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GALLERY 1

 

A Brooklyn Tenement
Unknown artist. Brooklyn, NY. Ca. 1920s.
Black-and-white photograph; view looking west along Leaman Street.

BM 54-E-1974

The many immigrants who arrived in New York City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries hoped to attain the wealth and prosperity held out by American Dream, but most ended up calling a tenement home. Tenement apartments were crowded and small, lacking running water, electricity, or often even windows. Coal-burning stoves provided heat, but choked residents with their smoke and blackened the walls. Steven Grant Rogers, the future Captain America, was born in the second tenement building from the right in this undated photo, in a room his parents had first rented shortly after their arrival in the U.S. from Ireland. The building was demolished in 1983.

 

Rosary Beads with Holder
Ireland? Late 19th/early 20th century.
Carved fruit-stone beads on copper alloy wire; painted wood and copper-gilt cross with image of crucified Christ.

BM 292-2002
Anonymous donation

Using rosary beads as a devotional aid in prayer was a very popular practice with Irish Catholics. These beads are believed to have once belonged to Steve Rogers' Irish immigrant mother, Sarah Kavanagh Rogers, though the provenance is not certain. Sarah Rogers worked as a nurse in several hospitals in the Brooklyn area, and it was likely through her occupation that she contracted the tuberculosis which would eventually kill her when her only child was still a teenager. Her profession may have influenced the choice of the devotional cards you can see tucked into the rosary holder. They bear images of St John of God, St Brigit of Kildare, and St Jude.

 

Postcard
Unknown artist. Published by Quality Art Novelty Company, Inc., Long Island, N.Y. 1939-40.
Colortone linen postcard.

On loan from the Howard and Maria C. Stark Collection of Arts, Prints, and Photographs, Special Collections, Empire State University.
Gift of Rebecca B. Walsh

As war began to engulf the globe, people flocked to the New York World's Fair Grounds in Flushing Meadows, the second-largest such fair ever held in the United States. More than 44 million visited the exhibits between 1939 and 1940, entranced by their promise of a glimpse of the "World of Tomorrow". One of those visitors was Steve Rogers, who in November 1939 sent this aerial postcard view of the site to his childhood friend, James "Bucky" Barnes. Though badly water-damaged, the writing on the reverse of the postcard can still be deciphered:

 

Buck,
Thought you'd like a glimpse of what a guy could see if he doesn't have a chest infection, especially since for once that's not me. Cosmic rays—typewriters that run on electricity—trains that don't stop & machines for washing & drying cows. You're missing out on the future.
Your pal,
Steve

 

Asthma Inhaler
Canada. 1930s-1950s.
DeVilbiss Glass Nebulizer with original box and instructions.

BM 179-J-1991

Steve Rogers' early years were marked by serious illness, likely a result of childhood malnutrition, poor living conditions, and limited access to vaccinations. The records of army medicals, undertaken during his various attempts at enlisting, show that before he received the supersoldier serum, Rogers suffered from severe asthma. This inflammatory lung disease causes shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing, and can lead to death if untreated. Rogers may have used a nebulizer like this one to help manage his symptoms. Drops of epinephrine solution were placed inside the nebulizer. The sufferer then placed the throat tube into their mouth and inhaled deeply while squeezing the rubber bulb. These nebulizers were some of the earliest effective mass-market solutions for asthma patients, who had previously been advised to smoke cigarettes to help with their breathing.

 

Letter
Steve Rogers (1918-1945) to Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1893-1953); Brooklyn, N.Y., 1942.
2 pages, handwritten.

On loan from the estate of Yasuo Kuniyoshi.

This letter—one of the few written by Steve Rogers to have survived—was part of a larger correspondence between him and Japanese-American painter and print-maker, Yasuo Kuniyoshi. It references a now-lost series of drawings by Rogers, apparently on Brooklyn street-life, about which Kuniyoshi had provided encouraging critique. Rogers may have briefly attended some of the classes which Kuniyoshi taught at the Art Students League of New York, on West 57th Street in Manhattan. There is no record of him as a student there, but we know that Rogers was an aspiring artist and the Art Students League's flexible schedules and relatively low prices put their classes within reach of working-class kids from Brooklyn. "I thought about what you said, about knowing where I'm standing in my own mind's eye when I draw," Rogers writes. "I think I know what you mean now—it makes all the difference with the light."

 

GALLERY 2

Original "Captain America" Uniform
Unknown maker, U.S.A., 1943.
Uniform in red, white, and blue cotton with red leather gloves and boots. Replica belt and shield.

BM 93-2001
Acquisition made possible thanks to a generous anonymous donor

Captain America donned a number of different uniforms, but the first is probably the best known thanks to Steve Rogers wearing it in a series of eight short propaganda films made during the late summer of 1943. It is not known who designed the iconic costume, but the red, white, and blue colour scheme and winged cowl were clearly intended to be both patriotic and vivid. Rogers wore more muted, battle-appropriate versions of this later in the war, but none of them caught the public imagination as much as this one did. An exact copy of this uniform was worn by Richard Dean Anderson in the iconic '80s TV show, Cap, now remembered as much for its camp style as for the fact that it ran for longer than the Second World War lasted.

 

"Captain America with Child"
U.S.O.; Philadelphia, PA; September 1943.
Black-and-white photograph.

On loan from Shirley Lewis-Diaz

Captain America's first campaign wasn't fought on the Western Front, but rather in cities across America. Steve Rogers was the star of a touring U.S.O. show designed to bolster public morale and boost sales of war bonds. Crowds flocked to see a figure who was already known to them from Saturday matinee serials, and who was touted as Uncle Sam remade for the confident American century. Children in particular were drawn to his larger-than-life heroics. Here Rogers is pictured after a show in Philadelphia, holding up an eighteen-month-old Shirley Lewis and kissing her on the cheek. She has no memory of the photo being taken, but says that her older brothers teased her for years for "being the only girl in the world who'd get kissed by Captain America and cry about it".

 

Sketchbook
Steven Rogers (1918-1945); ca. 1944; Italy? France?
48 pages, with cardboard cover; "S.G.R." in pencil on inside front cover.

On loan from a private collector

Steve Rogers maintained a keen interest in sketching throughout his war-time service. Most of his work from this period has been lost, but this small notebook is believed to have been purchased by Captain Rogers on one of his European missions. Interspersed with tactical notes, the pencil drawings that fill the pages show above all a keen attention to detail and light. The sketch covering the two pages on display here likely shows the market square in the small town of Caldaro, northern Italy. Rogers and his team, the Howling Commandoes, are known to have seen action near here in early November, 1944. Part of that drawing has been overlain by the drawing of an unknown woman in profile who is combing out her curls.

 

Baedeker Guide to Southern Germany, 13th edition
Leipzig, Germany, 1929.
388 pages, with 37 maps and 50 plans; "S.G.R" in pencil on flyleaf.

On loan from Sgt. Maj. James H. Morita

In their heyday in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Baedeker series of guidebooks were essential travel companions thanks to their detail and accuracy. Steve Rogers carried this volume—with its characteristic red cover and gilt lettering—during missions in southern Germany and the Alps. James Morita, who was a member of the famous Howling Commandoes squad, remembers, "Cap hauled that thing around with him because God forbid we might miss out on knowing when some castle was built or which local church had some art worth seeing. The rest of us were too busy trying to deal with the Nazis who were holed up inside them." Not everyone used the guides for cultural purposes. In 1942, several historic English cities were devastated as a result of the Nazi campaign to "bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker guide."

 

Photograph of Steve Rogers
Jasper Pringle (1899-1961); London, February 1945.
Black-and-white photograph

Photograph reproduced by kind permission of the Times of London

Steve Rogers was reported missing in action in March 1945, when the fighter plane he was piloting vanished over the Sea of Japan. Accounts of the last weeks of his life are patchy, and it is not known why he was suddenly moved from Europe to the Pacific Theatre. Some historians have speculated that Rogers had requested reassignment after the loss of his childhood friend and Howling Commandoes sniper, James "Bucky" Barnes. This, the last confirmed photograph of Rogers, dates to February of that year, when Times photographer Jasper Pringle snapped him leaving a meeting in Whitehall, London. Slightly out-of-focus, the photograph was not published during the war, but Rogers is still clearly visible in the left of the shot, wearing full dress uniform and head bowed.

 

GALLERY 3

"Captain America Adventure Hour" Memorabilia
Various manufacturers; United States, 1944-74.

BM 252-1984

The Captain America Adventure Hour radio show ran for five years on the CBS Radio Network, from 1944 to 1949. Its innovative sound effects, comic-book-influenced storylines, and reliance on dramatic cliffhangers particularly appealed to younger viewers. Thousands tuned in to catch the latest 15-minute episode at 6:30 each weekday evening. The earlier episodes of the series recounted Steve Rogers' life in broad and somewhat sanitised strokes, with the occasional addition of fictional characters such as the hapless damsel Betty Carver. However, later episodes were less tied to historical events, and listeners thrilled to tales like Captain America and the Parisian Rocketeer, Captain America and the Nepalese Emeralds, and Captain America and the Affair of the Masked Nazi. This case contains a collection of Captain America Adventure Hour tie-in merchandise and later memorabilia: photograph signed by the main cast (1944); the "Super Soldier March" theme sheet music (1947); secret agent decoder ring (1948); an anthology on 8-track tape, The Greatest Adventures of Captain America (1969); and commemorative thirtieth anniversary poster (1974).

 

Certificate of Honorary Citizenship of Rome
Rome, Italy, June 1957.
Parchment certificate; calligraphy in red, black, and blue print.

BM 27-2003

In a ceremony held in Rome's City Hall in June 1957, Mayor Umberto Tupini conferred honorary citizenship of the city on Steve Rogers. This award has been granted only rarely in Rome's long history. Tupini's speech on the occasion spoke of his gratitude for Rogers "raising his shield over the persecuted, and for assisting the populations in the battle zones of Italy during the Second World War." This is just one of many awards, citations, and degrees conferred posthumously on Rogers. Others endowed scholarships or organised charitable endeavours in his memory. There was even a brief but ultimately unsuccessful push to have the Nobel Peace Prize conferred on Rogers, despite rules which prevent a Nobel Prize being awarded posthumously.

 

"Cap Spotted in Austria?"
New York Post, August 4, 1965.

For decades after the end of the war, rumours persisted that Captain America had survived and was living incognito in other countries. In the late 1940s and 1950s, these often took the forms of claims that Steve Rogers was behind the Iron Curtain, on secret missions on behalf of the American government to combat Communism and undermine the U.S.S.R. As counter-culture movements took hold in the 1960s and 1970s, popular perceptions of both the state and Captain America became less positive, and stories circulated that Rogers—in many versions of the story hideously deformed due to further experimentation on him—led a government-approved black-ops team that targeted American political activists. Occasionally these rumours made it into print. In this cutting from the New York Post, the author blames escalating Cold War tensions for causing "paranoid flights of fancy" such as the ones which had many inhabitants of Vienna believing that the unsolved murders of three Austrian politicians was "somehow literally the responsibility of the long-dead Captain America."

 

Promotional Poster for "Kids from Brooklyn"
United Artists, 1978.

BM 99-1979

The first and most successful of a series of "grittier" film adaptations of Captain America's life that were made in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Kids from Brooklyn focused on a single mission from the perspective of Steve Rogers' childhood best friend, James "Bucky" Barnes. Made on a shoestring budget with a cast of then relative unknowns, it won critical acclaim for its tense and complex exploration of how people respond to pressure during war time. The respective choices which Barnes and Rogers make in their quest to take out a Nazi sniper who has been terrorising a small French town resonated with many moviegoers in the wake of the Vietnam War. This iconic poster, showing Barnes and Rogers in silhouette, became a staple of college dorm rooms.

 

Captain America Leads the Charge
Sylvie Rosenbaum (1931-2001)
New York, 1993
Marble and polychrome

BM 108-2002
Bequeathed by Sylvie Rosenbaum

Normally on display in the Museum's entry hall, this figure is one of a series of monumental marble figures on the theme of memory and heroism made by award-winning sculptor Sylvie Rosenbaum. The sculpture depicts a stoic Steve Rogers climbing a steep incline, famous shield raised over his head. The distressed polychrome finish is typical of this period of Rosenbaum's work: the reds and blues of Captain America's uniform and shield are faded and bleeding into one another. Despite the work's title, there are footsteps clearly visible on the ground ahead of him.