Harbor Lights, 1936

On a late July night in 1936 photographer Turner Richards took this image of warships performing a searchlight drill on Commencement Bay. He was on the roof at the Winthrop Hotel and below most of the city witnessed the spectacle. Erie and wonderful at the same time the luminous display was part of Fleet Week, a civic celebration of patriotic parades, pageants and parties. Five years later some of these cruisers would be at Pearl Harbor when the Second World War began with their sinking.

spotlights 2

A wider view of the earlier image. The long exposure illuminates the streetscape and suggests an emptiness and calm beneath the flash of the searchlights and the suggestion of war in the waiting. To know it was 1936 and the dark clouds of world war were gathering makes this image and moment both memorable and darkly haunting.

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