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Gyroscope, Autopilot, Kettering Liberty Eagle "Bug"

National Air and Space Museum
Sperry Gyroscope mounted on wood base with plaque, left side support of gyroscope is cracked

The Kettering Liberty Eagle ("Bug")

An eager crowd of Army “Brass Hats” were seated in grand stands at the secluded air field near Dayton. They were to witness the flight test of a new weapon, a tiny, pilotless, bi-plane which had the potential to strike the enemy by air without danger to pilots or soldiers. As the miniature craft lifted into the air the development team began to smile and the “hats” began to wonder how this new “missile” could be used in Europe. Just then, the slowly climbing bird pivoted off its course, swooped and dove like a kite flying without enough wind, and headed straight for the reviewing stands. The distinguished crowd, now seemed less so as they dove haphazardly under the bleachers to avoid potential disaster. Fortunately, the craft crash landed a few hundred feet from the invited guests--much to the chagrin and embarrassment of the once-confident development team.

So occurred one of the first ever flights of the “Kettering Flying Bug,” the army’s first guided missile. One of the disheartened developers was Henry H. Arnold, the Deputy Director of the Aviation Division of the Signal Corps. Arnold recalled the test flight seemed to be controlled by the devil himself, the ultimate purpose of his interference unknown.

Col. (Temp) Arnold’s task force of civilian scientists had produced the first "guided missile," dubbed the "Bug," which was a beautiful wood-crafted, mini-biplane. Early versions were simply made of paper maché. It housed a two-stroke, Ford engine and carried a “warhead” of 200-300 pounds of explosives. The “Bug” had no wheels and was launched from a wagon-like contraption which ran on a long section of portable track. The missile’s engine was cranked at one end of the track which was pointed directly at the intended target. When the engine was fully revved, the mechanical counter was engaged and the “Bug” was released. When it reached flying speed, it lifted off and flew straight ahead toward the target, climbing to a preset altitude which was controlled by a supersensitive aneroid barometer. When the “Bug” reached its altitude, the barometer sent signals to small flight controls which were moved by a system of cranks and a bellows (from a player piano) for altitude control. A gyro helped maintain the stability of the craft, the barometer helped maintain altitude, but only the design of the wings assured directional stability. The “Bug” flew straight ahead until a mechanical counter had sensed the calculated number of engine rotations required to carry the weapon the intended target distance. When the preset number of revolutions was reached, a cam fell into place and the wings folded, looking much like a diving falcon swooping down on its prey. The “Bug” was rarely as deadly, and certainly not as fast, as a falcon.USAF Museum, “Kettering Bug” folder. Many photos are included as well as much of the original documents which described the weapon and its construction. Interestingly, Elmer Sperry claimed that he had invented the “Bug” and quit the project in 1919, thoroughly disgusted with Kettering. After the ill-fated test of the "Bug," lateral controls were added which rectified the instability problem caused by over-dependence upon the dihedral--the slightly “upward” angle of the wing in regard to the horizon--for lateral stability.

On the “Bug” team were Orville Wright; Elmer Sperry--who spearheaded the Navy's "aerial torpedo" project a few months earlier; Robert Millikan--soon to be president of Caltech and a future Nobel Prize winner; and Charles “Boss” Kettering--the primary engineer. Most test flights were accomplished at a remote test field in Florida, now Eglin AFB, on the wide open sand dunes which existed in that day. More important than the gadget itself were the members of the team, particularly Millikan, who would play a vital scientific role for the air arm in the 1930s and again during the Second World War. Arnold never forgot his experiences in production, administration, scientific experimentation, or testing. Nor did he forget the men who had helped design and create the missile.

Col. Arnold, realizing the potential importance of the “Bug” to combat operations, convinced the Army Staff to send him to Europe with the device in an effort to persuade Gen. John J. Pershing to use it in the waning days of WW I. Despite several setbacks, Arnold did, finally, make it over to Europe. Officially his orders were to sail by mid-October and become familiar with training organization methods in France and combat operations at the front. Arnold also saw this as an opportunity to see combat action first hand, something he had been denied by his superiors throughout the Great War. His trip was, however, unsuccessful. He immediately fell victim to Spanish Flu which was rampant on the East Coast. After recovery, he made it to the Western Front during November but only a few days before the armistice went into effect. Because the weather was so terrible, however, the “Bug” flew no combat missions and project died shortly thereafter.

But the “Kettering Bug” was not eliminated forever. German treachery in the conduct of the war, particularly with U-boats, jolted Maj Gen Arnold, Commander of the Army Air Forces in WW II, to rekindle the project.

Although using WW I surplus “Bugs” was considered until 1942, the idea was finally dismissed--not because of manufacturing problems, but because of the relatively short maximum range of the weapon (only 200 miles). About fifty of the weapons were in storage and a mass production plan already existed. Other projects, however, did result from this initial re-kindling. In the fall of 1939, Arnold wrote his old friend Charles Kettering, now vice-president of General Motors, wanting to develop “glide bombs” to be used if war came. What Arnold wanted was a device that could be used by the hundreds which might keep his pilots away from enemy flak barrages. Even though strategic airpower doctrine centered around precision, daylight, high-altitude bombing, Arnold was willing to sacrifice some level of accuracy in AAF bombing to minimize potential danger to his airmen--particularly in the last year of the war.

The legacy of these early “stand-off” weapons for today’s Air Force was clearly demonstrated during the Gulf War. Today’s Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) have redefined the meaning of “mass” in terms of bombing effectiveness. The evolution of “Bug” technology into a lethal, long-range, stand-off capability is the realization of General Hap Arnold’s vision for these early pilotless weapons.

Model of a Riemann Surface by Richard P. Baker, Baker #410Z

National Museum of American History
This geometric model was constructed by Richard P. Baker in about 1930 when he was Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Iowa. Baker believed that models were essential for the teaching of many parts of mathematics and physics, and over one hundred of his models are in the museum collections. The mark 410 z is inscribed on an edge of the wooden base of this model and the typed part of a paper tag on the base reads: No. 410z, w (/) Riemann surface : (/) w2 = z5 - z (/) 2 models. The w is crossed but the 2 models refers to this model and model No. 410w (MA.211257.072) that are associated with the same equation. Both models are listed on page 17 of Baker’s 1931 catalog of models as w2 = z5 - z under the heading Riemann Surfaces. This means that both models represent a Riemann surface consisting of pairs of complex numbers, (z, w), for which w2 = z5 - z. Complex numbers are of the form x + yi for x and y real numbers and i the square root of –1. A complex plane is like the usual real Cartesian plane but with the horizontal axis representing the real part of the number and the vertical axis representing the imaginary part of the number. Riemann surfaces are named after the 19th-century German mathematician Bernhard Riemann. Baker explains in his catalog that the z after the number of this model indicates that the metal disks above the wooden base represent copies of a disk in the complex z-plane. These disks are called the sheets of the model. The painted disk on the wooden base of the model represents a disk in the complex w-plane with the point w = 0 at its center. The disk is divided into sixteen sectors, pie-piece-shaped parts of a circle centered at 0, each of which has a central angle of 22.5 degrees. If z = 0, ±1, or ±i, the equation w2 = z5 - z is satisfied by only one value w, i.e., w = 0. These five points on the z-plane are called branch points of the model and for all other points on the z-plane the equation w2 = z5 - z is satisfied by two distinct values of w, each of which produces a different pair on the Riemann surface (if z = 2, the two distinct pairs on the Riemann surface are (2, ±√30)). Thus there are two sheets representing the complex z-plane and together they represent part of what is called a branched cover of the complex z-plane. The color of a region on a sheet is chosen with the aim of indicating a sector or sectors on the base into which it is mapped. The five dark blue points on the upper sheet of the model are marking the approximate locations of the five branch points of the model. The five branch points appear again on the lower sheet and the four colors on each sheet are represented in the regions surrounding the branch points on that sheet. The vertical surfaces between the two sheets are not part of the Riemann surface but call attention to what are called branch cuts of the model, i.e., curves on a sheet that produce movement to another sheet. This movement occurs when meeting a branch cut while following a path of the inputs of z values into the equation. While the defining equation determines the branch points, the branch cuts are not fixed by the equation but, normally, each branch cut goes through two of the surface’s branch points or runs out to infinity. In this model all of the branch cuts run out to infinity although two of them meet at a point that is not a branch point. One of the two branch cuts that meet runs from z = 0; the two branch cuts meet on the upper sheet at the point where two green regions meet two pink (possibly once purple) regions. All the branch cuts are represented by the horizontal edges of the vertical surfaces.

The Spirit of D.C. Punk in the Words of Women Musicians

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

The audience patiently waited in the afternoon heat as Erin Frisby of The OSYX tuned her electric banjo. Her bandmate, guitarist Ara Casey, took the opportunity to remind the Mt. Pleasant crowd: “Have a good day, and be kind to everyone.”

“Not necessarily everyone,” Frisby amended. “This machine punches Nazis!”

Casey’s guitar cut through the sweltering air, launching them into their final song. Frisby placed her hand on a stack of amps, testing its stability, then hoisted herself up. Poised at the top, she howled out the song’s final wordless phrases.

The OSYX were joined by fellow D.C. bands Park Snakes and Bacchae at Lamont Park in D.C.’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood on August 11, 2019, to celebrate women musicians as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s Social Power of Music showcase. Lamont is a true city park, a brick and concrete strip tucked into the narrowest of triangles formed by two converging streets. That day, shade was sparse. The bands issued frequent reminders for everyone to stay hydrated.

Each band’s commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive community could be seen in the care they have for their audience. These female-fronted bands write from a woman’s perspective, and it shows. Their lyrics often express the struggles faced by women living in a society they believe does not prioritize their safety or take their anger seriously. In everything they do, these bands loudly advocate for themselves and each other, as well as underrepresented and marginalized groups of all sorts.

Many of the band members have nine-to-fives, or even multiple jobs, making their dedication to the cause all the more impressive. They’re not all necessarily trying to make a career out of this—most of them are just people who love playing music together. The D.C. music scene is a small world, and it’s often said that anyone who plays and stays in D.C. long enough will inevitably end up playing in every other local band.

Mt. Pleasant: The Social Power of Music
Tim Wright and Natalie Avery organized walking tours earlier in the day to explain some of the history of local music in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood.
Photo by Daniel Martinez Gonzalez

Much like the punk scene thriving there, Mt. Pleasant itself is rather homegrown and offbeat. Before 1878, it was considered separate from the rest of D.C., more of a small village surrounded by rural land. It has since become completely integrated into the city, but because of this initial separation it does not follow the rest of D.C.’s street grid. The early developers of the neighborhood decided to ignore the grid in favor of existing farm roads and the natural landscape. As a result, the streets of Mt. Pleasant seem to be laid out randomly, intersecting at odd angles and creating little pockets of space like Lamont Park.

On one end of the park sits a small stage, barely a foot tall. During this afternoon concert, there wasn’t much separating the performers from the crowd. In the banter from the microphone, it seemed that almost everyone knew each other, that the audience felt just as important to the scene as the musicians. Bandmates joined the crowd to dance between sets. All sorts stopped to enjoy the show: parents with small children, old folks walking their dogs, groups of kids. People who seemed to totally embody the punk aesthetic, and people you would never dream of seeing at a punk show. An elderly woman with a shopping trolley full of groceries stopped and watched for an entire set.

D.C. has a wealth of DIY and all-ages venues, and free outdoor concerts like this one are common. This stems from the commitment to accessibility and inclusivity that runs deep in the music scene here. D.C. was an important site in the mobilization of riot grrrl, a 1990s feminist punk movement that championed these values. Alison Wolfe, who emceed the Lamont Park performance, was among the leaders of the movement. Her band Bratmobile hugely influenced other women to break into the male-dominated genre. Today, Wolfe describes the D.C. music scene as consisting of “people who created the culture that they wanted to see.”

Camera: Ashley Avila, Albert Tong, Charlie Weber, Harry Zhu
Editing: Ashley Avila

The OSYX embodies the progressive values of the D.C. punk scene in both their music and their community activism. Last year they created a nonprofit record label called This Could Go Boom! which represents female and non-binary artists.

Initially the band’s goal was to produce their own record, but through the process they saw the need to extend the benefits of the label beyond themselves. Opening the record label to underrepresented groups allows the band to “amplify the voices of the community we serve,” as Casey puts it.

The band also helps organize music workshops and showcases around D.C. The showcases create networking opportunities for bands, as well as a fun, collaborative environment that Frisby describes as “a communal explosion of love.”

Frisby has toured with multiple bands and experienced the music scenes of different cities. While she found many of them to be just as welcoming, she decided to return to D.C. for the diversity and collaborative spirit.

“People in D.C. lift each other up in a way that I haven’t seen in other communities,” she explained. On the creation of This Could Go Boom!, she says, “I don’t know if this could have happened anywhere except D.C.”

Camera: Ashley Avila, Albert Tong, Harry Zhu
Editing: Ashley Avila

Park Snakes took to the stage following The OSYX. Their guitarist was AWOL for the day, but their bassist played the melody lines through an array of effects pedals. The result was full and deep and heavy. Lead singer Nenet looked like she had gotten all dolled up for school picture day. She wore a bright pink dress adorned with fabric flowers, her hair bedazzled with barrettes. A big Band-Aid covered one of her knees. It fell off mid-set.

“I remember when no one liked me,” she repeated during one song. Despite the heaviness of her lyrics, she bounced around the stage as she delivers them, stomping her feet and clearly delighting in the performance. One of their best received songs was titled “Women Are Better Than Men.” No one in the audience seemed to take it personally.

“I don’t think the band would have happened if I hadn’t lived in Mt. Pleasant,” Nenet said of Park Snakes’ origins. She described the neighborhood as active and vibrant: “There is always something happening. Lift a rock and you will find a punk show, from Monday to Sunday.”

Members of Bacchae also credited the unique environment of the D.C. punk scene when explaining how their band came to be. Vocalist and keyboardist Katie McD remarked that there isn’t as much of an in-crowd or clique as the music scenes of some other cities. Drummer Eileen O’Grady agreed, saying that these spaces can often feel competitive, “hyper-masculine and aggressive.” In comparison, she found the aggression present in D.C. to be more focused and able to effectively “channel those feelings into productive work.”

Camera: Ashley Avila, Jackson Harvey, Albert Tong, Charlie Weber
Editing: Ashley Avila

Bacchae (pronounced “BOCK-eye”) is a genre-bending four-piece band. McD’s keyboard was covered in plastic googly eyes of varying sizes. Her vocals were fast and frantic, as if she couldn’t spit the words out fast enough.

Written from a woman’s point of view, their song “Sour” deftly captures the creepiness of being told to smile by a stranger, opening with the lines, “Sweet girl, won’t you smile for me/ Some sugar for your sour face.” She replies, “I’m not the one to put the sugar on your tongue,” before launching into the chorus: “I’m done making lemonade!”

O’Grady described how the D.C. music scene is uniquely accessible to beginners, encouraging people to pick up instruments even if you have no experience. Both she and bassist Rena Hagins began playing their instruments shortly before joining Bacchae.

A D.C. native, Hagins has been going to shows for years and has since watched the scene become more inclusive of different types of people and genres. She feels that this representation is part of what sets D.C. punk apart.

“You get to see yourself onstage which is so important,” Hagins explained. “I just hope that people can see an event like this that raises awareness for women in music and want to go play in bands and make this happen for themselves.”

Gabrielle Puglisi is a graduate of Emerson College and an intern at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Monument Marks Little-Remembered Case That Set Precedent for Asian Americans to Testify in Court

Smithsonian Magazine

Chinese immigrants moved to the territory of New Mexico in large numbers in the 1800s. They came, like so many other diaspora groups, in search of work. But legalized discrimination, through laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, created profound hurdles for them.

That’s why the little-known case Territory of New Mexico v. Yee Shun is so significant. On the evening of February 24, 1882, Yee Shun got off the train in East Las Vegas, New Mexico. The 20 year old, who had emigrated to the United States shortly before, was on his way to Albuquerque in search of a job, but decided to make the stop to check in with a friend, Gum Fing. When he walked into a local Chinese laundry to inquire the whereabouts of Fing, gunfire rang out. Shun ran out of the laundry. Inside, a man named Jim Lee (who was also known as Sam Ling King or Frank) had been fatally shot.

When witnesses placed Shun at the scene of the crime, he was arrested. One of the Chinese immigrants who witnessed the shooting, Jo Chinaman, claimed Shun was the killer. Two other Chinese men who also witnessed the shooting contradicted his testimony.

Shun was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Following an unsuccessful appeal, Shun committed suicide.

The tragedy had an unintended postscript. During his lawyer’s failed appeal, he claimed that Chinaman’s testimony was invalid because he was "of the Chinese religion,” and so his oath could not hold up in court. But New Mexico’s territorial supreme court judge disagreed. He upheld the conviction, and in the process established the precedent that Asian Americans had the right to testify in court.

“The Yee Shun precedent held sway throughout most of the trans-Mississippi West for Chinese litigants, and it was even used to apply to other Asian-American minorities,” write Arif Dirlik and Malcolm Yeung in Chinese on the American Frontier. “In 1909 the Nebraska Supreme Court invoked Territory of New Mexico v. Yee Shun to determine if a Japanese witness, Jack Naoi, could be disqualified ‘for the alleged reason that Japan is a heathen country.’”

Now, this landmark case will be memorialized with a planned public monument.

As Ollie Reed Jr. reports for Albuquerque Journal, the towering 28-foot-tall, $275,000 public sculpture was approved last month. The project has been in the works for several years.

According to a press release, local optometrist Siu Wong, a member of Asian civil rights group Chinese American Citizen Alliance, initiated the project and raised the funds to make it a reality.

“[Wong has worked] to give this court case the place in history that it rightfully deserves,” Bernalillo county public art project coordinator Nan Masland tells

Following a national call for artists, the Asian American Monument Committee of New Mexico selected Cheryll Leo-Gwin and Stewart Wong’s design “View from Gold Mountain.”

Gold Mountain is what Chinese laborers called the greater American West during the Gold Rush period that brought so many to the West Coast in the mid-1800s. But as Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage explains, "the vast majority of Chinese who rushed to the West Coast never got rich from gold. Instead, after arriving on these shores, they laid railroad tracks, worked as itinerant farm laborers and factory hands, cooked food, pressed shirts, and performed other tasks that helped build the American West.”

Now in the final design stage, installation should begin around early 2019 with a spring or summer completion according to Masland. It will be installed near the state district courthouse in downtown Albuquerque.

“When Bernalillo County Public Art was approached to manage this project, we saw the opportunity for public art to be the conduit to elevate awareness of this court case and its significance to civil rights,” Masland says. “A sculpture of this scale has the power to educate and inform the public in an accessible manner.”

In an interview with Hyperallergic’s Claire Voon, Leo-Gwin explains the monument's central metal plumb bob is tilted at a 30-degree angle "as a metaphor for tipping the scales of justice." An object in motion, it ultimately “finds stability and balance.” A braid running vertically along the shape is a nod to the queue hairstyle. Three gourds above the plump bob symbolize the U.S.'s three branches of government.

Despite setting a precedent, the case has remained largely unknown in the larger understanding of American civil rights. Officials hope the new monument will draw attention to its importance.

“The sculpture will inform the public about the contributions that Asian Americans have made to advance civil rights through use of the judicial system,” as Bernalillo County district 3 commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins says in the press release.

Model of a Riemann Surface by Richard P. Baker, Baker #410W

National Museum of American History
This geometric model was constructed by Richard P. Baker in about 1930 when he was Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Iowa. Baker believed that models were essential for the teaching of many parts of mathematics and physics, and over one hundred of his models are in the museum collections. The mark 410 w is inscribed on an edge of the wooden base of this model and the typed part of a paper tag on the base reads: No. 410w (/) Riemann surface : (/) w2 = z5 - z (/) 2 models. The 2 models refers to this model and model No. 410z (211257.073) that are associated with the same equation. Both models are listed on page 17 of Baker’s 1931 catalog of models as w2 = z5 - z under the heading Riemann Surfaces. This means that both models represent a Riemann surface consisting of pairs of complex numbers, (z,w), for which w2 = z5 - z. Complex numbers are of the form x + yi for x and y real numbers and i the square root of –1. A complex plane is like the usual real Cartesian plane but with the horizontal axis representing the real part of the number and the vertical axis representing the imaginary part of the number. Riemann surfaces are named after the 19th-century German mathematician Bernhard Riemann. Baker explains in his catalog that the w after the number of this model indicates that the metal disks above the wooden base represent copies of a disk in the complex w-plane. These disks are called the sheets of the model. The painted disk on the wooden base of the model represents a disk in the complex z-plane with the point z = 0 at its center. The disk is divided into twelve sectors, pie-piece-shaped parts of a circle centered at 0, each of which has a central angle of 30 degrees. There are eight values of w for which the equation w2 = z5 - z is satisfied by only four values of z. These eight points all lie on a circle centered at w =0 with radius slightly less than 3/4 (the exact value is 2 divided by the 8th root of 55). Two points have real values, two have purely imaginary values, and the remaining four lie on the circle, half way between a real and a purely imaginary point. These eight points on the w-plane are called branch points of the model and for all other points on the w-plane the equation w2 = z5 - z is satisfied by five distinct values of z, each of which produces a different pair on the Riemann surface (if w = 0, the five distinct pairs on the Riemann surface are the origin and the points (0,±1) and (0,±i).). Thus there are five sheets representing the complex w-plane and together they represent part of what is called a branched cover of the complex w-plane. The color of a region on a sheet is chosen with the aim of indicating a sector or sectors on the base into which it is mapped. On all but the middle sheet the same pattern appears, a curve that looks like an ellipse and two curves that look like apples. Each half of the outer curve maps onto the same portion of the outermost of the five circles appearing on the base, while each of the apple-like curves maps onto the same portion of the next smaller circle on the base. In addition, each of the eight branch points lies inside one of the eight apple-like curves. The middle sheet, which is much more complicated, has five wavy closed curves that map onto various portions of the five circles on the base. The line segments that appear on all five sheets are mapped to radii or diameters on the base. On upper sheet the two dark points mark the approximate locations of two of the branch points of the model. The vertical surfaces between the two sheets are not part of the Riemann surface but call attention to what are called branch cuts of the model, i.e., curves on a sheet that produce movement to another sheet. This movement occurs when meeting a branch cut while following a path of the inputs of w values into the equation. While the defining equation determines the branch points, the branch cuts are not fixed by the equation but, normally, each branch cut goes through two of the surface’s branch points or runs out to infinity. In this model all of the branch cuts run out to infinity and are represented by the horizontal edges of the vertical surfaces. In this model the movement is always between the middle sheet and one of the other four sheets.

The Disappearing Habitats of the Vaux’s Swifts

Smithsonian Magazine

Larry Schwitters, a fit 70-year-old in black Ray-Ban sunglasses, climbed a narrow, 40-foot ladder to the top of an old brick chimney on an elementary school. It was a sunny day in Monroe, Washington, and heat radiated off the flat, tar roof. Schwitters, uncertain whether or not the extension on the ladder was locking securely, jiggled it warily. Schwitters looked vulnerable so high in the air, even rigged to a climbing rope held by a friend. “Larry takes his life into his hands when he does this,” said the man holding the rope, Jim Rettig, president of a nearby Audubon Society chapter. “No, I take my life in your hands,” Schwitters called down.

Schwitters is a retired science teacher and former mountain climber who no longer thrills to heights. But he needed to repair a microphone he had fitted to the top of the chimney along with a video camera. When it’s working correctly, the equipment records the activity of birds called Vaux’s swifts. Like their cousins the chimney swifts, which live in the Eastern United States, these Western birds gather in huge groups inside old brick chimneys. The sounds and images from the equipment stream live over the Internet. The swift is Schwitters’ idée fixe. He spends at least 30 hours a each week on swift-related projects like this one.

No one knows exactly where Vaux’s (pronounced “vauks”) swifts spend the winter, or the details of their migration route. It’s not even known whether they migrate at night, as most birds do. But we do know the birds need chimneys. Schwitters has discovered that this one at Frank Wagner Elementary School might be the most important chimney in the region—more than 26,000 birds have been counted entering it in one evening.

Four years ago, this unused, 1939 chimney was a candidate for demolition as an earthquake hazard. Countless other old swift-sheltering chimneys, obsolete in buildings with modern heating systems, have already been lost to renovations or collapse. Schwitters and a growing band of others want to uncover more of the swifts’ secrets, and in the process stop more of the birds’ chimney stacks from falling.

On a busy night, the birds would be clinging to the bricks on the inside of the chimney in overlapping layers. But today Schwitters saw only one inside the stack. “Well, hello, birdie,” he piped.

Standing on the roof, I found a dead swift, remarkably intact, and scooped it up. Hold a soft, soot-brown Chaetura vauxi in your hand and you’ll feel how light it is—no heavier than a handful of cotton balls. You’ll also get a sense for what kind of flier it might be—the bird is mostly wings, two scimitar-shaped extensions that give loft to a stubby body and short, squared-off tail.

“They’re some of the most aerial of all birds,” says Charles Collins, a swift researcher and professor emeritus at California State University, Long Beach. “If they’re not feeding young, they’re probably on the wing all day.” In the air, they feed on insects and ballooning baby spiders. The birds’ high-flying ways may be one reason we know so little about this species.

The birds gather in huge numbers in the sky in the evening, swooping and whirling together on those elegant wings, then forming a gyre and plunging into the chimney for the night. “There are prettier birds, like the warblers, or bigger birds, like the great blue heron,” says Rettig. “But just to watch the swifts all together, well, it takes my breath away.”

Vaux’s swifts originally roosted and nested not in chimneys but in the hollow trunks and branches of old or dead trees. But those are few and far between on the modern migration route. Looking south from the Wagner School roof, there’s a bald patch on the foothills of the Cascade mountain range, a clear-cut in a spot where swifts might once have slept over. That’s why chimneys like these have become essential habitat.

Swifts are agile in the air, but not on land. They’re in the family Apodidae, a group of birds that can’t perch or walk—they can only cling. Since around the time of World War II, brick chimneys have been lined with metal or other materials to meet modern fire codes, and Vaux’s can’t use them. Chimneys older than that are generally crumbling, and therefore endangered.

The Monroe chimney may have hosted swifts, unnoticed, for years. “People who lived right there didn’t know about it,” Schwitters said. If they did, they thought the birds were some other species. An unidentified wag had even posted a sign on one of the school’s windows: “They’re not bats.”

Audubon members approached Schwitters and asked if he could help make the case for saving the chimney. “Just pulling your car up beside a school with a chimney on it looked pretty easy for this old guy,” he said. So he set to work counting the birds on evenings in spring and fall. His first visit in 2006 wasn’t especially promising—only 1,000 birds. But every night he returned—eventually with other people he’d recruited and trained in the art of counting birds by tens—he saw more. “We discovered that the numbers here dwarfed those at the Chapman School,” a more famous roosting site in Portland. “If this chimney was removed, the birds would have to roost elsewhere.” As he soon learned, there weren’t a lot of other elsewheres.

Schwitters, local Audubon chapters and school officials organized into a group called Vaux’s Happening to begin fund-raising for a hazard assessment and retrofit. They also held their first public event, a Swift’s Night Out. Audubon volunteers showed people what a swift’s wing looks like. Schwitters gave a presentation inside the school auditorium, and near the end of it someone threw open the door at the back of the auditorium and cried, “The swifts are here!” Outside, people gasped and squealed at the bird acrobatics, and cheered as they finally began circling the chimney, and then funneled in.

Schwitters decided to expand his range, calling bird organizations up and down the migration route, seeking more volunteers to look for other chimneys and count their swifts. He used Google Earth to identify likely chimneys in the bird’s range and e-mailed strangers nearby, asking if they’d be willing to go to a chimney some evening and look to see if little birds were gathering around it.

Collins, the swift professor in Long Beach, says the research Schwitters is aggregating is not only good for saving chimneys, it’s also useful science. “On a year to year basis, it’s a way of keeping an eye on whether or not there’s a dramatic decrease that might be an early warning that there’s something going wrong in their collective environment,” he said.

The project to save chimneys has already had several successes. Mark Sylbert, a painter and Hollywood art director who lives in a converted 1918 factory building in Los Angeles, learned about the project through a series of forwarded e-mails. Years ago he had stood with his wife and infant daughter on their fire escape and watched birds flying over another old brick building at sunset. The birds’ high-pitched twittering was often drowned out by city noise, but nothing overshadowed the visual drama as they swirled into a huge brick chimney. “It was so thick with birds it was staggering,” said Sylbert. When he heard about the Vaux’s Happening project Sylbert e-mailed Schwitters, sure that this was the same species. But Sylbert had lost track of the birds with a second kid and busy career. The building the birds had used had been converted to lofts, and the chimney knocked down. Schwitters convinced him to look for another likely chimney.

“To me that was just like a treasure hunt,” Sylbert said. He drove around downtown Los Angeles with his head tilted up at the sky. “It’s not really a safe activity,” he said. “I don’t recommend copying me.”

He found the birds, though, flying over City Hall at sunset. He followed them to the 12-story brick Chester Williams building and got out to watch them. An article about it ended up in the Los Angeles Times, and Jeff Chapman of the Audubon Society in Los Angeles has gone on to organize events for public school kids to come out and see the Chester Williams Vaux’s. Sylbert compares the event to taking his kids on a whale watch expedition. “But you have to have money to go out and whale-watch—this is something that brings itself right into the core of L.A."

Other volunteers have similar stories of finding sites in San Diego, San Francisco and elsewhere along the migration route. But few locations so far have been protected. Out of the 12 biggest roost sites Schwitters has identified, five have been torn down or capped since the study began. Several others, while not under immediate threat, could be torn down at any time.

But not the chimney in Monroe. Last fall, repairs there were finally completed. As it turned out, the stack didn’t need rebuilding, only stabilizing with angle iron, brackets on all four corners of the chimney which extend up its length. There was even money left for a kiosk in front of the school, where the community and Vaux’s watchers can learn more about the birds’ lives. “In fact, the chimney has added value to the school,” said Ken Hoover, superintendent of Monroe public schools.

“I’ve traveled far to watch birds,” said Christopher Adler, a music professor in San Diego who helped find a roost site in a nearby church chimney. “Thailand, Laos, Cambodia. But seeing those 10,000 Vaux’s in one night,” he said. “I’ve really never seen anything like that. Every direction I looked, they were as far as the eyes could see.”

If Larry Schwitters gets his way, more and more people will have that thrill. “We took him on to help save the chimney,” said Mike Blackbird, president of the Pilchuck Audubon society, at a recent celebration of the Monroe chimney win. “He went on to try to save the species.”

Bringing the Migration Walkway to Life

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

We bring our traditions with us as we move through life, and those traditions change on our path—sometimes in surprising ways. At the 2017 Folklife Festival’s On the Move program, the transformation implied in movement was represented by the Migration Walkway, a curving wooden path with high-vaulting portals that crossed through the Festival grounds.

The walkway twisted under your feet and above your head, simultaneously conveying a sense of motion and stasis. The raised platform offered an unparalleled view of On the Move: a two-week series of performances exploring and celebrating the way people and their cultures move to and within the United States. Many people worked together to bring the Migration Walkway to life: over the course of several months, carpenters, painters, lighting designers, dancers, artists, and visitors all added their stories and made the walkway their own. 

Envisioning the Walkway

When technical director Tyler Nelson started thinking about walkways to incorporate into On the Move.

“I was looking for inspiration in architectural structures that allow people to pass rather than creating a barrier,” he said. He knew he wanted a pathway or bridge that conveyed a sense of movement within the structure itself—a work of art as well as a functional piece of architecture. He found examples of this in the High Trestle Trail Bridge of Madrid, Iowa, and the Lachiku bamboo bridge in Tokyo, Japan. Both use square frames in a rotating pattern to cover a raised path, capturing the feeling of continuing movement.  

Tyler also found an infographic illustrating population movement among countries over a twenty-year period. Using swooping, colored lines that vary in thickness to reflect the volume of people, the graph emphasizes that people and cultures move in multiple directions at once and rarely in straight lines.

Festival carpenter Anna Kann had a week and a half to turn these example images into a functional design. She left large spaces between each portal, creating multiple entry and exit points for visitors. This evoked the theme but also made the bridge more accessible as a seating area and easier to install.

AutoCAD designs for the Migration Walkway
AutoCAD designs for the Migration Walkway.
Design by Tyler Nelson and Anna Kann

“Paths lead all directions, and people come on and off at different points,” Anna explained. “It’s all fluid.”

As Anna and the rest of the technical team moved her design from paper to reality, it continued to evolve. Lighting designer Charlie Marcus added panels of multicolored LED lights under each of the portals. He wanted to attract people to the structure by day and allow them to enjoy it by night. The On the Move theme resonated with Charlie personally.

“I’m Jewish, and all my family is in New York and Florida, and there’s a still a bridge even after generations,” he said. “Whether it’s a bridge or I-95, it still connects us together.”

Scenic painter Carolyn Hampton added her own perspective, designing a series of paths on the walkway floor to evoke the themes of movement and migration. She looked at the graphic Tyler used for his initial inspiration and realized that “any linear thing wouldn’t work.” Initially the plan was to draw swoops of color, like the ones on the infographic.

“Then I had a crazy idea,” she reflected. “Wouldn’t it be really cool if we could make the bands actual pathways that are ways that people travel from one place to the other? That’s the idea behind it: people travel by ocean, or on the dirt road, or they fly.”

Carolyn’s design created a series of paths within the path, evoking roadways, railways, waterways, and skyways.

Animating the Walkway

During the first week of the Festival, Mestre João Grande and Mestre Jelon Vieira, two renowned capoeira teachers, created a new communal atmosphere on the walkway, inviting interaction and physical dialogue among vibrant traditions. Capoeira is a dance-like martial art with a long and complex history, starting as self-defense among Brazilian slaves and continuing as a significant expression of a broader sense of Brazilian tradition and identity.

Capoeira on the Migration Walkway
Capoeiristas practice in time to the music during an open class on the Migration Walkway.
Photo by Daniel Martinez, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

João Grande and Vieira offered open classes on the Migration Walkway, encouraging people of all backgrounds and experience levels to interact. They each took one side of the walkway to demonstrate their styles of capoeira—Angola and regional, respectively—allowing the two styles to share space while retaining their distinct characteristics.

The second week, Viajeros de las Américas activated the walkway in a different manner. Group director Ubaldo Sánchez has been helping create alfombras de aserrín, or carpet murals, since he was five years old. Ubaldo is a member of the Mam people, an indigenous community in Guatemala of Mayan descent: Mam is his native language, while Spanish is his second and English his third.

For Ubaldo and others, the alfombra connects present-day traditions to Mayan history. Pre-Colombian Mayans created carpet murals of rose petals for royalty to walk on, and the Catholic Church later adopted the tradition for religious ceremonies and changed the ingredients to sawdust. Ubaldo and other Central American artists in the D.C. area have designed countless alfombras to create a sense of community and educate people of all backgrounds about Mam and Mayan traditions.

Once the artists began working on the walkway, they added new elements to their original design. First of all, the shape of the walkway surprised them.

“We thought that it was all going to be squared off,” Ubaldo said. “But when we saw it wasn’t like that, it came out really pretty with the angles it had.”

To accommodate the winding walkway, they added a slight curve to the murals. After forgetting one of the pattern molds, they created a new border design using ears of corn. Explaining the changes, Ubaldo emphasized the importance of improvisation and resourcefulness in the art of the alfombra. The final piece, synthesizing the original design and the place and time in which it was created, became part of the living art that people of all backgrounds walked across in a ceremonial procession to close the Festival.

The Migration Walkway is a representation of what people and cultures look like when they are on the move. As they moved across its surface, the builders, artists, athletes, visitors, and educators each took ownership of the structure, recreating it with their own experiences and vision. This ownership provided satisfaction, but the people responsible for the walkway were still surprised by it. Visitors interacted on the walkway with each other, even coming back at night to take pictures; capoeiristas and alfombra artists made the structure an unexpectedly integral part of their performances and teaching.

When the structure was taken down, its parts were saved, to be reassembled and used again in a future Festival. The Migration Walkway, and the people who helped build it, are still on the move.

Jessie Riddle is an intern with the 2017 On the Move program and a PhD student in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University. Her areas of focus include Latino and Latin American Studies, stories about place, and belief studies.

Mooney Mite

National Air and Space Museum
Single engine, single seat, low wing, red and white with black stripes, red wingtips, engine not original.

Mooney Mite N3199K is serial number one of the fast and efficient line of private aircraft designed by Albert Mooney and Charles Yankey. Mooney Aircraft Corporation produced more than 365 Mites between 1947 and 1955 and followed them with the larger M.20 series. Current Mooney aircraft still sport the trademark forward-swept vertical fin of the original Mite.

The compact, single-place, low-wing monoplane boasted retractable landing gear and wing flaps, new amenities for personal planes of that era. Mooney's patented "Safe-Trim" system featured a moveable horizontal stabilizer interconnected to the flaps for automatic nose-attitude trim. After replacing the original 25 hp Crosley Cobra engine with a Continental or Lycoming, Mites became lively record-setters, cruising at a brisk 200 km/h (125 mph).

The Mooney M-18-C Mite, N3199K, is the first aircraft of the series to be built and it is the forerunner of the Mooney private and corporate airplane business. The design goal was to provide a fast and economical means of personal transportation for the businessman and the private pilot.

Charles G. Yankey and Al Mooney, formerly of the Culver Aircraft Company, formed the Mooney Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas, in 1946. Mooney's interest in private aircraft reached back to his engineering work at Monocoupe, Bellanca, and Alexander. At Culver, they had built the pre-war Culver Dart and Culver Cadet that became the production PQ-8 and PQ-14 pilotless aircraft and target drones during World War II. The post-war M-18 design was, to some extent, based on many of the successful features of the Culver V and PQ drone airplanes.

The M-18 Mite was designed in 1946 and was first test flown on May 17, 1947 by test pilot Bill Taylor. Performance was acceptable but some high angle of attack buffeting was encountered. This was corrected through wing leading edge modifications and the addition of a trailing edge wing root fillet. However, the most severe problem was the modified 25 hp Crosley automobile engine conversion used to power the airplane. With a series of exhaust valve failures and a crank shaft failure during the engine and flight tests, the finall CAA certification was delayed until July 30, 1948. The Crosley powered M18s were subsequently retrofitted with the 65 hp 0-145 Lyncoming engine. This made a major improvement in the overall performance which included an increase in the top speed from 100 mph to 138 mph.

The Mite was a well streamlined, enclosed cockpit, single-place, low-wing monoplane, equipped with a manually retractable tricycle landing gear and wing flaps, features that were not available on this class of airplane during that time. The forward fuselage is a welded steel tube structure covered with sheet aluminum panels and the entire rear fuselage is a semi-monocoque wood framework covered with plywood. The cantilever wings are a single spar wood structure with the leading edge box covered with plywood and the remainder of the wing, including the ailerons and flaps, covered with fabric. The retractable landing gear wheel wells are located in the inboard section just aft of the main spar box. The tail section is a plywood-covered wood structure that is itself covered and sealed with fabric. The cockpit is enclosed with a sliding canopy and the airplane can be flown with it in the closed, open, or vent position. The cramped cockpit has a standard stick and rudder pedals with toe brakes. The tricycle landing gear is manually retracted with a lever in the cockpit and the nose wheel is steerable. The erratic flight path of the aircraft during the manual retraction procedure by a first time pilot was frequently a source of much commentary by his peers on the ground.

Pilots in search of a small but quick airplane appreciated the performance and maneuverability. This airplane pioneered the Mooney trademark forward-swept vertical fins that are still an identifying feature on today's Mooney airplanes. It also incorporated a Mooney patented automatic trim system called "Safe-Trim," a moveable horizontal stabilizer that is interconnected to the flaps so that the airplane automatically maintains nose-attitude trim during flap extension (adapted from the Mooney designed "Simpli-Fly" system of the post-war Culver V).

There were a total of 295 M18 Mooney Mites of all models produced, 12 of which were the test prototypes that were later retrofitted to production standards. Production in Wichita, Kansas totaled 203 units before Mooney's move to Kerrville, Texas in 1953. The remaining 92 units were produced at the Texas facility before cessation of Mite production in 1955. The airplane was a victim of the post war glut of light aircraft and its own price escalation problems. Meanwhile, Al Mooney had designed the Mark 20, a four-seat aircraft based on the Mite, but left the company later in 1955. The Mooney Mite Corporation later bought the certification and manufacturing rights to the Mite and sodl the airplane in kit form to homebuilders.

While the records of Mite # 1 from 1947 to 1951 are not clear, an official 1950 Mooney document indicates that a Continental A-65-8 engine replaced the Crosley Cobra and the aircraft was renumbered 201. The Solo Flying Club of Washington, D.C., owned and operated the airplane for most of its flying life. In 1951, they added night-flying equipment including a generator, battery, navigation and cockpit lights, instruments, auxiliary fuel tank, and radio equipment. In 1952, the Club installed a Continental C-85-12F engine, upgraded radio and navigation equipment, and painted the aircraft red and white with black trim scheme. In May 1968, the Club reinstalled the 65 hp A-65-8 engine and previous radio and navigation equipment in anticipation of its sale. T.G. Shelbrack of Portsmouth, Ohio, bought the aircraft in 1969.

Johan Kala, a Finnish immigrant and airplane mechanic in Easton, Pennsylvania, eventually acquired the Mite and donated it in 1981. A 1980 letter from the Mooney Mite Aircraft Corporation of Charlottesville, Virginia, verified that this Mite is serial number one. Legal matters delayed the title transfer until 1983. Dave Blanton, president of the Javelin Aircraft Corporation and a former test engineer on the original Mooney Mites donated an original Sensenich wood propeller and the reduction drive including the vee belts and mounts for the original Crosley engine installation.

America's Monumental Dinosaur Site

Smithsonian Magazine

As you approach Dinosaur National Monument—America’s most celebrated dinosaur graveyard—you can’t miss all the prehistoric beasts dotting the roadside. To the east, tail-dragging, misshapen dinosaur statues that would make a paleontologist cringe menace the small town of Dinosaur, Colorado. To the west, monsters stalk Highway 40 from downtown Vernal, Utah to the entrance of the park. A miniature “Brontosaurus” stands behind a chain link fence at a Sinclair gas station, and a lumpy Diplodocus with a goofy smile greets visitors turning off the highway.

Actual dinosaurs were discovered here a century ago. Starting in 1909, fossil hound Earl Douglass found fantastic remains of gigantic dinosaurs, and his timing was perfect. The great natural history museums of the East—in New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Washington, D.C.—were competing to acquire the biggest and best dinosaur specimens in a great Jurassic dinosaur rush. Douglass uncovered fossils of Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Barosaurus, Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Stegosaurus and more, and his finds helped fill collections.

Unlike many other bone hunters, though, Douglass did not excavate all the fossils he could. In a letter to Charles Doolittle Walcott, then the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, he wrote: “I hope that the Government, for the benefit of science and the people, will uncover a large area, leave the bones and skeletons in relief and house them. It would make one of the most astounding and instructive sights imaginable.” 

He got his wish. In 1915, Douglass’ field area was turned into a national monument. Its highlight has been a particularly rich deposit of dinosaur bones, known simply as the quarry wall, that was protected by an intricate glass building since 1958. Millions of visitors watched paleontologists pick away at the 150-million-year-old rock face to expose the full extent of the mass grave. But in 2006, the structure was judged unstable and the area was closed. This past fall, a new observation center was opened to the public, and visitors can now once again see the nation’s most productive Jurassic park.

But the fossil riches of Dinosaur National Monument extend beyond the quarry wall, and paleontologists continue to make new discoveries that Douglass and his contemporaries could only have imagined. Last summer I hiked out to the field sites and visited some of the labs where the monument’s prehistory is being revealed.

Randall Irmis, the Natural History Museum of Utah’s paleontology curator, was leading a team studying a curved cross-section of rock striped with reds, browns and yellows called the Racetrack. I joined them for a week and a half to prospect for fossils, watching out for rattlesnakes and picking itchy cheatgrass out of my socks as I followed the fossil hunters along the steep exposures. The rock is about 200 million to 220 million years old, a period when the dinosaur dynasty was on the rise.

No one knew what might be in these rocks; this was the first systematic survey. The team found numerous burrows of small invertebrates that lived in sediments of ancient lakes, some vertebrate bones and, most intriguingly, some distinctive three-toed tracks that could only have been made by dinosaurs. The shapes and claw impressions were sure signs that small predatory dinosaurs once roamed the area.

Traces of prehistoric life also abound in a roughly 185-million-year-old layer of pockmarked sandstone, including footprints left by some of our own distant cousins. On one cloudy morning, park paleontologist Dan Chure, paleontologist George Engelmann of the University of Nebraska, Omaha and I hopped into an SUV and bounced up a pair of runnels towards a wide slab of tilted rock covered in nickel-size divots. At midday it would look like just another bit of stone on the wall of a small, shrub-filled gorge, but as the clouds burned off and the angled light of the rising sun shone on it, more than 300 small, rounded footprints stood out in relief against their sandstone bed. A few still have the scratches of tiny prehistoric claws. Chure’s discovery of the site in 2009 caused the paleontologist to rethink what might be found in the Early Jurassic rock of the monument and what the fossils might look like. After scrambling up the slab to point out the trackways, Chure stood on the footprints of his ancient kin and said: “When we saw this, we said ‘Yeah, we have to expand our search image a bit.’”

Image by Brian Switek. The fossil riches of Dinosaur National Monument extend beyond the quarry wall, and paleontologists continue to make new discoveries that fossil hound Earl Douglass and his contemporaries could only have imagined. (original image)

Image by Tim Fitzharris / Minden Pictures / Corbis. Actual dinosaurs were discovered at Dinosaur National Monument a century ago. Starting in 1909, Douglass found fantastic remains of gigantic dinosaurs. (original image)

Image by Brian Switek. A miniature "Brontosaurus" stands behind a chain link fence at a Sinclair gas station, and a lumpy Diplodocus, shown here, with a goofy smile greets visitors turning off the highway. (original image)

Image by Brian Switek. Paleontologist Dan Chure. (original image)

Image by Louie Psihoyos / Corbis. Researchers excavating at Dinosaur National Monument. (original image)

The tracks were most likely made by therapsids, archaic forerunners of mammals. The creatures were covered with fur and had teeth in a variety of different shapes, characteristics that set therapsids apart from reptiles. The creatures shuffled up and down massive sand dunes during a time when the area looked like the Gobi Desert. The fact that so many small creatures left tracks hints at the ancient ecology—they could not have survived in a totally dry desert. “There’s a good possibility there was some kind of water nearby” in the form of a lake or other oasis, Engelmann said. Since the slab is far too large to extract, Chure and Engelmann plan to pour latex over the rock and make a peel of all the tiny footprints to study how the hairy little critters moved around.

During the time that therapsids were skittering over ancient dunes, a group of more than 20 predatory theropod dinosaurs died during a drought. If they had held out a little longer they might have survived, for water soon covered their bodies, and their carcasses become preserved in a temporary pond. Three years ago, on the last day of the summer field season, Chure and Engelmann found the theropod bones just outside the park boundary and, with their Brigham Young University (BYU) colleague Brooks Britt, collected as many bits and pieces as possible.

I saw the bones laid out on the dusty laboratory tables of BYU’s Museum of Paleontology. The whine of air-powered tools and the sound of rock being scraped from bone filled dusty workspace. The startlingly white bones looked as if they had come from a recently deceased animal, but a closer look guided by Chure and Engelmann left no doubt that these were the petrified remains of juvenile dinosaurs. Bits of skull set with recurved teeth, hollow bones, and even a prehistoric wishbone or two were clues that a group of slender predatory dinosaurs had died and gone to pieces in the same place. “You can count the number of fossil vertebrates from [early Jurassic] deposits on one hand, and not all of that hand,” Chure said. “This is the biggest Early Jurassic theropod collection in the Western Hemisphere, possibly the world.” Britt chimed in: “It’s a gold mine!”

This dinosaur species still lacks a name, though Britt, Chure and Engelmann believe it is closely related to a more recent theropod called Coelophysis. These gracile dinosaurs had narrow, triangular heads, long necks and lightly built bodies that stretched about 10 feet long. Based on how often they are found together, Coelophysis likely traveled in groups. No complete, articulated skeletons of the new species have been found, but the state of their bones suggests how they died. Given the arid habitat and the fact the juvenile animals often die in droughts today, the working hypothesis is that the dinosaurs died of thirst and their bodies were preserved when water covered their bones. Their bodies sat in a temporary pool for long enough that the skeletons fell apart. The bones are well preserved, hinting that the dinosaurs died shortly before the return of the rains they so desperately needed.

Tucked away in other drawers at the BYU lab are four skulls, ranging from nearly complete to little more than a set of dinosaur “dentures,” or snout and teeth, from a 104-million-year-old sauropod dinosaur recently discovered at the monument. Named Abydosaurus mcintoshi, this dinosaur is helping fill in a gap in dinosaur history that has long frustrated paleontologists. For many years it seemed that the great long-necked sauropods went into a decline in North America about 145 million years ago, but Abydosaurus shows that these dinosaurs were still thriving in North America for much longer. And there is more left in the rock. With some carefully placed explosives, Chure and Britt hope to clear off an even larger exposure of the bonebed where Abydosaurus rests.

I'm glad the outdated, crumbling dinosaurs still stand along the road outside the park. The poor creatures are a baseline for dinosaurs as we used to know them—a historical remnant that shows us just how dramatically our understanding of these magnificent creatures has changed. Dinosaurs were not stupid, drab creatures destined for extinction (or to advertise hotel swimming pools). They were fantastic, vibrant animals whose avian descendants remain among us today. Through the beautiful swaths of geologic time exposed at Dinosaur National Monument, preserved thanks to Douglass' dream, we can gain a few glimpses into just how magnificent the Age of Dinosaurs truly was.

Face to face with Abraham Lincoln: A day in the life of a Political History intern

National Museum of American History

With the news that the Smithsonian has created the first-ever 3D presidential portrait, Intern Haley Rivero shares a close-up experience with another president's face.

One day in behind-the-scenes collections storage, I stumbled upon the cast of President Abraham Lincoln's face. This object gave me chills down my spine. It was like looking directly at Lincoln. The plaster cast rests, face-up, in a drawer that's about waist high. When you pull the drawer out, there he is looking straight up at you! I couldn't think of anything more "Smithsonian" than looking at Lincoln's life mask.

Lincoln life mask, 1860

My internship project has been writing labels for protest posters for the American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith exhibition. Beyond that project, I've helped with tasks in storage, by putting away and finding objects for various requests. Running around in storage has to be my favorite part of my internship, because you get to see (and sometimes carefully handle) amazing objects.

Seeing President Lincoln's office suit in collections storage for the first time was a thrilling experience

On the day I stumbled upon Lincoln's face, I'd been searching for a knife box belonging to George Washington, which a visiting scholar had requested to see. While George Washington's knife box, a Revolutionary-era case with several small squares to put knives in, is a fascinating object that is deeply personal, it's Lincoln's mask that evokes a more intense reaction.

The Lincoln mask in the Smithsonian's Political History collection is from 1860, made by sculptor Leonard W. Volk. Right before his nomination as candidate for President of the United States, Lincoln had this life mask made in Chicago. A bronze copy was made of this cast in 1886. When I opened up the accession file—a folder of paperwork explaining all there is to know about the donor and history of the object—I found all the measurements of Lincoln's face. Who knew his ears stuck out from his head at a 40° angle, or that the mole on his left cheek is ¾ inch from the corner of his mouth?

Lincoln life mask, 1860

Lincoln life mask, 1860

Life masks such as Lincoln's were extremely popular before the more prevalent use of photography. Death masks were also made—often for nobility, scholars, criminals, and artists, all the way back to early Egypt. Alfred Hitchcock, Leo Tolstoy, Benjamin Franklin, and Ludwig van Beethoven, to name a few, all have had masks made before or after death. It makes me wonder why famous men and women stopped having casts made. I understand that we live in a world with photography and 3D printing at the push of a button, but this is such a unique way to preserve one's likeness. It is truly incredible to look into these casts and see exactly how someone looked.

Lincoln life mask, 1860

Lincoln had another life mask made in 1865, and you can see the differences in his face. The Civil War played a major role in his aging. On the Smithsonian 3D site, you can check out a 3D image of the 1865 life mask! At the moment, you can also see this 1865 mask on display in our American Stories exhibition.

Lincoln is believed to have suffered from multiple mucosal neuroma syndrome. The disorder causes face dissymmetry and bumpy complexion, as well as a tall and lanky stature—traits which Lincoln exhibited.

Abraham Lincoln is often remembered for his top hat, his beard, and his height, but it has been fascinating to understand Lincoln on a much more intimate level. Being able to look him in the face is strangely familiar and also very powerful. I propose all presidents get a mask done; it seems like a great way for future generations to study and remember our leaders. It also gives artists and sculptors an opportunity to freeze someone in time forever. Being able to see so many important parts of history first-hand is truly a gift and an honor, and I will treasure this experience always.

The first presidential portraits created from 3-D scan data are now on display in the Smithsonian Castle. This video shows how the portrait was made.

Haley Rivero is an intern in the Political History Division at the National Museum of American History. She is a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi.

Intern Haley Rivero
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Mark Catesby's New World

Smithsonian Magazine

It is no secret that the 18th-century British natural history artist Mark Catesby occasionally copied the work of his predecessors. His sketch of a land crab bears a striking resemblance to a watercolor rendered by John White (see "Brave New World" in the December SMITHSONIAN), a British artist who joined Sir Walter Raleigh's voyages to present-day North Carolina in the 1580s. The crustacean's spiny legs are bent at all the same angles as they are in White's version.

In total, Catesby replicated, possibly even traced, about seven of White's published watercolors. The patchwork of amorphous spots on his puffer fish is virtually identical to White's, and he acknowledges White as the source for his stunning illustration of a tiger swallowtail butterfly. The borrowing of images was quite common at the time. Naturalists viewed their collected works as encyclopedias and were willing to include entries originally authored by others for the sake of being comprehensive. In Catesby's case, scholars suspect that he copied others' illustrations in the rare instances when he hadn't observed the creature on his own or hadn't been in the position to sketch it.

"As an empiricist, Catesby believed that drawings by other naturalists offered him direct access to their own first-hand observations of the natural world," explains Amy Meyers, a Catesby scholar and the director of the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut.

Copies aside, Catesby was innovative in the way he presented his comprehensive survey of the flora and fauna of America's colonies in his Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. While most of his predecessors' illustrations were of birds mounted on dead stumps or ducks bobbing on a shallow strip of water, Catesby's, mostly drawn from life, were some of the first to depict environmental relationships—a bead snake wrapped around the potato root that it's often dug up with or a blue jay shown with the berries it eats.

When Catesby translated his copied drawing of White's land crab into an etching, he added a small branch bearing a dangling fruit, clasped in the crab's claws. In doing so, Catesby created "a study of organic interaction," writes Meyers. "The naturalist thus transformed a traditional specimen drawing into a composition reflecting his own observations of the way in which two species interrelate in their shared habitat." In some cases, however, which Meyers points out are "the exception rather than the rule," Catesby pictured a plant and animal together purely for aesthetic reasons.

Many natural history artists before him drew from specimens carried back to Europe by sailors and diplomats who could only provide the country or region of their origin. But Catesby's etchings often provided information about what an animal feeds on or what plants and animals are found in the same environs—information he could only have attained by immersing himself in his subjects' habitats. Catesby was 29 when he made his first trip to the American colonies in 1712. He stayed with his sister, who was living in Williamsburg, Virginia. Not much is known about his training as a naturalist or artist. Some suspect that British naturalist John Ray and Ray's colleague, botanist Samuel Dale, who Catesby would have known through family connections, may have mentored him. But he explored the Virginia landscape, unsponsored and largely on his own, collecting leaves and seeds and sketching his findings as he followed rivers from settlements to the wilder woods around their sources. After seven years, he returned to England, where members of the Royal Society of London had begun to take interest in his drawings. One member offered him a salary "to Observe the Rarities of the Country for the uses and purposes of the Society," and in 1722 Catesby traveled to Carolina. In the four years he spent there and in Florida and the Bahamas, he combed the fields, forests, swamps and shores for wildlife. He painted watercolors in the field; recorded details such as an animal's coloring, where it was seen and any additional information natives provided; and shipped specimens back to his Royal Society patrons, who often planted his exotic seeds in their gardens.

Image by Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia / Corbis. Mark Catesby's The Hiccory tree, The Pig-Nut, The red Bird. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institute Libraries. Mark Catesby's Blue Jay. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institute Libraries. Mark Catesby's The Brown Viper. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institute Libraries. Eastern chipmunk and Tamias striatus. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institute Libraries. Mark Catesby's The Flamingo. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institute Libraries. Image from Mark Catesby's The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands: containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects, and plants. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institute Libraries. Mark Catesby's The Parrot of Carolina. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institute Libraries. Mark Catesby's Cornus & c. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institute Libraries. Mark Catesby's Bison. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institute Libraries. Mark Catesby's blue-tail lizard and plant (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institute Libraries. Mark Catesby's lizard and plant. (original image)

Soon after returning to London in 1726, Catesby etched his drawings onto copper plates, often combining two different sketches into one to create his engaging and informative compositions. He organized the 220 etchings into two volumes—the first featured birds and plants and the second included fish, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and the plants associated with them—and decided he would release them in 20-plate installments. With subscribers, many from the upper echelon of society, wanting some 180 copies, he had to hand color close to 40,000 prints. The endeavor amounted to nearly 20 years of labor and literally became his life's work. Catesby died, in 1749, just two years after its completion.

I recently visited the Smithsonian Institution's Cullman Library, a temperature- and humidity-controlled room in the bowels of the National Museum of Natural History that contains two of the estimated 80 to 90 remaining original copies of Catesby's Natural History. Leslie Overstreet, the library's curator of natural-history rare books, pulled from the shelves a classic encyclopedia of animals from the 1560s, a book of John White's watercolors, a major anthology of birds by Catesby's contemporaries and, of course, Catesby's Natural History. Thumbing through the books, I could see the progression from isolated specimens on sterile white backdrops to animals artistically framed by their natural settings. I became acutely aware of the vitality in Catesby's etchings—a blue jay's beak open in mid-song, a viper hissing, a playful lizard hanging from a stalk of sweet gum, a kingfisher slurping down a fish—and I was not surprised when Overstreet said, "It was the book for about a hundred years."

After all, Cromwell Mortimer, secretary of the Royal Society and former owner of one of the Smithsonian's copies, hailed it as "the most magnificent work I know since the Art of printing has been discovered." Carolus Linnaeus named Catesby's trillium, Catesby's lily and Catesby's pitcher plant, as well as Rana catesbeiana, the North American bullfrog, in the naturalist's honor. Not to mention, artist John James Audubon's paintings, done more than a century later, were a natural extension of Catesby's illustrations.

Audubon eventually became the more remembered of the two wildlife artists, but in the last decade, there's been something of a Catesby revival. His appeal has broadened among academics, for one. Overstreet says that the researchers who visit the library to see Catesby's Natural History are split almost evenly between those studying it for its scientific value and those studying it for its artistic value. And there has been a push to increase public awareness of the artist. In 1997, 50 of Catesby's original watercolors, previously owned by King George III, toured America for the first time. This past summer, the Smithsonian Institution Libraries hosted "Mark Catesby's America," a symposium featuring experts who approached the artist and his work from the perspectives of science, art and history. The 2007 documentary "The Curious Mister Catesby" was shown at the symposium and now its producers will be encouraging public television networks to air it on Earth Day in April. An exhibition titled "Catesby, Audubon, and the Discovery of a New World" opens December 18 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. And following the example of a few other institutions, Smithsonian Libraries will be creating a digital copy of Natural History for inclusion on an all-Catesby Web site to be launched next year.

Adding an element of poignancy to Catesby's story is the fact that several of the species he depicted (the parrot of Carolina, the largest white-billed woodpecker and the greater prairie chicken) are now extinct and others (the hooping crane, flying squirrel and wood pelican) are endangered.

"We must look closely at how well 18th-century Colonial naturalists in the trans-Atlantic world understood that the project of empire was setting into motion new patterns of organic interaction, since it involved not only the movement of people, but other living organisms from across the globe," says Catesby scholar Meyers. "Catesby understood that radically new organic relationships were being established that would remake this New World in highly significant ways."

Surely there's a lesson to be learned in his passion.

Lester Young Turns 100

Smithsonian Magazine

Though Lester Young was revered in his time as an artist of the highest rank, the 100th anniversary of his birth has not sparked much in the way of commemoration. No postage stamp; no parade in Woodville, Mississippi, where he was born on August 27, 1909; no statues in New Orleans, Kansas City or New York City —all places with a claim on the spellbinding Swing Era saxophonist known as Prez.

A shining exception is Columbia University's WKCR radio, where, for the past 40 years, jazz historian Phil Schaap has led marathon birthday tributes to Young, revisiting his landmark recordings from the 1930s and '40s with Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman and other leading lights, as well as Young's in-and-out performances in the troubled years before his death in 1959. Like Louis Armstrong before him, Prez was a pivotal figure; his lyrical, flowing style changed the terms of jazz improvisation and deeply influenced such musicians as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Schaap's devotion has a personal element, too: Young; his wife, Mary, and their kids were friends and neighbors of the Schaap family in Queens, New York, in the late '50s. Though he was in grade school at the time, Schaap remembers Young's sweet voice and fun-loving presence, as well as moments of conversation among the grown-ups, such as the time his father, Walter, stood with Young in the front doorway discussing racial equality, and the jazzman remarked, "It never goes in the back door."

Like many of Young's phrases—musical and verbal—the comment was both deft and shrouded. He was known for speaking a private language, some of which has entered the American lexicon. The expression "that's cool" was probably coined by him, as were "bread" (for money), "You dig?" and such colorful sayings as "I feel a draft"—code for prejudice and hostility in the air. He also wore sunglasses in nightclubs, sported a crushed black porkpie hat and tilted his saxophone at a high angle "like a canoeist about to plunge his paddle into the water," as the New Yorker's Whitney Balliett put it. Rolling Stone later pronounced Prez "quite likely the hippest dude that ever lived."

Young's impact on the language of music was even greater. Before tenorman Coleman Hawkins led the emergence of the saxophone as a serious instrument in the 1920s, most sax players "habitually produced either a kind of rubbery belch or a low, mooing noise," wrote Young biographer Dave Gelly. Young came along right behind Hawkins, and electrified the jazz world with his dexterity and imagination.

"He redefined the instrument," says the tenor saxophonist and jazz scholar Loren Schoenberg, who is also executive director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem (a Smithsonian affiliate). His most fundamental change involved a subtle relaxation of jazz phrasing and rhythm. "A lot of lesser players depend on the friction of a spiky rhythm to make it seem as if it's 'hot,' " Schoenberg says. "Young found a way to play that had a more even rhythm, and yet he swung like crazy. This called for great ingenuity and great genius."

Young mastered the art of improvising beautiful melodies. Yet, like a great dancer, he never lost sight of the beat. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Young mastered the art of improvising beautiful melodies, which he played with a velvety tone and an effortless, floating quality. Yet like a great dancer, he never lost sight of the beat. A bluesman at heart, he could swoop and moan and play with edge, but more typically, the sensation was one of "pulsating ease," as critic Nat Hentoff once described it. At slower tempos, he radiated a more wistful, bruised spirit. "In all of Lester Young's finest solos," Albert Murray writes in his classic study, Stomping the Blues, "there are overtones of unsentimental sadness that suggest he was never unmindful of human vulnerability."

Young was raised in and around New Orleans in a musical family that performed in minstrel shows and carnivals. His father, Willis Handy Young, was an accomplished music educator; he doted on Lester but also often belt-whipped the boy, prompting him to run away 10 or 12 times, according to his younger brother Lee. The family moved to Minneapolis in 1919 and performed across the American heartland. At a stop in Harlan, Kentucky, the Youngs came close to being lynched; apparently, the audience had been expecting a white band. In 1927, at age 18, Lester ran away for good rather than face the indignities of a planned tour of Texas and the Deep South. He latched on with territory bands (dance bands that would travel a given region) such as Walter Page's Blue Devils, several of whose stars—including bassist Page, singer Jimmy Rushing, drummer Jo Jones and pianist Count Basie—would later form the nucleus of Basie's popular, ultra-swinging orchestra. The novelist and jazz writer Ralph Ellison remembered hearing Young jamming in an Oklahoma City shoeshine parlor with members of the Blue Devils as early as 1929, "his head thrown back, his horn even then outthrust."

Young's prowess was well known by 1934, when he first joined the Basie band in Kansas City; by the time he left, in 1940, he had established himself as one of the top stars in jazz. Most of Young's greatest records date from this period and the early '40s, when he teamed up with Holiday, Goodman, Charlie Christian, Nat King Cole and a number of excellent small groups composed mainly of Basie-ites. Young later said that his favorite solo from the Basie years came on a sprightly tune called Taxi War Dance. "The entire solo is 32 bars long; it takes exactly 35 seconds," writes Gelly, "and it's a masterpiece to stand alongside Armstrong's West End Blues and Parker's Ko-Ko. No one else could have done it because no else's mind worked that way."

Watch this video in the original article

By all accounts, Young was a painfully shy and sensitive loner who hated conflict of any kind. He also had a self-destructive streak and blithely ignored his health. "Prez always had a bottle of liquor in his pocket," said pianist Jimmy Rowles.

Young was sliding into a long decline by his early 30s, probably accelerated by his hellish Army experience. He was court-martialed in early 1945 for marijuana possession, then confined for nearly a year in disciplinary barracks, an experience he called "one mad nightmare." He bounced back to record some of his most successful records and tour with the all-star Jazz at the Philharmonic bands, but he was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown in 1955. Soon after returning from an engagement in Paris, Young died in the Alvin Hotel in Manhattan on March 15, 1959, just months before his old friend and musical soulmate Billie Holiday.

He remains a powerful influence on the music. Wayne Shorter, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano and Mark Turner—an elite list of contemporary saxophonists—have all professed deep admiration for Young, much as their predecessors did.

The late pianist John Lewis played in Young's band in the early '50s at about the time Lewis was forming the Modern Jazz Quartet. A kindred spirit, he said he regarded Young as "a living, walking poet" whose wounds in life had never healed. "Lester is an extremely gentle, kind, considerate person," he told Hentoff in 1956 or '57. "He's always concerned about the underdog. He always wants to help somebody. The way he seems to see being is: 'Here we are. Let's have a nice time.' "

Happy birthday, Prez.

In this Exhibition You Can Play with the Artworks, Or Even Be the Art

Smithsonian Magazine

Once, with paint and stone and canvas, it seemed so easy.

But art changed through time as materials did. And with the explosion of film, video and computers in the last century, artists have had new vibrant, electronic methods of expression.

Dozens of examples from the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum are flickering, looping, interacting and radiating in the current exhibition “Watch This! Revelations in Media Art.”

How innovative have the artists become in adapting to this new arena? One holds a patent on the software that enabled her work. In Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv's interactive 1999 Text Rain, viewers become part of the artwork. Their images appear on a screen, where viewers can reach out to try and “catch” on their shoulders or in their hands, the falling cascade of letters. More than free verse, the sprinkling of individual letters of a poem—in this case “Talk You,” by Evan Zimroth—gather on the reflected image of a passerby, whether they know it or not. Utterback’s patented video tracking system allows the letters to land on any image that is darker than a certain threshold. Once that threshold is removed, the letters continue their descent down and off the screen. The artists developed it as a freestanding installation at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University, where Utterback was researcher at the time.

Michael Mansfield, the museum’s curator of film and media arts, who organized the exhibition that spans more than 70 years, says that in addition to receiving a patent, Utterback “is revealing something new about our experience with technology.” But, he adds, it’s not only our experience with technology, but something far beyond that that is perhaps more revealing.”

“Watch This!” freely mixes works from different eras in order to have them comment on one another, he says. “One of the things I was very careful not to do in this exhibition was to create a sequential chronology of innovation and invention.” 

So older items on projectors fraternize with the most modern items on computer screens. And in the case of Ed Fries’ Halo 2600, he’s reimagining the modern hit “Halo” video game for ancient Atari systems.

“He’s looking at the gaming platforms that came well before him and seeing the limitations that those inventions presented as an inspiration for creative problem solving in order to make a video game,” Mansfield says of Fries, the former vice president of game publishing at Microsoft, who led the team that created the first version of the Xbox game console.

And to do that, he says, “he has to unearth a whole programming archeology.” 

The Fries work is also interactive: viewers can play it—just as they can make a virtual wind blow petals in Flower, a surreal video game by designer Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago. Viewers can take the controls and blow the petal of a flower across a verdant landscape, making strands of grass wave and other flowers bloom for nothing more than pure pleasure.

Both are among the first video games acquired by a United States art museum and were featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s groundbreaking exhibition, “The Art of the Video Game,” in 2012.

Of the 44 pieces in the show, 30 are on display for the first time, including Hans Breder’s 1964 op art sculpture Two Cubes on a Striped Surface that accompanies his stop-motion animation Quanta.

Some of the technical innovations in “Watch This!” are free to share, such as the computer code that provides the title of Cory Arcangel’s work: Photoshop CS: 50 by 50 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Blue, Yellow, Blue”, mousedown y=2000 x=1500, mouseup y=9350 x=1650; tool “Wand”, select y=5000, x=2000, tolerance=32, contiguous= off; default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=8050 x=8700, mouseup y=3600 x=5050

(Using those step by step instructions on a computer’s Photoshop software program will give you an image just like Archangel’s parallel lined abstract piece in the show, derived from his series of Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations).

“Watch This” features more than a couple of pieces by the father of video art, Nam June Paik, including the stark lines of his TV Clock—a forgotten work that was rediscoverd in the artist's archives. The piece turns 11 Philco television sets into a clock or a sundial, with each screen portraying a line mimicking the angle of hands sweeping the dial. 

In 2009, the museum became the home for the archives of the prolific artist, who died in 2006. Two large Paik works are on permanent display on the same floor—the neon lined Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and the vibrant Megatron/Matrix that pulsates from its array of 215 TV monitors right at the entrance of the temporary “Watch This!”

While the newest piece is Archangel’s chromogenic print with the incomprehensible computer code title; the oldest is Dwinell Grant’s Contrathemix, a recently restored 1941 animation he made from a stack of abstract drawings that bring the forms to life. It plays back to back to Raphael Montauez Ortiz’ 1957 Golf, a found film of duffers that has been hand perforated with a hole puncher, creating an overall commentary on white circles, big and small. Another abstracted work is Tekeshi Murata’s 2005 video Monster Movie, full of the kind of digital cubism you might see if your cable is on the blink. A Smithsonian press release calls it “data-moshing.”

The image used to promote the exhibition is a frame from Kota Ezawa’s LYAM 3D, a digital animation clip from 2008 that takes scenes from Alain Resnais’ 1961 classic Last Year in Marienbad, flattens them into graphic images and presents it in 3D (glasses provided).

Another cinematic experience is provided by Eve Sussman’s whiteonwhite: algorithmicnoir, an enigmatic film of constantly reshuffled scenes, creating an oddly mixed narrative that never repeats itself (the computer code that drives the shuffling rolls enigmatically on a screen nearby). 

A set from Sussman’s film—a detailed replica of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin’s office, is not only the largest installation in the exhibit, it’s one of the few that doesn’t exist on a screen. (Still there is some insight into the film process—chairs are of different sizes so they will appear similar on film).

Because the rise of media art came at a time of great social change, some of that is reflected in the pieces as well, from the feminist rage boiling in Martha Rosler’s 1975 Semiotics of the Kitchen to the mirrored pop violence mash up of Rico Gatson’s 2001 Gun Play.

Some have extra resonance in the era of pervasive closed circuit television, such as Bill Beirne’s 1976 two channel Cross Reference in which cameras pointed on city passersby cross. Another closed circuit work is more playful: Bucky Schwartz’ Painted Projection appears to put viewers in a geometric box. 

Both are among several works that are accompanied by documentation, storyboards and notes, correspondence and schematics, such as the sight and sound synthesis of Cloud Music, a setup from a late 1970s collaboration by David Behrman, Bob Diamond and Robert Watts that emits electronic tones based on the clouds passing by the nearby window as captured by a stationary video camera.

A couple of the works are culled from another great cache of video art, the 460 artists’ videos from the National Endowment for the Arts’ archives from 1968-1996, when the program was defunded.

From that collection came Christian Marclay’s video “Record Players,” in which he demonstrates other ways that long playing albums could make noise apart from the phonograph (including scratching them with fingernails, rubbing them together and, eventually, breaking them).

“In nearly every one of the works on view,” Mansfield says, “it feels like artists are either touching on inventions that came before them or inventing them outright and working on them in their own studio.” No wonder they seem so at home in the museum housed in Washington’s old Patent Office Building, the first federal exhibition hall in the nation’s capital, once known as “the temple of invention.” 

Watch This! Revelations in Media Art continues through Sept. 7, 2015, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, D.C.

UPDATED May 12: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed the artwork Painted Projection by Buky Schwartz to Hans Breder. We regret the error.

They marched with torches: Getting out the vote, 1840–1900

National Museum of American History

During the 19th century, politics were central to social life, to the point where affiliation with a political party included actual parties—the kind with drinking and dancing. For many young people, politics was the best way to be seen and interact with people their own age, even if they were too young to vote. As we dive into election season, I spoke with Associate Curator and Jefferson Fellow Jon Grinspan about this phenomenon.

Grinspan's work deals with the primary sources that relate to young people during the 19th century. These sources range from slave narratives to letters between fiancés. They provide the modern reader with personal interactions involving politics, an answer to the "why?" of how 80% of the country came to the polls in the mid-19th century.

Chart showing turnout of eligible voters from 1800s-200s. Turnout was highest before 1900.

The voter numbers between 1832 and 1896 rarely dip below 70%, a number that modern voters barely scratch these days. There was evidence that voting mattered: around 1,000 voters decided the presidential election in 1884, for example. Even people who were just under the legal voting age were deeply involved in the political process, and that’s where Grinspan focuses his research. Generally, these political participants were young men.

Black and white illustration showing six young men wearing matching hats and uniforms (which include very draped capes and long sleeves and pants) and marching in the street with signs that say "Lincoln Hamilton" "Honest Old Abe" and "Wide Awake." One holds an american flag. One holds what appears to be a sword.

This photograph of a Republican club in Detroit contains the best markers of political engagement of the time: matching uniforms, lanterns, and a readiness to march for their party. The uniforms, stern expressions, and lanterns suggests a kind of militarism that can be found in the multitude of clubs springing up all around the United States during the time of the Civil War.

Black and white photo of seven men. Each carries a lander with a circular handle and wears a matching hat and cape-like uniform in shiny fabric. They face the camera.

The Wide Awakes were one of the most well-known clubs and their militarism is obvious. A pro-Lincoln club for young men numbering in the hundreds of thousands, they wore dark uniforms and proclaimed themselves to always be watching. The group was created by two men, a 22-year-old zealot for the cause and a uniform maker who sold 20,000 Wide Awake uniforms during the same period.

Today, wearing a uniform for a political party probably seems laughable. But imagine seeing hundreds of young men march down boulevards with lit torches on Election Day—it must have been a powerful sight.

Black and white illustration. Four men on a balcony peer down to watch a massive parade taking place on the street below. Tall buildings and fireworks in the background. Hundreds of people march in orderly formation holding signs and flags that are not clearly readable from this angle. Many more people watch the parade. They march past a park and what appears to be a tent or bandstand.

Color photo of illuminated torches, about eight of them. Variety of shapes: eagles, top hat, lantern, dinner pail.

So what drove upwards of 80% of American voters to the polls in the mid-19th century? In addition to caring about the issues, they probably also desired to be a part of a political party, an active part of the American republican machine. Marching, carrying torches, lighting bonfires, and making a show of political force was just as important, if not more important, than getting to the polls.

Illustration in red ink of man (from shoulders up) holding a torch with smoke billowing out of it.

Today, the issues surrounding elections captivate most more than the idea of marching in the street, as cities such as San Francisco as well as Takoma Park, Maryland, and Hyattsville, Maryland, lower their voting ages to 16. But the desire to be part of the democratic process—in some way, even if it doesn't involve flambeaus—still remains.

Thomas Plank is an intern in the Office of Education and Public Engagement and a senior at Stanford University studying American Studies. Jon Grinspan’s book The Virgin Vote will be available soon.

Thomas Plank
Posted Date: 
Monday, February 29, 2016 - 11:45
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Designing Buildings For Hot Climates, Cold Ones and Everything in Between

Smithsonian Magazine

There is a reason the hillsides of Santorini and other Greek islands are speckled with Cubist whitewashed homes. The white color reflects heat, and the flat roofs make for cool, breezy retreats in the evening, Bjarke Ingels explains to the gathered press. The Danish architect is sharply dressed in a fitted suit, his hair a meticulous mess. In the Arctic, the igloo is the dominant form of architecture, he adds, because its spherical shape, with relatively little surface area in respect to volume, minimizes heat loss. And in some villages in Yemen, buildings have peculiar chimneys that collect wind to create natural ventilation.

"Across the planet, people have found ways to work with the locally available material and techniques to respond to the local landscape and climate in ways that optimize human living conditions," he says.

Yet, nearly a century ago, these distinct architectural styles started to give way. Architects became less concerned about daylight, the thicknesses of walls and a building's orientation when they could rely on advances in technology, such as electricity, air conditioning and mechanical ventilation. "In the end, architecture was just a big boring box," says Ingels, "a container of space with all the quality being pumped or tube-fed from a room, like a gas guzzling basement, full of machinery."

Ingels founded BIG Bjarke Ingels Group in 2005, and the design firm is working to reverse this trend. "The fact that we can actually model, calculate and simulate the environmental performance of a building allows us to bring a lot of the qualities that are now delivered mechanically back into the permanent attribute of the design," says the architect. The pleated façade of an energy headquarters that BIG is constructing in Shenzhen, China, for example, cuts air conditioning needs by 30 percent. The group's Hualien Resort and Residences look like manmade mountains with strips of green roof that keep the balconies 5 degrees Celsius cooler than they would be with conventional roofs. "We call it 'engineering without engines,'" he says.

Image by Photo by Matt Carbone. Bjarke Ingels, founder of BIG Bjarke Ingels Group, gives a tour of the exhibition. (original image)

Image by Photo by Kevin Allen Photography. (original image)

Image by Photo by Matt Carbone. (original image)

Image by Photo by Kevin Allen Photography. (original image)

Image by Photo by Kevin Allen Photography. (original image)

Image by Photo by Matt Carbone. (original image)

Image by Photo by Matt Carbone. (original image)

Image by Photo by Matt Carbone. (original image)

Image by Photo by Matt Carbone. (original image)

Image by Photo by Matt Carbone. (original image)

Image by Photo by Matt Carbone. (original image)

Image by Photo by Matt Carbone. (original image)

The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., is hosting BIG's first retrospective since the firm established an office in New York City (expanding from Copenhagen) nearly five years ago. For the exhibition, "Hot to Cold: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation," the architectural models of 60 of the firm's projects—some proposed, others under construction or completed—are hanging from arches along the museum's second floor balcony. From the ground floor, visitors can see that the bases of the models are color-coded from red to blue, like a heat map, starting with those buildings in the arid deserts of the Middle East and moving to the more temperate climates of New York and Copenhagen and finally to the Arctic regions.

"As you journey across the globe in this 800 foot walk, you'll see that in the extreme climates when it is very warm or very cold, the climate becomes the one condition that overshadows everything else. The architecture becomes all about responding to the climate. But when we reach the more temperate climates or the milder climates, other factors like culture, heritage, politics and economy take over and become the main driving forces," Ingels explains on a tour. "The whole exhibition is really trying to highlight the environmental and the social as the two crucial dimensions of architecture."


BIG, HOT TO COLD: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation

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In his work, ranging from museums to housing developments to power plants, Ingels strives for what he calls “hedonistic sustainability,” meaning that his buildings are environmentally sound while still being enjoyable. It is the playful details of his projects, after all, that the architect points out in his walk-through of the exhibition. The condos he designed for a complex in the Bahamas that Tiger Woods is developing have pools cleverly sunk into their balconies and contained by aquarium glass. "If you are skinny dipping at night, you need to have a fitness regime," Ingels jokes. The Lego Brand House in Billund, Denmark, has several terraces with public playgrounds; the building is designed in a way that every element could feasibly be constructed with Lego pieces. And, the angled roof of the Amager Resource Center, a power plant in Copenhagen, doubles as a manmade ski slope. "It is twice the length of a typical Olympic halfpipe," he says. "You might have noticed that Denmark won zero medals in Sochi. We hope to redeem this."

"BIG has a very distinctive voice," says National Building Museum curator Susan Piedmont-Palladino, in a press release, "and the experience our visitors will have will be very direct, as if the architect is talking, telling stories directly to them."

The walls of BIG's architectural models do talk, in a way. After circling the exhibition, one clear story takes shape. That is, buildings that are sustainable and work within their natural landscapes make the most intriguing ones.

"Hot to Cold: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation" is on display at the National Building Museum through August 30, 2015.

Science Makes a Better Lighthouse Lens

Smithsonian Magazine

State of the art, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World, the great lighthouse of Alexandria, built around 280 B.C., towered some 450 feet above Egypt's greatest harbor. At that height, it was the second tallest structure in the world, after another of the seven — the Great Pyramid of Giza. The light within, also state of the art, was an open flame.

From that time until the 18th century, the lights that warned ships that they were approaching land improved hardly at all. Some burned coal. Others stuck with wood. Oil lamps backed by mirrors eventually offered a bit more candlepower. Still, every coastline in the world remained littered with the ribs of broken ships whose captains didn't see the lighthouse until it was too late. Then, in 1822, a frail scientist with a passion for optics made a revolutionary breakthrough. His name was Augustin Jean Fresnel.

An example of his greatest creation, a large object that looks like a crystalline beehive, may be seen inside the Hall of American Maritime Enterprise at the National Museum of American History. It towers above the museum's displays of ship models and marine artifacts. This is the Fresnel lens, not one lens really, but numerous tiers of prisms. Lenses like this one turned simple flames into beams upon which sea captains could take their bearings, avoiding risk to their ships and to the lives of their passengers.

As big as it seems, by lighthouse standards the Smithsonian glass beehive is just above average, measuring nearly six feet high and more than three feet wide. It was installed in the famous Bolivar Lighthouse overlooking Galveston, Texas, sometime around 1907. This lighthouse served as sentry, and for some as sanctuary, during the deadliest hurricane in American history. The lens is visible proof that unlike the sea, light can be mastered by human ingenuity.

 For thousands of years, lighthouses created their lights with open flames which, naturally, were ineffective during high winds or rain. Then, in the 1690s, the glass lantern room was invented and first installed in England's Eddystone Lighthouse. Candles placed in the lantern room's glass lantern burned more brightly and securely than the earlier open fires. Another improvement came when pieces of mirrors placed in huge, round, wooden bowls served as crude reflectors that helped to direct the light. But throughout the 18th century, as maritime traffic increased, shipwrecks multiplied. The search was under way for a stronger, more reliable light.

There is some controversy over who first placed parabolic mirrors behind flames to boost candlepower. L. Reynaud, an 18th-century chronicler and public works official, credited Swiss scientist Aimé Argand with the first installation of an apparatus using reflectors, in 1783. Argand also invented, in the 1780s, a long-burning smokeless oil lamp that removed the necessity of stoking the flames all night. But the greatest innovation was to come from Augustin Fresnel.

As a child, he was a slow learner who showed little interest in language studies or in tests of memory. By the age of 8, he could barely read. Yet his boyhood friends, for whom he studiously determined how to increase the power of popguns and bows, called him "the genius." When applied to optics, his genius proved to be real and considerable. Where others had improved existing lighthouse technology, Fresnel leapt forward by studying the behavior of light itself. His studies both advanced the understanding of the nature of light and produced the most important breakthrough in lighthouse lights in 2,000 years.

Fresnel worked out a number of formulas to calculate the way light changes direction, or refracts, while passing through glass prisms. Working with some of the most advanced glassmakers of the day, he produced a combination of prism shapes that together made up a lens. The Fresnel lighthouse lens used a large lamp at the focal plane as its light source. It also contained a central panel of magnifying glasses surrounded above and below by concentric rings of prisms and mirrors, all angled to gather light, intensify it and project it outward.

The various reflector systems installed in lighthouses during the 40 years preceding the introduction of the Fresnel lens certainly had been improvements over the open fires or candles in lantern rooms. Still, they could trap only a small percentage of the light. All prior systems paled by comparison with the Fresnel lens.

The first Fresnel lens, installed in the elegant Cardovan Tower lighthouse on France's Gironde River in 1822, was visible to the horizon, more than 20 miles away. Sailors had long romanticized lighthouses. Now scientists could rhapsodize, too. "Nothing can be more beautiful than an entire apparatus for a fixed light," one engineer said of Fresnel's device. "I know of no work of art more beautifully creditable to the boldness, ardor, intelligence, and zeal of the artist."

Fresnel lenses soon shone along the ragged coastlines of Europe, but surprisingly, America was slower to see the light. As mariners came to depend on Europe's powerful new lights, they complained bitterly about the puny lamps lighting America's coasts. Despite the clear superiority of Fresnel lenses, the parsimonious bureaucrat in charge of federal lighthouses, Stephen Pleasanton, considered the cost prohibitive. Finally, the uproar became so great that in 1838 Congress launched an investigation. It was not until then that Congress coughed up the cash to import a few Fresnel lenses. The first were installed in 1841 inside the two towers at Navesink Lighthouse, overlooking the approach to New York Harbor.

Only after 1852, when the United States created a Lighthouse Board made up of eminent scientists and mariners, including Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian and Alexander Bache of the U.S. Coast Survey, did the great lenses really begin to light America's coastline. By the Civil War, nearly all lighthouses in the United States had Fresnel lenses. It was shortly after the Civil War, however, before a beehive of prisms first shone from the Bolivar Light watching over Galveston. A Fresnel lens, similar to the one on display at NMAH, was still in use there in September 1900, when waves from the Gulf of Mexico began pounding the coast.

Late in the morning of September 7, the U.S. Weather Station in Galveston learned by telegraph that a hurricane had just ripped across Florida and was somewhere over the Gulf. The next day, a telegrapher wired Washington, D.C. that Galveston was going under. Thousands died. Among the survivors were 125 people who found safety in the lighthouse. Keeper H. C. Claiborne exhausted a month's supply of food feeding the crowd. When the tower swayed in the wind, disabling the machinery that rotated the lens, Claiborne turned the lens by hand crank and kept the Bolivar Light shining through that terrible night.

With time, Galveston recovered. The Bolivar Light served the city until 1933, then was replaced by another light on the south side of Galveston. The museum's lens served through the Galveston hurricane of 1915, then retired with the lighthouse and was stored by the U.S. Department of the Interior until it was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1976. By then, Augustin Jean Fresnel, who lived only a short while after inventing his great device, had been dead for nearly a century and a half. Along with the lens, Fresnel left behind his theories of light, which form the basis of modern optics. Today, the principle behind the Fresnel lens is used in the headlights of cars and in the flashing lights on police and emergency vehicles. And in a few older lighthouses around the country, and the world, Fresnel's elegant beehives still shine.

Feather Blanket

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
The catalogue cards had variously attributed this object as Maidu, and then later that was changed to River Patwin, but Jane Walsh has listed it as Nisenan, per Dr. Sally McLendon. This blanket or robe was at some point renumbered to 2119. Jane Walsh feels it should be # 2109, Peale # 309 (or 310). She indicates that the object originally numbered 2119 was exchanged with Denmark (a down blanket similar to # E1296B), and identifies it as probably Peale # 311.

Feather blanket constructed of birdskins wrapped around twisted vegetable fiber cords, with two outer dark brown borders, two adjacent white bands, two broader brownish yellow stripes and a center stripe of white. The two darker brown borders (wood duck "aix sponsa" and mallard "anas platyrhynchos); the narrow white bands adjacent are probably duck down and the flank or lower breast feathers of the canada goose "branta canadensis"; the broad brownish-yellow stripes of vermiculated feathers on either side of the center stripe are wood duck flank feathers with some mallard flank feathers. The center stripe is canada goose breast (light brown with lighter tips) and down, with some mallard (finely vermiculated feathers tied in). Publication: USNM Annual Report - Handbook of the N. American Indians, vol. 8, Calif., fig. 8, p. 378. Exhibited Magnificent Voyagers, National Museum Of Natural History, 1985-86. Exhibited sites, "Magnificent Voyagers," 1987-90.

From card: "This is feathered the same on each side, the warp cords are heavy braided fibers probably of indian hemp (apocymum cannabinum), at spaced intervals. The thinner weft cords bind the stripped feathers in bunches. These feathers have been identified by Dr. H. Deignan, Nov. 1954. The wide outer borders: black & deep brown outer feathers of one of the maritime scoters: Oidemia nigra, Melanitta fusca, or Mel. perspicillata; the feathers glossed with green or blue/purple are from the wing speculum of the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). Chestnut ones from the breast of the mallard. The narrow white border, next in from the dark one, which looks like rabbit fur is probably from the ventral down and feathers of the gull (Larus). The center is composed of three wide stripes: A. the two similar outer ones are the vermiculated feathers of the mallard. B. the central band is the ventral down feathers of the female mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). The scoters are coastal birds and must have been traded inland, but the mallards are native to the area where the Maidu lived. Most of the darker feathers are lighter than in freshly killed birds, but this is the natural condition of the older feathers, as these are. Refer to: Capt. Ch. Wilkes Report of the U.S. Exploring Exped., Vol 5, pg. 197 gives details of place of collection. Herbert Krieger: Amer. Indian Costumes in the U.S.N.M., Smith. An. Report, 1928, pg. 643, pl 12. Ch. Willoughby: Feather Mantles of California, Amer. Anthro. , N.S. vol. 24. (1922), pg. 432-7, a thorough discussion of one in each of the American Museum of Natural History, NYC and the Peabody Museum, Harvard. Dr. Mathew Stirling also records that there is a similar one in the Museum of Ethnology, Frankfurt Germany, collected 1830 by Admiral Wrangel in the S.S. New Albion."

1. The outer dark borders are, without doubt, Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) and Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos. There are no scoter feathers. The Wood Duck feathers employed include the secondaries (the speculum), wing coverts and featners from the flank of the male. The Mallard speculuin (of either sex) is also used. 2. The narrow white bands adjacent to the dark outer border are probably duck down (unspecified) and flank or lo'der breast (belly) feathers of the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis). 3. The broad brownish-yellow stripes of vermiculated feathers on either side of the center stripe are mostly Wood Duck flank feathers, with some Mallard flank feathers mixed in. These feathers have become faded with age. 4. The center stripe is Canada Gocre breast (light brown with lighter tips) and down, with some Mallard (finely vermiculated feathers tied in. Since a large portion of the blanket consists of wood Duck feathers and Wood Ducks are exclusively fresh water inhabitants (preferring the lower, slow-moving parts of rivers), it is probable that the feathers originated inland in the Sacramento Valley. Canada Geese frequent inland prairies, loafing in fresh water ponds, lakes or large streams. Mallards occur throughout California, but also generally prefer fresh water ponds, rivers or marshes. Re-examined by Ms. R. Laybourne (FWS), S. Olson, curator, and J. P. Angle, museum specialist, Division of Birds.

Reference: McLendon, Sally, 2001, "California Feather Blankets: Objects of Wealth and Status in Two Nineteenth-Century Worlds", pp. 132-161 in Feest, Christian F. 2001. Studies in American Indian art: a memorial tribute to Norman Feder. Altenstadt, Germany: European Review of Native American Studies. Sally McLendon indicates that only speakers of Konkow and Nisenan who lived in the Sacramento Valley made feather blankets. McLendon theorizes that this blanket likely was a gift to the U.S. Exploring Expedition from John Sutter, and thus could be from Nisenan speakers on the American River.

What Will the Autonomous Ship of the Future Look Like?

Smithsonian Magazine

Sure as the self-driving car, robot ships are coming. Fleets of small wind-powered drones are circling the ocean, recording climate and current data. A Norwegian company plans to introduce autonomous ferries in 2018. And Rolls Royce and other shipbuilding companies are designing concepts and writing white papers that envision the future of autonomous ships.

The potential for these boats is high, and the potential uses varied. What will they look like? How different will they really be?

The answer is, it depends. Ships are already making use of navigation assistance, and will begin to be retrofit for more robotic control, similar to how carmakers have started with lane assist and automatic parking features. But when shipbuilders begin to build vessels specifically for autonomous use, a host of new features will become available or necessary, and others will vanish.

“We are not constrained by the same limitations that a manned vessel has,” says Oskar Levander, vice president of innovation at Rolls Royce Marine. “What you end up with is a very lean and efficient machine.”

Two remote-controlled ships from Rolls Royce pass in the water. (Rolls Royce)

This is not an either/or situation. Aspects of three primary opportunities will get mixed and matched: autonomous control, or self driving; remote operation, similar to piloting a drone; and reduction or elimination of crews, which can even board or depart from the vessel.

One way that might look, says Levander, is a sort of hybrid. A ship on the open sea, traveling primarily straight ahead with little in its way, will be controlled by an onboard computer, with the occasional oversight of a land-based operator who may manage hundreds of different ships at once. As it comes to port, or enters a congested area, several things could happen. The remote operator could take full control, or a crew could boat out and board.

There are a number of obvious advantages to going crewless. Designs will eliminate the quarters, mess, stairs, doors, and just about everything else people use. One upshot of this is loads of extra space, available for more cargo. Another is a more streamlined exterior. It even enables the weight to balance out nicely. Traditional ships have a lot of weight in the stern, thanks to the bridge. The lighter center is buoyant, bending upward and requiring heavy ballast, often in the form of water, that is hauled around for no other purpose than to keep the ship level. Take away the superstructure, redistribute the weight, and it will reduce the ballast needed.

“It’s really only when you go fully unmanned that you can reduce all the systems,” says Levander. “When we add this all together, the reduced electrical consumption when we take out systems, the lower weight of the vessel, the lower wind resistance, we talk about a 10 to 15 percent fuel savings, for a typical cargo vessel.”

Elimination of HVAC, food and water, and other life-sustaining systems is another advantage, reducing cost of the ship while increasing space.

Much like self-driving cars, there isn’t a ready regulatory landscape. The Fraunhofer Center for Marine Logistics and Services is one entity exploring both the technological and legal aspects. In both ships and cars, it’s understood that the automation could provide great increases in safety—most maritime accidents are caused by operator error or fatigue, and a Fraunhofer-led report on Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence and Networks (MUNIN) expects autonomy to deliver a tenfold decrease in risk of foundering and collision. But regulatory bodies will require proof, with the added confusion wrought by shipping’s international nature.

The companies working on autonomous vessels are already discussing potential regulations, as well as the safety features that will be required, both internally and externally.

“Law governing unmanned vehicles in land, air and sea is still an evolving factor. It’s somewhat of a gray area as the various legislatures start their processes of legislation, and I guess sea is lagging behind,” says Richard Jenkins, founder and CEO of Saildrone, which sends a fleet of small autonomous water-borne vehicles around the world. Though large in reach—Saildrone has logged more than 70,000 miles so far—the company is starting small in terms of the vehicles. Jenkins likens these 23-foot boats to mobile buoys, which follow predetermined routes with the help of iridium satellites. The on-board computer transmits 2,000 parameters in real-time via those satellites, from various sensors including measurements like temperature and humidity, as well as the physical state of the vehicle including central processing unit [CPU] and battery status, and even navigational factors such as wind speed and angle.

That’s not all that different from what larger ships are doing. Where there once was a bridge, smaller towers with sensor banks mounted on them will acquire and relay information about the ships surroundings. Radar is the classic example, but LIDAR is already being incorporated. Where radar just provides dots on a screen, LIDAR can express surroundings in 3D. Infrared cameras, normal cameras and close-proximity radar will also be incorporated, and rather than sending each representation back to base, the computer will combine them into one rendering of the ship’s environment.

MUNIN's vision for autonomous ships (MUNIN)

“To feed all these more advanced algorithms, and more advanced systems, you would need better data resolution,” says Wilko Bruhn, a research associate at Fraunhofer who worked on MUNIN. “Whereas you may only had one radar before, maybe you might have two, and of course, you will have more high-technology radars on the ship. It’s still the same sensor, it’s a radar, it works by the same general approach, but it will be much more high quality.”

Eliminating crew confers many advantages, but also necessitates some additional features in addition to the expanded sensors. Primarily, with no one around to fix anything, shipbuilders will have to construct for reliability and redundancy of systems, and operators will have to focus on predictive maintenance—even with small drones on board, most repairs will be impossible.

Instead of having one engine driving one propeller, ships will have two, or even four. According to Levander, diesel fuel will give way to liquefied natural gas. In fact, it already is—liquefied natural gas uses a simpler system, where pressure from the tank drives the gas through a series of valves to the engine, with no pumps or fuel injectors needed. Or, compartmentalized (and redundant) diesel engines will power batteries, which will run electric motors. Rolls Royce developed one design where the diesel generators are housed in shipping containers on the deck, so they’re easily removable for repairs or replacements.

MUNIN imagines a shore control center. (MUNIN)

“When you don’t have people on board you can really start addressing fire security in different ways. You can say, do I need oxygen in the engine room, or can I suppress that and make it very hard for something to go wrong?” says Levander.

A lot of this will be experimented with on short trips and smaller vessels first, where regulations are administered by a single government. Next, we’ll see bigger ships making long trips with dry cargo, which is the least destructive in case of incident.

“Do we have the technology that we would need for such a ship? Can we build it?”  Bruhn says the MUNIN report was supposed to assess. “The technology has already been much more advanced than we expected … we are already closer to this autonomous ship than we thought at the beginning.”

Missile, Surface-to-Air, Rheinmetall-Borsig Rheintochter R I

National Air and Space Museum
The Rheintochter (Rhine Maiden) R I was an experimental German two-stage antiaircraft missile tested in the last year of World War II. Built by the Rheinmetall-Borsig company for the Luftwaffe, it was one of the largest solid-fuel rockets of the war. The R I was to be supplanted by the R III, a liquid-fuel missile with two side-mounted solid-fuel boosters that enabled it reach a higher altitude. However, only six R IIIs were ever launched, as opposed to 82 R I missiles.

The Smithsonian acquired this Rheintochter R I from the U.S. Navy in 1969. It was displayed in the National Air and Space Museum from 1976 to the early 1980s. In 2002 it was restored to its original condition and paint scheme for exhibit at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

The Rheintochter (Rhine Maiden) R I was an experimental German two-stage antiaircraft missile tested in the last year of World War II. Built by the Rheinmetall-Borsig company for the Luftwaffe, it was one of the largest solid-fuel rockets of the war. The R I was to be supplanted by the R III, a liquid-fuel missile with two side-mounted solid-fuel boosters that enabled it reach a higher altitude. However, only six R IIIs were ever launched, as opposed to 82 R I missiles.

The Smithsonian acquired this Rheintochter R I from the U.S. Navy in 1969. It was displayed in the National Air and Space Museum from 1976 to the early 1980s. In 2002 it was restored to its original condition and paint scheme for exhibit at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy center.


The Rheinmetall-Borsig A.G. of Berlin-Marienfelde received a German Air Ministry contract in November 1942, for a multi-stage, high altitude guided flak rocket. A Dr. Hennies was the main designer. Progress was slow and by July 1944, only 34 test missiles had been fired. Altogether, by the end of the war 82 test rounds were launched at Leba, Pomerania, of which 22 contained full radio guidance equipment. Eighteen of these worked well. An 88-mm antiaircraft gun carriage was modified for use as a launching ramp.

A shortcoming in altitude performance led to the cancellation of the R I as an operational missile in July 1944. Instead an improved, longer-duration, 43 second, 3,900-lb thrust liquid-fuel sustainer motor using nitric acid was designed by a Dr. Konrad for the R III version of the missile, using two solid-fuel boosters in place of the single solid booster. The R III reached the hardware stage with six test rounds fired by December1944, probably all with substitute solid-fuel sustainer motors. In the meantime, the remaining R-I models were used to test guidance systems. SS General Hans Kammler cancelled the Rheintochter on 6 Feb. 1945, along with a number of other missile programs, shortly after he received control over Luftwaffe missiles.


Torpedo-shaped main body tapering to a pointed nose around which are projected four canard-type, small, rounded steering surfaces operated by servos. At the aft end of the main stage are six large swept-back fixed fins. The exhaust gases are directed outward from six equidistant heavy steel nozzles in the spaces between the fins. The booster, or first stage, is attached to the rounded base of the main body or sustainer stage by a ring and explosive bolts. Projecting from the booster are four long, swept-back, laminated and varnished wood fins. Inter-bracing struts further strengthen the booster structure. The exhaust gases for this stage exited from a central and six surrounding smaller nozzles. The fins are detachable.

Launching was accomplished either by a 25-ft inclined steel ramp or converted 88-mm anti-aircraft gun mount. Guidance was by line-of-sight and remote joystick system. Radar could also be used but was seldom tried. Flares in the wings tips aided the tracking. Stabilization was by a gyroscopic system.

The booster, generating some 75,000 kg (165,000 lbs.) of thrust for 0.6 seconds accelerated the missile close to Mach 1 within the first 1,000 ft of travel. At burnout, the booster was immediately detached by detonation of a magnesium-alloy connection. The sustainer stage then ignited, producing 4000 kg (8,800 lbs.) of thrust for 10 seconds.

Because the propellant was standard double-base (nitroglycerine-nitrocellulose) of the day that was made by the extrusion, or squeezing out process, it could not be made in bulk but came out as sticks or rods. The sticks were placed in bundles within the propellant tubes of each stage and secured by thick metal discs called powder traps. The sticks bundles therefore necessitated the several separate nozzles on each stage. The Germans called their double-base propellant digylcol dinitrate. This propellant, which had a low impulse compared to modern propellants, also required heavy metal casings for their motors. The casing for the booster weighed more than 400 kg (880 lbs.) while the propellant weighed 240 kg (530 lbs.).

The warhead was not placed in the nose but well back behind the solid-propellant of the sustainer stage, near the roots of the first-stage fins.


J. R. Smith and Antony L. Kay, German Aircraft of the Second World War (London: Putnam, 1972), pp. 709-712.

Frederick I. Ordway, III and Ronald C. Wakeford, International Missile and Spacecraft Guide (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1960), pp. 94-95.

Bill Gunston, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the World's Rockets & Missiles (New York: Crescent Books, 1979), p. 149.

Karl-Heinz Ludwig, "Die deutschen Flakraketen im Zweiten Weltkrieg," Militaergeschichtliche Mitteilungen (1969), no. 1, pp. 87-100.

Heinrich Klein, Vom Geschoss zum Feuerpfeil: Der grosse Umbruch der Waffentechnik in Deutschland 1900-1970 (Neckargemuend: Kurt Vowinckel, 1977), pp. 173-181.

Vertol VZ-2 (Model 76)

National Air and Space Museum
2-seat turbine-powered tilt-wing VTOL aircraft; white with orange trim; 1957.

Vertol VZ-2A

The McDonnell XV-1 (see NASM collection) and Bell XV-3 demonstrated that Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) aircraft could hover like a helicopter, but with a considerably higher top speed than conventional rotary wing aircraft. The U.S. military then began to examine the most effective approach to VTOL propulsion. A number of experimental projects appeared throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s with a variety of propulsion and lift devices to achieve vertical flight, including tilt rotors, tilt propellers, tilt jets, tilt wings, tilt ducts, lift fans and deflected thrust systems. The tilt wing emerged as a successful VTOL system, but other approaches proved more viable under operational conditions. The Vertol VZ-2 was the first tilt wing aircraft to successfully transition from vertical to horizontal flight.

After Frank Piasecki left the Piasecki Helicopter Corporation in 1956, it became the Vertol Aircraft Corporation and aggressively pursued government helicopter and research contracts. On April 15, 1956, the Office of Naval Research issued a contract to Vertol, for a tilt wing VTOL design, funded by the Army, and designated as the VZ-2, though inside the company many knew it as the Model 76. The justification for the Army absorption of the Navy research costs most likely arose from Air Force apathy towards Army aviation research programs. The Air Force normally handled procurement of Army aircraft, but did not demonstrate much interest in the Army's need for specialized aircraft, and made little effort to support its VTOL projects. Vertol quickly completed the VZ-2 for its April 1, 1957 rollout.

The VZ-2 could take off and land vertically by pivoting its entire wing upwards, along with its lifting propellers. The aircraft could then transition to conventional airplane-like horizontal flight by lowering the attitude of the wing. This configuration appeared to offer a greater degree of simplicity than other tilt engine and tilt rotor designs, as only one major component had to pivot. However, the VZ-2 required additional control systems for helicopter flight, which greatly increased control complexity. In hover and slow flight, pitch and yaw movements required the use of auxiliary-thrust devices because the high loading and twist of the propellers did not permit cyclic control as on a helicopter. Tilt wings did rely on differential collective pitch to maintain roll control.

The ungainly VZ-2 gave precedence to function over form. To keep costs down, Vertol engineers utilized a variety of off-the-shelf components. A Bell Model 47 helicopter made up the VZ-2's narrow slab-sided fuselage and large bulbous two-seat cockpit. The exposed Lycoming T-53 gas-turbine engine, perched on the top of the fuselage behind the cockpit, gave the aircraft a decidedly experimental appearance. Exhaust gases exited through an unusual forked duct that prevented damage to the vertical stabilizer. A complex cross-shaft drive system powered the rotors, regardless of wing tilt. A spindly fixed tricycle landing gear with a castering tailwheel supported the VZ-2 on the ground and a small fourth wheel, mounted on the underside of the cockpit, prevented damage from nose-strikes.

One of the biggest technical challenges in the development of VTOL aircraft was the integration of two sets of control mechanisms - one for flight in the helicopter-like vertical mode, and the other for airplane-like horizontal flight. In cruise, the T-tail control surfaces, which consisted of a vertical stabilizer/rudder and a stabilator (an all-moving horizontal surface), maintained pitch and yaw control, while conventional wing-mounted ailerons provided roll control. Just below the stabilator, a horizontally mounted four-bladed rotor, 61 cm (2 ft) in diameter, provided pitch control in the vertical flight mode. A hole in the stabilator allowed air to flow freely through the rotor. Another similarly sized rotor, mounted vertically on the lower right side of the vertical stabilizer, provided yaw control during slow speed flight and hovering. During the transitions from one flight mode to the other, the VZ-2's control system phased in control of the horizontal and vertical modes proportionally with the degree of wing tilt.

On August 13, 1957, test pilot Leonard LaVassar made the first flight, conducted entirely in vertical flight mode. On January 7, 1958, he made the first horizontal flight, but he did not complete a vertical-to-horizontal transition until July 15, 1958. For the next nine months, the VZ-2 continued to undergo tests at Vertol's facilities in Morton, Pennsylvania. During its initial flights, tufts of string covered much of the VZ-2's external surfaces to aid in the determination of airflow at various wing angles. Subsequently, the aircraft underwent testing at Edwards Air Force Base for five months. On October 9, 1959, Vertol turned the aircraft over to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Langley Research Center. NASA conducted the Army's share of the flight tests because the service did not have any pilots qualified to fly VTOL aircraft.

The aircraft handled better than many of its VTOL cousins, but it had to overcome several hurdles. The most serious of which was the wing stall that occurred during the transition phase, which resulted in heavy buffeting and loss of roll stability in descents. In November 1961, Vertol replaced the wing with a new design that eliminated most of the buffet by incorporating flaps along the full length of the wing, along with a drooped leading edge. Split ailerons, which replaced the earlier conventional installation, provided roll control in horizontal flight. Pilots liked the VZ-2's maneuverability, but found that it handled poorly in vertical flight mode while flying in gusty conditions - a problem attributable to the sail-like qualities of the wing. Other modifications included revised exhaust ducting, a simplified control system, some limited fuselage covering, and the removal of the right seat in favor of extra test equipment.

The VZ-2 continued to fly through the early 1960s and accumulated an outstanding flight record as a technology demonstrator. By the time of its last flight on April 16, 1964, it had logged 454.5 hours, of which 73.2 were in free flight. The VZ-2 made at least 34 complete conversions between vertical and horizontal flight modes, along with 240 partial transitions. During the VZ-2 test program, the military services issued contracts for the development of larger, transport-sized tilt-wing aircraft. These included the Hiller X-18 and the LTV-Hiller-Ryan XC-142A. In its final months of service, the VZ-2 served as a trainer for the large four-engine XC-142A. In 1965, after completion of its flight test duties, Boeing, which had bought out Vertol, donated the VZ-2 to the Smithsonian Institution.

The tilt-wing and other VTOL programs that had prospered in the early 1960s soon fell victim to Secretary of Defense McNamara's abhorrence of military research programs. While VTOL aircraft have never been commercially viable, their speed gave them an advantage over conventional helicopters in military operations. When research into development of VTOL transports resumed nearly a decade later, engineers determined that the tilt-rotor configuration offered the most advantages and the tilt-wing became a technological dead-end. However, the data gathered during Vertol's tilt-wing program contributed significantly to this evaluation, and to a considerable extent, justified the value of the VZ-2 as a technology demonstrator.

Wingspan:7.59 m (24 ft 11 in)

Length:8.05 m (26 ft 5 in)

Height:3.04 m (10 ft)

Weight:Empty, 1,134kg (2,500 lb)

Gross, 1,452 kg (3,200 lb)

Engine:Lycoming YT-53-L-1 gas turbine, de-rated to 600 shp

References and Further Reading:

Markham, Steve, and Bill Holder. "Straight Up: A History of Vertical Flight." Atglen,

PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2000.

Rogers, Mike. "VTOL Military Research Aircraft." Sparkord, United Kingdom: Haynes

Publishing Group, 1989.

VZ-2 curatorial file, Aeronautics Division, National Air and Space Museum

R. D. Connor

Five High-Tech Tools to Boost Athletes to Olympic Glory

Smithsonian Magazine

Over 2,500 of the world's best athletes, spanning 88 countries, will descend upon the Russian coastal city of Sochi to take part in the Winter Olympics. It shouldn't come as a complete surprise that Norway, with a population of roughly 5 million, stands atop the all-time medal count. Though in part attributed to living in a region where glaciers, lakes and snow-powdered mountain ranges make up 70 percent of the inland mass, the Norwegian team’s dominance in the cold weather games runs much deeper.

A fascinating report in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the fact that a winter sports club can be found in nearly every Norwegian city and town. And in contrast to their neighbors, the Swedes, urban centers are located in close proximity to wilderness areas. But what if your backyard doesn't consist of the kind of rugged terrain tailor-made for skiing and biathlon training?

In the quest to stay on par with the most elite, competing nations have invested heavily in advanced technologies, such as sensors, augmented reality and other cutting-edge systems. Coaches are increasingly incorporating these gadgets into training regimes designed to allow Olympic hopefuls to reach and sustain an optimal level of performance year-round. For the last seven years, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association has run a multi-million dollar lab project that helps top competitors train better using a treadmill modified with gas tanks. Skiers on the machine are supplied adjusted levels of nitrogen and oxygen in order to recreate atmospheric conditions at varying altitudes, comparable to what's experienced during cross-country events in Sochi. A wearable apparatus tracks a skier's progress by measuring downhill speed and pivoting motion.

Here are five notable technologies that competitors use to gain an edge:

Virtual Reality Skiing and Snowboarding

The SkyTechSport Ski and Snowboard Simulator for Sochi uses virtual reality to replicate the the feel of going through one of the challenging courses. (SkyTechSport)

It may look like a video game, but a practice session using the SkyTechSport Sochi Simulator may be the closest thing to hitting the slopes that you can get indoors. Developed by a team of engineers and physicists, the system utilizes GPS data, virtual reality and 3D glasses to fabricate a visually precise simulation of a mountain course in Sochi onto a 27-foot-wide panoramic screen. The machine itself is engineered to reproduce the same downhill G-force effect and sensations a skier or snowboader would feel with every movement. 

SnowSports Industries America, a trade organization, announced that last year the United States Olympic Ski Team started using the ski simulator in preparation for the games. Athletes won't get many chances to conduct trials at the Olympics, so a simulated run may be the next best thing. 

Putting Recovery on Deep Freeze

The cryotherapy chamber at the Olympic Sports Center in Spala, Poland, is used by athletes to speed up muscle recovery. (Spala Olympic Sports Center)

Any athlete that plans to step into a “cryo” chamber that's as cold as −256 degrees Fahrenheit isn't just taking an extreme approach to acclimate themselves to the wintry environment. Cryotherapy, as it’s called, involves using liquid nitrogen to create conditions frigid enough to trigger the release of endorphins to relieve pain and calm inflammation. A session no longer than three minutes is recommended to set up a physiological chain reaction that revs up blood circulation and the hormone and immune systems. 

Though the science is still hazy, the Olympic rehabilitation center in Spala, Poland, offers a cyrotherapy room that's been used by numerous sportsmen. Major League Baseball players to track and field stars have undergone the trendy treatment to speed up muscle recovery. 

Omega Bobsled Data Collector

During a bobsled run, all of the momentum is built up within the initial 50-meter push. As gravity propels the team along an icy pipe at speeds reaching upwards of 130 mph, maintaining much of this velocity relies on the riders' ability to execute every slight movement with utmost precision.  

To help with that, Swiss watchmaker Omega has designed a measuring unit that mounts to the front of the sled. The device, which has a speed sensor, 3D acceleration sensor and 3D gyro-sensors, records track speed and velocity angles. With such invaluable data at their disposal, coaches and athletes can work on specific ways to optimize run times and strategies. 

Ice Skating Sensors

For all the grace that defines ice skating performances, there's an unspoken brutality in how the routines are honed. Mastering jumps and triple axels often involves a lot of falls that ultimately damage joints and hips. With that in mind, sports researcher Jim Richards of the University of Delaware's performance lab has developed a form of motion capture technology that might just minimize injuries in the sport.  

A skater straps on on-body sensors that translate her movements into a 3D graphic. Coaches can then use the simulated model to map out parts of the skater's technique that need improvement, all much more efficiently than they normally could. “The whole point of what we’re doing is to accelerate their ability to learn these jumps,” Richards told CNN. “We’re decreasing the number of impacts which we hope would have an effect on the long-term health of their lower extremity joints.”

One Massive Treadmill

In Canada, cross-country skier Devon Kershaw is hoping a fancy treadmill will help him get over the hump after finishing fourth at the 2012 Vancouver Games. The $200,000 elaborately configured exercise equipment, built by Calgary-based Treadsport Training Systems, is similar to SkyTechSport’s simulator in that it's designed to closely mimic the experience of navigating a tricky ski course. 

But while the machine can't fully replicate in realistic detail the corners and downhill drops of the Sochi course, the system is hooked up to cameras and data-crunching software that records Kershaw’s movements and vitals. Coaches and trainers will use this feedback to develop better techniques and ways to strengthen his cardiovascular conditioning.

RoboBees Can Fly and Swim. What's Next? Laser Vision

Smithsonian Magazine

Outfitted with tiny lasers for eyes, swarms of diminutive robot drones may soon be capable of pollinating fields of crops, searching collapsed buildings for survivors or taking air quality measurements over large areas.

In 2012, researchers at Harvard University made headlines when they launched a robotic insect, weighing only milligrams, and watched as it successfully flew and landed; a year later, it was able to follow a pre-programmed path. Since then, the RoboBee has learned how to swim, but there’s still a big gap in its abilities: it can’t effectively see.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo and University of Florida are working to change that. Over the next three years, with the help of a $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Karthik Dantu at Buffalo and Sanjeev Koppal at Florida are testing ways to shrink the technology used in lidar, or light detection and ranging, to give the little drones the ability to navigate themselves towards a goal without being driven there by a human operator. They’d be like the Google self-driving car, only thousands of times smaller.

“We needed a depth sensor for intelligent behavior,” Koppal says. “When we were thinking of which kind of techniques we could use, lidar was at the top of the list.”

Developed in the 1960s after the invention of the laser, lidar works just like radar or sonar, but with light. By pulsing a series of invisible beams of light out into the surrounding area, lidar creates a detailed picture of the environment based on light bounced back to its sensors. Lidar can use light in the visible, ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths for imaging, and the shorter wavelengths make it possible to measure particles as tiny as airborne aerosols.

But the smallest commercial lidar system weighs 830 grams, or nearly two pounds, while a robotic bee is a mere 80 milligrams—lighter than a small paperclip. In other words, creating microlidar capability requires Ant-Man level shrinkage.

Conventional cameras couldn’t be used, Dantu explains, because the robots are just too small—depth perception with cameras requires they are spaced a minimum distance apart, like eyes, and there just isn’t that kind of room on the drone. Capturing and analyzing light beams to perceive distance and depth was the logical path, as it relies on collecting light from any direction. Plus, cameras and image processing consume a great deal of power, which is also at a premium on the RoboBees. Around 97 percent of the total power budget onboard a robot bee is consumed by flight; computing and sensing systems get to fight with other systems for the leftovers.

With the grant, Koppal is designing new lightweight sensors, and Dantu is working on mathematical algorithms to help those sensors best use the data they collect. A colleague of Koppal’s at Florida, Huikai Xie, is working on building the necessary laser emitters.

First, the researchers will use a mirror with wide-angle optics on the drone to collect laser pulses from a remote lidar base station, and fine-tune the proper algorithm for the sensors with that data. The second step is to mount a laser diode on the drone itself, powered via tether to a base station or battery. From there, the ultimate goal is to get it all internally powered.

(Microbiotics Lab, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering)

Microlidar could be used in endoscopic probes, the wand-like tools used during surgery that currently employ ultrasound to visualize internal organs and body structures. An entire swarm of robotic bees could monitor air pollution, weather or traffic patterns over a large area. Any discipline that currently employs lidar could potentially benefit, including topographic mapping, detection of seismic faults, identification of undiscovered mineral deposits, architectural planning and sewer maintenance.

Though Dantu and Koppal are focusing on getting a viable lidar system built for the drone, just how the data will be gathered and processed is a hurdle they discuss often. The bee or swarm of bees could do some portion of the data processing on their own, as well as collectively transmitting data via coded pulses of light to a base station for in-depth computing.

Michael Olsen, an associate professor of geomatics at Oregon State University, works with lidar to study topography and terrain mapping, using mainly ground-based scanners to look at coastal erosion, safety of bridges and earthquake engineering. He says the lack of ability to collect a complete data set is one big constraint with conventional lidar systems.

“We inevitably have gaps in our data due to line of sight constraints,” Olsen says. “These RoboBees would potentially be very useful for helping to fill in some of these gaps to produce a more complete model. The downsizing of an active laser system, such as lidar, is quite a challenge, and what the researchers are tackling here is a whole new scale. It sounds like they have come up with some very interesting solutions to power, weight and size constraints.”

Fully realized, a swarm of microlidar-equipped bee drones could fly around trees in a dense forest to better capture the structure of each tree, or up underneath the struts of a bridge, scans difficult to make with conventional techniques.

While lidar is currently used for research and industrial applications, microlidar could have many home-based or medical uses. House hunters could have access to a full 3D rendering of a home for sale and know the exact dimensions of rooms to plan how furniture might fit. Search and rescue missions could comb through small spaces within collapsed structures. Home-based systems could detect whether something is out of place or missing, or the degree to which the earth has shifted after a landslide or earthquake. And bodybuilders or weight-loss seekers could get regular and detailed scans of their bodies to know the extent of their progress.

Dantu and Koppal admit that these sorts of applications are still many years in the future, but that the practical nature of the technology is promising.

“If you can do something on the RoboBee, you can do it anywhere,” Koppal says. “Microlidar could work wherever regular lidar is used. There are all kinds of applications in agriculture and industry where people already use lidar to map the factory floor or farm. In many cases, smaller and cheaper is just better.”

And remember, these lasers aren’t high-powered zappers. RoboBees won’t be using them to divide and conquer—only to get a more accurate view of the world around them.

Help reunite Dorothy and Scarecrow

National Museum of American History

We're somewhere over the rainbow! Because of you, we've met our goal of raising $300,000 to conserve and display Dorothy's Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz. We're so thankful for your support, encouragement, and enthusiasm along the way. But Dorothy couldn't have completed her journey with the slippers alone—she needed her friends by her side. That's why we’re asking you to help us reach our stretch goal: conserving and displaying the costume Ray Bolger wore as Scarecrow in the The Wizard of Oz. With your help, we can reunite Scarecrow's costume and the Ruby Slippers when our culture exhibition opens in 2018. And, we've added exciting new rewards to encourage you on your way.

Costume on a faceless manikin includes pointed black hat tied with brown ribbon, white collar, burlap outfit, and hay pieces dangling.

To learn more about Scarecrow's costume and why it's important to conserve and display it, I spoke with Conservator Dawn Wallace and Entertainment Curator Ryan Lintelman.

Can you tell me a little about Scarecrow's costume? 
Ryan: It was worn by Ray Bolger, who was a star of vaudeville theater and known for his comic dancing. He was lean and lanky, and pioneered a style of loose-limbed "eccentric dancing" that he thought perfect for the role, so he lobbied studio chief Louis B. Mayer to play the Scarecrow. Gilbert Adrian, MGM's chief costume designer, drew inspiration from old-fashioned scarecrows—loose, rag-like cloth, old work gloves, and straw sticking out at silly angles. A burlap collar was attached to a sponge rubber mask that made it look like the Scarecrow's face was made from an old sack. Of course the costume is only part of any great performance—Bolger was perfect in the role because of his talent as an entertainer!

Why do you think it's important to put Scarecrow's costume on display in the new culture exhibition that will open in 2018?
Ryan: As entertainment curator, I'm interested in what objects like the costumes from The Wizard of Oz can tell us about our history and what it means to be American. Many of us have nostalgic memories of watching the film as children (or as adults), but the interesting thing is that the movie's popularity has endured: there's something about it that still resonates. I think that the Scarecrow embodies American self-reliance. He may think that he lacks the brains to help Dorothy on her journey, but by the end of the film, he realizes that he's had the brains all along. We can all learn something about believing in ourselves from his example.

Do you have a favorite Scarecrow quote or moment? Why do you think he's such a beloved character?
Ryan: Well, I think he's beloved because he's quietly the wisest character of the film, telling the truth in a comic way as if he were a court jester. My favorite Scarecrow line has always been, "Well, some people without brains do an awful lot of talking don't they?"

Dark colored hat with burlap ribbon tied jauntily around it, plus a little hay dangling out

What will the conservation and display project entail for Scarecrow's costume?
Dawn: Just like the Ruby Slippers, the Scarecrow will need a full assessment to determine which materials were used to construct the costume. This will include working with scientists to identify the materials and conducting historical research. Two materials we will take a close look at are the textiles and dyes, since these materials are extremely sensitive to light and wear. We need to understand what condition they are in to determine what treatment will best conserve and preserve them. Once those issues are addressed, we can decide how best to display the costume. The Scarecrow will need an internal form to support the textiles and reduce stress so that he will remain lovably floppy but in good condition into the future.

You mentioned that textiles are very sensitive. How will that affect our ability to display Scarecrow's costume in the museum?
Dawn: Textiles, especially those that have been dyed, can be very sensitive to light and other environmental factors. They can fade, shift colors, or chemically break down depending on the fibers and dyes. Because of this, many textiles cannot be safely displayed permanently and must be exhibited for shorter periods of time. The research and conservation treatment will allow us to better preserve the Scarecrow costume by determining the appropriate length of time and display conditions. So stay tuned for updates on how long Scarecrow's costume will be on display. 

Photo of Scarecrow and Dorothy under an apple tree. The tree, which has branches for arms, has grabbed Dorothy and Scarecrow threatens to punch it.

Conserving the Ruby Slippers seems so different from conserving Scarecrow's costume? What are you looking forward to as part of the Scarecrow project? 
Dawn: The Scarecrow costume is different from the Ruby Slippers, but it opens more opportunities to work with this amazing part of American film history. Conserving Scarecrow in addition to the Ruby Slippers gives us a chance to learn more about the techniques and materials used during the film production. This information can be used to help us preserve similar artifacts. In conservation, we are constantly building on our previous knowledge and experience and are eager to share what we learn.

At one point in the movie, Lion calls Scarecrow a "lopsided bag of hay." Will the costume still look tattered and jaunty after conservation?
Dawn: Yes, that tattered and jaunty appearance is what we love and want to preserve! The Scarecrow, just like the Ruby Slippers, will not change much visually. They won't look different to our visitors' eyes. We really want to retain their almost 80 years of history. This project is for the conservation and preservation of the costume, which means that it will be stabilized in its current state to prevent or slow any further deterioration. Once damage has occurred, it can't be reversed. For example, textiles that are subjected to light damage can't be "fixed" without replacing material—that's restoration, and that's not something we want to do. With conservation, we keep the original material and prevent future damage.

When our culture exhibition opens in 2018, we'll celebrate the 79th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz movie. Help us reunite Dorothy's Ruby Slippers with Scarecrow's costume.

Graphic that says "Help conserve Scarecrow's costume" featuring image of Scarecrow's hat and Dorothy's Ruby Slippers

Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department. Her favorite line of the movie is also one of Scarecrow's: "With the thoughts I'd be thinkin' / I could be another Lincoln / If I only had a brain."

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - 08:30
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How Fluid Dynamics Can Help You Navigate Crowds

Smithsonian Magazine

From high above, a crowd of people looks much like a colony of ants swarming around. From even farther away, individuals seem to blend into a mass of fluid flowing through an area. And to some extent, the dynamics of a crowd can be studied with the same techniques used to study fluid dynamics or large systems of interacting particles. As a result, physicists and computer scientists can offer us some insight into how to navigate, say, a protest march or a presidential inauguration.

People who study crowds use a combination of observational studies and mathematical modeling to understand how these seething masses typically behave. In the past 20 years or so, researchers have discovered that pedestrians tend to be self-organizing. For instance, crowds naturally form lanes that form when people are walking in opposite directions, as in a hallway. When two groups of people are walking at right angles to each other, they find a way to pass through each other without stopping.

Of course, there are some notable differences between crowds and interacting particles. Namely, “particles don’t have intention,” says Dirk Helbing, a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich who studies computational social science. But some of the same natural laws apply to both situations, meaning crowd researchers have had success in using similar models to study crowds as physicists use to study particle flow.

For each crowd-goer, there are two main forces at work. The first is the driving force that propels each individual toward their goal. The second is the social force that prevents them from colliding with other people. Interestingly, that social force is related to the repulsive force between two electrons, which is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them—in other words, the force decreases as the distance between the particles increases.

But in the case of humans, time replaces distance, reported researchers Brian Skinner, Ioannis Karamouzas, and Stephen J. Guy in 2014 in the journal Physical Review Letters (the animation above is from their study). Think about it: You don’t have to take evasive actions when you’re walking next to someone going the same direction as you, even if you are very close together. But you will move out of the way if you are walking straight toward another person. People adjust their paths based on subconscious mental calculations of how long it will take for them to collide with each other.

Most of the time, crowds flow along this way, each person using this inverse square law to avoid collisions while getting to their own destination. (That is, they give themselves enough time to react to people around them.) But as the density of the crowd increases, that organizing principle begins to break down. When people are so densely packed that they have to touch each other, they often can’t modulate their walking speed and direction to avoid collisions.

It’s those very dense situations that can lead to the kinds of mass crowd disasters that have headlined the news in recent years. During the 2006 hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, for instance, hundreds were killed and more than 1,000 injured when pilgrims rushing massive stone walls tripped over luggage that had fallen from moving buses. This was not the first time a deadly stampede had occurred during the ritual, which attracts around 2 million people annually: In 1990, more than 1,000 pilgrims died when a stampede broke out in an enclosed tunnel.

Similarly, in 2010, Germany’s Love Parade electronic dance festival turned tragic when thousands of festival-goers tried to funnel through a narrow tunnel onto festival grounds. The tight bottleneck caused panic among the crowds, and the parade swiftly turned into a crushing mass. Ultimately 21 festival-goers died from suffocation, and at least 500 more were injured; the parade was permanently shut down.

Ravers dancing around the Column of Victory during the 13th annual Love Parade in Berlin, July 21, 2001. Video of the crowd disaster that befell the parade in 2010 has given researchers insight into crowd dynamics. (Reuters / Alamy)

For obvious reasons, it is unethical to design a study to see how people behave in dangerously crowded situations. But by viewing videos of crowd disasters such as these, researchers have gained insight into how they happen—and how they can be avoided.

As a crowd gets denser, the smooth flow of pedestrians moving forward and avoiding collisions gives way to what are called stop-and-go waves. These are basically what they sound like: the crowd is too dense for people to move forward continuously, so people move forward into any gaps. Then, they stop and wait for another opportunity to move forward. Stop-and-go waves do not always portend disaster. But, Helbing says, “the stop-and-go wave is an advance warning signal for the situation in the crowd becoming critical.”

Things get really dangerous if the crowd continues to get denser, or people make unexpected movements. At that point the flow can become turbulent and chaotic, with people being pushed randomly in different directions. Disasters can break out when, say, one person stumbles, causing someone else to be pushed into their place and either trampling them or stumbling themselves. Helbing says that is sometimes described as the “black hole effect,” with more and more people sucked in. “It’s really a terrible thing,” Helbing says.

Because the nature and behavior of human crowds is so unpredictable, crowd researchers are reluctant to give general advice on how to navigate them. (The strategy they usually advise is to stay out of the crowd in the first place.) For better or worse, much of the responsibility for crowd safety falls on the organizers of the event rather than the individuals participating in it. As the hajj and Love Parade disasters have shown, organizers should try to avoid bottlenecks and areas where flows in different directions are likely to cross each other.

But if you are going to find yourself in a large crowd anytime soon, they do have a few tips. Depending on the density of the crowd, people tend to look about 1-3 seconds in the future, with people looking at longer time horizons in sparse crowds than in dense ones. “The further you can look into the future the better you can move through a crowd,” says Skinner. “Looking 3 or 4 seconds into the future gives you an advantage over people who are only looking 1 or 2 seconds into the future.” So if you keep your head up and scan a larger area, you may be able to anticipate problems and plan a better route.

Your options are different depending on whether the crowd is in an open or enclosed location, Karamouzas says. If it’s in an open location and you start to notice stop-and-go waves or feel unsafe for other reasons, you can get out of the crowd. If the area is fenced or walled in, on the other hand, “trying to do so could create more panic.” Helbing underscores that point: “You should avoid going against the flow. It makes things much worse,“ he says. He adds that in a large enclosed space, it seems the sides are more dangerous than the middle, though he notes that there are not enough studies to know that for sure or understand why. But most importantly, he says, “always know where the emergency exit is located.”

To review: Keep vigilant, go with the flow, and keep your exit options open. Flow safely!

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