Robert A. Caro at work. Photo credit: Dima Gavrysh / Bloomberg via Getty Images.
Ongoing Exhibition Offers Unparalleled Look at Caro’s Research and Methodology as a Reporter, Biographer, and Writer
Among the Items on View: Caro’s Unique Files and Papers on Robert Moses (The Power Broker) and Lyndon Johnson (The Years of Lyndon Johnson)
The New-York Historical Society, the oldest museum in New York City, presents “Turn Every Page”: Inside the Robert A. Caro Archive, the first public exhibition drawn from the archive of the author whose award-winning works on Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson are regarded as masterpieces of modern biography and history. Opening on October 24, the ongoing exhibition includes never-before-seen highlights from the archive—which New-York Historical acquired in 2019—that provide an intimate view of how Caro started his career and how he worked as a reporter. Caro’s meticulousness as a reporter, biographer, and historian—which enabled him to become the country’s premier chronicler of political power—is on view to the public in his research notebooks, handwritten interview notes, scrapbooks, photographs, and original manuscript pages. The exhibition also includes one of Caro’s Smith Corona Electra 210 typewriters. The riches in the archive make it an essential destination for historians, journalists, students, and anyone interested in 20th-century American history and literature, where they can find materials available nowhere else.
“‘Turn Every Page’ will both illuminate and delight audiences,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “This first-ever exhibition of Robert A. Caro’s work offers a unique window into his process, his thinking, and his writing. It also underscores the value investigative journalism has in historical research, and Caro’s extraordinary ability to uncover as well as convey—brilliantly, and with clarity and elegance—the essence of power. That Caro’s research and writing will be permanently on view in our building attests to his monumental standing as a biographer and historian.”
The exhibition traces the arc of Caro’s early career first as a student journalist at Princeton and later as an investigative reporter for Newsday, and highlights his on-the-ground research for both The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson (and the years of reporting he did for those books) as well as his rigorous process of interviewing, writing, and editing. The display reveals the writer’s extraordinary output, his persistent effort to capture a multitude of voices in his research and reporting, and his drive to examine events and understand their deeper causes.
While working on his 1974 biography, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Caro conducted 522 interviews. He found the last few persons alive who worked closely with New York Governor Al Smith, and Caro’s handwritten notes and typed transcripts of those interviews are in the archive. He also interviewed people who worked with New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Future historians wanting to write about Smith or LaGuardia will find in Caro’s transcripts materials on those two figures and scores of others—including Belle Moskowitz, a pioneering and immensely powerful woman in 1920s politics—that exist nowhere else. For the third volume in the Johnson series, Master of the Senate, Caro interviewed not only senators but their assistants and other staff members down to the cloakroom attendants, who gave him insight into the maneuverings in those sacrosanct rooms.
Because of his determination to chronicle “not only the powerful but the powerless,” the Caro Archive contains interviews with residents of New York neighborhoods Moses destroyed and with farmers and ranchers from the Texas Hill Country whose lives young Congressman Johnson transformed by bringing them electricity as well as with African-Americans denied the right to vote—and the heartbreaking consequences to them when they tried to do so—before Johnson passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a subject of great relevance at this very moment. Most of the people Caro interviewed are now deceased, but their testimony—about political power and its potential to do good or ill—now exists on Central Park West, the street on which Caro grew up, in the archives of New-York Historical.
In the Caro Archive are interviews and documents that illuminate aspects of American politics once hidden from view, for example the stolen election of 1948. Key figures and documents from one of the famed stories of Lyndon Johnson’s career—his stealing of the 1948 Senate election by 87 votes—are here, including the written description of the stealing by the election judge who directed it, which he gave to Caro when the author finally tracked him down.
At the core of Caro’s achievement is language itself—his efforts to write prose that is at the same high level as a great work of fiction—and its capacity to make us present, to see and feel and understand exactly what his characters are experiencing. Language is the source of his narrative power, and the archive includes each step in his writing process—from his summary outlines to his in-depth outlines to his manuscripts handwritten on legal pads to his typed drafts and revisions to the typeset proofs containing his many rewrites.
In sum, the archive from which the exhibition is drawn reveals Caro’s development as a writer, the craft of his writing, as well as the sweeping history of New York City and state politics from the 1920s through the 1960s and the history of the United States in the 20th century.
“Turn Every Page” was curated by Michael Ryan, Sue Ann Weinberg Director Emeritus of the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library; Edward O’Reilly, curator of manuscripts for the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library; and Debra Schmidt Bach, curator of decorative arts.
Robert A. Caro
Robert A. Caro graduated from Princeton University and was later a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. For six years, he worked as an investigative reporter for Newsday. His most recent book is Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, a memoir of his experiences as a researcher and writer that offers a firsthand perspective on the process and personal impact of writing his landmark books. Currently, he is at work on the fifth and final volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson. He lives in New York City with his wife, the writer and historian, Ina Caro.
For his biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, he has won the Pulitzer Prize twice, the National Book Award twice, the National Book Critics Circle Award three times, and virtually every other major literary honor, including the Gold Medal in Biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Francis Parkman Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians to the book that best “exemplifies the union of the historian and the artist.” In 2008, he was awarded New-York Historical’s History Makers Award, and in 2013, he received its American History Book Prize for The Passage of Power. In 2010, President Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal.
On October 24, a special full day of programming takes place at New-York Historical in celebration of the opening of “Turn Every Page”, culminating in a keynote address by Robert A. Caro as he reflects on the poignant, exhilarating, and thrilling experiences that have shaped his prolific career. Earlier in the day, author and journalist Bob Woodward joins Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian at New-York Historical, to discuss what historians and journalists can learn from one another, particularly in this age of misinformation. Renowned writers, scholars, and leaders—William P. Kelly, Lisa Lucas, Jane Mayer, and Brenda Wineapple—illuminate how they have been influenced by Caro’s research and writing methods and discuss their own reverence for the craft of historical storytelling. Tickets go on sale to the general public on Wednesday, September 15.
The New-York Historical Society recognizes the generous contributions of the following individuals who made the acquisition of the Robert A. Caro Archive possible. Lead Supporters: Dorothy Tapper Goldman, Susan and Roger Hertog, Jean Margo Reid, Daria and Eric J. Wallach, and Sue Ann Weinberg. Major support from: Judy and Howard Berkowitz, Lois C. Chiles, Richard Gilder, Edythe Gladstein, Ruth and Sidney Lapidus, Pine Tree Foundation, Fiona and Eric Rudin, Pam and Scott Schafler, Leslie and Alan Shuch, Laurie and Sy Sternberg, Leah and Michael Weisberg, and Barbara and David Zalaznick. Additional support provided by: Kathleen Begala and Yves-Andre Istel, Gerald Greenwald, Robert and Stephanie Hotchkiss, Thomas H. Kean, Dwight and Leslie Lee, Louise Mirrer and David Halle, Ada Peluso and Romano I. Peluso, David A. Sokol, Ira L. Unschuld, and Sandra S. Wijnberg.
Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.
About New-York Historical Society
New York City’s oldest museum, the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library was founded in 1804. The Patricia D. Klingenstein Library—one of the most distinguished in the nation—fosters research through its outstanding collections, which include more than 10 million items. The Museum presents groundbreaking history and art exhibitions as well as public programs that convey the stories of New York and the nation’s diverse populations to the broadest possible public.
The New-York Historical Society is located at 170 Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street), New York, NY 10024. Information: (212) 873-3400. Website: nyhistory.org. Follow the museum on social media at @nyhistory on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Tumblr.