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Part 2: Treasures from Hollywood's silent era

National Museum of American History

America has long been home to enthusiastic movie fans. Even back in the 1910s and 1920s, a period in American film history known as the "silent era," Americans poured into theaters across the country to catch the latest films starring their favorite actors and actresses. In addition to watching movies, many Americans also took steps to integrate silver-screen characters, stars, and worlds into their everyday lives, often by collecting movie- and celebrity-related merchandise. Some fans even created their own mementos of their movie-going experiences, such as scrapbooks documenting their viewing habits and preferences.

The museum boasts a robust collection of merchandise and ephemera that sheds light on the presence and power of an evolving early movie fan culture and the importance of movies to the lives of everyday Americans in the early 20th century. Below are four examples in the museum's collection.

Two illustrations next to each other. The left is a number of red biplanes against a blue background flying with the title in yellow. The right is a man in a chariot in a stadium with a yellow sky.

Souvenir programs

Souvenir programs, such as these examples for silent epics Wings (1927) and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), were often available at movie theaters for patrons who wished to commemorate their screening experience. Much like modern-day theatrical playbills, they often included information on the film's cast and crew, behind-the-scenes stories, and images from the film. Both the Wings program and the Ben-Hur program in our collection cost patrons 25 cents, around the cost of an average movie ticket in the mid-1920s.

Paper with a faded lilac color and black wording. In the bottom left there is a picture of a young woman with finger waves in her hair. A woman appears to nap to the right next to a spindle with four men's faces floating over her head.

Sheet music

Just as today we might buy a film soundtrack on CD or download a cinematic score from iTunes, silent-era film fans could sometimes purchase sheet music related to their favorite films. Sheet music, such as this example for a waltz from Four Sons (1928), a film that featured its own original music track, allowed Americans to bring their favorite movies into their homes, where they could play (often on the piano) music associated with those films for their family and friends, thereby extending the cinematic experience into their daily lives.

A rust-colored pennant. A man's face is framed at the widest part and there is butter yellow wording around the pennant

Star pennants

Similar to modern-day children and teenagers, who often decorate their rooms with posters or photographs of their favorite bands, actors, or films, a fun way for silent-era film fans to show their love for their favorite movie stars was by hanging felt star pennants on their bedroom walls. The museum's collection includes a number of such pennants, such as this one featuring actor Robert Harron. Pennants typically included the name and an image of a star, along with the name of the company or studio to which the star was contracted. Fans could receive pennants in exchange for subscriptions to film fan magazines, such as Motion Picture Magazine and Film Fun.

A rectangular, toffee-colored card with a textured background. A photo of a young woman take up most of the space. She has cropped brown hair and wears a white top. Below is some text.

Insert cards

As promotional tie-ins, cards featuring the likenesses of movie stars were often inserted into packaging for products such as cigarettes and chocolate bars. By purchasing these products, film fans could collect cards for all their favorite stars. This insert card dating from the 1920s features a photograph of popular screen actress Colleen Moore and was included in a package of Ghirardelli's Milk Chocolate, which boasted a "Motion Picture Star in Every Package." With her short bob and success in films such as Flaming Youth (1923), Moore became known as one of the originators of the flapper look in American motion pictures.

These four examples of silent-era merchandise and ephemera found in the collection of the National Museum of American History all demonstrate how deeply embedded movies and movie culture were in the personal lives of Americans living in the early 20th century. In addition, they suggest that silent era movie fans were not so different from movie fans today—we are still enamored by the magic of the movies and the stars who grace the silver screen.

Anjuli M. Singh is the Roger G. Kennedy Memorial Scholar and project assistant in the Division of Culture and the Arts.

Posted Date: 
Wednesday, July 5, 2017 - 08:00
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In Lines of Long Array, 12 Poets Reflect on the Civil War

Smithsonian Magazine

On October 1, the National Portrait Gallery will publish Lines in Long Array. A Civil War Commemoration. Poems and Photographs. Beautifully designed and printed, Lines in Long Array contains 12 new poems commissioned from some of the most prominent poets writing in English, including: Eavan Boland, Geoff Brock, Nikki Giovanni, Jorie Graham, John Koethe, Yusef Komunyakaa, Paul Muldoon, Steve Scafidi, Michael Schmidt, Dave Smith, Tracy Smith and C.D. Wright.

Along with the poems are landscape photographs by Sally Mann. Accompanying this contemporary work, are poems and photographs from the Civil War era itself.

The title is an adaptation to the first line of Walt Whitman’s poem “Cavalry Crossing a Ford,” a poem that is included in the book. “Lines”, of course, refers to both the ranks of troops and to the lines written by the poets, and is taken from Whitman’s description of the troops deploying across a stream: “A line in long array, where they wind betwixt green islands;/ They take a serpentine course—their arms flash in the sun—Hark to  the musical clank. . . ”

The intention of the editors, myself and former Portrait Gallery curator Frank Goodyear, was to pay tribute to the “readers” that were created during the war both to spur the war effort and to raise money to treat the wounded. Also, as cultural scholars, we were interested in how a modern “take” on the war would compare and contrast with literature and art produced while it was being fought. Truth be told, although the Civil War is of immense importance in the history of the United States, it has only rarely appeared as a subject in our culture.

It’s as if the war was so terrible and its effects so huge, that artists have turned away from it, treating it only indirectly and at a distance; so art historian Eleanor Harvey has argued in her brilliant art exhibition, The Civil War and American Art, an exhibition that debuted at the Smithsonian American Art Museum last November, before traveling to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Modernist poetry has tended to explore the psychology and activities of the individual self, rather than topics drawn from history and public life. John Koethe, asked to reflect on his contribution to the project, wrote that he’d never really considered writing historical poems. “I’m primarily thought of as a poet of consciousness and subjectivity.” But the encounter with the problem of an historical subject—and a gigantic one at that—seemed to galvanize Koethe as it did the other poets, because engaging in the exercise was a way of getting beyond the individual. Koethe continues: “I’d been thinking a lot about the Civil War anyway, and the idea that so much of what we think of as peculiar to our own lives and time is really an echo of a history we don’t fully grasp, is what is behind

In commissioning the poets, we set no rules or confined our contributors to any subject matter.  The results are, without exception, works that are deeply considered, well wrought (to use a 19th-century word) reflections on topics ranging from an American diplomat in London by Michael Schmidt to Yusef Komunyakaa’s amazing “I am Silas,” a piece that recreates the journey (and final betrayal) of a slave who went to war to fight alongside his Georgian master.

C.D. Wright reflects that she attempted to reach back to her Ozark, Arkansas, ancestors in her poem, taking as her subject a poor farmer who had nothing to do with slavery and just wanted to live independently: “I had never tried to mentally summon and isolate an individual circumstance. . .just another lump in the carnage.”

It would take too long to summarize all the poems here; that’s what reading it is for. But it is that sense of reaching back to re-consider history and memories that we, both as individuals and as a nation, avoided or repressed (as Dave Smith writes about the war, “I couldn’t hold on to it”) and connect it with the present that animates Lines in Long Array. That re-creation of experience, which runs through all of the poems, finds explicit political expression in Nikki Giovanni’s poem, placed as the last one in the volume, that asks us to consider the costs of war, itself, from the epic of Ulysses to Iraq.

I think Eavan Boland’s summary captures the spirit we hoped to achieve when we started out, that the project was “a way of re-thinking memory and history. There just seems something so poignant and respectful in having the poems of a present moment reach back to meaning that were once so large, so overwhelming they almost defied language.”

Dave Smith, in an extended and moving examination of the interplay of past and present, history and tradition, writes that “the poems in project so utterly show, that we cannot resign from but only keep trying to feel accurately, honestly, and with some evolving comprehension” how the past haunts our present.

Or as that old fox William Faulkner put it, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” But as Americans, always rushing forward, we have too frequently failed to acknowledge how the past shapes us in ways that we don’t even try to understand. Lines of Long Array, in some small way, is an attempt to measure the enduring impact of the immeasurable consequences of the Civil War. And if this is too sententious and overblown a claim for you, at the very least Lines in Long Array contains some very fine writing that is well worth reading.

To celebrate Lines in Long Array, the National Portrait Gallery will hold a reading on November 16th at which the poets will debut their poem, read several others related to it on the topic of the war, and participate in a round-table discussion about the act of writing a work of art that engages history.



A Life Less Ordinary

Smithsonian Magazine

She photographed Gandhi minutes before his assassination, covered the war that followed the partition of India, was with U.S. troops when they liberated Germany's Buchenwald concentration camp, was torpedoed off the African Coast, had the first cover of Life magazine and was the first Western journalist allowed in the Soviet Union.

Margaret Bourke-White, the iconic photographer, didn't just raise the glass ceiling; she shattered it and threw away the pieces.

At a time when women were defined by their husbands and judged by the quality of their housework, she set the standard for photojournalism and expanded the possibilities of being female.

"She was a trailblazer," says Stephen Bennett Phillips, curator at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., who recently mounted a major touring exhibition of Bourke-White's photos. "She showed women that you didn't have to settle for the traditional role."

Bourke-White was fearless, doggedly determined, stylish and so flamboyantly unconventional that "her lifestyle has sometimes overshadowed her photography," Phillips laments.

She lived life her way, living openly with a married man, having affairs with others, putting career above husband and children. But 36 years after her death from Parkinson's, the titillation of her private life pales in comparison to her work.

"She was a photojournalist par excellence," says Phillips, "capturing the human drama, the human condition, in a way that few journalists had been able to capture."

Bourke-White was born in 1904 in New York City—16 years before the 19th Amendment gave American women the right to vote in national elections. Her mother, Minnie Bourke, was a homemaker who had trained as a stenographer; her father, Joseph White, an inventor-engineer-naturalist-amateur photographer who sometimes took his precocious daughter on visits to industrial sites. She would later write in her autobiography, Portrait of Myself: "To me at that age, the foundry represented the beginning and end of all beauty."

She started taking pictures in college (she attended several) using a second-hand camera with a broken lens that her mother bought for her for $20. "After I found a camera," she explained, "I never really felt a whole person again unless I was planning pictures or taking them."

In 1927, after shedding a short-lived marriage and graduating from Cornell University with a degree in biology, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, an emerging industrial powerhouse, to photograph the new gods of the machine age: factories, steel mills, dams, buildings. She signaled her uniqueness by adding her mother's maiden name to her own.

Soon, her perfectly composed, highly contrasted and dynamic photographs had giant corporate clients clamoring for her services.

"When she began courting corporations, she was one of the few women who were actively competing in a man's world and a lot of the men photographers were very jealous of her," says Phillips. "The rumor got around that it wasn't a woman who was taking the photographs—that it wasn't really her."

Image by Margaret Bourke-White. At a time when women were defined by their husbands and judged by the quality of their housework, Margaret Bourke-White set the standard for photojournalism and expanded the possibilities of being female. (Self-Portrait, 1943, Margaret Bourke-White, 19 1/8" x 15 1/4" Vintage gelatin silver print from the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Collection) (original image)

Image by Margaret Bourke-White. Margaret Bourke-White's image of Gandhi at the spinning wheel is one of the best-known photographs in the world. She was the last journalist to see him alive; he was assassinated in 1948, minutes after she had interviewed him. (Gandhi Spinning, India, 1946, Margaret Bourke-White, 19 1/4" x 14 1/2" Vintage gelatin silver print from the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Collection) (original image)

Image by Margaret Bourke-White. To the Life staff, Margaret Bourke-White was known as "Maggie the Indestructible." (Airship Akron, Winner Goodyear Zeppelin Race, 1931, Margaret Bourke- White, 17 1/2" x 23" Vintage gelatin silver print from the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Collection) (original image)

Image by Margaret Bourke-White. "Mine is a life into which marriage doesn't fit very well," Margaret Bourke-White once said. (Bar Scene, ca. 1936, Margaret Bourke-White, 9 5/8" x 13 5/8" Vintage gelatin silver print from the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Collection) (original image)

Image by Margaret Bourke-White. The advent of the Second World War gave Margaret Bourke-White a chance to show her bravery as well as her skill. (Italy-Detail Ponte Reale Bridge, 1943-1944, Margaret Bourke-White, 13 1/16" x 10 1/2" Vintage gelatin silver print from the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Collection) (original image)

Neither her gender nor her age posed a problem for Henry Luce, publisher of Time. In what became a lasting partnership, he hired the 25-year-old Bourke-White for his new magazine, Fortune and gave her almost a free hand. She went to Germany, made three trips to the Soviet Union—the first Western photojournalist to be given access—and traveled all around the United States, including the Midwest, which was experiencing the severest drought in the country's history.

When Luce decided to start a new magazine, he again turned to Bourke-White. One of Life's original four photographers, her picture of Fort Peck Dam in Montana made the first cover on November 23, 1936, when she was 32. Her accompanying cover story is regarded as the first photo essay—a genre, says Phillips, "that would become an integral part of the magazine for the next 20 years."

With the United States in the grips of the Great Depression, Bourke-White undertook a trip through the South with Erskine Caldwell, the famed author of Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre. Their collaboration resulted in a book on Southern poverty, You Have Seen Their Faces. The haggard images staring back at the camera confirmed her "increasing understanding of the human condition," says Phillips. "She became skilled at capturing the human experience."

She and Caldwell moved in together (even though he was married at the time), wed, collaborated on three more books and, although both were passionate advocates of social justice, divorced in 1942. "Mine is a life into which marriage doesn't fit very well," she said.

The advent of the Second World War gave her a chance to show her bravery as well as her skill. The first woman accredited as a war correspondent, she crossed into Germany with General Patton, was in Moscow when the Germans attacked, accompanied an Air Force crew on a bombing raid and traveled with the armed forces in North Africa and Italy. To the Life staff she became "Maggie the Indestructible."

But there was grumbling that she was "imperious, calculating and insensitive" and used her unquestionable charm to gain an advantage over her male competitors. Unlike other photographers who had converted to the much lighter 35mm, she lugged around large-format cameras, which, along with wooden tripods, lighting equipment and a developing tank, could weigh 600 pounds. "Generals rushed to carry her cameras and even Stalin insisted on carrying her bags," reported fellow photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.

After the war ended, she continued to use her lenses as the eyes of the world, documenting Gandhi's non-violent campaign in India and apartheid in South Africa. Her image of Gandhi at the spinning wheel is one of the best-known photographs in the world. She was the last journalist to see him alive; he was assassinated in 1948, minutes after she had interviewed him.

In 1952, while covering the Korean conflict, she suffered a fall. While seeking a cause for the accident she was diagnosed with Parkinson's, which she fought with the courage she had shown all her life. But two brain surgeries made no difference to her deteriorating condition. With Parkinson's tightening its hold, she wrote Portrait of Myself, an instant bestseller, each word a struggle, according to her neighbors in Darien, Connecticut, who remembered her as a vital younger woman dressed in designer clothes, promenading with a walking stick in the company of her two Afghan dogs.

Life published her last story in 1957, but kept her on the masthead until 1969. A year later, the magazine sent Sean Callahan, then a junior editor, to Darien to help her go through her photos for a future book. She had more and more difficulty communicating, and the last time he saw her, in August 1972, two days before her death, all she could do was blink.

"Fittingly for the heroic, larger than life Margaret Bourke-White," Callahan later wrote, "the eyes were the last to go."

Dina Modianot-Fox, a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. who has worked for NBC News and Greenwich magazine, is a frequent contributor

One of the First Female Rock Critics Battled Sexism and Obscurity To Document the 1970s

Smithsonian Magazine

Ellen Willis saw it all, and wrote about it too.

Willis, born on this day in 1941, was, among other things, The New Yorker’s first pop music critic and a leading light of the women’s movement, writes Suzy Hansen in Observer. In a field that former Village Voice editor Robert Goldstein said was "more macho than the sports page," Willis made a name for herself with her clear critical tone that cut across the fanboy air of rock writing.

But unlike some of her male peers, Hansen writes, Willis moved on from rock writing and that part of her legacy has largely been forgotten. It helps that her career is in one sense hard to pin down: she was a rock writer, a passionate feminist, a journalism teacher and even a TV writer. In another sense, it's very easy: Ellen Willis was a cultural critic, and a deeply feminist one. Rock was just a lens.

In a piece for Guernica, Willis wrote about her path to criticism. After an unsuccessful first marriage, in 1966 she made the break for New York. No jobs are forthcoming "above the secretarial level." Then, in the Times help wanted section for men (there was a separate help wanted section for women), she found an ad for a staff writer at a small magazine. The publisher hires her for a different editorial job. "I ask why he doesn't list the staff writer in the help female section," she writes. "'It never occurred to me,' he says. The pay is terrible, but I get a prestigious title and a pep talk about my potential." 

After a year of navigating the sexist world of writing ("No man would put up with his total intolerance of self-assertion. I stay twice as long as any of my male predecessors.") Willis began her career as a critic in 1968, aged 26, writing about Bob Dylan for Cheetah, a now-defunct magazine. The New Yorker quickly picked her up. In the 56 pieces she did for the “Rock, Etc.” column over seven years, Willis wrote about many of the artists we still know today, writes Judy Berman for Slate: Dylan, of course, but also the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Janis Joplin, among others.

She loved the musicians of the 1970s, but she challenged them, Berman writes: she skewered Dylan and Mick Jagger’s misogyny, Joplin’s just-one-of-the-guys bravado and the utopian myth of Woodstock before abandoning rock criticism in the 1980s. She had a serious belief, Berman writes, “in rock’n’roll as a force to be taken seriously, both as a tool for building a better society and for giving ourselves pleasure.”  

“For Willis, rock was sex, which was Freud, which was Marx, which was labor, which was politics and therefore a reason to vote or protest,” writes Emily Greenhouse for Dissent Magazine. “She was at her best when writing about the shifting locus of freedom, in those early years viewed through the lens of American music.”

She also kept writing elsewhere, on topics not related to rock. In “The Trial of Arline Hunt,” written for Rolling Stone, she examined the trial of a man accused of raping Hunt. She wrote about abortion, also for Rolling Stone.

Disillusioned by ‘80s pop and music criticism in general, writing “There can’t be a revolutionary culture until there is a revolution,” Willis moved on to writing essays about feminism and politics, writes Ken Tucker for NPR. She also founded New York University’s cultural reporting and criticism program in 1995, writes Fox, and was its first director. She kept writing—about Monica Lewinsky, O.J. Simpson and Tony Soprano.

Several years after her 2006 death of lung cancer, her daughter Nona Willis Aronowitz put together a collection of Willis’s “Rock, Etc.” columns, followed by a second book of her other critical essays.

"Ask most music nerds of my generation who they think the top rock and roll scribes of the 1960s and '70s were and they'll likely—rightly—offer the names of a handful of brilliant men," writes Julianne Escobedo Shepherd for Alternet. In the field of professional music criticism, "women tend to remain opaque, if not invisible," she writes: in spite of her talent and her ability to "convincingly" call out the likes of Bob Dylan, Willis has found the same fate.

Study Suggests ‘Mr. Greedy’ Children’s Book Is Almost as Hard to Read as Steinbeck Classics

Smithsonian Magazine

At first glance, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men—a classic account of migrant workers struggling to survive the Great Depression—doesn’t seem to have much in common with Roger Hargreaves’ Mr. Greedy, a children’s book detailing the gluttonous tendencies of its wobbly, hot pink protagonist.

But the texts actually do share one key characteristic: According to a new analysis that rates more than 33,000 books’ “readability” on a scale of 0.2 to 13.5, Hargreaves’ tale is nearly as difficult to read as Steinbeck’s meditation on Dust Bowl migration in the 1930s.

Of Mice and Men boasts a difficulty score of 4.6, while Mr. Greedy comes in close on its heels at 4.4. The Grapes of Wrath, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel also penned by Steinbeck, scores just marginally higher, receiving a rating of 4.9.

The survey, as Alison Flood reports for the Guardian, was led by education software company Renaissance U.K., which judged works’ complexity based on sentence length, average word length and vocabulary level. Jonathan Swift’s satirical Gulliver’s Travels topped the list of most complex texts, earning the highest possible score of 13.5, while classics including Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet rounded out the top 10.

At the other end of the spectrum, Laura Hanbleton’s children’s picture book Bad Bat earned the distinction of being “easiest” to read with a score of just 0.2.

As David Sanderson points out for the Times, the ratings found Mr. Greedy outpacing several works by beloved children’s book author Roald Dahl. Fantastic Mr. Fox, for example, scored a 4.1, while George’s Marvellous Medicine received a 4.0. The Twits, a story centered on the vindictive, prank-playing Mr. and Mrs. Twit, matched Mr. Greedy in difficulty, earning a score of 4.4. It’s worth noting, however, that many of Dahl’s best-known novels, from Matilda to The Witches and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, scored higher than Mr. Greedy—albeit only slightly.

Speaking with Dave Speck of TES magazine, Paul Clayton, director of the U.K.’s National Association for the Teaching of English, points out that while the language of Hargreaves’ story may be more complex than Dahl’s, its plot—as well as that of other Mr. Men and Little Miss books—is simpler, emphasizing “happy endings” and straightforward resolutions.

“Roald Dahl’s stories, on the other hand, are often more ambiguous and morally ambivalent,” Clayton says. “So whilst Dahl might be linguistically simpler, [his books] might well be perceived to be more challenging.”

Mr. Greedy’s unusually difficult style stems from Hargreaves’ “creative use of slightly unusual words and his habit of stringing them together in long sentences,” Renaissance U.K. explains. A prime example of this occurs around the middle of the book, when the narrator identifies the source of a “delicious smell” as a “huge enormous gigantic colossal plate, and on the plate huge enormous gigantic colossal sausages the size of pillows, and huge enormous gigantic colossal potatoes the size of beachballs, and huge enormous gigantic colossal peas the size of cabbages.”

In comparison with this long-winded turn of phrase, the opening lines of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men are concise and easy to follow: “A few miles south of Soledad,” Steinbeck famously writes, “the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool.”

But just because children are capable of reading these words doesn’t mean they’re capable of understanding the historical context, nuance and complex themes the book holds.

As Cecelia Powell, managing editor of Renaissance U.K., tells the Guardian’s Flood, readability ratings should be considered in conjunction with accompanying “interest levels” detailed on the company’s book catalogue. While Of Mice and Men receives a relatively low complexity score, for example, its target audience is described as ages 14 and up for a reason. Instead, as she explains, the survey is strictly an exercise in grammar and vocabulary: “It is just, literally, can you read the words?”

Bringing the outdoors in . . . one squirrel at a time

National Museum of American History

Squirrels seem to be everywhere until you need a few for your Buttermilk Fried Squirrel recipe.

A woman and a man stand behind a counter in a demonstration kitchen.On stage at Smithsonian Food History Weekend, Chef Jason Flores and I shared Oklahoma-style cooking and stories

As the Food History Team pondered the roster for the 2018 Food History Weekend cooking demonstrations, we knew we wanted to feature a chef who had game—someone whose background included hunting, trapping, and cooking in a region of the country we hadn’t yet explored. So when Oklahoma native Jason Flores came to our attention, we jumped at the chance to learn about his boyhood along the Verdigris River, where his family regularly prepared meals featuring wild game and foraged foods. As the executive chef at the Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock, Flores has moved beyond the dishes from his youth, but when we contacted him about sharing those regional favorites and his experiences from home, he was ready to come to Washington and do just that. 

When we initially asked Flores to share a few recipe ideas from his past, he recalled his Granny Williams’s apricot fried pie, and other family recipes like grilled frogs legs in buttermilk secret sauce, Okie fried catfish, wild boar chorizo, and buttermilk fried squirrel with pimento cheddar biscuits and gravy.

With an array of options, I consulted our museum’s demonstration kitchen manager, Kathy Phung, for help in deciding. We both liked the Southwestern influences present in the chorizo recipe and agreed that the squirrel would be an excellent way to showcase Flores’s creative use of wild game in Southern cooking.

Squirrel has long been a source of protein in American cookery, along with opossum, raccoon, rabbit, and muskrat. It is common to find recipes for game in historic regional American cookbooks. Mary Land’s Louisiana Cookery (1954), for example, has several recipes for squirrel, including squirrel head potpie and squirrel stew. The latter recipe begins: “Dress forty squirrels. Place the squirrels in a big iron pot over coals. Place three bottles of cooking oil in the pot. Let the meat braise for ten minutes . . .” and so on. Like Land, we were going to attempt to engage our audience and learn about the uses, past and present, of squirrel in American regional cuisine.

How in the world were we going to get fresh squirrel meat to the National Museum of American History demonstration kitchen? Wegmans provides most of our cooking demonstration ingredients through an in-kind donation, but they do not stock squirrel. Our program producer, Katharine Mead, found a potential solution. In late August, she reached out to Ailsa Von Dobeneck, a chef and writer residing in New Orleans, who demonstrated how to make President McKinley’s squirrel soup at our museum in 2016. (The subject line of the email? “Hello! And squirrel question.”) After exchanging a few messages, Von Dobeneck confirmed that she had reached out to her network of Louisiana-based hunters—as she put it, “a TON of guys in the bayou”—and would keep us posted.

And so, we waited. Almost a month passed. No word. Eventually, we heard that Von Dobeneck’s connections at the hunting lodge fell through. Our hearts raced as we wondered if our cooking demonstration in November would be derailed for lack of squirrel. A museum colleague offered to go squirrel hunting in Maryland for us, but Von Dobeneck reassured us by taking matters into her own hands. She wrote: “It is squirrel season now in Louisiana, so we are going hunting on Sunday.”

A few days later, we got another update: “Hey ladies. Unsuccessful hunt on Sunday.” Although Louisiana has an abundance of grey and fox squirrels, they are not always easy to find. As Mary Land noted in her cookbook, “Despite their extensive range and the fact that both species breed twice a year, these Louisiana squirrels are not easy to locate. They nap during the warm winter days and are difficult to see in the green winter woods.” She goes on to note that the “canny hunter learns, however, to detect their gastronomic whimsies—sweet nuts, berries, or plums—and settles near the location of these delicacies.”

Bound and determined to help us, Von Dobeneck reached out to a friend who regularly hunts in the Louisiana bayous. He delivered on his promise: three squirrels, to be exact, shipped frozen on dry ice via FedEx. They were exactly what we needed for Chef Jason Flores’s recipe.



Flores arrived a day prior to his cooking demonstration to prepare the squirrel, expertly butchering the meat for the dish that his grandfather regularly made for him. Flores then soaked the meat in buttermilk to tenderize it. Squirrel, like a lot of game meat, can be tough, so taking the extra step can make a big difference once you batter and fry it (in rendered bacon fat, as recommended by Flores).

A hand gingerly holds squirrel meat above a frying panFlores fries the Louisiana squirrels as delicious smells waft across the stage

Flores mixed in some wild boar chorizo he brought from Arizona to the gravy, adding a full-bodied richness to the dish. The final touch? Pimento cheddar drop biscuits, baked fresh the morning of the demo. Now that’s a dish that brings the outdoors in while representing the historic and lasting importance of game in regional American cooking.

Flores pours a liquid into a frying pan, while Ashley Young looks onChef Flores prepares gravy

If you are interested in trying out this recipe yourself, you can find instructions for Flores’s buttermilk fried squirrel and pimento cheddar biscuits on our website. You’ll have to find your own source for squirrel meat, though!

Dr. Ashley Rose Young is the historian of the American Food History Project at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and is also the host of Cooking Up History. She tried the Buttermilk Fried Squirrel and was convinced that it was the best squirrel she had ever had—better, even, than her grandmother’s squirrel stew!

The live cooking demonstrations, as part of Smithsonian Food History Weekend, are generously supported by Hilton, Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., and Sur La Table.

Posted Date: 
Wednesday, December 19, 2018 - 09:15
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Evolution in Black and White

Smithsonian Magazine

Shortly after he completed his second term as president in 1909, Teddy Roosevelt took a year-long hunting safari in Africa under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution. Many of Roosevelt’s trophies wound up as exhibits in the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Roosevelt’s safari experiences, regaled in his book African Game Trails (1910) gave him strong opinions about how animals blended, or did not blend, with their surroundings:

“Black and white are normally the most conspicuous colors in nature (and yet are borne by numerous creatures who have succeeded well in the struggle for life); but almost any tint ... harmonizes fairly well with at least some landscapes, and in but a few instances among the larger mammals, and in almost none among those frequenting the open plains, is there the slightest reason for supposing that the creature gains any benefit whatever from what is loosely called its ‘protective coloration.’”

Roosevelt’s scoffed at notions of the protective value of coloration for two reasons. First, the horse-mounted hunter extraordinaire had little difficulty spotting, stalking and bagging big game; his hunting party shot more than 500 mammals. Clearly animals’ colors did not protect them from him. And second, while at the time the fact of evolution was widely accepted by scientists (and Roosevelt), Darwin’s explanation of the primary role of natural selection as the mechanism of evolution was not. Natural selection had fallen out of favor, in particular over the matter of animal coloration. Many naturalists in the 1890s had criticized Darwinian explanations of coloration as wholly lacking evidence, and offered other explanations. For instance, some suggested that coloration was directly caused by external factors such as climate, light or diet.

These alternative ideas were soon quashed by the emergence of the science of genetics and the demonstration through breeding experiments (such as those originally conducted by Gregor Mendel) that coloration is an inherited property of plants and animals. But until the past few years, we did not know how genes determine animal coloration or how variation in genes affect variation in coloration in nature. New understanding of how animal colors are made, particularly simple patterns of black and white, and field studies of the benefits and drawbacks of color schemes in different habitats, are now providing some of the best examples of how natural selection and evolution work.

One of the most widespread phenomena in the animal kingdom is the occurrence of darkly pigmented varieties within species. All sorts of moths, beetles, butterflies, snakes, lizards and birds have forms that are all or mostly black. Perhaps most familiar are the dark big cats, such as the black leopard and black jaguar. These beautiful animals are often displayed in zoos as curiosities, but they also occur in the wild in significant numbers.

All of these so-called “melanic” forms result from increased production of the pigment melanin in the skin, fur, scales or feathers. Melanic pigmentation can serve many roles. Melanin protects us and other animals from the ultraviolet rays of the sun; it can help animals in colder climates or higher altitudes warm their bodies more quickly, and, contrary to Roosevelt’s skepticism about protective coloration, black pigment does conceal some animals from predators.

In the deserts of the southwestern United States, for instance, there are outcrops of very dark rocks that were produced by lava flows over the past two million years. Among these rocks lives the rock pocket mouse, which occurs in dark black and a light, sandy color. Naturalists in the 1930s observed that mice found on the lava rocks were typically melanic, while those on the surrounding sand-colored granite rocks were usually light-colored. This color-matching between fur color and habitat background appears to be an adaptation against predators, particularly owls. Mice that are color-matched to their surroundings have a survival advantage over mismatched mice in each of the two habitats.

Image by Dr. Michael Nachman. The rock pocket mouse comes in two colors, dark and light. The dark ones blend in well with lava rocks (upper right) and the light ones are camouflaged against sandstone (upper left). Placed in the "wrong" environment, the mice are easy for predators to see. (original image)

Image by Daniel Karmann / dpa / Corbis. Black jaguars, like the cub on the left, have a mutation that causes them to produce more of the pigment melanin than spotted jaguars do. (original image)

Image by Dr. Erica Bree Rosenblum. Some whiptail lizards (these are from the genus Aspidoscelis) are darker than usual thanks to a mutation similar to that found in dark jaguars or black sheep. (original image)

Image by Dr. Erica Bree Rosenblum. Lesser earless lizards come in two colors, depending on which version they inherit of a gene that influences melanin production. (original image)

Image by Dr. Erica Bree Rosenblum. Lizards in the Sceloporous genus come in a variety of colors, depending in part on what version they carry of a melanin gene. (original image)

Image by Dr. Michael Nachman. The habitat of rock pocket mice comes in two colors: dark lava rock and light sandstone. (original image)

Image by Dr. Michael Nachman. Where rock pocket mice live in dark lava rock, they are more likely to have a mutation that causes them to produce more melanin and have a dark-colored coat. (original image)

Recently, Michael Nachman and his collaborators at the University of Arizona have undertaken detailed field and genetic studies of rock pocket mice. They have found that the mice interbreed with mice from other habitats and migrate between rock types. The mice are clearly one species, not two. So what makes fur black or light? Just a few differences in the code of a single gene. This simple basis of inheritance means that the origin of black mice from light-colored parents happened in just one or a very small number of mutational steps. But for mice invading the previously alien habitat of black lava rocks, those small genetic steps were a giant leap in terms of evolution. Nachman and Hopi Hoekstra (now at Harvard University) estimated that dark mice have about a 60 percent or greater survival advantage over light mice on the dark lava rocks. In other words, fur color in this species is clearly under very strong natural selection.

The gene involved in the origin of melanism in rock pocket mice is called melanocortin receptor 1, or MC1R or short. That is not a very interesting nugget of information, until I tell you that the melanic forms of jaguars, snow geese, arctic fox, fairy wrens, banaquits, golden lion tamarins, arctic skua, two kinds of lizards, and of domestic cows, sheep and chickens are caused by mutations in this very same gene. In some species, precisely the same mutations have occurred independently in the origin of their dark forms. These discoveries reveal that the evolution of melanism is not some incredibly rare accident, but a common, repeatable process. Evolution can and does repeat itself.

Melanism is not only a matter of concealment. The lesser snow goose also occurs in two forms, a white and a melanic “blue” form. In this species, the mating preference of individuals follows the color scheme of their parents. Apparently, young birds learn their parents' color and choose mates along family lines–birds from blue families prefer blue mates and birds from white families prefer white mates. Mating preferences among arctic skuas have an additional twist, in that females generally prefer darker males. Both of these bird species are evolving under sexual selection, a process also first described by Darwin, in which traits that are advantageous in the mating game are favored. Because sexual selection has such a strong effect on mating success, it is a very strong form of selection in nature.

Another common form of animal coloration is the lack of pigmentation–or albinism. This condition is frequently observed in natural populations of cave-dwelling animals, including fish, crayfish, insects, spiders and other species. The common occurrence of albinism in cave animals is thought to represent the flip side of evolution under natural selection. That is, with little or no light, natural or sexual selection on pigment color and pattern is relaxed. Mutations that abolish pigmentation, and that would generally be harmful to animals in other habitats, are tolerated in the darkness of these caves.

Albinism, too, appears to have a simple genetic basis that makes it “easy” to evolve. Recently, Meredith Protas and Cliff Tabin at Harvard Medical School, Bill Jeffery at the University of Maryland, and their collaborators pinpointed the genetic basis of albinism in the Mexican blind cavefish. These albino fish are found in about 30 caves in the Sierra de El Abra region in northeastern Mexico. Each population is derived from a pigmented, fully sighted surface- or river-dwelling form. The researchers have investigated the genetic basis of albinism in populations from the Pachón and Molino caves and found that albinism in each population was caused by mutations in the same pigmentation gene, but different specific mutations in each case. Here again, in these fish, evolution has repeated itself twice in the origin of the same trait. Furthermore, the specific gene mutated in these fish is also the same gene responsible for albinism in humans, pigs, mice and other fish species.

The natural histories of the rock pocket mice and cavefish vividly demonstrate how animals have adapted to new surroundings; no matter how alien those habitats once were to their ancestors. These obscure animals have also provided the concrete links between specific genes, natural selection and evolution in the wild that have long been sought by biologists. While not as majestic as the game animals of the African savanna, these animals illustrate larger lessons that would have been appreciated by Roosevelt, and perhaps even warranted their own, albeit small, trophy case for displaying the continuing progress in understanding how evolution works.

Author Bio: 
Sean B. Carroll is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Wisconsin. His new book, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), chronicles the experiences and discoveries of intrepid naturalists who developed and advanced the theory of evolution.

Meissen cup and saucer

National Museum of American History
TITLE: Meissen cup and saucer

MAKER: Meissen Manufactory

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)

MEASUREMENTS: Cup: 1⅞" 4.8cm; Saucer: 5½" 14cm

OBJECT NAME: Cup and saucer

PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany



Domestic Furnishing

Industry and Manufacturing

CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection

ID NUMBER: 1983.0565.09 ab



(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)

MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “4” impressed on cup; “2” impressed on saucer.

PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1947. Ex. Coll. W.M. Moseley.

This cup and saucer is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of Meissen Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began his collection in the early years of World War II, when he purchased eighteenth-century Meissen table wares from the Art Exchange run by the New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychiatry and the research of human behavior. He believed that cultural artifacts have an important role to play in enhancing our awareness and understanding of human creativity and its communication among peoples. His collection grew to represent this conviction.

The invention of Meissen porcelain, declared over three hundred years ago early in 1709, was a collective achievement that represents an early modern precursor to industrial chemistry and materials science. The porcelains we see in our museum collections, made in the small town of Meissen in the German States, were the result of an intense period of empirical research. Generally associated with artistic achievement of a high order, Meissen porcelain was also a technological achievement in the development of inorganic, non-metallic materials.

The cup and saucer have basket weave relief borders in the Sulkowsky pattern. The onglaze enamel painted design in the Kakiemon style features a crane in flight and a winged mythical beast or dragon, loosely resembling a tiger known variously as the “Korean lion”, the “flying dog”, or “winged dragon. A tree peony rises from the ground behind grasses and a fern, and a cockchafer type of beetle sits underneath the fern. Characteristic of Japanese Kakiemon designs the individual motifs are out of natural scale, and this is not uncommon on Arita porcelains made for the European export market under the influence of the Dutch.

It is likely that the prototype for the Meissen pattern was of Chinese origin with the winged animal based on the Chinese ch’i-lin (somewhat akin to a unicorn). The German physician, envoy, and traveler, Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), wrote in his History of Japan “Of the Animals of this Country some are merely Chimerical, not existing in Nature, nor invented by the Japanese themselves, but borrow’d from their Neighbours the Chinese.” While the Japanese adopted mythical creatures from China and Korea they also introduced more playful, supernatural, and comic aspects to animals both real and imaginary during the rapid development of literary culture in the early Edo period of the seventeenth century. Japanese tales and legends associated with real animals like foxes (kitsune) and Japanese wild dogs (tanuki) remain popular today. Cranes were, and still are, birds with significant symbolic meaning in China and Japan.

Kakiemon is the name given to very white (nigoshida meaning milky-white) finely potted Japanese porcelain made in the Nangawara Valley near the town of Arita in the North-West of the island of Kyushu. The porcelain bears a characteristic style of enamel painting using a palette of translucent colors painted with refined assymetric designs attributed to a family of painters with the name Kakiemon. In the 1650s, when Chinese porcelain was in short supply due to civil unrest following the fall of the Ming Dynasty to the Manchu in 1644, Arita porcelain was at first exported to Europe through the Dutch East India Company’s base on the island of Dejima in the Bay of Nagasaki. The Japanese traded Arita porcelain only with Chinese, Korean, and Dutch merchants and the Chinese resold Japanese porcelain to the Dutch in Batavia (present day Jakarta), to the English and French at the port of Canton (present day Guangzhou) and Amoy (present day Xiamen). Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, obtained Japanese porcelain through his agents operating in Amsterdam who purchased items from Dutch merchants, and from a Dutch dealer in Dresden, Elizabeth Bassetouche.

For a detailed account of the Kakiemon style and its European imitators see Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750. On Kakiemon see also Takeshi Nagataki, 2003, Classic Japanese Porcelain: Imari and Kakiemon

On the likely Chinese model for this pattern see Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Pozellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Band II, S.370. For another example of this pattern see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collectionfrom the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, p.276.

On the Japanese supernatural see Foster, M.D., 2009, Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai.

Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 146-147.

How America Can Help Save a Non-American Species: The Mighty Giraffe

Smithsonian Magazine

On April 19 of this year, five major wildlife protection groups petitioned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to list the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) as an endangered species. As the petition asserted, “the giraffe has suffered a major reduction in population size across its range primarily due to habitat loss, commercial overutilization, and severe poaching, and such decline continues unabated.”

If the Fish and Wildlife Service agrees to list the giraffe, a set of legal tools will become available to protect this iconic species. But how would listing in the U.S. help this African mammal, whose population numbers in the wild have dipped below 100,000?

Extinction is forever

While extinction can be a natural process, the current rate of extinction is anything but. Scientists estimate that at least 99 out of 100 species extinctions in the world today are the result of human action. Although people rarely intend to drive species into oblivion, as with the giraffe, they do so through the destruction of habitat, poaching and legal hunting. As the petition notes, “[g]iraffes once occupied much of the savanna and savanna woodlands of Africa…. [It] has undergone a 36 to 40 percent population decline over the past 30 years.”

More than a century ago, scientists began to notice the disappearance of once prominent species around the world. The American passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet and the Great Auk—once well-established in North America—disappeared. Other species like the American bison and many kinds of whales had once played central roles in important ecosystems but had been reduced to small remnant populations.

Now the only place you’ll see a passenger pigeon is stuffed in a museum. (Ben Sutherland, CC BY)

The existence of species is important to people for many reasons. Sometimes species provide clues for the development of medicines. Often they play a fundamental role in maintaining the functioning of ecosystems on which people depend. As Aldo Leopold – perhaps America’s most famous naturalist – noted:

“If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

What would you say to a child who saw a giraffe in a book and asked where giraffes lived? Would you be comfortable saying they’re all gone?

Roots of regulation

In 1964, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) began tracking the conservation status of species on its “Red List.” Although the IUCN provides information only about the status of species, this is the first step in helping to limit extinction because it allows conservation efforts to be directed where they’re most needed.

A few years later in the United States, the federal government began keeping an official list of species in danger of extinction—what we call endangered species – and species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future—threatened species.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), passed in 1973, goes further than just identifying imperiled species. Under its terms, listed species are protected from actions “authorized, funded or carried out” by the federal government that may jeopardize their continued existence or adversely affect their essential habitat. Species members are also protected from direct harm by any person. Commerce in species protected by the ESA is generally a crime.

The purpose of the ESA is the “conservation” of protected species. In practice, that means bringing the species back to the point where it no longer requires the protection of the ESA. The law’s goal is not to preserve tiny populations on the brink of extinction but to recover species populations that are resilient enough to survive the bad luck which is so often part of living on the planet.

Listing is the public, administrative process whereby a species can become entitled to protection under the Endangered Species Act. It centers around one question: Is this creature or plant in danger of extinction? At the listing stage, the federal government can consider only scientific evidence in making its decision. Anyone can initiate the listing process via petition.

A 2016 ceremony for the delisting of the island fox, which federal officials announced had recovered enough under a dozen years of protection by the ESA to be reclassified. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Evidence suggests the ESA works. A recent report in the Endangered Species Bulletin noted that of the 78 species first listed under the federal precursor to the Endangered Species Act in 1967, only four have been officially declared extinct after half a century. Many others, such as the California condor, the grizzly bear and the whooping crane, have seen remarkable recovery progress. Some, including the bald eagle, have even been removed from the list.

There are now 1,382 species of animals listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered; 711 live largely within the borders of the United States. For these species, the federal Endangered Species Act can help preserve habitat, require “consultation” on projects that need federal approval and make most hunting illegal.

American listing for an African animal

The giraffe, of course, is not native to the United States. How would ESA listing help it? The habitat destruction and overharvesting that threaten the giraffe aren’t happening within U.S. borders.

The answer lies in the role the United States plays in buying and selling giraffe parts. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service database, over the past decade Americans imported more than 21,000 giraffe bone carvings, more than 3,000 skin pieces and 3,744 hunting trophies. If many people want giraffe parts, the demand can be too high for survival of the species. Heightened demand for giraffe products can encourage people to hunt illegally—for example, taking more giraffes than limits allow or hunting in places where it is not permitted.

An international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1973), known by its acronym, CITES, also addresses this problem. Countries that are party to the treaty meet periodically to list species that are threatened due to international trade. The treaty has two appendices for listing species: Appendix I results in an almost complete ban on commercial international trade; Appendix II requires all international trade in that species be monitored and subject to permits. The giraffe is not currently listed on either of the CITES appendices, but this does not prevent individual countries—such as the United States—from deciding to limit imports.

For centuries, shark fin, usually served as soup, has been a coveted delicacy in Chinese cooking. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

Around the world, markets for species parts are sometimes driven by traditional uses—things like carving ivory or using certain animal parts in traditional medicines. New uses fuel demand too; think of newly wealthy businessmen in Vietnam consuming rhino horn mixed with water or alcohol to show how rich they are. Sometimes, the two can converge: An increase in consumption of shark fin soup has been tied to a traditional celebration dish being served by more people as China’s middle class grew.

Listing on the ESA would require the federal government to limit imports of giraffe parts into the United States and would therefore help curtail global demand. The ESA cannot ensure habitat protection or require other countries to take affirmative conservation action to protect the giraffe. But listing in the U.S. would limit one important threat in which Americans do play a role.

What “Ricki and the Flash” Gets Wrong About the Life of a Musician

Smithsonian Magazine

The vast majority of music-making activity in America is done by people you have never heard of: folks who play in local bars, community centers and dance halls. Their stories deserve to be told, for the real mystery of music is not why the wealthy and famous devote their time to music but why the poor and obscure do.

The guitarist who makes $50 a night at his local tavern is pursuing a quest far stranger than the singer who makes $100,000 a night at an NBA arena. That guitarist's struggle to balance the effort to make meaning with the effort to make money is a better mirror on our lives than the spoils of a headlining singer’s troubles with booze and drugs.

Those latter topics have been the well-worn path of films including Ray or Walk the Line, but in Ricki and the Flash, screenwriter Diablo Cody creates a woman, played by Meryl Streep, who abandoned her family to chase rock 'n' roll stardom, only to fall short and wind up in San Fernando Valley as a Whole Foods cashier by day and a bar-band singer by night. Like the majority of bar bands the world over, Ricki and the Flash mostly do cover tunes, so Streep gets to sing her favorites by Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Tom Petty, and director Jonathan Demme isn't forced to find a dozen songs that might have credibly been hits for a more famous singer. And when Ricki’s daughter (played by Streep's real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) botches a suicide attempt, Ricki has a chance to go back to Indianapolis and patch things up.

Streep and her ringers sound like a bar band good enough to hold down a regular gig at the Salt Well in Tarzana, California, but not good enough to go on tour. And similarly, Streep herself is a good enough singer to be convincing as a bar-band belter, but she's not good enough to be persuasive as an arena-headlining star. Like most bar bands, they are a bit anachronistic; in their case they make everything—including recent songs by Lady Gaga and Pink—sound like ‘80s heartland rock'n'roll. And Demme is smart to populate the Salt Well not with pretty people from a Hollywood casting call but with the misshapen loners who might actually be regulars at such a bar.

What Ricki and the Flash fails to provide, however, is the texture of a bar-band musician’s life. We see Ricki at her cashier job, but we never see her hustling for better gigs, worrying about the size of the audience and complaining about her lot. We never see her obsessing over her instruments the way working musicians always do. We never see her struggling with the musician's temptations of booze and sex—and her attitudes about sex seem implausibly squeamish. We never get a sense of why she sticks with music despite all its drawbacks.

No movie has really nailed this subject matter, but many have done better than Streep’s latest. Paul Schrader's 1987 film, Light of Day, is very similar to Ricki. It describes a Cleveland bar band led by a single mother (Joan Jett) and her unreliable brother (Michael J. Fox), who both have unresolved family issues. If Streep is a great actress and an acceptable singer, Jett is a great singer and barely acceptable actress. But Schrader's script rings truer about the daily struggles of such musicians than Cody’s.

Alan Parker's 1991 film, The Commitments, is based on Roddy Doyle's novel about a group of young Dubliners who form a horn band to play the music of their American R&B heroes. The picture traces the group's arc from early, exhilarating successes to ultimate squabbles and disillusionment with insider details and some wonderful music. By contrast, the Coen Brothers’ 2013 Inside Llewyn Davis gives us the squabbles and disillusionment without enough of the early excitement to make us care about the early-’60s folk singer buried beneath Bob Dylan's shadow.

Some movies purport to describe a fictional musician struggling for recognition in out-of-the-way dives in the early stages of a career. But the stars of these pictures—Prince in 1984’s Purple Rain, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson in 1984’s Songwriter, or Eminem in 2002’s 8 Mile are so obviously talented and so clearly headed for success that these films, all quite enjoyable, are not really about bar bands but about the pre-fame days of predestined stars.

Two of the best movies about musicians trapped in local bars star Jeff Bridges, who like Streep is a respectable singer and a remarkable actor. In 2009’s Crazy Heart, his former country-music star has fallen so low that he takes gigs in small clubs with unrehearsed bar bands. Like Streep’s, Bridges’ character has not only lost contact with his children and ex-spouses, but also the ambition that caused him to leave in the first place.

Even better is 1989’s The Fabulous Baker Boys, which stars Bridges and his brother Beau Bridges as Jack and Frank Baker, two pop-jazz pianists who perform as a duo in lounges around Seattle. Jack is the talented one, Frank the practical one, and the growing tension between them, exacerbated by the arrival of Michelle Pfeiffer as a sexy vocalist, reflects the conflict between artistic and survival goals that all musicians struggle with—especially those at the bottom of the success ladder.

A similar movie is Spike Lee’s 1990 Mo’ Better Blues, the story of a Brooklyn jazz trumpeter (Denzel Washington) whose obvious talent is thwarted by crooked businessmen. This puts a different spin on the usual tale of potential unfulfilled; the blame rests not so much on the victim as on a society that takes advantage of the musician at every turn.

But the very best examination of the life of a working musician in local bars is the 2010-2013 HBO series “Treme,” which followed the fortunes of multiple Louisiana musicians—jazz players, R&B musicians, rock performers, Mardi Gras Indians and Cajun musicians as they tried to survive from gig to gig—and possibly express something along the way.

Series creator David Simon has stressed in interviews that he wanted to show that a music career—whatever else it may be—is also a job. This most romanticized of professions is seldom treated that way, but as Simon’s characters struggled to get employed, stay employed, get paid and perhaps promoted, they reflected our own workaday lives back at us. We learned that music is always shaped by the context of making a living, just as our own efforts to create something of value are inseparable from our efforts to pay our bills. It’s this dynamic that goes unexamined in Ricki and the Flash

How Chuck Berry’s Cadillac and His Guitar, Maybellene, Came to the Smithsonian

Smithsonian Magazine

I wasn’t nervous until we were about five minutes away from arriving at Chuck Berry’s home. 

After landing in St. Louis on November 11, 2011, Mr. Berry’s longtime friend and business associate Joe Edwards picked me up to take me to the expansive, tucked-away estate in Wentzville, Missouri, known as Berry Park. I was there to ask Chuck Berry to give one of his Cadillacs to the National Museum of African American History and Culture .

This meeting came after months of preparation, research, building contacts, cancelled plans and extended deadlines—all with the purpose of acquiring artifacts for the museum's exhibition “Musical Crossroads” with an opening date still four years away.

I had scripted every detail of my request and precisely planned how I would ask for specific objects, but Joe reminded me not to expect an ordinary meeting or a simple exchange.

“It all depends on his mood,” he soberly told me as we arrived at the Berry Park gate and I sunk deeper into my seat, wondering how in the world this was actually going to work.

We drove past the fields that Chuck Berry, then in his mid-80s, still mowed and arrived at one of the homes on the property used for his business affairs. We were greeted by his longtime assistant Francine Gillium and told to wait upstairs for Mr. Berry who was to arrive soon.

I sat nervously in his office reviewing my notes while trying unsuccessfully not to think about the famous scene in Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll where Chuck Berry sternly upbraided Keith Richards for not playing the opening lick to “Carol” in the way he wanted it. Most of the stories I had heard about Mr. Berry’s famously acerbic personality were similar, and they all seemed to come to mind as I anxiously awaited my host. 

I looked out the window a few minutes later and saw him drive up to the building in a golf cart.  Dressed causally for a lazy weekend, he hopped out of the golf cart and quickly made his way to the office with all the grace he routinely displayed on stage. 

Chuck Berry's electric guitar, nicknamed "Maybellene," 1959 (NMAAHC, donation of Charles E. Berry)

I had met him a few months earlier, backstage after one of his shows. We briefly discussed plans for the museum while he ate chicken wings and greeted several other guests. This meeting was scheduled for the entire day but it almost ended abruptly with the first words out of his mouth. 

He shook my hand, smiled warmly and in a tone that was both delicate and forceful, uttered—“I’m not giving you a single thing.”

I should have anticipated those words. In a legendary career that spanned more than six decades, Chuck Berry was among the principal sonic architects of rock 'n' roll—but he was also a businessman and famously shrewd. The exhibition needed Chuck Berry to help unpack the crucial importance of rock ‘n’ roll and its icons, and to examine the larger role that popular music plays on discussions of race, identity and commercialism. 

Chuck Berry was rock’s first great songwriter, guitarist and showman, absorbing jump blues, swing, tin pan alley, country music and the foundational principals of acoustic and electric blues to establish the template for how rock ‘n’ roll should sound. Amassing those sounds and styles was no small feat and the integral role that Chuck Berry played in the formulation of this music helped develop and propagate the identity and character of American youth culture at the time. This music took over the world, and at its helm was a young African-American musician from St. Louis. 

Chuck Berry by Red Grooms, 1978 (NPG, © Red Grooms / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

This was the story we wanted to tell in the museum, but getting him to agree to it was another task altogether.

We had our eyes on several objects, but acquiring one of his Cadillacs was the main focus of the visit. The Cadillac—a 1973, candy apple red convertible El Dorado—was a part of Mr. Berry’s personal fleet that he maintained over the years and was featured in the documentary film Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll

In the film, Francine drove this Cadillac with Chuck Berry in the backseat onto the stage of the Fox Theater in St. Louis, which happened to be the same theater that turned him away as a child because of his race.

The Cadillac represents so many facets of Mr. Berry’s career and character. It defines Chuck Berry as a businessman. He often drove himself in one of his Cadillacs to his gigs, demanded his fee up front, performed and left again in his Cadillac. The Cadillac also symbolizes not only the musician’s success, but his agency and his ability to commandeer his career within the complicated and racially segregated world of the music industry. And finally, it illustrates Berry as a musician. The Cadillac served as a lyrical fixture in so many of his early songs. His brilliant facility for lyrics focused on the obsessions and aspirations of American youth culture and the car represents that sense of personal freedom.

Adrenaline kept me talking after the inauspicious start to our conversation. And Chuck Berry was listening with an open mind. I had only one selling point. I did not come to his home to make a purchase or do an elaborate deal. I simply told him that we wanted to put him in a gallery with Duke Ellington, so that the millions of people who walk through this museum would forever associate his contributions in historical accord with the great names of popular music. 

This broke the ice and we began talking about an array of topics ranging from jazz, the Occupy Movement and great black leaders from the Civil Rights era. After hours negotiating and walking from one room to the next, we ended up in his kitchen. 

He was eating his lunch, when he suddenly said: “Alright.”

After we finalized the terms of the donation, he offered me several ice cream sandwiches from his freezer to celebrate the deal. I ignored my diet and happily ate two of the sandwiches before politely declining the third.

On November 11, 2011, Chuck Berry donated the Cadillac and one of his early touring and recording Gibson guitars, nicknamed “Maybellene” after his first hit. When the truck finally arrived to pick up the car, he didn’t want to see it go. So he left me to handle the task, but before he left, I did my best to assure him that we would take great care of his objects and his legacy. He shook my hand and said, “you’d better, because I plan to live to be 100 and I’ll come see you if you don’t.”

In the days following his death on March 18, the Cadillac has become a shrine of sorts for museum visitors. The prominently displayed bright red automobile is already a favorite site for selfies, but the space is more crowded and livelier this week with parents and teachers talking to children about rock ‘n’ roll and sharing their memories of Chuck Berry and his music. I’ve even noticed a time or two where visitors have attempted the duck walk in front of the Cadillac.

As Chuck Berry would say: "It goes to show you never can tell."

Chuck Berry's guitar "Maybellene" and his Eldorado Cadillac are on permanent view in the exhibition "Musical Crossroads" at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The National Portrait Gallery is displaying the 1978 collage by artist Red Grooms of Chuck Berry in its Memoriam space on the first floor through April 9, 2017.

Eat Like a Parisian in a Parisian Apartment

Smithsonian Magazine

For many years when going to faraway places, I would eat in private homes. I was a foreign correspondent, and many kind and curious locals would invite me to share a meal. Whether sampling a dollop of walnut sauce or savoring a sliver of poppy cake, I would learn about a family and, by extension, a culture, through food. When I returned to the United States and started traveling as a regular tourist, I missed the warmth and intimacy of eating in people’s homes.

That’s why, when planning a trip to Paris recently, I jumped at the opportunity to try The Internet-based service offers home-cooked dinners prepared by one of the “hosts” in his or her home. The system is straightforward: Eatwith’s hosts post their menus, list the languages they speak, and say a few things about their personal interests. The guest pays upfront online at a fixed price; the evening itself is free of transactions.

To my surprise, there were only ten hosts for all of Paris, some of whom catered to travelers looking for vegan or ayurvedic (an ancient Indian approach to balanced eating) cooking. Other more established Eatwith cities, like Tel Aviv and Barcelona, have larger rosters. But several choices matched my preference for classic French cooking, including Claudine (A Parisian Dinner in Montmartre, $50) and Alexis (Un Hiver Bistronomique, $59). They emphasized the care with which they shopped for seasonal produce and high-quality ingredients. I booked them both, deciding to participate as a guest, not a journalist. (Later once I decided to write about the experience, I recontacted them.)

Small lanterns cast a soft glow through the large living room. A gilded rococo mirror sparkles. The ceilings are high, and the walls are covered with paintings and folk souvenirs, many from Indonesia. My husband, Joel Brenner, and two Parisian friends, Katherine Kay-Mouat and her 15-year-old-son, Maximilien Bouchard, have settled into comfortable chairs around an enormous rattan coffee table at Alexis’s 8th arrondissement apartment, right around the corner from the celebrated music hall Folies Bergère.

I bite into a crispy homemade chip that Alexis is serving. “Do you know what they are made of?” he asks. I venture a guess: Taro root? I’m wrong; it’s another nubby vegetable: Jerusalem artichoke. The conversation stays on a culinary course. “How do you make them so thin?” Katherine asks. “Easy,” says Alexis. “You just use a mandoline slicer.” Not easy, I think, knowing from experience the skill needed to manage the mandoline’s sharp blades. Alexis offers a toast to the evening ahead, and we all clink glasses filled with sparkling Vouvray. Katherine asks another question, and Alexis gives a sly smile. It’s one he gets all the time: How did you get interested in making meals at your home, in joining Eatwith?

Alexis, who is 28, explains how he decided to abandon the field he had trained in (business) and switch to a culinary career. He’d heard about Eatwith from a friend and realized he had the requisites in place: A passion for cooking, fluent English, and the run of his parents’ gracious apartment.

(original image)

This evening he serves watercress soup with shredded buffalo mozzarella, poached cod on a bed of mashed parsnips and potatoes, a plate of French cheeses, and homemade chocolate truffles. Alexis’s life revolves around food—fresh, organic, and lesser known ingredients. His voice chokes with indignation when he tells me during an interview that France is second only to the United States in the number of McDonald’s hamburgers it consumes.

At Claudine Ouhioun’s apartment, a fire is burning in a small marble fireplace when Joel and I arrive at the apartment. The light is low, candles are lit, and the table is set with glistening crystal wine glasses. I ease into a gloriously French armchair—a bergère upholstered in Pierre Frey linen with a design in the shape of ferns. Nearby is a chest of drawers in the Louis XV style that has been in her family for at least a hundred years.

Claudine, 65, a recently retired English teacher at a local lycée, introduces the guests: Arial Harrington, who lives in Brooklyn, is launching her own clothing line. Her friend Matthew Fox, 27, works for an event planning company in Washington, D.C. Arial, 29, tells me that she sought out the Eatwith experience because as an aspiring cook, she is considering becoming a host herself. When she rises spontaneously to tend the fire, poking the embers and adding a log, much as a close friend or family member would do, I reflect on how the shared economy has equalized the relationship between consumer and service giver. Claudine is pleased by the casual friendliness of the gesture. She tells me later that the exchange of emails that’s customary before each meal makes her feel she is hosting friends, not guests. This, too, seems a sea change. When I lived in Paris in the 1970s as a student, my landlady pointedly told me not to expect the French to want to be friends. A fellow café habitué admitted he made his friends in Boy Scouts and had little desire to widen the circle.

Claudine slips into a galley kitchen to assemble the verrine, a starter made of chopped cooked beets with a layer of Greek taramosalata on top—an inspired combination. Parisians love taramosalata,” she tells us. “It’s not true what they say about the French only wanting to eat French food.” But Americans visiting in Paris do often want classic French food, and everyone is happy to dig into Claudine’s pot-au-feu. She has tweaked the boiled meat/root vegetable recipe by using warm spices—allspice, or maybe cloves—to add a hint of North Africa in the flavor.

It’s cozy and relaxed. As I eat and sip wine, I think of the pluses and minuses of dining this way: The food may not reach the heights of a fine Parisian restaurant, but the advantages of heartfelt hospitality (versus the potentially grumpy or haughty waiter) and conversation with people you might not normally meet more than compensate. Eating with Alexis and Claudine reminds me of the pleasure I felt corresponding with pen pals as a schoolkid. I get to bombard them with every manner of question without feeling the least bit impertinent.

Pen pals are out of fashion. Facebook friends are not. Both Alexis and Claudine stay in touch by social media and email with former guests, mostly foreigners, some of whom call when they are back in Paris and invite them for an evening out. Or, as in the case of Raymond Mendoza, a Francophile from Pomona, California, return with a gift. When Raymond came to Paris on his annual visit recently, he stowed a half dozen homemade cheesecakes in the overhead compartment. He had boasted to Alexis and other French friends about his sophisticated redo of the classic dessert, made with a macadamia nut crust and a pear custard-cream cheese filling. When Alexis pronounced it délicieux, Raymond was over the moon. Laid off from a job in banking, the Californian is contemplating what to do next. He too will soon try his hand at being an Eatwith host.

Woman/Verso: Untitled

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Seated Man

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Meissen ice cream pail and cover

National Museum of American History
TITLE: Meissen ice cream pail

MAKER: Meissen Manufactory

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)

MEASUREMENTS: H. 11⅞" 30.2cm

OBJECT NAME: Ice cream pail

PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany



Domestic Furnishing

Industry and Manufacturing

CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection

ID NUMBER: 63.268 ab



(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)

MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue.

PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947.

This ice pail is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of Meissen Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began collecting in the early years of World War II, when he purchased eighteenth-century Meissen table wares from the Art Exchange run by the New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychiatry and the research of human behavior. He believed that cultural artifacts have an important role to play in enhancing our awareness and understanding of human creativity and its communication among peoples. His collection grew to represent this conviction.

The invention of Meissen porcelain, declared over three hundred years ago early in 1709, was a collective achievement that represents an early modern precursor to industrial chemistry and materials science. The porcelains we see in our museum collections, made in the small town of Meissen in the German States, were the result of an intense period of empirical research. Generally associated with artistic achievement of a high order, Meissen porcelain was also a technological achievement in the development of inorganic, non-metallic materials.

The ice cream pail was a novel addition to the eighteenth-century dessert service, the final spectacle of an elite banquet in which the talent of the court confectioners was on display. Milk products were used to make frozen or ice-cooled delicacies in China during the T’ang Dynasty (618-907), and even earlier frozen or chilled drinks and water ices were known to India, Central Asia and the Middle East. Ice and snow harvested from colder regions, or locally during the winter months, was stored in caves or underground pits to make cold drinks. In Europe the technique for making frozen desserts that we might recognize developed in the seventeenth century when it was understood that salt mixed with ice could lower the temperature of drinks and foodstuffs. The experiments of the court confectioners led to methods that produced the smooth creamy treat we know so well, but which was available only to the nobility when this ice pail was made.

This particular pail was first modeled in 1728 and the Manufactory records the production of forty four pails in the same year; in the catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection and some other publications the pail is described as a tureen. The handles were initially the work of the Meissen modeler Christoph Ludwig Lücke who worked at the manufactory for two years (1728-1729) and identified his model with the mythological siren (see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collectionfrom the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp.246-247), but on this pail the model for the handle appears to have been reworked. There is an artichoke finial on the lid and the Japanese mythological beast, the kirin, is painted on both the pail and cover with scattered Indian flowers (indianische Blumen) and insects.

The German physician, envoy, and traveler, Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), wrote in his History of Japan “Of the Animals of this Country some are merely Chimerical, not existing in Nature, nor invented by the Japanese themselves, but borrow’d from their Neighbours the Chinese.” Many mythical animals were indeed adopted from China, most notably the dragons, the ho-ho bird, and the tiger, but the Japanese were highly imaginative in constructing their own fantastic creatures and shape-shifting animal spirits, some of which were based on real creatures like the fox, the flying squirrel, the Japanese wild dog (tanuki). In mid-seventeenth century Japan, during the early Edo period, encyclopedias began to appear describing the natural world as part of a lively publications industry that met the thirst for books in urban and literate communities. Like Chinese encyclopedic books on which they were based supernatural beings were not left out of the illustrated publications describing nature, and in for example, the early encyclopedia of Tekisai Nakamura, the Kinmōzuii of 1666, imaginary beasts and birds are included alongside those that exist in the natural world.

For a fine example of a comparable object painted with Chinese shishi lions see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collectionfrom the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 246-247. See Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Pozellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Band II, S. 14-18 for an earlier version painted in underglaze blue. The catalog Meissen Porcelain in the Rijksmuseum by Den Blaauwen, A. L. (pp. 152-153) has one large and two smaller versions with chinoiseries described as tureens and the model is also identified as a container for the Spanish bean soup ‘Olla Podrida’ (see Weber, J., 2013, p.18.).

On Japanese animal spirits see Foster, M.D., 2009, Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai.

On the history of ice and its uses see David, E. (1994) Harvest of the Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices; Quinzio, J. (2009) Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making.

Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 214-215.

The Golden Days

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

A Mysterious 25,000-Year-Old Structure Built of the Bones of 60 Mammoths

Smithsonian Magazine

A jaw-dropping example of Ice Age architecture has been unearthed on Russia’s forest steppe: a huge, circular structure built with the bones of at least 60 woolly mammoths. But exactly why hunter-gatherers enduring the frigid realities of life 25,000 years ago would construct the 40-foot diameter building is a fascinating question.

“Clearly a lot of time and effort went into building this structure so it was obviously important to the people that made it for some reason,” says Alexander Pryor, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter (U.K.). He is the lead author of a new study published this week in the journal Antiquity describing the find at Kostenki, a place where many important Paleolithic sites lie clustered around the Don River.

The ancient builders did leave some clues. Fires once burned within the structure and food scraps, including vegetables, remain. Several pits containing mammoth bones lie just outside of the bone circle and may suggest food storage. “You obviously get a lot of meat from a mammoth,” Pryor said, “so the idea that there were food processing and food storage activities going on at the site is something that we want to investigate more.”

To some, though, the grandeur of the structure suggests more than practical significance. “People have also speculated a lot about a likely ritual element to this and it’s really hard to say what that might have been,” Pryor adds. “Ritual is embedded in human lives in all sorts of ways. The fact they might have designed a structure of this type as part of both their ritual and their sustenance activities is very reasonable.”

Location of the mammoth bone structure found in modern-day Russia (Courtesy of Pryor et. al.)

Mammoth-bone buildings are well-known to archaeologists. Similar structures have been found across Eastern Europe, albeit on a much smaller scale, a few meters in diameter. These sites, including others found at Kostenki during the 1950s and '60s, date back as far as 22,000 years. Researchers have generally considered them to be dwellings or “mammoth houses” that helped their builders cope with frigid temperatures near the nadir of the last Ice Age. The new structure (first discovered at Kostenki in 2014) is 3,000 years older.

"What a site!” says Penn State University anthropologist Pat Shipman, who wasn’t involved in the research. “I am completely intrigued as these remarkable finds differ meaningfully from previously discovered ones and can be more carefully and fully studied with modern techniques.”

The site stands out most obviously for its scale. “The size of the structure makes it exceptional among its kind, and building it would have been time-consuming,” says Marjolein Bosch, a zooarchaeologist at the University of Cambridge. “This implies that it was meant to last, perhaps as a landmark, a meeting place, a place of ceremonial importance, or a place to return to when the conditions grew so harsh that shelter was needed,” Bosch was not involved with the new research on this “ truly exceptional find” but has personally visited the site. Indeed, the structure’s sheer size makes it an unlikely everyday home. “I cannot possibly imagine how they would have roofed over this structure,” Pryor said.

The smaller mammoth houses feature more definite cooking hearths, and they contain the remains of reindeer, horse and fox, which suggests the people in them were living on whatever they could find in the area. The new mammoth bone structure lacks evidence of other animal remains. “It’s almost exclusively woolly mammoth remains and that is one of the interesting things about it,” Pryor said.

“With no other animal bones, this doesn’t look much like a dwelling where people lived for a while,” Shipman added.

Close up of the structure, featuring long bones, a lower jaw (top middle) and articulated vertebrae (pointed out by excavator) (AJE Pryor)

Intriguingly, the new structure is the first of its kind to yield evidence that its occupants burnt wood inside and not just bone. “It’s the first time anyone’s found large pieces of charcoal inside one of these structures. So it does show that trees were in the environment,” Pryor said.

Tree ring widths in the charcoal are narrow, suggesting the trees probably struggled to survive in that landscape. Previous studies suggested that even on the Ice Age’s arid steppes, coniferous trees would have endured in forests stretching along riversides like those close to Kostenki—a draw for people looking to survive.

Still, if people weren’t living in the structure, then why did they make fires?

“Fire in the past can be seen as a tool much the same as chipped stone implements and worked bones are,” Bosch says. Fires provided heat and light, barbecued and roasted food, dried meat for storage and processed glues for stone-tipped tools. “Here, the fires were lit inside a structure and its use as a light source seems intuitive,” she says. “If the authors are correct in their assumption of its use as a place for food storage, it may also have been used to dry meat.” There may be ways to test these ideas. Finding drops of fat on the floor, for example, could show that meat was dried over the flames.

The local diet also appears to have featured a smorgasbord of vegetables. By using water and sieve flotation techniques, the team discovered pieces of plant tissue among the charcoal. “This is the first time we have a plant food component discovered in any of these structures,” Pryor says. His team hasn’t identified specific species yet but notes that the tissues are like those found in modern roots and tubers such as carrots, potatoes or parsnips.

The new structure seen from above (A. E. Dudin)

The astounding assemblage of bones from more than 60 mammoths raises the question: Where did they all come from? Scientists aren’t sure if the animals were hunted, scavenged from sites of mass deaths or some combination of the two.

“There must be something about the topography of the site that makes it a place where, over and over, herds of mammoths are coming through and can be killed or will be killed naturally, like at a river crossing,” says Penn State’s Pat Shipman. “I can imagine no way [these] people could possibly kill 60 mammoths at a time, because proboscideans (the order of mammals to which both mammoths and living elephants belong) are smart and catch on if members of their herd are being killed, even with modern automatic weapons.”

Further studies of the mammoth bones will yield more clues about their source. Some were arranged in the same order and position as they were in the skeleton. “This means that the bones were brought to the site as body part which some soft tissue (skin, muscle, and tendons) still attached,” Bosch said. “Therefore, they must have been transported before carnivores had the chance to eat and clean the bones. This implies that the builders had early access to the mammoth remains.”

Shipman adds: “I want to know if the bones have been processed or transported or if we are looking at whole skeletons or carcasses piled up for future use. Moving a dead mammoth cannot have been easy even if it was largely de-fleshed.”

Researchers excavating the mammoth site. (A. E. Dudin)

However the mammoths got here, their presence was crucial to the humans living in the area. Lioudmila Lakovleva of the French National Centre for Scientific Research notes that “the complete settlement shows several mammoth bone dwellings, walls, enclosure, pits, working areas, hearths, dumping areas and butchering areas,” she says.

Kostenki was a focus for human settlement throughout the last ice age, Pryor said: “It’s a huge investment in this particular place in the landscape.” His team has some theories as to why. “There’s evidence that there were natural freshwater springs in the area which would have remained liquid throughout the year,” he says. “That warmed water would have drawn animals, including mammoth, and in turn attracted humans to the same spot.”

While the site raises many intriguing questions, Pryor said that it already tells us something certain about the people who built it.

“This project is giving us a real insight into how our human ancestors adapted to climate change, to the harshest parts of the last glacial cycle, and adapted to use the materials that they had around them,” he said. “It’s really a story of survival in the face of adversity.”

When America Entered the Modern Age

Smithsonian Magazine

The International Exhibition of Modern Art opened in February 1913 Opening and cars lined up outside the entrance. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Amy Henderson, curator at the National Portrait Gallery, writes about all things pop culture. She last wrote about the sanctity of the summer blockbuster.

The Phillips Collection in Washington has a new exhibition celebrating the centennial of the ground-breaking Armory Show, and a photograph at the beginning of the exhibition caught my eye. The photo is an image of the Armory’s entrance, with a large banner announcing the “International Exhibition of Modern Art.” Cars proudly parked at curbside were quintessential symbols of Modernism in 1913. (Editor’s note: This paragraph originally stated the cars in the photo above were Model T’s. Apologies for the error.) Today, the juxtaposition of these now-antique cars and the banner trumpeting Modern Art is a jarring reminder about how obsolescence yaps at the heels of every dazzling invention.

In 1913, newness propelled America. Speed seemed to define what was new: cars, planes, and subways rushed passengers to destinations; “moving pictures” were the new rage, and Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin Florence Lawrence were inventing the new vogue for “movie stars”; the popular dance team Irene and Vernon Castle sparked a fad for social dancing, and people flocked to dance halls to master the staccato tempos of the fox trot and tango.

Life rattled with the roar of the Machine Age as mass technology hurtled people into the maelstrom of modern times. New York embodied the cult for the new, from its entertainment center along Broadway’s  electrified “Great White Way” to the exclamation point proclaimed by the opening of the Woolworth Building—a skyscraper that was then the tallest building in the world.  (For further reading on New York City in these years, I recommend William Leach’s Land of Desire (Vintage Books: NY, 1993.)

In the new book 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War, author Charles Emmerson quotes a French visitor’s amazed reaction at the electricity and elevated trains that made the city vibrate and crackle. Times Square was especially stunning: “Everywhere these multi-coloured lights, which sparkle and change. . . .sometimes, on top of an unlit skyscraper, the peak of which is invisible amongst the fog. . .a huge display lights up, as if suspended from the heavens, and hammers a name in electric red letters into your soul, only to dissolve as rapidly as it appeared.”

The exhibition contained significant works by such European artists as Picasso, Matisse and Duchamp, with Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” causing the greatest controversy. Marcel Duchamp (c. 1920) by Joseph Stella. This image and all to follow are courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

Two-thirds of the 1,600 works were by American artists, including Marsden Hartley (1898) by Richard Tweedy.

The emergence of New York City as the capital of Modernism fueled the drive to proclaim America’s arrival as a cultural force as well. Movie stars like Pickford and Chaplin and Broadway composers like Irving Berlin and George M. Cohan were giving American popular culture its first international success, but European artwork was still recognized as the High Culture benchmark.

The International Exhibition of Modern Art that opened in February 1913 at the Armory meant to change all that, focusing not on the staid styles of traditional European art but on a “modern” contemporary approach. The exhibition contained significant works by such European artists as Picasso, Matisse and Duchamp, with Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” causing the greatest controversy. This Cubist painting may have scandalized some viewers, but it also brilliantly epitomized the spirit of Modernism in its depiction of a body moving much as if it were being unspooled in a silent filmstrip.

Self-portrait (c. 1880) by Mary Stevenson Cassatt.

Two-thirds of the 1,600 works were by American artists, including John Marin, Marsden Hartley, James McNeill Whistler and Mary Cassatt, and the show did mark a watershed in the recognition of American art. Former President Theodore Roosevelt reviewed the exhibition for Outlook and, while dismayed by the Cubist and Futurist works (“a lunatic fringe”), reported that the American art on view was “of the most interest in this collection.” He particularly relished that “There was not a touch of simpering, self-satisfied conventionality,” and that new directions were not obliged “to measure up or down to stereotyped and fossilized standards.” Overall, he was grateful that the exhibition “contained so much of extraordinary merit.”

To recognize this year’s centennial of the Armory Show, James Panero recently wrote in The New Criterion that the exhibition was “the event that delivered American culture, kicking and screaming, to the world stage.” It became a proclamation of America’s place in modern life, and “its most radical feature was the show itself,” which became a defining moment in the history of American art.

Along with the riot caused by Diaghilev’s dancers and Stravinsky’s music in the 1913 Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring, the Armory Show signaled the start of the 20th century. Even with the chaos of the Great War that followed, the search for the new soldiered on. Our media landscape and aesthetics today—our Facebook blogs, Tweets and Instagrams—are largely products of the Modernist belief that technology improves everyday life by connecting us. It also assumes that a century from now, the iPhone will be as antiquated as the Model T.

Henri Matisse (1913) by Alvin Langdon Coburn.

John Marin (1930) by Paul Strand.

James McNeill Whistler, Vincent, Brooks, Day & Son lithograph (1878) by Sir Leslie Mathew Ward.

In addition to the Phillips Collection’s exhibition “History in the Making: 100 Years After the Armory Show” (August 1, 2013-January 5, 2014), The New-York Historical Society has organized a major exhibition called “The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution” (October 11, 2013-February 23, 2014); and the Portrait Gallery will be showcasing the Armory Show in its Early 20th Century gallery starting August 19th.

Missouri - Nature and Scientific Wonders

Smithsonian Magazine

More than 6,200 caves tunnel under Missouri, aptly called the Cave State. Several caves offer guided tours for visitors venturing to step below the surface and explore these natural wonders. Some are famous in history or legend, including the cave from Tom Sawyer, the hideout for outlaw Jesse James and the cave with the record for the most underground weddings. Others are noteworthy by nature. Onondaga Cave, for example, is a National Natural Landmark and recognized as one of the most spectacular caves in the country because of the quality of its formations.

Big Spring
More than 286 million gallons of water gush from Big Spring daily, making it one of the world's largest springs.

Ozarks National Scenic Riverway
Ozarks National Scenic Riverway is Missouri's largest national park and the nation's first national park area to protect a wild river system. The Riverway comprises 134 miles of the Current River and the Jacks Fork Rivers and offers picturesque places for canoeing, hiking, fishing and camping. Missouri has a total of over 50,000 miles of rivers and streams.

Lewis & Clark Missouri River Water Trail
The lower Missouri River offers the opportunity to paddle through history—following the trail of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The mapped water trail runs more than 500 miles through state conservation areas, state parks, federal lands and city parks. Katy Trail State Park, the longest rails-to-trails conversion project in the country, runs parallel to the river for over 150 miles. Access points to bed and breakfasts, shops and restaurants are close to the river's edge. There are many commercial campgrounds, boat clubs, marinas and bait-shops located along the river, providing supplies and a place to camp for the night.

Elephant Rocks State Park
The southeast region of Missouri boasts impressive granite rocks that date over a billion years. Elephant Rocks State Park is named for a particularly awesome rock formation where huge boulders stand end-to-end like a train of circus elephants—the largest a whopping 680 tons. A self-guiding trail (with Braille signage) winds among these geologic wonders.

Taum Sauk Mountain State Park
Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, located in the St. Francois Mountains, contains 7,448 scenic acres of remote wilderness. It also is home to 1,772-feet Taum Sauk Mountain, the highest point in Missouri, and Mina Sauk Falls, the state's tallest wet-weather waterfall, which drops 132 feet over a series of rocky ledges. Primitive camping, hiking and backpacking trails, an accessible overlook and picnicking are available to visitors.

Wintering Bald Eagles
Missouri is one of the leading states for wintering bald eagles. In the month of January, they can be spotted primarily along the Mississippi and Osage Rivers and near Missouri lakes. Eagle-watching hot spots include Lake of the Ozarks, Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, Clarksville, Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Table Rock Lake and Truman Reservoir.

Audubon Great River Birding Trail
The Great River Road—winding 408 miles through Missouri along the Mississippi River from Iowa to Arkansas—is the spine of the Audubon Great River Birding Trail. This waterway is one of the nation's great flyways for waterfowl, shorebirds and neotropic migrants.

Mingo National Wildlife Refuge
Mingo National Wildlife Refuge's is the largest remaining tract of bottomland hardwood forest in southeast Missouri. The Mingo Swamp and adjacent hills are nestled in a linear basin formed in an ancient abandoned channel of the Mississippi River. The refuge includes 7,730 acres of federally designated wilderness and an abundance of native plants and wildlife. Mingo offers wildlife observation on a seasonal 20-mile auto tour route, hiking, canoeing, fishing, hunting and environmental educational programs.

Missouri Botanical Garden
Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis has earned global recognition for its gardens, research and unparalleled efforts to catalog plants from the world's rain forests. Founded in 1859, it is the country's oldest botanical garden in continuous operation; a National Historic Landmark with 79 acres of beautiful gardens and historic structures. Outdoor and indoor displays include the Climatron tropical rain forest; Kemper Center for Home Gardening; Japanese Garden; George Washington Carver Garden; historic Tower Grove House; and the seasonal Doris I. Schnuck Children's Garden.

The EarthWays Home
A three-story Victorian residence built in 1885 has been renovated to showcase practical demonstrations of energy efficient systems, recycled products and waste reduction practices. Visitors to this St. Louis property experience hands-on applications of sustainable lifestyle choices. Many existing features in the EarthWays Home are readily available for general construction and renovation.

The Saint Louis Zoo
The Saint Louis Zoo is a renowned leader in animal conservation projects and innovative captive breeding strategy to ensure the survival world's most endangered species. Named "America's #1 Zoo" by Zagat Survey's family travel guide, the 90-acre zoo is home to 17,900 exotic animals, many of them rare and endangered. The Penguin and Puffin Coast offers a spectacular underwater view of those oceanic birds. There's also an underwater view of hippos. Asian elephants, Children's Zoo, Insectarium, Conservation Carousel and the Cypress Swamp are highlights.

Butterfly House & Education Center
This Chesterfield attraction builds awareness of natural world through the observation of butterflies, their habitats, life cycles and role in the world's ecosystem. More than a thousand live tropical butterflies fly freely in the glass conservatory. Butterfly House visitors can watch a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis, visit the Native Habitat Garden and view a variety of insect exhibits.

Shaw Nature Reserve
Shaw Nature Reserve, a 2,400-acre experimental ecological reserve, lies 35 miles west of St. Louis. Its restored plant and animal habitats feature tall-grass prairies, glades, wetlands, savannas, and woodlands. Fourteen miles of trails take visitors through the reserve and to the Meramec River.

World Bird Sanctuary
Missouri's World Bird Sanctuary preserves the earth's biological diversity and secures the future of threatened bird species in their natural environments through education, captive breeding, field studies and rehabilitation. With self-guided displays of live eagles, owls, hawks, vultures, parrots, falcons, reptiles and other mammals on 305 peaceful acres, it's a true wildlife encounter.

Wild Canid Survival and Research Center
Funded by Marlin Perkins in 1971, the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center occupies 63 isolated wooded acres about 20 miles southwest of St. Louis. This premier wolf conservation, education, reproduction and research center contains red and Mexican gray wolves, African wild dogs and swift foxes living in packs within natural enclosures. Visitors are welcomed for year-round day and evening programs by advanced reservation.

Powell Gardens
Set on 915 acres of lush, rolling hills and windswept meadows in Kingsville, Powell Gardens offers breathtaking display gardens, interesting architecture, a nature trail and a year-round calendar of special events and classes for the entire family. Garden features include the Island Garden, the Perennial Garden, the Rock and Waterfall Garden, the Wildflower Meadow, a chapel, an indoor conservatory, the ever-changing Terrace Gardens and native plantings.

Forest Park
Rich in cultural heritage, St. Louis's Forest Park is equally significant from a naturalistic perspective. In a city where 80 percent of the land has been developed for business, industry or residential uses, the park serves as a natural oasis for the city, an important source of green space, a respite for migrating birds, and an integrated ecosystem where humans and nature interact.

Katy Trail State Park
The longest rails-to-trails conversion project in the country, Katy Trail State Park caters to the active traveler. The 225-mile trail, built along the former corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, begins in St. Charles and ends in Clinton. The trail takes visitors through some of the most scenic areas of the state, offering views of towering bluffs, rolling hills and glistening rivers. Following the ambling trail across Missouri, nature lovers can enjoy a wide assortment of wildlife in its natural habitat. History buffs can delight in exploring the small towns that once thrived along the railroad corridor and step back in time as they travel between St. Charles and Boonville, an official segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Communities along the trail offer a range of services to visitors.

Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area
Located six miles southwest of Columbia, near McBaine, Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area contains 4,269 acres of wetland and 10 miles of stream frontage. The marshes supply year-round habitat for migrating and wintering birds, as well as a permanent home for a large variety of wildlife.

Borneo's Mammals Face a Deadly Mix of Logging and Climate Change

Smithsonian Magazine

Borneo’s mammals are threatened by a one-two punch of logging and climate change, but only a small amount of additional land needs to be protected to safeguard many of the species at risk, scientists report today in Current Biology.

The island of Borneo is home to a stunning array of biodiversity. There are thousands of plants, animals and other species packed into a space a little larger than Texas. Many species—such as the Bornean clouded leopard, the proboscis monkey and several kinds of tree shrews and squirrels—are found nowhere else in the world.

But logging has destroyed large swaths of Bornean forest, often lowland forests that are rich in diversity but that are easier and cheaper for companies to access, remove trees and convert the land to other uses, such as oil palm plantations. Climate change is another threat: shifting temperatures and rainfall will render some habitats unsuitable for the animals that live there. To find out how the two threats would interact, Matthew Struebig of the University of Kent and his colleagues combined a model of deforestation with climate projections. Then the team added expert evaluations of what would constitute suitable habitat for 81 of Borneo’s carnivores, primates and bats.

Climate alone threatens to eliminate 30 percent or more of the habitat for 11 to 36 percent of those species, the researchers found. Adding in deforestation doubled the number of threatened mammals. At least 15 species of carnivores, 8 primates and 21 bats could be at risk of going extinct by 2080.

“We were somewhat surprised with the potentially severe impacts that climate change could have, especially relative to those of deforestation, which are already quite substantial,” says Struebig. 

Image by Matthew Struebig, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent. The greater nectar bat (Eonycteris major), which is found only in Borneo and the Philippines. The new study provides “a mixed outlook” for the species, says Struebig. But conserving small amounts of additional land “would safeguard the species against the effects of environmental change.” (original image)

Image by Barbara Walton/epa/Corbis. Proboscis monkeys—named for their prominent noses—can be found only on Borneo. They are classified as endangered because more than half of the population has been lost in the last few decades due to habitat loss and hunting. (original image)

Image by Sebastian Kennerknecht/Minden Pictures/Corbis. The Sunda clouded leopard is “forest dependent,” notes Struebig. “A reduction of suitable habitat across lowland areas is predicted in our modeling,” but adding more protected areas in higher elevations could mitigate this loss, he says. (original image)

Image by Fiona Rogers/Corbis. Crab-eating (or long-tailed) macaques, a type of monkey, are one of many species of primates found on Borneo. (original image)

Image by Anup Shah/Corbis. The number of bearded pigs in Borneo had declined because of habitat destruction, but the animals are still common. (original image)

Image by Paul Shedlowich/Corbis. The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah cares for young orangutans orphaned by logging and poaching. (original image)

Image by Juan Carlos Munoz/Nature Picture Library/Corbis. Borneo pygmy elephants are one of the world’s rarest elephant species. As their habitat has been destroyed and degraded, there has been increased conflict between the elephants and humans. (original image)

Climate changes most affected the lowland rainforests in the model, but suitable habitat for many species shifted upslope. That may end up benefiting animals that can migrate quickly enough, because there has been a tendency in Borneo to preserve mid- to high-elevation lands. That pattern has sometimes been criticized, Struebig says, because lowland regions typically host more species. But the new work suggests that those less-than-ideal protected areas could become more important in the coming years. Adding just a bit more protected land in targeted upland spots could help many species in the long run, the researchers found.

Some lowland species, though, such as the otter civet and large flying fox, would need other types assistance to survive the threats. “These species tend to be at greatest densities in lowland habitat, particularly wetlands. As such they demonstrate the need for continued conservation efforts in peatland areas as well as those climate-safe areas we advocate in the article,” Struebig says.

Conserving additional land in Borneo will require cooperating with the forestry, plantation and oil extraction industries, as these businesses manage large amounts of the island’s forests. “There are already signs that some companies are taking on conservation advice and trying to manage their estates in a sustainable way. However, up until now there has been little effort to target these activities to high-priority areas and specific companies in an objective and transparent way,” says Struebig. “This is what we offer.”

And conservation doesn’t necessarily mean making land completely off limits to these companies. Better land management, planning of roads and felling trees in a targeted way can help to reduce industry’s impact on forest wildlife. Reducing the amount of forest converted to oil palm plantations can also help.

"The public can play their part in these efforts,” Struebig notes, “by insisting that their timber products come from environmentally certified sources, which require these management techniques to be implemented.”

How the Nazis “Normalized” Anti-Semitism by Appealing to Children

Smithsonian Magazine

One night, some 30 years ago, Kenneth Rendell followed the owner of a military shop outside London through a side door into the store. It was pitch black, and Rendell bumped into something. “I’m just standing there waiting for him to turn the lights on and the alarm off,” he says. “When he turned the lights on, it scared the crap out of me.”

Rendell was face-to-face with a mannequin wearing a black uniform of a Nazi SS officer stationed in Dachau. Where other military uniforms tend to be beige and loose-fitting, the Nazi uniform was designed to frighten people with its dark color, silver trim, red swastika armband and the skull that appears beneath the insignia on the cap.  “I realized this is propaganda,” he says of the uniform, about midway into a two-and-a-half hour tour of his museum, which sits some 30 minutes west of Boston. “Look at the skull’s head. This is so frightening.”

The uniform was the first German object purchased by Rendell, founder and director of the voluminous and meticulously-curated Museum of World War II in Natick, Massachusetts. His collection numbers 7,000 artifacts and more than 500,000 documents and photographs, and the museum is slated to expand later this year. When visitors round a corner from a section on occupied Europe, they suddenly find themselves opposite the uniform, much like Rendell was 30 years ago.

“I really wanted this to be shocking and in-your-face,” he says. “People don’t go through here quickly. People really slow down.”

“But the Germans—they stand Foursquare. Look, children, and the two compare, The German and the Jew.” From Elvira Bauer’s book Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jud auf seinem Eid(Never Trust a Fox on the Green Heath and Never Trust a Jew by His Oath), 1936 Nuremberg: Stürmer Verlag. (The Museum of World War II, Boston)

Rendell, who grew up in Boston, started collecting as a child. In 1959, he opened the dealership in autographs and historical documents, letters, and manuscripts that he continues to operate. His clients over the years, according to news reports, have included Bill Gates, Queen Elizabeth and the Kennedy family. “I have loved every day since then as the temporary possessor of the written record of mankind’s greatest heroes and villains, as well as the countless individuals who wittingly or unwittingly became a part of the dramas of history,” his website records.

Although Rendell has no family connection to World War II, he has amassed an enormous collection, and his museum, which is slated to begin construction on a new building next year, displays the sobering and terrifying items tastefully. Rather than coming off overly-curated or frivolous, the encounter with that Nazi uniform strikes just the right tone.

One of the messages of both Rendell’s museum, and the New-York Historical Society exhibit “Anti-Semitism 1919–1939” (through July 31) culled from his collection, is that the Holocaust didn’t arise out of nothing; it spawned out of a long and vicious history of European hatred of Jews.

The exhibit, adds Louise Mirrer, the president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, “is about the ease with which the rhetoric of hatred, directed against a particular group—in this case, of course, the Jews—can permeate a national discourse and become ‘normal’ for ordinary people.”

The exhibit includes several items with Hitler’s handwriting, including an outline from a 1939 speech, posters and newspaper clippings, an original Nuremberg Laws printing, and signs warning that park benches are off limits to Jews.

This “normalization,” however, is perhaps most apparent in the hate-filled toys and books designed for children. The exhibit features a 1938 book, whose first page states: “Just as it is often hard to tell a toadstool [a poisonous mushroom] from an edible mushroom, so too is it often very hard to recognize the Jew as a swindler and criminal.” The book, aptly titled The Poisonous Mushroom, adds, “The God of the Jews is money.” The exhibited book opens to an illustration of a blond boy, with basket in hand, holding a mushroom as a woman, evoking Renaissance depictions of saints, points to the fungus.

“The strongest manifestation of anti-Semitism in the exhibition is in the children’s books,” says Mirrer. “Anti-Semitism really has to be introduced at the earliest possible moment in the education of German children.”

Der Jude als Rasseschänder (The Jew as Destroyer of the Race), 1934 (The Museum of World War II, Boston)

Whereas objects in the exhibit, like anti-Semitic faces depicted on ashtrays or walking sticks, where the handle is made of an elongated Jewish nose, reflect longstanding European stereotypical tropes, the children’s books exemplify the culmination of the desensitization that took place leading up to and during World War II.

“You kind of lose the capacity to feel appalled. And then you just believe it,” Mirrer says. “Being exposed to such appalling comparisons over an extended period of time desensitized even the most well-meaning of people, so that comparisons like the Jew and the poisonous mushroom eventually came to seem ‘normal.’”

The children’s books, she adds, proved an effective tool for convincing young Germans that Jews were poisonous to the country. “Children, as we know from research on learning, have to be taught prejudice,” she says.

Rendell agrees. “Hitler Youth recruits were fanatical,” he says. And those who were exposed to the books as children went on to military roles. Rendell’s museum includes in its collections toy soldiersdolls, and a board game where the pieces move along a swastika.

“Board games and toys for children served as another way to spread racial and political propaganda to German youth,” notes a page on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. “Toys were also used as propaganda vehicles to indoctrinate children into militarism.” The program, which “won over” millions of young Germans, expanded from 50,000 Hitler Youth in January 1933 to 5.4 million youth in 1936, when German authorities disbanded competing organizations for children, the website adds.

Rendell developed a unique collection by pursuing objects related to anti-Semitism at a time when few others sought those sorts of pieces, says Mirrer. “His collection speaks persuasively to our exhibition’s point about how, unchecked, anti-Semitism can spread throughout an entire society,” she says.

Rendell says his museum is the only one he is aware of with a worldwide perspective on World War II. Other countries have national collections and perspectives, because each thinks it won the war, he says. It takes starting with the Versailles treaty, which came down especially hard on Germany, to understand why there was a perceived need in Germany for a resurgence of nationalism.

“Everyone treats the rise of Nazism—that Adolf Hitler is in power,” says Rendell. “But how did he get into power? He ran for office. Twice. They changed anti-Semitism to fit political campaigns.”

The History of Faux Fur

Smithsonian Magazine

"This article is not for you if you are feeling economical or momentarily poor."

So reads the first line of a 1929 Vogue feature, boldly titled "The Fur Story of 1929." Go without jewels, pocket money, or every-day clothes, Vogue advises, but never try to scrimp on fur. For the fur you wear will reveal to everyone "the kind of woman you are and the kind of life you lead."

It's enough to make you sweat in your scrappy Uniqlo hoodie 86 years in the future. Today's fashion marketers are less candid, but their strategy for marketing luxury goods is the same. Rare materials, the argument goes, elevate your self-worth, and investing in them fuels personal and even spiritual development. 

Fur is no longer the status symbol it used to be, and while some credit can be given to public awareness campaigns orchestrated by animal rights groups, it's largely thanks to the proliferation of fake furs that began to hit the market more than a century ago. In the 1910s, reports of imitation Astrakhan—a velvety, short-haired pelt made of a newborn or unborn lamb—began popping up in American newspapers. The "high prices for real furs and the excellence of textile furs contribute to make the large manufacturers of women's garments… more active than before," remarked one designer who went on to create many of the plush faux leopards of the 1950s.

Early on, fake fur was made out of pile fabric, a technique of looping yarn that designers used to make textiles including corduroy and velvet. From 1919 to 1928, the United States government imposed a 10 percent tax on real fur as part of wartime measures, leading to a boon for pile manufacturers. Some had so many orders they shut down temporarily. That year, the New York Times ran a humor article titled "Man Invents Quadruped Not At All Like The Real One." It detailed the story of a fake fur manufacturer who, having accidentally created a coat based on an imaginary animal, the "Wumpus," launched a national advertising campaign to teach the public about the "origins" of the creature.

“Whenever a fur becomes fashionable," one expert told the Times in 1924, "the trade hunts for a substitute, because the girl in Sixth Avenue wants to look like the fashionable woman on Fifth, and we must help her find her way." As technology improved, manufacturers were able to create fur effects in silk—resembling leopard, gazelle, and mole—and eventually, synthetic pile fabrics like Orlon and Dynel, created in 1948 and 1950, respectively. By 1957, fake furriers were trying their hands at replicating mink, beaver, chinchilla, seal, raccoon, ermine, pony, and giraffe, some with more success than others. At best, one could hope to convince the eye, if not the touch.

By then, fake fur was more than just a cheap alternative. "'Frankly fake' furs not only imitate the animal kingdom but poke fun at it," one fashion writer observed. Magazines featured spreads with bright, plush fabrics, no longer resembling real animals. Still, when it came to luxury, genuine fur—puffy fox stoles, floor-length minks—reigned, in Hollywood and thus everywhere else. Like jewelry, women rarely bought their own furs, adding to the material's role as a marker of status.

Conservationists began to speak out against the use of certain real animals for fur—particularly, big cats —in the mid-'60s. In 1968, members of the Audubon Society picketed in front of luxury fashion store Saks Fifth Avenue. At the time, they claimed not to take issue with the fur industry as a whole, simply the use of endangered animals. But the attacks mounted over the next few years as activists broadened their missions to include the overall well-being of animals and not simply their conservation in the wild.

The faux-fur industry saw an opportunity. In the early '70s, E.F. Timme & Son, the NY-based manufacturer of "Timme-Tation" fake furs, launched an ad campaign attacking the fur industry. Doris Day, Mary Tyler Moore, Angie Dickenson, Jayne Meadows, and Amanda Blake gave quotes for one 1971 ad in New York magazine. "Killing an animal to make a coat is a sin," Day said. "A woman gains status when she refuses to see anything killed to be put on her back. Then she's truly beautiful…"

It was the first strike of a long war between animal-rights activists and furriers that used celebrities as ammunition. In an iconic 1994 campaign, PETA featured models Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford posing nude, promoting the slogan "I'd rather be naked than wear fur." Brands like Calvin Klein declared they would no longer use the fabric. "Is there a future for fur?" Suzy Menkes asked that year in Vogue. "Young girls don't dream of a fur coat as an image of luxury," said German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. "That kind of glamour-girl dream relates to their mothers and aunts." 

Fake fur brands continued to capitalize on the zeitgeist. Coats were sold pinned with political badges, and garments were donated to fashion shows sponsored on by animal rights organizations. If fur was historically fashion's loudest signifier of identity and status, fake fur began to rival it, communicating its wearer's progressive political beliefs. While today some vegans oppose fur of any kind, on the grounds that even fakes popularize the aesthetic, animal rights groups generally back fakes.

Why fur is so socially charged? It's loud and easy to spot, for one. These days, though, the messages once communicated by fake or realness have been diluted by the fact that it's so difficult to tell the difference. Global sales of real fur are on the rise, but fakes are trending, too: Look at runways and you'll see lots of Teddy-bear-esque styles, at department-store brands like Coach as well as up-and-coming labels like Shrimps. (Last year, Isa Arfen actually made a sky-blue coat from the fabric used in Steiff teddy bears.) When everything looks like it could be on the set of Sesame Street, it's difficult to tell what's made of what, and no one seems to be very worried. 

Fur has always been a tactile fabric. The fact that most of what we see of fashion is now communicated by image rather than touch—on blogs as well as social media channels—likely plays a role in the look of new furs, real and fake. If few except those who buy them touch them, there's less of a point in obsessing over the direction of the follicle up-close. Does your fur still reveal "the kind of woman you are"? Only on Instagram. The "Wumpus" coat would have a better chance if it were around today.

There Never Was Such a Thing as a Red Phone in the White House

Smithsonian Magazine

Apart from avoiding worldwide destruction, there was one other silver lining to the Cuban Missile Crisis: it persuaded the two nuclear superpowers that they had to find a better way to communicate.

Even though the idea of a proscribed diplomatic communication system had been discussed in the past, especially in the years since Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, it took the Crisis itself to bring the idea to fruition. The United States and the Soviet Union were both inspired to reduce the risk of another confrontation; picking up a phone seemed like a good idea. Such technology was not available, however. The best that could be done was the installation of two terminal points with teletype equipment, a full-time duplex wire telegraph circuit and a full-time radiotelegraph circuit. To allow for this system, Soviet and American negotiators produced a memorandum, “Regard the Establishment of a Direct Communications Link.”

“For use in time of emergency the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have agreed to establish as soon as technically feasible a direct communications link between the two Governments,” the “Memorandum of Understanding” opens. The two nations signed it 50 years ago this month, on June 20, 1963.

The use of the word “direct” in the memo’s title was a bit misleading; there was no red phone involved. Messages sent to the Soviet Union on the wire telegraph circuit were routed on a 10,000-mile-long transatlantic cable from Washington to London to Copenhagen to Stockholm to Helsinki and finally to Moscow.

Still, it was a start. Soon after the agreement, four American-made teletype machines were flown to Moscow and installed in the Kremlin. An equal number of machines manufactured in East Germany were shipped to the Soviet Embassy in Washington. They were delivered not to the White House but to the Pentagon, which has remained home to the “hotline” ever since. The two sides also exchanged encoding devices so that the Americans could translate received messages into English and the Soviets could translate messages into Russian on their end.

The “hotline” became operational on August 30, 1963, and the very first message sent was not exactly Samuel Morse’s dramatic first telegram, “What hath God wrought.” Washington sent to Moscow, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back 1234567890,” a message more practical in nature because it used every letter in the English alphabet and all the Arabic numerals, a test of the system’s accuracy.

According to a New York Times account published the following day, “Back from Moscow came a similar test message in Russian, which was completely unintelligible to the United States operators.” Obviously, a few kinks had to be worked out. At least having to run out to the nearest hardware store wouldn’t be one of them: “The two countries also exchanged a year’s supply of spare parts, special tools, operating instructions and telecommunication tape.”

The myth of the red phone hotline, that the president could call the Kremlin whenever it suited him, came from a wide-range of pop culture sources. A duo of movies from 1964 lent immediate post-Crisis credence to the visual of a phone. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb features a memorable scene of Peter Sellers’ President Merkin Muffley warning Soviet Premier Dimitri Kisov about the pending arrival of American bombers. In Fail-Safe, a film with a similar plot, Henry Fonda’s nameless President delivered equally horrific news by phone (called a red phone, despite the movie being in black-and-white.) The most well-known television portrayal of a hotline system was the red “bat phone” in the “Batman” series of the late 1960s. It was also an object of humor in the show “Get Smart.” In one episode in “The West Wing,” Martin Sheen’s President Bartlet mentions that the “red phone hotline” was canned before he took office.

Hollywood hasn’t always gotten it wrong, however. The 2000 film Thirteen Days accurately portrayed the garbled and agonizingly slow pace of transmission during the Cuban Missile Crisis, so slow it almost forced Kennedy to go to war. During that stressful endurance test, it could take up to 12 hours for a message to travel between Moscow and Washington, and the messages themselves between Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev were judged to not be completely reliable.

The “red phone” became part of the presidential campaign of 1984—not once, but twice. To raise doubts in voters’ minds of the readiness of Sen. Gary Hart to be chief executive, Walter Mondale’s campaign ran a commercial stating, “The most awesome, powerful responsibility in the world lies in the hand that picks up this phone.”

Later that year, as the Democratic nominee, Mondale and his team made a sly allusion to Ronald Reagan being in his 70s by featuring the fictional device ringing (and glowing) repeatedly while a narrator intones, “There will be no time to wake a president—computers will take control.” A member of Mondale’s advertising team, Roy Spence, revived the red phone tactic in an ad for Hillary Clinton during her primary battle with then-Senator Barack Obama. As with Mondale’s efforts, this one wasn’t enough either.


In the three months between the implementation of the hotline and his assassination, President Kennedy never had the occasion to use it, so it was Lyndon Johnson who became the first president to use the hot line to call Moscow in 1967. During the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Johnson messaged Soviet president Alexei Kosygin to let him know that U.S. Air Force were being sent to the Mediterranean Sea, warding off any unnecessary tension with the Soviet fleet in the Black Sea.

In September 1971, a satellite communication line was added to complement the main telegraph line, just three months before the outbreak of the war between India and Pakistan that forced President Richard Nixon to contact his Soviet counterpart, Leonid Brezhnev. World events brought Nixon back on the hotline twice more, first during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and then again in July of the following year when Turkey invaded Cyprus.

Reagan seemed to have a special interest in the hotline. In 1983, he initiated negotiations that resulted in upgrades to the system that included high-speed fax capability; the ’60s-era teletype circuits were discontinued five years later. President Jimmy Carter had used the system just once, in 1979 when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, but Reagan used it several times to discuss events in Lebanon and unrest in Poland.

The end of the Cold War did not mean the end to the hotline, nor did the technological advancements that came with the Internet age. Willie Stephens, division chief in the Pentagon department that oversees the hotline, says that the “goal of the modernization program has never been to be at the bleeding edge of the technology, but to provide a permanent, rapid, reliable and private means by which the heads of the governments of the United States and Russian Federation may communicate directly.”

A new, fiber optic-enabled system became operational on January 1, 2008, including software for both talking and sending email messages, with a transmission taking only moments. Also that year, the previous hotline agreements were consolidated into a single “Secure Communications System Agreement,” signed by Russia and the U.S. As part of that agreement, operators of the hotline on both sides test the system every hour of every day to ensure it is always good to go.

But there may soon come a time when the hotline may not be necessary. During a 2010 joint press conference with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, President Obama joked that Twitter had replaced the hotline, “We may be able to finally throw away those red phones that have been sitting around for so long.”

“Strong Medicine” Speaks

Smithsonian Magazine

On a late spring afternoon, as the sun nears its highest point, fifty men and women form a large circle in the middle of a field, deep in the woodlands and marshes that border a great river. Each one stands quietly, focused on a small, smoky bonfire that smells of sage and tobacco. The chief speaks. He reminds everyone that the ceremony is sacred. Among those present is the chief's 85-year-old mother, "Strong Medicine," who is the matriarch of the tribe.

They are all members of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indian Tribe of New Jersey. More than 3,000 strong, they are the largest and most vibrant tribe of Lenni-Lenape Indians living within the "Land of the Ancestors." That they are still here, unlike the thousands who were forced onto reservations, is a little-known tale of survival and ingenuity.

Their history in the area dates back more than 10,000 years, when Lenni-Lenape territory stretched from Manhattan Island to the Delaware Bay. Their lands—arguably among the most magnificent in the world—included southeastern New York state (including Manhattan), all of New Jersey, portions of eastern Pennsylvania (including what is now Philadelphia) and parts of Maryland and Delaware. Their first confirmed encounter with white people occurred on a spring day in 1524, when the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian sailing a French vessel, sailed into the waters between what is now called Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York. In his journal, Verrazzano wrote that the Lenape paddled out to greet him, making "great shouts of admiration."

Like the other "Nations of First Contact," as East Coast tribes are sometimes called, Lenni-Lenape leaders were thrust into a world they did not understand. It was the Lenni-Lenape who famously "sold" Manhattan Island for the equivalent of twenty-four dollars to the Dutchman Peter Minuit in 1626. Less well known is that they were the first Indian tribe in America to sign a treaty with the United States government. Their chiefs met with every major American figure from William Penn to George Washington.

Many Lenni-Lenape Indians—also sometimes called Delaware Indians—died of diseases to which they had no immunity, or were killed outright by white colonists. Thousands were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and sent, over a period of decades, to reservations in the West and in Canada. Strong Medicine's tribe, located in rural Cumberland County in New Jersey, found a way to avoid that fate.

"When my husband and I were coming up, and for a long time before that, our tribe was in hiding," Strong Medicine explains. "We were a hidden people. If the government knew you were Indian, they would take your property and send you to a reservation. There is a story in our tribe that this happened as recently as 1924, two years before I was born. So we were in the habit of staying to ourselves and not saying who we really were."

Census workers, in fact, were intentionally misled. "We would say we were 'Colored,' which is a term they used in the old days for people who are not white," Strong Medicine recalls. "Well, the government workers were white and they didn't know what the heck we were. They thought we meant we were 'Black' when we said 'Colored,' and we just went on letting them think that."

Adding to the confusion is that some members of the tribe do indeed have a small amount of white or African ancestry. This is not uncommon among Indians on the East Coast.

Strong Medicine—whose full name is Marion Strong Medicine Gould—is true to her name, which was given to her in a religious ceremony more than thirty years ago by her son, Chief Mark Quiet Hawk Gould. He gave her the name because of her extensive knowledge of plants and herbs—and also because of her personality. Strong Medicine is unusually outspoken for a Native American Elder, many of whom refrain from speaking to the outside world. And she is known within the tribe for telling the unvarnished truth to anyone who is brave enough to seek her advice. "Half the tribe is afraid of Mom," jokes the Chief, who will turn 66 this month.

Born in 1922 in Bridgeton, New Jersey, near the Delaware Bay, Strong Medicine recalls being raised in a loving environment where families lived in clans, or clusters, near each other. (They still do.) "We did better than most people during the Great Depression," she recalls. "We already knew how to eat weeds and things like that—we just ate more of it.

"Some Indians are ashamed to admit they eat weeds," she adds. "But I'm not. Why should I be? It's part of our culture."

Married at 18 to her high school sweetheart, Wilbur "Wise Fox" Gould, the couple already had two small sons by the time he joined the Army during World War II. Trained as a forward scout, he was captured and listed as missing in action during the Battle of the Bulge.

The tribe continued to live in secret until the 1970s, when Mark Gould, along with a core group of others in his age group, decided that the time had come for the tribe to stop hiding its identity. The tribe's modern-day revival, in fact, coincided with a national movement, the Indian Civil Rights Movement, and the cultural rebirth known as Native Pride.

Part of the plan was to re-organize the ancient tribe as a modern-day entity. Most of the elders, however, would not sign incorporation papers, or put their names on the ballot for a spot on the newly-structured Tribal Council. Strong Medicine, however, did both.

"It really made a huge difference to have Mom behind us," the Chief recalls. "All of the other elders were afraid of change." The tribe's incorporation took place in 1978, the same year that Congress passed a law protecting the right of Indians to freely practice their religions.

When one considers the fate of most tribes in America, the fact that 3000 Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians can practice their religion on their ancestral homeland, seems nothing short of miraculous. During Strong Medicine's life, her tribe has come full-circle, from hiding their identity to embracing it. "I never thought I would live to see the day my grandchildren and great-grandchildren celebrate our heritage," Strong Medicine says with a smile.

Copyright © 2008 by Amy Hill Hearth. Printed by permission. Adapted from the forthcoming book "Strong Medicine" Speaks by Amy Hill Hearth to be published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (Available March 18, 2008 at your local bookstore and at ISBN: 0-7432-9779-2, $23.00).

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