Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Charlene Mires's "Capital of the World"

Charlene Mires is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University-Camden. She is the author of Independence Hall in American Memory, editor-in-chief of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, and a co-recipient of a Pulitzer Prize in journalism.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations, and reported the following:
At the end of World War II, Americans in at least 249 communities in the United States jumped into a surprising, dramatic, and sometimes comic race for the honor of becoming the Capital of the World. As the new United Nations organization looked for a location for its headquarters, some campaigns promoted major cities, such as Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, and San Francisco. But others focused on seemingly isolated locations, as we find on Page 99 of Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations.

This page truly taps into the heart of the book, because deals with the stories of two competitors that seem very unlikely—Tuskahoma and Claremore, Oklahoma. Through them, we get a glimpse into how and why Americans perceived themselves as connected to the world at the end of World War II. Tuskahoma, for example, had been the capital of the Choctaw Nation, and a member of that nation promoted it to the UN as a location that would also be a statement of social justice. In the case of Claremore, interest in becoming the Capital of the World grew from affection for locally born Will Rogers, who gained a reputation as “ambassador to the world” prior to his death in a plane crash in 1938. Like other Americans, the promoters of Tuskahoma and Claremore had experienced two world wars in a lifetime, and they had a heightened sense of responsibility and connection to world affairs.

Time after time, I discovered that world capital suggestions that seemed comical in retrospect were perfectly reasonable to the civic boosters of 1945. The race among cities and towns to attract the UN’s attention is a fun story—and it was fun to follow the trail. But along with the fun comes an understanding of connections between local, national, and global experience at a pivotal moment in history. The United Nations headquarters site in New York City, secured with a gift of $8.5 million from John D. Rockefeller Jr., seems like such a natural location that we have forgotten a time when so many other cities and towns could imagine themselves on the world stage.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Capital of the World website.

--Marshal Zeringue