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"For a While...It Was Fun"

Smithsonian Magazine

On September 8, l900, a hurricane that had swept across the Gulf of Mexico slammed into Galveston, Texas. Situated on an island that amounted to little more than an unprotected sandbar, the city was devastated. Entire neighborhoods were obliterated. Shipping facilities were demolished. Some 8,000 people died, a toll that exceeds the total loss of life caused by the Chicago fire of 1871, the calamitous forest fire at Peshtigo, Wisconsin, that same year, the Johnstown flood of 1889, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the Florida hurricane of 1928.

Before the full force of the hurricane struck, women and children frolicked in the rising waters. Once the seriousness of the situation became apparent, there was no escaping. Houses were knocked off their foundations and carried away. Thousands struggled to find refuge from the relentless battering of wind and waves. Some survived by luck or their heroic efforts; others were rescued by intrepid individuals who risked their own lives.

Once the storm passed, the city was a grisly shambles. Bodies, torn and naked, were everywhere. Looting broke out and martial law was declared. Within days, however, shipping had resumed. Eventually a seawall was built to avert a similar disaster, and today Galveston is a thriving port where tourists can view a multimedia documentary about the terrible hurricane in a theater on the waterfront that bore its brunt nearly a century ago.

"Freight Train" by Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten (1895-1987) built her musical legacy on a firm foundation of late 19th- and early 20th-century African-American instrumental traditions and fine musicianship. She strung her guitar upside down, the bass notes to the bottom. This meant she would thumb the treble strings while finger-picking the bass notes, creating an almost inimitable sound. Her method was so influential it became known as the "Cotten style." Watch this unique style in a performance of "Freight Train," her best-known song, edited from film taken by Pete and Toshi Seeger at the Seeger family home in 1957.

"Froggie Went a Courtin"” by Elizabeth Mitchell from Blue Clouds

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Elizabeth Mitchell invites listeners to join her, husband Daniel Littleton, their daughter Storey, and other friends and relatives to become part of an extended musical family.

"Full Blood Resurrection" and Other Gaming Terms Are Entering Chinese Vernacular

Smithsonian Magazine

Like many sports and hobbies, gamers have developed their own slang and terminology that often varies from game to game. But as online gaming has exploded in popularity in Chinese culture, gamer lingo has begun to bleed into popular speech.

While gaming lingo like “aggro,” “grind” and “respawn” have made their ways into the Oxford English Dictionary, they are still primarily gaming terms. However, online multiplayer games like DOTA 2 and World of Warcraft are so popular in China that gamer lingo has started changing how even non-gamers speak, Christina Xu writes for BoingBoing's Offworld. Now, terms like “PK” (or “Player Kill”), “Live-action Counter-Strike” and “Full Blood Resurrection” have almost become commonplace in the modern Chinese vernacular to describe things that have nothing to do with video games.

The Chinese video game market is worth almost $22 billion – and with about 517 million gamers in the country, that market is only growing. But while the government only recently lifted a ban on consoles like the Xbox and PlayStation, PC games have long been a major part of Chinese popular culture. Now, phrases like “PK,” which usually means to kill an opponent’s character in a video game, is used in singing competitions. “Live-action Counter-Strike” refers to an enormously popular first-person shooter, but is a term used to promote games like paintball or laser-tag. And “Full Blood Resurrection,” which originally referred to a gamer’s health bar being restored to full after an in-game death was recently used in Chinese newspapers to describe a giant, inflatable rubber duck in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor being reinflated after a mishap, Xu writes.

China’s relationship with online gaming also has a darker side. Gaming and internet addiction is a big problem, with an estimated 24 million internet addicts in the country, Massoud Hayoun writes for Al-Jazeera America. In some cases, as Danny Vincent from The Guardian reported in 2011, the government is profiting off of the virtual economies within online multiplayer games by forcing prisoners to become “gold farmers,” spending long hours collecting virtual gold through basic, monotonous in-game tasks that can be sold in bulk to gamers around the world for real money. In 2011, it was estimated that 80% of gold farmers around the world are based in China, with about 100,000 people farming gold full-time,Vincent writes.

But even if the worlds that gamers play in are virtual, the effect they have on the real world is undeniable.

"Game ball" football from Super Bowl XLI

National Museum of African American History and Culture
"Game ball" football from Super Bowl XLI. Ball is four leather panels stitched together. One panel reads [SUPER BOWL XLI CHAMPIONS] followed by the Indianapolis Colts logo with the scores of the Colts 929) and the Chicago Bears (17) to the left and right, respectively. Another panel features a heat stamped NFL logo above [CHICAGO / BEARS) · (INDIANAPOLIS / COLTS) / SOUTH FLORIDA · FEBRUARY 4, 2007 / NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE / Wilson / MADE IN U.S.A.]. Next panel has large Super Bowl XLI logo at center with ["THE DUKE." / WILSON] on the left and [(Roger Goodell signature) / COMMISSIONER] to the right. Fourth and final panel is blank.

"Get Your Kicks" at This Route 66 Museum

Smithsonian Magazine

In decades past, travelers along Route 66 might stop for a bite at The Mill, a Lincoln, Illinois, restaurant built in the shape of a Dutch windmill. The little eatery was among many attractions that once dotted the iconic highway, and its ever-changing menu offered an eclectic selection of dishes: wiener schnitzel sandwiches, ham and peanut butter on toast, ice cream, and the occasional squirrel dinner. 

The Mill shut down in 1996, but an 11-year restoration project has given the restaurant a new life, John Reynolds reports for the State Journal Register. Over the weekend, The Mill reopened as a museum dedicated to exploring Lincoln’s ties to Route 66.

The Route 66 Heritage Foundation of Logan County, a non-profit group, raised $90,000 to restore the derelict building. The Mill’s crumbling roof and broken windows have been fixed, and the original flooring has been restored.  Inside, visitors can find transportation-themed displays—like a robotic replica of a former Lincoln gas station— and items from other local restaurants that once thrived in the area.

“Route 66 is one of the most iconic, special places anywhere in America,” Governor Bruce Rauner said during The Mill’s opening ceremony, according to Reynolds.  “It is what America is about—the freedom of the road, exploring our communities ... and coming to the local tourist destinations.”

The now-defunct 2,448-mile highway was a diagonal road that ran between Chicago and Los Angeles, according to The National Historic Route 66 Federation. When it opened in the 1920s, Route 66 provided a vital route to the Pacific coast for America’s burgeoning truck industry and linked hundreds of rural communities to Chicago.

During the Depression era, thousands of migrants traveled to California along Route 66, trying to escape the drought-ridden Dust Bowl of the Great Plains (Steinbeck famously referred to the highway as the “mother road” in Grapes of Wrath). Automobile traffic on the highway proliferated during the postwar years, and restaurants, gas stations, and motels began cropping up along Route 66, offering travelers a place to rest and refuel. The highway became a fixture of pop culture, inspiring—among other things—Nat King Cole’s classic 1946 song and an ambitious 1960s TV show.

The Mill dates back to the early years of Route 66. In 1929, Paul Coddington opened his Dutch-inspired restaurant, which he called The Blue Mill. The manager’s children dressed in Dutch costumes, while waitresses served the decidedly non-Dutch dish of fried ham, peanut butter, and mayo sandwiches, according to an Indiegogo fundraising page for the restaurant. Soon, Coddington established a reputation for serving up sandwiches "at any hour of the day or night," writes Kevin Barlow at the Pantagraph.

In 1945, the restaurant was purchased by Albert and Blossom Huffman, who attached an old army barracks to the building.  They painted it red and converted it into a dance hall, where live country bands would play on the weekend.

Between the '50s and '80s, Route 66 was gradually replaced by larger, multiple-lane superhighways that could better accommodate heavy traffic, according to Robert McHenry of Encyclopedia Britannica. The Mill soldiered on for a few years, reinventing itself as a museum of oddities complete with a 20-pound stuffed catfish, a noise-making toilet and a mechanical leg that dangled through a hole in the ceiling. But The Mill shut down in 1996, and the building fell into a state of disrepair.

Now, curious patrons can visit the historic building that offered up food and fun to many Route 66 travelers. The team behind the restoration has preserved much of the Mill’s flavor: the building is still bright red, a windmill sail still churns outside and if you look up, you'll see a disembodied, robotic leg still dangling from the ceiling.

"Getting my art on . . ." at Luce

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Thumbnail"Getting my art on . . ." That's what one visitor said she liked to do when she comes to American Art's Luce Foundation Center.

"Glück ab." : Marsch : Op. 35 / von Otto Köpping

Smithsonian Libraries
For piano.

"Herrn Leutnant Holthoff von Fassmann im Kaiser Alexander Garde Grenadier Rgt. No. 1 gewidmet."

"Otto Köpping ... Hoboist im Kaiser im Kaiser Alexander Garde Grenadier Rgt. No. 1 /Berlin."

Illustrated t.p. has a picture of a hot air balloon and an inset picture (from photograph) of a man in a military officer's uniform standing in a hot air balloon basket, surrounded by other men in uniform.

Also available online.


"God Said He Would Move…" by Paschall Brothers from On the Right Road Now

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
The Tidewater style of a cappella gospel is one of several regional styles that took root in the American South and eastern states after the Civil War. These groups have always been called quartets even though they could have six or more members: The word quartet refers to the fact that the groups sing in four-part harmony. Formed in 1981 under the leadership of Frank Paschall Sr., the Paschall Brothers perform classic Tidewater repertoire along with original compositions. The Paschalls add their own flair to these pieces, expanding harmonic structure and creating distinct arrangements that maintain the integrity of the original while creating a passionate sound that is uniquely theirs.

"Going thru" with a golden spoon : an illustrated story of the 52nd Brigade Field Artillery, American Expeditionary Forces / by Dudley Hess, private first class, regimental artist

Smithsonian Libraries
Also available online.

AAPG Special Collections copy 39088009657206 purchased from R.W. Smith, bookseller.


"Greenland Expedition of 1937," handwritten report by Robert A. Bartlett

Smithsonian Field Book Project
The handwritten report "Greenland Expedition of 1937" documents Robert A. Bartlett's work for the Smithsonian Institution. The report was written to Waldo Schmitt as the Curator of Marine Invertebrates. Includes information about crew, what types of specimens they were collecting and for which institutions, and equipment (loaned by Smithsonian Institution). He details the trip from New York via Nantucket to the expedition sites, discusses changes in terrain from previous years' explorations, locations where they collected, weather and sea conditions on way to chosen locations, and types of marine life observed. Locations include the vicinity of Détroit de Northumberland, Hakluyt, and Smith Sound.


National Portrait Gallery
A colorful collage of silhouettes of people

"Hallelujah, I'm a Bum"

Smithsonian Magazine

In a journey back to the world of the hobo, James R. Chiles describes life in the hobo jungles, the struggle to escape from angry "bulls" (railroad police), the difference between "bums" and "yeggs" and "tramps," and what it was like to hop a freight. "I grab it as tight as I can," a young hobo recalls. "I think my arms will be jerked out of their sockets." Hoboes had their own do's and don'ts, Chiles reports. Stealing from the general public was kept to a minimum. It might be OK to filch a piece of pie or a clean shirt from a laundry line, but breaking into someone's house was an extremely serious offense--it might lead friendly householders to stop giving back porch meals in return for splitting wood or carrying water.

Restless and displaced veterans began riding the rails soon after the Civil War, as more and more railroads were extended west, but Chiles' account concentrates on the Depression era when hoboes became something of a national preoccupation. In the 1870s there were only 53,000 miles of railroad track. By 1930 there were 230,000. In the 1890s stories generally described men on the bum as "demented vagrants" or "depraved savages" or "symbols of primitive evil." But in the 1930s Americans sympathized; one in five of the able-bodied population was out of work. Besides, the public had fallen in love with Charlie Chaplin as the touching Little Tramp; and in 1941 a celebrated film, Sullivan's Travels, with Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake, made people understand what it was like to ride the rails, and to face the world as down-and-outers.

Hoboes are often thought of as losers, but Chiles notes that included among them at various times were such future notables as novelist Louis L'Amour, oil billionaire H. L. Hunt, journalist Eric Sevareid and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Included also was Chiles himself, who, some years back, rode the rails briefly to get a taste of hobo life.

"Handling" ZIP Code Video

National Postal Museum
"Handling" ZIP Code Campaign Public Service Announcement Video produced by the Post Office Department, mid-1960s. Transcript:

"Happy Birthday to You" Could Soon Have Its Day in the Public Domain

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s a staple of birthday parties around the world, but for the past two years a battle has been raging over who owns the song “Happy Birthday to You.” Now, some recently uncovered documents might just free the Birthday Song from copyright and put it in the public domain.

Originally composed by Patty and Mildred Hill in the late 19th century, the copyright has been owned by Warner/Chappell Music for almost 30 years, writes Michael E. Miller for the Washington Post. Since purchasing the song in 1988, Warner/Chappell has aggressively defended their copyright, going so far as to sue the Girl Scouts for publicly singing the song in 1996. While it’s become something of a joke in the film and television world, there’s big money in the Birthday Song, to the tune of $2 million a year in licensing fees.

For most of that time the copyright went unchallenged, with most choosing to either pay for the rights or to compose their own birthday song. Documentarian Jennifer Nelson did the same in 2013, when she paid $1,500 for the rights to use footage of people singing “Happy Birthday to You” in a film she was making about the song’s history. But as she did more research, she became more and more skeptical of Warner/Chappell’s claim to the song, Miller writes. So she sued them.

“I felt that there was legitimate reason to take action and not just let this be an industry joke,” Nelson said in a 2014 video about the lawsuit. “So here I am...I just saw something that was inherently wrong and we all joked about it and laughed about it and didn’t do anything about. But then I realized we could do something about it and I did.”

For the last two years, Nelson has been fighting Warner/Chappell in California district court. A judge was set to deliver a ruling this summer, but on July 13 Warner/Chappell submitted more than 500 pages of new documents — including an “illegibly blurred” copy of “Happy Birthday to You” from a 1927 songbook Nelson and her team had never seen before. After a flurry of digging, Nelson uncovered a 1922 version of the book with a crucial difference – there was no copyright listed.

Nelson says this proves that the Birthday Song has been in the public domain for almost a century, calling it “a proverbial smoking gun,” Miller writes. Lawyers representing Warner/Chappell denied hiding any documents in court and argued that the “special permission” granted in 1922 doesn’t nullify the original copyright.

Judge George H. King considered the new evidence in during a hearing on July 29. Soon enough, people around the world may be able to sing “Happy Birthday to You” without fear of being sued.

"Happy Disgust" Is a Newly Recognized Human Facial Expression

Smithsonian Magazine

There are 43 muscles in the human face, so it's no wonder that the range of emotions expressed by those muscles extends well beyond the six reseachers tend to focus on—"happy sad, fearful, angry, surprised and disgusted," according to the Guardian. And now researchers have identified 21 "emotional states" and their corresponding human facial expressions.

Researchers used a computer program to analyze the faces of 230 volunteers. These 21 expressions, the researchers found, were more or less universal among the group, NPR reports. Some were hybrids of basic emotional states, like happily disgusted (i.e., when you watch The Aristrocrats) or sadly angry (i.e., when you discover your signficant other is cheating on you). 

The volunteers were all American, NPR points out, so at this point the team doesn't know whether or not happily disgusted is a distinctly North American expression or a universal human experience. 

"Have You Ever Loved a Woman": Tutu Jones and the Soul Crew

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Tutu Jones and the Soul Crew perform "Have You Ever Loved a Woman?"

"Hello Boys! Become an Erector Master Engineer!"

Smithsonian Magazine

Christmas of 1918 was just months away, and the United States — immersed in the war effort — was considering calling off Santa. Perhaps parents should invest in Liberty bonds rather than in toys, the powers-that-be reasoned. Why should toys be saved when so many other items were being sacrificed during wartime?

Addressing the Council of National Defense in a special meeting, an energetic businessman from New Haven, Connecticut, explained why. America, argued A. C. Gilbert, was the home of educational toys, toys that prepared our boys for adulthood. He also brought examples. Soon, the Secretaries of War, the Navy, Commerce and the Interior were playing with tiny submarines and engines, reading children's books and tinkering with A. C. Gilbert's own popular creation: the Erector set.

He was touted in the press that year as "The Man Who Saved Christmas," but as author Bruce Watson points out, A. C. Gilbert and his trusty Erector sets also saved "rainy afternoons from boredom" and "inquiring minds...from the tedium of science textbooks." From 1913, when he released his first boxes of steel girders, nuts and bolts, till his death in 1961, A. C. Gilbert was inseparable from the popular toy, and the toy was inseparable from American boyhood.

Whether as a champion pole-vaulter, a professional magician or a purveyor of constructive fun, A. C. Gilbert set out to be the very best — and encouraged the same drive in his young customers. Times and toys have changed, and Gilbert's Erector sets and science kits now sell only among collectors. But the fond memories of millions of grown-up "Erector Engineers" — including our author — live on.

"Help!" ZIP Code Video

National Postal Museum
"Help!" ZIP Code Campaign Public Service Announcement Video produced by the Post Office Department, mid-1960s. Transcript: ZIP Code Television Public Service Announcement “Help!” Transcript provided by Smithsonian National Postal Museum Narrator: Here is a message from the United States Post Office. Post Office employee: Help! Narrator: The Post Office is flooded with mail. The mail load keeps getting bigger. It now pours in at the rate of over two hundred million new letters and packages a day. Just sorting this avalanche of mail takes longer and longer and can slow up mail delivery. Your mail. That’s why ZIP Code was created. When you add ZIP Code to the address, postal workers can sort the mail far more quickly and efficiently. And the post office can use its new electronic machines that read ZIP numbers and sort mail with space age speed. So add ZIP Code to every mailing address. If you don’t know the right ZIP, call your post office or look it up in their ZIP directory. Include your own ZIP Code in your return address. That makes it easy for others to ZIP mail to you. [Text]: Always use ZIP Code on both mail addresses and return addresses. Mail moves the country – ZIP Code moves the mail! Narrator: Remember, mail moves the country, and ZIP Code moves the mail! [End]

"Here Comes Sally With Her Big Boots On": Gillette Brothers

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
The Gillette Brothers perform a traditional song with the banjo and bones.

"Heroes Come with Empty Sleeves"

National Museum of American History

Curator Dr. Katherine Ott invited students in Dr. Samuel J. Redman's Museum/Historic Site Interpretation Seminar to explore the museum's disability history collections and write blog posts sharing their research. Read more posts by the students in our Disability History section.

Andrew Roy was 26 years old when Lieutenant Henry S. Farley lobbed the infamous first shot of the Civil War over Charleston Harbor on April 17, 1861. He answered President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers by travelling north from his native Maryland and enlisting in a Pennsylvania regiment. The young man paid dearly for his zeal when he was gravely wounded at the Battle of Gaines Mill.

A private in Company F, Tenth Pennsylvania Reserves, Andrew Roy and his unit rushed forward to bolster the Union line against tenacious Confederate assaults. During the charge, he was felled by a shot that destroyed the left side of his pelvis. Roy was then captured when the field hospital he was kept in was overrun by Rebel forces a few days later. Upon returning home from a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp in Richmond, Virginia, his transition to civilian life was plagued by the wound's perpetual pain and numbness. Back home, despite holding a managerial position at a mine, Roy took weeks off from his job because of his health, relying on a disability pension for survival. Before his death in 1914, he lamented, "My lameness grows worse and the pain is more severe each year. ... My [left] foot seems dead." Doctors commented that he was, "wholly unfit to care for himself and demands constant attention."

Drawing on olive-colored paper. Dead and injured horses lay on ground. Some stand. Gun, carriage, a few men visible. White smears may indicate clouds, smoke, explosions.

Andrew Roy was one of over 275,000 northern soldiers wounded in the American Civil War—although he avoided amputation, unlike more than 20,000 fellow comrades who wore the Union blue. Following the death and destruction of the war, survivors faced the difficult task of finding significance in their suffering and sacrifice. Northern civilians and wounded veterans of the Federal Army offered an array of responses to the nation's anguish through ritualized commemorations in the ensuing decades. Two dominant portrayals of disabled veterans emerged: pitiful cripples and a more popular version depicting the wounded as the epitome of masculine patriotism. Scars, limps, and amputations were honorifics that symbolized the Union man's character as an individual who had sacrificed dearly to preserve the Union.

Religion helped to define public perceptions of wounded veterans, suggesting that a soldier's torment was ordained by a higher power for the national good. As Henry Palmer wrote in a handwriting competition for Federal soldiers who had lost a dominant hand:

"My right arm, as if conscious of approaching dissolution, seemingly bequeathed unto the left arm, all the properties of which it died, seized and possessed.  The seal of this Last Will and Testament was the bloodseal of amputation—Patriotism, Love and Country, and Equal Rights were the subscribing witnesses to the instrument—The body from which the arm was severed, was the Executor—In Heaven's Court, the will was proved, allowed and recorded."

Black and white portrait of man in military uniform with two sleeves pinned up.

A carte-de-visite featuring a wounded veteran of the Union army taken some time during the 1860s. Many veterans with a visible, permanent wound would pin their shirt and/or pant sleeves together instead of opting for free artificial limbs that were considered very uncomfortable.

Despite the misery, Union veterans attempted to demonstrate self-reliance. Perhaps the greatest example of independence was Major General Oliver Otis Howard, who rose to become the head of the Freedmen's Bureau after the war. Veterans argued that their injuries encouraged increased social and economic independence, and some used their wounds for political leverage. Lucius Fairchild, who received an amputation after being seriously wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg, won the Wisconsin gubernatorial election of 1866 and became a prominent veteran-affairs spokesperson for former members of the Federal Army. As such, scarred veterans as virtuous harbingers appeared in the popular culture for a public concerned about the profound effects of the war on wounded soldiers. "The Empty Sleeve: A Song with Chorus" by P.A. Hanaford and Reverend J.W. Dadmun of Boston, Massachusetts, was a popular sheet music written in 1866. Its chorus venerated Civil War veterans:

"Three hearty cheers for those who lost

An arm in Freedom's Fray

And bear about an empty sleeve

But a patriot's heart today."

The lyrics correlate physical sacrifice and triumphant patriotism. This righteous empty sleeve iconography was not equally bestowed, however. African American veterans went unacknowledged, and were barred from most veterans' organizations. Veteran Will Thomas, who participated in the same contest as Henry Palmer stated, "I don't expect to win a position as a clerk, that being ascribed on count of my color." Thus, at least within the confines of northern society, the physical changes that black veterans like Thomas suffered were largely ignored by the community. Listen to the song here. This post's headline also comes from the song's lyrics.

Sheet music cover with fancy geometric border and text saying "The Empty Sleeve" in ornate typeface.

While many men spoke of their injuries in a variety of ways, many more remained silent about the nature of their wounds. While some wounded veterans celebrated personal success later in life, others endured a lifetime of hardship. Roy did not say how his wound affected his patriotism despite professing great esteem for the late Abraham Lincoln in a speech given several decades after General Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant in Wilmer McLean's parlor. The stories circulated by thousands of northern veterans and civilians illustrated the complex post-war psyche that attempted to explain the presence of the permanently wounded soldiers who had served in "Mr. Lincoln's army."

Note: The phrase has been borrowed from the first book in Bruce Catton's trilogy chronicling the history of the Army of the Potomac.

Matt Coletti is a graduate student in the Public History Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His academic interests include the public memory and contemporary collective interpretations of the American Civil War, as well as the psychological repercussions of war on individual and community life in a historical context.

Matt Coletti, graduate student in the public history program in the Department of History, University of Massachusetts Amherst.
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