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You Can Now Explore a 3-D Model of Cave Covered in Creepy 'Witches' Marks'

Smithsonian Magazine

Earlier this year, cavers exploring Creswell Crags—an ancient limestone gorge in England’s East Midlands—chanced upon Great Britain’s largest assemblage of “witches’ marks,” or carvings designed to ward off evil spirits. Etched on the walls of one of the historic site’s caves, most of the markings are in areas closed to the public. Thanks to a new 3-D rendering of the cave, however, interested parties can now examine the superstitious medieval engravings from the comfort of their own homes.

Humans have left their mark (or in this case, markings) on Creswell Crags since at least 12,800 years ago, when hunter-gatherers left depictions of extinct animals and mysterious figures on the caves’ walls. Over the following centuries, locals and visitors alike passed through the gorge, leaving their mark along the way.

Staff at the Creswell Crags Museum & Heritage Centre had long thought the majority of marks seen at the site dated to modern times. But when Hayley Clark and Ed Waters, members of the underground exploration society Subterranea Britannica, toured the Crags back in February, they recognized some of the carvings as witches’ marks.

Experts examined the engravings and confirmed their identity as protective medieval symbols. (According to Historic England, witches’ marks are also known as apotropaic marks—a name derived from the Greek word for “turn away” or “ward off.”) Numbering in the hundreds, the markings range from letters to symbols, patterns and shapes.

Paul Baker, director of Creswell Heritage Trust, tells the Guardian’s Mark Brown that managers and tour guides had long known of the marks’ existence.

“But we told people it was Victorian graffiti,” Baker says. “We had no idea.”

The markings range from letters to shapes, patterns and symbols. (Creswell Heritage Trust)

According to a press release, the marks include multiple references to the Virgin Mary: Double “VV” engravings allude to the biblical figure’s title of Virgin of Virgins, while “PM” stands for Pace Maria. Other etchings depict boxes, mazes and diagonal lines designed to trap evil forces. Locals would probably have engraved these marks in response to death, illness, poor harvest or other hardships viewed as manifestations of evil.

The markings seen today likely represent just a fraction of those originally created. Archaeologists excavating the crags during the 19th century widened the caves, tunneling through the stone and inadvertently destroying surface etchings.

Researchers at Creswell Crags partnered with Jeremy Lee of Sheffield Hallam University to digitize the marks. As the animator explains in a university press release, he used lidar (light detection and ranging) and photogrammetry to create detailed 3-D renderings of the caves, making them “accessible to a broad and distanced audience, whilst enabling a detailed viewing and analysis of the marks inside.”

Alison Fearn, a Leicester University expert on “protective marks,” tells the Guardian that it remains unclear what great evil locals were hoping to ward off by creating the markings.

She says, “It could be fairies, witches, whatever you were fearful of, it was going to be down there.”

John Charlesworth, a heritage facilitator at the crags, notes that many medieval people feared the natural world: “These are places where supernatural forces in an untamed non-human environment could be at work,” he tells Brown. “Local people are in the jaws of this monstrous landscape.”

In the Sheffield Hallam press release, Paul Baker, director of Creswell Crags, adds, “We may never know what the makers of these marks were seeking protection from or the fear they experienced but the marks are extremely numerous and the concentration in this chamber suggests that this was a significant place.”

Witches’ marks aren’t just found in caves. Per Historic England, protective markings have also been discovered at the entrances of barns, homes, churches and inns. Although the practice’s origins stretch all the way back to antiquity, most markings seen in Great Britain date to between the 16th and early 19th centuries. Markings weren't the only way people kept evil at bay: Some superstitious individuals even embedded “witch bottles” in the walls or under the hearths of their homes to prevent witches from gaining entry.

You Can Get Free Admission to Any National Park This Saturday

Smithsonian Magazine

National parks that typically charge entrance fees will be offering free admission this weekend to mark the start of National Park Week.

On Saturday, April 21, visitors will be able to visit popular parks like Grand Canyon , Joshua Tree, Yosemite and Death Valley free of charge. Depending on the park, visitors can save up to $30.

In addition to a free admission day, National Park Week also offers a series of special events and free guided tours. Activities range from guided hikes at popular stops like Zabriskie Point at Death Valley to stargazing in Joshua Tree. This year’s theme of “Park Stars” celebrates the dark skies and natural gems that travelers can admire at U.S. national parks, as well as the NPS employees that keep the parks welcoming to visitors.

Earth Day is April 22, and there will be festivals at parks like Yosemite with live music, ranger meet and greets, photo walks and Shakespeare performances.

Zion National Park (evenfh / iStock)

There are two more days in 2018 when there will be free admission at the parks: National Public Lands Day, on September 22, and Veterans Day, on November 11.

Budget conscious travelers will want to take note of the free days, since the National Park Service will be increasing fees to 117 popular parks like Zion, Acadia, and the Grand Canyon starting June 1, 2018.

Other articles from Travel + Leisure:

Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble Celebrates Our Differences Through Song

Smithsonian Magazine

Sing Me Home, the latest album produced by Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, is a veritable smorgasbord of sounds – a feast for the ears. The record, released in April, runs an unprecedented cultural gamut, drawing from a host of ethnic and regional traditions to create novel, multivalent melodies. On the album, reimagined American standards, including “St. James Infirmary Blues,” complement West African tribal music, and ethereal Chinese song is juxtaposed with frenetic Irish fiddling.

This profound diversity is characteristic not only of the album, but also of those responsible for its creation, artists who take great pride in their ability to find unity among their mutual differences, and to humbly open themselves up to cultures outside their own.

Indeed, despite the disparate composition of the Silk Road Ensemble, which Yo-Yo Ma founded in 1998 as a way to connect talented musicians from all walks of life, one finds in their work overwhelming kindred warmth, a sense of collaborative oneness.

As virtuoso violinist Johnny Gandelsman, who co-produced Sing Me Home, puts it, “We feel that we are a family, and when we get together, it’s like a great family reunion.”

Nowhere is this familial bond more evident than in this newest album; each member of the Ensemble shares aspects of their personal, ancestral histories, integrating these defining traits with those of their fellow musicians to create a vibrant and beautiful whole.

“There’s so much joy,” Gandelsman says. “And through joy, there’s a lot of respect for individual experience, individual stories.” He emphasizes the role of learning in the group’s creative process: “learning [what’s important] to individuals in the group… strengthens us as a collective.”

The best illustration of this jocund atmosphere is perhaps the Ensemble’s music video for “Heart and Soul,” premiering exclusively on, a classic American pop tune that the group reimagined for a 21st-century audience, and elected to use as the closing track on “Sing Me Home.”

Image by Todd Rosenberg Photography. Johnny Gandelsman (violin), Colin Jacobsen (violin), and Nicholas Cords (viola) performing with fellow Silk Road Ensemble musicians (original image)

Image by Photograph by Max Whittaker. The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma performing at the Mondavi Center in California (original image)

Image by Photograph by Taeuck Kang. The Silk Road Ensemble With Yo-Yo Ma (original image)

Image by Photograph by Khalid Al Busaidi, Royal Opera House Muscat, Oman. The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma performing in Oman in 2014 (original image)

Throughout the video, musicians and vocalists alike sport broad, sincere smiles, and sway breezily to the beat. As the two lead singers, guest performers Lisa Fischer and Gregory Porter, deliver their dulcet, romantic harmonies, they peer deeply into each other’s eyes. Core members of the ensemble are encouraged to invite their colleagues in their respective genres.

As Yo-Yo Ma, the visionary cellist at the heart of the ensemble, says via e-mail, “Part of what I love about this album is the way that, in a number of cases, collaborations are extensions of existing relationships.” Witness Martin Hayes, an Irish musician recruited by Silk Road veterans of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider to play on “O’Neill’s Cavalry March.” “They brought their beloved friend into our family,” Ma says.

Given the album’s lengthy list of contributors, what is perhaps most impressive about its production is the fact that each individual involved was encouraged at all stages of the process to voice suggestions and concerns. “The ensemble operates basically on democratic principles,” Johnny Gandelsman says.  “We take every opinion as very valuable.”

This notion of inclusivity extends beyond the group’s internal structure; a key facet of the Silk Road Ensemble’s mission is national and global outreach. The group is currently gearing up for a transcontinental summer tour of the United States, and is looking into the possibility of a Middle East engagement in the coming year. “There’s so much fear out there in the world,” Gandelsman says, “and we can address that through music.”

Yo-Yo Ma’s deepest hope is that the Silk Road Ensemble will inspire the creation of other, similar groups, each wholeheartedly committed to the celebration of world music. Eventually, far down the road, Ma’s original collective might gracefully fade away, no longer needed. That day – the day of the Silk Road Ensemble’s dissolution – will be, for its members, one of triumph.

In the meantime, the ensemble will continue to produce vital, compelling music, and to remind listeners everywhere that the beauty of human experience is shared among all of us, and is contributed to, uniquely, by each of us.

In the words of Yo-Yo Ma, speaking on the ensemble’s latest record, “We always focus on what unites rather than what divides, and I think that’s a lot of what you hear.”


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Yes, Lions Will Hunt Humans if Given the Chance

Smithsonian Magazine

Earlier this week, a female African lion attacked and killed a 29-year-old American woman on safari outside Johannesburg, South Africa. It's a tragedy, but given what zoologists know about lions, not one that's totally unexpected.

While visiting a lion reserve on a car tour, the woman rolled her window down to take some pictures, according to Brent Swails and Dana Ford of CNN. She likely did not see the lioness approach. The animal stopped three feet from the vehicle before lunging through the window. A guide, who was also in the car, tried to fight the animal off, sustaining injuries to his arm. Staff chased the lioness away, and the woman died at the scene. Signs in the park warn visitor to keep their windows rolled up, and the part has had previous incidents stemming from open windows.

While the facts of the attack are horrible, the lioness didn't do anything that's inconsistent with her biology, as Mary Bates explains for National Geographic. Lions are extremely accomplished predators and adept hunters. For them, humans count as prey. Ignoring their prowess in this department is a big mistake. Luke Dollar, a conservation scientist who directs the National Geographic Society's Big Cats Initiative, told Bates. "Almost any organism around lions might be a potential prey item, and for people to think that they are an exception is folly" Dollar said.  "I would imagine that every other primate that co-exists with big cats is acutely aware of the position they hold relative to the top predators of the world."

Given the intersection of tourism and conservation at sites like the lion park, humans sometimes acquire a false sense of security. As society expands to less developed areas, humans, lions and other predators have also inevitably crossed paths more frequently.

Since not all attacks are reported, it's hard to put numbers on the number of lion attacks seen globally. Estimates range from 20 to 250. Tanzania has the highest population of lions in Africa, and between 1990 and 2004, the country saw 593 deaths and 308 injuries from African lion attacks.

Aside from lack of awareness on the part of the human, there are a few things that might drive a lion to attack a human. The first and most obvious is hunger. Without horns or fangs, humans also look like easier targets to older or sick lions. In certain instances, females might perceive humans as a threat to their cubs. If the animal is injured, it also might feel threatened by the presence of a human.

Though an investigation of the attack continues, park officials told SABC News that they do not plan to execute the lioness involved in this week's attack. Instead, she will be moved to a private part of the park.

Dollar told Bates he hopes that the attack can at least raise awareness among tourists and encourage people to be careful while out observing the impressive predators in the wild.

Yellow Jersey worn by Lance Armstrong in the 2002 Tour de France

National Museum of American History
First awarded in 1919, the yellow jersey, also known as the maillot jaune, is worn by the race leader of the Tour de France. The origin of the jersey’s yellow color is attributed to either the yellow-colored newsprint of the race’s sponsoring newspaper, L’Auto, or the surplus of unpopular yellow-colored fabric available at short notice. A three-week long European bicycle race, or “Grand Tour”, the Tour de France is won by totaling the time each rider takes to complete the 20 to 22 individual stages. The rider with the lowest cumulative time at the end of each stage is awarded the yellow jersey and wears it during the next stage. The rider with the best cumulative time after completing all stages is declared the Tour de France winner and awarded the final yellow jersey. This yellow jersey was worn during the 2002 Tour de France by Lance Armstrong (b. 1971), who, prior to a 2012 investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which resulted in a lifetime ban from competition and the annulment of all competitive results from August 1, 1998 onwards, was, at the time, the second American to win the Tour de France and, prior to the USADA decision, the only rider to ever win the race seven times (1999-2005). Armstrong took the lead in the general classification of the 2002 Tour after a, now-voided win, in Stage 11, a mountain stage that stretched from Pau to La Mongie in the Pyrenees of Southwest France. He also won the Prologue, Stage 12, and Stage 19, holding the lead on the general classification until the final stage in Paris.

Yayoi Kusama Secretly Built a Museum

Smithsonian Magazine

As her "Infinity Mirrors" exhibit tours the world to great acclaim, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is quietly preparing to open a new museum in Tokyo to showcase her work and life.

Known for her elaborate sculptures, paintings, clothing and installations, which play on patterns using mirrors, polka dots and bright colors, Kusama was born in Japan in 1929. As a child, she began suffering from hallucinations, which she dealt with by drawing patterns. In her late 20s, she destroyed most of her early works and moved to the United States. There, she settled in New York where she became an early pioneer in the pop art movement in the early 1960s alongside luminaries like Andy Warhol. 

Long regarded as an enigmatic figure, Kusama's latest act fits neatly into that persona—in almost total secrecy, she designed and built her own museum in Tokyo. The five-story building in the bustling Shinjuku neighborhood was completed in 2014, reports Brian Boucher for artnet News, but Kusama did not reveal its purpose until late last week, when she unexpectedly announced that it would be a museum of her work, with the first show opening October 1.

The motivation behind the museum appears to be Kusama reflecting on her own legacy and mortality, something that she touched on in a February profile by the Washington Post's Anna Fifield, which briefly mentioned that a museum of her art was in the works. Kusama wanted the museum to stay secret until now as a "surprise to her fans," her publicist told Stephanie Eckardt of W magazine.

Once it opens, the museum will showcase two exhibits per year from Kusama's work, reports Roslyn Sulcas of the New York Times, with the first exhibit, “Creation Is a Solitary Pursuit, Love Is What Brings You Closer to Art,” which will display works from the series "My Eternal Soul." Archival material and a room to read her papers will be housed on the museum's top floor.

If her recent exhibits in the United States are any testament, attendance will likely be high at the museum, so mark your calenders—tickets go on sale online for the show starting August 28.

Yalta: Witness to History

Smithsonian Magazine

The images are seared in our memory from World War II: photographs of the Big Three seated together in a marble courtyard at Yalta. As this uneasy alliance of leaders convened on the Black Sea, they offered hope to a world ravaged by war. Later, the so-called Yalta Conference was blamed for almost everything that was to go wrong in the next half-century. But what happened at the conference itself, argues frequent contributor Robert Wernick, did not warrant this response.

It was a historic moment, to be sure, but little of note was actually decided at Yalta. "Despite the persistent legends that have grown up over the years," Wernick writes, "the Big Three of Yalta did not divide Europe into East and West," and they "did not divide Germany into zones of occupation." What they did do "was to make promises of future cooperation and eternal amity," and vaguely (and ultimately, ineffectively) ensure the rights of the nations of Europe to self-determined, democratically elected governments.

Ironically, notes Wernick, at least some of the promises they made, since the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, have been realized. Yalta itself once part of Russia, then handed over to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic finally became, in 1991, part of the newly independent republic of Ukraine.

Wernick takes us on a guided tour of Yalta through the years to Livadia Palace, the dream house built by Czar Nicholas II that became the site of the Yalta Conference; to the inner workings of the conference itself; through the postwar years; and finally to what, today, remains a splendid, though unpolished, jewel on the Black Sea.

Xyris savanensis Miq.

NMNH - Botany Dept.

Xyris malmeana L.B. Sm.

NMNH - Botany Dept.

Xyris malmeana L.B. Sm.

NMNH - Botany Dept.

Xanthodius cooksoni

NMNH - Invertebrate Zoology Dept.

Wyoming Paleontology Dispatch #9: Why It’s Called “Breaking Camp”

Smithsonian Magazine

My least favorite day of the year has arrived. Yesterday we completed one last hike prospecting the badland hills north of Worland where rocks deposited during the PETM are exposed. The search was fruitless—we found no new plant fossil sites, no last-day-of-the-field-season wonders. Today is the day we break camp, pack everything back into the little red shed at the Bureau of Land Management yard, and leave.

Breaking camp, striking camp, anyway you put it, taking down the tents we have lived in for the past month always makes me feel sad. It is strange, but I think most people feel it—one becomes emotionally attached to a spot of ground very quickly. We arrived here just a month ago. This was, and soon again will be, a bare patch of relatively flat ground dotted with sagebrush and cactus. We set up a tent for cooking, a few more tents for sleeping. Each day we woke here, breakfasted here, left for work from here, returned here in the evening, ate again, and sat here and talked as the sky overhead of this spot darkened and broke out in stars. Our only commitments to this place are our temporary use of it, the temporary structures we brought with us, and a ring of stones we made to contain the occasional campfire. Yet through some trick of the human psyche it feels like home. Taking down the tents and packing them into Dino destroys the home we have made our own simply through living in it and enjoying it for a few weeks. No wonder the term is “breaking camp.”

Of course there are other reasons to feel a little melancholy as we pull the tent stakes, fold the tarps, pack the bins of dishes, and empty the coolers of their last blocks of ice. We are all giving up the fellowship that grows among any small group that lives and works together in a challenging environment, even for a short time. I have seen this happen, field season after field season, for nearly 40 years now. Some groups mesh exceptionally well, with others there is more friction, but always people learn to help one another to some degree. They come to feel a common purpose. And almost always they feel a connection to this harsh landscape, even a little sense of owning the place by virtue of living in it.

We will also miss the relative independence that comes with fieldwork—we have had stretches of several days when we were unplugged from the world, with no phone or email. Until about 10 years ago our only non-emergency contact with the rest of the world was via snail mail and weekly phone calls that could be placed from a public pay phone in Worland. Now, improved cell-phone coverage has turned the hill behind camp into the “phone booth,” and it takes a conscious decision to separate from the rest of the world. The reward of separating is to be, temporarily, master of your own schedule and captain of your activities, able to focus entire days on the rocks and fossils in front of you without even the shadow of distraction by the outside world. It seems a radical act, and it is almost as addictive as collecting fossils.

Image by Scott Wing. A flat patch of ground in the badlands in Wyoming. (original image)

Image by Scott Wing. The badlands north of Worland, Wyoming, shown here, expose sediments deposited during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. (original image)

Finally and most importantly, although fieldwork is physically hard and frequently monotonous, it also holds the possibility of great finds. In leaving I am giving up the chance that tomorrow I might walk around a nameless badland hill and find a spectacular new fossil site. The gambler in me wants to throw the dice a few more times. That is my main motivation for returning to the Bighorn Basin every summer. Some 20 years ago my colleague Bill DiMichele came to visit one of my field areas in the Bighorn Basin—I think curious that I continued to come back here year after year. One evening after dinner we walked to the top of a high butte near my camp and looked out onto an area of badlands called The Honeycombs, maybe 10 square miles of sharply weathered badland hills, each isolated from the next by ravines 50 to 100 feet deep, and each exposing on its sides rocks deposited in the last part of the Paleocene. Bill said what we were both thinking: “My God, you’ll never look at all that, it’s an endless labyrinth of outcrop just in this little area.” He was certainly right, but it remains fun to try.

We started packing not long after dawn so that we could complete the hardest work before it got hot, and by 10 a.m. our home is entirely packed and loaded into Dino. My poor old field vehicle is once again bulging at the doors. We take a last tour around our campsite, picking up the occasional small pieces of paper or plastic that have blown into the surrounding sage during summer windstorms. We all want to leave it as we found it, even if we don’t want to leave it at all. When we finish, the site is a barren, dusty, sage-spotted flat looking pretty much as it did when we got here. The fire ring, and a few smooth spots where tents were pitched are the only marks we have left.

Dino’s creaks and groans are louder than ever as I negotiate the camp road for a final time. Topping the first low hill outside of camp there is a large buck pronghorn standing by the two-track, grazing placidly. He looks up with mild interest as we pass, far more blasé than the usual pronghorn as we rattle by about 40 feet away. I like to imagine that he is patiently waiting for the “summer people” to leave and return the badlands to their regular state of sun-stunned, midday quietude. With any luck, though, we will be back in his territory next year. Who knows what we might find then?

« Dispatch #8

Scott Wing is a research scientist and curator in the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Paleobiology.

Wyoming Is Turning a Former Cold War Nuclear Missile Site Into a Tourist Attraction

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s been over a decade since the U.S. military decommissioned the last Peacekeeper missile. But Lt. Col. Peter Aguirre can still recall the musty smell of military-grade paint and stagnant air that defined his long stays inside one of the missile alert facilities built beneath the F. E. Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. Aguirre’s workday started with a journey 100 feet below ground—a trip that visitors will soon be able to experience for themselves.

Officials from the U.S. Air Force and the State of Wyoming are working to capture every detail of the sole remaining Peacekeeper missile alert facility, Quebec-01—a Cold War stronghold with a chilling past. “It’s difficult to explain the sense you have down there, but it’s a lot like being in a submarine,” Aguirre tells “The sounds and smells you never forget.”

Aguirre and a team of crewmembers of the 400th Missile Squadron babysat the Peacekeepers, once the Air Force’s most powerful weapons, and were responsible for detonating the missiles should the time ever come (fortunately, it never did). Equipped with up to ten warheads each, the Peacekeepers stood 71 feet high and weighed 195,000 pounds. With a reach of approximately 6,000 miles, the missiles served as a towering reminder to the Soviet Union that the United States was prepared for all-out nuclear war at any time.

Watching over a missile might sound like a simple job, but it came with plenty of risks. Although the underground facility was protected by massive steel doors and concrete, there was always the chance that something could go wrong during a detonation. To help mitigate these risks, the military equipped each bunker with an escape tunnel—and told missilers that, in the worst-case scenario, they could dig themselves out with shovels.

During the Cold War, the base served as ground zero for the Air Force's nuclear arsenal, housing the nation's most powerful and sophisticated missiles from 1986 to 2005. The Peacekeeper was eventually decommissioned as part of the bilateral Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II Treaty). In the decade since, the Air Force has carted away any remaining warheads and missile components from the site, filled the remaining missile silos with cement and disabled the underground alert facilities. Now, it’s working to rehabilitate and recreate the experience of what it was like to visit Quebec-01, from the 100-foot elevator ride underground to the massive four-foot-wide blast doors designed to protect personnel if ever there was a detonation.

Currently, workers are restoring and reinstalling all of the equipment once housed inside Quebec-01 to make it look like it did when it was fully operational (sans missiles, of course). If all goes according to plan, the Air Force will transfer the site to the Wyoming State Parks & Cultural Resources agency in 2017 to ready it for public use, with an anticipated opening date of 2019. Though tour planning is still in process, visitors should be able to make underground visits to Quebec-01 on tours led by former missilers serving as docents.

“The Cold War was a huge part of U.S. history, especially for the Baby Boomer generation who lived through it,” Milward Simpson, director of Wyoming State Parks & Cultural Resources, tells “Nuclear tourism is something that has an increasing interest in the public, and it’s extremely important that we preserve that history, especially since the Peacekeeper was one of the factors that helped end the Cold War.”

Although the Peacekeeper can’t take sole credit for the end of the Cold War—other factors were at play, including the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Bloc—it was used at the bargaining table between countries. Ronald Sega, undersecretary of the Air Force, once remarked that the weapon served as “a great stabilizing force in an increasingly unstable world.” But the Peacekeeper’s heyday didn’t last: The weapons were eventually replaced with RV Minuteman III missiles at bases across the country as part of the U.S. Air Force’s current ICBM program.

When it finally opens to the public, Quebec-01 will join a growing group of preserved missile sites, including the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site in North Dakota, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota and the Missile Site Park in Weld County just outside of Greeley, Colorado. In addition, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, houses a (deactivated) Peacekeeper missile.

Some may balk at the idea of visiting a facility that once housed nuclear weapons, but Travis Beckwith, cultural resources manager with the base’s 90th Civil Engineering Squadron, tells that the government will run environmental baseline surveys to ensure that the site is safe for visitors. So far, none have found nuclear contamination in the soil.

“We’re in the process of doing those surveys right now,” Beckwith says. “Our chief concern is any possible contamination.” Since the missiles were built elsewhere and strong solvents were never used inside the enclosed missile alert facilities to maintain them, the military is focusing its remediation efforts on removing asbestos, lead-based paint and other contaminants commonly used in older construction projects instead.

When it opens to the public, the site will contain no traces of actual weaponry. But that doesn’t mean it will be any less authentic. “At one time, very few people in the world could say that they had the experience of going to an underground missile alert facility,” Simpson says. “Soon visitors to Quebec-01 will be able to see it like the missilers once did, right down to the blast-door graffiti they left behind.”

Just like fighter pilots, who painted “nose cone art” on their jets during wartime, missilers left indelible marks of their own within the missile alert facility, or “capsule.” One drawing in particular caught Simpson’s eye during a recent walkthrough: a doodle of a pizza box with the words “guaranteed in 30 minutes or less”—a nod to the length of time it would take a Peacekeeper to reach its intended target across the pond.

The experience left marks on missilers, too. Aguirre still remembers working on September 11—the only time he ever thought he might have to detonate a missile. "[I was] dead asleep when it happened, and my deputy woke me up," he says. "I didn’t know what was going to happen, and out of all the moments in my life, quite frankly that was the most terrorizing."

Now that all of the Peacekeepers have been removed from the base, he’s been reassigned and serves as director of operations for Task Force 214, but his years as a missiler remain seared into his memory. “It was a very surreal moment for me,” says Aguirre of his recent revisit to the facility. “It’s strange to think that people will go down there to do tours, but it’s also awesome that the country is allowing access to this historic site.” Tucked 100 feet beneath the earth and surrounded by weapons consoles, memorabilia and alert systems, it may be hard to remember that the Cold War ever ended.

Peacekeeper statistics

• The U.S. military commissioned the Peacekeeper program from 1986 to 2005. The F. E. Warren Air Force Base was the only U.S. military base to house the missiles.

• Each Peacekeeper missile held up to ten independently targeted warheads, weighed about 195,000 pounds, stood 71 feet in height and had a diameter of seven feet, eight inches.

• The maximum speed of a Peacekeeper was approximately 15,000 mph, and it could travel the approximately 6,000 miles east from the United States to Russia, its target. Upon detonation, it would go through a four-part sequence that involved leaving and re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere before reaching its target in 30 minutes or less.

Wyoming - Nature and Scientific Wonders

Smithsonian Magazine

When it comes to national parks, forests and monuments, Wyoming boasts a number of firsts, including America's first national monument, Devil's Tower, the nation's first national forest, Shoshone National Forest, and Yellowstone, the world's first national park. With two national parks, five national forests and 14 scenic roads, Wyoming is a state with plenty of wild terrain, allowing visitors to explore majestic mountain views, rushing trout streams and forests of sky-scraping aspen, spruce and fir.

Yellowstone National Park, which became the world's first national park in 1872, is also America's second largest with over 3,400 square miles comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. While Old Faithful geyser is the park's most widely recognized attraction, there are more than 10,000 other geothermal features in Yellowstone, including hot springs, mudpots and fumaroles. The park is also home to hundreds of species of birds, game fish and mammals, but perhaps Yellowstone's most famous inhabitants are its black and grizzly bears, though they typically remain out of sight. Visitors can explore the park with guided tours or hike the more than 1,000 miles of trails leading to remote sections of the park.

Just south of Yellowstone is the ethereal mountain landscape of Grand Teton National Park, whose towering peaks offer a prime example of fault-block mountain formation and are a popular attraction for climbers, hikers and photographers. In contrast to the Teton's blue-gray spires is Jackson Hole, one of the Rocky Mountains' largest valleys. Its craggy, porous terrain is believed to have been formed by glacial outwash and now provides sanctuary to sixty species of mammals, over 300 species of birds and a half dozen game fish. A road winds through the park, allowing visitors to drive along the scenic route, but the best way to experience the park is to take one of its shorter trails.

Bordering both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is Bridger-Teton National Forest. Originally two separate forests, Bridger and Teton became one in 1973, merging into a colossal 3.5 million acre natural wonder. The Teton Division, which borders the famous Jackson Hole, attracts wildlife enthusiasts every season of the year, particularly those hoping to catch a glimpse of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. The Bridger Division boasts more lakes than any forest in the Intermountain Region and contains 804 miles of trout streams rippling with Rainbow, Native Cutthroat, Golden, Brook, German Brown and Mackinaw trout.

Bighorn National Forest, in north-central Wyoming, boasts vast stretches of forest—ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, lodgepole pine subalpine fir and Engleman spruce—as well as a pristine terrain of lush grasslands, crystalline lakes, rolling hills, and mountain meadows and valleys carved by massive ancient glaciers. The forest is home to many species of wildlife, most notably bighorn sheep, but also moose and mule deer. Three scenic byways take visitors through the Bighorn Forest and two recreational lakes.

From Yellowtail Dam across the Bighorn River in Montana to the 47 river-miles of Bighorn Lake, the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is a geological delight with spectacular scenery and examples of the earth's changing face in its immense half-mile cliffs. A paved highway, with frequent turn-outs, takes the visitor through the wild horse range and to Bighorn Canyon.

The dark timbered ponderosa pine slopes of the Black Hills National Forest have inspired awe and admiration in visitors for hundreds of years, beginning with the area's original inhabitants, the Sioux Indians. Today, the forest is a favorite recreational area with picnicking, camping and hunting being popular pastimes in the summer months, while in the winter Black Hills country comes alive with snowmobiles traversing the wooded scenery.

The nation's first national monument, Devils Tower, looms prominently over the Belle Fourche River at the edge of the Black Hills. The stone cluster rises 1,280 feet above the valley to a height of 5,117 feet above sea level. The Tower played an important role in the legend and folklore of Native Americans and became a landmark to stalwart explorers and travelers pushing their way west. Today, it is a popular hiking destination.

The Flaming Gorge Recreation Area in southwestern Wyoming and eastern Utah comprises some 201,000 acres of scenic land surrounding Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The reservoir has become nationally known as the "fishing hot spot" of America and offers quality trout fishing year 'round. A fishing license from either Wyoming or Utah is required, and a special-use stamp is available for fishing in both states.

Fossil Butte became Wyoming's newest national monument in 1972. Situated about 10 miles west of Kemmerer, it is a ruggedly impressive topographic feature, rising sharply some 1,000 feet above Twin Creek Valley. The monument protects a portion of the largest deposit of freshwater fish fossils in the world, representing several varieties of perch, as well as other freshwater genera and herring similar to those in modern oceans. Visitors can explore the area on two hiking trails or learn more about Fossil Butte at the Visitors Center, where more than 75 fossils are on display, including a 13-foot crocodile, the oldest known bat and a mass mortality of 356 fish.

At the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, visitors can view full-size dinosaur skeletons or participate in their very own "dig." Excavations are conducted on the Morrison Formation, a huge rock layer that is the source of the country's most significant dinosaur discoveries. In some cases, visitors can keep their finds, as long as they're not rare. Dig programs are most often offered in the summer, and some sites offer kids' digs.

Originally known as the Yellowstone Park Timberland Reserve, Shoshone became the nation's first national forest in 1891. Named for the Shoshone Indians who used the area as a hunting ground, it contains approximately two and a half million acres and is one of the largest of the 13 national forests in the Rocky Mountain region. The forest's Wapiti Ranger Station, located along the highway leading from Cody to Yellowstone Park, is the oldest and the first ranger station built in the United States. Shoshone is known for its abundance and variety of wildlife. It is one of the only national forests in Wyoming where big game animals such as elk, moose, mule deer, whitetail deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, antelope, black bear and grizzly bear can be found. Other wildlife species include bald eagles, golden eagles, coyotes, waterfowl and songbirds.

The Fitzpatrick Wilderness (198,525 acres) is Wyoming's true "high country." Along the backbone of the Continental Divide, clustered near Gannett Peak (the highest point in Wyoming at 13,804 feet), are the seven largest glaciers in the United States outside of Alaska. These moving bodies of ice grind the rock into dust and erode away the great cirques, which are locked in perpetual snow.

Wright EX Vin Fiz

National Air and Space Museum
Wood and fabric biplane. Single 35-horsepower Wright vertical four-cylinder engine driving two pusher propellers via sprocket-and-chain transmission. Smaller, experimental version of the standard 1910-12 Wright Model B airplane.

The first crossing of the United States by airplane was achieved by Calbraith Perry Rodgers in 1911. In 1910, famed publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst announced his offer of a $50,000-prize for a U.S. transcontinental flight in thirty days or less. Rodgers' Wright EX biplane was named the Vin Fiz after his sponsor's grape soda product. He left Sheepshead Bay, New York, on September 17, 1911. A "hangar" car, a rolling workshop filled with spare parts to repair and maintain the airplane, followed along. The flight was punctuated by numerous stops, delays, and accidents. When Hearst's 30-day time limit expired, Rodgers had only reached Kansas City, Missouri. Undaunted, he continued on, determined to make the first transcontinental airplane flight whether he received the money or not. He arrived in Pasadena, California, to a hero's welcome, 49 days after setting out. Although Pasadena was the official end of the coast-to-coast journey, Rodgers flew on to Long Beach to complete the flight at the shore of the Pacific Ocean. The total distance covered was 6,914 km (4,321 mi) in 82 hours, 4 minutes, total flying time at an average speed of 82.4 kph (51.5 mph).

The first crossing of the United States by airplane was achieved by Calbraith Perry Rodgers in 1911 in his Wright EX biplane, named the Vin Fiz. Rodgers had a rich personal heritage of exploration and adventure. He was a descendant of Commodore Mathew Calbraith Perry, famous for opening Japan to U.S. trade in 1853, his brother Oliver Hazard Perry, and Commodore John Rodgers, all of whom had historic naval careers. Rodgers's interest in attending the U.S. Naval Academy was thwarted by his deafness, a condition resulting from a serious bout with scarlet fever as a young boy. Given his nautical lineage, he was an avid sailor and was elected to the prestigious New York Yacht Club in 1902. Rodgers had a love of speed, which he pursued through the recently introduced technologies of motorcycles and automobiles.

Rodgers, typically called Cal, was introduced to aviation in June 1911. His cousin, John, a Naval Academy graduate, had been selected to learn to fly the Navy's newly purchased Wright airplane, and was sent to the Wright factory and flying school in Dayton, Ohio, in March 1911. On a visit to his cousin during his training, Cal was immediately hooked on flying, and soon began flight instruction. Shortly thereafter, with his cousin, he ordered a new Wright Model B airplane. A quick study, Rodgers was already flying public exhibitions in Ohio and Indiana with his new aircraft in July. On August 7, 1911, he passed his flight tests for pilot's license number 49, issued by the Aero Club of America. On August 10, he arrived in Chicago to compete in the Chicago International Aviation Meet at Grant Park. He won the duration contest, and along with his performance in other events, earned total prize money of $11,285, and instant celebrity.

Ten months earlier, famed publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, had captured the attention of the aviation world when he announced a $50,000-prize for the first flight across the United States in thirty days or less. The offer was good for one year beginning on October 10, 1910. The bold challenge interested many of the leading names in aviation, including the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss. But the technical and logistical demands of such a flight precluded any immediate attempts.

In September 1911, three competitors were finally in the race. Cal Rodgers was one of them, along with Robert Fowler and James Ward. Fowler took off from San Francisco on September 11, but after three failed attempts to cross the Sierras, aborted his transcontinental flight by the end of the month. Ward took off from the east coast on September 13, but withdrew little more than a week later, not even making it out of New York State.

Following the Grant Park competition in August, Rodgers decided to attempt the coast-to-coast flight. While still in Chicago, he secured financial backing from the Armour Company, a local firm which was then introducing a new grape-flavored soft drink called Vin Fiz. Armour provided a special train, emblazoned with the Vin Fiz logo, with cars for the accommodation of Rodgers's family and his support crew, and a "hangar" car, which was a rolling workshop, filled with spare parts to repair and maintain the airplane over the course of the flight. There was even an automobile on board to pick up Rodgers after forced landings away from the rail line. The pilot would receive five dollars for every mile he flew east of the Mississippi River and four dollars for every mile west of the river. Rodgers agreed to pay for the fuel, oil, spare parts, his mechanics, and the airplane itself, which the Wright Company agreed to build. Chief mechanic on the flight was Charles Taylor, who had worked for the Wright brothers since 1901 and had built the engine for the Wright Flyer, the world's first airplane that flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903.

The airplane was a Wright EX, a special design that was used for exhibition flying, which was a slightly smaller version of the Wright Company's standard Model B flyer. Like the support rail car, Rodgers's aircraft carried the Vin Fiz logo on its wings and tail, and was quickly dubbed the Wright EX Vin Fiz. It was powered by a 35-horsepower, Wright vertical four-cylinder engine, and it carried enough fuel for a maximum of 3½ hours flying time.

Rodgers began his epic journey from Sheepshead Bay, New York, on September 17, 1911. The flight was punctuated by numerous stops, delays, and accidents. When the 30-day time limit Hearst imposed for the $50,000 prize had expired, he had only reached Kansas City, Missouri. Undaunted, Rodgers continued on, determined to make the first transcontinental airplane flight whether he received the money or not. Upon leaving Kansas City, he flew due south to Texas, and then made his way across the southern U.S. border toward Pasadena, California, the official termination point of the flight. Rodgers continued to experience frequent mechanical failures, damage to the airplane in hard landings, and weather delays. Trouble arose again on November 3, shortly after passing over Imperial Junction, California, less than 320 km (200 mi) from the finish. At 1,200 m (4,000 ft), an engine cylinder exploded, damaging one of the wings and driving steel shards into Rodgers's right arm. He struggled to regain control of the Vin Fiz and, amazingly, managed to glide the 10 km (6 mi) back to Imperial Junction and land safely. The engine and airplane were repaired a day later, and despite his painful injury, Rodgers departed for Pasadena once again on November 4. Further engine problems forced him down in Banning, California, about half way to his final destination. On November 5 he was airborne again, and after brief stops in Beaumont and Pomona, he arrived in Pasadena to a hero's welcome, 49 days after setting out from Sheepshead Bay.

Although Pasadena was the official end of the coast-to-coast journey, Rodgers wanted to fly all the way to the Pacific shore to complete the flight. Several coastal towns bid for the honor, and Long Beach was the final selection. They agreed to pay Rodgers $1,000, plus part of the gate receipts of an exhibition of the Vin Fiz after arrival. Rodgers took off from Pasadena for the short 37 km (23 mi) trip to Long Beach on November 12. Minutes into the flight, engine failure forced him down near Covina Junction. Repairs to a broken fuel line had him back in the air that afternoon. But again, just a short time after takeoff, near Compton, California, Rodgers was down. This time it was a serious crash. The airplane was severely damaged and Rodgers was badly hurt. It took several weeks to make the Vin Fiz airworthy again and for Rodgers to recover from his injuries. On December 10, yet needing crutches to move about on his still healing ankle, Rodgers boarded his battered aircraft, determined to fly the Vin Fiz all the way to the Pacific Ocean. As at Pasadena, Rodgers's arrival was an organized public event and a large crowd gathered at Long Beach to welcome him. The remainder of the great adventure met without incident and Rodgers landed to cheering crowds. To create a photo opportunity for the press and the spectators the Vin Fiz was rolled into the surf, allowing the Pacific to lap over it wheels. The 6,914 km (4,321 mi) were covered in 82 hours, 4 minutes, total flying time at an average speed of 82.4 kph (51.5 mph). Cal Rodgers had secured his place in aviation history. (Robert Fowler began another west-to-east transcontinental flight on October 19, this time taking a southern route to avoid the mountains. He arrived in Jacksonville, Florida, on February 8, 1912, completing the trip in more than twice as many days as Rodgers.)

Rodgers and his wife liked Pasadena and decided to stay. He kept the Vin Fiz and a second airplane, a two-seat Wright Model B, at nearby Dominguez Field. He made exhibition flights with the Vin Fiz and took up passengers and gave flight instruction with the Model B. He later moved the airplanes to Long Beach and operated from there. On April 3, 1912, Rodgers was airborne in the Model B, making a test flight after some tuning of the engine in preparation for another passenger ride. Witnesses observed a steep dive as Rodgers apparently attempted to avoid a flock of seagulls. In the next instant he was seen struggling with the controls just before the airplane crashed into the surf, only one hundred yards from his landing spot after the last leg of the transcontinental flight in December. Rodgers was killed instantly. Various causes for the accident were put forth, ranging from a seagull jamming the controls to Rodgers's recklessness or carelessness as a pilot. The precise cause remains undetermined. The wreckage of Rodgers's Model B was acquired by one of his mechanics, Frank Shaffer, and his partner Jesse Brabazon. They rebuilt it and flew for approximately one year until it was destroyed in a crash while being piloted by Brabazon's friend, Andrew Drew, who was killed.

The Vin Fiz was acquired after Cal's death by his cousin, Lt. John Rodgers, USN. He offered it to the Smithsonian Institution, but it was not accepted on the grounds that it was very similar to the recently acquired Wright Military Flyer. It then passed to Rodgers's wife, Mabel, who, not long after Cal's death, married Charles Wiggin. They exhibited and flew the Vin Fiz publicly for two years, until Rodgers's mother was awarded possession of the airplane in 1914 in a court ruling regarding Cal's estate. The history of the airplane becomes somewhat murky at this point. According to Charles Taylor, the Wright mechanic who assisted Rodgers on the transcontinental flight, Rodgers's mother shipped the Vin Fiz to the Wright factory in Dayton, Ohio, for refurbishment. Either unable or unwilling to pay for the work, she allowed the airplane to languish at the Wright factory and it was destroyed in 1916 after the company was sold. But this version of events is at odds with the fact that Rodgers's mother had the Vin Fiz restored and donated it to the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1917. The airplane was later acquired by the Smithsonian from Carnegie in 1934.

The probable explanation for the conflicting information lies in the misconception that there was a single Vin Fiz airframe. On the transcontinental flight, several sets of wings and a large supply of other components and spare parts were brought along on the support train. Rodgers's airplane was repaired and rebuilt many times during the trip. By the time the wheels of the Vin Fiz were rolled into the Pacific at Long Beach, almost nothing of the airplane that took off from Sheepshead Bay remained. As a result, at the end of the journey, there were enough flown, genuine Vin Fiz parts to make up more than one airplane. Charles Taylor was probably accurate when he stated that the Vin Fiz sent to the Wright factory (i.e., the intact airplane that Mabel and Charles Wiggin flew in 1912-14) was destroyed. The airplane that ended up at the Carnegie Institute, and then the Smithsonian, was very likely reconstructed from the parts left over from the many repairs and rebuilds during the flight. Thus, the airplane in the NASM collection is genuine in that it is comprised of components that, at various points, were part of the Vin Fiz during the historic coast-to-coast flight.

When on display at the Carnegie Institute, the engine mounted on the Vin Fiz was a wooden mock-up. The whereabouts of the original engine are unknown. At the Smithsonian, an original Wright engine of the correct type, but not associated with the flight nor with Rodgers, was put on the airplane. In 1960, the Smithsonian fully restored the Vin Fiz. In 1996, when it was part of a traveling Smithsonian exhibition, a new wooden mock-up engine was made and placed on the airplane. This was done to reduce potential wear and tear on the artifact caused by repeated removal of the heavy, original engine during assembly and disassembly of the airplane on the many stops of the exhibition tour. The mock-up engine remains on the Vin Fiz.

Wrench, Adjustable, Charles A. Lindbergh

National Air and Space Museum
6 inch long with .5 inch dia. hole in handle, knurled adjusting knob, opens to .75 in., dropped forged steel, plated.

In early 1927 Charles A. Lindbergh entered the competition for the $25,000 prize offered by Raymond Orteig for the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris.

In February Lindbergh placed an order with Ryan Airlines in San Diego for an aircraft with specifications necessary to make the flight. Lindbergh flew the aircraft from San Diego to New York on May 10—12, making only one stop, at St. Louis.

Lindbergh took off from NY for Paris on the morning of May 20, 1927. Thirty-three hours, 30 minutes, and 3,610 miles later he landed safely at Le Bourget Field, near Paris.

From July 20 until October 23 of that year he took the famous plane on a 48 state tour of the United States.

Then, on December 13, he and the Spirit of St. Louis flew nonstop from Washington to Mexico City; through Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico; and nonstop from Havana to St. Louis.

This object is in a grouping of items that Charles A. Lindbergh took with him on his 1927-1928 "Good Will" tour of Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean Isles, as well as his non-stop return flight to the St. Louis from Havana, Cuba.

On April 30, 1928, the Spirit of St. Louis made its final flight—from St. Louis to Washington, D.C where Lindbergh presented the aircraft to the Smithsonian Institution.


National Museum of African Art
Rayon woman's wrapper composed of twelve four inch strips sewn together with each strip covered almost entirely with supplementary weft patterning.


National Museum of African Art
Wrapper composed of thirteen strips of machine stitched, iridescent magenta-gold synthetic fiber with geometric and figural designs (elephant, house, knife, star, stool, sword).


National Museum of African Art
White cloth wrapper with brownish black stamped patterns in thirty-five rectangular panels.


National Museum of African Art
Cotton wrapper composed of fifteen strips in multicolor stripes and checks, some heather and some plain.


National Museum of African Art
Man's wrapper with tight plain weave background with supplementary wefts in the form of stools, umbrellas, stripes and textured squares and blue warp and multi-colored wefts.

Would the Legendary Babe Ruth Still Be a Star if He Played Today?

Smithsonian Magazine

Baseball has been a part of the author Jane Leavy’s life from the time she acquired her first baseball mitt as a youngster growing up on Long Island. Her second home was her grandmother’s apartment, in the Yankee Arms, a building a long loud foul ball from Yankee Stadium. Naturally, as a lover of sports, the Bronx Bombers became her main squeeze.

Leavy is an acclaimed sports writer, formerly for the Washington Post, and the author of best-selling biographies about Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle. Her current project, a biography of the Yankee’s immortal slugger, Babe Ruth, The Big Fella will be available in the fall of 2018. Concurrent with a show I curated at the National Portrait Gallery exhibition, “One Life: Babe Ruth,” I invited Leavy to share her insights about one of America’s most iconic sporting legends.

What attracted you to Babe Ruth? For Ruth, there are so many gaps in primary sources, is a thorough biography possible?

Where do you go after Koufax and Mantle? The Babe. The more difficult question for me is where do you go AFTER The Babe. I was very concerned about the lack of primary sources when I agreed to do the book. I’m a journalist. Talking to people—and finding people to talk to—is what I’m trained to do. For this project, I had to learn to be more of a historian than a reporter. I had to learn to plumb newly digitized state and newspaper archives to find material about his early life that wouldn’t have been readily available to previous biographers. So what began as a daunting challenge actually became an advantage. 

Who are you interviewing? Are you able to bring new reportage to this story? What are you learning?

I tracked down as many of his far-flung descendants as I could with the understanding that much of their knowledge was anecdotal at best and not all of it would survive fact-checking. I was able to find an astonishing number of 90-year-olds who had met him in the 1940s.  Their childhood recollections helped capture the awe he was held in by kids even as he was aging and dying. I dug up as many relatives as possible of folks who either participated in or attended his barnstorming games in October 1927. That barnstorming tour, orchestrated by Ruth’s agent Christy Walsh, for Ruth and Gehrig forms the spine of the book.

Ruth routinely ignored most of the traditional training and fitness régimes most athletes adhere to. How could he manage to excel as a baseball star?

The caricature of the fat man on “debutante” ankles is what we remember but it wasn’t an accurate picture of The Babe who hit 59 home runs in 1921. He was sublimely talented but he was also bigger, taller and stronger than any of his contemporaries.  He stood quite literally head and shoulders above them. In his early years, before he bulked up—to put it kindly—he was 6’2” and perhaps 200 pounds. The reason he remains undoubtedly the best player in Major League history is that he was both an extraordinary pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, a league-leading lefty starter who might well have made the Hall of Fame on those credentials, as well as the man who created power baseball.

How would Ruth have fared in today's world, both in and out of the ball park?

Off the field, he’d have protectors to shield him against his own worst instincts but he’d be subject to iPhone stalkers and the videos that have exposed present day athletes—see Michael Phelps et al. And he wouldn’t have a complicit press corps willing to draw and observe the line between public and private. He’d be as big a personality as he was then but he wouldn’t be the original he was when he decided to remake baseball in his own image. His peers would be as large physically as he was or bigger and, of course, he’d have to face the best of the very large pool of African-American talent that was barred from Major League competition.  

What aspect of Ruth's life do you find to be the most compelling to contemplate—his baseball prowess, his risqué social life, both?

I think he was a revolutionary, an inadvertent radical, a man who decided not that he was bigger than the game but to make the game bigger than it was. Why should he play small ball and allow the game to be dictated from the dugout when he can control it from the batter’s box? Why shouldn’t he barnstorm against Negro Leaguers? Why shouldn’t he hire an agent—the first in professional sports—to represent his interests? He reinvented the game on and off the field in his own image. 

Ruth was a loquacious extravert. Did he have a secret life? Was he good at keeping secrets?

Yes, he was good at keeping secrets but he also had a lot of help from the press until Joe Patterson, owner of the New York Daily News, decided to cover him by modern standards, exposing in 1925 the extra-marital affair with Claire Hodgson that ended his first marriage. He wouldn’t get away with it today.

How long did it take to research and write your biography of Ruth? Did you encounter any surprises? Did Ruth's few descendents have any insights to share?

I’m still making calls and still researching so it’s going on six years. Yes, but I’ve got to keep some of those surprises for the book. His daughter Julia Ruth Stevens, a very gracious woman now 100-years-old, told me something that became a sort of touchstone in my understanding of him. When I asked her what he shared about his years at St. Mary’s Industrial School, the reform school in Baltimore where he was sent by his parents, she replied, “He said he never felt full.” I think that was both a literal and emotional truth for him.

As a former sports reporter, have you met any athletes who reminded you of Ruth in character and temperament? And in what way?

Nobody comes close.  

How extraordinary was Ruth? Does he live up to the legends about him? Was Ruth truly one of a kind?

To quote the late Jim Murray, of the Los Angeles Times:  "A star is not something that flashes through the sky. That’s a comet. Or a meteor. A star is something you can steer ships by. It stays in place and gives off a steady glow; it is fixed, permanent. A star works at being a star… Stars never take themselves for granted. That’s why they’re stars.” That’s Ruth

"One Life: Babe Ruth" is on view through May 21, 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. 


The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood

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Would You Like Some Salt and Pepper? How About 80,000 Shakers' Worth?

Smithsonian Magazine

The next time you knock over a salt shaker and throw a pinch of the spilled grains over your left shoulder to ward off bad luck, bear in mind that at one time they would have formed part of someone’s wages.

It’s amazing the things you learn when you least expect it. I’m getting an in-depth lecture about the world of salt, salt and pepper shakers, and salt cellars from Andrea Ludden, her son, Alex, and her daughter, Andrea, at their Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. And jolly interesting it is.

Far from being just a wacky obsession by a Belgian lady with a fetish for salt shakers, Andrea Ludden’s collection of over 40,000 pairs (half in the family museum in Gatlinburg and half in its new museum in Guadalest, in eastern Spain), started completely by chance, when Andrea bought a pepper mill at a garage sale in the mid-1980s.

It didn’t work, so she bought a couple more. “I used to stand them on the window ledge of my kitchen, and neighbors thought I was building a collection. Nothing could have been further from my mind!” They started bringing her new ones, and eventually, she says, “I had about 14,000 on shelves all over the house, even in the bedrooms.” That’s when her husband, Rolf, told her,  “‘Andrea, you either find somewhere to put these things or it’s a divorce!’ So we decided to create a museum.”

Wander around the museum and you’ll find it hard to believe that the 20,000 pairs of shakers—fat chefs, ruby red tomatoes, guardsmen in bear skins, Santa’s feet sticking from a chimney, pistols and potatoes, a copy of the salt-and-pepper-shaker cuff links worn by Lady Diana—have any reason for being together other than as someone’s idea of being collectibles, but they do.

An archaeologist by training, Andrea spent many years working in South America, where her main interest had been in how people traveled and communicated. When she and her family moved to the United States, she couldn’t find work in her field so she turned her attention to social anthropology, studying everyday life since the early years of the 20th century as seen through her growing collection of salt and pepper shakers.

“It’s often by looking at the apparently more mundane articles in everyday life that you can build up a broad picture of a specific period,” Andrea says. “There’s almost nothing you can imagine that hasn’t been copied as a salt and pepper shaker, and many of them reflect the designs, the colors and the preoccupations of the period.”

Salt shakers came into existence in the 1920s, she says. Previously, salt was typically served in a small bowl or container (the original salt cellar), usually with a spoon, because it had a tendency to attract moisture and become lumpy. Then, Chicago-based Morton Salt introduced magnesium carbonate to its product, which prevented caking and made it possible to pour salt from a sealed container. Pepper never suffered from the same susceptibility to dampness and, like salt, had also been served from a small container. But as it was habit to serve salt and pepper together, they became a pair, usually the salt shaker with only one hole and the pepper shaker with two or three.

Morton’s development may have been the beginning of the salt and pepper shaker, but it was the automobile that led to its becoming a collectible item, says Alex. “It was because people could travel more freely, either for work or on vacation that the souvenir industry came about. Salt and pepper shakers were cheap, easy to carry and colorful, and made ideal gifts.”

“Imagine you lived in an isolated village somewhere,” he continues, “and your son or daughter brought you a set in the shape of the Golden Gate Bridge when they came on their annual visit home. It wouldn’t get used, it would be carefully kept as a decorative item. That’s how, in the main, many of the early collections began.” 

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Half of collector Andrea Ludden's collection resides in the family museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and half in its new museum in Guadalest in eastern Spain. Shown here is salt and pepper shaker modeled after The Beatles. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Ludden's collection of over 40,000 pairs of salt and pepper shakers started completely by chance when Ludden bought a pepper mill at a garage sale in the mid-1980s. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Alligator salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Bull fighter salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Washer and dryer salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Australia and kangaroo salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. London, England salt and pepper shakers. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Soda salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Egypt and camel salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Budweiser salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. McDonald's salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Lawnmower salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Salt and pepper shaker mugs. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. I Love Lucy salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Walnut salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Dachunds salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Hand gun salt and pepper shaker. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Vegetable salt and pepper shakers. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Frog salt and pepper shakers. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Derek Workman. Chicken salt and pepper shakers. (original image)

Among the earliest producers of salt and pepper shakers was the German fine pottery maker Goebel, which introduced its first three sets in 1925. (Today its Hummel shakers, introduced in 1935, are highly collectible.) Ironically, it was the Great Depression of the 1930s that gave a major boost to the popularity of salt and pepper shakers as both a household and collectible item. Ceramics producers worldwide were forced to restrict production and concentrate on lower-priced items; an obvious product was the salt and pepper shaker. Bright and cheery, it could be bought for a few cents at most local hardware stores.

Soon other ceramics companies got into the act. Japanese firms had a large share of the market from the late 1920s through the 1930s, as well as from the late 1940s through the 1950s. (Production was halted during World War II.) The shakers they produced in the postwar years, labeled “Made in occupied Japan,” or simply “Occupied Japan,” are extremely rare and highly sought after.

In the 1950s and ’60s, companies began producing salt and pepper shakers made from plastic. Plastic then was fragile, so fewer of these examples exist, making them extremely valuable. “I love the plastics,” says daughter Andrea as she walks me around the museum. “They were the first ones that could have some sort of mechanism, and one of my favorites is a lawn mower with the salt and pepper shakers in the shape of the pistons.” When the driver pushed the mower, the pistons went up and down.

At first glance, the museum seems bright and happy, if a bit haphazard. But the displays are actually well thought out and organized, especially considering the many models on display.

“It’s almost impossible to categorize them,” the younger Andrea said, “because you can work by style, age, subject matter, color, etc., but we try and do it to combine all these elements at the same time. There are literally hundreds of themes, and in those themes there will be many colors, but Mom has a way of laying the displays out that are very highly planned, so that the colors within a theme are displayed together. For example,” she continues, “all the greens, yellows and reds of the vegetables are arranged in vertical rows, so you get bright color bands, but all the shakers are on the same theme. It’s a lot more complicated than it sounds because there are so many of them.”

A large number of the shaker sets are humorous in their design: an aspirin salt shaker and a martini-glass pepper shaker. And when displays are set up, there is sometimes an opportunity to create a visual joke.

“In one section,” says Andrea, “you see what looks like models of the Southwest U.S.—adobe houses of the style found in New Mexico, with cactus and cowboys and Indians. But behind them are two UFOs that have crashed and two aliens that glow in the dark. It’s the Roswell UFO crash in the 1940s.

It’s amazing how many of the shakers tell a tale that isn’t obvious to everyone. One of her favorites is a chef holding a cat in one hand and a cleaver in the other. “I always thought it was just a fun item,” says Andrea, “but my mom explained that it was very significant to older people who had been through the Depression and major wars. Food was short, but you still had to eat, so if a cat strayed by, it went into the pot and came out as ‘chicken surprise.’”

As I continue the tour, I’m absorbed by all the weird and wonderful shakers: Coca-Cola cans; Dolly Parton’s photo on a souvenir from Dollywood—“The Smokies most fun place”;  Mickey and Minnie in chefs toques and aprons; the Beatles with the cropped hair and collarless jackets of their early days (George Harrison and John Lennon joined together as salt and Paul McCartney and Ringo Star as pepper); a turquoise TV with Lucy Arnaz and her neighbor, Ethel Mertz, on the screen (the salt) and a sofa with an “I love Lucy” heart-shaped cushion (the pepper); alligators with sunshades from Florida; bullfighters and bulls from Spain; kangaroos from Australia; a bobby and double-decker bus from London; before-and-after versions of Mount St. Helens made from the actual volcanic ash. There are also familiar ones: shakers your grandmother used to have, or you saw when you went on vacation somewhere, or you gave as a gift once.

“People come back over and over again and think that we are adding to the displays,” says Andrea, “but we aren’t. It’s just that they didn’t see them the first time around.”

The museum doesn’t display all the shakers it owns. But it does exhibit a few Aunt Gemima and Uncle Tom shakers, the cook and butler stereotypical characters from the 1950s, knowing some people might be offended by the negative portrayal of African-Americans. “They are part of the history of salt and pepper shakers, so we display them, but we do it discreetly,” she says. “You can’t change history by simply pretending it didn’t happen or ignoring it.”

But the museum draws the line at pornography. “There are a lot of pornographic models available,” says Andrea. “We’ve got about 60 pairs, ranging from a bit cheeky to quite explicit, but ours is a family museum, so we prefer not to put them on display.”

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