“THE SECRET MISSION OF THE BLUE-ASSED BUZZARD”
(From Playboy, 12/1968. Partial Image.)
In this story, Shep is in Company K in the Everglades [Camp Murphy, a radar unit in or near the swamps of Florida.] But he begins the tale years later as he watches a TV commercial featuring a pilot. It seems so glorious and it reminds him of a “bright, clear, balmy Florida day….” He relates that he’d begun military service when he was seventeen. [Department of Defense records indicates that he’d begun service at age twenty-one.] He says that he had been a corporal in the Signal Corps. [Actually a near-equivalent one, a T5.] He was an expert in the maintenance and use of secret airborne radar equipment. This, remember, was in the early days of radar.
He got orders assigning him to “detached special duty” with the Air Corps! A fantastic moment in his life! He reported to the nearby airfield and got a flight helmet, a pair of green goggles, and testing devices for the secret equipment to be tested in flight. He met the flight crew that he described as a First Lieutenant Ralphie, who “had obviously just shaded twelve” years old, and Captain Charles, who was just thirteen.
They got the plane in the air and it was obvious to Shep that the two officers were adolescent, manic, and seemingly incompetent. But they landed safely. Shepherd handed in his test results for the plane’s radar equipment, written out with his “phony figures on the clipboard.”
Before he realized it, he no longer had the glamorous life of an Air Force technician, but was back in Company K, and demoted to boot. As he encountered Gasser, his friend commented, “I knew it was too good to be true. Nobody never gets out of here.” Shep ends the tale:
Company K, at the very bottom of the barrel, slowly marched on.
MORE ARMY STORY SNIPPETS TO COME
Pacific Hall–More Margaret Mead
With more thought about my February 22, 2016 ARTSY post on my design of Margaret Mead’s Pacific Hall, I’ve added more to the story of Mead herself, and my relationship with her. Plus more on the Hall and my relationship to it. A small portion is a repeat of the previous post. I find it all interesting and I hope others will also.
Among my most treasured memories of decades designing exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History were my several encounters with the country’s mid-century cultural icon and most famous anthropologist, and the years I spent designing and supervising the installation of the permanent Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples.
As Senior Exhibit Designer at the Museum, I was told by the Exhibit Department Chairman that a major re-installation of our Pacific Peoples Hall would be designed by an outside design firm and that I would be responsible for its supervision and realization in its new space. It had originally been designed by a former Museum designer and had been universally criticized—The New York Times review was titled, “I Could Cry, I Could Just Cry.” That previous installation was very cold in feeling, largely because of its dominant white paint on walls and columns, the disorienting see-through glass cases, and the omnipresent ceiling lighting which shed a blandness that failed to distinguish artifacts from surroundings and created reflections and confusion. I think the museum’s administration now feared an unpleasant result from another of its own designers. I was dismayed that I, a full-fledged designer, would be responsible, in such a diminished position, for overseeing someone else’s design and having to do the clean-up job regarding every possible design flaw—and then be blamed for any unavoidable problems that resulted.
We held meetings with our Museum Director, curators in the Anthropology Department including Margaret Mead, Public Affairs administrators, my Chairman, and the outside design firm’s designer. I saw that the designer’s proposal had a major flaw that would have resulted in an anthropological disaster beyond anyone’s ability to correct—the design was to dispose of the scores of existing cases that held the carefully determined, anthropology-based organization that Margaret Mead had devised in her years of work on the old hall. Her work would have been replaced by five enormous cases, one for each Pacific culture area. In a meeting, I asked how the material would be organized in such deep cases, and was startled by the designer’s simple answer—the hundreds of objects would not be organized by anthropological understanding of culture, usage, and significance, but by distance from the viewer–small objects in front, large objects in back! I still wonder today if anyone but I, among those learned and experienced Museum folk in that meeting, recognized the import of such an anti-content proposal.
I surprised the group by unveiling my new floor plan presenting my own re-design solution, reconfiguring the layout of the culture areas, but not altering the organization of the case contents. The director gave me the chance to compete. My mockup using a portion of the still-standing old hall, by altering color, lighting, and other features, convinced all those learned and experienced Museum folk, and I was given the assignment as the new hall’s designer.
Margaret Mead had been a curator at the museum for fifty years, but she was known worldwide as a major force in anthropological studies of Pacific Peoples, bringing her knowledge and insight to her very popular books and to her widespread public media appearances discussing social issues in the 1960s and 1970s. She was a force to be admired and reckoned with. (I originally wrote “feared,” which was also true.)
When I ascended the narrow, winding stairs to her tower offices in the Museum, for the first time meeting her one-on-one to discuss my thoughts for her hall, I was nervous. My hands were sweaty and cold, a factor I knew she felt when we shook hands. We spent half an hour discussing the hall and my design ideas. At the end she commented that she knew that we would work well together and produce a superior hall. When we shook hands goodbye my hands were warm and dry. She knew how to deal with the underling essential to her permanent hall’s legacy. Or so it seemed.
For structural reasons, the hall was somewhat narrower than the old one, so the five large cultural areas would be reconfigured in my design, while at the same time I made them more visually distinct from each other. I told Dr. Mead that a few individual cases would need to be repositioned within culture areas. She responded gruffly: “Mr. Bergmann, I see that you do not have a sufficient regard for geography!” Immediate intimidation. I realized later that she had envisioned the hall itself as a stylized, yet geographically accurate, map of the Pacific, including the placement of individual cases! Had she thought that a case’s minor shift would consciously or unconsciously affect the visitor’s understanding of content?
Apparently recognizing how much she, the famous and all powerful, had visibly rattled me, the humble and relatively powerless, when we met the next time, and apropos of nothing we were then discussing, she mused aloud, as though speaking to herself alone, “Maybe I’ve been too concerned with geography.” Maybe it was as close as she might have gotten to a rethinking and an apology? I silently accepted her comment with its attendant little victory for the success of our hall.
The Museum, lower left, fronted by
Teddy Roosevelt on his bronze horse,
and there, towering above somewhere there,
Margaret Mead’s abode.
In the following months I would go across the street from the Museum and meet with her in her apartment, spreading out my floor plan of the hall on her living room coffee table, and we would arrange plexiglas model exhibit cases for each section of the hall’s plan until we were satisfied with all aspects of the design.
Then, having advanced to the very minor design details, I could no longer get appointments to see her. I learned that she was suffering from a fatal disease, and she soon succumbed. This saddens me, as I highly respected her and appreciated her importance in mid-twentieth-century culture. And, in my small way, I had known her and enjoyed the intense feeling of working with her.
To help me complete those final details, I had been assigned a curator as a Margaret Mead-substitute. We finished the Hall, but he must have been too shy to be interviewed for the opening publicity. That left me, Margaret Mead’s designer. I was interviewed for a dozen periodicals nationwide and did a TV news program’s walkthrough of the hall. Got my name and photo published hither and yon. The Pacific Hall, Margret Mead, and me—a plethora of ARTSY experiences!