This edition of 50 handmade books on first glance evoke a feeling of nostalgia which is countermanded by the nature of the texts themselves, their pages rolled like hundred of ancient decrees and placed back inside their slipcases. The unreadable text comments on the inability to put the whole of a complex series of events into one “true” history.
The premise of the testimony series was based on a disturbing report I came across while doing some research.
In the spring of 1919, officers at the Newport (Rhode Island) Naval Training Station dispatched a squad of young enlisted men into the community to investigate the “immoral conditions” obtaining there. The decoys sought out and associated with suspected “sexual perverts,” had sex with them, and learned all they could about homosexual activity in Newport. On the basis of the evidence they gathered, naval and municipal authorities arrested more than 20 sailors in April and 16 civilians in July, and the decoys testified against them at a naval court of inquiry and several civilian trials.
The entire investigation received little attention before the navy accused a prominent Episcopal clergyman who worked at the Y.M.C.A. of soliciting homosexual contacts there. But when civilian and then naval officials took the minister to trial on charges of being a “lewd and wanton person,” a major controversy developed. Protests by the Newport Ministerial Union and the Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island and a vigorous editorial campaign by the Providence Journal forced the navy to conduct a second inquiry in 1920 into the methods used in the first investigation. When that inquiry criticized the methods but essentially exonerated the senior naval officials who has instituted them, the ministers asked the Republican-controlled Senate Naval Affairs Committee to conduct its own investigation. The Committee agreed and issued a report in 1921 that vindicated the minister's original charges and condemned the conduct of the highest naval officials involved, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Wilson’s Assistant Secretary of the Navy and the 1920 Democratic Vice-presidential candidate.