I recently noticed that Google has now archived the images from the Life magazine photo collection and also made all of the magazines in their full cover-to-cover glory available through a normal Google search. This has given me the opportunity to check into a “fact” that I have been told since I first moved to Mississippi long long ago back in the mists of time: was Bailey Junior High School really pictured on the cover of Life magazine? I’ve heard that it was so many times, and have probably passed it on myself, that it seems like it should be true. In fact, I ran across The Fact in as reputable a source as the Washington Post, in its 2004 article on Art Deco in Jackson (if you haven’t read this, it might be worth the $3.95 they charge for an archived article). In fact, the Post article even narrowed it down to a “cover of Life in 1938” which seems believable, right?
But . . .
When I went over to Google and searched the covers of Life, all laid out neatly in chronological order, I didn’t find Bailey. I search from 1935 through 1940 and nothing. Nada.
Undeterred, I did a search of the magazine itself and hit paydirt: the April 1, 1940 issue of Life contains a long feature on the PWA (Public Works Administration) titled “PWA has changed the face of U.S.” that proclaims:
The first impression received from a quick look-around PWA results is that Franklin D. Roosevelt has made Cheops, Pericles, Augustus, Ch’in Shih Huang Ti, the Medicis and Peter the Great look like a club of birdhouse-builders. For one Great Pyramid or Great Wall, PWA has raised up scores of tremendous dams. For one Parthenon, it has reared thousands of glistening city halls, courthouses, post offices, schoolhouses. For one 360-mile Appian Way, it has laid 50,000 miles of highway over the hills and valleys of America.
. . . .
Time alone will tell whether the nation can afford to spend four billion dollars [pshaw, a mere pittance!] for PWA’s 34,000 projects. But nobody can look at a representative sample of those projects and deny that they are, in themselves, useful and good.
And there, right next to the sub-heading “It has added variety to the American scene” is our own lovely Bailey Junior High School in a two-page spread to take in its full length. The caption reads
“Bailey Junior High School in Jackson, Miss., is a modern adaptation of classic architecture. It is built of reinforced concrete with structural steel trusses over the auditorium and gymnasium. It cost $388, 641.”
If you’re looking for a real copy of the picture, the originals are owned by Gib Ford, who is carrying on the photography shop of his father, Gil Ford, who in turn had taken over the business of the man who actually shot these photos for Life (I think that’s right).
For you mid-century modernists out there, scrolling up a few pages to advertisements for cars and linoleum will give you a little jolt of pleasure.
So there you have it, Bailey Junior High School never made the cover of Life, but it did make Life, and in a two-page spread to boot, which is nothing to sneeze at.