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Smithsonian Education Online Conference: Climate Change

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Archived online conference in which Smithsonian staff and audience members look at the issues surrounding climate change from the perspectives of science, history, and art. From this website, you can access session recordings, topic discussions, and related Smithsonian resources.

Hidden turtles and rude gestures in World War II-era Chinese banknotes

National Museum of American History

When we joined the museum's National Numismatic Collection team this summer to rehouse a collection of international banknotes, we expected to come across some fascinating paper currency as we moved the notes from plastic sleeves to archival-quality folders. The tremendous breadth and variety of the collection, however, was quickly revealed to us when we came across a series of intriguing banknotes from 1930s–1940s China. Upon closer inspection, we noticed subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences in the notes' designs, which we discovered were actually secret propaganda messages that Chinese engravers snuck in as a way to protest Japanese occupation during World War II.

After decades of increasing its military, political, and economic influence across the Far East, Japan invaded China in 1937, initiating what is known as the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conflict continued as Europe marched into World War II. Following Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, China formally joined the Allied forces and continued to fight the Japanese with the help of the United States and the Soviet Union, resulting in the absorption of the Second Sino-Japanese War into World War II as part of the Pacific Theater.

During its occupation of China, Japan established a series of puppet governments (many of which printed currency) to control local populations—and whose treatment of the Chinese resulted in deep feelings of ill will toward the Japanese. One of the ways in which the Chinese promoted nationalism and boosted morale was through propaganda hidden in paper currency. The most seemingly blatant example we discovered is in a 1938 one yuan note, issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of China.

Green paper bill with dragon-like figure in center, flying over a ship with sails and other smaller ships. Portrait of a man set in an oval. Red text and characters.

Traditionally, this note was decorated with a portrait of the renowned teacher and philosopher Confucius, in which his hands are clasped piously in prayer. The engraver of this note, however, redesigned the image to include an obscene gesture, one that was recognizably offensive in both Chinese and Japanese cultures and conveyed Chinese distaste for the Japanese that occupied the country.

Detail of above banknote--the portrait of man set in an oval

Black and brown portrait of man set in an oval

Rebellious Chinese engravers also used animal symbolism to discreetly express their contempt for the puppet governments. A 100 yuan note from 1942 depicts pairs of wolf heads dispersed throughout the border of the obverse side. In Chinese culture, wolves are considered emblematic of extreme greed, particularly in reference to public officials—yet another indication of subtle defiance toward the Japanese.

Bill with dark gray and blue and portrait of man set in oval

Another type of animal symbolism used was the turtle, as seen in a 1940 10 yuan note that includes a series of bisected turtles along the borders of its obverse side. These animals were held in low esteem by both the Chinese and the Japanese: to call another person "a son of a turtle" was the equivalent of calling that person a bastard. Inserting these types of hidden images into the engraving plates likely provided local people with a humorous diversion from life under the new regime.

Paper bill with blue ink, dark and light. In center, portrait of man set in oval.

In addition to the symbolism mentioned above, Chinese engravers also hid coded messages in their propaganda banknotes. In a 50 cent note from 1940 issued by the Central Reserve Bank of China, the English letters C, G, W, R, and S can be found scattered discreetly across the ornamental border on the reverse side. Scholars believe that, once unscrambled, the letters read "Central Government Will Return Soon," a message to give hope to the oppressed people.

Paper bill with ink in a few colors, including brown, blue, and orange, in vertical bands. "Fifty cents" is written on it. "The Central Reserve Bank of China."

Detail of bill with arrows indicating certain areas and the letters G, R, C, W, and S.

A second concealed message appears in a 200 yuan note, issued by the Central Reserve Bank of China in 1944. It includes the letters U, S, A, and C hidden across the obverse and reverse faces of the note. When assembled, the letters spell out the prophecy "United States Army [is] Coming," a message that angered the Japanese and resulted in efforts to have the issue recalled. This message has been attributed to the engraver Chung Kue-jen, and its discovery by the Japanese caused him to flee to Hong Kong for the duration of the war to escape punishment.

Bill with red ink with portrait of man in center oval.

Red bill with building with many stairs in center

Detail images of letters U S A and C

Coming across these fascinating banknotes encouraged us to delve deeper into a period of world history that we had not previously had the opportunity to explore. As we continue to organize and rehouse this vast, diverse collection of paper currency, we look forward to sharing the many interesting facts, events, and individuals we uncover with you!

Sammie Hatton and Kelly Lindberg are museum specialists with the National Numismatic Collection working on an international banknote rehousing initiative.

To learn more, check out some of the resources we consulted in writing this post: Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (by M.Y. Chen), World War II Remembered: History in Your Hands, a Numismatic Study (by C.F. Schwan and J.E. Boling), Chinese Banknotes (by Ward D. Smith and Brian Matravers) and Outlines of Chinese Symbolism & Art Motives (by C.A.S. Williams).

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, December 6, 2016 - 08:00
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Hidden turtles and rude gestures in World War II-era Chinese banknotes

National Museum of American History

When we joined the museum's National Numismatic Collection team this summer to rehouse a collection of international banknotes, we expected to come across some fascinating paper currency as we moved the notes from plastic sleeves to archival-quality folders. The tremendous breadth and variety of the collection, however, was quickly revealed to us when we came across a series of intriguing banknotes from 1930s–1940s China. Upon closer inspection, we noticed subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences in the notes' designs, which we discovered were actually secret propaganda messages that Chinese engravers snuck in as a way to protest Japanese occupation during World War II.

After decades of increasing its military, political, and economic influence across the Far East, Japan invaded China in 1937, initiating what is known as the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conflict continued as Europe marched into World War II. Following Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, China formally joined the Allied forces and continued to fight the Japanese with the help of the United States and the Soviet Union, resulting in the absorption of the Second Sino-Japanese War into World War II as part of the Pacific Theater.

During its occupation of China, Japan established a series of puppet governments (many of which printed currency) to control local populations—and whose treatment of the Chinese resulted in deep feelings of ill will toward the Japanese. One of the ways in which the Chinese promoted nationalism and boosted morale was through propaganda hidden in paper currency. The most seemingly blatant example we discovered is in a 1938 one yuan note, issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of China.

Green paper bill with dragon-like figure in center, flying over a ship with sails and other smaller ships. Portrait of a man set in an oval. Red text and characters.

Traditionally, this note was decorated with a portrait of the renowned teacher and philosopher Confucius, in which his hands are clasped piously in prayer. The engraver of this note, however, redesigned the image to include an obscene gesture, one that was recognizably offensive in both Chinese and Japanese cultures and conveyed Chinese distaste for the Japanese that occupied the country.

Detail of above banknote--the portrait of man set in an oval

Black and brown portrait of man set in an oval

Rebellious Chinese engravers also used animal symbolism to discreetly express their contempt for the puppet governments. A 100 yuan note from 1942 depicts pairs of wolf heads dispersed throughout the border of the obverse side. In Chinese culture, wolves are considered emblematic of extreme greed, particularly in reference to public officials—yet another indication of subtle defiance toward the Japanese.

Bill with dark gray and blue and portrait of man set in oval

Another type of animal symbolism used was the turtle, as seen in a 1940 10 yuan note that includes a series of bisected turtles along the borders of its obverse side. These animals were held in low esteem by both the Chinese and the Japanese: to call another person "a son of a turtle" was the equivalent of calling that person a bastard. Inserting these types of hidden images into the engraving plates likely provided local people with a humorous diversion from life under the new regime.

Paper bill with blue ink, dark and light. In center, portrait of man set in oval.

In addition to the symbolism mentioned above, Chinese engravers also hid coded messages in their propaganda banknotes. In a 50 cent note from 1940 issued by the Central Reserve Bank of China, the English letters C, G, W, R, and S can be found scattered discreetly across the ornamental border on the reverse side. Scholars believe that, once unscrambled, the letters read "Central Government Will Return Soon," a message to give hope to the oppressed people.

Paper bill with ink in a few colors, including brown, blue, and orange, in vertical bands. "Fifty cents" is written on it. "The Central Reserve Bank of China."

Detail of bill with arrows indicating certain areas and the letters G, R, C, W, and S.

A second concealed message appears in a 200 yuan note, issued by the Central Reserve Bank of China in 1944. It includes the letters U, S, A, and C hidden across the obverse and reverse faces of the note. When assembled, the letters spell out the prophecy "United States Army [is] Coming," a message that angered the Japanese and resulted in efforts to have the issue recalled. This message has been attributed to the engraver Chung Kue-jen, and its discovery by the Japanese caused him to flee to Hong Kong for the duration of the war to escape punishment.

Bill with red ink with portrait of man in center oval.

Red bill with building with many stairs in center

Detail images of letters U S A and C

Coming across these fascinating banknotes encouraged us to delve deeper into a period of world history that we had not previously had the opportunity to explore. As we continue to organize and rehouse this vast, diverse collection of paper currency, we look forward to sharing the many interesting facts, events, and individuals we uncover with you!

Sammie Hatton and Kelly Lindberg are museum specialists with the National Numismatic Collection working on an international banknote rehousing initiative.

To learn more, check out some of the resources we consulted in writing this post: Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (by M.Y. Chen), World War II Remembered: History in Your Hands, a Numismatic Study (by C.F. Schwan and J.E. Boling), Chinese Banknotes (by Ward D. Smith and Brian Matravers) and Outlines of Chinese Symbolism & Art Motives (by C.A.S. Williams).

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, December 6, 2016 - 08:00
OSayCanYouSee?d=qj6IDK7rITs OSayCanYouSee?d=7Q72WNTAKBA OSayCanYouSee?i=IkWH63hcqKk:7-9FDA5zgFc:V_sGLiPBpWU OSayCanYouSee?i=IkWH63hcqKk:7-9FDA5zgFc:gIN9vFwOqvQ OSayCanYouSee?d=yIl2AUoC8zA

Early Films (Including One by Thomas Edison) Made Yoga Look Like Magic

Smithsonian Magazine

In this still from Hindoo Fakir (1902), the magician levitates his assistant. Image courtesy of Sackler Gallery

To Americans living in the late 19th century, yoga looked an awful lot like magic. The ancient discipline appeared to Western observers primarily in the form of ethnographic images of “fakirs”—a blanket term encompassing Sufi dervishes, Hindu ascetics and, most importantly, stage and street performers of death-defying stunts, such as the bed-of-nails and Indian rope tricks. In 1902, the “fakir-yogi” made his big screen debut in a “trick film” produced by Thomas Edison, Hindoo Fakir, one of three motion pictures in the Sackler Gallery’s pioneering exhibition, “Yoga: The Art of Transformation.”

Hindoo Fakir, said to be the first film ever made about India, depicts the stage act of an Indian magician who makes his assistant disappear and reappear, as a butterfly emerging from a flower. To a modern eye, the special effects may leave something to be desired. But Edison’s audiences, in nickelodeons and vaudeville houses, would have marveled at the magic on screen as well as the magic of the moving image itself. Cinema was still new at the time and dominated by “actuality films” of exotic destinations and “trick films,” like Hindoo Fakir, which featured dissolves, superimpositions and other seemingly magical techniques. Indeed, some of the most important early filmmakers were magicians, including George Melies and Dadasaheb Phalke, director of India’s first feature film. “The early days of cinema were about wonder and showing off this technology,” says Tom Vick, curator of film at the Freer and Sackler galleries.

Early cinema was certainly not about cultural sensitivity. The similarity between “fakir” and “faker” is no coincidence; these words became synonyms in the American imagination, as performers in circuses and magic shows invoked supernatural powers commonly attributed to the fakir-yogi. Howard Thurston, a stage magician from Ohio, appropriated the Indian rope trick for his popular 1920s traveling show. In the 1930s, the French magician Koringa, billed as the “only female fakir in the world,” baffled audiences with hypnosis and crocodile wrestling. Her assumed Indian identity was an “understandable idea by that time,” says Sita Reddy, a Smithsonian Folklife research associate and “Yoga” curator. “The fakir became something that didn’t have to be explained anew; it was already circulating.” Fakir was, if not a household name, a part of popular parlance—pervasive enough that in 1931, Winston Churchill used it as a slur against Gandhi.

The self-described fakir Koringa confronts a crocodile in this 1937 Look magazine cover. Image courtesy of Sackler Gallery

Yet Western taste for fakir-style huckstering appears to have waned by 1941, when the musical You’re the One presented the yogi as an object of ridicule. In a big band number called “The Yogi Who Lost His Will Power,” the eponymous yogi runs through all of the typical “Indian” cliches, wearing the obligatory turban and robes, gazing into a crystal ball, lying on a bed of nails and more. But the lyrics by Johnny Mercer cast him as a hapless romantic who “couldn’t concentrate or lie on broken glass” after falling for the “Maharajah’s turtle dove”; for all his yogic powers, this yogi is powerless when it comes to love. Arriving at the tail end of the fakir phenomenon, You’re the One encouraged audiences to laugh, rather than marvel, at the stock character.

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How did yoga make the leap from the circus ring to the American mainstream? Reddy traces yoga’s current popularity to the loosening of Indian immigration restrictions in 1965, which brought droves of yogis into the U.S.—and into the confidence of celebrities like the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe. But the transformation began much earlier, she says, with the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu spiritual leader whose 1896 book, Raja Yoga, inaugurated the modern era of yoga. Vivekananda denounced the conjurers and contortionists he felt had hijacked the practice and instead proposed a yoga of the mind that would serve as an “emblem of authentic Hinduism.” Vivekananda’s vision of rational spirituality contended with the fakir trope in the early decades of the 20th century, but after the 1940s, yoga was increasingly linked to medicine and fitness culture, gaining a new kind of cultural legitimacy in the West.

The physicality of yoga is revived in the third and final film of the exhibit, in which master practitioner T. Krishnamacharya demonstrates a series of linked asanas, or postures, which form the backbone of yoga practice today. This 1938 silent film introduced yoga to new audiences across the whole of India, expanding the practice beyond the traditionally private teacher-student relationship for the first time in history. Unlike Hindoo Fakir and You’re the One, the Krishnamacharya film was made by and for Indians. But like them, it affirms the power of the moving image to communicate the dynamism of yoga.

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A Michigan Museum of Shipwrecks

Smithsonian Magazine

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, located at Whitefish Point in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was founded in 1978 by a group of teachers, divers and shipwreck enthusiasts who were interested in exploring the area around Whitefish Point. The museum is home to 19 different exhibits incorporating artifacts that were raised from wrecks, ship models and a memorial to those lost in the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. In addition to the museum, visitors can also see the restored lighthouse keeper’s quarters, the fog signal building, the surf boat house and the Whitefish Point bird observatory.  “We were hoping to find shipwrecks and we were successful, as far as that went,” says Sean Ley, development officer for the museum. He spoke with Smithsonian.com about the history of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes region and why the museum is such a popular tourist destination.

Why is there a shipwreck museum at Whitefish Point?
In all five Great Lakes, we know there are over 6,000 shipwrecks with over 30,000 lives having been lost. Lake Superior is perhaps one of the most dramatic, although it doesn’t have the highest concentration of shipwrecks. It is the biggest water of the five Great Lakes and has seas that sweep across from the northwest to the southeast of the lake with tremendous force. Of the 550 known wrecks in Lake Superior, well over 200 rest along the shoreline from Whitefish Point, which is where our museum is, west to the town of Munising. The reason there are so many wrecks along there is because there are no natural harbors for ships to hide when they have these huge storms. Whitefish Bay is kind of a natural bay, and with its point sticking out, it does provide a great deal of protection for ships that are lost.

Many people seem fascinated by shipwrecks. Why is that?
The most modern connection to shipwrecks was the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975, in Lake Superior. The Fitzgerald was a 729-foot modern freighter with radio, radar and up-to-date safety equipment. Suddenly, she disappeared off the radar screen with no survivors; that was not supposed to happen during the modern day. That shipwreck is one of the biggest mysteries because it’s so recent and because no one knows exactly why the ship was lost. Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot wrote the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” in 1976.

Before the Fitzgerald there were two other major losses on the Great Lakes— the Daniel J. Morrell in November 1966 in Lake Huron and the Carl D. Bradley in November 1958 in northern Lake Michigan.

Describe the worst shipwreck in the history of the Great Lakes.
In terms of loss of life, hands down, that’s called the SS Eastland, which went down in the Chicago River on July 24, 1915. For whatever reason, the ship turned over onto its port side right there in the river. Passengers either wanted to see something in the river and they went to port side, or the engineer improperly ballasted the ship, or it wasn’t a stable ship to begin, but she flipped over right into the Chicago River, not terribly deep water maybe 20-30 feet, and killed 844 passengers and crew. It still remains the worst loss of life on any single shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

How has the museum been received, both by the public and families who have lost relatives in shipwrecks?  
We constantly hear from people who lost loved ones to shipwrecks, and they want to find out more about their ancestor who was aboard a ship and how he lost his life on it. We get a lot of inquiries about that. The population of Whitefish Township, where the museum us, is only about 550 people, and each year we get an average of 70,000 visitors to Whitefish Point. People want to see something different.

You’ve worked at the museum for 15 years. What is it about shipwrecks that fascinates you? 
It primarily has to do with a lifelong interest in shipwrecks that was generated when I was a young boy. I grew up in Winnetka, Illinois, not far away from where the Eastland tipped over. As a matter of fact, on September 8, 1860, a very famous Great Lakes wreck called the Lady Elgin went down right off of Winnetka, so when I was a kid, there were parts of the Lady Elgin still on the beach. There are graves of those lost who washed ashore from the Lady Elgin and were buried in the bluff right there. I ended up pursuing an arts career but I was always associated with the shipwreck historical society. It’s just a very interesting piece of culture, of U.S. history, to be affiliated with.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found since you’ve been at the shipwreck museum? 
What I would say is most surprising since the early days is the invasion of zebra mussels in the Great Lakes. Zebra mussels are an invasive species brought in by saltwater vessels coming through the St. Lawrence into the Great Lakes, and we can’t get rid of them. Many dive sites in the lower lakes are just covered with destructive zebra mussels, so scuba divers can dive on historic wrecks but they don’t look like ships anymore, they look like a coral reef, filled with zebra mussels. I mean millions of zebra mussels. Lake Superior, so far, has not been invaded.

Do shipwrecks still occur? 
Oh yes they do. One might think they wouldn’t, but that’s what they thought about the Titanic and the Fitzgerald. Even with the latest safety equipment, a ship is still a vessel that’s been constructed a certain way. If it takes on water in a way it shouldn’t, just the physical property of water and buoyancy will cause it to flip.

There hasn’t been a shipwreck quite as a dramatic as the Fitzgerald. In 1989, the Coast Guard lost a vessel up here called the Mesquite, but there was no loss of life. There are some fishing boats that have been lost to collision and recreational vessels, but I don’t think we’ve had a shipwreck with significant loss of life since the Fitzgerald when down.

Anything can happen and certainly there are many organizations and safety procedures that try to prevent shipwrecks but you won’t find anyone who goes on the lakes who will say ‘I guarantee you we will not get in a shipwreck.’ The danger is always there. And the awareness of the danger keeps you on your guard so that you are a little more cautious. One old gentleman once told me, “Constant vigilance is the price you pay for traveling on the Great Lakes.”

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, owned and operated by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, is open daily from May 1 to October 31. Accessible by automobile, the museum features shipwrecks, and the history of the U.S. lifesaving service, the U.S. lighthouse service and the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as other exhibits. For more information, visit the museum online or call 1-800-635-1742.

Smithsonian LVM Interactive

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Media archive on Latino identity. Students explore art, culture, environmental science, and more. Includes 3D games, "augmented reality," and videos.

Dear Mr. President

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson has students analyze a letter written in 1860 by eleven-year-old girl Grace Bedell to President Abraham Lincoln, then write their own letters to the president of the United States. Part of the resource 'A Letter to Abraham Lincoln.' Targets grades 3-4.

Glimpse of the Past: A Neighborhood Evolves

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Online exhibition describing the rise, fall, and rebirth of the heart of Penn Quarter, Washington DC, from the perspective of one of the neighborhood's enduring monuments: the old Patent Office building, which today houses the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum. Includes historic and contemporary photos.

Setting Sail on the Hudson River 400 Years Later

Smithsonian Magazine

About midway through construction of the replica of Onrust, a 17th-century Dutch ship, volunteer Lance LaTant of Queensbury, New York, paused and peered through a thicket of curved, bent white oak ribs towering over him and fellow workers. "It looked like a beached whale with bleached bones," he recalled. It was clear that finishing and launching the 52-foot, 29-ton boat in a year would be a challenge for the volunteer builders.

But hard work and a little luck paid off. On June 6 the Onrust (pronounced AHN-roost) reproduction joins a flotilla of some 15 historic vessels and untold numbers of private and commercial boats sailing from Manhattan 140 miles up the Hudson River to Albany to mark the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's 1609 journey up the river. The weeklong voyage includes the 85-foot, three-masted replica of Hudson's ship Half Moon, a West Point 16-gun salute and an antique biplane flyover. Towns along the Hudson will ring church bells, sound whistles and organize waterside public events

Flying three colorful Dutch flags and sporting a hand-carved figurehead of a snarling white-maned lion, Onrust takes a prominent place in the quadricentennial's parade of ships even though its original was built in 1614, a few years after Hudson's historic voyage. The original Onrust was the first covered deck ship ever built in the area that would one day become New York, and it played a key role in shaping New York's history.

Hudson, an English explorer hired by the Dutch, sailed up the river later named for him in his third attempt to find a passage to China. Laying claim to the territory, the Dutch encouraged investment and colonization. Adriaen Block, captain of the original Onrust, "was a merchant captain sent over here to exploit resources that Hudson had accidentally opened up," said Charles T. Gehring, director of the New Netherland Project in Albany.

The Onrust replica took nearly three years to construct, but the original Onrust (which means "trouble" in Dutch) went up in about six months after Block's ship Tyger was destroyed by fire. Anxious to take advantage of the New World's riches, Block's crew worked on the ship through the frigid winter of 1614, most likely on the tip of Manhattan or nearby Governors Island. The shipwright who built Tyger probably oversaw the construction and salvaged lumber from the charred boat.

Image by Wayne Hall. This hand-carved figurehead on the Onrust is of a snarling white lion. (original image)

Image by Wayne Hall. Volunteers prepare to place the Onrust into the Hudson River. (original image)

Image by Wayne Hall. The prow of the Onrust. (original image)

Image by Wayne Hall. A volunteer applies caulk to the boat for water protection. (original image)

Image by Wayne Hall. In homage to authenticity, the builders used wooden nails—4,000 of them—and bent oak planks the old-fashioned way, by wetting the wood and heating it with fire. (original image)

Image by Wayne Hall. The hull of the Onrust, a model of the ship Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson River in 1609. (original image)

Image by Wayne Hall. Project director Greta Wagle was the heart and soul of the project's construction from start to finish. (original image)

Image by Wayne Hall. A crane lifted the ship and placed it in the water. With that, the new Onrust began its tribute to an historic past. (original image)

With his new ship Onrust, Block mapped much of the territory he would name New Netherland; it extended from the current-day mid-Atlantic region up into the New England states. The ship's shallow draft allowed Block to poke into bays, inlets and rivers to visit potential trading partners. By mapping Native American villages, he helped establish a bustling fur trading network with the various tribes in the region. "Onrust and Block are the real start of European history in New York," said project president Don Rittner, "but Block never got the credit he deserved and that's one big reason for making the replica."

To get the ship built in time for the celebration, some 20 core volunteers, mostly from the Dutch-settled Albany region, worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week throughout the winter in a heated pole barn in Rotterdam Junction, New York.
Guided by Gerald de Weerdt, a maritime museum curator from Holland, the volunteers relied on meticulous historic research because no blueprints of the ship were ever made.

"What you need for a ship like this is a drawing, but that didn't exist," says de Weerdt. "They didn't know how to draw them." He tracked down dimensions of similar historic boats—with sleek yacht-style fish-shaped hulls—in old books and archives in Holland. He studied 17th-century Dutch shipwrecks exposed in the clay beds of Holland's inner sea after it was drained over a 40-year period starting after World War II. De Weerdt clinched his research by perusing old paintings and engravings of early yachts built to fight the Spanish war fleet in the North Sea.

Onrust volunteers—welders, machinists, chemists, teachers, artists; women and children—all seemed to share a love of history or boats, or both. In all, 250 of them worked to get the ship on the water.

"I had plans to build an Adirondack guide boat but I decided to do this instead," said LaTant, a retired General Electric plastics design manager. He commuted 60 miles from the Lake George area and camped out for weeks at a time near the ship.

Watch this video in the original article

In homage to authenticity, the builders used wooden nails—4,000 of them—and bent oak planks the old-fashioned way, by wetting the wood and heating it with fire. "I cut a plank and bent it myself and that gives me a plank in the ship and bragging rights," said retired nurse Debbie Bowdish of Princetown. Her husband George sawed the ship's 45-foot-tall tamarack mast, the boom and at least 100 ancient white oaks for the ship. Close to the end of the job, volunteers ran out of old oak, but luckily a developer donated eight 300-year-old trees.

The $3 million project was financed by the Dutch government, New York state, individual donations, corporate grants, and many gifts of services and equipment such as hinges, anchors and even cannons.

Finally, just days ago, the Onrust was hoisted on a flatbed truck to move it out of the barn, but the truck couldn't budge it. It took volunteer Frank Del Gallo, a swimming pool builder, and one of his bulldozers to do the trick. A crane then lifted the ship and placed it in the water. With that, the new Onrust began its tribute to an historic past.

Editor’s Note: The Onrust will return to New York in September, joining a Dutch government flotilla of modern warships and 17th-century-style flat-bottomed boats brought to New York on freighters for the quadricentennial celebration. After the festivities, Onrust will continue sailing upstate and elsewhere as a floating classroom to teach early American Dutch history.

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders donate iconic uniforms to the museum’s sports collection

National Museum of American History

In 1976, I was an 11-year-old girl who had always wanted to be a cheerleader, and the only part of Super Bowl X that caught my attention was the cheerleaders performing on the sidelines. Little did I know that, some 40 years later, I would be collecting two uniforms from that same iconic cheerleading team. Which team was it? That’s right—America’s Sweethearts—the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. While the Dallas Cowboys evoke strong emotions among football fans, no matter how you feel about the team, everyone loves their cheerleaders.

Two Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniforms, complete with blue and white tops and shorts, decorated with starsThis photo shows an original Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniform from the early 1970s on the right and a newer uniform from the 2011 season on the left. There are no immediate plans to display the new objects, but an exhibition is in development that will explore American culture and draw on the museum’s theater, music, sports, and entertainment collections.

Specifically tailored to fit each individual cheerleader, the uniform’s signature blouse, vest, and shorts were handmade by Leveta Crager until the mid-1990s; they are now made by Lisa Dobson. With its carefully guarded trademark, the signature uniform of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders has only undergone six modifications since its introduction in 1972, including changing the style of the boots and adding crystals to the outline of the stars on the belt and shorts. Kelli McGonagill Finglass, the squad’s director and a former Dallas cheerleader, considers each modification necessary to “enhance the image of the uniform and maintain the integrity of the Dallas Cowboys."

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders image has been cultivated since the team’s first season in 1961. That year, they debuted The CowBelles & Beaux, a cheerleading squad that included men and women. In 1967, they dropped the boys from the squad, and cheerleaders were selected from local high schools. A few years later, Dee Brock (the manager of the cheerleaders) and Tex Schramm (general manager of the Cowboys) decided the cheerleaders needed a new and updated look. They brought in choreographer Texie Waterman, who provided new dance-style routines, and in 1972 the high school girls were replaced with more athletic young women who could perform the new routines in the Texas heat. These talented and innovative performers could not wear traditional cheerleading uniforms, so a new look was needed.

Enter Paula Van Waggoner and her modernized vision of short shorts, a halter top, and white go-go boots. The new look proved wildly popular with fans around the league, and the cheerleaders’ appearance on the sidelines in Super Bowl X only reinforced this newfound fame.

Hand-drawn sketch of two women wearing variations of what would become the standard Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniformCopy of Van Waggoner’s original sketch of the iconic uniforms, also in the museum’s collection

In 1978 the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were chosen by the NFL as ambassadors to promote American football abroad. A year later the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Show was created. This choreographed musical variety show—titled, “America & Her Music”—travels to national conventions and corporate events, and makes USO appearances throughout the world.

Poster shows a group of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders posing in a line with lights and a large, streaking star in the background. Text at the bottom reads: “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders”This original 1977 poster was the first to feature an NFL cheerleading team, demonstrating the influence on 1970s popular culture of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Today the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have donated an original uniform from the 1970s, with go-go boots and pom-poms, as well as a more current uniform, from the 2016 season, with custom-made cowboy boots and pom-poms. Together they highlight the relatively few changes made to the uniform over the years.

Collage image of three Barbie dolls in their boxes. The dolls wear Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniforms, complete with pom-poms.To show the squad’s global diversity and appeal, the museum also collected three Barbie dolls—a Latina, an African American, and a Caucasian doll—wearing the iconic uniform.
A stuffed bear toy wearing a variation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders costume, along with blue bows on its earsAbbey Bear is an important part of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders culture. Each week, it is given to the cheerleader who has gone above (AB) and beyond (BEY) expectations.

These uniforms will join our growing collection of cheerleading objects, which already includes uniforms and props from two highly influential dance teams: the 1930s Flaming Flashes and the Kilgore Rangerettes, both created by Gussie Nell Davis, a physical education teacher from Farmersville, Texas.

There are no immediate plans to display the new objects, but an exhibition is in development that will explore American culture and draw on the museum’s theater, music, sports, and entertainment collections.

Jane Rogers is an associate curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts. She has previously blogged about wheelchair basketball pioneer Ray Werner, as well as her experiences as a curator visiting Ground Zero in the months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

 

Posted Date: 
Monday, February 26, 2018 - 12:15
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"The Wonder Years" comes to Smithsonian collections

National Museum of American History

When I was in eighth grade, my government teacher gave us a homework assignment that I did not do. The next day, we were told to hand something in, even if it was a brief explanation as to why we didn't do the homework. I wrote this: "I did not do the homework last night because I was watching the series finale of The Wonder Years and, seeing as how I've grown up watching this show, I thought it was much more important for me to do that." I was given an F, but I did successfully make it out of middle school, and I still count myself as a fan of The Wonder Years.

Today, several objects from the iconic 1980s television series found a new home in our collections and, while they will not be on display right away, are still an exciting addition to the National Museum of American History. I asked our Entertainment Curator Dwight Blocker Bowers to tell me why a show about the 1960s, made in the 1980s, still resonates with people today.

New York Jets jacket from "The Wonder Years"

New York Jets jacket worn by actor Fred Savage as Kevin in The Wonder Years 

"There was something wonderfully true about the show," said Bowers, who works in the museum's Division of Culture and the Arts. "All the elements together—the performances, the costumes, the music—formed a beautiful whole."

My nine-year-old self didn't see the big picture. Every week—for one half hour—while I thought I was simply enjoying a television show about a cute boy, I was actually getting a history lesson. I was spending quality time with my parents while also witnessing what it was like for them to be my age, albeit through a Hollywood version of what it was like to grow up in the 1960s. I developed a love for the culture and an appreciation for the struggles of the era, and when it was all over I found myself nostalgic for a time period I never lived through.

For a show as specific to a period of time as The Wonder Years, the natural fit for our collections is costumes. Perhaps the most iconic article of clothing from the show is Kevin Arnold's green and white New York Jets jacket. This jacket is synonymous with the character played by Fred Savage. Though he eventually outgrew it, it is still widely recognized from the pilot episode when Kevin finds "girl-next-door" Winnie Cooper sitting in the park. He places the jacket on her shoulders and the two share their first kiss.

Along with the jacket, the museum received the two-piece dress worn by matriarch Norma Arnold during the show's opening title sequence during a family barbecue. With the obvious exception of Joe Cocker's rendition of "With a Little Help From My Friends," the one thing that always stood out to me about the credits was this dress. The colorful print top and skirt with bare midriff was evocative of the time. It spoke of a generation of women beginning to reveal their identities through clothing choices and moving away from their conservative predecessors.

Two-piece dress worn by actress Alley Mills

Two-piece dress worn by actress Alley Mills

The hippie wedding dress was worn by Kevin's free-spirited sister, Karen. This too signified a rebellion of sorts within the show. Even as mother Norma was making a statement in her barbecue dress, she maintained a level of decorum common for that time period. This dress, made of unbleached muslin and embroidered with brown flowers, was yet another indication of the growing strength of youth culture.

The Wonder Years was also remarkably innovative. Single-camera comedies were rare, though much of what we see on television today is done in this format. There was no laugh track, and we were allowed to appreciate the human feelings being portrayed, both comedic and tragic.

"Where a show like Happy Days played it for laughs, The Wonder Years totally understood the era which it defined," Bowers explained to me. "Meticulous attention to the elements made [the show] work."

The voice-over narration was almost unheard of at the time and even today is an uncommon practice, except notably in the long-running comedy How I Met Your Mother. As Bowers said, "The past was playing out in front of our eyes, but also being reviewed by an adult Kevin. This allowed America to look back, question, and re-examine that time period."

Few things in life take us back to our childhoods the way television shows, movies and music can. Unfortunately, these things don't always hold up. Time and experiences force us to view the world with a new perspective, or the productions reveal themselves to be contrived and dated. To me, The Wonder Years remains as relevant and poignant as it was when it first aired. No matter my age, no matter my view of the world, just as the narrator states in the last line of the series finale that I was willing to take a failing grade for, "after all these years I still look back, with wonder."

Amelia Avalos works in the museum's Office of Communications and Marketing.

Author(s): 
Office of Communications and Marketing Assistant Amelia Avalos
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A Nigerian Yoruba Naming Ceremony

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Online exhibit focuses on the cultural traditions of an African immigrant community in the United States. A Nigerian family's Naming Ceremony story raises the topics of cultural preservation, community, and family. Includes descriptions of the event, people, and links to relevant local publications.

Toward world understanding with song [sound recording] / compiled and edited by Nye, Nye, and Nye

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
Program notes printed on container.

Selections on the recording are compiled chiefly from other items recorded or produced by Folkways Records. Conceived as an accompaniment to the book Exploring music with children / Robert E. Nye and Vernice T. Nye (Wadsworth, 1966).

Performed by various artists.

Related materials may be found in the Moses anf Frances Asch Collection, also held by this repository. Related materials include production files, cover art designs, correspondence, and three open-reel audiotapes.

"This album was developed to be used with a song collection, Toward World Understanding with Song, by Vernice Nye, Robert Nye, and Virginia Nye, published by Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc., Belmont, California, and sold largely through college bookstores. The book was written to help teachers and parents introduce the study of world understanding to elementary-school-age children. The music for most of the songs on these records appears in the book along with many other songs selected to complement commonly taught social studies units." -- text from notes.

The Struggle for Justice

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Webpage with information on the scholarly journals in the field of Asian art published in part by the Freer and Sackler galleries, Ars Orientalis and Artibus Asiae.

Three questions for a brewing historian

National Museum of American History

Last summer, the National Museum of American History announced that we were hiring a brewing historian to join the team working on the American Brewing History Initiative. With its promises of research, documentation, and travel about the history of one of America's favorite beverages, the job quickly became the most sought-after Smithsonian position in America. We were looking for a trained historian with proven experience to lead this project and, after receiving an unprecedented number of applications, announced the new appointment this week. Please raise your glass to our new staff member and brewing historian, Theresa McCulla!

A color portrait of a woman in a coral shirt and dark blazer. She sits outside.

Theresa brings her experiences working in academia (she will receive a PhD in American Studies from Harvard this spring), in restaurants (she has a culinary diploma from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts), and with the public (she managed two local farmers' markets in Massachusetts). On top of that, she has an inquiring mind and brings her perspective as a cultural historian to this big job of researching, documenting, and sharing the history of American beer, with an emphasis on the home and craft brewing movements of the second half of the 20th century.

A large mug with a lid and handle. It is made from a light colored substance but has carvings with dark backgrounds, including one of a man

Theresa took some time to answer a few key questions about her experiences and the American Brewing History Initiative.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role?

Brewing sheds light on all facets of American history, and American history is all about people. I'm most looking forward to the people I will meet who have created the story of craft and home-brewed beer in America, in conjunction with that of the larger beer industry: brewers, entrepreneurs, farmers, teachers, journalists, collectors, and more. From experts to enthusiasts, so many men and women have played a part in shaping the breadth and depth of American beer today.

Tell us about one of your research projects that has shaped your understanding of the field of history.

Through my book project on the New Orleans food industry I've discovered an incredible array of objects that make the city's food culture come alive. French Quarter souvenirs, restaurant menus, gumbo recipes scrawled on index cards: these pieces of material culture were used by real people as they experienced—and tasted—the world around them. The same is true for brewing history, which can be understood through items as varied as neon signage to recorded radio ads to microbrewery equipment. Telling the history of taste requires us to move beyond documents. Fortunately, that is exactly what the National Museum of American History does best.

a long, rectangular ad portraying an industrial city at night. A woman sits on top of a globe looking down and on the other side, an angel floats next to a bottle of beer and holds a wand up that broadcasts the name "schlitz" over the town

What can beer tell us about American history?

Beer, like other food and drink, makes tangible so many abstract ideas about American history and culture. Through brewing we can understand stories of immigration, urbanization, agriculture, and technology. Beer shows us how innovations in advertising and evolving consumer tastes have always gone hand in hand. The museum holds rich collections of beer advertisements dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as this ad for Schlitz beer. The image touts Milwaukee's Schlitz as "famous for purity," yet simultaneously the product of modern industry and linked to a specific geographic place. Many of the same themes recur in ads of later eras. I'm so excited to bring that story, among many others, forward to the present day.

The Brewing History Initiative will also feature two public events annually. Both the initiative and brewing historian position have been made possible through the generous support of the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers.

To stay in the know, sign up for the Food History email list and receive brewing history right in your inbox.

Susan Evans McClure is the director of Smithsonian Food History programs at the National Museum of American History.

 

Posted Date: 
Monday, January 30, 2017 - 09:45
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One Life: Walt Whitman, a Kosmos

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Online exhibition celebrating the life and work of Walt Whitman. Presents a timeline of his life, highlighting important events and peers with portraits, a reading of 'Leaves of Grass', Walt Whitman's own reading of 'America,' an essay on his work, and a look at his artistic heirs.

A Brief History of the Stoplight

Smithsonian Magazine

Driving home from a dinner party on a March night in 1913, the oil magnate George Harbaugh turned on to Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue. It was one of the city’s busiest streets, jammed with automobiles, horse-drawn carriages, bicyclists, trolleys and pedestrians, all believing they had the right of way. Harbaugh did not see the streetcar until it smashed into his roadster. “It is remarkable,” the local newspaper reported, “that the passengers escaped with their lives.”

Many others wouldn’t. More than 4,000 people died in car crashes in the United States in 1913, the same year that Model T’s started to roll off Henry Ford’s assembly line. The nation’s roads weren’t built for vehicles that could speed along at 40 miles an hour, and when those unforgiving machines met at a crowded intersection, there was confusion and, often, collision. Though police officers stood in the center of many of the most dangerous crossroads blowing whistles and waving their arms, few drivers paid attention.

A Cleveland engineer named James Hoge had a solution for all this chaos. Borrowing the red and green signals long used by railroads, and tapping into the electricity that ran through the trolley lines, Hoge created the first “municipal traffic control system.” Patented 100 years ago, Hoge’s invention was the forerunner of a ubiquitous and uncelebrated device that has shaped American cities and daily life ever since-—the stoplight.

Hoge’s light made its debut on Euclid Avenue at 105th Street in Cleveland in 1914 (before the patent was issued). Drivers approaching the intersection now saw two lights suspended above it. A policeman sitting in a booth on the sidewalk controlled the signals with a flip of a switch. “The public is pleased with its operation, as it makes for greater safety, speeds up traffic, and largely controls pedestrians in their movements across the street,” the city’s public safety director wrote after a year of operation.

Others were already experimenting with and improving upon Hoge’s concept, until various inventors had refined the design to the one that controls traffic and raises blood pressure today. We have
William Potts, a Detroit police officer who had studied electrical engineering, to thank for the yellow light, but as a municipal employee he could not patent his invention.

By 1930, all major American cities and many small towns had at least one electric traffic signal, and the innovation was spreading around the world. The simple device tamed the streets; motor vehicle fatality rates in the United States fell by more than 50 percent between 1914 and 1930. And the technology became a symbol of progress. To be a “one stoplight town” was an embarrassment. “Because of the potent power of suggestion, [or] a delusion of grandeur, almost every crossroad hamlet, village, and town installed it where it was neither ornate nor useful,” the Ohio Department of Highways grumbled.

An additional complaint that gained traction was the device’s unfortunate impact on civility. Long before today’s epidemic of road rage, critics warned that drivers had surrendered some of their humanity; they didn’t have to acknowledge each other or pedestrians at intersections, but rather just stare at the light and wait for it to change. As early as 1916, the Detroit Automobile Club found it necessary to declare a “Courtesy Week,” during which drivers were encouraged to display “the breeding that motorists are expected to manifest in all other human relations.” As personal interactions declined, a new, particularly modern scourge appeared—impatience. In 1930, a Michigan policeman noted that drivers “are becoming more and more critical and will not tolerate sitting under red lights.”

The new rules of the road took some getting used to, and some indoctrination. In 1919, a Cleveland teacher invented a game to teach children how to recognize traffic signals, and today, kids still play a version of it, Red Light, Green Light. Within a few decades, the traffic light symbol had been incorporated into children’s entertainment and toys. Heeding the signals has become so ingrained that it governs all kinds of non-driving behavior. Elementary schools put the brakes on bad behavior with traffic light flashcards, and a pediatrician created the “Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right” program to promote healthful eating. Sexual assault prevention programs have adopted the traffic light scheme to signal consent. And the consulting firm Booz Allen suggested in 2002 that companies assess their CEOs as crisis (“red light”), visionary (“green light”) or analytical (“yellow light”) leaders. You can even find the colorful cues on the soccer field: A referee first issues a yellow warning card before holding up the red card, which tells the offending player to hit the road, so to speak.

A newsboy’s stand and traffic light in Los Angeles, 1942 (Library of Congress)

In a century the traffic light went from a contraption that only an engineer could love to a pervasive feature of everyday life—there are some two million of them in the United States today—and a powerful symbol. But its future is not bright. Driverless vehicles are the 21st-century’s Model T, poised to dramatically change not only how we move from place to place but also our very surroundings. Researchers are already designing “autonomous intersections,” where smart cars will practice the art of nonverbal communication to optimize traffic flow, as drivers themselves once did. Traffic lights will begin to disappear from the landscape, and the new sign of modernity will be living in a “no stoplight town.”

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

U.S. crosswalk signals are downright pedestrian. but others are so clever they’ll stop you in your tracks.

Image by Chris Lyons. (original image)

Image by Chris Lyons. (original image)

Image by Chris Lyons. (original image)

Image by Chris Lyons. (original image)

Image by Chris Lyons. (original image)

Image by Chris Lyons. (original image)

Image by Chris Lyons. (original image)

Image by Chris Lyons. (original image)

An auto racing legacy: Meet the Black American Racers

National Museum of American History

As a kid, Leonard W. Miller secretly tinkered with his parents' car for almost a year before they noticed he'd been replacing parts under the hood. His fascination with cars found a new outlet when neighbors moved in next door and let "Len" help prepare their 1939 Ford coupe convertible hot rod for races on the local drag strip. When he spent more time working on his own 1940 Ford Club Coupe convertible instead of studying for his classes at Pennsylvania's West Chester State Teachers College, his mom made him sell his hot rod. But his passion for race cars wasn't going anywhere.

A Pennsylvania license plate. It is yellow with blue outline and numbers/letters

Len went on to challenge the primarily white world of auto racing to make room for African American team owners, crews, mechanics, and drivers. He formed Miller Brothers Racing with his brother Dexter and, with Kenny Wright as their driver, won dozens of times during the 1969–1971 racing seasons.

A trophy. There is a silver figure on top holding something aloft but the rest of the trophy is gold with a center stripe having daisy-like accents

In 1973 Len launched Vanguard Racing Inc. and became the first African American owner to enter a driver in the Indy 500. Len found John Mahler, a white driver who had run in the Indianapolis 500, to show Benny Scott the ropes in the hopes that Scott would drive in the Indy 500. Benny Scott was an African American race car driver whose father, Bill "Bullet" Scott, raced in the California black auto circuit in the 1930s. John Mahler—not Benny Scott—was behind the wheel for the Indy 500 of 1972. The Indy 500 didn't allow a black driver to enter the race until 1991.

In 1973 Len founded the Black American Racers Association (BARA) with Wendell Scott, Ron Hines, and Malcolm Durham, to unify African Americans involved in all types of motorsports—stock car, open-wheel, and drag racing. Stock car racing uses cars that can be bought by the general public with car parts readily available, such as the cars used in NASCAR racing. Open-wheel racing uses cars with the wheels mounted outside of the main body of the car, like those found at the Indianapolis 500. Drag racing involves two cars racing from a standing start on a measured, flat track.

The cover to "Black Racers Yearbook" It has text in yellow and an illustration of men fixing up a car in the forefront and more cars going back into the distanceAn iron on patch. It is white with a yellow outline and a red car zooming through some text in the middle

A car that appears to be a very dark yellow. It has an emblem in the upper left corner and writing on the rest

Later that same year, Vanguard Racing became Black American Racers, Inc. (BAR), and was operated by members of BARA. The racing program was built around Benny Scott as the sole driver; he raced open-wheel for BAR until 1976, when he bought his own car to race on the West Coast. In 1976 BARA member Tommy Thompson would become a driver for BAR after Scott's departure. Tragically, Thompson was killed in a raceway accident on the Trenton Speedway in 1978.

A black iron on patch with a white helmet on the front

Black steering wheel

As a result of Thompson's death, BAR began entering stock car races in 1980. Despite the switch to stock car racing, BAR and the Black American Racers Association lay dormant through the 1980s and eventually interest in the organizations faded. This is when Len's son, Leonard T. "Lenny" Miller, decided to join the family business and became co-owner of the Miller Racing Group with his father.

An iron-on patch. There is a motorist in a red and back helmet appearing to drive right at the viewer. It saying Miller Racing Group on his steering wheel.

Miller Racing Group (MRG) pursued the more popular NASCAR racing and over the course of about ten years was sponsored by General Motors, Sunoco, Dr. Pepper, and others. In what was standard operating procedure for Len and BAR, and now MRG, white-owned corporate sponsors wanted to help African American race teams—but only for half the price they were offering white teams. Eventually, Len's tenacity won out and BAR was given full sponsorship money. But attracting equal sponsorship would remain a challenge for Len, his son, and other African American race teams. MRG won many races during the late 1990s and early 2000s, but after sponsorship began to dwindle they left racing in 2006.

Black hat with Dr. Pepper logo in red with "Racing" in yellow.

I look forward to sharing more about these wonderful objects through blog posts and our museum's website in the coming months.

Leonard W. Miller and his son, Lenny, along with other team members of the Black American Racers, Inc., are formally donating a collection of objects related to their legacy in auto racing to the museum on February 1, 2017. The objects won't be on immediate display, but stay tuned for updates.

Jane Rogers is curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts. She has also blogged about the sport of wheelchair basketball and collecting objects from the Summer Olympics.

Posted Date: 
Wednesday, February 1, 2017 - 11:00
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Character Composite Portrait

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson plan serving as an introduction to Roberto Clemente. Use symbols to construct a character composite portrait. Aligned to national language arts standards. Bilingual English/Spanish.

A Family Visit to the Smithsonian

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Interactive site featuring one family's week-long experience visiting museums and exhibits. Features the family's journal entries and activities they created to help make the most of a visit to Washington, D.C.

In Damascus, Restoring Beit Farhi and the City’s Jewish Past

Smithsonian Magazine

Ghosts inhabit Damascus’ Old City like players on a stage. You can see them peering through the ramparts of the citadel and tending to the faithful at the Omayyad Mosque. In the narrow passageways of the main souk, they clamor among the spice markets and connive between the caravansary and Byzantine colonnade.

You can see them. There is the Ottoman Governor As’ad Pasha al-Azem, receiving visitors and hearing petitions in the salamlik of his palace, a Mamlukian treasure. Across the way is a merchant from Andalusia offering textiles from Pisa for a set of Persian ceramics. At the Burmistan al Nur, or “house of patients,” a group of surgeons are gathered under a kumquat tree for a lecture on the latest techniques of scapulimancy – a method of divination – from Toledo, Spain. And here among litter of citrus fruit, chatting among shop owners and munching on Arab pastry, is the cunning and charismatic Mu’awiya – the caliph himself – so secure in his authority he is attended by only a single bodyguard.

But the real power center in Old Damascus – indeed, in the whole empire – is a few hundred yards away, off Al-Amin Street in the old Jewish Quarter. That would be Beit Farhi, the grand palace of Raphael Farhi, the successful banker and chief financial adviser to the Ottoman sultanate. It was Raphael and his older brother, Haim, who collected the taxes that financed the granaries, foundries and academies of Greater Syria, and it was the subterranean vaults of his palace that held the gold that backed the imperial coin. Until his family’s tragic dissolution in the mid-19th century, Raphael Farhi – known as “El Muallim,” or the teacher – was not simply the leader of Syria’s famously prominent and prosperous Jewish community; He was one of the most powerful men in the Ottoman world.

Hakam Roukbti knows this better than anyone. As the architect who has assigned himself the epic task of restoring Beit Farhi to its former glory, he has been working with a full complement of ghosts – Raphael, his brothers and their extended families, the palace guests and servants – peering over his shoulder. “The Farhis controlled all the finances in Greater Syria,” says Roukbti. “He was paying the pashas’ salaries. He appointed governors. This house was the most important of all the houses in Damascus.”

Roukbti, a Syrian who left for Spain in 1966 to study Islamic art, and his wife, Shirley Dijksma, have devoted themselves to the faithful renovation of the massive and labyrinthian Beit Farhi -- from the Hebrew language inscriptions carved in the reception hall to the orange trees in the courtyards. Their goal is to complete the work this summer and launch it as a luxury boutique hotel not long after that.

It is all part of a wider renaissance in one of the longest-inhabited cities in the world. While an economic boom is transforming greater Damascus into a modern metropolis with five-star hotels and shopping malls, the old city is keeping true to itself. Villas and caravansary are being carefully restored and converted into restaurants, cafés, inns, and art salons. Even the usually absent municipal government is getting into the act; the citadel has been completely renovated and strips of the souk’s narrow streets have been appointed with gas lamps.

At the epicenter of this reawakening is Beit Farhi, all 25,000 square feet of it. The rooms are nearly finished, complete with spot lighting and central heating, and soon the reception hall will be sealed under a glass canopy that will protect guests from the city’s pollution and insects. (It was one concession Roukbti made to modernity.) The cellar bar, which will stretch along the entire north side of the palace, is poised to become a favored watering hole of Damascus’ well-fixed expatriates. It was dug out at a price, however; according to Dijksma, an interior designer who promotes local Syrian artists, the same laborer was bitten three times by scorpions.

But while Beit Farhi may soon be hosting international film stars and celebrity politicians in its pricey chambers, it is far more than a commercial enterprise. The Muslim Roukbti and the Christian, Dutch-born Dijksma are on a mission that is as much ecumenical as aesthetic. The Syrian Jewish population has a history, as lush and complex as Beit Farhi’s marble-inlaid floors, that begins on one end of the Mediterranean and ends on the other. For centuries, it was a vital part of the mosaic of varied religions and ethnicities that made Damascus the world’s first city of commerce and culture.

For decades, the Jewish quarter has been a mute stepchild to the perennially chaotic main souk. Emptied after the creation of Israel and the wars that followed, its apartments and stalls have been padlocked by families now living elsewhere.

Today, the remains of Syria’s Jewish community consist of about three dozen aged men and women in Damascus and even fewer in the northern city of Aleppo. Albert Cameo, a leader of Syria’s residual Jews, recalls with delight the day Roukbti introduced himself as the man who was going to save Beit Farhi. “I assumed he was crazy,” Cameo says above the din of workers sanding stone walls in preparation for painting. “But then I thought, ‘What does it matter if he can pull it off?’ And now, look at this miracle.”

Image by Tim Beddow. Noted biblical scholar John Wilson wrote the Beit Farhi is "a little like a village...[with] sixty or seventy souls. The roof and walls of the rooms around the court are gorgeous to a high degree." (original image)

Image by Tim Beddow. Located off Al-Amin Street in the old Jewish Quarter, Beit Farhi is the real power center in Old Damascus. (original image)

Image by Tim Beddow. Architect Hakam Roukbti and his wife Shirley Dijksma only had one visual source that depicted Beit Farhi at its apex: an 1873 rendering of the palace's main courtyard by the classicist painter Sir Frederick Leighton. (original image)

Cameo, who like many Sephardic Jews – including the Farhis – has roots in Moorish Spain, grew up in a house just a few blocks away. He remembers his parents telling him stories about the Farhis and the great palace and how its library was open to any Jew who wanted to read from its many volumes. Cameo’s recollections and those of his contemporaries have helped Roukbti in his restoration.

There are also written accounts from 19th-century visitors like Lady Hester Stanhope, the famous traveler and Orientalist, who described the palace’s five inner courtyards, opulent gilded walls and gold-studded coffee cups. John Wilson, a noted biblical scholar of his day, wrote of the palace as “a little like a village … [with] sixty or seventy souls. The roof and walls of the rooms around the court are gorgeous to a high degree.” Wilson wrote of the Farhi’s grand hospitality and he detailed the palace libraries, both the public one and Raphael’s private book collection, in admiring detail.

For the purposes of restoration, however, these accounts lacked depth. Roukbti and Dijksma had only one visual source that depicted Beit Farhi at its apex: an 1873 rendering of the palace’s main courtyard by the classicist painter Sir Frederick Leighton. Titled Gathering Citrons, it portrays a woman in lavish robes looking on as an attendant drops fruit plucked from an orange tree into the outstretched hem of a young girl’s skirt. The stone columns are painted in alternating stripes of apricot and blue and the arches are enameled with intricate ceramic designs.

It is a charming tableau – and a far cry from Beit Farhi’s condition when Roukbti bought it in 2004. (A successful Paris-based architect, Roukbti financed the purchase with the help of several partners.) Like so much of the largely evacuated Jewish quarter, the palace was a nesting place for squatters. More than a dozen families, mostly Palestinian refugees, were living in each of its many rooms and it took Roukbti six months to buy them out under Syrian law. The main reception hall, which the Farhis used as their personal synagogue, had been ransacked and burned by looters decades earlier. Even the fountain had been dug up and carried away. It took another six months to clear the debris and crumbled stone from years of neglect and plundering before the real work could begin.

Whenever possible, Roukbti and Dijksma drew from indigenous sources to complete their work. The stones were quarried locally, though some of the marble was imported from Turkey and Italy. The pigmentation powder used in recreating Beit Farhi’s iconic ochers and azures was obtained from nearby shops. They recruited dozens of young artisans to repair or recreate from scratch the elaborately carved wood ceilings, marble floors and delicate frescoes. “It was difficult to find them,” says Roukbti, who has an artist’s easy manner and a thick head of grizzled black hair. “And even then, I had to be on top of them all the time. But now they are highly skilled. This has been like a finishing school.”

The work site has the quality and feel of an archaeological dig. The foundation of Beit Farhi begins with a layer of roughly hewn stones cut during the Aramaic period beneath far more precise masonry typical of Roman construction. The area was occupied by modest dwellings of black stone before the Farhis arrived in 1670 from the Ottoman capital of Constantinople, where they lived for two centuries after King Ferdinand expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492.

“They came with money,” says Roukbti. “And they came with powerful connections with Ottoman authorities.”

It was the dawn of a powerful Syrian dynasty that lasted some 200 years. During Napoleon Bonaparte’s advance on Palestine in 1799, Haim Farhi is credited by Jewish historians for having rallied the Jews of Acre in a successful resistance. An ambitious pasha had him killed in 1824, however, and a reprisal attack led by Raphael ended in failure with the loss of his brother, Solomon.

Despite Haim’s death, the Farhis would enjoy unrivaled wealth and power over the next two decades with Raphael as treasurer and vizier to the sultanate. But his fortunes were undone in 1840 by the family’s association with the suspected murder of a Franciscan monk. Several of Damascus’ most prominent Jews were arrested in the matter, including a Farhi family member, and it took intercessions from high-ranking diplomats and officials – all the way up to Mohammed Ali, the rogue Ottoman ruler of Egypt and the Levant - to clear them of wrongdoing. The affair was a mortal disgrace for the Farhis, however, and they scattered themselves about the capitals of the world.

At the very least, Roukbti hopes the rebirth of Beit Farhi will redeem Syria’s Jewish heritage - if not the Farhis themselves. Already, according to Cameo, two groups of Jews from abroad have visited the site and he is eager to host more. “This house has suffered so much,” he says. “Its return is very important, not just for Syria’s Jews but for all Syrians.”

Pennies and nickels add up to success: Maggie Lena Walker

National Museum of American History

Maggie Lena Walker was one of the most important Black businesswomen in the nation, and today too few people have heard of her.

A portrait of a woman. She wears a cross on a necklace.Maggie Lena Walker, from the Scurlock Studio Collection in our Archives Center.

Maggie Lena Walker was the first Black woman in the nation to organize and run a bank. And she did it in the segregated South in the former capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. But that’s not all: Walker ran the Independent Order of Saint Luke, one of the largest African American fraternal benefit societies; she bought a building and opened a department store; and she financed and edited a newspaper, The Saint Luke Herald. Walker’s work wasn’t for her individual benefit, however; it was for the benefit of her community.

“I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but with a laundry basket practically on my head,” Walker was known to comment. She meant this literally. Maggie Lena Walker was born on July 15, 1864, to Elizabeth “Lizzie” Draper, a formerly enslaved woman, and Eccles Cuthbert, an Irish-born Confederate soldier and nurse. Draper and Cuthbert were never in a long-term relationship. After the abolition of slavery, Draper cared for her family by working as a laundress. In 1868 Draper married William Mitchell, but he died prematurely in 1876 in an unsolved murder. After the death of her husband, Lizzie Mitchell raised her children, Maggie and a son, John B., on her own. While her labor as a laundry worker meant autonomy because the work could be done at one’s own home and at one’s own pace, it was far from lucrative. Lizzie Mitchell often enlisted the help of her young daughter. Walker’s humble upbringing motivated her to help others.

A yellow membership card. A emblem on the card reads "Support Thyself."Maggie Lena Walker’s membership card for the National Association of Wage Earners, an organization started to improve labor conditions of African American working women. Walker was also an active member of the National Association of Colored Women, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Urban League. She supported numerous organizations in Richmond, Virginia, as well. Image courtesy of National Park Service, Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

As a teenager, Walker joined the Independent Order of Saint Luke (IOSL), an organization she would be heavily involved in for the rest of her life. IOSL was an African American fraternal benefit society, which had been founded by Mary Prout in Baltimore in 1867. Like the many other fraternal organizations that proliferated during this time, the IOSL was established to provide aid to its members, especially when sick or upon death. Societies like the IOSL also had a ritualistic element and made community service a high priority.

Walker graduated from Richmond Colored Normal School in 1883 and began working as a teacher. However, when she married Armstead Walker in 1886, Walker was forced to resign her teaching position because married women were prohibited from teaching. Since she could no longer teach, Walker thrust herself into her community work and began climbing the ranks of the IOSL.

In 1899, the order elected her Right Worthy Grand Secretary, the highest leadership position within the national organization. While this was a tremendous accomplishment, Walker assumed the leadership of an organization on the verge of bankruptcy and with a rapidly diminishing membership. Seeing opportunity where others might have seen catastrophe, Walker seized this chance to rebuild the IOSL.

And rebuild she did. Under Walker’s leadership, the IOSL grew in membership, mission, and purpose. In 1899 when Walker became the national leader, the organization had 1,080 members. By 1915 the order had grown to 40,000 and by the mid-1920s, to over 100,000, with lodges in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

Walker had a vision to better her community by increasing access to employment, education, and financial instruments such as mortgages and personal loans—all areas where segregation prevented Black people from accessing mainstream options. Through the IOSL, she founded St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, The Saint Luke Herald, and a department store, St. Luke Emporium. The focus of these entrepreneurial endeavors was not individual success, but rather community advancement. To run these businesses, Walker employed a workforce made up primarily of Black women in areas that provided higher wages than physically laborious, menial household work. Under Walker, Black women worked as stenographers, accountants, journalists, and secretaries.

Many women stand in a photograph.Accountants employed by the Independent Order of Saint Luke. Maggie Lena Walker is fourth from the right. The order’s workforce also included organizing deputies (ODs), who traveled around the country recruiting new members. At the height of the IOSL’s popularity in the 1920s, half of the ODs were women. While it existed, from 1905 to 1911, the emporium employed 18 people: 11 women and 7 men. Image courtesy of National Park Service, Maggie L. Walker National Historic SiteA machine with many numerical buttons.Maggie Lena Walker saw to it that St. Luke Bank used the latest banking technologies. The Burroughs Company made state-of-the-art adding machines that were used in financial businesses around the country. The bank’s accountants used machines likes this in their daily work. Burroughs Adding Machine 1911-1913

Walker’s former secretary Alice Spindle McSweeney Gilliam remembered Walker “was strict about time. You had better be at your desk at ten minutes to nine.” As the IOSL and the bank prospered, the workload increased. Employees worked long hours. One employee told the story of a time when the audit came due. At the conclusion of the audit, one nickel was found to be missing. Walker instructed two of her workers to stay until the nickel had been found. After hours of searching, they finally found it—at midnight. In addition to long hours, Walkers required that workers adhere to a dress code, a white blouse and a long dark skirt, and encouraged them to save 5 percent of their wages. Not all workers appreciated these impositions or the heavy workload and a few submitted complaints to Walker, which she seems to have handled individually.

In time their hard work paid off. The Washington Bee, an African American newspaper, recognized that the financial success of the IOSL and the bank had a tremendous impact on African Americans in Richmond and beyond. (It even encouraged its readers to join the order or open an account.) The combined nickels and pennies that ordinary Black workers deposited at the bank amounted to a lot—half a million dollars by the mid-1920s. For comparison, in 2019, that would be a little over $7 million.

A newspaper article headline.A June 27, 1914, article about Maggie Lena Walker and the Independent Order of Saint Luke in The Washington Bee.

Prior to the stock market crash in 1929, Walker noticed a decline in St. Luke’s assets. She began considering a merger between St. Luke and the other two Black-owned banks in Richmond, Second Street Savings Bank and Commercial Bank and Trust. By 1931, the three banks merged to form Consolidated Bank and Trust. Walker served as Chairperson of Consolidated Bank and Trust’s Board of Directors until her death in 1934.

A receipt with handwriting on it.Receipt to Maggie Lena Walker from the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C. This receipt is for $25, but Walker contributed $500 to the school’s building fund. Nannie Helen Burroughs, the school’s founder, used the money to build a dormitory that included a cafeteria. Burroughs named the building Maggie L. Walker Hall. Image courtesy of National Park Service, Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

In addition to her entrepreneurial pursuits to increase economic access, she gave her time and money philanthropically to support organizations that sought to better the lives of African Americans, particularly African American women. She helped organize the Richmond Urban League and donated money to countless organizations and causes, including Nannie Helen Burroughs’s National Training School for Women and Girls. Walker believed that everyone had the capacity to give, stating “there are few of us who can give much; but there are thousands upon thousands who can give little, and the combining of the mites will produce the much, so necessary to success.” Indeed, it was the principle of each person contributing a little that led to the success of St. Luke Bank and, later, Consolidated Bank and Trust, which operated independently until 2005.

Crystal M Moten is curator of African American history in the Division of Work and History. A south side of Chicago native, she has taught at small liberal arts colleges on the east coast and in the upper Midwest. Her research interests include the intersectional connections between African American labor, business, and civil rights history with emphasis on post-world war II Black freedom movements in the urban Midwest. 

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Thursday, February 27, 2020 - 12:30
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The Coast Guard’s Most Potent Weapon During Prohibition? Codebreaker Elizebeth Friedman

Smithsonian Magazine

On April 11, 1931, during the height of Prohibition, federal agents raided the New Orleans headquarters of a Vancouver-based liquor ring. They arrested nine people and issued warrants for 100 more, including four members of Al Capone’s Chicago gang and at least a few Mississippi deputy sheriffs. For two years, investigators had watched, listened to, read, and deciphered the activities of four distilleries, united in New Orleans as one of the most powerful rum rings.

A grand jury indicted 104, and in 1933, Colonel Amos W. Woodcock, Special Assistant to the Attorney General, led the prosecution against 23 members of what he called "the most powerful international smuggling syndicate in existence, controlling practically a monopoly of smuggling in the Gulf of Mexico and on the West Coast." His star witness was a five-foot-tall Coast Guard codebreaker named Elizebeth Friedman.

The government knew how the ring operated: smugglers hid liquor on rum runners carrying legal cargo, shipped them down the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and at rendezvous points outside of United States waters (12 miles, or a one-hour's sail away from the shore), unloaded cases onto high-speed boats. The motorboats carried the liquor to Mississippi deltas or Louisiana bayous, where smugglers then packed the booze as lumber shipments and drove them to the Midwest.

To convict the accused, Woodcock had to link them to hundreds—if not thousands—of encrypted messages that passed between at least 25 separate ships, their shore stations, and the headquarters in New Orleans. Defense attorneys demanded to know how the government could prove the content of enciphered messages. How, for example, could a cryptanalyst know that "MJFAK  ZYWKB  QATYT  JSL  QATS  QXYGX  OGTB" translated to "anchored in harbor where and when are you sending fuel?"*

Elizebeth Friedman, the prosecution's star witness, asked the judge to find a chalkboard.

Using a piece of chalk, she stood before the jury and explained the basics of cryptanalysis. Friedman talked about simple cipher charts, mono-alphabetic ciphers and polysyllabic ciphers; she reviewed how cryptanalysts encoded messages by writing keywords in lines of code, enclosing them with letter patterns that could be deciphered with the help of various code books and charts rooted in the schemes and charts of centuries past.

The defense did not want her to stay on the stand for long.

"Mrs. Friedman made an unusual impression," Colonel Woodcock later wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury, whose department oversaw the Coast Guard. "Her description of the art of deciphering and decoding established in the minds of all her entire competency to testify." Woodcock commented on the role of military intelligence in cracking the case, stating that the Coast Guard, with its control of radio intelligence and cryptanalysis, "is the only agency of the Government connected with law enforcement which has such an extremely valuable section." When "that valuable section" of the Coast Guard began, it had two employees—Friedman and an assistant. 

Elizebeth Friedman. (< href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizebeth_Friedman#mediaviewer/File:Elizebeth-Friedman.jpg">Wikipedia)

When Friedman first joined the Guard, the agency employed neither uniformed nor civilian women. Savvy, quick-witted and stoic, she weighed some of the 20th century's most difficult ciphers: her findings nailed Chinese drug smugglers in Canada, identified a Manhattan antique doll expert as a home-grown Japanese spy, and helped resolve a diplomatic feud with Canada.

Friedman's work as a cryptanalyst began in 1916, when she went to work for Riverbank, a privately run Illinois laboratory-turned-think tank during World War I. Three years earlier, she had graduated from Hillsdale College with a degree in English, and she didn't know what to do with herself. Elizebeth (née) Smith was the youngest of nine children, and her father, a wealthy Indiana dairy farmer, hadn't wanted her to pursue higher education. She went anyway, borrowing the tuition from him at a six percent interest rate. After graduation, she spent time in Chicago, where friends encouraged her to visit the Newberry Library, which held one of Shakespeare's first folios. A librarian there told her that a wealthy man named George Fabyan was looking for a young, educated contributor to a Shakespearean research project.

Before long, Elizebeth Smith was living at Riverbank Laboratory, an estate owned by Fabyan in Geneva, Illinois. It's where she also met her future husband, William Friedman, who worked for Riverbank as a geneticist. Both collaborated on a project that attempted to prove that Sir Francis Bacon, a cryptologist himself, had authored Shakespeare's plays ("Decoding the Renaissance," a current exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library, features the Friedman's scholarship on the topic.)

Within two years, Fabyan, a rich businessman with an outsized sense of his own self-worth, convinced the government to allow his team of cryptanalysts to specialize in decoding encryptions for the War Department. In unpublished memoir notes available through the George C. Marshall Foundation, Elizebeth Friedman speaks of her initial shock at the assignment: "So little was known in this country of codes and ciphers when the United States entered World War I, that we ourselves had to be the learners, the workers and the teachers all at one and the same time."

In 1921, the War Department asked the young couple to move to Washington. Elizebeth loved the town—deprived of cultural events during her adolescence, she remembered going to the theater multiple times a week when she arrived. Both had jobs as contractors specializing in code breaking: Elizebeth earned half of what her husband made. As William Friedman started in the Army’s Signal Corps and on a path towards becoming a lieutenant colonel and the chief cryptologist of the Department of Defense, "Mrs. Friedman" moved among various agencies of the Treasury Department.

The armed service, which turns 100 today, formed on January 28, 1915, when President Woodrow Wilson united the Revenue Cutter and the Lifesaving Services as "the Coast Guard." Operating under the Treasury and functioning as part of the Navy during wartime, the Coast Guard combined the similar maritime services offered by its predecessors.

Prior to Prohibition, the Coast Guard protected American interests largely by supervising customs and maritime regulations in coastal waters. But as an arm of the Treasury, the Coast Guard became responsible for enforcing Prohibition enforcement on the seas, fighting piracy and smuggling in territorial waters once enforcement of the Volstead Act began in January, 1920. 

Image by © CORBIS. Aboard the Coast Guard Cutter USS Seneca, Prohibition agents examine barrels of alcohol confiscated from a "rum runner" boat. (original image)

Image by © CORBIS. Rum Runner Linwood set afire by crew to destroy evidence before seizure by Coast Guard. (original image)

Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS. The contents of a Prohibition-era rumrunner being emptied out after being caught by Coast Guard. (original image)

Image by © CORBIS. The United States Coast Guard cutter Acushnet tows the Silvtrice, after contraband alcohol was discovered as its cargo. (original image)

Five years into the Prohibition era, Captain Charles Root, an intelligence officer with the Guard spoke with Elizebeth about participating in a counterintelligence unit. Their initial choice was her husband, but William wanted to stay at the Signal Corps, where he was working to advance the military’s ability to encode and decode messages. The job went to Elizebeth. She understood the unpopular public perception of the work she was about to do.

"The government law enforcement agencies had no more taste for [enforcing Prohibition] than the public who loved their drink," she wrote. "But the government officials, who with minor exceptions were honest at least, had no choice but to pursue the rigid torturous paths of attempting to defeat the operations of the criminal gangs who were so intent on mulcting the public."

Hundreds of messages in Coast Guard intelligence waited to be deciphered by Friedman. She and one aide worked through them in two months. Friedman was surprised that rum runners operated on simple encryptions, using words like "Havana" as obvious key indicators. "When choosing a key word," she wrote, "never choose one which is associated with the project with which one is engaged." 

But between the second half of 1928 and 1930, the smugglers advanced from using two cryptosystems to 50 different codes. Patiently and persistently, Friedman and her clerk cracked 12,000 encryptions. At least 23 had to do with the I'm Alone, whose fate led to a short chapter in American history involving diplomatic tensions with Canada.

On March 20, 1929, at 6:30 a.m., the USCG Wolcott spotted the I'm Alone off the coast of Louisiana. This particular two-masted rum runner had taunted the Coast Guard along the New England and New York coasts for six years, ever since it was built in Nova Scotia. Records show that between December of 1925 and the spring of 1929, the Coast Guard had tracked the ship's movements almost daily. That day, the Wolcott was armed with the knowledge that the ship had recently picked up liquor in Belize with the intention to drop at rendezvous points in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Wolcott trailed the I'm Alone for a day while waiting for backup. The USCG Dexter arrived the morning of March 22. Two-hundred-and-twenty miles off the Gulf Coast, the two cutters cornered and fired upon the I'm Alone, tearing apart the ship's hull, and more dramatically, the Canadian flag hoisted on the mast. As the boat sunk, the Dexter rescued the 8- man crew from the water; it failed, though, to resuscitate one man, a French boatswain.

The incident angered the international community, particularly Canada, the United Kingdom and France. (At this time, Canada, while internally self-governing, was part of the British Empire).  Less than a year before, the British had warned Americans about following rumrunners into their territorial waters off the Bahamas. Canadian ambassador Vincent Massey said the I’m Alone incident questioned the freedom of the seas.  

The Canadian government filed a claim against the United States for $386,803.18, which included damages for the ship, its cargo (including the liquor), and personnel losses. The United States said that because the Wolcott's chase started within U.S. waters, it was not at fault. Canada argued that two cutters could not have legally pursued the I'm Alone so far for so long. The two countries took the case to international arbitration.

Back in her office, Elizebeth Friedman was at work. She and her staff of one concentrated on 23 messages sent from Belize to "harforan," an address in New York. Operating on an earlier theory, she proved that while Canadians may have built and registered the I'm Alone, its owners were Americans. And judging from the content of the telegrams, they had clear intent to smuggle liquor into Louisiana. Once it was established that Americans had pursued their own ship, arbitrators awarded Canada a public apology from the U.S. for firing on the Canadian flag, and a fine of $50,665.50, nearly $336,000 less than its claim.

Citing the I'm Alone case as an example, in 1930, Elizebeth Friedman and her boss, lieutenant commander F. J. Gorman, head of Coast Guard intelligence, proposed a permanent place for a cryptanalytic unit in the Coast Guard, as opposed to a different agency in the Treasury, Customs, or Justice Departments. This execution would allow the Coast Guard to move beyond recording and deciphering codes to intervening in smuggling operations as they unfolded. Friedman became the head of a unit of six, and one year later, it was a Coast Guard intelligence office stationed in Mobile that intercepted hundreds of the radio messages that incriminated Al Capone’s liquor smuggling group.

The New Orleans trial put the spotlight on Elizebeth Friedman – but she didn't want it. She didn't like how newspaper accounts differed in their delivery of facts – one referred to her as a "pretty middle aged woman" and another as "a pretty young woman." She didn't like "frivolous adjectives," and she didn't like reading quotes of hers that she remembered saying differently. But perhaps it wasn't the frivolity of prose that bothered her as much as the reason for its attention: she was a smart woman, and the backhandedness of this supposed compliment threatened to render it as an anomaly.  

The men—the officers, the Commandants and judges and district attorneys—respected her as a colleague. "Many times I've been asked as to how my authority, that is the direction and superior status of a woman as instructor, teacher, mentor and slave driver to men, even to commissioned and non-commissioned officers, by these men was accepted. I must declare with all truth that with one exception, all of the young men younger or older who have worked for me and under me and with me have been true colleagues."

Elizebeth Friedman retired in 1946 (William did the same several years later), and in 1957, they published the Shakespearean scholarship that had brought them together at Riverbank Laboratory before they were married. (They concluded that contrary to their former boss' insistence, the cipher defends William Shakespeare's authorship.) William Friedman died in 1969, and Elizebeth in 1980. In 1974, the Coast Guard was the first armed service to allow women to enter the officer candidate program.

*Credit goes to Dr. David Joyner for piecing together this piece of Elizebeth Friedman’s analysis in his work "Elizebeth Smith Friedman, up to 1934" (see page 15).

Thanks to Jeffrey S. Kozak, Archivist & Assistant Libarian at the George C. Marshall Foundation, and to military historian Stephen Conrad, for research assistance. 

Editor's note, February 17, 2015: Insights provided by Hofstra professor G. Stuart Smith suggest that Friedman did not assist in cracking a Japanese cryptograph known as "PURPLE," as this story originally stated. We have removed that sentence from the article.

Chasing the Lydian Hoard

Smithsonian Magazine

In her new book, “LOOT: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World,” Sharon Waxman, a former culture reporter for the New York Times and longtime foreign correspondent, gives readers a behind-the-scenes view of the high-stakes, high-powered conflict over who should own the world’s great works of ancient art. Traveling the globe, Waxman met with museum directors, curators, government officials, dealers and journalists to unravel the cultural politics of where antiquities ought to be kept. In the following excerpt from the chapter titled “Chasing the Lydian Hoard,” Waxman tracks a Turkish journalist’s dogged quest for the return of looted artifacts, the ultimate outcome of that quest and its consequences.

Chapter 6 Excerpt

Özgen Acar had been a reporter for Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s oldest daily newspaper, for a decade when, in 1970, he received a visit from Peter Hopkirk, a British journalist from the Sunday Times of London.

“I’m chasing a treasure,” Hopkirk told Acar, intriguingly. “It’s been smuggled out of Turkey. A U.S. museum bought it, and it’s a big secret.”

Acar had grown up in Izmir, on the western coast of Turkey, and had an early taste of antiquities when his mother, an elementary school teacher, took him to museums and to the sites of the ancient Greek origins of his native city. In 1963 he traveled with his backpack along the Turkish coastline, discovering the cultural riches there. But his abiding interest was current affairs, and he had studied political science and economics before getting his first job as a journalist.

Nonetheless, he was intrigued by Hopkirk’s call. Earlier that year, American journalists had gotten a whiff of a brewing scandal at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Boston Globe had written about a set of golden treasures acquired controversially by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and in doing so mentioned a “Lydian hoard” taken from tombs near Sardis, in Turkey’s Hermus river valley, that was being held in secret by the Met. In August 1970 the New York Times printed a dispatch from the Times of London in which Turkey officially asked for details about the alleged illegal export, warning that it would bar foreign archaeologists from any country that did not return smuggled treasures. Theodore Rousseau, the Met’s chief curator, denied that the museum had exported anything illegally, but added, mysteriously, that there “seemed to be hearsay fabricated around something that might have a kernel of truth to it.”

Hopkirk, the British journalist, was looking to break the story, but he needed a Turkish partner to help him chase the trail locally. He offered Acar the opportunity to team up and investigate and publish simultaneously in both papers. Acar grabbed what seemed like a good story.

They chased the clues that Hopkirk had from his sources: a group of hundreds of golden pieces—coins and jewelry and household goods—had been found near Usak, in southwestern Turkey. Usak was the closest population center to what had been the heart of the kingdom of Lydia in the sixth century BC. The trove had been bought by the Met, which knew that the pieces had no known origin, or provenance, and was keeping the pieces in its storerooms. Acar traveled to Usak, a small town where the residents said no one had heard of a recently discovered golden hoard. He also went to New York City and visited the Met. He called the Ancient Near East department and spoke to the curator, Oscar White Muscarella. Muscarella told him there was nothing like what he described in his department.

In the end, the journalists couldn’t produce anything definitive. Hopkirk was frustrated, but Acar was intrigued; why, he wondered, did a British journalist care so much about ancient pieces from Turkey anyway? He began to consider the issue from a different perspective, as a problem that affected world culture and human history, not just Turkish history. No one, he decided, has the right to smuggle antiquities. As he continued his research, he became more convinced of this, and angrier at those who had irretrievably damaged a tangible link to the past.

For 16 years, Acar didn’t publish a thing about the Lydian treasures. But he continued to work on the story in his spare time. As 1970 gave way to 1971 and 1972, he traveled to Usak once every five or six months, making the six-hour journey to the small town by bus. He asked if anyone had heard about digs in the tumuli outside of town, but no one said they had, at least initially. But as two years became three, and three years became five, six, and eight, Acar became a familiar face in the village. Sources began to crack. He would hear the grumbling, here and there, from people who had missed out on the windfall, about others who had been paid for digging in the tumuli. He conducted re-search about the Lydian kingdom, whose capital was in Sardis and whose borders stretched from the Aegean Sea to the Persian frontier. The greatest of the Lydian kings, Croesus, was renowned for his vast treasures of gold and silver. His name became synonymous in the West with the measure of extreme wealth—“as rich as Croesus.” By some accounts Croesus was the first ruler to mint coins, and he filled the Lydian treasury with his wealth. He ordered the construction of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But he was also the last king of Lydia. In 547 BC, Croesus was toppled by King Cyrus of Persia, who reduced the Lydian kingdom to a distant outpost of his empire.

Convinced that the Met possessed the Lydian hoard but was refusing to acknowledge it, Acar continued his investigation year after year, visiting Usak and, when he could, questioning the Met. (In Turkey, the hoard became known as “the Karun treasures,” as Karun is the Arabic and Persian rendition of Croesus.) Acar became known in Usak for opposing the looting of Turkey’s cultural patrimony, and on one visit he was talking to some villagers in a café when one called him into the street to speak privately. “There are six or seven of us going to rob one of the tumuli,” the villager told him. “But my heart isn’t in it.” He gave Acar the name of the place and asked him to inform the local officials. Acar did. One of those officials was Kazim Akbiyikoglu, a local archaeologist and the curator of the Usak museum. The police assigned Akbiyikoglu to excavate there instead. He discovered a cache of treasures from the Phrygian kingdom, a civilization that followed the Lydians.

In New York, where the Met had muffled the initial rumors about a spectacular, possibly illegal, purchase, more rumors emerged in 1973. This time, the museum quietly leaked a story to the New York Times about the acquisition of 219 Greek gold and silver pieces, still being held in storage. The Times’s art critic John Canaday noted that the treasures dated to the sixth century B.C. and had reportedly been bought for about $500,000 by the Madison Avenue dealer John J. Klejman and sold to the museum in 1966, 1967, and 1968.The New York Post weighed in at this time, too, and asked Dietrich von Bothmer, the curator of the Greek and Roman department (where the pieces were kept), where the treasures came from. “You should ask Mr. J. J. Klejman that,” retorted von Bothmer. A few pieces from the collection had been shown the previous year in a survey exhibit, but the objects were not published in the catalog and remained in the museum’s storerooms. The director of the Met, Thomas Hoving, and von Bothmer believed that the museum had no obligation to determine whether the objects had been looted. The acquisition predated the UNESCO agreement of 1970, which banned the illegal export and transfer of cultural property, and both Klejman and the museum justified the purchase under the rules of the old code, whereby works whose provenance could not be specifically demonstrated as illegal could be legitimately purchased and sold.

Turkey, they would soon learn, felt differently.

Özgen Acar did not see the New York Times article, and anyway, he was looking for treasures from the Lydian civilization, not Greek. The years passed and the issue faded, though it remained in the back of his mind. Then in the early 1980s, Acar moved to New York to work for a different Turkish newspaper, Milliyet, and subsequently struck out on his own as a freelancer. One day in 1984 he was visiting the Met and was surprised to see on display 50 pieces that closely matched the description he had of the Lydian hoard. They were labeled simply “East Greek treasure.” This was no chance sighting. Acar had been watching the Met’s public exhibitions and scouring its catalogs all along, looking for some sign that the museum indeed had the pieces. “I was shocked,” he recalled. “The villagers who had taken them knew what the items were. By this time, I knew them like the lines of my own palm.”

This was the proof Acar had been waiting for. He flew back to Turkey and got an interview with the minister of education, showing him what he’d managed to gather over the years. That local villagers had secretly excavated tumuli outside of town and sold the contents to smugglers, who had sold a hoard of golden Lydian treasures to a dealer and that it had been purchased by no less an institution than the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Photographs from the Turkish police comparing pieces seized from looters in the 1960s to the pieces at the Met all but proved that the Met’s pieces were Lydian and came from the same area as the others. “If that all turns out to be true,” the minister responded, “then we will sue the Met.” Acar broke the story in a series of seven articles in Milliyet in 1986, the first of which carried the eight-column headline “Turks Want the Lydian, Croesus Treasures Back.”

In Acar’s investigation, the path of the theft became clear. In 1965 four farmers from the towns of Gure and Usak dug into a tumulus called Ikiztepe and struck it big—these were tombs of the Lydian nobility and upper class and were laid out traditionally with a body on a bed, surrounded by precious objects. Police learned of the theft and were able to recover some of the objects in 1966, and these were handed over to Turkish museums. But most of the artifacts had already left the country. The looters sold their find to Ali Bayirlar, a Turkish antiquities smuggler, who sold the hoard to J. J. Klejman, the owner of a Madison Avenue art gallery, and George Zacos, a Swiss dealer. The Met bought successive groups of the Lydian treasures from 1966 to 1970. As often happened in such cases, when word spread in Usak that several local farmers had successfully sold their loot, others went frantically burrowing in other nearby tumuli, Aktepe and Toptepe, where they found still more Lydian pieces: gold, silver, pieces of exquisite artistry, and wall paintings from the tombs themselves. In a statement to the police, one looter described the efforts expended to burrow into the tombs:

Image by Joel Bernstein. Author of LOOT: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, Sharon Waxman. (original image)

Image by Sharon Waxman / Times Books. In 2006, it was discovered that the hippocampus had been stolen from its case and replaced with a fake. This counterfeit is now on display at the Usak museum. (original image)

Image by Sharon Waxman / Times Books. LOOT: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World by Sharon Waxman. (original image)

Image by Sharon Waxman. Özgen Acar, the Turkish journalist who has crusaded against smugglers, standing in front of a poster celebrating the return of the Lydian hoard. (original image)

We dug in turns for nine or 10 days....On the 10th day we reached the stones, each of which was almost 1.5 meters in height and 80 cms wide....It would be hard for five or six persons to lift one of them. ...We had tried to break the stones with sledgehammers and pokers, but were not successful. I exploded [the main entrance] using black powder.

The looters found a corpse that was, in the main, a pile of dust and a hunk of hair. But the gold and silver objects were undamaged. That one tomb held 125 pieces.

Meanwhile, the treasures purchased by the Met were presented to the museum’s acquisitions committee by Dietrich von Bothmer. It was the time of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it came to buying unprovenanced treasures. The pieces were unique, and they were exquisite: acorn-shaped pendants along one heavy golden necklace; bracelets with intricately carved lion heads at each end; carefully ribbed and sculpted silver bowls; a silver ewer with the handle in the form of a graceful human figure arching backward. And of course the masterpiece, a tiny golden brooch in the shape of a hippocampus—a horse with wings and a fish’s tail, representing land, water, and air. The horse, barely an inch and a half in height, had three sets of tassels of three hanging, golden braids, each braid ending in an intricate golden ball in the shape of a pomegranate. There was not another like it in the world. The Met paid $1.5 million for the treasures over several years.

Under increasing pressure from the Turks, the Met dragged its feet, trying to head off a legal battle. The Turks tried asking politely, formally requesting the return of the Lydian hoard in July 1986 and sending their consul general to meet with museum officials. Meanwhile, inside the museum, documents later emerged that showed the Met knew full well that the “East Greek” pieces were what von Bothmer described as “the Lydian hoard,” the pieces Turkey had inquired about from the early 1970s forward. Hoving states bluntly in his memoir that everyone knew the stuff was contraband:

Dietrich von Bothmer asked what we should do if any damaging evidence were found that our East Greek treasure had been excavated illegally and smuggled out of Turkey....I was exasperated. “We all believe the stuff was illegally dug up,” I told him....“For Christ’s sake, if the Turks come up with the proof from their side, we’ll give the East Greek treasure back. And that’s policy. We took our chances when we bought the material.”

On May 29, 1987, the Republic of Turkey filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against the Metropolitan Museum of Art, contending that several hundred artifacts had been illegally excavated and illegally exported from the country in the 1960s. This was a spectacularly bold move by a country with no track record in suing major institutions in foreign countries. Would it work? Turkey, represented by the American lawyers Harry Rand and Lawrence Kaye, was betting that the American justice system would judge the evidence fairly. Predictably, the Met filed a motion for dismissal, claiming it was far too late to sue for artifacts it had bought in good faith. But in 1990 Judge Vincent L. Broderick accepted the Turkish position. In pretrial discovery, the Met allowed a team of outside scholars to inspect the treasures for the first time. Among those who came was Kazim Akbiyikoglu of the Usak museum, who gave an affidavit providing the evidence that he had of the treasures’ origin. The Met’s defenses crumbled fairly quickly. Wall paintings were measured and found to fit the gaps in the walls of one tomb. Looters cooperating with the investigation described pieces they had stolen that matched the cache at the Met. The case was covered prominently in the press, and it was beginning to look like a black eye for the museum.

Seeking to salvage things, museum officials tried to negotiate a settlement. Under one plan, the Met would admit that the treasures were Turkish and would propose a kind of joint custody, in which the hoard—now known to be 363 pieces—would spend five years in New York and five years in Turkey. The Turks dispute this version, saying that the offer was to return merely a small portion of the hoard. Around Christmas 1992, the Met’s president, William Luers, and its director, Philippe de Montebello, traveled to Turkey to work out this deal with the minister of culture, Fikri Sa˘glar. But the minister refused to meet with them.

It was game over. Facing an imminent trial, the Met agreed in September 1993 to return the Lydian hoard, explaining in a press release: “Turkish authorities did provide evidence that most of the material in question may indeed have been removed clandestinely from the tombs in the Usak region, much of it only months before the museum acquired it. And second, we learned through the legal process of discovery that our own records suggested that some museum staff during the 1960s were likely aware, even as they acquired these objects, that their provenance was controversial.”

This was an astonishing admission by a major American museum. The Met had bought pieces that within a matter of weeks had gone directly from a group of looters, through middlemen, to the storerooms of the museum. Documents proved that the museum officials knew that these pieces were likely looted and essentially hid them for some 20 years. Nonetheless, the museum resisted Turkey’s demands for more than a decade and fought the lawsuit for six years, until finally acknowledging its actions.

Back in Turkey, the triumph was complete. Acar’s campaign had been taken up by the local Usak region, and the museum curator Kazim Akbiyikoglu—now his dear friend and ally—adopted the cause of stopping looting in his region. Acar’s slogan, “History is beautiful where it belongs,” became a poster that was found in libraries, classrooms, city buildings, and shops. The local Usak newspaper beat the drum for the return of the Lydian hoard. In October 1993, just a month after the Met’s concession, the artifacts arrived back in Turkey amid great celebration.

The lawsuit emboldened Turkey to chase other objects that had been taken improperly. The government pursued the auction house Sotheby’s for trafficking in looted artifacts and sued for objects being held in Germany and London. It also went after the Telli family, a ring of smugglers—through whom a billion dollars’ worth of stolen antiquities flowed—that Acar had written about in Connoisseur magazine. (The family sued Acar; he was acquitted. He then got death threats. He ignored them. He later learned that the plan was to kidnap him, tie him up, and ship him with an oxygen tank, to a Swiss museum.) The Getty Museum relinquished a sculpture from a Perge sarcophagus that had been sliced up and sold by looters. A German foundation gave up other portions of the same sculpture. Turkey became known as a leader in the battle against looting. By the latter half of the 1990s, the looters were on the defensive. Smugglers looked to work elsewhere. Turkey’s lawsuits made a clear statement of its intention to assert the country’s cultural rights.

For two years the treasures of the Lydian hoard were displayed in the Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara, before being transferred in 1995 to Usak, to an aging one-room museum in the town, whose population had grown to one hundred thousand. Not only was the return of the Lydian hoard a source of undeniable pride in Usak but it also made restitution a popular cause in neighboring communities that once were centers of the ancient world. Even the looters came to regret their actions. On a visit to Usak in the late 1990s, Acar took three of the confessed grave robbers to the museum. “They were crying and said, ‘How stupid were we. We were idiots,’ ” he recalled with pride. “We created a consciousness.”

But that consciousness didn’t translate into broad viewership of the hoard. In 2006 the top culture official in Usak reported that in the previous five years, only 769 people had visited the museum. That may not be so terribly surprising, since only about 17,000 tourists had visited the region during that time, he said. Back in New York, the Met was unimpressed. “Those who’ve visited those treasures in Turkey is roughly equal to one hour’s worth of visitors at the Met,” Harold Holzer, the museum’s spokesman, remarked dryly.

That was bad enough, but the news soon turned dire. In April 2006 the newspaper Milliyet published another scoop on its front page: the masterpiece of the Lydian hoard, the golden hippocampus—the artifact that now stood as the symbol of Usak, its image published every day on the front page of the local newspaper—was a fake. The real hippocampus had been stolen from the Usak museum and replaced with a counterfeit.

How could such a thing happen? The police examined the hippocampus on display; it was indeed a fake. The original weighed 14.3 grams. The one in the museum was 23.5 grams.

But the bigger bombshell did not drop for several more weeks, when the Culture Ministry announced that the director of the museum, Kazim Akbiyikoglu—the man who had worked diligently for the return of the hoard to Usak, who had gathered evidence and gone to the United States and examined the hoard—was suspected in the theft.

Acar’s life work had been betrayed. And by a friend. “Of course I was disappointed,” said Acar. “I was shocked.”

It was not possible, he thought. Kazim Akbiyikoglu was one of the most honest people he knew. Akbiyikoglu’s father was a member of parliament, and he himself was one of the most respected archaeologists in Turkey. He had worked tirelessly to accomplish the return of the Lydian hoard. He believed, like Acar, that history was beautiful where it belonged, near its find site. He was held in the highest regard in Usak. If he knew three honest men in the world, Acar thought, Kazim Akbiyikoglu was one of them.

Acar spoke to Orhan Düzgün, the government representative for monuments and museums. “You can’t be right,” he told him. “Kazim is an honest man.” Düzgün demurred. The evidence pointed to Akbiyikoglu, he said. Acar refused to accept it. He went on television to defend his friend against the accusations.

For two weeks, Acar couldn’t sleep. It was embarrassing enough to Turkey that any of these treasures so hard won, so publicly demanded, would be lost through clumsiness or corruption. Indeed, when the hoard moved to Usak, Acar had begged the ministry to install a proper security system. There was none, or none that worked. But the news about Akbiyikoglu—this was beyond mortification. For 20 years, the curator had fought with local smugglers, trying to expose them, get the police to take notice. The local mafia had been trying to get rid of him. He had devoted night and day to archaeology and the museum. But over time, these efforts had taken a toll on his personal life. Akbiyikoglu was gone a lot from home; his wife, with whom he had two children, had an affair with the mayor of Usak and divorced him, marrying her lover. Akbiyikoglu found himself at loose ends. His ex-wife and her new husband were involved in a freak traffic accident in 2005, with Akbiyikoglu’s two children in the back seat. The wife and her new husband were killed. After that, Acar lost touch with his old friend until he read the news in the paper.

Today, the file of the Lydian treasures takes up four boxes in Acar’s office. His friend sits in jail while the trial over the theft stretches on, with no end in sight. The masterpiece of the Lydian hoard is gone. Acar thinks that perhaps the thieves have melted it down, to destroy the evidence.

History has disappeared, from where it once belonged.

“From the Book LOOT: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World by Sharon Waxman.

Copyright © 2008 by Sharon Waxman. Reprinted by arrangement with Times Books an Imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

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