This post was written by Larry Weimer, Project Archivist for the N-YHS Institutional Archives.
Lectures and other presentations have been a staple of New-York Historical Society’s programs for virtually all of its history. Although the historical past has been the focus of many of these programs, N-YHS has long recognized that the present is history in the making and has accordingly developed programs that considered contemporary events. Few, if any, of N-YHS’s programs could possibly have been more timely in this regard than its lecture “American Public Opinion and the War,” held on December 7, 1941.
On that “date which will live in infamy,” Japan, at that time not yet at war with the United States, launched a surprise attack on U.S. naval forces based at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Japanese military’s aerial bombardment commenced a few minutes before 8 am Hawaiian time, or 1:30 pm New York time. The nation at large learned of the attack as it was still underway, from radio news broadcasts at about 2:30 pm ET. The onslaught on Pearl Harbor lasted about two hours, and Japanese fighter planes flew away from the devastation at about 10 am, or 3:30 pm ET, precisely the time that William Lydgate of the Gallup Poll was scheduled to speak to an audience at N-YHS about American opinion of the war. One can’t help but wonder how different Lydgate’s prepared comments were from his actual remarks that day.