My Spurious Nostalgia for the American Golden Age

american golden age
Hearst Castle

I’m nearly finished with The Big Money, the third volume of U.S.A., by John Dos Passos. About every seventy-five pages or so he includes a biography of an important American. I just learned about W.R. Hearst, a relatively unsuccessful politician, whose old man made it big in the gold rush of ’49. Citizen Kane is largely based on Hearst, who was a newspaper magnate and unsuccessful politician; he helped to take the U.S. to War with Spain in 1898, and he is largely credited with developing yellow journalism. He built Hearst Castle, which is today a U.S. Historical Landmark in the central California Coast (the centerpiece of the pool was once the facade of an Ancient Roman temple. The pool itself was rebuilt three times to fit Hearst’s tastes).

Talk about big money. Imagine the world preceding the American golden age. Where a whole wild continent was there for the grabbing, as long as you had the skill or the determination (and if you didn’t, at least you could hope your kids would). That’s long gone. The money has been made. Take the Baseball Hall of Fame, for example. This year, Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar were the only players inducted, relatively middling players, as far as HOF material goes. The days of Babe Ruth are long gone.


By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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