So What’s the Gilded Age Anyways?

This past weekend I went to see the new Lone Ranger film; I’m always up for a good western. Nothing provides better background noise while working around the house than a John Wayne marathon on TCM. Westerns often seem to take place in a world completely apart from those of us living in the Eastern half of the country and I realized that this had become even more true to me since coming to the Whaley House. As I sat there and watched this…

the Whaley’s were living here! Well, this film is by no means historically accurate, but the point is that Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, and “Doc” Holliday were doing there thing during the 1880s. I find it incredible to put all of these pieces to create the whole story of this era of history. Which has led me to this week’s blog post.

One of our goals at the Whaley House is to place the Museum and the family who once called it home in its proper historical context. This means that you begin to understand everything else that was going on at the time the Whaleys lived and how all of these things connect. The job of the historian is to help make connections between one topic and everything else. Any post tagged “context” will illuminate the world of the Whaley family.

As you can read on the House History page, the Whaleys moved into their residence on Kearsley street in the mid-1880s, smack dab in the midst of what historians often refer to as the Gilded Age. Now, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the process of gilding, but you can find out more about it here.  So, something plain and ordinary is covered with something glamorous for the sake of appearance. Well, Mark Twain (yes, THE Mark Twain) coined the term Gilded Age to describe America in the late nineteenth century. To an outsider, the country looked wealthy, glittery and glamorous, but under that surface existed high poverty rates, overworked factory employees, poor health, and cities bursting at the belt from rapid population increases caused by industrialization.

Basically this…

 

Was covering up this…

It seems that Twain came up with a pretty apt metaphor here.

The increase in industrialization during this time created giants such as Rockefeller and Vanderbilt (whose home is shown above) and masses of poor factory workers who could not  afford a home. It’s important to know where the Whaleys sit in this story of the Gilded Age.

You can look forward to more posts about the era in which the Whaleys lived.

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