Robert Frank: The Photographer Who Captured America’s Dark Side

The Americans by Robert Frank
The Americans by Robert Frank
Published by Steidl/

On a hot September day in 1957, Jack Kerouac sat on a New York City sidewalk holding America in his hands. At least, that’s how it felt. In reality, he held a book of photographs taken by a Swiss photographer named Robert Frank. Like Kerouac, who had recently released On the Road, Frank had just completed a historic road trip across America. He had driven from New York City to Detroit to New Orleans to Los Angeles, photographing practically every big city and one-horse town along the way. He planned to publish the photos in a book and wanted Kerouac to write an introduction. So the two met outside of a party, plopped down on the sidewalk, and flipped through the pictures.

There were cowboys and cars, jukeboxes and tattered flags, cemeteries and shoe shiners, politicians and proselytizers. And, in one photo, a shining stretch of straight highway in New Mexico, darting like an arrow toward the horizon. Kerouac was sold. To him, the pictures did more than capture America: The black-and-white film had “caught the actual pink juice of human kind.” He agreed to write some text to accompany it. “What a poem this is,” he’d tell Frank. “You got eyes.”

It hadn’t been easy. Frank had driven more than 10,000 miles to capture those photos. Along the way, he used 767 rolls of film, filled uncountable tanks of 
gas, and endured two stints in jail. He knew the photographs were good. But he didn’t necessarily think they would change photography—or how people see the country.

The pictures in Robert Frank’s The Americans are so ordinary that you just might miss what makes them extraordinary. They show people eating, sitting, driving, waiting—and that’s about it. Rarely do the subjects look at the camera. When they do, they seem annoyed. Many of the photos are blurry, grainy, and smudged by shadows. But the devil is in those details: Together, the pictures comprise a skeptical portrait, an outsider’s view of a country that was, at the time, all too sure of itself.

Born in Switzerland in 1924, Robert Frank grew 
up in a bubble about to burst. Before his 15th 
birthday, he saw the stock market crash, the Spanish Civil War erupt, Jews like his father lose their citizenship, and Nazis invade Poland. Frank’s family worried that Switzerland was next. But it wasn’t: Paradoxically, Frank’s biggest complaint as a teenager was that the country was as small, quiet, and dull as ever. He desperately wanted out.

When Frank was 17, a path appeared. A professional photo retoucher named Hermann Segesser lived above his family, and 
one day, the teenager visited him. “I want to learn what you do,” Frank said. Segesser took Frank under his wing, teaching him how to work a camera, develop negatives, make prints, and retouch photos. For the next five years, the shutterbug informally studied photography with Segesser and other Swiss lensmen, building a portfolio of “40 Fotos” that he hoped would be his ticket out of Switzerland.

In February 1947, Frank took his collection and sailed to New York City. He didn’t plan to stay in New York long, says Sarah Greenough in her book Looking In. But he fell in love with the city’s energy. “Never before have I experienced so much in one week as here,” he wrote to his parents. “I feel as if I’m in a film.”

Robert Frank drove 10,000 miles and took 27,000 photos in the 1950s to make The Americans
Robert Frank drove 10,000 miles and took 27,000 photos in the 1950s to make The Americans.

Life felt even more like a movie when he landed a gig as a staff photographer at Harper’s Bazaar. At 22, Frank had already realized his dream—he was being paid to take photos. But taking pictures of purses and girdles for the magazine’s fashion section quickly grew tedious. Frank became frustrated by how much control the editors had over his photos, and disillusionment set in. After just one month, he quit.

From there, he wandered. For six years, Frank traveled the world, stopping in Peru, Panama, Paris, London, and Wales. He got married. And he continued to hone his style, taking pictures of whatever he liked. Most of his photos were light, gentle, and romantic, and he dreamed of selling them to big magazines like LIFE, Jonathan Day writes in his book Robert Frank’s The Americans: The Art of Documentary Photography. But his work was consistently rejected. He’d almost given up on making a career of his art when, in 1953, he returned to America to give it one final shot. “This is the last time I go back to New York and try to reach the top through my personal work,” he said.

This time, the scene he found in New York was different. Frank had a Swiss friend, a designer named Herbert Matter, who hobnobbed with abstract painters like Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, and Jackson Pollock. Frank was enamored with their world. His Greenwich Village apartment, overlooking Willem de Kooning’s yard, was in a bohemian wonderland. He met Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, and he soon met Walker Evans, who was famous for photographing the Great Depression.

Frank was taking pictures through it all, absorbing everything he could from his new community. From the abstract painters, he learned to embrace ambiguity and chance, to “follow your intuition—no matter how crazy or far-off or how laughed at it would be,” he told William S. Johnson. The Beats encouraged him to treat photography as a jazz solo: spontaneous, raw, present. Most important, the photographers taught him to hate mainstream photography.

In the 1950s, photographs were crisp, sharp, and clean. A photo was perfect only if it followed the traditional rules of composition. Pictures were routinely upbeat, especially in popular magazines trumpeting the American way of life. That aesthetic reached its apogee in 1955, when the Museum of Modern Art’s photography curator, Edward Steichen, introduced an exhibit called “The Family of Man.” A display of 503 photographs from more than 60 countries, it depicted people as being the same everywhere. Dubbed the “greatest photographic exhibition of all time,” it was wildly genteel, treating war and poverty as minor blemishes on the human race’s report card.

But Frank, who had been in Europe during World War II and had visited the poorest parts of South America, knew better. “I was aware that I was living in a different world—that the world wasn’t as good as that—that it was a myth that the sky was blue and that all photographs were beautiful,” Frank told Johnson in 1989.

So he bought a used car and proved it.

Powered by a tank of gas and a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, Frank puttered west in June 1955. His network of famous friends had helped him win the grant, and money in his wallet meant he could do whatever he wanted. With nowhere in particular to go, he drove. He slept in cheap hotels and started each morning, wherever he was, by taking his Leica 35mm and photographing the closest bar or Woolworths. With Allen Ginsberg’s mantra about spontaneity in mind—“first thought, best thought”—he snapped two or three photos in each spot and moved on. Then he’d visit the post office, the bus and train stations, the cemetery, and other five-and-dimes. He went wherever strangers congregated and tried to blend in. He rarely talked to anyone he photographed.

Shortly into his trip, Frank noticed a trend: The land of opportunity looked like a land of drudgery. Everybody seemed bored and tired. Frank sure felt it. As Greenough recounts, by the time a worn-out Frank reached Detroit, he wrote to his wife, Mary, that he just wanted to “lie down anywhere where it is nice and not think about photographs.” Then his car broke down, and he couldn’t help but use the extra time to photograph an African American concert, where he was arrested for having two license plates.

It wasn’t the last time Frank ran into trouble, especially as he pressed further south. On the Arkansas border, he was accosted for no particular reason by a sheriff who pulled out a stopwatch and gave him five minutes to leave the state. In Port Gibson, Mississippi, a group of teenagers harassed Frank, calling him a communist. In McGehee, Arkansas, state police pulled his car over on U.S. 65. When the officers peered into the car window, seeing suitcases and cameras—and hearing Frank’s foreign accent—they suspected he was a spy. They demanded that Frank hand over his film, briefly jailing him when he refused. Before his release, Frank had to sign his name under the heading criminal. It made him furious, and his empathy for others who were being treated unfairly grew. “America is an interesting country,” he wrote to his parents. “But there is a lot here I do not like and I would never accept. I am trying to show this in my photos.”

Originally, Frank had no agenda but to photograph everyday Americans doing everyday things. But the more he traveled the south, the more his viewfinder stumbled across people the American Dream had seemingly forgotten. More and more, he captured an America that everyone knew existed but preferred not to acknowledge; he looked for the overlooked and captured the weariness in their eyes.

It didn’t matter whether Frank caught people standing around a jukebox or a coffin, his camera froze the same look on everybody’s face. People looked in, looked out, looked at their feet, looked everywhere but at each other. In Miami Beach, an impatient elevator girl—trapped pressing buttons for strangers all day—stared into space. In Detroit, working-class men ate at a lunch counter, ignoring their neighbors and blankly looking ahead. In New Orleans, a segregated trolley rambled by; a plaintive black man in the back stared sadly, deeply, into Frank’s lens.

“Trolley—New Orleans.” (The Americans by Robert Frank)
“Trolley—New Orleans.” (The Americans by Robert Frank)
Published by Steidl/

Frank was catching a direct contrast to the smiling humanity of Steichen’s “The Family of Man” exhibit. But it didn’t anger him—he was moved. “I had a feeling of compassion for the people on the street,” he told Dennis Wheeler in 1977. He saw beauty in highlighting the truth, even if it was mundane, sad, or small. There was something distinctly American, celebratory even, about giving the voiceless a voice. To Americans, these sights were too ordinary to notice. But Frank’s foreign eyes saw how they affected and controlled everyday life. Automobiles, especially. To Frank, few things defined American life more. They were places to sleep, eat, enjoy a movie, joy ride, travel, wait, make love, and, for some, die. Most of all, cars were a way Americans could isolate themselves. Frank included.

After nine months, he had driven over 10,000 miles across more than 30 states. In all, he had taken 27,000 photographs. When he returned to New York in 1956, he whittled those images down to 1,000 large prints. He tacked and stapled the photos around his apartment like wallpaper. After four months, he chose just 83 of them for his book, The Americans.

According to Jack Kerouac, Frank had “sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film.” But the critics were not so kind. When the volume was first published in Paris, it hardly made a ripple, but the U.S. edition, published in 1959 with Kerouac’s introduction, riled them up. The bottom line, critics said, was that The Americans was anti-American. Minor White described it as a “Utterly misleading! A degradation of a nation!” Bruce Downes scorned Frank as a “joyless man who hates the country of his adoption” and a “liar, perversely basking in … misery.” John Durniak called it a “Wart-covered picture of America. If this is America we should burn it down and start again.”

The Americans, after all, was the opposite of what readers saw in the Saturday Evening Post or an episode of Leave It to Beaver. There were no white picket fences, no pies cooling on windowsills. Not a single page would inspire a heartwarming Norman Rockwell painting. It was totally different from the simple, wholesome, patriotic photo essays everybody was used to. Idyllic as the critics believed things were, America was wrestling with dark issues—McCarthyism, segregation, poverty, and the Cold War chief among them. America was as lonely as it was big, and Frank had captured glimpses of all of it.

If that was a tough message to swallow, critics must have choked on Frank’s style. The Americans contained everything good photography was supposed to avoid. Arthur Goldsmith of Popular Photography lambasted it as “flawed by meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposure, drunken horizons, and general sloppiness.” But Frank, inspired by the abstract painters he admired, had been ambiguous by design, Day writes. A murky nation deserved murky photos. The composition was as unstable as the American Dream. More practically, the blur, shadows, and strange angles framed details that traditional techniques led viewers to ignore. In one photo, a starlet walks down a red carpet, her face entirely blurred. Our eye drifts to the haggard fans standing behind the velvet ropes, one chewing nervously on her fingernails. Frank’s technique spotlighted details we tend to overlook. And in this case, he saw the people in the margins as the stars.

Despite the critical uproar, the book was largely ignored. Only 1,100 copies were sold, earning Frank $817.12. Soon, he deserted photography and took up filmmaking (most famously documenting the Rolling Stones’ doped-up exploits in 1972). But it wouldn’t be long before The Americans appeared hauntingly prescient. By the late 1960s, politicians and activists were addressing everything Frank had captured: discrimination, mind-numbing work environments, inequality. Street photographers, from Garry Winogrand to Lee Friedlander, were drawing inspiration from its crushing honesty. In an interview with NPR in 2009, legendary street photographer Joel Meyerowitz said, “It was the vision that emanated from the book that led not only me but my whole generation of photographers out into the American landscape.” Today, The Americans is regularly hailed as the most influential photography book of the 20th century. Exhibitions across the globe have featured Frank’s photos, and, just recently, a 1961 print of that segregated New Orleans trolley sold for $663,750.

More significantly, the book is no longer perceived as anti-American. Having grown up on a continent soaked in wartime propaganda, Frank loved the freedom the United States afforded him as an artist—nowhere else did he have as much liberty to experiment so wildly and to photograph so truthfully. “Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism,” he said in 1958. “But criticism can come out of love.” Uncovering the ugly side of America was Frank’s way of forcing the land he adored to face its problems and improve. Photographing ordinary life was a way to level the playing field, to celebrate not just the little things, but the everyman. What could be more American?

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea … In the Middle of Rural Yorkshire

If you lived in Holmfirth, England, in the 1940s, there's a good chance you would've found a tiger like this one wandering around town.
If you lived in Holmfirth, England, in the 1940s, there's a good chance you would've found a tiger like this one wandering around town.
photoguru81/iStock via Getty Images

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild. This is especially true in the United States, where backyard zoos and cub petting operations are successful—if controversial—businesses. Big cat ownership is more heavily regulated in the UK than it is in the U.S., but that wasn’t always the case. More than 70 years ago, there was at least one pet tiger living in England.

To the people of Britain, Holmfirth, 20 miles outside of Manchester, is probably best known as the picturesque setting of Last of the Summer Wine, the BBC show that ran for a staggering 37 years from 1973 to 2010 and is now appropriately credited as being the world’s longest running sitcom. But back in the early 1940s, the village was known locally as the home of Fenella the Holmfirth Tiger.

Fenella’s story actually begins more than 8000 miles away in South Africa, where she was adopted by a family of circus performers and acrobats from Yorkshire, the Overends, in the late 1930s. While touring South Africa with a traveling circus in 1939, the Overend family was offered two newborn circus tiger cubs to rear and eventually incorporate into their act. One of the cubs died barely a week later, but the other—given the name Fenella, or “Feney” for short—survived.

The Overends were forced to return to England after the outbreak of the Second World War. They took Fenella home with them to live (albeit after a brief stay in quarantine) in the back garden of their house in Holmfirth. Although she had a specially built hut and enclosure, the tiger eventually began spending just as much time in the family house as she did in the garden, and according to her owners, soon became extraordinarily tame.

The family would take her for walks through the village, including past the local primary school, where she became a firm favorite among the pupils. When the local council began to raise questions over just how tame Fenella really was, the sight of her walking calmly while being petted by all the schoolchildren as they returned from their lunch break was all it took to quash their worries.

Holmfirth viewed from the cemetery
Holmfirth in the 21st century, with nary a tiger in sight.

Tim Green, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fenella was sometimes permitted to run in the fields around the village, where she reportedly made friends with a local cart horse—which is surprising, given she was raised on a diet of horse meat and fish (fish and chips were one of her favorite treats). She apparently also had a fondness for climbing trees to take a nap, and supposedly had a habit of dropping down from the branches and, fairly understandably, surprising passersby. But soon the sight of a fully grown 9-foot Sumatran tigress casually idling her way through the village’s cobbled streets became the norm for the people of Holmfirth.

Fenella was intended to be a performing tiger. Similar to the cub petting operations that still exist in the U.S., visitors could pay sixpence to sit and pet her while the family was on tour. She was also worked into the family’s circus performances by staging a mock wrestling match with her owner. But though the Overends put the big cat to work, they considered her a beloved family pet rather than just another part of their act.

Sadly, Fenella died of a kidney infection during one of the family’s tours in 1950 when she was just over 10 years old. She was buried in the neighbor’s garden, which was said to be one of her favorite hunting grounds. Fenella is still remembered fondly in and around Holmfirth. In 2016, she was a highlight of the Holmfirth Arts Festival, which celebrated the cat’s life with an exhibition of photographs and archival footage of her and the Overend family. Exotic pets might not have remained as popular in the UK as they once were, but Fenella’s popularity at least remains intact.

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.