinas, "flying nun," exchanging trade secrets with an engineer at the Washington National Airport, 1943 June.}

{Washington, D.C. The "flying nun" from Ironwood, Michigan, walking down the field at the Washington National Airport after taking her class through the hangars. Sister Aquinas holds a student pilot's license and has many flying hours to her credit, 1943 June.}

{Washington, D.C. Sister Aquinas teaching a lesson in practical radio operations to the Sisters attending her Civil Aeronautics Authority course for instructors at Catholic University, 1943 June.}

{Washington, D.C. Sister Aquinas, "flying nun," in her laboratory at Catholic University checking the grease job on one of the airplane engines, 1943 June.}

{Washington, D.C. Sister Aquinas, "flying nun", with model planes in hands walking toward the aeronautics laboratory at Catholic University where she gives a daily three-hour preflight Civil Aeronautics Authority course for instructors, 1943 June.}

{Washington, D.C. Sister Aquinas, "flying nun," applying a little glue to the model P-38 which hangs from the ceiling of her classroom at Catholic University. A veteran of fifteen years' teaching experience, the Sister is giving a summer Civil Aeronautics Authority course for instruction, 1943 June.}

{There's no caption on this photo of Sister Aquinas and model airplane enthusiasts. It's found with the photos of the June 1943 shoot and presumably was taken then.}


Here are photos of Ann Rosener by an anonymous photographer from OWI collections at the Library of Congress.

{Washington, D.C. Portrait of Ann Rosener, United States OWI (Office of War Information) photographer}


Here are a few examples of Rosener's other OWI work.

{Women in industry. Tool production. Pioneers of the production line, these two young workers are among the first women ever to operate a centerless grinder, a machine requiring both the knowledge of precision measuring instruments, and considerable experience and skill in setting up. In this Midwest drill and tool plant, manned almost exclusively by women, centerless grinders have been efficiently operated by women for more than a year, and company production figures have continued to soar. Republic Drill and Tool Company, Chicago, Illinois, 1942 Aug.}

{"How do I look?" Attractive playsuits for daughter can be made from that old housedress with the splitting seams, and junior's first long pants (no cuffs) can be cut from father's old overcoat. With shortage of wool and other materials needed by the armed forces, it's a wise mother who conserves clothing by altering and remodelling used garments for other members of the family, 1942 Feb.}

{Production. Aircraft engines. Negro women with no previous industrial experience are reconditioning used spark plugs in a large Midwest airplane plant. Despite their lack of technical knowledge, these women have become expert operators of the small testing machines. Melrose Park, Buick plant, 1942 July.}


Some sources:

Women Photojournalists, Prints and Photos Div., Library of Congress

Sister Mary Aquinas, obituary in the NYT, October 23, 1985

Flying Nun in a B-52

Sheboygan Airport and Flying Nun

All Saints Academy School, Ironwood ("Sister Mary Aquinas, who was on the faculty of St. Ambrose High School, learned how to fly a plane so she could teach aeronautics. She was the original 'flying nun!'")

Flying Nun (1941), The Home Front - Manitowoc County in World War II, Manitowoc Local History Collection, The State of Wisconsin Collection

The Flying Nun TV series, article in wikipedia

The Flying Nun (TV Series 1967–1970) on imdb



[1] The photos can be found in the OWI collections at the Library of Congress. I'd provide a bio link for Rosener if I could find one. I've her birth date (1914) and virtually nothing else.

[2] Unless otherwise indicated, all photos come from the OWI collections of the Prints and Photos Division, Library of Congress.

[3] The student's reminiscence comes from the web site of Silver Lake College. It's Sister Aquinas taught — and flew an airplane — with strength and authority (pdf). Here's the text:
Remember your favorite teacher in high school? Was it a softspoken woman who gave you extra help after hours? Or perhaps it was the gym teacher who wouldn’t let you quit. Maybe it was a teacher who didn’t give homework and told a lot of jokes in class. For Bill Sullivan, a former student of St. Ambrose High School in Ironwood, Michigan, it was a Sister from the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, who honed her affinity and talent for teaching at what was the forerunner of today’s Silver Lake College. Her degree work (undergraduate and graduate) was taken at Catholic University of America and Notre Dame in mathematics and physics.

Now, Sister Aquinas Kinskey did not fit into the stereotypical mold of what you may think a Sister might be like. In fact, Sullivan recounts that Sister Aquinas had a nickname: “Spike.” “Nobody ever told me why, but we all understood. It reflected her personal strength, her dynamics, and her take-charge image.” Sister Aquinas received her flying license in 1938, and eventually provided classroom instruction for prospective WWII pilots. She received a special citation of honor in 1957 from the US Air Force Association for her “outstanding contributions to the advancement of air power in the interest of national security and world peace.”

The nation remembers Sister Aquinas as the original “Flying Nun,” and although her work teaching for the US Air Force was incredibly important, Sullivan remembers Sister Aquinas for different reasons. His life was changed by his personal experience with her in high school.

Sullivan’s first class with Sister Aquinas was Chemistry in his junior year at high school. Before that, he knew her by reputation — and by how she took charge on an important feast day at the school. Sullivan, a trained altar boy and second tenor, recalls, “There was much going on at the altar in the church, with priests and altar boys all over the place. Spike [who directed the school choir] found herself short of second tenors. She looked up at the altar and saw me there. She marched right up to the altar, grabbed me by the collar and dragged me back to the choir loft, telling me loudly that they needed second tenors more than they needed altar boys.”

Stories about “Spike” abound at St. Ambrose High School reunions. Sister Aquinas had the stride and presence of a military general and the smile of one who was true to the person God created her to be and to the vocation God called her to follow. She inspired others to live their vocation as well. Under Sister Aquinas, Sullivan fell in love with the logic of science. As Sullivan excelled in Chemistry, he began to admire her expertise in the field of science. Sullivan recalls, “It was during this time that Sister Aquinas introduced me to someone, saying, with her hand on my shoulder, ‘This is my little chemical engineer.’ I truly did not know what a chemical engineer was at that point, but from that time on I set out to become one. I was afraid not to. I was sure she would call me to account.” Inspired, or perhaps driven, by Sister Aquinas, Sullivan went on to earn a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan. He attained a job at Abbott Laboratories where he helped to create medicinal chemicals. Most notably, he worked with a team that helped to mass-produce the new “wonder drug” penicillin. Later, in 1962 , Sullivan received a research award for Outstanding Advances in Arythromiacin, another antibiotic.

Even a small pebble when thrown in a still pond will make a ripple, changing that pond. Those who influence the lives of others in subtle, and sometimes not so subtle ways, can spur immeasurable good during our earthly existence. We can all attest that there have been certain people who have changed the course of our lives.

More information about the life work of Sister Aquinas is available in the Holy Family Convent Archives, 920-682-772 8.