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Ancient Monkey Bone Tools Shake Up the Narrative of Early Human Migration to the Rain Forest

Smithsonian Magazine

Sing, archaeologist, an ode to the African savanna. Legendary homeland of Homo sapiens, evolutionary proving ground for our species. Grasslands with sparse trees contributing to upright walking and long-distance hunting. An environment filled to the brim with large, meaty animals providing the fuel for our growing brains. Could any other habitat compare? Certainly not rain forests, overgrown and lacking easy food resources. They may as well be green deserts.

At least, that’s how the story goes.

“For quite a long time, research has been making a strong case that humans originated from East African savannas, and that’s how we ended up colonizing the rest of the world. But this model doesn’t really hold true anymore,” says Eleanor Scerri, an archaeologist and professor at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

In the past, researchers believed humans were almost exclusively adapted to savanna environments. Previous hypotheses suggested Homo sapiens, which evolved around 300,000 years ago, spread across the globe via open grasslands or coastlines, following big game and sources of protein. Early human ancestors would have avoided dense environments like rain forests, the common thinking went, where prey was harder to catch. But now, Scerri and others are working to show that early humans adapted to many environments.

Take South Asia for example, where anatomically modern humans may have started arriving more than 70,000 years ago. Evidence for early humans’ environmental adaptability in this part of the world is becoming more and more abundant. In a recent paper for Nature Communications, researchers from Max Planck (not including Scerri) analyzed more than 15,000 animal bones from Fa-Hien Lena cave in the jungle environment of southwestern Sri Lanka. The majority of the bones came from butchered monkeys and tree squirrels. The study authors concluded that humans living in the area from 45,000 years ago up to 4,000 years ago not only survived in the jungle environment but purposefully adapted their own way of living to do so.

Example of tools manufactured from monkey bones and teeth recovered from the Late Pleistocene layers of Fa-Hien Lena cave, Sri Lanka. (N. Amano)

Historically, researchers have been interested in two questions: when humans began to look morphologically modern (that is, when our skulls and skeletons evolved to have the traits we have today) and when we started exhibiting complex behaviors like producing art and sustaining trade networks. But a third question is now emerging: when we became environmentally modern, living in diverse habitats and modifying those environments to suit our needs.

“This is the first time that we know of a site as early as 45,000 years ago where [humans] were focusing mostly on hunting difficult-to-catch agile prey living in trees,” says zooarchaeologist Noel Amano, one of the authors of the Sri Lanka paper. Other archaeological sites from the same period, like the Niah Caves in Borneo, show that humans were hunting pigs in a more open environment—so these forest-dwellers had other options available to them. What’s more, Amano says, the early Sri Lankans “were using the bones of these monkeys to fashion ornaments and tools.”

Bad news for the macaques and langurs who ended up as dinner, but great news for researchers trying to understand Homo sapiens habitat use. Not only did the humans in this part of Sri Lanka clearly excel at using the resources of their rain forest environment, they also managed to do so without exterminating the local small mammals. All of the species found in the fossil record still exist in abundance today, Amano says.

For archaeologist Patrick Roberts, another author of the paper, these new details about human subsistence in Sri Lanka contribute to a global picture of our earliest ancestors. “In the dispersal out of Africa, it increasingly looks like Homo sapiens are unique relative to other hominins [like Homo erectus or Neanderthals].” Early humans lived in tropical rain forests, in deserts, at high altitudes in the Himalayas. They reached the Arctic Circle, coastal regions, and of course, savannas and grasslands.

“I would be very surprised if we don’t find evidence for humans in tropical rain forests very early on,” Roberts says, meaning evidence in African rain forests could predate the butchered animal bones in Sri Lanka.

The only problem is that more field work needs to be done to contribute further evidence. “We have human fossils from about 10 percent of Africa, and we have well-investigated archaeological sites from about 20 percent of Africa,” Scerri says. “That means we’re making biological and cultural extrapolations for everything, when we know nothing about 75 to 90 percent of the continent.”

Gray tufted langur (S. priam), one of the monkey species targeted by early humans that settled in Fa-Hien Lena cave, Sri Lanka. (O. Wedage)

The challenges of investigating rain forests are legion. Roberts recalls leeches dropping from the trees and an outbreak of dengue fever that cut the field season short in 2017. Half of the Fa-Hien Lena cave was recently destroyed by mudslides (luckily not the half researchers were working in). Lead author Oshan Wedage sometimes sleeps with his team in the caves they’re excavating because they’re so challenging to get to. And according to Scerri, working in Central Africa can be even more difficult due to the lack of infrastructure around heritage preservation, deadly diseases like Ebola, and political instability in certain regions.

There’s also the past climate to take into account. “Just because we find a fossil in a rain forest today, it’s very difficult to determine whether it was a rain forest when the fossil was deposited,” Scerri says. The rain forests in Africa have grown and contracted at different points, depending on changes in the climate and the African monsoon.

But all these obstacles haven’t prevented researchers from making inroads. A tooth from 2.5 million years ago indicated early hominins may have lived partially in rain forest habitats long before the evolution of Homo sapiens. Tools from a cave in Kenya show that humans were actively relying on the tropical forest in East Africa 78,000 years ago. And researchers working in the Amazon have identified 85 common trees—including the cacao tree, acai tree and Brazil nut tree—that show signs of having been cultivated by human populations thousands of years ago.

Using airborne LIDAR systems (light detection and ranging, similar to radar but with visible light) has been a major boon for archaeologists trying to cover vast swathes of forest without actually trudging through the greenery. The technology helped one group of researchers create visualizations of hidden Maya cities in the forests of Belize. Although this study and others like it revealed much more recent rain forest sites than Fa-Hien Lena cave, the research is a tantalizing hint of just how much might be hiding in the forest, waiting to be discovered.

Scerri hopes that discoveries in Sri Lanka and elsewhere will spur interest in rain forests more globally, encouraging scientists to look for evidence of early humans in locations they may have eschewed before. She’s starting a project in West Africa that may lead to more clues of the first groups of humans to wander into the woods. Maybe the forests of Senegal will even be the next “X” on the half-drawn map of early human history.

Pollen Tube "Sky-Hook", Lockheed Sirius "Tingmissartoq", Lindbergh

National Air and Space Museum
Aluminum tube containing a vaseline coated glass slide.

During their 1933 survey flights across the North and South Atlantic, Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, attached a "Sky Hook" instrument to their Lockheed Sirius aircraft. It was used for collecting samples of fungus spores and plant pollen suspended in the atmosphere. Airplanes had been used to collect spores as early as 1921, but the "Sky Hook" was the first instrument of its kind to accompany a transatlantic flight. It was a brand new instrument, designed by Lindbergh himself and completed just before the 1933 trip. There was not even enough time to test whether the instrument worked during a flight.

This tube was one of the extra aluminum cartridges that attached to the "Sky Hook." When exposed to the air stream, Vaseline-coated slides inside of the cartridge collected airborne materials. To prevent contamination Charles sealed the cartridges immediately after their exposure period. Anne piloted the aircraft while Charles was operating the "Sky Hook."

Charles sent he samples he collected to Dr. F. Meier of the United States Department of Agriculture to aid Dr. Meier's studies on how air currents spread spores and pollen. Scientists had suspected that air currents could carry pollen and fungus spores across oceans and continents, but Lindbergh's samples provided the first concrete evidence in support of this theory. Certain spores he collected which were abundant over Maine and Labrador were also present over the Davis Straight, the Greenland Ice Cap, and even as far away as the Denmark Straight.

The Lindberghs' 1933 flights were an ideal opportunity to study long distance movement of spores and pollen. While spore and pollen samples taken over land in temperate climates were often diluted by material originating from local sources, this was not a problem during the Lindberghs' 1933 flights because their route went over water and ice in northern latitudes where there was no local vegetation.

Overall, Charles collected 26 samples during flights between North Haven, Maine and Copenhagen, Denmark. He took most of these samples while flying over expanses of water, ice, and barren mountain ranges.

A vacation flight with "no start or finish, no diplomatic or commercial significance, and no records to be sought." So Charles A. Lindbergh described the flight that he and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were planning to make to the Orient in 1931. Their choice of route, however, showed the feasibility of using the great circle to reach the Far East.

The Lindberghs flew in a Lockheed Sirius low-wing monoplane, powered by a 680-hp Wright Cyclone. The Sirius had been designed in 1929 by John K. Northrop and Gerard Vultee, and this model was specially fitted with Edo floats, since most of the Lindberghs flight was to be over water.

Their route took them from North Haven, Maine, to Ottawa, Moose Factory, Churchill, Baker Lake, and Aklavik, all in Canada; Point Barrow, Shismaref, and Nome, Alaska; Petropavlosk. Siberia; and on over the Kurile Islands to Japan. After receiving an enthusiastic welcome in Tokyo, they flew to China. They landed on Lotus Lake near Nanking on September 19, thus completing the first flight from the West to the East by way of the North.

At Hankow, the Sirius, with the Lindberghs aboard, was being lowered into the Yangtze River from the British aircraft carrier Hermes, when the aircraft accidentally capsized. One of the wings was damaged when it hit a ship's cable, and the aircraft had to be returned to the United States for repairs.

Their next venture in the Sirius came as a result of the five countries' interest in the development of commercial air transport. In 1933 Pan American Airways, Imperial Airways of Great Britain, Lufthansa of Germany, KLM of Holland, and Air France undertook a cooperative study of possible Atlantic routes. Each was assigned the responsibility for one of the following areas: New Newfoundland to Europe via Greenland; Newfoundland via the great circle route to Ireland; Newfoundland southeast to the Azores and Lisbon; Miami, Bermuda, the Azores, and Lisbon; and across the South Atlantic from Natal, Brazil, to Cape Verde, Africa.

Pan American was to survey the Newfoundland to Europe via Greenland route. Ground survey and weather crews in Greenland were already hard at work when Lindbergh, Pan Am's technical advisor, took off from New York on July 9 in the rebuilt Lockheed Sirius, again accompanied by his wife, who would serve as copilot and radio operator. A Sperry artificial horizon and a directional gyro had been added to the instrument panel since the previous flight, and a new Wright Cyclone SR1820-F2 engine of 710 horsepower was installed. Lindbergh's plan was not to set up a particular route but to gather as much information as possible on the area to be covered.

The Jellinge, a Danish ship, was chartered by Pan Am to maintain radio contact with the Lindberghs in the Labrador-Greenland-Iceland area. The ship also delivered advance supplies for them to Halifax, Saint John's, Cartwright, Greenland, and Iceland.

Every possible space in the aircraft was utilized, including the wings and floats, which contained the gasoline tanks. There was plenty of emergency equipment in case the Lindberghs had to make a forced landing in the frozen wilderness.

From New York, the Lindberghs flew up the eastern border of Canada to Hopedale, Labrador. From Hopedale they made the first major overwater hop, 650 miles to Godthaab, Greenland, where the Sirius acquired its name-Tingmissartoq, which in Eskimo means "one who flies like a big bird."

After crisscrossing Greenland to Baffin Island and back, and then on to Iceland, the Lindberghs proceeded to the major cities of Europe and as far east as Moscow, down the west coast of Africa, and across the South Atlantic to South America, where they flew down the Amazon, and then north through Trinidad and Barbados and back to the United States.

They returned to New York on December 19, having traveled 30,000 miles to four continents and twenty-one countries. The information gained from the trip proved invaluable in planning commercial air transport routes for the North and South Atlantic.

The aircraft was in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City until 1955. The AirForce Museum in Dayton, Ohio, then acquired it and transferred it to the Smithsonian in 1959.

Fish hooks and swivels, Lockheed Sirius "Tingmissartoq", Lindbergh

National Air and Space Museum
See A20030064000 conservation treatment report (pdf format) contains details of 1995 fumigation of objects while in storage at Garber Facility in building 9

Objects include:

3- Fishing hooks, Steel with nickel coating, 3 1/4"

3- Fishing hooks, Steel with nickel coating, 3"

6- Fishing hooks, Steel with black paint, 2 1/4"

3- Fishing hooks, Steel 1 1/4"

3- Fishing hooks, Steel 1"

5- Fishing hooks, Steel 7/8"

2- Barrell Swivels, Brass 1 1/2"

2- Barrell Swivels, Brass 1 1/8"

2- Barrell Swivels, Brass 7/8"

2- Barrell Swivels, Brass 2/3"

1- Crossline Swivel, Brass 1 2/3"

3- Roller Swivel, Brass 2 1/4"

These fish hooks and swivels were among the fishing equipment Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, took on their 1931 flight to the Orient. They brought plenty of fishing gear in case they needed to catch their dinner after an emergency landing in the wilderness. In total they took 1 fish net (with an area of 25 feet), 1 fish line, 3 spoon hooks, 9 plain hooks, 6 swivels, and 2 gut cords, and, if necessary, they planned to use parts from the engine (nuts, bolts, etc.) as sinkers.

The Lindberghs also packed 45 pounds of emergency food provisions, but this might not have been enough if they had to walk several days or weeks to the nearest outpost after an emergency landing (a likely scenario since they would be flying over vast expanses of uninhabited territory in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia). Charles, always a meticulous planner, considered this scenario and made sure he and Anne had means of procuring fresh food as well. Since they would by flying over water for much of the way, they could usually count on fish being available.

The Lindberghs never had to use any of their fishing equipment during their trip to the Orient. Fog or darkness occasionally forced them to land before their planned destination, but they were always close enough to civilization that a can of beans could hold them over until their next proper meal.

A vacation flight with "no start or finish, no diplomatic or commercial significance, and no records to be sought." So Charles A. Lindbergh described the flight that he and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were planning to make to the Orient in 1931. Their choice of route, however, showed the feasibility of using the great circle to reach the Far East.

The Lindberghs flew in a Lockheed Sirius low-wing monoplane, powered by a 680-hp Wright Cyclone. The Sirius had been designed in 1929 by John K. Northrop and Gerard Vultee, and this model was specially fitted with Edo floats, since most of the Lindberghs flight was to be over water.

Their route took them from North Haven, Maine, to Ottawa, Moose Factory, Churchill, Baker Lake, and Aklavik, all in Canada; Point Barrow, Shismaref, and Nome, Alaska; Petropavlosk. Siberia; and on over the Kurile Islands to Japan. After receiving an enthusiastic welcome in Tokyo, they flew to China. They landed on Lotus Lake near Nanking on September 19, thus completing the first flight from the West to the East by way of the North.

At Hankow, the Sirius, with the Lindberghs aboard, was being lowered into the Yangtze River from the British aircraft carrier Hermes, when the aircraft accidentally capsized. One of the wings was damaged when it hit a ship's cable, and the aircraft had to be returned to the United States for repairs.

Their next venture in the Sirius came as a result of the five countries' interest in the development of commercial air transport. In 1933 Pan American Airways, Imperial Airways of Great Britain, Lufthansa of Germany, KLM of Holland, and Air France undertook a cooperative study of possible Atlantic routes. Each was assigned the responsibility for one of the following areas: New Newfoundland to Europe via Greenland; Newfoundland via the great circle route to Ireland; Newfoundland southeast to the Azores and Lisbon; Miami, Bermuda, the Azores, and Lisbon; and across the South Atlantic from Natal, Brazil, to Cape Verde, Africa.

Pan American was to survey the Newfoundland to Europe via Greenland route. Ground survey and weather crews in Greenland were already hard at work when Lindbergh, Pan Am's technical advisor, took off from New York on July 9 in the rebuilt Lockheed Sirius, again accompanied by his wife, who would serve as copilot and radio operator. A Sperry artificial horizon and a directional gyro had been added to the instrument panel since the previous flight, and a new Wright Cyclone SR1820-F2 engine of 710 horsepower was installed. Lindbergh's plan was not to set up a particular route but to gather as much information as possible on the area to be covered.

The Jellinge, a Danish ship, was chartered by Pan Am to maintain radio contact with the Lindberghs in the Labrador-Greenland-Iceland area. The ship also delivered advance supplies for them to Halifax, Saint John's, Cartwright, Greenland, and Iceland.

Every possible space in the aircraft was utilized, including the wings and floats, which contained the gasoline tanks. There was plenty of emergency equipment in case the Lindberghs had to make a forced landing in the frozen wilderness.

From New York, the Lindberghs flew up the eastern border of Canada to Hopedale, Labrador. From Hopedale they made the first major overwater hop, 650 miles to Godthaab, Greenland, where the Sirius acquired its name-Tingmissartoq, which in Eskimo means "one who flies like a big bird."

After crisscrossing Greenland to Baffin Island and back, and then on to Iceland, the Lindberghs proceeded to the major cities of Europe and as far east as Moscow, down the west coast of Africa, and across the South Atlantic to South America, where they flew down the Amazon, and then north through Trinidad and Barbados and back to the United States.

They returned to New York on December 19, having traveled 30,000 miles to four continents and twenty-one countries. The information gained from the trip proved invaluable in planning commercial air transport routes for the North and South Atlantic.

The aircraft was in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City until 1955. The AirForce Museum in Dayton, Ohio, then acquired it and transferred it to the Smithsonian in 1959.

Is the Internet an Enormous Work of Realist Art?

Smithsonian Magazine

“If it’s ever fair to say that anything has ‘changed everything,’ it’s fair to say so about the internet,” Virginia Heffernan writes early on in her new book Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art.

The former New York Times writer has recently written a “poetics” of the internet, critically studying it as an art form and mapping the exciting cultural transformations brought about by the technology.

Magic and Loss celebrates both the sheer ecstasy of the internet, acknowledging the social connectivity and the immediacy of the experience, while also the aesthetic pleasures of new media forms like YouTube or smart-phone games. To Heffernan, these gains all demonstrate the “magic” of the internet. But with highs come lows, and Heffernan also mines the losses largely caused by the internet, including the decline of print in favor of digital reading.

Marrying this study with her own fascinating personal history with the internet as a pre-teen, Magic and Loss is a revealing look at how the internet continues to reshape our lives emotionally, visually and culturally.

What inspired you to write a “poetics” of the internet?

Well, I managed to get on the internet—when it wasn’t called the internet—in 1979. It was on a social network called ‘College XYZ.’ I was a child of 10 or 11, and I had somehow bamboozled my parents into buying a so-called ‘dumb’ terminal on the grounds that I was going to be practicing computer language with the aspirations to work at NASA.

Because of this particular way I came to the internet, I experienced it as a cultural phenomenon—in those days, a game with social elements. It sidelined me from social and real life, but it gave me a very early glimpse of this kind of culture we participate in now. So as I watched the progression of tech history, I became interested in how the arts expressed themselves and evolved online. Now, I see the internet as a great masterpiece of human civilization. 

Virginia Heffernan, author of Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (Twitter)

How has your career as a cultural critic shaped your views of the internet?

When I was working at the New York Times and I first saw ‘internet television’—now called online video—I was completely blown away by what was happening on the internet. Online, there was an incredible repository of this kind of video and I didn’t even know what to call it. Eventually, we called the videos YouTube videos, but it wasn’t television. These videos were beautifully unregulated and odd. To see all this diverse ‘flora and fauna’ online on YouTube that wasn’t strangled by hegemony or the networks or premium mainstream culture, it felt so radical to me. That was 2006. I then felt ready, able and empowered to write about this new form.

In your book, you really make the case to recognize the sheer “magic” and wonder of the internet. What is this “magic?”

I have a strong suspicion people actually don’t let themselves feel the magic of the internet that they’re already feeling. Recently, for example, I met a woman from Montana who said to me, ‘Oh, I don’t like the internet or computer.’ But then this woman said that she had made a friend who lived in New York City who also had fibromyalgia, a condition this woman had. They had met on an online message board for fibromyalgia and now she was going to New York to meet in-person. This woman said to me that she felt this friend had become her best friend. I said to her, ‘It actually sounds like you love the internet!’ It’s this incredibly uncanny use of the internet that is part of the magic.

The internet has enlivened and enchanted your life. You’re probably already experiencing the magic of the internet without knowing it. With this book, I want to make that magic palpable and visible.

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Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art

~ Virginia Heffernan (author) More about this product
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Magic and Loss is described as following the tradition of other famous cultural critics and how they unpacked technology, including Susan Sontag’s look at photography and Marshall McLuhan’s analysis of television. Did these works influence you at all?

Mandates of investigative journalists are often ‘comfort the disturbed’ and ‘disturb the comfortable.’ I see the critic’s obligation to ‘familiarize the unfamiliar’ and ‘de-familiarize the familiar.’

One thing that Sontag and McLuhan did beautifully was oscillate that way. Familiarizing is like saying, ‘don’t worry, this thing looks strange, but it’s on a continuum with experiences we’ve had in the past.’ And so the de-familiarizing part is kind of the revelations or the problematizing—calling attention to the tricks of something.

With Magic and Loss, it became very important for me to use the methodologies of the humanities, which I’d been trained in, to talk about this particular phenomenon. With this book, I really wanted to map the measure of the magic and the ‘felt’ sensory emotion of the internet.

There is some anxiety about the changes being witnessed on the internet. What would you say to people who mourn the losses the internet has brought about? For example, the move from print books to e-readers.

Let me put it this way. There’s a moment in Moby Dick when Melville describes Ishmael and Queequeg sleeping together in the very cold inn, and they huddle together for warmth since they don’t have a fireplace. Melville makes the case for no fireplace in the bedroom because what you really want are those contrasting temperatures. You want to be huddled under the covers but then to come out into the cold, so you can enjoy that previous warmth, rather than uniform temperatures.

To me then, the internet has created this kind of reciprocal love and idolatry for anti-technology culture that can’t be digitized. There are two kinds of reactions to this feeling of loss brought about by the internet. Vinyl, live music, print books—they are making a huge resurgence, with a renewed appreciation and euphoria for the textures and materials in their physicality.

The other reaction has been this kind of grieving, something I have great compassion for. I found myself missing things because of how our experiences have somehow been flattened because of digital technology. Like vinyl to MP3, it’s the imperfection and the decay of the sound that we now miss.

But all we can do is push back on it, like going to live concerts, and allowing ourselves to feel the difference. 

The Slaves of the White House Finally Get to Have Their Stories Told

Smithsonian Magazine

President Barack Obama might be the first black president to serve in the White House, but he certainly was not the first black person to live there. Yet the history of the original black residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been sparsely reported on, as Associated Press reporter Jesse J. Holland discovered when he began researching his latest book, The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slaves in the White House. The Invisibles—a smart sketch on the lives of these men and women in bondage—is intended to serve as a historical first take. Holland’s goal writing about the slaves who resided alongside 10 of the first 12 presidents who lived in the White House is to start a conversation on who these enslaved people were, what they were like, and what happened to them if they were able to escape from bondage.

Your first book, Black Me Built the Capitol: Discovering African-American History In and Around Washington, D.C., touches on similar themes to The Invisibles.  How did you get the idea for writing about this specific lost chapter of black history in the United States?

I was covering politics for the AP back when Obama was doing his first presidential campaign around the country. He decided that weekend to go back home to Chicago. I was on the press bus, sitting in Chicago outside of Obama’s townhouse, trying to think about what book to write next. I wanted to do a follow-up book to my first—which was published in 2007—but I was struggling to come up with a coherent idea. As I was sitting there in Chicago, covering Obama, it hit me: We had always talked about the history of Obama possibly becoming the first black president of the United States, but I knew Obama couldn’t have been the first black man to live in the White House. Washington, D.C. is a southern city and almost all mansions in the South were constructed and run by African Americans. So I said to myself, I want to know who these African American slaves were who lived in the White House.

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The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slaves in the White House

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How did you begin researching the story? 

Only one or two of the slaves who worked for the president ever had anything written—Paul Jennings wrote a memoir—but there’s very little written about these men and women enslaved by the presidents. Most of my research was done by reading between lines of presidential memoirs and piecing all of it into one coherent narrative. Presidential historians that work at Monticello and Hermitage in Tennessee, for example, want this research done; they were thrilled when someone wanted to look at these records and were able to send me a lot of materials.

What were some of the more unexpected details you can across during your research?

One of the things that surprised me is how much information was written about these slaves without calling them slaves. They were called servants, they were staff— but they were slaves. Andrew Jackson’s horse racing operation included slave jockeys. There have been things written about Andrew Jackson and horses and jockeys, but not one mentioned the word “slaves.” They were called employees in all the records. So, it’s there, once you know the words to look for. I was also surprised with how much time the presidents spent talking about their slaves in those same code words. When you start reading memoirs, ledgers, these people show up again and again and again, but they are never actually called slaves.

Which president’s relationship with his slaves surprised you the most? 

With Thomas Jefferson, there’s been so much said about him and his family, I don’t know if I discovered anything new, but everything is about context. We mostly talk about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, but James Hemings would have been the first White House chef, if not for the spat between him and Thomas Jefferson.

Or you look at [Joseph] Fossett being caught on White House grounds trying to see his wife. It surprised me because you would think things like that would be more well known. The Thomas Jefferson story is overwhelmed about him and Sally Hemmings, but there are so many stories there.

Definitely. 

Also, with everything we know about George Washington, I was shocked to find he advertised in the newspaper for a recapture of an escaped slave. I hadn’t thought any had escaped until I started working on this and then to find he’d advertised for the return, that’s not subtle. He wanted him back and he took whatever route he could take, including taking out an advertisement.

How does reading about these slaves help us better understand the early presidents? 

In the past, we’ve talked about their attitudes in general toward slaves and now we can talk in specifics, and include the names of the slaves they were dealing with. That’s one thing I hope not just historians, but people in general pick out of the abstract. Begin talking about the specifics: this is how the relationships between George Washington and William Lee or Thomas Jefferson with James Hemings or Andrew Jackson with Monkey Simon. This helps us understand presidents’ policies when it came to slavery and race relations at this time. If they said something publicly but did something else privately, it gives us insight into who they are.

Was it frustrating writing around the limited information available?

One of the things I talk about in the book is that this is just a first step. There is no telling how many stories that have been lost because, as a country, we didn’t value these stories. We’re always learning more about the presidents as we go forward and we’ll also learn more about the people who cooked their meals and dressed them.

There’s people doing great work on slave dwellings in the South, great work on history of African American cooking, slave cooking in the past. It’s not the information wasn’t always here, we’re just interested in it now. As we go forward and learn more information and find these old hidden ledgers and photographs, we’ll have a clearer picture of where we came from as a country and that will help us decide where we are going in future.

Armbrust Cup, Lockheed Sirius "Tingmissartoq", Lindbergh

National Air and Space Museum
For condensation of water from breath. Two chambered object with a mouthpiece, an exhaust hole, pure water hole, and a saliva hole. This one was never used.

This Armbrust Cup was among the survival gear Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, brought with them on their 1931 flight to the Orient and 1933 survey flights across the North and South Atlantic. By condensing moisture from breath into drinking water, the Armbrust Cup (named after its inventor) would provide a few last sips of water when there was nothing else to drink. It did not, however, provide a permanent solution to dehydration because it only recycled lost moisture, and did not provide a new source of water.

In case of an emergency landing, Charles Lindbergh always took an Armbrust Cup with him on flights over the ocean, including his 1927 flight from New York to Paris. The military considered making the Armbrust Cup standard issue for all its air pilots, but decided against it because the device was ineffective.

The text printed on the front of the Armbrust Cup reads:

"INSTRUCTIONS

When in use: If possible, keep this cover constantly wet by frequent dipping or submerging.

FOR USE IN MOUTH

Blow through mouthpiece with enough force to send breath through cup. Always keep cup as cools as possible by best means at hand."

The text printed on the back of the Armbrust Cup reads:

"GENERAL INFORMATION

Cup may be used submerged or in air at will. The quantity of water obtained depends upon the quantity and frequency of breaths blown through cup and temperature. Keeping cup as cool as possible by frequent dipping or submerging it in water greatly aids its efficiency."

A vacation flight with "no start or finish, no diplomatic or commercial significance, and no records to be sought." So Charles A. Lindbergh described the flight that he and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were planning to make to the Orient in 1931. Their choice of route, however, showed the feasibility of using the great circle to reach the Far East.

The Lindberghs flew in a Lockheed Sirius low-wing monoplane, powered by a 680-hp Wright Cyclone. The Sirius had been designed in 1929 by John K. Northrop and Gerard Vultee, and this model was specially fitted with Edo floats, since most of the Lindberghs flight was to be over water.

Their route took them from North Haven, Maine, to Ottawa, Moose Factory, Churchill, Baker Lake, and Aklavik, all in Canada; Point Barrow, Shismaref, and Nome, Alaska; Petropavlosk. Siberia; and on over the Kurile Islands to Japan. After receiving an enthusiastic welcome in Tokyo, they flew to China. They landed on Lotus Lake near Nanking on September 19, thus completing the first flight from the West to the East by way of the North.

At Hankow, the Sirius, with the Lindberghs aboard, was being lowered into the Yangtze River from the British aircraft carrier Hermes, when the aircraft accidentally capsized. One of the wings was damaged when it hit a ship's cable, and the aircraft had to be returned to the United States for repairs.

Their next venture in the Sirius came as a result of the five countries' interest in the development of commercial air transport. In 1933 Pan American Airways, Imperial Airways of Great Britain, Lufthansa of Germany, KLM of Holland, and Air France undertook a cooperative study of possible Atlantic routes. Each was assigned the responsibility for one of the following areas: New Newfoundland to Europe via Greenland; Newfoundland via the great circle route to Ireland; Newfoundland southeast to the Azores and Lisbon; Miami, Bermuda, the Azores, and Lisbon; and across the South Atlantic from Natal, Brazil, to Cape Verde, Africa.

Pan American was to survey the Newfoundland to Europe via Greenland route. Ground survey and weather crews in Greenland were already hard at work when Lindbergh, Pan Am's technical advisor, took off from New York on July 9 in the rebuilt Lockheed Sirius, again accompanied by his wife, who would serve as copilot and radio operator. A Sperry artificial horizon and a directional gyro had been added to the instrument panel since the previous flight, and a new Wright Cyclone SR1820-F2 engine of 710 horsepower was installed. Lindbergh's plan was not to set up a particular route but to gather as much information as possible on the area to be covered.

The Jellinge, a Danish ship, was chartered by Pan Am to maintain radio contact with the Lindberghs in the Labrador-Greenland-Iceland area. The ship also delivered advance supplies for them to Halifax, Saint John's, Cartwright, Greenland, and Iceland.

Every possible space in the aircraft was utilized, including the wings and floats, which contained the gasoline tanks. There was plenty of emergency equipment in case the Lindberghs had to make a forced landing in the frozen wilderness.

From New York, the Lindberghs flew up the eastern border of Canada to Hopedale, Labrador. From Hopedale they made the first major overwater hop, 650 miles to Godthaab, Greenland, where the Sirius acquired its name-Tingmissartoq, which in Eskimo means "one who flies like a big bird."

After crisscrossing Greenland to Baffin Island and back, and then on to Iceland, the Lindberghs proceeded to the major cities of Europe and as far east as Moscow, down the west coast of Africa, and across the South Atlantic to South America, where they flew down the Amazon, and then north through Trinidad and Barbados and back to the United States.

They returned to New York on December 19, having traveled 30,000 miles to four continents and twenty-one countries. The information gained from the trip proved invaluable in planning commercial air transport routes for the North and South Atlantic.

The aircraft was in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City until 1955. The AirForce Museum in Dayton, Ohio, then acquired it and transferred it to the Smithsonian in 1959.

Will Matt Rutherford be First to Circumnavigate the Americas Solo?

Smithsonian Magazine

Cloud, sea and sun create a morning sky as spectacular as it is serene as Matt Rutherford enters another day on his solo voyage around the Americas. Photo by Matt Rutherford

After Columbus, Magellan and Drake; after Steller, Nansen and Amundsen; after the golden age of exploration fizzled into the era of idleness and suburbia; after the deepest jungles of New Guinea were finally mapped; and after the conquest of the solar system—still there remained one thing undone.

And now Matt Rutherford is doing it: He is on the homestretch of a nearly one-year journey that should make him the first person ever to circumnavigate the Americas on a single voyage. The 30-year-old sailor from Annapolis, Maryland is currently riding the wind northwest through the western Atlantic Ocean. The journey runs 25,000 miles from the edge of Arctic Canada to the tip of Patagonia and two oceans in between. He’s sailing alone, though that isn’t essential to the record.

“Nobody, period, has done this before,” Rutherford told me by satellite telephone on March 8. “Not on a 100-foot boat with a crew of 50, not on an aircraft carrier.”

Rutherford’s boat is the sort, as he says, that could be moored at a wharf and not attract a second glance. It’s a modest 27-foot Albin-Vega with a tendency for mechanical things to break and a ceiling so low that the 6-foot-tall Rutherford bumps his head any time he wakes up and forgets where he is. Rutherford, a sailor since 2004, has not set foot on land for almost 280 days, with an estimated 30 left. When we spoke, he was about 200 miles north of the mouth of the Amazon River and moving homeward, and certainly the most perilous parts of the journey are in the sack.

Indeed, right after setting out last June, he tackled the once almost mythical, now plain legendary Northwest Passage. Then he braved the nasty Bering Sea, and southward he went along the West Coast of Canada, the United States and Mexico. He entered the 30-to-35-degree latitude zone of famously windless weather, often called the “horse latitudes,” where many a sailing ship of the old days was stranded for sweltering, thirsty weeks. But Rutherford sailed through and into the sticky, balmy tropics. He paid little notice to the Panama Canal—the lazy sailor’s gateway to the Atlantic—for Rutherford was taking the scenic route. Ecuador, Peru and Chile sailed by before the American faced off with the tip of South America. As most sailors do when they find themselves in this neighborhood, Rutherford slipped through the Strait of Magellan, which brought him back again to the ocean he knows best, and the final leg of the trip began.

Rutherford has been fishing, he said. He trolls a lure behind him and, about two weeks ago, landed a mahi mahi worth a few good meals. He took a mid-sized yellowfin tuna off of New England early on and has lost a good many lures to strong strikes that broke his line. Those may have been sharks, swordfish or bluefin tuna. But the ideal catch, Rutherford explains, is a skipjack tuna, since they’re big enough for a feast but small enough to not to be wasted.

He is also eating freeze-dried foods provided by a sponsor, Shelf Reliance. The Utah company’s products are of high quality, Rutherford says, and he’s been preparing restaurant-quality soups and stews.

“All the great freeze-dried foods come out of Utah because of the Mormon ideology that you should have at least a year’s worth of freeze-dried food on your shelf,” Rutherford explained. “They make good freeze-dried food. You’ve gotta go to the Mormons if you want the good stuff.”

Rutherford has fought through just enough nasty weather to keep him on his toes, and he had a close call in the Bering Sea when an icy wave nearly flipped him over. Elsewhere, he has seen about 15 gales, he says, adding that he respects the ocean but doesn’t fear it.

“If the boat sinks and I drown, so be it,” he said. “That’s just how it is, but there’s no sense in being scared all the time.”

Somewhere in the Canadian Arctic last summer, Rutherford soaks up the chill, the fog and silence of the Northwest Passage. Photo by Matt Rutherford.

His vessel has had a few technical problems – not the least of which was when his water desalinator conked out off of Newfoundland. More recently, off Brazil, his engine petered out. Rutherford’s engine has served mostly as a generator for various appliances and lights, not for locomotion (he is, after all, a sailor). In each minor crisis, nearby vessels came to his assistance, tossing him the parts needed to make repairs.

Other vessels have been less helpful—like the one in early March that approached him in the middle of the night and began circling, coming closer and closer at each pass until, when the strange boat came to within 20 feet away, Rutherford fired a gun twice into the night sky. The boat departed in a hurry.

Asked whether any peers have criticized his voyage as haphazard or foolish, Rutherford said, “With these kinds of trips, it just depends on the outcome. If I had failed early on, then it could have been easily ridiculed, like, ‘Oh, you can’t do that trip on such a small budget or sailing alone, or on such a small boat.’ Basically, I either fail and everyone thinks I’m crazy, or I succeed and I’m a hero.”

Rutherford’s journey is a fundraising venture for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB), a nonprofit sailing program for people with disabilities, and donations can be made via his website. His progress can be followed through his blog. Rutherford is an experienced adventurer and a self-titled “gypsy,” and this journey will not likely be his last. He has already pedaled a bicycle around Southeast Asia and spent 2008 to 2010 on a 32-foot sailboat zigzagging between four continents in the Atlantic Ocean. Next up may be a return to the Arctic, where Rutherford hopes to film a documentary. But first: home, where he says he’s anticipating “a cold beer and a hot shower.”

For Rolling Stones Fans, This Book Is a Dream Come True

Smithsonian Magazine

Have you ever loved a band so much that you fantasized about going on tour with them? When that dream came true for journalist Rich Cohen in 1994, he had been a veritable Rolling Stones fan for years. He first heard the band through his brother’s bedroom door at age 10 (“a strange rhythm touched something inside me, something I did not even know existed.”) At age 26, he was assigned by Rolling Stone magazine to cover the Stones’ North America tour that summer. Cohen’s life has intersected with the Stones again and again in the two decades since that fateful summer, including working on “Vinyl,” the HBO series, with Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese.

“It was akin to my childhood dream of running off with the circus,” Cohen writes of going on tour with the Stones, in the opening of his 12th book, The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones. This new book is part memoir, part music history and details not only his time with the band and his own process of music discovery, but also spans the band members’ biographies, beginning before Cohen was born.

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The book reads easily and casually, despite being very obviously not a casual project. Cohen travelled to many of the places he writes about in the book, mentioning, for example, at one point in the notes, “In the winter of 2014, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I was overwhelmed by a desire to go to the places where Keith Richards shot up and kicked heroin, went cold turkey, suffered the horrors of withdrawal, cried and was carried to heaven and hell, got clean and relapsed… I drove from Villefranche to Lake Geneva, from exile to hospital, paradise to purgatory.” The history of British rock and R&B is folded into early chapters, which sketch out Cohen’s early years as a Rolling Stones fan and the early days of the Rolling Stones members, separately and then together. It grounds the Stones in the history and context of their art for anyone unfamiliar, but there is also very quickly plenty of exclusive behind-the-scenes material that an obsessive fan will appreciate.

To borrow Cohen’s Divine Comedy metaphor from his note, he makes for a captivating Virgil to guide the reader’s Dante. His unique experience with the band over three decades gives his interpretation of events credibility, even when his opinions diverge from those of a band member. For example, Cohen expresses disgust when the band loses their pianist Ian Stewart, memorably referred to as “the Sixth Stone.”

“To me, the moment the Stones dumped Ian Stewart is the moment they fell from grace,” writes Cohen. “They had torn open their chests and shown each other their craven hearts. No sacrifice would be too great, no member too important.” In conversation with Cohen, Keith Richards pinpointed a different moment: “That’s when I made my deal with the devil, right there, when I left the little scene and went after the big fame… You do it because it’s logical, it’s the next step. You do it without knowing what you’re doing. But once it’s done, and you’ve become – stupid term – a rock star, there’s no way back.”

Cohen’s proximity to the band also allows him to recreate moments that are well known, but perhaps never so well narrated. On the now-mythologized creation of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Cohen writes: “I sleep with an inhaler and a glass of water at my side. My son sleeps with a stuffed seal named Sealy. Keith sleeps with an acoustic guitar and a Phillips tape recorder. One morning, in 1965, he noticed the guitar had been moved, the recorder turned on.” Richards listened to the tape, and he heard the first five notes of the song, “Baa-Baa Ba-Ba-Ba,” then “the guitar was set down, a body hit the sheets.”

At times, Cohen deflects attention from the more problematic events in the Stones’ history. His treatment of Mick Jagger’s divorce from his wife Bianca is briefly addressed with, “Mick and Bianca divorced in 1979. I won’t into that relationship further, because it just makes me sad.” Missing is the detailed story, of Jagger starting an affair with model Jerry Hall, as are other mentions of his alleged mistreatment of women

But that’s the prerogative of a fan writing about his favorite band, who is ultimately introduced by Mick Jagger to Bruce Springsteen as Mick’s “good friend.” Cohen is a successful journalist and historian with over 20 years in the field – but he was a Rolling Stones fan first. His latest is exactly what it would be like to hang out with the band you worship. 

Remembering an Iconic Era Lost to Time: The Stars and Films of the Silent Pictures

Smithsonian Magazine

An Associated Press story this week describes a remarkable and historic discovery: while tearing down a barn in Keene, New Hampshire in 2006, a carpenter recovered a canister with the only known copy of a 1911 Mary Pickford movie that marked a turning point in her career. The Library of Congress has now restored the film, and it will be screened next month at Keene State College.

The movie is historically a wow because it is the first movie to call Mary Pickford by name. In the earliest years of silent movies, all actors were anonymous. No stars were listed because producers were worried that if actors were identified, some would become famous—and demand more money.

The long-missing film, Their First Misunderstanding, is a ten-minute comedy/drama that co-starred Pickford and her then-husband, Owen Moore. The producers were right to be worried about unleashing star power, and “America’s Sweetheart” turned out to be a tough-minded businesswoman. By 1915 her salary had gone from $100 per week to half a million dollars a year, fueling her rise to become, as her best biography entitles her, “The Woman Who Made Hollywood.

Earlier this month, the National Portrait Gallery screened a silent movie that graphically displayed the wonderful sophistication silent films had achieved during their heyday. The 1927 film, Wings was a Paramount Famous Lasky Pictures production with an A-List cast headed by their biggest star, Clara Bow, along with Richard Arlen and Charles “Buddy” Rogers—with a brief cameo by young Gary Cooper, whose riveting appearance launched him to fame. The film was directed by William Wellman and featured dazzling World War I flying scenes; Arlen and Wellman had been aviators during the war, and Rogers took flight training for the film.

Released three months after Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic, Wings was a box office sensation. The public was infatuated with aviation derring-do, and this movie packed first-run theaters for over a year. The newly-created Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences honored Wings as “Best Picture” at the first Academy Awards ceremony. (Sunrise received the award for “Best Unique and Artistic Picture,” a category deleted after this first ceremony.”)

In Hollywoodland (as the original sign read), 1927 was a year of high irony, because just as silent movies reached a remarkable level of artistry, “talking pictures” burst onto the screen and transformed the entire industry into an “all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing” spectacle.

Like 80 percent—yes, eighty per cent!—of all silent movies, Wings was considered “lost” for decades until a print was found in the Cinimetheque Francaise archive in Paris. Then, although no original negatives exist, Paramount found a badly-decayed spare negative in its vaults. Thanks to modern technology, the studio was able to restore the film, and last year, on its centennial anniversary, Paramount released a beautifully-remastered high-definition version of this silent classic.  It was this remarkable film that we were able to screen at the museum.

I was still enthralled by this movie’s soaring imagery when a new book, entitled Still, led me even more deeply into silent film’s ethereal universe. David S. Shields, the McClintock Professor of Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina, has spent the past decade researching still photography in the silent era. Often, he has discovered, these photographs are the sole remaining evidence of a medium that was “one of the most significant popular art forms of the modern age.”

Shields and I share an interest in the intricate relationship between still photography and film stardom. I have written about how Hollywood still photographs during the 1930s and ‘40s created glamorous star images that were lasting and memorable, and about how the iconic image of a star is often that of the frozen photographic moment rather than the fleeting image projected on film.

Charlie Chaplin, Berkshire Poster Company, c. 1916, NPG/SI

In Still: American Silent Motion Picture Photography, Shields surveys an earlier movie generation and argues that for silent stars,  “the still image rivaled the moving image in revealing personality and that it proved a more durable medium for preserving action, character, and personality than the motion picture.”

Because so many silent films are lost, still images are often the only extant visual documents that chronicle the movie industry’s early years. Many of the “stars” who pioneered the feature film era are unknown to us today: a movie fan magazine in 1914 listed the most popular star as Earle Williams, followed by J. Warren Kerrigan, Arthur Johnson, and Carlyle Blackwell. None of these is recognizable today, but by 1918 the Hollywood movie industry had geared up considerably, and a fan magazine poll that year listed Mary Pickford as the most popular star, followed by Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, and Theda Bara.

In the next ten years, Hollywood’s publicity machine generated stars of such magnitude—including Pickford, Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin– that we remember them today. But as much as we imagine watching movies of Pickford’s bouncing ringlets, Fairbanks’ swashbuckling dash, and Chaplin’s pathetic Little Tramp, it is actually the iconic still photograph of each that has become the cultural touchstone.  The photograph that captures their personality in a flash is how we remember them—still.

Suggested reading

David S. Shields, Still: American Silent Motion Picture Photography  (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2013)

Eileen Whitfield, Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood  (Faber and Faber, Inc.: NY,1997)

Richard Koszarski, An Evening’s Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915-1928   (University of California Press: Berkeley, 1990)

John Springer, All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!  Citadel Press, 1969)

How a KGB Spy Defected and Became a U.S. Citizen

Smithsonian Magazine

Jack Barsky was standing on a New York subway platform in 1988 when someone whispered in his ear: “You must come home or else you are dead.” No one had to tell him who’d sent the message. For ten years, Barsky had been a Soviet spy in the United States. Now, the KGB was calling him back. But Barsky wanted to stay.

Amazingly, he did—and lived to tell the tale. In his new book, Deep Undercover, he tells the incredible story of how he adopted a false identity, misled the KGB into assuming he was dead and later cooperated with the FBI. But the most dangerous part of his career wasn’t his undercover work. Rather, it was defying the KGB when the agency ordered him to leave.

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Barsky was born as Albrecht Dittrich in East Germany in 1949. When the KGB approached him in his early 20s, he had a positive view of Communists—they were the Nazi-fighting good guys.

“I was ideologically fully convinced that we were on the right side of history,” he says.

And so, in 1979, he began his new life as an undercover KGB spy in the U.S., gathering information for what he believed was a worthy cause. He went by the alias Jack Barsky, a name taken from a real American boy who had died at a young age and whose birth certificate Barsky used to pass as an American citizen. Within a few years, he started working at MetLife Insurance in New York City. (“The insurance companies, for some reason, were singled out as the epitome of evil in capitalism,” he says.)

Barsky’s assignments weren’t exactly like those on TV’s “The Americans” (though he will appear in an episode of the show on May 9). Some of his tasks included identifying people who might be good KGB recruits, filing reports about Americans’ reactions to current events, and transferring U.S. computer programs to the Soviets.

He kept this espionage hidden from his American friends and the woman he married in New York. Ironically, his wife was an undocumented immigrant from Guyana, and it was his fabricated citizenship that allowed her to stay in the country.

Barsky continued this double life until 1988, when the KGB sent him a radio message saying that his cover may have been compromised and he needed to return home. He didn’t know why they suspected this—and he never learned the answer. When he ignored the KGB’s first radio message, they sent another one. And when he ignored that, too, his bosses took more drastic measures.

“They knew the footpath that I used to get to the subway station, and there was a spot that I described to them where they could put signals,” he says. If Barksy saw a red dot placed in that spot, he’d know the KGB wanted to convey an emergency signal. Soon after the initial radio messages, Barsky saw that red dot on his way to work.

“It was an order: Get out of here. No questions asked,” he says. The signal didn’t just mean he should leave soon, it meant he should retrieve his emergency documents—which he’d stashed somewhere in the Bronx—and head to Canada immediately.

“But I didn’t do what the dot ordered me to do,” he says. Why? Because “unbeknownst to the folks in Moscow, I had a daughter here who was 18 months old.”

Even though he had another wife and a son in Germany, Barsky didn’t want to leave his new baby in the U.S. One week after he saw the dot, he received the KGB’s whispered death threat on the subway platform. If he wanted to stay, he says, he’d have to do something “to make sure that they wouldn’t come after me or possibly even do harm to my German family.”

Finally, Barsky sent a gutsy response to the KGB. He told them that he had AIDS and needed to stay in the U.S. to receive treatment. The agency should transfer his savings to his German wife, he told them. And that was it.

“For about three months [after the lie], I varied the way I went to the subway,” he says. “I would go to work at different times and I would zigzag differently, just in case somebody wanted to look for me and do something bad. And after that, when nothing happened after three months, I thought I was in the clear.”

He was right. The KGB assumed, as Barsky had hoped they would, that if he had AIDS, death was imminent. Years later, Barsky learned that when the KGB gave his savings to his German wife, they indeed told her that he died of AIDS-related causes.

After that, Barsky lived a pretty normal life. He continued to work at MetLife and then United Healthcare, bought a house, and had another child with his Guyanese American wife. Things might have continued on this way if the FBI hadn’t received a tip about him in the 1990s. After some initial surveillance, they bugged his house and ended up overhearing the moment when Barsky finally revealed his KGB past to his wife. (That marriage also didn’t last.)

Barsky has since provided information about the KGB to the FBI, married a third time, and become a U.S. citizen. His legal name is still the alias that he stole from that young boy’s birth certificate. When asked if he also still celebrates the birthday on Barsky’s birth certificate, he replied, “I don’t celebrate anything. I’m too old.”

Whether that’s true is up for debate. But his evasive answer underlines what might be the most interesting part of his story—that at some point, the KGB spy turned into the American he was pretending to be.

Liberals and Conservatives Read Totally Different Books About Science

Smithsonian Magazine

Nearly 50 years ago, a computer engineer named Paul Baran peered into the future of American media and didn't like what he saw.

"With the diversity of information channels available, there is a growing ease of creating groups having access to distinctly differing models of reality, without overlap," wrote Baran, a co-founder of the California-based Institute for the Future and a pioneer of the early Internet. "Will members of such groups ever again be able to talk meaningfully to one another? Will they ever obtain at least some information through the same filters so that their images of reality will overlap to some degree?"

This was 1969. Baran was lamenting how the rise of television would cleave the political public. But his warnings may be more prescient today than ever: New findings based on an extensive survey of American book-buying habits find that readers on different sides of the political aisle are not only deeply polarized over scientific issues—they also read completely different scientific books.

"It's really a consumption divide," says James Evans, a sociologist at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study, which was published this week in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. "It's very difficult to imagine consumers of science in this environment appealing to a shared body of claims and facts and theories and arguments because they're really looking at different things."

Evans has long studied the history of science, and how scientists collaborate with industry. But recently, a conversation with Cornell University computational social scientist Michael Macy left him wondering whether the U.S's increasingly polarized politics would be reflected in how people view and read about science. The pair decided to team up to measure this polarization in a unique way: through the books they buy.

Unlike the more commonly used method of surveys, book-buying data is potentially more useful because it allows for much larger sample sizes, Evans says. Plus, it’s more anonymous than a survey: The books are purchased privately online and shipped in nondescript boxes to people's homes, meaning there's no fear of judgment from a pollster (a factor that may have helped skew polls before the 2016 U.S. presidential election).

Finally, purchasing a book requires a financial investment that makes it more likely that people are really committed to the view of that book, Evans says. As he puts it: "Talk is cheap. But if they're putting their money on the line ... this says they have a certain level of interest."

Evans and his collaborators drew on data from book giants Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, which together have access to more than half of the world's book-buying market. They didn’t collaborate with either company, meaning they didn’t have access to buyers themselves. However, they were able to take advantage of a feature both websites offer: book suggestions.

When a customer buys a book from either site, a list of books that other people who bought that book tend to purchase will pop up. These suggestions "allowed us to build an entire network representation of that book-buying space," Evans says, linking hundreds of thousands of scientific books to each other in a web, along with more than 1,000 conservative and liberal books. All told, the team sorted through metadata for some 1.3 million books.

Researchers looked at that web to see what books about science are most often purchased by people who buy other books with liberal or conservative political slants (for example, a book by Rachel Maddow versus one by Ann Coulter). What they found was a stark divide in the kinds of science these two groups like to read about. Liberal readers more often picked books about basic science disciplines, such as anthropology, while conservative book purchasers tended toward applied science books, such as medicine.

"It's not just that they purchased different books, they purchased very different books from different regions of the scientific space," Evans says.

There may yet be hope for some measure of bipartisan unity. A few disciplines appeared to attract relatively equal interest from both sides of the political spectrum—namely, veterinary medicine, archaeology and paleontology. "Apparently we can all agree that dinosaurs are awesome," says Evans.

For science lovers dismayed by recent restrictions on the use of science at government agencies, there is another silver lining to the results: Political book purchasers of both persuasions were more likely to purchase books about science than topics like art or sports. "There's a really broad acceptance of the value of science,” Evans says, “by liberals and conservatives.”

The scientific fields that appeared most polarized among liberal and conservative-leaning book buyers may not surprise you: climatology, environmental science, social science and economics, among others. (By "polarized," the authors mean that there was very little overlap between what climate science books liberals bought versus the ones that conservatives bought.)

Evans worries that in the long-term, this polarization could not only influence how the public views science, but could shape science itself for the worse. "The concern is that this kind of polarization could end up shaping the production of science in those fields," Evans says—for example, leading scientists to design narrower studies that unconsciously seek to confirm results that align with their biases.

In an opinion piece published alongside the study, Georgia State University political scientist Toby Bolsen writes that the results underscore a growing concern about Americans associating themselves more with people and media with whom they share opinions on science and politics—which often leads to those opinions being strengthened. "This can impede science’s ability to enhance the quality of political debates," writes Bolsen, who wasn't involved in the research.

He cautions, however, that this study did not draw on a random sample of conservative and liberal books—they were picked by the researchers based on Amazon’s categorization of them. Nor does it address the motivations that drive an individual to buy or read a certain scientific book.

James Druckman, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies how people form political preferences, says Evans' research is "clearly is a critical advance in what we know." Druckman, who also wasn't involved in this study, says the work "gives a much more nuanced and likely accurate view of partisanship and science." At the same time, he adds, "it avoids simplistic portraits of partisans."

This is far from the first effort to analyze so-called “information silos” using data. In 2014, when waves of violence were rocking Israel, data analyst Gilad Lotan published an analysis of the social media and news coverage of an attack at a school in the Gaza Strip. In a series of stunning maps, Lotan detailed the wide gap between the kinds of news outlets, posts and articles shared by those considered to be "pro-Israeli" and "pro-Palestinian" on Facebook and Twitter.

“A healthy democracy is contingent on having a healthy media ecosystem," Lotan wrote. "We need to be more thoughtful about adding and maintaining bridges across information silos online.”

In the future, Evans hopes to be able to work with online book publishers to collect specific data about buyers and their preferences. In the meantime, though, he hopes to see more work to bridge this scientific gap. For instance: scrutinizing book-recommendation algorithms to make sure that they don't box people into certain viewpoints, getting scientists to better communicate when there is consensus opinion in their fields, and creating more forums for people of different political views to discuss science.

"Doing that could allow us to make science a shared resource," Evans says. "I think the onus is on us as a society to grapple with this."

For a Larger-Than-Life Space Icon, John Glenn Was Remarkably Down-to-Earth

Smithsonian Magazine

“He was a great American hero, there’s no doubt about it,” said Michael Neufeld, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum and the former head of its Space History Division, on the day that John Glenn died. Many Americans shared Neufeld’s sentiment. From flying in both World War II and the Korean War; to paving the way for space exploration by becoming the first American to orbit Earth; to winning election to the U.S. Senate and then returning to space again, Glenn lived the life of a legend.

As a 10-year-old boy in Calgary, Canada, Neufeld remembers watching on the television as Glenn launched into space atop an Atlas rocket, just before he had to leave for school. Witnessing that historic moment helped shape Neufeld into the "space buff" he is today, he says. In his 95 years on Earth and beyond, Glenn was not only an explorer of space but a passionate fan and supporter of the Smithsonian's work, Neufeld and other friends and colleagues recall. And he did it all while remaining surprisingly down-to-earth.

Glenn’s close friend J.R. Dailey, director of the National Air and Space Museum, wrote in an essay last week that Glenn was “committed to our mission to inspire the world to new heights.” “To me, there is no greater calling,” Dailey recalled Glenn saying. “If I can inspire young people to dedicate themselves to the good of mankind, I've accomplished something.”

"Glenn was a big friend of the museum," Neufeld says.

Margaret Weitekamp, a curator in the National Air and Space Museum's Space History Division, worked closely with Glenn for five years on the museum's lecture series named after him. Besides giving the inaugural lecture on his life’s journey before roughly 1,500 people in 2004, Glenn made a point of coming to introduce speakers whenever he could and helping out the museum in any way possible, she says. For an exalted American hero, Weitekamp remembers as being remarkably feet-on-the-ground. "For being someone who has lived a life on the national and international stage, he was very down-to-earth, very approachable,” she says.

Weitekamp says she was shocked to discover that Glenn never got around to having the food or drinks at most of the museum's events he attended, because he didn't want to miss a chance to talk to people. Instead, his wife Annie would make him a sandwich for the road, which he would eat on the drive over from his home in Bethesda, Maryland. (Weitekamp would later make sure that the caterers prepared a plate of food before the event so Glenn got a proper dinner.)

At a 2011 banquet honoring Glenn and fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter, then the last two living members of the Mercury space program, Weitekamp recalls how Glenn ended up serving coffee to other guests, despite him being the guest of honor that night.

Glenn's affection for the Smithsonian stemmed in part from his deep interest in the history of flight, Weitekamp says. When asked what was his favorite artifact in the National Museum of Air and Space, Glenn did not pick the space capsule that carried him around the Earth in 1962 (which is still on display). In fact, he didn’t pick anything related to space at all. Instead, Glenn picked the 1903 Wright flyer built by fellow Ohioans Orville and Wilbur Wright, Weitekamp recalls. "He thought it would have been a great adventure, being one of the first people getting on the very first airplane," Weitekamp says.

John Glenn (right) stands in front of the Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraft that took him into orbit at a 1987 press conference honoring the 25th anniversary of his mission. (Smithsonian Institution)

Glenn’s own life was undeniably a great adventure. After retiring as an astronaut, he eventually went on to represent Ohio in the U.S. Senate for 24 years, transforming from space-goer to politician. Writer Nick Taylor first met Glenn during Glenn’s final year as a senator, after being introduced through Glenn’s friend David McCullough (who shared a literary agent with Taylor).  Taylor recalls walking into Glenn's Senate office to see the man signing a massive stack of pictures of himself. Glenn refused to use printed signatures, because he wanted to give fans what they actually expected: his real handwriting.

Taylor helped Glenn write his 2000 memoir, and the two "small-town boys" remained close friends afterwards. The New York author says he was always struck by Glenn's intense curiosity, and his desire to share what interested him with his friends and loved ones. Glenn even went on to convince Taylor to watch a video of his own cataract surgery because he found it so fascinating. Though he didn’t graduate college, the former astronaut was fascinated by anything scientific or medical, Taylor says.

Despite having a larger-than-life career—two, in fact—Glenn still managed to appreciate the little things. When he orbited the Earth, he recalled seeing three sunsets in less than five hours, a memory that stuck with him for the rest of his life. From then on, he made a point of "collecting sunsets" through photographs for the rest of his life, Taylor says. Glenn also had a passion for chocolate: In his home and office, he kept bowls of Hershey kisses and Ohio's famous buckeye treats on hand. "You could always count on being offered candy when you were around John," Taylor recalls.

After leaving the Senate, Glenn spent his final years supporting future leaders through the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, the college named after him, at Ohio State University. One of the many students whom he impacted was Rachel Coyle, who found in Glenn a man who would help pave her path into a career in politics. Through Glenn's program, Coyle was able to intern in a Senate office in Washington, D.C.; she now works in the Ohio statehouse, where Glenn will lie in state this week.

Coyle recalls Glenn and his wife as being very engaged in her program, and always taking the time to meet and learn about every student. "He was always there," Coyle says. "Pretty much everyone I know has at least one story that they've been sharing the last few days about the time they got to meet John Glenn … That's unique for someone who's as famous as he is."

The well-known devotion between Glenn and Annie, his high school sweetheart and wife of 73 years, also left a big impression on Coyle. He and Annie would hold hands throughout dinners with the students, and John would jokingly try to steal food off her plate, which would result in a smack on the hand from Annie. Even decades into their marriage, the two were clearly in love. "That always really struck a chord with me," Coyle says.

A 1988 portrait by Henry C. Casselli that captures John Glenn at the time of his mission aboard the Discovery space shuttle at the age 77 is now on view in memory of the astronaut's life and accomplishments at the National Portrait Gallery.

Can Resource Scarcity Really Explain a History of Human Violence?

Smithsonian Magazine

More than 2,000 years ago, a man died defending his family. For Mark Allen, it was a haunting reminder of how the struggle for resources can drive humanity to some of their darkest impulses.

The professor of anthropology at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona was reading through old accounts of the hasty salvage archaeology operation conducted on a site in an Oakland, California, suburb as it was dug up to make way for a paint factory in the 1920s. Archaeologists described hundreds of burials, but the story that most stood out to Allen was that of a middle-aged man whose bones were pierced at least four times by obsidian blades. The skeleton still had an obsidian blade in his hand. The bodies of three children and another man lay around him, also pierced.

"There's a lot of important information about this site, but one of those pieces is this guy who went down fighting trying to protect his family and failed," Allen says. The story in part inspired him to examine the causes of lethal violence among hunter-gatherers over the past two millennia in central California. Last month, he published a study on the cause of violent death in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This study suggests that a key predictor in why humans would resort to violence is resource scarcity," Allen says.

The vexing question of how human violence originated has long provoked debate among anthropologists. Researchers are divided over questions like whether warfare was always with us or whether humans were initially peaceful, becoming more violent only as they became more organized. A 10,000-year old massacre recently discovered in Africa, for instance, reopened the dispute over how bellicose our hunter-gatherer ancestors truly were. 

survey of violence in the mammal world published in Nature in September found rates of violence in humans compared closely to evolutionary cousins like monkeys, lemurs and apes. Yet while humans may be only average-murdery among primates, that still makes them pretty violent toward each other: Primates are by far the most murderous mammalian group. The study suggested that we have a predilection for killing that has somewhat slackened as we became more organized.

To approach this longstanding problem, Allen and his coauthors needed a lot of data. They found it in the form of a massive database compiled from records of indigenous burials in central California excavated since 1975. Of the roughly 16,000 burials recorded over the past 5,000 years in the database, around 7.4 percent of the males and 4.5 percent of the females showed evidence of injuries from things like sharp blades, spears or arrow tips.

This was key: sharp-force trauma wounds, the researchers believed, were the best indicator of human-on-human violence. (Blunt force trauma could have been caused by falling, or even could have happened to the bones after burial.) Death by pointy objects, it seems, “is common throughout California's history," says Allen, who also wrote about the Oakland site in a chapter of the book Contemporary Issues in California Archaeology.

In the mid-1700s, California was one of the densest parts of North America above the Mexican border. The region boasted an estimated 300,000 people, compared to a total of 1 million across what is now Canada and the U.S. Many were concentrated in central California, partly due to the fact that it was a very productive environment, Allen says.

Groups of hunter-gatherers subsisted on salmon and birds, deer and other animals attracted to the water, and extracted flour from an abundant supply of acorns to last them through the winter. "[The area] could support a large population of hunter-gatherers," Allen says, "but that doesn't mean it was paradise."

To figure out the relative productivity of the area, the researchers turned to modern-day NASA satellite maps showing biomass, or the complete mass of biological material in a given area. Biomass, they write in the paper, demonstrates the abundance of food as well as the material available for hunter-gatherers to make tools. By comparing biomass and drought data to the burial evidence, Allen and team found that sharp-force trauma violence broke out more often when resources were low.

"That supports a long-standing hypothesis that resources scarcity would be the main predictor of the origins of violence and warfare in small-scale groups," he says.

Yet other researchers caution that merely measuring biomass is not a specific enough way to indicate available food. Net productivity in biomass might not always be the same thing as the availability of resources; it can also include, say, tree trunks, microbes and poisonous frogs. In the Amazon jungle, for example, there is a high amount of biomass, but there isn't always much for humans to eat.

The study “kind of raises my eyebrows a lot," says Raymond Hames, a professor of anthropology at the University of Nebraska who was not involved in the study. 

Allen and team also examined the social and political complexity of the groups. They divided the burials into 19 different cultural groups with different levels of social complexity, based on other evidence found by the remains and Spanish accounts from missionary period. Organization levels varied from societies that had a single leader with informal councils of elders to those with powerful theocratic secret societies rather than secular leaders.

Yet none of these factors seemed to have any more influence on the number of people who'd been injured by piercing objects than resource availability. "[Groups with more command and control] don’t show more evidence of violence," Allen says.

While Hames appreciates the study's attention to causes of variation in violence rates, he questions the assumptions that political complexity remained consistent over the time period. "What guarantee do we have that that data reflects political complexity of 1,000 years ago?" he says.

Michael Blake, the head of the anthropology department at the University of British Columbia, questions the study's sample size, saying it isn't large enough to discount the possibility that political complexity may play a part leveraging violence. Blake points out that, while 19 different cultural groups were examined, the majority of these sit in the middle range of social organization, with only a couple outliers on the low or high ranges.

“I think it’s a really great idea as far as it goes,” Blake says. The solution, he adds, would be to examine a wider range of societies along the Pacific coast to see if the results still rang true.

For Lawrence Keeley, an anthropologist and author of the book War Before Civilization, any attempt ot examine the relationship between war and political or social complexity is futile. He says Allen's study crushes the concept of the myth of the pacified past, but is concerned that the argument that resource scarcity drives violence levels is too simplistic. "Humans are not passive subjects of their environments, but planners and anticipators," he points out.

The Real Smokey Bear Has A New Biography

Smithsonian Magazine

The first Smokey Bear poster shows a brown-coated bear wearing jeans. He's peering shyly up from under a campaign hat as he pours a bucket of water over a campfire."SMOKEY SAYS," the poster reads, "Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!"

Albert Staehle, the illustrator, might have chosen a bear (over the suggested raccoon) because he wanted Smokey to look like the father of the forest, as his wife later recalled. But many will forever associate the cartoon with a real bear cub, whose paws and belly were singed in a 1950 spring wildfire.

In a new biography—"Smokey Bear: The Cub Who Left His Pawprints on History"—the "real" Smokey is getting a proper tribute, reports the Sun-SentinelThe book's author, Karen Signell, first met Smokey when he was a cub, living at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. 

The cub had been rescued by a game warden, Ray Bell, fighting a fire in New Mexico’s Capitan mountains. Don Bell was 15 when his father came home with the five-pound bear. The Sun Sentinel's Brittany Shammas reports:

The Bell family was constantly taking in wild animals, so Don Bell didn't think much of the "cute little guy" who slept in a rabbit cage on the back porch. But the story of the rescued cub would become a national phenomenon. Smokey's arrival at the capital airport drew hundreds of reporters, photographers and onlookers, and he appeared in newspapers across the country.

At the zoo, Smokey drew millions of visitors during his 26 years in residence. Having a living animal symbol helped make the wildfire-safety campaign more visible, Signell writes in Smokey's biography. The Smokey ads were also a far better choice, at least to modern eyes, than the racial caricatures that populated the previous campaign. (The obsession with forest fire prevention kicked off during World War II after a Japanese submarine fired shells into an oil field in Southern California, very close to Los Padres National Forest.)

Signell visited the cub not long after he reached the zoo, and she writes Smokey’s story from his perspective. Don Bell told the Sun-Sentinel he feared it might be "hokey" but that "[a]fter she got it all put together and everything and finished it up, I read it and I think she did a pretty damn good job."

On her site, Signell writes:

I thought of the book as a fictionalized historical biography. And, from the beginning, I wrote it mainly for adults, but also youngsters. I chose to write the novel from the bear’s point of view (but in the third person), in my respect for the wild animal’s intelligence and my empathy for his emotions. It was not easy to write this way. I had to imagine how he smelled his world, what sounds he made... But I was greatly helped by naturalists’ books with vivid descriptions of cubs and bears they knew well.

Other famous National Zoo residents during Smokey’s life also make appearances in the novel. Expect to hear about the Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the two Giant Panda gifted from China after President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit and space-chimp Ham’s retirement.

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Ken Burns' New Series, Based on Newly Discovered Letters, Reveals a New Side of FDR

Smithsonian Magazine

One of the most influential documentary filmmakers working today, Ken Burns has made his reputation by presenting the stories of the American experience with unmatched drama and flair. His topics have ranged from the Brooklyn Bridge to baseball, from Mark Twain to jazz, Prohibition, and the national parks. Remarkably, his works don’t date: As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, his legendary PBS series on that war remains as relevant today as it first was when it aired to critical acclaim in 1990.

Burns spoke at the National Press Club this week, just as his riveting new seven-part PBS series, "The Roosevelts," premiered. The first episode had aired the night before, and Burns, along with long-time collaborator Geoffrey C. Ward and PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger, were, as Teddy Roosevelt would have said, “dee-lighted” by chart-topping viewer ratings. In an unprecedented move, PBS is streaming the entire series on its website just as it is airing the series in prime time each night this week.

His biographical approach is to look “from the inside out,” and he captures the historic moments of American life with deep dives into personal letters, diaries and newspapers. But it is his use of still photographs that has been most revealing. He calls photographs “the DNA” of everything he does, and his evocative slow-scans have transformed subjects like the Civil War into a cinematic experience. This slow-motion scanning technique is now known as “the Ken Burns effect.”

In "The Roosevelts," Burns focuses on the towering but flawed figures who, before they were “history,” were “family.” He was able to draw on newsreel footage, radio broadcasts and personal documents—notably, a trove of newly-discovered letters between FDR and his cousin Daisy Stuckley—as well as on more than 25,000 still photographs. Ultimately, nearly 2,400 stills were used in this series.

He told the Press Club audience that his objective in this series was to illuminate a very complicated narrative about figures that had often been explored individually, but had never been viewed together “like a Russian novel.” In the years covered by the series, from Theodore’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962, Burns suggests that their lives intersected with the rise of the American Century, and that they were “as responsible as anyone for the creation of the modern world.”  

As a biographer, he felt it “hugely important to understand the world they created by exploring where they came from.” His focus is on both their inner and outer lives, and on illuminating the flaws as well as the strengths woven through their characters. Above all, his goal was to create a nuanced portrait rather than a superficial valentine.

Burns explores how Theodore Roosevelt’s embrace of the motto “Get Action” transformed him from a sickly little boy into an energized force of nature. Describing Theodore in the second episode, historian David McCullough—whose 1981 TR biography, Mornings on Horseback, won a National Book Award—calls him a genius who could read books in gulps and retain essential points for years. But there was a dark side to TR’s family as well, and Burns conveys the depression that lurked within Theodore—how his obsessive physical exertions were in part meant to “outrun the demons.”

As president, TR became a role model for his young cousin Franklin. Where Theodore was always a blurred portrait in motion, Burns depicts FDR as a far different personality. Franklin had a look of “distance in the eyes” that made him more “opaque.” What has allowed the filmmaker to create a more revealing image of FDR in this series is a treasure trove of newly-discovered letters between FDR and his cousin and confidante, Daisy Stuckley. Because he writes her with an unguarded spirit, FDR is here fleshed out more fully than in his better-known public persona.

Eleanor, another cousin in the sprawling Roosevelt bloodline, is introduced along with Theodore and Franklin in what Burns calls the “table setting” of the first episode. Her story emerges more fully as the series proceeds, and why she succeeded in her life at all is what makes her story so fascinating: her beautiful mother was greatly disappointed by her unbeautiful daughter, even calling her “Granny.” Orphaned by the time she was 10, Eleanor gradually discovered that if she could be useful, she could be loved—or at least needed. As Burns told the National Press Club, Eleanor represented “a miracle of the human spirit,” and went on to live such a productive life that she became “the most consequential First Lady in American history.”

According to Burns, the central issue he develops in the series, and the guiding philosophy that connects all three Roosevelts, deals with the relationship between leadership and character: what is the nature of leadership? How does character affect leadership? And how does adversity affect character?

Burns has selected some of America’s greatest actors to bring his subject’s words to life, including the voices of actors Paul Giamatti as Theodore, Edward Herrman as Franklin, and Meryl Streep as Eleanor. Their voices imbue "The Roosevelts" with the kind of immediacy FDR created with his fireside chats, and a relevance that is both recognizable and haunting.

Octant, Mark 3 Model 1, Pioneer, Lockheed Sirius "Tingmissartoq" (Lindbergh)

National Air and Space Museum
Aircraft Octant: Mark 3, Model 1, Serial No. 3-31, Contr No 20988, Pioneer Instrument Company, Brooklyn NY. Black panted finish with eyepiece and several dials. Contains handwritten time and altitude notes on side. Stored in wooden box with battery and handwrtten note. Initals C.A.L. on inside cover.

This Pioneer aircraft octant was among the navigation equipment Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, took on their 1931 flight to the Orient and 1933 survey flights across the North and South Atlantic. Radio and navigation equipment was extremely important to the Lindberghs on their trans-global flights. Because they were flying over vast stretches of unchartered territory in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia during their 1931 flight and Greenland, Africa, and Brazil during their 1933 flight, they relied on radio and navigation equipment to help them find their remote destinations. They used this octant to measure the relative position of celestial objects, helping them keep track of their position on the map.

Anne did most of the navigating and operated all of the radio equipment during the Lindberghs' two trans-global flights. Prior to the 1931 flight she worked hard to learn aviation skills and Morse code in order to earn her pilot license and radio operator's license. She thus felt slightly insulted when women reporters seemed most interested in her clothes or where she packed the lunch boxes on the airplane. Charles, however, always recognized Anne's importance to their success and called her "the crew," a term that made her proud.

A vacation flight with "no start or finish, no diplomatic or commercial significance, and no records to be sought." So Charles A. Lindbergh described the flight that he and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were planning to make to the Orient in 1931. Their choice of route, however, showed the feasibility of using the great circle to reach the Far East.

The Lindberghs flew in a Lockheed Sirius low-wing monoplane, powered by a 680-hp Wright Cyclone. The Sirius had been designed in 1929 by John K. Northrop and Gerard Vultee, and this model was specially fitted with Edo floats, since most of the Lindberghs flight was to be over water.

Their route took them from North Haven, Maine, to Ottawa, Moose Factory, Churchill, Baker Lake, and Aklavik, all in Canada; Point Barrow, Shismaref, and Nome, Alaska; Petropavlosk. Siberia; and on over the Kurile Islands to Japan. After receiving an enthusiastic welcome in Tokyo, they flew to China. They landed on Lotus Lake near Nanking on September 19, thus completing the first flight from the West to the East by way of the North.

At Hankow, the Sirius, with the Lindberghs aboard, was being lowered into the Yangtze River from the British aircraft carrier Hermes, when the aircraft accidentally capsized. One of the wings was damaged when it hit a ship's cable, and the aircraft had to be returned to the United States for repairs.

Their next venture in the Sirius came as a result of the five countries' interest in the development of commercial air transport. In 1933 Pan American Airways, Imperial Airways of Great Britain, Lufthansa of Germany, KLM of Holland, and Air France undertook a cooperative study of possible Atlantic routes. Each was assigned the responsibility for one of the following areas: New Newfoundland to Europe via Greenland; Newfoundland via the great circle route to Ireland; Newfoundland southeast to the Azores and Lisbon; Miami, Bermuda, the Azores, and Lisbon; and across the South Atlantic from Natal, Brazil, to Cape Verde, Africa.

Pan American was to survey the Newfoundland to Europe via Greenland route. Ground survey and weather crews in Greenland were already hard at work when Lindbergh, Pan Am's technical advisor, took off from New York on July 9 in the rebuilt Lockheed Sirius, again accompanied by his wife, who would serve as copilot and radio operator. A Sperry artificial horizon and a directional gyro had been added to the instrument panel since the previous flight, and a new Wright Cyclone SR1820-F2 engine of 710 horsepower was installed. Lindbergh's plan was not to set up a particular route but to gather as much information as possible on the area to be covered.

The Jellinge, a Danish ship, was chartered by Pan Am to maintain radio contact with the Lindberghs in the Labrador-Greenland-Iceland area. The ship also delivered advance supplies for them to Halifax, Saint John's, Cartwright, Greenland, and Iceland.

Every possible space in the aircraft was utilized, including the wings and floats, which contained the gasoline tanks. There was plenty of emergency equipment in case the Lindberghs had to make a forced landing in the frozen wilderness.

From New York, the Lindberghs flew up the eastern border of Canada to Hopedale, Labrador. From Hopedale they made the first major overwater hop, 650 miles to Godthaab, Greenland, where the Sirius acquired its name-Tingmissartoq, which in Eskimo means "one who flies like a big bird."

After crisscrossing Greenland to Baffin Island and back, and then on to Iceland, the Lindberghs proceeded to the major cities of Europe and as far east as Moscow, down the west coast of Africa, and across the South Atlantic to South America, where they flew down the Amazon, and then north through Trinidad and Barbados and back to the United States.

They returned to New York on December 19, having traveled 30,000 miles to four continents and twenty-one countries. The information gained from the trip proved invaluable in planning commercial air transport routes for the North and South Atlantic.

The aircraft was in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City until 1955. The Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, then acquired it and transferred it to the Smithsonian in 1959.

These Photos Capture a Decade of Change at Earth's Poles

Smithsonian Magazine

Frankly, Earth’s polar environments can be a bit polarizing. “It’s a love-hate thing, being in the Arctic and Antarctic,” says photojournalist Camille Seaman, who decidedly fell in love with Earth's poles. Seaman has spent the last decade of her career documenting the icebergs, polar bears, penguins and other wild residents that populate the frigid polar landscapes. “If you love it, you’re always trying to figure out, How do I get back?” she adds.

Now Seaman hopes to bring a love of the Arctic and Antarctic to those of us who make our homes in more temperate climes, with a new book of photos and personal essays called Melting Away (Princeton Architectural Press). Seaman hopes her images will raise awareness about the plight of the animals and ecosystems that inhabit the far edges of the Earth.

The long-time photojournalist’s first trip up north was pure coincidence. In 1999, she volunteered to give up her seat on a flight to California in exchange for a free round-trip ticket anywhere. She chose Kotzebue, Alaska, because she liked the name and had never been there. “It really was quite serendipitous,” recalls Seaman.

Since then she has traveled to the Arctic and Antarctica on and off between 2003 and 2011. Over the years, she picked up gigs as a ship’s photographer on scientific expeditions and commercial vessels. Working alongside researchers studying the area, she began to understand the things she was seeing through her lens. “I got first-hand, in-the-field education as to not only what was going on, but how to identify it, right there with my eyes and my camera,” she says.

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For instance, snow accumulation has doubled in Antarctica since 1850, and extreme snowfall can cause problems for penguins. Not used to the wetter weather, the animals don’t instinctively leave their nests. In 2001, heavy snow buried some nesting Adélie penguins alive, cutting their numbers by 40 percent. Seaman had heard stories of the phenomenon, and actually witnessed two Gentoo penguins get buried in 2009. And in the Canadian Arctic, she was shocked to see a hungry polar bear stumble onto an islet with several species of birds nesting and eat all of the eggs in a mere two hours. Polar bears do occasionally eat bird eggs, but usually as a supplement to heartier meals of seals hunted from icy perches. With less sea ice available, the bears are returning to shorelines earlier and hungrier.

Some birds migrate north from North America and Russia to lay their eggs in Arctic regions, overlapping with the bears’ return. While snacking on eggs might benefit individual bears in the short term, such activities may be contributing to a decline in bird colony numbers, with implications for species further down the food chain. “The eggs don’t hatch. The birds don’t return to Northern Europe or Russia to eat the bugs and then the crops have problems with the bugs. You can really see the [potential] ripple effect,” Seaman says.

Seaman also highlights the changing landscapes of polar ecosystems in Melting Away. Icebergs are often the subjects of her photographs, and they almost become a unique species. Seaman attributes this effect to her own Native American heritage; she was raised as part of the Shinnecock Montaukett tribe on Long Island. “An iceberg is literally teeming with life, and it is its own entity,” says Seaman. “I’ve never seen two that were identical.”

In the last 10 years, scientists have also gained a deeper understanding of how warmer sea surface temperatures and changes to ocean chemistry will affect organisms from bears to bacteria living in the polar regions. It doesn’t look good. Two thirds of emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica are projected to shrink by 50 percent in the next century. Last week, researchers found that most polar bears face similarly dismal odds at the opposite end of the globe. And just this week researchers reported that glaciers in West Antarctica have tripled their rate of loss in the last 10 years.

Though 97 percent of scientists agree that anthropogenic climate change is happening, much of the public remains skeptical. Seaman is hesitant to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do about it. Instead, interspersed through her shots of turquoise sea ice and king penguins are personal stories about topics such as motherhood, nature and photography.

“I wanted to speak as a pedestrian, in hopes that people would recognize some of themselves in some of my stories,” Seaman explains. She was initially pretty apathetic about climate change and hopes to reach similar readers. Perhaps art may succeed where scientific data sometimes fails—in winning the hearts and minds of a new generation of environmental stewards. “A good strong image can complement the data,” says Seaman. At the very least, she hopes readers will think about what sort of planet they want to live on in the future.

How Your Brain Recognizes All Those Faces

Smithsonian Magazine

Each time you scroll through Facebook, you’re exposed to dozens of faces—some familiar, some not. Yet with barely a glance, your brain assesses the features on those faces and fits them to the corresponding individual, often before you even have time to read who’s tagged or who posted the album. Research shows that many people recognize faces even if they forget other key details about a person, like their name or their job.

That makes sense: As highly social animals, humans need to be able to quickly and easily identify each other by sight. But how exactly does this remarkable process work in the brain?

That was the question vexing Le Chang, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology, in 2014. In prior research, his lab director had already identified neurons in the brains of primates that processed and recognized faces. These six areas in the brain's temporal lobe, called "face patches," contain specific neurons that appear to be much more active when a person or monkey is looking at a face than other objects.

"But I realized there was a big question missing," Chang says. That is: how the patches recognize faces. "People still [didn't] know the exact code of faces for these neurons."

In search of the method the brain uses to analyze and recognize faces, Chang decided to break down the face mathematically. He created nearly 2,000 artificial human faces and broke down their component parts by categories encompassing 50 characteristics that make faces different, from skin color to amount of space between the eyes. They he implanted electrodes into two rhesus monkeys to record how the neurons in their brain’s face patches fired when they were shown the artificial faces.

By then showing the monkeys thousands of faces, Chang was able to map which neurons fired in relation to which features were on each face, he reports in a study published this month in the journal Cell.

It turned out that each neuron in the face patches responded in certain proportions to only one feature or "dimension" of what makes faces different. This means that, as far as your neurons are concerned, a face is a sum of separate parts, as opposed to a single structure. Chang notes he was able to create faces that appeared extremely different but produced the same patterns of neural firing because they shared key features.

This method of face recognition stands in contrast to what some neuroscientists previously thought about how humans recognize faces. Previously, there were two opposing theories: “exemplar coding” and “norm coding.” For the exemplar coding theory, neuroscientists proposed that the brain recognized faces by comparing facial features to extreme or distinct examples of them, while the norm coding theory proposed that the brain was analyzing how a face’s features differed from an “average face.”

Understanding this pattern of neural firing allowed Chang to create an algorithm by which he could actually reverse engineer the patterns of just 205 neurons firing as the monkey looked at a face to create what faces the monkey was seeing without even knowing what face the monkey was seeing. Like a police sketch artist working with a person to combine facial features, he was able to take the features suggested by the activity of each individual neuron and combine them into a complete face. In nearly 70 percent of cases, humans drawn from the crowdsourcing website Amazon Turk matched the original face and the recreated face as being the same.

"People always say a picture is worth a thousand words," co-author neuroscientist Doris Tsao said in a press release. "But I like to say that a picture of a face is worth about 200 neurons."

The artificial faces shown to the monkeys and the reconstructions that the researchers made using just the neural activity from their brains. (Doris Tsao)

Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist at the National Eye Institute, said the new study impressed him.

"It provides a principled account for how face recognition comes about, using data from real neurons," says Conway, who was not involved in the study. He added that such work can help us develop better facial recognition technologies, which are currently notoriously flawed. Sometimes the result is laughable, but at other times the algorithms these programs rely on have been found to have serious racial biases.

In the future, Chang sees his work as potentially being used in police investigations to profile potential criminals from witnesses who saw them. Ed Connor, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University, envisions software that could be developed to adjust features based on these 50 characteristics. Such a program, he says, could allow witnesses and police to fine-tune faces based on the characteristics humans use to distinguish them, like a system of 50 dials that witnesses could turn to morph faces into the once they remember most.

"Instead of people describing what others look like," Chang speculates, "we could actually directly decode their thoughts."

“The authors deserve kudos for helping to drive this important area forward,” says Jim DiCarlo, a biomedical engineer at MIT who researches object recognition in primates. However, DiCarlo, who was not involved in the study, thinks that the researchers don’t adequately prove that just 200 neurons are needed to discriminate between faces. In his research, he notes, he’s found that it takes roughly 50,000 neurons to distinguish objects in a more realistic way, but still less realistic than faces in the real world.

Based on that work, DiCarlo estimates that recognizing faces would require somewhere between 2,000 and 20,000 neurons even to distinguish them at a rough quality. “If the authors believe that faces are encoded by nearly three orders of magnitude less neurons, that would be remarkable,” he says.

“Overall, this work is a nice addition to the existing literature with some great analyses,” DiCarlo concludes, “but our field is still not yet at a complete, model-based understanding of the neural code for faces.”

Connor, who also wasn't involved in the new research, hopes this study will inspire new research among neuroscientists. Too often, he says, this branch of science has dismissed the more complex workings of the brain as akin to the “black boxes” of computer deep neural networks: so messy as to be impossible to understand how they work.

“it’s hard to imagine anybody ever doing a better job of understanding how face identity is encoded in the brain,” says Connor of the new study. “It will encourage people to look for sometimes specific and complex neural codes.” He’s already discussed with Tsao the possibility of researching how the brain interprets facial expressions.

“Neuroscience never gets more interesting than when it is showing us what are the physical events in the brain that give rise to specific experiences,” Connor says. “To me, this is the Holy Grail.”

The Science of Sarcasm? Yeah, Right

Smithsonian Magazine

In an episode of “The Simpsons,” mad scientist Professor Frink demonstrates his latest creation: a sarcasm detector.

“Sarcasm detector? That’s a really useful invention,” says another character, the Comic Book Guy, causing the machine to explode.

Actually, scientists are finding that the ability to detect sarcasm really is useful. For the past 20 years, researchers from linguists to psychologists to neurologists have been studying our ability to perceive snarky remarks and gaining new insights into how the mind works. Studies have shown that exposure to sarcasm enhances creative problem solving, for instance. Children understand and use sarcasm by the time they get to kindergarten. An inability to understand sarcasm may be an early warning sign of brain disease.

Sarcasm detection is an essential skill if one is going to function in a modern society dripping with irony. “Our culture in particular is permeated with sarcasm,” says Katherine Rankin, a neuropsychologist at the University of California at San Francisco. “People who don’t understand sarcasm are immediately noticed. They’re not getting it. They’re not socially adept.”

Sarcasm so saturates 21st-century America that according to one study of a database of telephone conversations, 23 percent of the time that the phrase “yeah, right” was used, it was uttered sarcastically. Entire phrases have almost lost their literal meanings because they are so frequently said with a sneer. “Big deal,” for example. When’s the last time someone said that to you and meant it sincerely? “My heart bleeds for you” almost always equals “Tell it to someone who cares,” and “Aren’t you special” means you aren’t.

“It’s practically the primary language” in modern society, says John Haiman, a linguist at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the author of Talk is Cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation and the Evolution of Language.

Sarcasm seems to exercise the brain more than sincere statements do. Scientists who have monitored the electrical activity of the brains of test subjects exposed to sarcastic statements have found that brains have to work harder to understand sarcasm.

That extra work may make our brains sharper, according to another study. College students in Israel listened to complaints to a cellphone company’s customer service line. The students were better able to solve problems creatively when the complaints were sarcastic as opposed to just plain angry. Sarcasm “appears to stimulate complex thinking and to attenuate the otherwise negative effects of anger,” according to the study authors.

The mental gymnastics needed to perceive sarcasm includes developing a “theory of mind” to see beyond the literal meaning of the words and understand that the speaker may be thinking of something entirely different. A theory of mind allows you to realize that when your brother says “nice job” when you spill the milk, he means just the opposite, the jerk.

Sarcastic statements are sort of a true lie. You’re saying something you don’t literally mean, and the communication works as intended only if your listener gets that you’re insincere. Sarcasm has a two-faced quality: it’s both funny and mean. This dual nature has led to contradictory theories on why we use it.

Some language experts suggest sarcasm is used as a sort of gentler insult, a way to tone down criticism with indirectness and humor. “How do you keep this room so neat?” a parent might say to a child, instead of “This room is a sty.”

But others researchers have found that the mocking, smug, superior nature of sarcasm is perceived as more hurtful than a plain-spoken criticism. The Greek root for sarcasm, sarkazein, means to tear flesh like dogs.

According to Haiman, dog-eat-dog sarcastic commentary is just part of our quest to be cool. “You’re distancing yourself, you’re making yourself superior,” Haiman says. “If you’re sincere all the time, you seem naive.”

Sarcasm is also a handy tool. Most of us go through life expecting things to turn out well, says Penny Pexman, a University of Calgary psychologist who has been studying sarcasm for more than 20 years. Otherwise, no one would plan an outdoor wedding. When things go sour, Pexman says, a sarcastic comment is a way to simultaneously express our expectation as well as our disappointment. When a downpour spoils a picnic and you quip, “We picked a fine day for this,” you’re saying both that you had hoped it would be sunny and you’re upset about the rain.

We’re more likely to use sarcasm with our friends than our enemies, Pexman says. “There does seem to be truth to the old adage that you tend to tease the ones you love,” she says.

In an episode of "The Simpsons," the Comic Book Guy's sarcasm causes Professor Frink's sarcasm detector to implode. (©2003THE SIMPSONS and TTCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED FOX)

But among strangers, sarcasm use soars if the conversation is via an anonymous computer chat room as opposed to face to face, according to a study by Jeffrey Hancock, a communications professor at Cornell University. This may be because it’s safer to risk some biting humor with someone you’re never going to meet. He also noted that conversations typed on a computer take more time than a face to face discussion. People may use that extra time to construct more complicated ironic statements.

Kids pick up the ability to detect sarcasm at a young age. Pexman and her colleagues in Calgary showed children short puppet shows in which one of the puppets made either a literal or a sarcastic statement. The children were asked to put a toy duck in a box if they thought the puppet was being nice. If they thought the puppet was being mean, they were supposed to put a toy shark in a box. Children as young as 5 were able to detect sarcastic statements quickly.

Pexman said she has encountered children as young as 4 who say, “smooth move, mom” at a parent’s mistake. And she says parents who report being sarcastic themselves have kids who are better at understanding sarcasm.

There appear to be regional variations in sarcasm. A study that compared college students from upstate New York with students from near Memphis, Tennessee, found that the Northerners were more likely to suggest sarcastic jibes when asked to fill in the dialogue in a hypothetical conversation.

Northerners also were more likely to think sarcasm was funny: 56 percent of Northerners found sarcasm humorous while only 35 percent of Southerners did. The New Yorkers and male students from either location were more likely to describe themselves as sarcastic.

There isn’t just one way to be sarcastic or a single sarcastic tone of voice. In his book, Haiman lists more than two dozen ways that a speaker or a writer can indicate sarcasm with pitch, tone, volume, pauses, duration and punctuation. For example: “Excuse me” is sincere. “Excuuuuuse me” is sarcastic, meaning, “I’m not sorry.”

According to Haiman, a sarcastic version of “thank you” comes out as a nasal “thank yewww” because speaking the words in a derisive snort wrinkles up your nose into an expression of disgust. That creates a primitive signal of insincerity, Haiman says. The message: These words taste bad in my mouth and I don’t mean them.

In an experiment by Patricia Rockwell, a sarcasm expert at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, observers watched the facial expressions of people making sarcastic statements. Expressions around the mouth, as opposed to the eyes or eyebrows, were most often cited as a clue to a sarcastic statement.

The eyes may also be a giveaway. Researchers from California Polytechnic University found that test subjects who were asked to make sarcastic statements were less likely to look the listener in the eye. The researchers suggest that lack of eye contact is a signal to the listener: “This statement is a lie.”

Another experiment that analyzed sarcasm in American TV sitcoms asserted that there’s a “blank face” version of sarcasm delivery.

Despite all these clues, detecting sarcasm can be difficult. There are a lot of things that can cause our sarcasm detectors to break down, scientists are finding. Conditions including autism, closed head injuries, brain lesions and schizophrenia can interfere with the ability to perceive sarcasm.

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, for example, recently found that people with frontotemporal dementia have difficulty detecting sarcasm. Neuropsychologist Katherine Rankin has suggested that a loss of the ability to pick up on sarcasm could be used as an early warning sign to help diagnose the disease. “If someone who has the sensitivity loses it, that’s a bad sign,” Rankin says. “If you suddenly think Stephen Colbert is truly right wing, that’s when I would worry.”

Many parts of the brain are involved in processing sarcasm, according to recent brain imaging studies. Rankin has found that the temporal lobes and the parahippocampus are involved in picking up the sarcastic tone of voice. While the left hemisphere of the brain seems to be responsible for interpreting literal statements, the right hemisphere and both frontal lobes seem to be involved in figuring out when the literal statement is intended to mean exactly the opposite, according to a study by researchers at the University of Haifa.

Or you could just get a sarcasm detection device. It turns out scientists can program a computer to recognize sarcasm. Last year, Hebrew University computer scientists in Jerusalem developed their “Semi-supervised Algorithm for Sarcasm Identification.” The program was able to catch 77 percent of the sarcastic statements in Amazon purchaser comments like “Great for insomniacs” in a book review. The scientists say that a computer that could recognize sarcasm could do a better job of summarizing user opinions in product reviews.

The University of Southern California’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory announced in 2006 that their “automatic sarcasm recognizer,” a set of computer algorithms, was able to recognize sarcastic versions of “yeah, right” in recorded telephone conversations more than 80 percent of the time. The researchers suggest that a computerized phone operator that understands sarcasm can be programmed to “get” the joke with “synthetic laughter.”

Now that really would be a useful invention. Yeah, right.

Lockheed Sirius "Tingmissartoq", Charles A. Lindbergh

National Air and Space Museum
Charles A. Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh flew in this Lockheed Sirius low-wing monoplane, powered by a 680-hp Wright Cyclone. The Sirius had been designed in 1929 by John K. Northrop and Gerard Vultee. This particular model was specially fitted so as to fly with either pontoon floats for water landings or wheels for ground based operations.

Charles A. Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, purchased this Lockheed Sirius airplane in 1929 for $22,825. Designed by Gerald Vultee and Jack Northrop, the Sirius was a low-wing monoplane with the same monocoque (molded shell) fuselage as the popular Lockheed Vega. Originally an open-cockpit landplane, the Lindberghs' Sirius was modified with a sliding canopy and Edo floats for their two overwater journeys in 1931 and 1933.

The Lindberghs set a coast-to-coast speed record in the Sirius on April 20, 1930, but its most significant flights were in 1931 and 1933. In 1931 the Lindberghs flew to the Orient, proving the viability of traveling from the West to the Far East via the Great Circle route to the North. In 1933 they flew survey flights across the North and South Atlantic to gather information for planning commercial air routes. During their 1933 trip a Greenland Eskimo boy gave the Sirius its nickname: "Tingmissartoq"-"One who flies like a big bird."

Upon returning from their transatlantic trip in late 1933, the Lindberghs donated the "Tingmissartoq" to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It was displayed in the Hall of Ocean Life until 1955, when it was sent to the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. After deciding that the Lindberghs' plane did not really represent the Air Force, the Air Force Museum transferred it to the Smithsonian Institution's Air Museum in 1959.

A vacation flight with "no start or finish, no diplomatic or commercial significance, and no records to be sought." So Charles A. Lindbergh described the flight that he and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were planning to make to the Orient in 1931. Their choice of route, however, showed the feasibility of using the great circle to reach the Far East.

The Lindberghs flew in a Lockheed Sirius low-wing monoplane, powered by a 680-hp Wright Cyclone. The Sirius had been designed in 1929 by John K. Northrop and Gerard Vultee, and this model was specially fitted with Edo floats, since most of the Lindberghs flight was to be over water.

Their route took them from North Haven, Maine, to Ottawa, Moose Factory, Churchill, Baker Lake, and Aklavik, all in Canada; Point Barrow, Shismaref, and Nome, Alaska; Petropavlosk. Siberia; and on over the Kurile Islands to Japan. After receiving an enthusiastic welcome in Tokyo, they flew to China. They landed on Lotus Lake near Nanking on September 19, thus completing the first flight from the West to the East by way of the North.

At Hankow, the Sirius, with the Lindberghs aboard, was being lowered into the Yangtze River from the British aircraft carrier Hermes, when the aircraft accidentally capsized. One of the wings was damaged when it hit a ship’s cable, and the aircraft had to be returned to the United States for repairs.

Their next venture in the Sirius came as a result of the five countries’ interest in the development of commercial air transport. In 1933 Pan American Airways, Imperial Airways of Great Britain, Lufthansa of Germany, KLM of Holland, and Air France undertook a cooperative study of possible Atlantic routes. Each was assigned the responsibility for one of the following areas: New Newfoundland to Europe via Greenland; Newfoundland via the great circle route to Ireland; Newfoundland southeast to the Azores and Lisbon; Miami, Bermuda, the Azores, and Lisbon; and across the South Atlantic from Natal, Brazil, to Cape Verde, Africa.

Pan American was to survey the Newfoundland to Europe via Greenland route. Ground survey and weather crews in Greenland were already hard at work when Lindbergh, Pan Am’s technical advisor, took off from New York on July 9 in the rebuilt Lockheed Sirius, again accompanied by his wife, who would serve as copilot and radio operator. A Sperry artificial horizon and a directional gyro had been added to the instrument panel since the previous flight, and a new Wright Cyclone SR1820-F2 engine of 710 horsepower was installed. Lindbergh’s plan was not to set up a particular route but to gather as much information as possible on the area to be covered.

The Jellinge, a Danish ship, was chartered by Pan Am to maintain radio contact with the Lindberghs in the Labrador-Greenland-Iceland area. The ship also delivered advance supplies for them to Halifax, Saint John’s, Cartwright, Greenland, and Iceland.

Every possible space in the aircraft was utilized, including the wings and floats, which contained the gasoline tanks. There was plenty of emergency equipment in case the Lindberghs had to make a forced landing in the frozen wilderness.

From New York, the Lindberghs flew up the eastern border of Canada to Hopedale, Labrador. From Hopedale they made the first major overwater hop, 650 miles to Godthaab, Greenland, where the Sirius acquired its name—Tingmissartoq, which in Eskimo means "one who flies like a big bird."

After crisscrossing Greenland to Baffin Island and back, and then on to Iceland, the Lindberghs proceeded to the major cities of Europe and as far east as Moscow, down the west coast of Africa, and across the South Atlantic to South America. where they flew down the Amazon, and then north through Trinidad and Barbados and back to the United States.

They returned to New York on December 19, having traveled 30,000 miles to four continents and twenty-one countries. The information gained from the trip proved invaluable in planning commercial air transport routes for the North and South Atlantic.

The aircraft was in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City until 1955. The AirForce Museum in Dayton, Ohio, then acquired it and transferred it to the Smithsonian in 1959.

Steve McCurry's New Photography Book on India Has Been Decades in the Making

Smithsonian Magazine

Last month, we published the first part of our interview with esteemed photographer Steve McCurry, whose work appears in two major book releases this fall. His photographs of the American South appeared in travel writer Paul Theroux’s new book, Deep South. (An early dispatch of this trip from Theroux, and featuring McCurry’s photography, appeared in Smithsonian in the July/August 2014 issue.) You can read our interview about his photographs for that project here.

This week, Phaidon releases a selection of McCurry’s images from India. It’s the culmination of decades of his photographs from the country, and opens with an introduction from writer and historian William Dalrymple, “Steve McCurry has been coming to India for more than 30 years, knows it intimately, understands its charms, and has seen it change,” Dalrymple writes. “This collection is a testament to a long-standing love of India, and a commitment to recording its wondrous diversity. It represents a genuine panorama of the country.”

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India

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McCurry spoke with Smithsonian.com about both projects in a two-part Q&A. An edited and condensed version of the second part, on India, is below.

Let’s start with the timing for this collection: Why now?

I wanted to do a book on India sometime between now and the end of my life, before I die, so this seemed like as good a time as any. There are a lot of things in life that we want to do and there are other places I want to travel to and experience apart from India. I don’t know when I’ll be back in India, so I thought this a good time to reflect on my 35 years of work in India, and let’s see what I could do with that material. I was at the point where I thought I had enough for a book.

That’s an interesting line, that you felt that you had enough for a book. What does it take for you to reach that point?

I think you have to put your work on the table. Put a hundred pictures down and see how they work together, see what kind of shape it makes, see that there’s a flow to the pictures, and see if it says what you feel and want to say about a particular place. I think that’s when you can look at the work and say, “This pretty much tells the story I want to tell.”

Not to ask you to oversimplify it, but what is the story you want to tell, not just about India, but also about your relationship to the country, photographing the country?

I think it’s a personal journey, a diary. It’s a look back at places and situations and people that touched me in a profound way.  Being a book of pictures – I think that pretty much sums it up. That’s the essence of the thing. Every photography book is about a photographer taking on a project and wanting to say something with those pictures and it’s not so terribly complicated.

Were there any particular people or places that stuck with you? Or images that have interesting stories behind it?

The cover is one of my favorite pictures from India. It is these women trying to protect themselves from this swirling dust storm in the desert and it’s so poetic how they’re huddled together. They’re all trying to protect themselves from this wind and driving sand, it’s always been one of my favorites.

Are there any others from this book that stuck with you?

The man with the orange beard, he’s a very kind of elegant, dignified old man with this kind of really bright, orange beard. He was a magician, so there’s an element of the showman in this fellow. And he has this really kind of strong face, which I think tells an amazing story about his life and who he was and how he presented himself.

Another is the mother and child at the car window. They’re out in the traffic in the heat, the rain, the exhaust, the pollution, the heavy traffic, it’s a bit dangerous, and they’re out there looking for some money. And then I’m in this sort of air-conditioned car on my way to my hotel. It was an interesting juxtaposition between my world and theirs, the poverty of having to go out and beg on the street in the rain, in the middle of traffic..

There seems to be a theme of highlighting women’s stories, the way women all around the world have to work to raise their children, or take care of their families, or just survive. Do you see this theme? If not, are there other themes you do see?

Over a 40-year career, you end up with a large collection of children playing, women working, men doing this, men doing that, so if you have 800 pictures of women working, that becomes a significant body of work. Did I plan that when I stepped out the door on my first day as a photographer? Probably not. Could I do a book tomorrow on women working? Absolutely.

Is there a certain way you prefer to photograph people, to disarm them or earn their trust?

It depends on the situation. You may approach somebody sleeping on a park bench slightly differently than if you saw somebody walking down the street and you wanted to photograph them.

Is there a kind of scenario you find easiest or most challenging in an interesting way?

I don’t think there’s any secret or any particular skill, I think it’s just putting one foot in front of the other, and then moving your mouth to say, “Can I take your picture?” and try and do it so you don’t freak someone out. Unfortunately, it’s that simple. I think people generally can’t muster the energy or the courage to do that, that’s all it really takes.

The Photographer Who Ansel Adams Called the Anti-Christ

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1937, the photographer Edward Weston wrote Ansel Adams a letter noting that he had recently "got a beautiful negative of a fresh corpse." Adams wrote back expressing his enthusiasm, saying, "It was swell to hear from you—and I look forward to the picture of the corpse. My only regret is that the identity of said corpse is not our Laguna Beach colleague." The "colleague" Adams referred to was William Mortensen, one of the most popular and otherwise respected photographers of the 1930s, whose artistic techniques and grotesque, erotic subject matter saw him banished from "official" histories of the art form. For Adams, Mortensen was enemy number one; he was known to describe him as "the anti-Christ."

Born in Park City, Utah, in 1897, Mortensen studied painting in New York City before World War I, then moved to Hollywood in the 1920s, where he worked with filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille and shot portraits of celebrities Rudolph Valentino, Fay Wray, Peter Lorre, Jean Harlow and others, often in historical costume. He also created more abstract portraits of anonymous models, interpreting historical or mythological characters such as Circe, Machiavelli and Cesar Borgia, and shot images of witchcraft, monsters, torture and Satanic rituals, rarely shying away from nudity or blood. Despite his outlandish themes, between the 1930s and 1950s his images were widely shown both in America and abroad, published in magazines including Vanity Fair, and collected by the Royal Photographic Society in London. He wrote a series of bestselling instructional books and a weekly photography column in the Los Angeles Times, and ran the Mortensen School of Photography in Laguna Beach, where some 3,000 students passed through the doors. The artist and photography scholar Larry Lytle, who has done extensive research on Mortensen, calls him "photography's first superstar."

Yet Mortensen has been left out of most retrospectives and books devoted to the history of photography until relatively recently. In the late 1970s and 1980s, his work was rediscovered by the photo critic A. D. Coleman, and the collector, curator, and writer Deborah Irmas. Their work has helped bring Mortensen back to popular attention, an effort that seems to culminate this fall with gallery exhibits in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, as well as the release of a major book on Mortensen. American Grotesque: The Life and Art of William Mortensen (Feral House) features previously unpublished images alongside essays by Lytle, the writer and musician Michael Moynihan, and A.D. Colemen. Feral House has also republished Mortensen’s instructional book The Command to Look, in which he analyzes his process and technique, offering tips about how to arrange compositions and create maximum impact.

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American Grotesque: The Life and Art of William Mortensen

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Mortensen has been described as one of the last great practitioners of pictorialism, a late 19th/early 20th century movement developed by Alfred Stieglitz and others that championed photography as a fine art. Pictorialists were inspired by other art forms, including paintings and Japanese woodcuts, and emphasized an appeal to emotions and imagination rather than strictly accurate representation of reality. They embraced labor-intensive techniques: coating the surfaces of images with pigments and emulsions, scraping it with razors or rubbing it with pumice stones, and other manipulations that created a diffuse glow and impressionist softness. (Mortensen, however, disdained too much softness in his images, calling some of the pictorialists "the Fuzzy-Wuzzy School.")

Mortensen was also particularly interested in the psychological impact of an image, much more so than any other photographer of his day, according to Lytle. "He was interested in Jungian psychology, particularly the collective unconscious and archetypes," Lytle says.

Carl Jung believed that we all share a layer of unconscious memories formed by our earliest ancestors, which is why many of the same images and ideas, or archetypes, resonate throughout the world. This interest in psychology influenced both Mortensen's choice of subject matter and his composition: In The Command to Look, Mortensen argued that images should be constructed along certain patterns (the S-shape, triangle and diagonal, among others) which activated the brain's primitive fear response, and that this initial alarm should be followed up with subjects that appealed to three basic human emotions—sex, sentiment and wonder.

Many of his images of the grotesque combine all three. Asked why he was so interested in the grotesque, Lytle explains "[H]e was drawn to the very old tradition of the grotesque as it was used in European art and updated by way of cinema. He realized that photographers, particularly in America, shied away from the subject and he felt that it was an undiscovered territory of photography." Mortensen himself said that the grotesque had value for "the escape it provides from cramping realism."

Ansel Adams, however, favored realism, as did many of his famous peers, such as Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston. Collectively referred to as Group f/64, they became known for producing sharp, high-contrast, "straight" or "purist" photography, and disdained borrowing techniques from painting and other art forms to manipulate photos the way Mortensen did. According to the critic Coleman, Mortensen's disappearance from photography history is a direct result of his disagreement with Group f/64. Friendships between the members and prominent photographic historians (such as the husband-wife teams of Helmut and Alison Gernsheim and Beaumont and Nancy Newhall), Colemen says, ensured that Mortensen was left out of retrospectives and books. According to Lytle, "There are other references in letters between the Newhalls, Adams, and Weston that leads one to believe that they actively hated him. Mortensen represented the old order, and they felt that he was stymying their efforts to create a new basis for photography."

In turn, Mortensen called the work of "purist" photographers "hard and brittle." In a popular five-part series in Camera Craft magazine called "Venus and Vulcan: An Essay on Creative Pictorialism" (reprinted in American Grotesque), he wrote "'Purity' is conceived to consist in limiting photographic expression to the mechanically objective representation that is inherent in the uncontrolled camera … [but] Imagination is a wayward and willful wench, and when she is on the loose she is not to be held in check by any arbitrary boundaries that divide one medium from another."

Yet there may have been other reasons Mortensen lapsed into obscurity. "Long before Mortensen's death in 1965, his invented grotesques had been replaced by real grotesques, such as the horrifying war images that were widely reproduced in news magazines, as they still are today," Lytle writes in American Grotesque. "Mortensen's photographic representations of monsters and horrors began to look quaint when viewed against the real acts of barbarism and cruelty that were going on." Lytle also notes the influence of magazines like Life, and says that after the 1950s, "Photography as practiced by amateurs and artists became more photojournalistic, documentary." That left less room for the flights of fantasy and artistic manipulations that Mortensen so enjoyed.

Now, the time seems right for Mortensen once again. "Amateur photographers" (a class that today includes everyone with a smartphone) can add painterly effects of the type Adams disdained at the click of a mouse or the press of a touchscreen. And we’re surrounded by images of the unreal, from fantasy movies to video games. "I think the highly manipulated nature of his imagery is what everyone is now doing," Lytle says. "He predicted the imagery and thinking of 21st century photography."

These Photos of Deconstructed Devices Reveal Their Hidden Beauty

Smithsonian Magazine

When young Todd McLellan first smashed a Dinky die-cast model car to smithereens—his tool of choice a simple hammer—he taught himself a lesson that would stick with him for decades: deconstruction can be constructive.

McLellan, now an accomplished photographer and avid engineering hobbyist, discovered early on the wonder of taking an object apart, of separating out every piece and arriving at a baseline understanding of how they combine to form a whole.

Both static and kinetic visions of disassembled hardware populate McLellan’s new exhibition, now on view at South Carolina’s Upcountry History Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate through February 19, 2017. The show will then hit the road traveling to Kansas City first on an ambitious 12-city national tour.

The targets of the Canadian tinkerer’s frequent dissections range from alarm clocks and radios to telescopes and Swiss Army knives—any technology, modern or archaic, is fair game. As far as acquisition goes, McLellan’s strategy is straightforward: roam his Toronto neighborhood and see what devices he can pick up on the cheap.

“People are willing to put a lot of stuff out on the street,” McLellan says in a recent interview. He likes to keep an open mind. After all, it’s not as though there’s necessarily anything defective about an MP3 player or a classic turntable left by someone’s curb.

“They were just tired of having them around,” he says. “Or they bought a brand new one.”

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McLellan is also a regular patron of local thrift shops. But many of his subjects are culled from a private collection of second-hand tchotchkes—items he himself has used in his own life. One beloved clock of his has been disassembled, reassembled, and then disassembled again. “And now there’s no getting it back together,” McLellan muses. “It’s in an inch of acrylic.”

At this point in his curious side-career, McLellan has his deconstruction technique down to a science. Incorporating his skill with a camera, the detail-oriented experimenter has turned what were once idle personal explorations into striking works of visual art.

Drawing his inspiration from assembly diagrams of the sort found in user’s manuals, McLellan lays out his own “exploded views” using the physical components themselves, rather than two-dimensional digital facsimiles. In so doing, he eliminates abstraction from the equation, and presents viewers with the purest imaginable breakdowns of products they employ every day.

“I wanted to profile [them] in a way that was true to the object, that shows the mechanics,” McLellan says. “It’s quite amazing that the thing works, but then beyond that, how does it work? And how does it fit in one exterior shell?” His art attempts to answer these questions.

In his 2013 book Things Come Apart, McLellan presents dozens of richly colored images, each one captured from a bird’s-eye perspective, and each devoted to a particular appliance or gadget.

As the artist explains, arranging components in an intuitive, compelling way can be half the challenge. Part of his aim in crafting his schematic layouts is for viewers to be able to intuit the process by which the devices were broken down in the first place, i.e., to preserve to the extent possible the differentiation between the outermost, intermediate and innermost layers of parts.

McLellan is methodical in the extreme. “When I’m disassembling,” he says, “I understand: this is the core of the unit, so these pieces stay together, this is the top part of the unit, so those pieces stick,” and so on.

Having broken an object down into as many parts as possible using only rudimentary tools, McLellan orients the components in a way that strikes an elusive balance between technical rigor and visual appeal, then takes his photograph.

Looking at McLellan’s dazzling array of Smith-Corona typewriter components, 621 in all, one cannot help but be impressed, by the skill of both the artist and the machine’s original inventor. “When you start pulling it apart,” McLellan describes, “seeing the arms, and those three different levers. . . it’s quite amazing. The backwards engineering to that is unreal. It baffles me.”

Lately, in addition to his static, overhead views of disassembled devices, McLellan has refined a more dynamic kind of photography: mid-free fall snapshots of deconstructed objects caught in gravity’s pull. He sees these motional, chaotic images as the perfect complement to his precise maps of components.

“I’m Gemini,” he explains, “so I have two personalities.”

To capture cascading mechanical parts, McLellan initially took a bare-bones approach, relying on little more than a ladder, tripwire and high-speed camera. These days, with his projects growing increasingly ambitious in terms of component count, McLellan’s method is somewhat more refined.

Now, he drops components subset by subset, envisioning beforehand the way each should fall through the air. Once he’s captured an image of one subset more or less in line with his imagining, he moves on to the next, bearing in mind all the while the results of the previous shoots. When all is said and done, he layers the images, so it appears to the viewer as though the whole object was dropped and captured in one go.

McLellan’s two distinct styles of photography are both well-represented in the travelling exhibition, whose appeal he hopes will be universal. In particular, though, the artist and his Smithsonian sponsors are looking to enthrall scientists in the making, kids who might spend their weekends breaking apart toy cars in the way McLellan once did.

To this end, each stop on the tour will feature Spark!Lab activities—interactive, hands-on opportunities for neophytes to more intimately engage with the material, and to utilize their own curiosity.

McLellan himself is looking forward to the show in a big way. “I’m excited to see it, and see the reception,” he tells me. “And I hope a lot of the young engineers get excited by it [too].”

"Things Come Apart," a traveling exhibiton circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) begins its 12-city national tour at the Upcountry History Museum at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, where it is on view through February 19, 2017.

Ben Franklin Was One-Fifth Revolutionary, Four-Fifths London Intellectual

Smithsonian Magazine

Two hundred and fifty years ago, in February 1766, Benjamin Franklin, the most famous American in London, addressed the British House of Commons. His aim, which he achieved triumphantly, was to persuade Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act, the legislation that had usurped the power of the colonial assemblies and caused the first major breakdown in relations between Britain and its American colonies. Franklin was determined to heal the breach; he sought to help British politicians understand the American continent’s vast potential as part of a closely knit Great British empire. In his own words, he viewed the colonies “as so many counties gained to Great Britain.”

This image of Franklin—working in London to secure Britain’s hold on America—is at odds with the usual picture of a great American patriot and Founding Father. Yet, for the better part of two decades, Franklin called London home. Furthermore, during a full four-fifths of his very long life, Franklin was a loyal British royalist. He was not alone in this. Until the Stamp Act, most Americans had no conception that they would ever be separated from Britain. Indeed, many of our Founding Fathers initially set out to assert their rights as Englishmen. Even as late as 1774, Thomas Jefferson, the chief framer of the Declaration of Independence, used a collection of English Civil War pamphlets when he “cooked up a resolution … to avert us from the evils of civil war.” Franklin himself stayed in London right up to March 1775, in an increasingly desperate search for a peaceful settlement.

Born in Boston in 1706, to an English father, Franklin first lived in London between 1724 and 1726 and worked as a printer. Young Ben’s intellectual framework was formed by the British written word. He perfected his writing style and focus by reading and re-reading Joseph Addison’s and Richard Steele’s articles in The Spectator and rewriting them in his own words. They provided him with a brilliant introduction to London’s intellectual coffeehouse society, enabling the young American to deploy the necessary “polite conversation” that won him rapid acceptance. Franklin recognized his debt, later describing Addison as a man “whose writings have contributed more to the improvement of the minds of the British nation, and polishing their manners, than those of any other English pen whatever.”

The Franklin who returned to America at the age of 20 had the self-confidence bred from talking on equal terms with men such as Sir Isaac Newton’s co-author, Dr. Henry Pemberton, and Bernard Mandeville, whose book The Fable of the Bees was the publishing sensation of the time. In the decades that followed, as he built his own profitable printing and publishing business in Philadelphia, Franklin founded or co-founded some of America’s greatest surviving cultural institutions, including the Library Company, the American Philosophical Society, and what was to become the University of Pennsylvania. He gave them intellectual foundations built on what he had learned and discussed in London and centered on the philosophy of men such as Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and John Locke.

By 1757, Franklin had become a leading member of the Pennsylvania Assembly and was chosen to return to London. His ostensible mission was to open negotiations with Thomas Penn and persuade Pennsylvania’s absentee proprietor to pay at least some local taxes. However, Franklin in London was much more than a Pennsylvanian representative. During the late 1740s and early 1750s he had thrown himself into groundbreaking scientific research, which he published as Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America. This won him the 1753 Copley Medal (the 18th-century equivalent of the Nobel Prize) and a fellowship of the Royal Society. It also transformed his social standing. He was famous. This son of a poor tallow chandler was embraced by a British aristocracy enthralled by science and particularly keen on the sizzle of electricity. Celebrated in London, he was also renowned across Europe, with the great philosopher Immanuel Kant describing him as “the Prometheus of modern times.”

Franklin appreciated his British life from his home in London’s Craven Street, just south of the Strand. This house is the only one of all those in which Franklin lived that still stands today and has just celebrated its 10th anniversary as the Benjamin Franklin House museum and education center. Franklin enjoyed a strong platonic relationship with its owner, Mrs. Stevenson, who was not so much a landlady as the manager of his London household. But he also missed the comforts of home, upbraiding his wife Deborah for failing to send his favourite Newtown Pippin apples and thanking her for dispatching such American delights as buckwheat cakes, cranberries, and “Indian meal.” Deborah was of more use to Franklin back in Philadelphia, managing his affairs there as well as sending him treats. It was an arrangement that suited him far more than her.

Franklin briefly returned to Philadelphia for 18 months between 1762 and 1764, but was soon back in London and increasingly drawn into wider British politics. The Stamp Act repeal proved a false dawn. By 1768, Franklin was acting for four colonial assemblies: Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Georgia, as well as Pennsylvania. His role for the first—the most vehemently opposed to further taxation—brought him into sharp conflict with ministers in Lord North’s government. By the early 1770s, Franklin’s relationship with them was one of mutual loathing. Crucially, it was further inflamed because of Franklin’s close links with a British parliamentary opposition that was seeking power itself. On March 20, 1775, Franklin was forced to flee in order to escape arrest by the men he called “mangling ministers.”

It was only then, at the age of nearly 70, that he discarded his loyalty to the British state and became a fierce advocate of American independence.

Yet even as an American patriot, Franklin once again returned to Philadelphia with British enlightenment values that influenced his fellow Founding Fathers. Having arrived in London with two slaves, Franklin now supported calls for abolition. Though he did not convince Thomas Jefferson on that matter, he did on others. Jefferson’s choice of portraits for his entrance hall at Monticello is instructive. In the most prominent position are three of Franklin’s own British influences: Bacon, Newton and Locke. There is also a fourth. It is of Benjamin Franklin.

As for Franklin himself, he never quite gave up his Atlanticist dream, even after independence was secured. But now it was to be on a different basis. In 1784, he half-jokingly, if in strictest confidence, wrote to his long-time British friend William Strahan with this suggestion: “You still have one resource left and not a bad one since it may re-unite the Empire … if you have not Sense and Virtue enough left to govern yourselves, even dissolve your present old crazy Constitution, and send Members to Congress.”

George Goodwin is the author of the just-published Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America’s Founding Father. He is author in residence at Benjamin Franklin House in London and was a 2014 International Fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, Monticello.

He wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square.

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