Skip to Content

Found 9,916 Resources

Complex 19 Gemini Launch Pad 13

National Air and Space Museum
Complex 19 Gemini Launch Pad, 13 April 1972. Page from a bound sketchbook. The sketch is a jumble of pipes and hardware that fill the page. Three wheels are identifiable near the top center, and another at the center of the scene. Stencil-like labeling in the center reads "SV 56" and another label lower in the center reads "36 INCH".

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

14 Fun Facts About Marine Bristle Worms

Smithsonian Magazine

Unbeknownst to most landlubbers, polychaetes rule the seas. There are at least 10,000 species of these swimming bristly worms, some of which pop with brilliant colors or light up with a bioluminescent glow. They’ve adapted to every imaginable marine habitat, from deep hydrothermal vents to crowded coral reefs to the open ocean—and many have found ways to survive that are definitely bizarre.

It takes a unique mind to appreciate the diversity and strangeness of polychaete lifestyles, and one of the greatest belonged to Kristian Fauchald. He studied polychaetes at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History from 1979 until he passed away this past April. In his career, Fauchald named three families, 34 genera and nearly 300 species of polychaetes, and he mentored and befriended far more human students and colleagues. He was so esteemed that at least 36 species have been named after him, according to the World Register of Marine Species.

In Fauchald's memory, July 1, which would have been his 80th birthday, has been declared the first International Polychaete Day. Get to know the fascinating world of his beloved organisms with these bristle worm facts:

1. Polychaetes are diversity champions

The known species of polychaetes share only a few characteristics. Each has a head, a tail and a segmented body, and typically each body segment has a pair of leg-like parapodia with spiny bristles sticking out. It's these bristles that give the worms their name: "polychaete" is Greek for "with much hair."

This simple body plan is the basis for tremendous diversity. Parapodia can be paddle-like for swimming, leg-like for walking across the seafloor or scoop-like for burrowing in the mud. The hard bristles make the worms difficult to swallow, and in some species the bristles contain venom. Polychaetes that live in tubes use their parapodia to circulate oxygenated water into tight spaces, and some have feathery external gills. Since there is an exception to every rule, some polychaetes have no parapodia at all.

2. Polychaetes have survived five mass extinctions

Polychaetes and their relatives have been around for a very long time. Paleontologists discovered the fossil species Canadia and Burgessochaeta in the Burgess Shale, a famous fossil formation that preserved many soft-bodied organisms dating back some 505 million years ago, during the Cambrian period. Like today’s polychaetes, both fossil creatures had many parapodia with feather-like bristles and sensory tentacles extending from their heads. These are among the earliest known polychaete ancestors. In the years to come, Earth witnessed five mass extinction events, one of which killed some 96 percent of all marine species. Enough polychaetes made it through all these die-offs to give rise to the abundance of species we see today.

The dazzling diversity on a polychaete family tree. (2011 K.J. Osborn. Compilation of images from Karen Osborn, Greg Rouse, Fredrik Pleijel, MBARI and Michael Aw)

3. The Polychaete family tree is full of mystery

The earliest polychaetes evolved into the 10,000 species we know over 500 million years. That gave them a lot of time to develop differences and quirks that confound scientists’ attempts to neatly organize them and describe how the species are related.

Fauchauld dedicated his life to this problem. In 1974, he published a paper laying out the challenges in organizing polychaetes into a family tree, and he published many more in the following years. He critiqued the standard taxonomy that split the polychaetes into two groups: Errantia polychaetes (those that swim or crawl freely) and Sedentaria polychaetes (those that stay put). Too many free-swimmers evolved from stay-still polychaetes, and vice versa, for those groupings to be useful, he argued. Additionally, he noted that each taxonomist used a different trait to organize the polychaetes—comparing their mouthparts, for example. In doing so, each one created a different family tree and naming system. Collaborating with Greg Rouse, one of his many protégés, Fauchauld completed a new analysis of polychaete relationships in 1997. In the paper, they point out that their grouping is a step forward even if it is still likely incorrect, writing that "the current situation is untenable, so what is presented must be considered an improvement." That’s taxonomic progress.

University of Delaware research helped show that the Pompeii worm can survive at scalding temperatures around hydrothermal vents. (University of Delaware College of Marine Studies)

4. One of the world's most heat-resistant animals is a deep-sea polychaete

Imagine living out your days with half your body in a pot of boiling water. That’s essentially the lifestyle of the Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana). These tubeworms live at hydrothermal vents deep on the ocean floor, where their tails rest in hot water at temperatures of over 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Their heads, where the animals’ gills reside, stick out of their tubes, where the temperature is a much cooler 70 degrees. A 2013 study brought the worms to the surface to find out how much heat they could handle. After a challenging trip to the lab (the worms need to travel under pressure to match their deep-sea environment), researchers found that they can survive at temperatures above 107, but not for long periods of time.

Pompeii worms may have a partner in their heat resistance: Scientists believe that they have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria on their backs, which grow so densely that they form a layer one centimeter thick. The worms produce mucus that feeds the bacteria and, in exchange, the bacteria are believed to insulate the worms from the hot vent water.

5. Some polychaetes have sex lives out of a science fiction movie

Most polychaetes reproduce in a traditional marine fashion, by releasing eggs and sperm into the surrounding water. But then there's Syllis ramosa, a polychaete that lives embedded in a deep-sea sponge. This species is well adapted to a life of leisure, moving little and waiting for food to come nearby. But to mate, it has to get up, put some pants on and mingle with others of its kind at the ocean's surface. That's a long and perilous journey for a creature that doesn't swim much. Lucky for Syllis ramosa (and some other polychaete species), evolution found a way: send sexier versions to the surface to do the dangerous work of mating.

The worm's tail-end, or stolon, develops a head with no mouth and large eyes, its gut deteriorates to make room for eggs or sperm and its muscle system reorganizes to prepare for the long swim. When it's time to mate, the stolon separates from its "parent" and swims to the surface, where it releases its gamete burden before its inevitable death. Meanwhile, its counterpart soldiers on safe on the seafloor, where it can produce more stolons for the next spawning event. Stolonization only happens in a few polychaete groups, including the Syllinae and Autolytinae. In other related groups, the entire individual can transform into a swimming egg or sperm sac, called an epitoke, with its waste system modified to hold and release gametes and its eyes enlarged to sense light at the surface. If an epitoke survives its journey, its body reverts to its original state and resumes its former sedentary life until it mates again.

6. One polychaete species can survive without oxygen for 96 hours

Methane hydrates may be fairly new to our vocabulary, but they have been forming under the seafloor for millions of years. They are crystalline ice-like structures predominantly made of energy-rich methane and ice. These deposits are found around the world, yet no non-microbial life had ever been seen living on them—until the methane ice polychaete was discovered.

In 1997, a research team came across an enormous methane hydrate deposit extruding from the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico. Exposed to the water, the scientists saw that the hydrate was crawling with tiny worms—a new species (Hesiocaeca methanicola) of polychaete. The team transported live worms from the site back to the lab and found that mature worms could survive without oxygen for 96 hours. The researchers suspect that these polychaetes survive by feeding on free-living bacteria on the gas hydrate's surface. They may also encourage the growth of their own bacterial food; their waving parapodia create water currents along the surface of the hydrate, delivering fresh oxygen for themselves and the bacteria. 

Christmas tree worms sprout from coral in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. (G. P. Schmahl, NOAA FGBNMS Manager)

7. Emulating a Christmas tree comes easy to polychaetes

Tiny, colorful and tree-like—Christmas tree worms (Spirobranchus giganteus) dot tropical coral reefs around the world. They can be so abundant that it seems like a small forest has popped up on the stony backs of a coral reef. Most of their bodies are hidden from view, however, as they build tube homes in holes burrowed into live coral. From these tubes, they extend feathery structures called radioles, which they use to both breathe and grab phytoplankton or other small particles for dinner. When in danger, they retract their feathery headgear and hunker down in their tubes until the threat passes.

8. Polychaetes are into zombies, too

The five species of zombie worms (Osedax sp.) are named for their proclivity for eating the bones of decomposing animals on the seafloor. They've mostly been observed eating whale bones, but they don’t discriminate if other remains are available. The skin of zombie worms produces an acid that dissolves bone so that they can reach the fats and protein buried within. With no mouth or stomach, the worms rely on a root system of sorts. They drill their roots into the bone, and symbiotic bacteria living on the roots help them digest their food. Exactly how the nutrients make their way to the zombie worm still isn't clear to scientists.

Female zombie worms are the only ones that we see decorating the surface of the bone; male zombie worms are microscopic and live inside the female. Hundreds of tiny male specimens have been found in one female worm, which removes the stress of attempting to find a mate on scattered bones in the deep ocean.

9. The biggest polychaete is ten feet long  

Most polychaetes are small animals, but not the bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois). Reaching lengths of ten feet, this polychaete worm is taller than your average human by a long shot. If that isn’t terrifying enough, the bobbit worm is a stealth predator. Almost all of its lengthy body lies hidden beneath the seafloor. Five antennae on its head sense fish or other worms swimming by—and when they do, the bobbit worm bursts from its burrow with great speed to grab the prey and slice it in half with its spring-loaded jaw. It also doesn’t look down on scavenging for plants or other detritus if live prey is hard to come by. In case you're wondering, Terry Gosliner, a curator at the California Academy of Sciences, named this worm after the actions of the infamous Lorena Bobbit, but while Fauchald helped out by placing it in the Eunice genus, its species name remains a bit of a mystery.  

10. There is an exception to the “many bristles” rule

Most polychaetes are well described by their Latin name, bearing many (poly) bristles (chaetae). But Tomopterid polychaetes have only two bristles, which are nearly as long as the worm's body and covered by a thin gelatinous tissue. The bristles look like horns projecting from either side of the head and are likely used to sense the worm's surroundings as it moves through the water column.

Tomopterids are agile swimmers, with sides lined with muscular parapodia. Likely this speed and agility is used to avoid their predators, but they have another defense when needed: These worms are among the few species on the planet known to produce yellow bioluminescent light. When threatened, they shoot glowing sparks from their parapodia to distract predators as they make a getaway. 

An Alciopid bristle worm. (2012 K.J. Osborn/ Smithsonian)

11. Some polychaete species have complex wide eyes

Alciopid polychaetes have large complex eyes that rival the camera-like eyes of cephalopods and vertebrates. They have corneas, irises, lenses and other structures necessary for high-resolution vision like ours. Furthermore, their retinas are directed toward the light, like those of cephalopods, instead of away, like ours, which means the worms lack the blind spot typical of vertebrates.

Most Alciopid species live in the top 650 feet of the ocean, where they can see by the light of the sun. They are relatively long worms with thin bodies—so thin that their eyes can be twice the width of their body. Their length makes it difficult to move swiftly or gracefully, but their keen vision stops them from becoming easy prey, because they can see a predator coming with enough time to get away.

12. Polychaetes often get up-close and personal with other invertebrates

Polychaetes aren’t always found in tubes or on the seafloor. Nearly 400 bristle worm species have been documented in relationships with other invertebrates. Some practice commensalism, where the bristle worms benefit from a relationship but don’t harm their host. Others practice parasitism, where the polychaete gains something at the expense of their host. One species—Arctonoe vittata—has been found living with more than 30 different invertebrate species, including alongside sea stars, crawling among the many moving tube feet. The tiny polychaete has a safe home, and the sea star can happily do its sea star thing. Finding a host is likely a challenge, but studies show that this bristle worm follows chemical signals from the host. 

The Lepidonotus squamatus bristle worm emits a soft bioluminescent glow. (Alexander Semenov)

13. Scale worms are the pill bugs of the sea

Flat and covered with scales called elytra, scale worms look something like ocean-dwelling roly-polys. Their scales slough off and regenerate as a defensive mechanism. In some species, the scales produce bioluminescent light, which can leave a predator with a mouthful of glowing parts. That in turn advertises the unwitting animal's whereabouts to its own predators. Scale worms are carnivorous, feeding on other small invertebrates like crabs, sea stars, snails and even other polychaetes. Once you see their jaws, you can understand how these tiny worms can have their pick of the invertebrate buffet. Many are small, but there are some deep sea polynoids that can reach nearly a foot long, like the Eulagisca gigantea species found in Antarctica.

14. The "Squidworm" is really all worm

While exploring the deep water of the Celebes Sea in 2007, scientists working on the Census of Marine Life vacuumed up a strange chimeric animal. With the body of a polychaete and many long appendages on its head, they dubbed it "Squidworm," although in truth it is entirely worm. The squidworm (Teuthidodrilus samae) has ten tentacles on its head that are quite thick and nearly as long as its body. Eight are used for breathing and feeling, and the other two are for grabbing particulate food from the water. The worms also have six pairs of feathery sensory organs called nuchal organs that are essentially their version of a nose. The worms propel themselves with paddle-like parapodia and fans of golden bristles.

Its strange looks are compelling,but scientists find the squidworm fascinating because it seems to be a transitional species. It has features of both free-swimming and bottom-dwelling polychaetes, giving insight into bristle worm evolution. "It has done all sorts of peculiar things to its body," Fauchald told National Geographic after its discovery. "I'm delighted by it."

Elephants Have Male Bonding Rituals, Too

Smithsonian Magazine

Ecologist Caitlin O’Connell has spent more than two decades observing elephants on the sandy plains of Etosha National Park, in northern Namibia. She arrives sometime in June each season, sets up camp and settles into her data collection, recording the elephants’ comings and goings, as well as their interactions, from a tower north of Mushara water hole. “The pattern of animal movements demarks the passage of time almost as reliably as the cycles of the sun and moon,” she writes in her new book, Elephant Don: The Politics of a Pachyderm Posse, out in April from University of Chicago Press.

African elephants are known for their matriarchal societies, with a dominant female leading a clan that includes her young and their offspring. Males are born into these families, and sisters, mothers and aunts care for the young elephants. As they mature into bulls, the males are kicked out of the group and sent off to fend for themselves. But they don’t become lone wanderers detached from any community, as O’Connell’s recent research at Mushara highlights. They travel together, drink together, urge one another into action and form friendships that, like human relationships, might change with the seasons or last a lifetime.

I spoke with O'Connell about elephant bonding and getting to know the Mushara posse. (The following has been edited for length.)

Why did you choose to focus your new book on male elephants?

Most people don’t realize that male elephants are very social animals. Having company is important to them. They form close bonds and have overtly ritual relationships. When a dominant male arrives on the scene, for example, you have the second-, third-, fourth-ranking bulls back up and let him into the best position at the water hole. The younger bulls will stand in line and wait to be able to place their trunks in his mouth. They are waiting with anticipation to be able to do this. In time, all of the bulls will come and greet the dominant male in the same way. It is extremely organized, like lining up to kiss the ring of a pope or a Mafioso don.

The big, older bulls are targets of poaching. People think of lone bulls out there, and they might think, “What is it going to hurt a population if you cull a few of those elephants?” But these old males are similar to matriarchs. They are repositories of knowledge, and they teach the next generation.

Are there other rituals the males follow?

You’d think that a male might show up at a water hole, and he might interact with the others and then leave. Why would he want those younger bulls to follow him to another water hole? But the dominant male will actually corral up his constituents. Even if they aren’t ready to leave, he will force the younger ones by pushing on their behinds.

And there’s a second ritual, a vocal ritual between bonded individuals. The dominant male will make the call to leave, what we call a “Let’s go” rumble, similar to what a matriarch would emit. Another male elephant, right as the first finishes, will also rumble, and then a third might rumble. And all the elephants will follow the dominant male out.

618gNQX2TdL._SL160_.jpg

Elephant Don: The Politics of a Pachyderm Posse

~ Caitlin O'Connell (author) More about this product
List Price: $26.00
Price: $19.26
You Save: $6.74 (26%)

Introduce us to Greg, the dominant male at the center of your story. Why is he the one in charge?

Greg is not the biggest bull, not the oldest, and he doesn’t have the biggest tusks. He is very strong-willed and he is a great politician. He is the most felicitous and gentle dominant bull that I’ve witnessed. He actively solicits the young bulls and gets them into the fold and welcomes them. He’s also very quick to discipline someone who gets out of line in the higher ranks. It’s like he knows how to manage the carrot and the stick.

I’ve seen other bulls try to become more dominant and raise their rank, but they are so overly aggressive that other bulls don’t want them around. There’s an elephant Beckham, and he is clearly trying to become friends with a bonded pair, Keith and Willie, but he becomes so aggressive that they don’t want him to follow them.

You’ve mentioned a few other elephants now. Willie, which is short for Willie Nelson, right? And there’s a Prince Charles, a Luke Skywalker. How do you decide on the names?

We try to match the name to at least one physical feature. Willie Nelson is very raggedy. Every elephant has a catalog number, but these names help us in our practical dealings with everyday identification. There are several rock stars in the mix, because of these really long, black, scraggly tails that the elephants have. Ozzy Osbourne is another one.

And do these elephants also have different personalities?

As it turns out, Willie Nelson is a very mild, gentle fellow. All the females seem attracted to him. Another interesting character is Prince Charles, who was a very aggressive, lower-ranking bull until, at one point, Greg went missing. Before Greg went missing, younger bulls would admire Prince Charles and want to follow him and he would never let them. He would look over his shoulder, stop, turn around and give them a big head shake, like “You are not following me.” After Greg went missing, though, Prince Charles completely changed his behavior. He became much more diplomatic and much more interested in trying to get a posse of his own.

What other kinds of circumstances might shake up the hierarchy?

Social animals are thought to form dominance hierarchies to minimize conflict over access to resources, in this case, especially, water. If you don’t have limited resources, you don’t need to have such a strict linear hierarchy. In the drier years, the elephants form these big, tight-knit groups. But in the wetter years, when there are more resources, more places to drink, that hierarchy breaks down. In the wetter years, the youngsters will get a little more aggressive. They aren’t as reverent.

During these wet years, you could see times when Greg was struggling to hold his power. He would initiative a “Let’s go” rumble, and then look back and nobody has moved. This is really embarrassing. They are ignoring him. When he comes back, he has to physically coerce by shoving, by rubbing up against close associates that are lower in rank.

Do we know how long Greg’s dominance will last?

When I first started keeping track of dominance between males, Greg was clearly the dominant bull. I started asking colleagues who study other long-lived social animals, “What’s the life expectancy of the dominant individual?” It is very stressful to be up there, fighting off the others constantly and having to keep your rank. I was surprised how little information there was out there.

There is a window in which Greg is wounded, and we have never learned for sure exactly what happened. There was a slice off the side of his trunk. It was very raw. He’d have to spend double the time drinking because half of the water would fall out; there’d be this spilling noise. And, after drinking, he would soak it in the water for an hour. Nobody wanted to wait around with him. And he did not want to be with associates his age or older. If anyone approached, he would be aggressive.  

But then the following year, he came back fully fit again. He wasn’t skinny. His ribs weren’t showing. He looked healthy again, and his trunk wound was not as raw. He didn’t have to soak it. He was back at the height; it was the most amazing thing. He had his posse, and all of those just underneath him in rank fell back in line. The durability of his position at the top, even with fluctuations in wet years, made me think, well, as long as he is fit, he is going to stay on top.

You have another book coming out, a novel about illegal ivory poaching. Why write fiction?

The novel [Ivory Ghosts] has been a 20-year labor of love, but it’s for a different purpose—to get people to understand what it is like for people to live with elephants on the ground, the very subtle politics of how to conserve elephants, and what’s the right way, and how do deal with the craziness of Africa. It’s about corruption and trust and how to build solidarity for the elephant.

What inspired the story was working for the Namibian government in the Caprivi region. My husband and I were scientists contracted to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. I was so inspired by our boss and the rangers that he managed, their dedication to elephants and protecting them against poachers and putting their lives on the line at every moment that they were out on patrol. They were such colorful, dedicated characters. The book is based on a lot of experiences we had. I specifically wanted to write it as fiction to get past the idea of preaching to the choir. I wanted to be able to spread the word.

These Letters Written by Famous Artists Reveal the Lost Intimacy of Putting Pen to Paper

Smithsonian Magazine

From time immemorial, handwritten correspondence has ranked among the most intimate and vibrant modes of human communication. To the letter writer, an unfilled folio is an empty receptacle, a vessel waiting to be infused with idle observations, snarky gossip, confessions of love, political speculations, soul-searching reflections, warm thanks, or whatever else might spring to mind.

Through the simple act of populating a page with words, punctuation, and images, the author of a letter, whether aware of it or not, manifests in the world a truly original, idiosyncratic expression of the self—a work of art. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art, whose inventory is composed largely of artists’ handwritten messages and other ephemera of their lives.

These missives, which touch on topics as variegated as the personalities of their authors, served as the inspiration for the recently released book, Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters edited by curator of manuscripts Mary Savig.

Aiming to link word-strewn pages with paint-flecked canvas, and sculpted majuscule characters with sculpted metal statuary, Savig also reveals a distinctly human side to the giants of the American art world. One sees how the artistry latent within them permeated even the most seemingly banal facets of their lives.

The book owes its existence to the unmistakable handwriting of minimalist painter Ad Reinhardt, whose flowing, calligraphic phrases seamlessly blend emphatic lines and breezy arcs.

Savig recalls the moment when she and her colleagues, assembled for a staff meeting, realized that “almost everybody could identify Reinhardt’s handwritten words from across the room.” A lightbulb went off, one which would burn for the many months of deep exploration and engagement.

Karen Weiss, the Archives’ head of digital operations, was the first to suggest that adequately exploring the significance of artists’ individuated handwriting would require a concerted research effort. Savig began plumbing the depths of this country’s art community, seeking out students and scholars, curators and historians, professors and practitioners, up-and-comers and old hands alike, to weigh in on the writings of artists in whom they had personal interest.

Image by Archives of American Art. Llyn Foulkes letter to Darthea Speyer, ca. 1975 (original image)

Image by Archives of American Art. Llyn Foulkes wrote to Darthea Speyer, who organized two of the artist's exhibitions, c. 1975. (original image)

One of Savig’s goals in crafting Pen to Paper was to remind readers that “art history is an active field, an interdisciplinary field, and there are many different ways of approaching American art.”

Allowing the book’s myriad of contributors leeway in their commentaries on the assembled letters was, from Savig’s perspective, essential: “I wanted to leave it up to them,” she recalls, “so they could show what they know about the subject, rather than trying to ask them to write specifically about something they might not feel as interested in speaking on.”

The results of this endeavor are striking. Every few pages of Pen to Paper, readers are presented with high-quality images of a new artist’s handwritten letters, and are treated to a fresh commenter’s pithy analysis, printed alongside.

These deconstructions range from the technically fastidious to the holistically biographical. 

Draft of condolence letter Joseph Cornell sent to Marcel Duchamp's widow, Teeny, October 8 and 9, 1968 (Archives of American Art)

“The big curvaceous signature ‘Eero’ [Saarinen] resembles the boldly curved shapes in his Ingalls Rink at Yale, TWA terminal at JFK Airport, and Dulles Airport,” wrote architectural historian Jayne Merkel.

And for Leslie Umberger, the Smithsonian's curator of folk and self-taught art, legibility “falls increasingly by the wayside as [Grandma] Moses attempts to negotiate a demanding schedule, a high volume of family news, and a limited amount of space in which to write.”

Many of the letters included in the compendium provide snapshots of especially poignant moments in their writers’ lives, highlighting for readers how a simple handwritten message can, in the words of Savig, “become this vestige of a person and a place.”

Claes Oldenburg's postcard to art historian Ellen H. Johnson, August 17, 1974 (Archives of American Art)

Take, for instance, Lee Krasner’s transatlantic Aerogram to longtime friend and lover Jackson Pollock, whose life would be lost in an auto accident shortly after he received her message. Knowing Pollock was struggling with emotional issues and alcohol, Krasner suffused her tidy letter with humor and cheer, at one point confiding in him that the painting in Paris “is unbelievably bad.” Confined by her medium, Krasner felt moved to end her note with a simple, heartfelt query, wedged in the lower right-hand corner and framed by a pair of outsized parentheses: “How are you Jackson?”

She would never receive a reply.

Visionary artist Howard Finster wrote to a curator about his upcoming exhibition in Washington, D.C. (Archives of American Art)

Similarly moving are the drafts of multimedia artist Joseph Cornell’s 1968 letter of condolence to the widow of his mentor and hero, Marcel Duchamp. Rife with ugly cross-outs and repeated attempts at rewording, the text on the page bespeaks the gravity of Cornell’s loss, the final and perhaps most damaging in a string of devastating deaths. “Receiving the news on Thursday, October 3,” curator Lynda Roscoe Hartigan says, “created a ‘turbulence’ that prevented [Cornell] from leaving his house until the following Wednesday, when he posted the condolence letter.”

Whereas some texts shed light on the tribulations of individual artists navigating their lives, other missives draw the reader’s attention to more wide-ranging, global struggles. For instance, in a 1922 note to an acquaintance at the Carnegie Institute, superstar impressionist Mary Cassatt attempts to come to terms with Edgar Degas’s assertion that “No woman has a right to draw like that,” a gibe elicited by Cassatt’s now instantly recognizable oil, Young Women Picking Fruit.

Unbowed, Cassatt succinctly rebuffed the Frenchman, employing a cursive script described by Williams College curator Nancy Mowll Mathews as “forceful”—the artist’s flagging vision notwithstanding.

Lenore Tawney, a groundbreaking fiber and collage artist, handcrafted a postcard in 1970. (Archives of American Art)

“If [Young Women Picking Fruit] has stood the test of time & is well drawn,” Cassatt wrote, “its place in a Museum might show the present generation that we worked and learnt our profession, which isn’t a bad thing.” To this day, the pioneering American painter remains a role model for aspirant artists all across the globe—female and male alike.

In terms just as personal, African-American artist Jacob Lawrence used the epistolary medium to grapple with the specter of racist hatred in his homeland. Serving in the United States Coast Guard and stationed in St. Augustine, Florida, Lawrence was acutely attuned to the animus of those around him. “In the North,” he wrote in 1944, “one hears much of Democracy and the Four Freedoms, [but] down here you realize that there are a very small percentage of people who try to practice democracy.”

In an incisive interrogation of Lawrence’s handwriting, Boston University art history professor Patricia Hills calls attention to his blossoming capital I’s, which “appear to morph into his initials, JL.” Carving out a personal identity amidst the soul-effacing atmosphere of the Jim Crow era was a mighty challenge for Lawrence and his African-American contemporaries; their resoluteness in the face of incredible adversity is reflected in Lawrence’s confident yet occasionally faltering pen strokes, as well as in his eloquent words.

An exuberant Grant Wood writes in 1930 about how a jury has accepted not one, but two, of his paintings including American Gothic. (Archives of American Art)

Including diverse perspectives such as those of Cassatt and Lawrence was, in the eyes of Savig, vital to the integrity of the Pen to Paper project. If issues of race, gender and sexuality were consequential enough for the profiled artists to wrestle with in their private correspondence, then, according to Savig, it was “important for a lot of the authors to touch on [them] too.”

In many respects, then, Pen to Paper stands as a testimony to the resilience of the artist’s creative spirit in a harsh and stifling world. In places, though, the reader is treated to expressions of unbridled elation—suggestions of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Take the very last letter in the collection, joyously scribbled by American Gothic creator Grant Wood, an unassuming Iowan who in 1930 found himself suddenly and irrevocably thrust into the national spotlight. Upon learning that two of his canvases, theretofore seen by no one outside his home state, would be given wall space at a prestigious Chicago Art Institute exhibition, Wood could scarcely contain his enthusiasm. As Stanford art expert Wanda M. Corn puts it, “Wood is so exuberant he forgoes a salutation. ‘Hurray!’ he exclaims in large red-pencil letters, surrounded by a hand-drawn frame.” Wood’s infectious glee complements perfectly the more somber tone of some of his coevals’ writings, providing a yin to their yang.

In sum, Pen to Paper, presented alphabetically, is an A-Z volume in every sense of the phrase. The book is a vibrant pastiche, an all-inclusive grab bag which reminds us that the artists under discussion are human beings too—“like People magazine!,” Savig gushes. At the end of the day, these great innovators are fundamentally just like us, and we, as equals, may feel free to draw on their examples in our own moments of need.

Teaching Resources From the Smithsonian

Smithsonian Magazine

These resources, compiled by the education teams across the Smithsonian Institution feature lessons, activities, exhibitions, videos and tools that can be used to teach students about the broad climatic, biodiversity, and other forces underway that will shape Earth’s future.

Climate Change

Second Opinion: Forging the Future – Smithsonian Resources
This is a Smithsonian Learning Lab topical collection, which contains interdisciplinary education resources, including student interactives, videos, images and blogs to complement the Smithsonian's national conversation on "Forging the Future" and our ever-changing planet, highlighted on Second Opinion. Use this sample of the Smithsonian's many resources to introduce or augment your study of this topic and spark a conversation.
Provider: Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access
Grade(s): K-12

High Tide Case Study
Why would the Guna people of Panama leave the place where they've lived for over 150 years? Use these sources to determine if the environment and our relationships with it can be factors that force people from their homes.
Provider: National Museum of the American Indian
Grade(s): 7-8, 9-12

Idealabs: Prehistoric Climate Change (and Why It Matters Today)
Online interactive in which students compare leaf fossils to learn about the climate millions of years ago. They also meet a Smithsonian paleontologist in a video.
Provider: Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access
Grade(s): 4-8, 9-12

Traveling Lightly: What's My Footprint?
Teacher-created lesson in which students use measurement and basic math as they learn about the role of transportation in climate change. They consider ways of minimizing their impact on the environment.
Provider: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 4-8, 9-12

Environmental Dilemma Part I
Teacher-created lesson in which students devise a plan or create an invention to combat global warming.
Provider: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 4-8

Arctic: A Friend Acting Strangely Classroom Activities
This companion to the exhibition Arctic: A Friend Acting Strangely includes seven activities for classroom use. Students look at changes in the Arctic’s climate, which have been observed by both polar scientists and polar residents – changes that impact the Arctic’s wildlife and its peoples.
Provider: National Museum of Natural History
Grade(s): 4-8

Weather Lab
Weather Lab is a tool to help visualize how North America’s weather is formed. This lab is designed to model the complex interactions between air masses and ocean currents, but like all models it represents probable outcomes. Each prediction you make is for possible outcomes during Spring.
Provider: Smithsonian Science Education Center
Grades: 5-8

Disaster Detector
Disaster Detector teaches players how to analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and how to implement tools to mitigate the effects of those disasters.
Provider: Smithsonian Science Education Center
Grade(s): 6-8

Create an Ecotourism Plan
Students will identify a threatened area and conduct research to learn what it used to be like, what it's like now and why it changed. They will come up with an ecotourism plan that will encourage people to visit the area and show respect for the land.
Provider: Smithsonian TweenTribune.com
Grade(s): 3-10

Hold a Class Debate
Students will share what they know about Dubai and discuss reasons why that city wants to use flying taxis. They they will consider the merits of flying taxis and debate to decide whether or not flying taxis should be allowed in their own community.
Provider: Smithsonian TweenTribune.com
Grade(s): 3-10

Life on Earth

Showbiz Safari
Showbiz Safari is an educational life science game that will help teach your student about the diversity of plants and animals in different habitats.
Provider: Smithsonian Science Education Center
Grade(s): 1-3

Morphy
Morphy is a life science game that teaches students that animals have external structures that function to support survival and behavior.
Provider: Smithsonian Science Education Center
Grade(s): 1-3

Expedition: Insects
Expedition: Insects is an eBook designed and written by the Smithsonian Science Education Center and aligned with national science standards for grades 3-5. In the eBook, readers travel around the world to visit six different types of insects in their natural habitats. The young explorers learn about how evolution is responsible for all the beauty, fearsomeness and awe found in nature’s insects.
Provider: Smithsonian Science Education Center
Grade(s): 3-5

Energy

Good Thinking! and Fired Up About Energy
“Good Thinking! The Science of Teaching Science” is an original animated series by the Smithsonian Science Education Center and FableVision Studios that brings viewers into the classroom of science educator Isabella Reyes as she explores “the science of teaching science”. Drawing from peer-reviewed research in science, cognition, and pedagogy, “Good Thinking! Fired Up About Energy” explores common student misconceptions from research related to the study of energy and suggests methods for effectively representing and discussing the topic in the classroom.
Provider: Smithsonian Science Education Center
Grade(s): 5-8

Exploring Solar Energy: The Science Behind Design
Lesson about energy-related problems and design solutions in which students investigate the sources and properties of energy, conduct Internet research and create a workshop for their classmates.
Provider: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 9-12

A Tall Ship and a Star to Steer Her By
This lesson explores transportation past and present, and addresses the use of inexhaustible power sources. Students design their own water transportation using inexhaustible power sources such as solar or wind power.
Provider: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 9-12

Design Competition: Energy Systems of the Future!
Teacher-created lesson in which students develop concepts for using renewable resources.
Provider: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 4-8, 9-12

Designing "Green" to Save Our Green Planet
Teacher-created lesson in which students design environment-friendly homes. Their client: the planet Earth.
Provider: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 4-8, 9-12

Energy, Power to the People
Teacher-created lesson in which students research local energy issues and design a policy to address them.
Provider: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 4-8, 9-12

Energy, Sun Today, Sun Tomorrow; Sun Yesterday?
Teacher-created design lesson in which students consider the uses of solar energy. They learn how to track and measure the sun's radiance and study ways that past civilizations have harnessed the sun's energy.
Provider: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 4-8, 9-12

The Energy-Efficient Chemical House
Teacher-created lesson in which students design a house with efficient heating and cooling. They use their knowledge of conduction, convection and radiation in the design. 
Provider: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 4-8

Migration

Smithsonian in Your Classroom: Tale of a Whale (and Why It Can Be Told)
Multistep lesson in which students do the work of scientists who study the endangered North Atlantic right whale. They compare photos to identify an individual whale and use a record of sighting to track this whale’s movements along the eastern seaboard.
Provider: Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access
Grade(s):4-8, 9-12

Preservation

American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges
Multimedia website and lessons on the cultural, economic and scientific motivations behind environmental preservation in four American Indian communities.
Provider: National Museum of the American Indian
Grade(s): 4-8, 9-12

Explore Smithsonian Video Series
This video series takes an exclusive look at the science and research of the Smithsonian Institution. Each video in this series is designed for use in the classroom by highlighting a driving question and following Smithsonian scientists as they go about the process of science. Viewers are taken from the waters of the Chesapeake Bay at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, to the Chandra Telescope Mission Control Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Viewers even get to visit the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park to learn about the types of adaptations pandas, like Bao Bao, have for their distinctive bamboo diet. Each video is an adventure of science and learning, and we use the world’s largest museum and research complex as our own personal classroom.
Provider: Smithsonian Science Education Center
Grade(s): 3 - 8

Food and Habitats

Habitats
Do you know where the red-eyed tree frog calls home? Play this game based on animal habitats to learn! Explore the desert, coral reef, jungle, and marsh to discover where many animals live by matching each animal to their correct habitat!
Provider: Smithsonian Science Education Center
Grade(s): 3 - 5

Composting Conundrum
In this lesson plan, students use a graphic organizer to determine what might be involved in composting food scraps from the cafeteria. They learn new vocabulary, work in groups on a design solution and build a prototype of a food collector. 
Provider: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 4-8

Soil, Design a CSA/Food Market
Teacher-created lesson in which students design a system of community-supported agriculture (CSA). Includes such math applications as measurement and geometry. 
Provider: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 4-8, 9-12

Soil, Food Mapping
Teacher-created lesson in which students analyze the "food system" in their community. They look for solutions to any ecological or social problems inherent in the system.
Provider: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Grade(s): 4-8

Shorelines: Life and Science at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Blog follows the ongoing work of the Smithsonian's Environmental Research Center as they investigate climate change, invasive species, food webs, and other environmental issues around the world.
Provider: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Grade(s): General Audience

STEMVisions Blog: Chronicling Climate Change
This blog shares science stories focused on climate change, invasive species, food webs, and other environmental issues around the world. For example, read about the bristlecone trees, which act as chroniclers of climate history.
Provider: Smithsonian Science Education Center
Grade(s): General Audience

Design a Food Forest
Students design a plan for a food forest in their community. The plan includes details about location, content, maintenance, customer base and funding. 
Provider: Smithsonian TweenTribune.com
Grade(s): 3-10

Spanish Resources

Nuestra casa en el universe
Spanish-language introduction to environmentalism and “our home in the universe” in comic-book form.
Provider: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Grade(s): PreK-3, 4-8

Why the World Needs Bloodsucking Creatures

Smithsonian Magazine

In a sprawling gallery of the Royal Ontario Museum, curators and technicians crowded around two large coolers that had recently arrived at the Toronto institution. Wriggling inside the containers were live sea lampreys, eel-like creatures that feed by clamping onto the bodies of other fish, puncturing through their skin with tooth-lined tongues, and sucking out their victims’ blood and bodily fluids. Staff members, their hands protected with gloves, carefully lifted one of the lampreys and plopped it into a tall tank. It slithered through the water, tapping on the glass walls with its gaping mouth, rings of fearsome teeth on full view.

Having explored its new environment, the lamprey settled onto the pebbles at the bottom of the tank. It will remain on display until March as part of a new exhibition exploring the oft-reviled critters that bite, pierce, scrape and saw their way through flesh to access their favorite food source: blood.

The exhibition, called “Bloodsuckers,” includes displays of other live animals—mosquitoes, ticks and leeches—interspersed throughout the gallery. And dozens of preserved specimens, arrayed down a long, curving wall, offer a glimpse into the diverse world of the roughly 30,000 species of bloodthirsty organisms across the globe. Among these critters are vampire moths, which can pierce the thick skins of buffalo and elephants. Vampire snails target sick and dying fish, making for easier prey. The oxpecker birds of Africa pluck ticks and other insects off large mammals—and then slurp blood from their hosts’ sores.

Sebastian Kvist, curator of invertebrates at the Royal Ontario Museum and co-curator of the exhibition, knows that these animals are likely to make some visitors shudder. But to him, blood-feeders are the loveliest of organisms, the result of a refined evolutionary process. Leeches are a particular favorite of Kvist’s, and his research focuses on the evolution of blood-feeding behavior, or hematophagy, in these predatory worms. Sometimes he even affectionately lets the leeches in his lab gorge themselves on his blood.

“When you have live animals in your care, they demand some respect,” he says. “I think that it is giving back to the leech what we're getting from them to donate our warm blood.”

Leeches are still used today in a wide variety of medical procedures, from alternative therapies to FDA-sanctioned surgical uses. (Robertus Pudyanto vi Getty Images)

“Bloodsuckers” opens in a corridor bathed in red light, where an installation featuring three strands of red blood cells dangles from the ceiling. Blood is a hugely abundant food source, so it makes sense that wherever vertebrates exist, animals would arise to steal their life-sustaining fluids. Blood-feeding likely evolved repeatedly over the course of our planet’s history—“perhaps as many as 100 times,” according to Kvist. Bloodsucking creatures have no common ancestor, as the behavior has cropped up independently in birds, bats, insects, fish and other animal groups—a testament to its evolutionary value.

“I can think of no other system that’s [so] intricate that has evolved separately,” Kvist says. “And it makes blood-feeding as a behavior even more beautiful.”

Subsisting on a blood-heavy diet is tricky, however, and relatively few creatures have managed to retain this ability over time. “Thirty thousand [bloodsuckers] out of the roughly 1.5 or 1.6 million species [of animals] that have been described is a very, very small number,” Kvist says. “But it turns out that being able to feed on blood puts tremendous strain on your physiology, on your morphology, and on your behavior.”

For one, blood lacks B vitamins, which all animals require to convert food into energy. Many bloodsuckers thus host microscopic bacteria inside their bodies to provide these essential nutrients. Because blood is so iron-rich, it’s toxic to most animals in large amounts, but habitual blood-feeders have evolved to break it down.

Display of an oxpecker, a bird that feeds on the blood of large mammals. (Jesse Milns, Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum)

Getting to the blood of a living creature is no mean feat either. Blood-feeding organisms have different ways of accessing their preferred snack. Mosquitoes, for instance, pierce the skin with their long, thin mouthparts, while certain biting flies boast serrated jaws that slash through flesh. But all of these methods risk being met with a deft swat from the host. To counteract this problem, some blood-feeders, like leeches, have mild anesthetics in their saliva, which help them go unnoticed as they feed. Certain creatures like vampire bats, lampreys and leeches also produce anticoagulants to keep their victims’ blood flowing, sometimes even after they’re done eating.

“A leech feeds five times its body weight in blood, up to ten times sometimes,” Kvist says. “If that blood congealed or clotted inside its body, then the leech would fall to the bottom [of the water] like a brick.”

Kvist and Doug Currie, the Royal Ontario Museum’s senior curator of entomology and co-curator of the exhibition, hope museum visitors gain a newfound appreciation for the elegance of bloodsucking organisms. Humans share a long and complicated relationship with blood-feeders. Leeches, for instance, were once seen as a life-saving force, and are in fact still used by medical experts today after certain types of surgery that overfull parts of the body with blood. But at the same time, we are unnerved by creatures that steal blood—a wariness that has persisted for centuries, as suggested by the fearsome bloodsuckers that populate folklore traditions around the world.

A natural history and culture institution, the Royal Ontario Museum also explores how blood-feeding, a trait that exists in nature, has crept into the human imagination and morphed into something fantastical. Monsters abound within the gallery. There are models of the chupacabra, a beast rumored to drain livestock of their blood, and the yara-ma-yha-who, which originated in the oral traditions of Australia and boasts blood suckers on its fingers and toes.

These creatures do not directly resemble any real blood-feeding animal. Instead, they speak to our “innate fear of something taking our life force,” says Courtney Murfin, the interpretive planner who worked with curators to craft the exhibition’s narrative.

Dracula, arguably the most famous of all the fictional bloodsuckers, may have a more tangible connection to the natural world. Legends of vampires predate Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel—visitors can see a first edition copy of the book at the exhibition—but the notion that these undead beings could transform into bats originated with Dracula. Vampire bats, which live in Mexico and Central and South America, feed on the blood of mammals and birds. They were first described in 1810 and documented by Charles Darwin in 1839. The animals may have influenced Stoker’s supernatural count.

Depictions of vampires in today’s popular culture run the gamut from cool to sexy to goofy. We can have fun with them now, Murfin says, because we know they aren’t real. But when vampire lore arose in eastern Europe in the early 1700s, the beasts were a source of true terror. Confusion about normal traits observed in decomposing bodies, like swollen stomachs and blood in the mouth, led to the belief that corpses could rise from their graves to feast on the blood of the living.

“They started digging up graves and staking the people to the ground … so they couldn't stand up at night,” Kvist says.

Fears about losing their blood to vampires did not, however, dampen Europeans’ enthusiasm for bloodletting, an age-old medical practice that sometimes involved applying leeches to the skin. The treatment can be traced back to the ancient world, where it arose from the belief that draining blood helped rebalance the body’s humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Bloodletting reached its peak in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when a “leech mania” swept across Europe and America. Pharmacies stored the critters in ornate jars—one is on display at the museum—and Hirudo medicinalis, or the European medicinal leech, was harvested to the brink of extinction.

A 19th century “leech jar,” used to hold and display leeches in pharmacy windows. (Jesse Milns, Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum)

Bloodletters also had other ways of getting the job done. One corner of the exhibition is packed with a grisly assortment of artificial bloodletting tools: scarificators, which, with the push of a lever, released multiple blades for opening up the skin; glass cups that were heated and suctioned onto the skin, drawing blood to the surface; smelling salts, in case the procedure proved a bit too overwhelming for the patient.

While medical professionals no longer believe that leeching can cure everything from skin diseases to dental woes, leeches are still valued in medicine today. Hirudin, the anticoagulant in leech saliva, is unrivalled in its strength, according to Kvist. It’s synthesized in labs and given to patients in pills and topological creams to treat deep vein thrombosis and prevent strokes. Leeches themselves make appearances in hospitals. They’re helpful to doctors who perform skin grafts or reattachments of fingers, toes and other extremities. Newly stitched arteries heal more quickly than veins, so blood that is being pumped into the reattached area doesn’t flow back into the body, which can in turn prevent healing.

“Stick a leech on, and it will relieve that congestion of the veins,” says Kvist, who also studies the evolution of anticoagulants in leeches.

Earlier this year, Kvist received a call from Parks Canada asking for help with an unusual conundrum. A man had been apprehended at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport with nearly 4,800 live leeches packed into his carry-on luggage, and officials needed help identifying the critters. Kvist took a look at some of the leeches, which appeared to have been smuggled from Russia, and pinpointed them as Hirudo verbana. Because they are threatened by over-harvesting, this species is listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, meaning it cannot be transported without a permit. Just what the man was doing with the bloodsuckers is unclear, but Kvist says he claimed to sell them for “New Age medicinal purposes.”

“There is a larger-than-we-think underground network of people that use leeches to treat a variety of ailments,” Kvist says. The Royal Ontario Museum took in around 300 of the contraband critters, and a few dozen are presently lounging in a display tank at “Bloodsuckers.”

While leeches have long been valued for their healing properties—scientifically valid or otherwise—some bloodsuckers are better known for their ability to transmit serious illnesses. Certain species of mosquito, for instance, spread West Nile, Zika and malaria. Ticks transmit Lyme disease. The exhibition does not shy away from exploring the dangers associated with blood-feeders, and it offers advice on how to protect yourself from infection.

A visitor views a display of preserved blood-sucking specimens. (Jesse Milns, Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum)

“Some fears are real,” Kvist says. “Disease, unfortunately, is a necessary consequence of blood-feeding.”

Most blood-feeding animals, though, do not pose a serious threat to humans. In fact, bloodsuckers are vital to the health of our planet. Mosquitoes are an important food source for birds. Fish eat leeches. Even sea lampreys, which are invasive to the Great Lakes, can bring essential nutrients to the aquatic habitats where they spawn. And like all species, blood-feeders contribute to the Earth’s biodiversity—a richness of life that is fast declining due to factors like pollution, climate change and habitat degradation.

Many, many animal groups need to be part of conversations regarding biodiversity, Kvist says, but he and his colleagues opted to spotlight the bloodthirsty ones. The museum hopes to help visitors feel more comfortable living alongside these animals—even if they aren’t willing to volunteer an arm for a leech’s next meal.

The Best Places to See Wild Horses in North America

Smithsonian Magazine

The wild mustang, free from the constraints of a saddle and spurs, roaming the great expanse with a wind-swept mane, has long been a powerful symbol of the American West, particularly in film and literature. Protected by Congress since the mid-20th century (western ranchers, claiming horses took valuable grazing resources away from cattle, began killing off the herds), wild horses of all breeds have a majestic beauty to them that makes them an attraction for animal and nature lovers. 

While native horses once lived in North America (they died out over 10,000 years ago), the horses seen today are descendants of the domesticated beasts reintroduced to the continent by Spanish explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries. During the hundreds of years of breeding, trading and warring that followed, many domesticated horses were lost, abandoned or let loose, going on to form wild herds throughout the land, most notably out West. Without any natural predators, the herds swelled in size. Before Congress got involved, passing legislation in 1959 an 1971, the horses were subject to unregulated hunting and even poisoning of their water holes. 

Although management efforts have not been without controversy, today, there are approximately 60,000 free-roaming horses in the United States and Canada combined. While the Bureau of Land Management considers the horses to be wild, they more accurately fit the definition of feral, which means they are free-roaming descendants of domesticated horses. Regardless of the label, there is no denying the majestic nature of these beautiful creatures. Preservation societies and government agencies alike encourage the public to visit and view North America’s wild horses, provided it's done from a respectful distance.  

Here are some of the best places to see wild horses in North America: 

 The Virginia Range, Nevada 

Nevada is home to nearly half of the nation's free-roaming horse population. Many of those horses are part of the Virginia Range herd, which occupies a region in the western part of the state.

The herd is often referred to as “Annie’s Horses” because of the decades-long crusade of “Wild Horse Annie” (born Velma Johnston) to protect these and other free-roaming horses across the nation. Johnston originally hailed from Nevada, and these were the horses that inspired her campaign. The 1959 “Wild Horse Annie Act” (P.L. 86-234) was named after her.

Today, the best way to see these horses is to hike the trails east of Reno and find a nearby watering hole.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota 

Image by TWphotos/iStock. (original image)

Image by Golfladi/iStock. (original image)

Image by © Ken Cedeno/Corbis. (original image)

Image by Htrnr/iStock. (original image)

Image by Kenowolfpack/iStock. (original image)

Image by Benkrut/iStock. (original image)

The mustang is often used as a living and breathing symbol of the American West. That symbolism is on full display at the 70,467-acre Theodore Roosevelt National Park, home to 100-200 free-roaming horses, which can be seen grazing and galloping across the Dakota badlands.

The best time to see the horses is during the summer, when the young are still part of their familial herds. The park reccomends finding a high point, such as Painted Canyon Overlook or Buck Hill, to better observe the horses. The park also says to look for "stud piles"—fresh manure that stallions use to mark their territory

In recent years, disagreement has arisen over the best way to protect these horses and the lands where they graze. While the culling of feral horses was once a common practice to keep numbers to manageable levels, contraceptive programs are now being studied and researched as a more humane way of limiting the wild horse population at the park. 

The Pryor Mountains, Montana & Wyoming

Image by Brad Purdy, Bureau of Land Management. (original image)

Image by Vic and Linda Hanick/U.S. Department of Interior. (original image)

Image by Brad Purdy, Bureau of Land Management. (original image)

Image by Gdbeeler/iStock. (original image)

Image by © Yva Momatiuk & John Eastcott/Minden Pictures/Corbis. (original image)

Image by Wendyfern/iStock. (original image)

Image by Htrnr/iStock. (original image)

The Pryor Mountains are home to about 160 free-roaming horses, who mostly live in the northeast region of the mountain region near Bighorn Canyon. Many of the horses display distinctive markings—a long dorsal stripe along the back and "zebra-like" coloration on their legs—and are smaller than the average wild horse.

The Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center believes that the animals are descendents of colonial Spanish horses brought to the area by Native American tribes in the 17th and 18th centuries. Over the years, genetic studies have been done on the horses, and results have shown consistency with Spanish genetic traits.  

The 38,000 acres on which the horses roam are a combination of Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service lands. In 1968, after public pressure, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall set aside 31,000 acres as protected public range for the horses. Several years later, additional acreage was given under “The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.”  Today, the horses can be seen grazing along Highway 37, but it's worth paying a visit to the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center before venturing out. There, the center promises to provide updated information about the exact location of herds

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Image by © Solent News/Splash News/Corbis. (original image)

Image by McIninch/iStock. (original image)

Image by Whit_Photos/iStock. (original image)

Image by McIninch/iStock. (original image)

Image by Heath McPherson/iStock. (original image)

Image by LembiBuchanan/iStock. (original image)

Image by Diane Diederich/iStock. (original image)

There was a time when the wild horses of North Carolina's Outer Banks numbered in the thousands, but the recent increase in popularity of this beach resort region has made a dramatic impact. Today, some fear that these horses (especially the Corolla herd, which has only 60 animals left) may not be around much longer. 

The horses are believed to be descendants of those that accompanied Spanish explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries. Unable or unwilling to bring the horses back with them to Spain, the explorers left them behind on the beaches of North Carolina. The horse population initially exploded, but in the late 20th century numbers dwindled after roads and vacation rentals were built in earnest. Human intervention, destruction of habitat and car traffic all contribution to the declining populations. 

Some of the herds lack genetic diversity due to high levels of inbreeding, which imperils their surivival. While the horses of Shackleford Banks in the southern region of the Outer Banks have ample genetic diversity, the same can’t be said of the Corolla herd in the north. According to Executive Director of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund Karen McCalpin, isolation has caused the Corolla herd to lack genetic diversity, and inbreeding has eroded their numbers. Survival is not guaranteed. “We are in the process of trying to introduce horses from the Shackleford Banks herd to hopefully increase the genetic diversity,” says McCalpin. 

The horses can be seen most safely (for both human and horse) at wildlife sanctuaries, but they are occasionally spotted in areas with higher human traffic as well. They are often seen near saltwater cordgrass and digging for fresh water. Visitors are asked to stay at least fifty feet away from the horses and to always give them the right of way.

Assateague Island, Virginia & Maryland

Image by Benalbright/iStock. (original image)

Image by © Neville Elder/Corbis. (original image)

Image by Bob Balestri/iStock. (original image)

Image by Stephen Bonk/iStock. (original image)

Image by JNevitt/iStock. (original image)

Image by JeninVA/iStock. (original image)

Image by Stephen Bonk/iStock. (original image)

The horses of Assateague first received worldwide attention thanks to Marguerite Henry’s 1947 Newbery Medal-winning book Misty of ChincoteagueBeautiful and tough, these horses have since become immensely popular and a huge tourist draw for the surrounding areas.

While over 300 ponies wander the island in total, they are actually divided up into two different herds. The Maryland horses, which roam the Assateague Island National Seashore, are looked after by the National Park Service. The Virginia horses, which graze at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, are cared for by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge restricts the herd to 150 adult animals in order to protect the local ecosystem. This restriction has led to the annual late July tradition of the Chincoteague Pony Swim, when the herd is rounded up to swim from Assateague to nearby Chincoteague Island. The next day, young foals are auctioned off to ensure the number stays at 150, with the proceeds donated to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. 2015 marked the 90th anniversary of this tradition.

Sable Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

Image by Julie Marshall/iStock. (original image)

Image by Julie Marshall/iStock. (original image)

Image by Julie Marshall/iStock. (original image)

Image by Sleepyorange. (original image)

Image by Julie Marshall/iStock. (original image)

Image by Julie Marshall/iStock. (original image)

About 100 miles off the Nova Scotia coast lies the remote Sable Island. The island is sometimes called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” due to the number of shipwrecks that have occurred along its notoriously dangerous shores. It is also famous for the several hundred horses that roam the expansive sandy landscape.

While the exact origin of the horses is still a mystery, scientists theorize that they are descendents of ones seized by the British when they expelled the Acadians in the mid-18th century. Due to harsh conditions, many of the other animals died out. But the horses survived, roaming free along the sand dunes of Sable Island. Today, there is some controversy around whether the horses should be allowed to stay there. While they are not native, there are arguments that both the ecosystem and horses have adapted to one another.

In 2013, Sable Island officially became a Canadian National Park, although the area isn’t particularly accessible—it can only be reached by plane or ship. Recently, tour companies have started taking visitors there, and while trips are expensive, visitors will be rewarded by views of unique plant and bird life, pristine beaches, breeding gray seals and the one of the most remote wild horse colonies in North America. 

Abraham Lincoln, True Crime Writer

Smithsonian Magazine

Abraham Lincoln was a rail splitter, a riverboat hand, an inventor, a poet and importantly, a lawyer. Lincoln also knew how to tell a good story. In 1841, he defended William Trailor, one of three brothers on trial for murder, in a case that surprised everyone in the courtroom. A few years later, Lincoln published the following short story based on the strange case. Lincoln dramatized the facts a bit to abide by the conventions of the true crime genre, but the story as he told it here fits well with the facts of the case.

"In the year 1841, there resided, at different points in the State of Illinois, three brothers by the name of Trailor. Their Christian names were William, Henry and Archibald. Archibald resided at Springfield, then as now the Seat of Government of the State. He was a sober, retiring and industrious man, of about thirty years of age; a carpenter by trade, and a bachelor, boarding with his partner in business—a Mr. Myers. Henry, a year or two older, was a man of like retiring and industrious habits; had a family and resided with it on a farm at Clary’s Grove, about twenty miles distant from Springfield in a North-westerly direction. William, still older, and with similar habits, resided on a farm in Warren county, distant from Springfield something more than a hundred miles in the same North-westerly direction. He was a widower, with several children.

"In the neighborhood of William’s residence, there was, and had been for several years, a man by the name of Fisher, who was somewhat above the age of fifty; had no family, and no settled home; but who boarded and lodged a while here and a while there, with the persons for whom he did little jobs of work. His habits were remarkably economical, so that an impression got about that he had accumulated a considerable amount of money.

"In the latter part of May in the year mentioned, William formed the purpose of visiting his brothers at Clary’s Grove, and Springfield; and Fisher, at the time having his temporary residence at his house, resolved to accompany him. They set out together in a buggy with a single horse. On Sunday Evening they reached Henry’s residence, and staid over night. On Monday Morning, being the first Monday of June, they started on to Springfield, Henry accompanying them on horseback. They reached town about noon, met Archibald, went with him to his boarding house, and there took up their lodgings for the time they should remain.

"After dinner, the three Trailors and Fisher left the boarding house in company, for the avowed purpose of spending the evening together in looking about the town. At supper, the Trailors had all returned, but Fisher was missing, and some inquiry was made about him. After supper, the Trailors went out professedly in search of him. One by one they returned, the last coming in after late tea time, and each stating that he had been unable to discover any thing of Fisher. The next day, both before and after breakfast, they went professedly in search again, and returned at noon, still unsuccessful. Dinner again being had, William and Henry expressed a determination to give up the search and start for their homes. This was remonstrated against by some of the boarders about the house, on the ground that Fisher was somewhere in the vicinity, and would be left without any conveyance, as he and William had come in the same buggy. The remonstrance was disregarded, and they departed for their homes respectively.

"Up to this time, the knowledge of Fisher’s mysterious disappearance, had spread very little beyond the few boarders at Myers’, and excited no considerable interest. After the lapse of three or four days, Henry returned to Springfield, for the ostensible purpose of making further search for Fisher. Procuring some of the boarders, he, together with them and Archibald, spent another day in ineffectual search, when it was again abandoned, and he returned home. No general interest was yet excited.

"On the Friday, week after Fisher’s disappearance, the Postmaster at Springfield received a letter from the Postmaster nearest William’s residence in Warren county, stating that William had returned home without Fisher, and was saying, rather boastfully, that Fisher was dead, and had willed him his money, and that he had got about fifteen hundred dollars by it. The letter further stated that William’s story and conduct seemed strange; and desired the Postmaster at Springfield to ascertain and write what was the truth in the matter. The Postmaster at Springfield made the letter public, and at once, excitement became universal and intense. Springfield, at that time had a population of about 3500, with a city organization. The Attorney General of the State resided there. A purpose was forthwith formed to ferret out the mystery, in putting which into execution, the Mayor of the city, and the Attorney General took the lead. To make search for, and, if possible, find the body of the man supposed to be murdered, was resolved on as the first step. In pursuance of this, men were formed into large parties, and marched abreast, in all directions, so as to let no inch of ground in the vicinity, remain unsearched.

"Examinations were made of cellars, wells, and pits of all descriptions, where it was thought possible the body might be concealed. All the fresh, or tolerably fresh graves at the grave-yard were pried into, and dead horses and dead dogs were disintered, where, in some instances, they had been buried by their partial masters. This search, as has appeared, commenced on Friday. It continued until Saturday afternoon without success, when it was determined to dispatch officers to arrest William and Henry at their residences respectively. The officers started on Sunday Morning, meanwhile, the search for the body was continued, and rumors got afloat of the Trailors having passed, at different times and places, several gold pieces, which were readily supposed to have belonged to Fisher.

"On Monday, the officers sent for Henry, having arrested him, arrived with him. The Mayor and Attorney Gen’l took charge of him, and set their wits to work to elicit a discovery from him. He denied, and denied, and persisted in denying. They still plied him in every conceivable way, till Wednesday, when, protesting his own innocence, he stated that his brothers, William and Archibald had murdered Fisher; that they had killed him, without his (Henry’s) knowledge at the time, and made a temporary concealment of his body; that immediately preceding his and William’s departure from Springfield for home, on Tuesday, the day after Fisher’s disappearance, William and Archibald communicated the fact to him, and engaged his assistance in making a permanent concealment of the body; that at the time he and William left professedly for home, they did not take the road directly, but meandering their way through the streets, entered the woods at the North West of the city, two or three hundred yards to the right of where the road where they should have travelled entered them; that penetrating the woods some few hundred yards, they halted and Archibald came a somewhat different route, on foot, and joined them; that William and Archibald then stationed him (Henry) on an old and disused road that ran near by, as a sentinel, to give warning of the approach of any intruder; that William and Archibald then removed the buggy to the edge of a dense brush thicket, about forty yards distant from his (Henry’s) position, where, leaving the buggy, they entered the thicket, and in a few minutes returned with the body and placed it in the buggy; that from his station, he could and did distinctly see that the object placed in the buggy was a dead man, of the general appearance and size of Fisher; that William and Archibald then moved off with the buggy in the direction of Hickox’s mill pond, and after an absence of half an hour returned, saying they had put him in a safe place; that Archibald then left for town, and he and William found their way to the road, and made for their homes. At this disclosure, all lingering credulity was broken down, and excitement rose to an almost inconceivable height.

"Up to this time, the well known character of Archibald had repelled and put down all suspicions as to him. Till then, those who were ready to swear that a murder had been committed, were almost as confident that Archibald had had no part in it. But now, he was seized and thrown into jail; and, indeed, his personal security rendered it by no means objectionable to him. And now came the search for the brush thicket, and the search of the mill pond. The thicket was found, and the buggy tracks at the point indicated. At a point within the thicket the signs of a struggle were discovered, and a trail from thence to the buggy track was traced. In attempting to follow the track of the buggy from the thicket, it was found to proceed in the direction of the mill pond, but could not be traced all the way. At the pond, however, it was found that a buggy had been backed down to, and partially into the water’s edge. Search was now to be made in the pond; and it was made in every imaginable way.

"Hundreds and hundreds were engaged in raking, fishing, and draining. After much fruitless effort in this way, on Thursday Morning, the mill dam was cut down, and the water of the pond partially drawn off, and the same processes of search again gone through with.

"About noon of this day, the officer sent for William, returned having him in custody; and a man calling himself Dr. Gilmore, came in company with them. It seems that the officer arrested William at his own house early in the day on Tuesday, and started to Springfield with him; that after dark awhile, they reached Lewiston in Fulton county, where they stopped for the night; that late in the night this Dr. Gilmore arrived, stating that Fisher was alive at his house; and that he had followed on to give the information, so that William might be released without further trouble; that the officer, distrusting Dr. Gilmore, refused to release William, but brought him on to Springfield, and the Dr. accompanied them. On reaching Springfield, the Dr. re-asserted that Fisher was alive, and at his house.

"At this the multitude for a time, were utterly confounded. Gilmore’s story was communicated to Henry Trailor, who, without faltering, reaffirmed his own story about Fisher’s murder. Henry’s adherence to his own story was communicated to the crowd, and at once the idea started, and became nearly, if not quite universal that Gilmore was a confederate of the Trailors, and had invented the tale he was telling, to secure their release and escape. Excitement was again at its zenith. About 3 o’clock the same evening, Myers, Archibald’s partner, started with a two horse carriage, for the purpose of ascertaining whether Fisher was alive, as stated by Gilmore, and if so, of bringing him back to Springfield with him.

"On Friday a legal examination was gone into before two Justices, on the charge of murder against William and Archibald. Henry was introduced as a witness by the prosecution, and on oath, re-affirmed his statements, as heretofore detailed; and, at the end of which, he bore a thorough and rigid cross-examination without faltering or exposure. The prosecution also proved by a respectable lady, that on the Monday evening of Fisher’s disappearance, she saw Archibald, whom she well knew, and another man whom she did not then know, but whom she believed at the time of testifying to be William, (then present;) and still another, answering the description of Fisher, all enter the timber at the North West of town, (the point indicated by Henry,) and after one or two hours, saw William and Archibald return without Fisher. Several other witnesses testified, that on Tuesday, at the time William and Henry professedly gave up the search for Fisher’s body and started for home, they did not take the road directly, but did go into the woods as stated by Henry. By others also, it was proved, that since Fisher’s disappearance, William and Archibaldhad passed rather an unusual number of gold pieces.

"The statements heretofore made about the thicket, the signs of a struggle, the buggy tracks, &c., were fully proven by numerous witnesses. At this the prosecution rested. Dr. Gilmore was then introduced by the defendants. He stated that he resided in Warren county about seven miles distant from William’s residence; that on the morning of William’s arrest, he was out from home and heard of the arrest, and of its being on a charge of the murder of Fisher; that on returning to his own house, he found Fisher there; that Fisher was in very feeble health, and could give no rational account as to where he had been during his absence; that he (Gilmore) then started in pursuit of the officer as before stated, and that he should have taken Fisher with him only that the state of his health did not permit. Gilmore also stated that he had known Fisher for several years, and that he had understood he was subject to temporary derangement of mind, owing to an injury about his head received in early life. There was about Dr. Gilmore so much of the air and manner of truth, that his statement prevailed in the minds of the audience and of the court, and the Trailors were discharged; although they attempted no explanation of the circumstances proven by the other witnesses.

"On the next Monday, Myers arrived in Springfield, bringing with him the now famed Fisher, in full life and proper person. Thus ended this strange affair; and while it is readily conceived that a writer of novels could bring a story to a more perfect climax, it may well be doubted, whether a stranger affair ever really occurred. Much of the matter remains in mystery to this day. The going into the woods with Fisher, and returning without him, by the Trailors; their going into the woods at the same place the next day, after they professed to have given up the search; the signs of a struggle in the thicket, the buggy tracks at the edge of it; and the location of the thicket and the signs about it, corresponding precisely with Henry’s story, are circumstances that have never been explained.

"William and Archibald have both died since—William in less than a year, and Archibald in about two years after the supposed murder. Henry is still living, but never speaks of the subject.

"It is not the object of the writer of this, to enter into the many curious speculations that might be indulged upon the facts of this narrative; yet he can scarcely forbear a remark upon what would, almost certainly have been the fate of William and Archibald, had Fisher not been found alive. It seems he had wandered away in mental derangement, and, had he died in this condition, and his body been found in the vicinity, it is difficult to conceive what could have saved the Trailors from the consequence of having murdered him. Or, if he had died, and his body never found, the case against them, would have been quite as bad, for, although it is a principle of law that a conviction for murder shall not be had, unless the body of the deceased be discovered, it is to be remembered, that Henry testified he saw Fisher’s dead body."

(Special Thanks to the Abraham Lincoln Association for the excerpt)

Lincoln wrote another version of the story in a letter to his friend Joshua Speed shortly after the case concluded. Lincoln’s sense of humor is apparent in the letter, especially in his observation of the courtroom’s reaction to the conclusion of the case:

"Thus stands this curious affair. When the doctor’s story was first made public, it was amusing to scan and contemplate the countenances and hear the remarks of those who had been actively in search for the dead body: some looked quizzical, some melancholy, and some furiously angry. Porter, who had been very active, swore he always knew the man was not dead, and that he had not stirred an inch to hunt for him; Langford, who had taken the lead in cutting down Hickox’s mill-dam, and wanted to hang Hickox for objecting, looked most awfully woebegone: he seemed the “victim of unrequited affection,” as represented in the comic almanacs we used to laugh over; and Hart, the little drayman that hauled Molly home once, said it was too damned bad to have so much trouble, and no hanging after all."

Why We Pretend to Clean Up Oil Spills

Smithsonian Magazine

When the Deepwater Horizon well operated by BP (formerly British Petroleum) exploded and contaminated the Gulf of Mexico with at least 650 million liters of crude oil in 2010, blue-smocked animal rescuers quickly appeared on television screens. Looking like scrub nurses, the responders treated oil-coated birds with charcoal solutions, antibiotics, and dish soap. They also forced the birds to swallow Pepto-Bismol, which helps absorb hydrocarbons. The familiar, if not outlandish, images suggested that something was being cleaned up.

But during the chaotic disaster, Silvia Gaus poked a large hole in that myth. The German biologist had worked in the tidal flats of the Wadden Sea, a region of the North Sea and the world’s largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud, and critical bird habitat. A 1998 oil spill of more than 100,000 liters in the North Sea had killed 13,000 birds inWattenmeer national park, and the scientist had learned that cleaning oil-soaked birds could be as harmful to their immune systems as the oil accumulating in their livers and kidneys. Kill, don’t clean, she advised responders in the 2010 BP spill. Gaus then referred to scientific studies to support her unsettling declaration. One 1996 California study, for example, followed the fate of brown pelicans fouled by oil. Researchers marked the birds after they had been “cleaned” and released them into the wild. The majority died or failed to mate again. The researchers concluded that cleaning brown pelicans couldn’t restore them to good breeding health or “normal survivability.” Another study from 1997 observed that once birds affected by an oil spill had been cleaned, they fared poorly and suffered higher than expected mortality rates.

And, consider the 2002 sinking of the MV Prestige. The tanker split in half off the coast of Spain, spilling more than 70 million liters of highly toxic bunker fuel that coated more than 600 beaches with oil. The catastrophe killed some 300,000 seabirds. Although response teams diligently cleaned thousands of animals, most of the birds died within a week. Only a few hundred ever made it back to the wild. In fact, said Gaus, studies indicate that, in general, the post-treatment survival rate of oil-soaked birds is less than one percent.

After the tanker MV Prestige split in half, spilling more than 70 million liters of oil off the coast of Spain in 2002, it continued to leak oil from its resting place on the seabed. Thousands joined the cleanup effort, including these soldiers. (age fotostock / Alamy Stock Photo)

Not all bird cleaning is futile. Rescuers saved thousands of penguins following the MV Treasure spill off South Africa in 2000, for example. Success stories, however, are rare. In the Gulf of Mexico, the giant BP spill probably killed nearly a million birds. Gaus’s comments highlighted two uncomfortable realities: cleaning oily birds is a risky business, and the marine oil spill cleanup can often do more harm than good.

In many respects, society’s theatrical response to catastrophic oil spills resembles the way medical professionals respond to aggressive cancer in an elderly patient. Because surgery is available, it is often used. Surgery also creates the impression that the health care system is doing something even though it can’t change or reverse the patient’s ultimate condition. In an oil-based society, the cleanup delusion is also irresistible. Just as it is difficult for us to acknowledge the limits of medical intervention, society struggles to acknowledge the limits of technologies or the consequences of energy habits. And that’s where the state of marine oil spill response sits today: it creates little more than an illusion of a cleanup. Scientists—outside the oil industry—call it “prime-time theater” or “response theater.”

The hard scientific reality is this: a big spill is almost impossible to contain because it is physically impossible to mobilize the labor needed and current cleanup technologies in a timely fashion. When the city of Vancouver released a study in 2015 on the effectiveness of responses to large tanker or pipeline spills along the southern coast of British Columbia, the conclusion was blunt: “collecting and removing oil from the sea surface is a challenging, time-sensitive, and often ineffective process,” even in calm water.

Scientists have recognized this reality for a long time. During the 1970s when the oil industry was poised to invade the Beaufort Sea, the Canadian government employed more than 100 researchers to gauge the impacts of an oil spill on Arctic ice. The researchers doused sea ducks and ring seals with oil and set pools of oil on fire under a variety of ice conditions. They also created sizable oil spills (one was almost 60,000 liters, a medium-sized spill) in the Beaufort Sea and tried to contain them with booms and skimmers. They prodded polar bears into a man-made oil slick only to discover that bears, like birds, will lick oil off their matted fur and later die of kidney failure. In the end, the Beaufort Sea Project concluded that “oil spill countermeasures, techniques, and equipment” would have “limited effectiveness” on ice-covered waters. The reports, however, failed to stop Arctic drilling.

An oil spill in Cape Town’s Table Bay threatened 40 percent of an endangered species, the African penguin population that inhabits Robben and Dassen Islands. (AfriPics.com / Alamy Stock Photo)

Part of the illusion has been created by ineffective technologies adopted and billed by industry as “world class.” Ever since the 1970s, the oil and gas industry has trotted out four basic ways to deal with ocean spills: booms to contain the oil; skimmers to remove the oil; fire to burn the oil; and chemical dispersants, such as Corexit, to break the oil into smaller pieces. For small spills these technologies can sometimes make a difference, but only in sheltered waters. None has ever been effective in containing large spills.

Conventional containment booms, for example, don’t work in icy water, or where waves run amok. Burning oil merely transforms one grave problem—water pollution—into sooty greenhouse gases and creates air pollution. Dispersants only hide the oil by scattering small droplets into the water column, yet they often don’t even do that since conditions have to be just right for dispersants to work. Darryl McMahon, a director of RESTCo, a firm pursuing more effective cleanup technologies, has written extensively about the problem, and his opinion remains: “Sadly, even after over 40 years experience, the outcomes are not acceptable. In many cases, the strategy is still to ignore spills on open water, only addressing them when the slicks reach shore.”

The issue partly boils down to scale, explains Jeffrey Short, a retired National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research chemist who studied the aftermath of the 2010 BP disaster as well as the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, which grew at the alarming rate of half a football field per second over two days. “Go try and control something like that,” says Short. Yet almost 30 years after the Exxon Valdez contaminated much of Prince William Sound, the cleanup technology has changed little.

“What I find the most disturbing is the tendency for responsible authorities and industry to adopt technologies mainly because of their optics and with scant regard for their efficacy,” says Short. In addition, chaos rules in the aftermath of a spill. The enormous political pressure to do something routinely sacrifices any duty to properly evaluate what kind of response might actually work over time, says Short. “Industry says ‘we just want to clean it up,’ yet their demonstrative ability to clean it up sucks.”

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez spilled over 42 million liters of oil off the Alaskan coast; it was the largest spill in U.S. coastal waters prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. (The Exxon Valdez never again entered U.S. waters and ended its days as the Oriental Nicety, beached in India for scrap.) (RGB Ventures/SuperStock/Alamy Stock Photo)

Consider, for a moment, the industry’s dismal record on oil recovery. Average citizens may think that a successful marine oil spill cleanup actually involves recovering what has been spilled. They may also expect the amount of oil recovered would increase over time as industry learns and adopts better technologies. But there has been little improvement since the 1960s.

During the BP disaster, the majority of the oil evaporated, dropped to the ocean bottom, smothered beaches, dissolved, or remained on or just below the water’s surface as sheen or tar balls. Some oil-chewing bacteria offered assistance by biodegrading the oil after it had been dispersed. Rough estimates indicate that, out of the total amount of oil it spilled, BP recovered 3 percent through skimming, 17 percent from siphoning at the wellhead, and 5 percent from burning. Even so, that’s not much better than the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 when industry recovered an estimated 14 percent of the oil. Transport Canada admits that it expects only 10 to 15 percent of a marine oil spill to ever be recovered from open water. “Even informed people are taken aback by these numbers,” says Short.

Nor are the numbers any better for small marine spills (smaller than 7,950 liters). This year, York University researchers discovered that offshore oil and gas platforms reported a total of 381 small spills between 1997 and 2010. Only 11 spills mentioned the presence of seabirds, yet it only takes a dime-sized blotch of oil in cold water to kill a bird.

Self-reporting combined with an appalling spill-recovery record underscores how poorly industry’s preferred technologies perform in the field. Deploying dispersants, for example, is about as effective as cleaning oil-soaked birds and remains another example of response theater designed to hide the real damage. During BP’s catastrophic spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the company sprayed over 6.8 million liters of Corexit. It was the largest volume of dispersant ever used for an oil spill and one giant chemical experiment.

Researchers have known for decades that mixing oil with Corexit rarely works. Short compares it to adding detergent when you’re washing dishes: it produces a cloudy suspension that scatters through the water but hovers close to the top. Sweden has banned its use, and the UK followed suit, based on the potential danger to workers. That didn’t stop the aerial bombing of Gulf of Mexico waters with Corexit—which actually killed oil-eating bacteria—because it looked as if the authorities were doing something. Their work made little difference. Bottlenose dolphins, already vulnerable, died in record numbers from adrenal and lung diseases linked to oil exposure.

Oils spills are catastrophic for marine wildlife. And tragically, oil slicks calm water, which attracts seabirds since they prefer hunting in waveless water. (Craig Ruttle / Alamy Stock Photo)

“We’ve put the wrong people in charge of the job,” says McMahon, who has charted industry’s oil spill myths for years. Corexit, industry’s favorite dispersant, is widely believed to contain hydrocarbon, which gives it an ominous undertone. The product was first developed by Standard Oil, and its ingredient list remains a trade secret. Although the oil industry boasts a “safety culture,” everyone really knows that it operates with a greed culture, adds McMahon. Over the years, industry has become adept at selling an illusion by telling regulators and stakeholders whatever they want to hear about oil spills (in the past, executives claimed that their companies recovered 95 percent of spilled oil).

In Canada, multinational oil companies also own the corporations licensed to respond to catastrophic spills. The Western Canadian Marine Response Corporation, for example, is owned by Kinder Morgan, Imperial Oil, Shell, Chevron, and Suncor while the Eastern Canada Response Corporation is owned by Ultramar, Shell, Imperial Oil, and Suncor. In a recent analysis on this cozy relationship, Robyn Allan, an economist and former CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, concluded that letting international oil companies determine the goals and objectives of marine spill preparedness and response was a flagrant conflict of interest.

Large spills, which can destroy fisheries and entire communities, can impose billion dollar cleanup bills and still not restore what has been lost. The cleanup costs for theExxon Valdez disaster reached US $2-billion (paid by various parties), and Exxon fought the federal government’s claim for an extra $92-million for restoration, until the government dropped their claim in 2015. To date, BP has spent more than US $42-billion on response, compensation, and fines in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, the evidence shows that nearshore and in-port spills are four to five times more expensive to clean up than offshore spills and that heavy oil, such as bitumen, costs nearly 10 times more than light oils because it persists longer in water. And yet, no more than CAN $1.3-billion has been set aside in Canada for a major oil spill—a sum experts find woefully inadequate. According to a University of British Columbia study, a release of 16,000 cubic meters of diluted bitumen in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet would inflict at least $1.2-billion worth of damage on the local economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism and promoting its “natural” beauty. That figure doesn’t include the cost of a “cleanup.”

Based on the science, expecting to adequately remedy large spills with current technologies seems like wishful thinking. And there will be no change unless responsible authorities do three things: give communities most affected by a catastrophic spill the democratic right to say no to high-risk projects, such as tankers or pipelines; publicly recognize that responding to a large oil spill is as haphazard as responding to a large earthquake and that there is no real techno-fix; and recognize that industry won’t adopt more effective technologies that actually recover oil from the ocean until governments and communities properly price the risk of catastrophic spills and demand upfront multi-billion-dollar bonds for compensation. “If they spill, they must lose a bloody fortune,” says Short.

Until those reforms take place, expect more dramatic prime-time theater on oiled ocean waters. But we shouldn’t for a moment believe we’re watching a cleanup. The only things being wiped clean are guilty consciences.

Read more coastal science stories at hakaimagazine.com.

How One Amateur Historian Brought Us the Stories of African-Americans Who Knew Abraham Lincoln

Smithsonian Magazine

The memoir of Elizabeth Keckly, a formerly enslaved woman who became a dressmaker to First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, struck a nerve when it was published in 1868. Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House was an unprecedented look at the Lincolns’ lives in the White House, but reviewers widely condemned its author for divulging personal aspects of their story, particularly the fragile emotional state of Mary Lincoln after her husband’s murder.

For decades after its publication, the book was difficult to find, and Keckly lived in relative obscurity. In black Washington, however, many African-Americans personally knew and admired her, and remained a beloved figure.

When journalist and Democratic political operative David Rankin Barbee claimed in 1935 that Keckly had not written the book and, remarkably, had never existed, one determined Washingtonian, an African-American high school teacher named John E. Washington, felt compelled to speak up. The encounter with Barbee about Keckly and Behind the Scenes changed Washington’s life and led him to write a remarkable book of his own—They Knew Lincoln.

Part memoir, part history, part argument for the historical significance of common people, They Knew Lincoln was the first book to focus exclusively on Lincoln’s relationship to African-Americans.  They Knew Lincoln not only affirmed the existence of Keckly, but revealed that African-Americans, from the obscure folk preacher known as Uncle Ben to the much more prominent Keckly, had shaped Lincoln’s life, and it insisted that their stories were worth knowing.

The book, reprinted by Oxford University Press this month, makes Washington’s research newly available to 21-century readers. The 2018 edition also includes my new introduction, adapted here, which sheds light on Washington’s life and how his pioneering work of history came together.

A part-time dentist and full-time art teacher, owner of two homes, and a history buff, John E. Washington was a married man with no children in the fall of 1935 when he took it upon himself to contest the scandalous assertion that Elizabeth Keckly could not possibly have written Behind the Scenes.

David Rankin Barbee, a Washington, D.C., gadfly who regularly sought to explicate and defend the white South to outsiders, had offered his theory about the authorship of Behind the Scenes to up-and-coming Washington journalist Bess Furman. Furman, who wrote for the Associated Press and spent much of her time covering Eleanor Roosevelt, was interested in the history of women newspaper correspondents in Washington and had first sought Barbee’s expertise on Jane Grey Swisshelm, a Civil War–era correspondent from Minnesota. When Barbee told her that Swisshelm was the true author of Behind the Scenes, Furman believed him. Upon filing her story on this supposed new discovery, Furman jotted in her daily diary that the work revealed “Madame Keckly the Negro seamstress . . . being really Jane Swisshelm, the best darned newspaper woman out blazing trails.”

Furman’s piece ran in the Washington Star on Saturday, November 11. Four days later the paper published John E. Washington’s refutation. Washington established his authority by stating “that for over 30 years, I too, have been a close student of Lincoln” and that he possessed “some of the rarest items pertaining to the assassination period.” From there, Washington insisted that Keckly had indeed lived and that, while others might have helped her write the book, Keckly had taken “full responsibility” for it.

Barbee quickly countered with his own letter to the editor a few days later, claiming he had never denied Keckly’s existence but, instead, had argued that “no such person” had written Behind the Scenes. He maintained that position, reiterating that Swisshelm was the real author and that Behind the Scenes was a work of fiction.

His claim rested on the thinnest of evidence—one line of a satirical news item written in 1868 that had noted “Swizzlem” in the gallery of the Senate and nonsensically identified her as “the colored authoress of Mrs. Keckly’s book.” But that tiny clipping was probably far less important to Barbee than his deeply held beliefs about race and gender. No one, he told a friend in private correspondence, could “find in all the United States of 1869 [sic] one negro woman who had enough culture to have written such a book.”

Meanwhile, he insisted, Mary Lincoln “was not the type of woman who would gossip before servants. No well-bred Southern woman would do that.” He also claimed (incorrectly) that Mrs. Lincoln bought all her dresses in New York and Paris and had no need of a fine seamstress in Washington.

Barbee’s condescension toward African Americans knew few limits. In a letter to a white Lincoln aficionado, Barbee called the Washington Star the “Negroes’ newspaper Bible.” He told Louis Warren, whose newsletter, Lincoln Lore, had cited an early 20th-century interview with Keckly to challenge Barbee’s assertions, that Keckly was evidently the “patron saint” of Washington’s African-Americans and warned: “Had you, like myself, grown up among Negroes in the South—we had a family of them under our roof for many years, and educated them—you would be skeptical about what any old colored woman eighty years old might say.”

Barbee insisted to Warren that there was no evidence “acceptable in the court of history” that Keckly had ever worked for Mrs. Lincoln or Varina Davis, as stated in Behind the Scenes. Over and over again he told acquaintances that black people’s memories were faulty and that Washington’s research was poor.

On learning of black Washingtonians’ strong objections to Barbee’s claims, Furman decided to investigate further. “Someone who knew Madame Keckly turned up,” she recorded in her calendar a few days after the initial story ran. She headed to the home of Francis Grimké, Keckly’s former pastor, who had a photo of Keckly and talked extensively about having known her and preaching at her 1907 funeral service. Soon Furman was at Washington’s home, interviewing him about Keckly and taking down the names and addresses of other black Washingtonians who could attest to her existence. Furman’s new story, which she privately called a “correction,” went over the AP wire and appeared in the Washington Star on December 1. Barbee’s assertions had “brought Negro leaders forward in spirited defense of Elizabeth Keckly as an author,” Furman wrote. “In old albums they found photographs of her to prove her a decidedly dressy and intelligent person.”

At that point, Washington thought it possible that Swisshelm had persuaded Keckly to tell her story and that Swisshelm might even have “rearrange[d] the matter in good form and English for the publishers.” He was certain, however, that the stories contained in the book were true and that Keckly had been Mrs. Lincoln’s confidante.

The experience with Barbee confirmed something Washington had observed as a boy: African-Americans harbored, in their homes and in their memories, great quantities of meaningful history, untapped and at risk of being forgotten or even destroyed. His long-standing interests in both Lincoln and African-American history converged as he envisioned further research and a pamphlet that would vindicate Keckly. By 1938, he was deeply engaged in collecting further information about her, conducting interviews with local people and taking a summer trip to the Midwest for more digging. He had launched a new phase of his multifaceted life.

At first he imagined writing a pamphlet that would explain who Keckly was and how Behind the Scenes came into existence, but the project expanded as he became increasingly interested in the largely unknown lives of the African-American domestic workers the Lincolns had known in Springfield, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. The work required not just reading and interpreting documents but also dedication, creativity and a willingness to travel to new places and talk to living people. He conducted research in collections across the Southeast and Midwest. He interviewed elderly African Americans in Washington, Maryland, Virginia, and Illinois. And he reached out to the foremost Lincoln scholars and collectors of his era, hoping for leads and new information. This would be a book on the “colored side of Lincolniana,” he told one of his correspondents.

As he pursued his research, Washington began to make inroads into the white Lincoln establishment. A culture of Lincoln fandom had flourished in the wake of Lincoln’s 100th birthday in 1909, as Americans hunted for new stories about the man many considered the nation’s greatest president. Amid jokes about the quantities of Lincoln books published and whether anything remained to say or discover, hobbyists searched out autographed Lincoln documents and debated the minutiae of his life.

Interest in Lincoln grew in subsequent decades and reached its 20th-century apex during the Depression, when Americans of varying political stripes lauded him as a representative of perseverance through hard times and the dignity of common people.

The world of Lincoln buffs and collectors was diffuse, with local “roundtable” organizations operating relatively autonomously. Yet a measure of centralization existed through organizations such as the American Lincoln Association, based in Springfield, and the Abraham Lincoln National Life Insurance Company in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Louis Warren directed the Lincoln Library Museum and published Lincoln Lore.

Washington’s path into that world began with Valta Parma, the curator of the Library of Congress’s Rare Books Collection who, early on, had affirmed Barbee’s thesis that Swisshelm had written Behind the Scenes. Parma was receptive to Washington’s research on Keckly and encouraged him to keep digging. He also helped Washington connect with leading Lincoln aficionados. Louis Warren was particularly helpful, encouraging Washington to write the book that would become They Knew Lincoln. “You could give us a very excellent story about Lincoln’s appreciation for his colored associates,” he wrote.

Washington took pleasure in the quest. Among the people he encountered was Aunt Vina, an old acquaintance of another elderly woman he knew from childhood. Driving a team of horses, Washington and his friend traveled hours to Aunt Vina’s remote and tidy home. “Unscrupulous relic hunters” had already been in the neighborhood and had “beaten” people like Aunt Vina “out of some of their most cherished objects.” Aunt Vina therefore talked about her experiences only after assurances from their mutual acquaintance that Washington was an honest man. Then she told of her experiences during the war: how her children had left to find work elsewhere but stayed in touch by mail; how she and her friends had traveled to the capital to witness Lincoln’s second inauguration; and how she had been among the mourners at Lincoln’s funeral.

In southern Maryland and Caroline County, Virginia, Washington also gathered African-Americans’ perspectives on the Lincoln assassination, a topic of perennial interest. Washington interviewed John Henry Coghill, an elderly man who said he had witnessed Booth’s demise on a Virginia farm at the hands of US soldiers. Coghill’s account of the capture and killing of Booth may have added little of substance to what people already knew of the incident, but Washington believed it important to publish Coghill’s verbatim testimony and his photo in They Knew Lincoln, giving him a voice and a place in history he would never otherwise have had.

Washington also included in the book interviews with two white men who he believed had something new to say about the assassination. One was Tom Gardiner, a dental patient of Washington’s who had been a close associate of the conspirators. The other, William Ferguson, was an actor who claimed to have been the only person who actually saw Booth shoot Lincoln—a vantage he had because of where he stood on the stage that night. Washington, always interested in art work and illustrations, had rare pictures of Ford’s Theatre and a diagram of the stage and seating. On the images, Ferguson made marks showing where he was standing and where the other actors were positioned. Washington, with a sense of duty to the historical record, published the picture with Ferguson’s annotations drawn in.

In the main, however, it was African-Americans’ perspectives that Washington sought to emphasize. The dignity and possibility of black history stood at the center of his endeavor. “I hope to produce a book with the soul of a disappearing people in it, and I think we have the material to do so,” Washington told one of the white Lincoln experts with whom he was in touch.

His emphasis on the validity and significance of African-Americans’ testimony about their own experiences and the nation’s history stood in stark contrast to others’ efforts to diminish Elizabeth Keckly. Washington filled his book with an accumulation of black voices, demonstrating convincingly that African-Americans had a great deal to say about the past and that their perspectives mattered.

As an African American, amateur historian, and outsider to the largely white world of Lincoln scholarship and collecting, Washington faced steep challenges in getting his book published. He hired Parma, the Library of Congress curator, as his editor and literary agent, and by fall 1940, Parma had secured contract with publisher E. P. Dutton. Despite some pitfalls along the way, They Knew Lincoln went into production in fall 1941 and hit stores in January 1942, carrying with it a strong endorsement by the famed poet and Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg.

Newspapers and magazines across the country reviewed They Knew Lincoln, and most critics acclaimed the work as an important new contribution in the crowded field of Lincolniana. Many noted the unprecedented nature of Washington’s collection of African-American perspectives on Lincoln. Prominent actors dramatized portions of the book in a Harlem radio show, and the editors of an anthology of African American literature printed an excerpt. The book’s initial print runs sold out almost immediately. Yet Dutton never republished it, and copies became exceedingly hard to find. Scholars and collectors have been aware of the book as a valuable source for the history of the Lincolns and African Americans, but it has been inaccessible to the larger public until now.

*******

They Knew Lincoln piqued my interest many years ago when I checked out a copy from the University of Michigan library.  I wondered who had written this unique work of history and memoir and how it had come into existence.  They Knew Lincoln is the product of its own moment in time and of the particular interests of its author.  It captures something important about the significance of Abraham and Mary Lincoln for many southern African Americans who lived through the Civil War. Many enslaved people interpreted the crisis of war and emancipation through biblical stories of Exodus and salvation, and they hoped and imagined that Lincoln would come among them and deliver them from slavery. Washington’s assertion of an earlier generation’s universal admiration does not tell a complete story, but it does reveal a crucial thread of African American thought, both during the Civil War and in the several decades that followed.

They Knew Lincoln was a forward-looking book. Washington’s compilation of former slaves’ views of Lincoln and his concern for the lives of everyday people, particularly as workers, represented an innovation not only in Lincoln circles but in the study of African-American history. During the 1930s, researchers were increasingly turning attention toward elderly former slaves, whose memories and perspectives they valued in new ways and sought to record. The most famous example of that impulse is the Slave Narratives project of the Works Project Administration, but African-American scholars like Washington led the way.

Moreover, through its national distribution by a major publishing house, They Knew Lincoln became the first book to bring black perspectives on Lincoln directly into the homes and collections of white Lincoln fans and the white reading public. The book’s very existence challenged people’s tendency to exclude or diminish the testimony of African-Americans, and it broke new ground by arguing that African-Americans were not simply passive recipients of Lincoln’s benevolence, but shaped his attitudes. Washington’s book remains a decisive reminder of the centrality of African-American history to the nation’s past.

From They Knew Lincoln by John E. Washington, with a new introduction by Kate Masur. Copyright © February 2018 by Oxford University Press and published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

An Astronaut Reflects on Sally Ride's Legacy for Women in STEM

Smithsonian Magazine

On June 18, 1983, 35 years ago, Sally Ride became the first American woman to launch into space, riding the Space Shuttle STS-7 flight with four other crew members. Only five years earlier, in 1978, she had been selected to the first class of 35 astronauts – including six women – who would fly on the Space Shuttle.

Sally’s first ride, with her STS-7 crewmates. In addition to launching America’s first female astronaut, it was also the first mission with a five-member crew. Front row, left to right: Ride, commander Bob Crippen, pilot Frederick Hauck. Back row, left to right: John Fabian, Norm Thagard. (NASA)

Much has happened in the intervening years. During the span of three decades, the shuttles flew 135 times carrying hundreds of American and international astronauts into space before they were retired in 2011. The International Space Station began to fly in 1998 and has been continuously occupied since 2001, orbiting the Earth once every 90 minutes. More than 50 women have now flown into space, most of them Americans. One of these women, Peggy Whitson, became chief of the Astronaut Office and holds the American record for number of hours in space.

The Space Shuttle was an amazing flight vehicle: It launched like a rocket into Low Earth Orbit in only eight minutes, and landed softly like a glider after its mission. What is not well known is that the Space Shuttle was an equalizer and enabler, opening up space exploration to a wider population of people from planet Earth.

STS-50 Crew photo with commander Richard N. Richards and pilot Kenneth D. Bowersox, mission specialists Bonnie J. Dunbar, Ellen S. Baker and Carl J. Meade, and payload specialists Lawrence J. DeLucas and Eugene H. Trinh. The photo was taken in front of the Columbia Shuttle, which Dunbar helped to build. (NASA)

This inclusive approach began in 1972 when Congress and the president approved the Space Shuttle budget and contract. Spacesuits, seats and all crew equipment were initially designed for a larger range of sizes to fit all body types, and the waste management system was modified for females. Unlike earlier vehicles, the Space Shuttle could carry up to eight astronauts at a time. It had a design more similar to an airplane than a small capsule, with two decks, sleeping berths, large laboratories and a galley. It also provided privacy.

I graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Washington in 1971 and, by 1976, I was a young engineer working on the first Space Shuttle, Columbia, with Rockwell International at Edwards Air Force Base, in California. I helped to design and produce the thermal protection system – those heat resistant ceramic tiles – which allowed the shuttle to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere for up to 100 flights.

Mike Anderson and Bonnie Dunbar flew together on STS-89 in 1998. They both graduated from University of Washington. Anderson was killed in the Columbia accident, in 2003. (NASA)

It was a heady time; a new space vehicle could carry large crews and “cargo,” including space laboratories and the Hubble Space Telescope. The Shuttle also had a robotic arm, which was critical for the assembly of the International Space Station, and an “airlock” for space walks, and enabled us to build the International Space Station.

I knew from my first day at Rockwell that this vehicle had been designed for both men and women. A NASA engineer at the Langley Research Center gave me a very early “heads up” in 1973 that they would eventually select women astronauts for the Space Shuttle. In the 1970s there were visionary men and women in NASA, government and in the general public, who saw a future for more women in science and engineering, and for flying into space. Women were not beating down the door to be included in the Space Shuttle program, we were being invited to be an integral part of a larger grand design for exploring space.

**********

The selection process for the first class of Space Shuttle astronauts, to include women, opened in 1977. NASA approached the recruitment process with a large and innovative publicity campaign encouraging men and women of all ethnic backgrounds to apply.

One of NASA’s recruiters was actress Nichelle Nichols who played Lt. Ohura on the Star Trek series, which was popular at the time. Sally learned about NASA’s astronaut recruitment drive through an announcement, possibly on a job bulletin board, somewhere at Stanford University. Sally had been a talented nationally ranked tennis player, but her passion was physics. The opportunity to fly into space intrigued her and looked like a challenge and rewarding career she could embrace.

Sally and I arrived at NASA at the same time in 1978 – she as part of the “TFNG” (“Thirty-Five New Guys”) astronaut class and I as a newly minted mission controller, training to support the Space Shuttle. I had already been in the aerospace industry for several years and had made my choice for “space” at the age of 9 on a cattle ranch in Washington state. I also applied for the 1978 astronaut class, but was not selected until 1980.

Sally and I connected on the Flight Crew Operations co-ed softball team. We both played softball from an early age and were both private pilots, flying our small planes together around southeast Texas. We also often discussed our perspectives on career selection, and how fortunate we were to have teachers and parents and other mentors who encouraged us to study math and science in school – the enabling subjects for becoming an astronaut.

**********

In January 1978, NASA selected six women into the class of 35 new astronauts to fly on the Space Shuttle. From left to right are Shannon W. Lucid, Ph.D., Margaret Rhea Seddon, M.D., Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D., Judith A. Resnik, Ph.D., Anna L. Fisher, M.D., and Sally K. Ride, Ph.D. (NASA)

Although Sally was one of six women in the 1978 class, she preferred to be considered one of 35 new astronauts – and to be judged by merit, not gender. It was important to all the women that the bar be as high as it was for the men. From an operational and safety point of view, that was also equally important. In an emergency, there are no special allowances for gender or ethnicity: Everyone had to pull their own weight. In fact, it has been said that those first six women were not just qualified, they were more than qualified.

While Sally was honored to be picked as the first woman from her class to fly, she shied away from the limelight. She believed that she flew for all Americans, regardless of gender, but she also understood the expectations on her for being selected “first.” As she flew on STS-7, she paid tribute to those who made it possible for her to be there: to her family and teachers, to those who made and operated the Space Shuttle, to her crewmates, and to all of her astronaut classmates including Kathy Sullivan, Rhea Seddon, Anna Fisher, Shannon Lucid, and Judy Resnick (who lost her life on Challenger).

With all of the attention, Sally was a gracious “first.” And the launch of STS-7 had a unique celebratory flair. Signs around Kennedy Space Center said “Fly Sally Fly,” and John Denver gave a special concert the night before the launch, not far from the launch pad.

**********

One of the topics that Sally and I discussed frequently was why so few young girls were entering into math, technology, science and engineering – which became known as STEM careers in the late 1990s. Both of us had been encouraged and pushed by male and female mentors and “cheerleaders.” By 1972, companies with federal contracts were actively recruiting women engineers. NASA had opened up spaceflight to women in 1978, and was proud of the fact that they were recruiting and training women as astronauts and employing them in engineering and the sciences.

National needs for STEM talent and supportive employment laws were creating an environment such that if a young woman wished to become an aerospace engineer, a physicist, a chemist, a medical doctor, an astronomer or an astrophysicist, they could.

One might have thought that Sally’s legendary flight, and those of other women astronauts over the last 35 years might have inspired a wave of young women (and men) into STEM careers. For example, when Sally flew into space in 1983, a 12-year-old middle school girl back then would now be 47. If she had a daughter, that daughter might be 25. After two generations, we might have expected that there would be large bow wave of young energized women entering into the STEM careers. But this hasn’t happened.

Rather, we have a growing national shortage of engineers and research scientists in this nation, which threatens our prosperity and national security. The numbers of women graduating in engineering grew from 1 percent in 1971 to about 20 percent in 35 years. But women make up 50 percent of the population, so there is room for growth. So what are the “root causes” for this lack of growth?

**********

Many reports have cited deficient K-12 math and science education as contributing to the relatively stagnant graduation rates in STEM careers.

Completing four years of math in high school, as well as physics, chemistry and biology is correlated with later success in science, mathematics and engineering in college. Without this preparation, career options are reduced significantly. Even though I graduated from a small school in rural Washington state, I was able to study algebra, geometry, trigonometry, math analysis, biology, chemistry and physics by the time I graduated. Those were all prerequisites for entry into the University of Washington College of Engineering. Sally had the same preparation before she entered into physics.

As part of NASA’s commitment to the next generation of explorers, NASA Ames collaborated with Sally Ride Science to sponsor and host the Sally Ride Science Festival at the NASA Research Park. Hundreds of San Francisco Bay Area girls, their teachers and parents enjoy a fun-filled interactive exploration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics on Sept. 27, 2008. (NASA Ames Research Center / Dominic Hart)

Although we have many great K-12 schools in the nation, too many schools now struggle to find qualified mathematics and physics teachers. Inspiring an interest in these topics is also key to retention and success. Being excited about a particular subject matter can keep a student engaged even through the tough times. Participation in “informal science education” at museums and camps is becoming instrumental for recruiting students into STEM careers, especially as teachers struggle to find the time in a cramped curriculum to teach math and science.

Research has shown that middle school is a critical period for young boys and girls to establish their attitudes toward math and science, to acquire fundamental skills that form the basis for progression into algebra, geometry and trigonometry, and to develop positive attitudes toward the pursuit of STEM careers. When Dr. Sally Ride retired from NASA, she understood this, and founded Imaginary Lines and, later, Sally Ride Science, to influence career aspirations for middle school girls. She hosted science camps throughout the nation, exposing young women and their parents to a variety of STEM career options. Sally Ride Science continues its outreach through the University of California at San Diego.

**********

Sally Ride and Bonnie Dunbar are fighting outdated stereotypes that women are not good at STEM subjects. (Creativa Images/shutterstock.com)

However, there are still challenges, especially in this social media-steeped society. I and other practicing women engineers have observed that young girls are often influenced by what they perceive “society thinks” of them.

In a recent discussion with an all-girl robotics team competing at NASA, I asked the high school girls if they had support from teachers and parents, and they all said “yes.” But then, they asked, “Why doesn’t society support us?” I was puzzled and asked them what they meant. They then directed me to the internet where searches on engineering careers returned a story after story of describing “hostile work environments.”

Sadly, most of these stories are very old and are often from studies with very small populations. The positive news, from companies, government, universities and such organizations as the National Academy of Engineers, Physics Girl and Society of Women Engineers, rarely rises to the top of the search results. Currently, companies and laboratories in the U.S. are desperate to employ STEM qualified and inspired women. But many of our young women continue to “opt out.”

Young women are influenced by the media images they see every day. We continue to see decades-old negative stereotypes and poor images of engineers and scientists on television programs and in the movies.

Popular TV celebrities continue to boast on air that they either didn’t like math or struggled with it. Sally Ride Science helps to combat misconceptions and dispel myths by bringing practicing scientists and engineers directly to the students. However, in order to make a more substantial difference, this program and others like it require help from the media organizations. The nation depends upon the technology and science produced by our scientists and engineers, but social media, TV hosts, writers and movie script developers rarely reflect this reality. So it may be, that in addition to K-12 challenges in our educational system, the “outdated stererotypes” portrayed in the media are also discouraging our young women from entering science and engineering careers.

Smithsonian’s 2010 Notable Books for Children

Smithsonian Magazine

In the pages of this year’s titles, one may travel backward—or forward—in time; find the rewards of courage, hope and creativity; observe what it means to beat the odds or make a difference. Conjuring up settings from a Maine cottage, shuttered snug against winter, to the forests of Kenya or the hidden mountain canyons of Tibet, each book evokes a world where we may discover our shared humanity.

The age categories listed below are, of necessity, arbitrary. Adjust any choices to the age and reading level of the individual child.

For the Youngest Readers
(Ages 1-6)

Madeline at the White House by John Bemelmans Marciano
The “twelve little girls in two straight lines” troop straight into the Oval Office.

Beaver Is Lost by Elisha Cooper
Adrift on a log, stranded in the maze of city streets: Will he ever make his way back to the den on a lake deep in the forest?

Who’s in the Garden? By Phillis Gershator, illustrated by Jill McDonald
An inventive lift-the-flap book reveals the creatures hidden in the green world of furrows, blossoms and flourishing vegetables.

Boo Cow by Patricia Baehr, illustrated by Margot Apple
Down on Chicken Noodle Farm, everyone is at a loss when a benevolent bovine ghost suddenly melts into thin air.

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills
An affectionate paean to reading readiness.

Sleepover at Gramma’s House by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Jan Jutte
It’s every toddler’s dream destination—and in these pages, we understand why.

The Chicken Thief by Beatrice Rodriguez
A dreamily compelling—and wordless—picture book contemplates the essence of friendship.

Tuck Me In by Dean Hacohen and Sherry Scharschmidt
A turn-the-flap tome recreates a reassuring nighttime ritual.

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein
Fractured fairy tales pepper an uproarious take on the bedtime book.

Creak! Said the Bed by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Regan Dunnick
On a cold and windy night, you might think that there couldn’t possibly be room for one more—but there you would be wrong!

Mr. Putter & Tabby Clear the Decks by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard
Four irrepressible friends head out to sea in the latest installment in a first-reader series that has no equal.

What’s the Big Idea, Molly? By Valeri Gorbachev
Creativity and persistence go hand in hand, as a young poet and her artist friends discover.

Slow Down for Manatees by Jim Arnosky
A dramatic rescue saves a mother and calf from disaster.

A Balloon for Isabel by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Laura Rankin
What’s a spiky hedgehog girl to do when she sets her sights on an all-too-fragile toy? A case study in thinking outside the box.

Grandma Drove the Snowplow by Katie Clark, illustrated by Amy Huntington
When Christmas celebrations are jeopardized, not even the heaviest snowfall of the year stands in the way of Grandma once she resolves to bring yuletide cheer to the Maine town she calls home.

The Lonely Phone Booth by Peter Ackerman, illustrated by Max Dalton
That plexiglass enclosure on the corner might seem a forlorn anachronism—until an unexpected crisis strikes an urban neighborhood.

Side by Side/Lado a Lado by Monica Brown, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
How Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez joined forces to improve conditions for farmworkers.

Little Wolf’s Song by Britta Teckentrup
It’s up to a cub to find his own special howl.

For Middle Readers
(Ages 6-9)

The Inside Tree by Linda Smith, illustrated by David Parkins
Large-hearted Mr. Potter never wants any living thing to be left out in the cold.

A Boy Named FDR: How Franklin D. Roosevelt Grew Up to Change America by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
From his childhood on, compassion and determination were watchwords for the boy who would one day see the nation through the Great Depression.

The Humblebee Hunter by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Jen Corace
At his lively country house, Charles Darwin enlisted his children as helpers in his hands-on natural history experiments: an ingenious introduction to the scientific method.

Wolf Pie by Brenda Seabrook, illustrated by Liz Callen
Can three little pigs and a sworn enemy ever be friends? Only time will tell in this clever chapter book.

Big Night for Salamanders by Sarah Marwil Lamstein, illustrated by Carol Benioff
On early spring nights across North America, a network of volunteers fans out to help the spotted amphibians cross roads during spring migration. The authors celebrate that annual community effort to save a species.

Yasmin’s Hammer by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Doug Ghayka
On the streets of Bangladesh, a girl devises a secret plan to seek her heart’s desire: a chance to attend school.

Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares
One of baseball’s all-time greats started out on sandlots where he had little more than his dreams—and a burning love for the sport.

The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault
In the hills of Honduras, a visionary teacher forever alters the lives of villagers.

The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
The author—a national treasure if ever there were one—turns to another chapter in her autobiography, recalling the talented misfit kids she met in an extraordinary teacher’s classroom.

Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot by Anita Silvey, paintings by Wendell Minor
Critical to the success of the Revolution, but lesser known today, the fearless and fiercely intelligent Knox was an unlikely hero beloved by General Washington.

Everything But the Horse by Holly Hobbie
The artist recalls her family’s move to the country in an homage to her happy childhood.

Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler
How Wangari Maathai overcame every obstacle to save the landscape of Kenya—one tree at a time.

The Can Man by Laura E. Williams, illustrated by Craig Orback
Simple acts of reciprocal kindness transform two lives.

Game Set Match: Champion Arthur Ashe by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Kevin Belford
The traits of perseverance and empathy defined an athlete who defied barriers to become the top-ranked tennis player in the world.

Lilly and the Pirates by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Rob Shepperson
A delightful read-aloud and imaginative recital of high adventure on the seven seas.

The Taxing Case of the Cows: A True Story About Suffrage by Iris Van Rynbach and Pegi Deitz Shea, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
In 1869, when a pair of sisters refused to pay a property tax levied by a town council they couldn’t elect, the two of them set America’s women on the path to winning the vote.

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
In the early 1950s, an African-American family traversing the Jim Crow South makes its way to Alabama with the help of an indispensable travel guide, and the kindness of strangers.

The Chiru of High Tibet: A True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Linda Wingerter
A thrilling recent interlude in the history of field science recounts the expedition of wildlife biologist George Schaller and his companions, who faced down hardship and danger to locate the remote calving grounds of the endangered goat-antelopes prized for their wool.

Image by Candlewick Press. "Creak!" Said the Bed by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Regan Dunnick. (original image)

Image by Boxer Books. Little Wolf's Song by Britta Teckentrup. (original image)

Image by Harper. The Inside Tree by Linda Smith, illustrated by David Parkins. (original image)

Image by Boyds Mills Press. Big Night for Salamanders by Sarah Marwil Lamstein, illustrated by Carol Benioff. (original image)

Image by Kids Can Press. The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault. (original image)

Image by Philomel Books. The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco. (original image)

Image by Carolholda Books. Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. (original image)

Image by G.P. Putnam's Sons. Hope for Haiti by Jesse Joshua Watson. (original image)

Image by Barefoot Books. The Arabian Nights by Wafa' Tarnowska, illustrated by Carole Hénaff. (original image)

Goal! By Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by A. G. Ford
In a dusty South African township, an ordinary soccer match represents far more than a simple game.

Rain School by James Rumford
The author drew on his experience of teaching in Chad to portray a village’s commitment to educating its children—against all odds.

Lucky Beans by Becky Birtha, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell
In the depths of the Depression, times are hard and getting harder for a struggling family—until young Marshall applies his talent in math to save the day.

Lincoln Tells a Joke by Kathleen Krull & Paul Brewer, illustrated by Stacy Innerst
A humanizing glimpse of the 16th president reveals his capacity to laugh—even at himself.

That Cat Can’t Stay by Thad Krasnesky, illustrated by David Parkins
There’s really no point in putting your foot down, when the entire household is bent on taking in just one more stray. This droll tribute to dads who are softies at heart is sure to become a family favorite.

Eight Days: A Story of Haiti by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Alix Delinois, and Hope for Haiti by Jesse Joshua Watson. Two picture books convey the indomitable spirit of islanders rebuilding a future in the wake of the devastating earthquake.

The Arabian Nights by Wafa’ Tarnowska, illustrated by Carole Henaff
The Lebanese-born author offers a magnificent new translation of eight tales from the legendary story cycle, based on a 14th-century manuscript.

Lafayette and the American Revolution by Russell Freedman
Invincible and deeply admired by General Washington, the young marquis made a new nation’s cause his own.

Come See the Earth Turn by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Raul Allen
On February 3, 1851, Leon Foucault, a genius laboring in obscurity, unveiled an experiment that proved what no other scientist had succeeded in demonstrating: that the earth spins on its axis.

The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry, illustrated by Jules Feiffer
Wit and whimsy abound in a tale of a princess who throws off the shackles of a stultifying existence.

Blue Jay Girl by Sylvia Ross
The vivid novel evokes the lost world of California’s Yaudanchi tribe and honors its legacy of traditional healing.

Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard
In a Himalayan kingdom long ago, a young girl seeks her fortune with the help of kindly monkeys—and magic.

Our Earth: How Kids Are Saving the Planet by Janet Wilson
From a self-taught Malian boy who built a windmill to generate electricity for his village, to a Costa Rican girl who founded a rainforest-preservation NGO, it’s kids to the rescue.

Dinosaur Mountain: Digging Into the Jurassic Age by Deborah Kogan Ray
In 1908, adventurer and field scientist Earl Douglass set off for a remote corner of northeastern Utah—and became a renowned paleontologist.

Movie Maker: Everything You Need to Know to Create Films on Your Cell Phone or Digital Camera! By Tim Grabham et al. For the aspiring director on your list, whether the goal is creating dramas, documentaries or animation, an amazing hands-on kit. For all ages, 8 or so and beyond.

Theodore Roosevelt for Kids by Kerrie Logan Hollihan
The life and times of the ebullient 26th president, with activities to bring history alive.

For Older Readers
(Ages 10 and up)

Scumble by Ingrid Law
The Wild West—and the lexicon of the tall tale—form the backdrop for the heroics of 13-year-old Ledger Kale, who hasn’t quite grown into his magical powers.

A Gift From Childhood: Memories of an African Boyhood by Baba Wagué Diakité
The author recalls the Malian village that nurtured him and sustains him today.

As Easy as Falling Off the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins
The novelist brings her prodigious talents to the tale of Ry, a teenager who meets up with a good Samaritan in the nick of time, after he is stranded in what seems the middle of nowhere.

Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
For 10-year-old Penelope Grey, cosseted her entire life, the real saga commences only when everything has been lost.

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis
A phantasmagorical rumination on the childhood of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda is rooted in a belief that words possess the power to mend the spirit and change the world.

Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors
The whimsical tale turns on droopy-eared Dog—and two resourceful siblings who leave their farm in search of a secret society of explorers. A winner, first page to last.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
The author based this novel on the childhood experiences of Salva Dut, born in Sudan but now living in the United States. It is a testament to undaunted courage. (Contains mature content)

Around the World in 100 Days by Gary Blackwood
The springboard for this rip-roaring historical novel was an actual globe-spanning automobile race of 1908.

Northward to the Moon by Polly Horvath
Horvath’s inimitable voice, sense of fun and quiet belief in the power of tolerance—here applied to the odyssey of a plucky young heroine and her family—showcase the writer at the height of her powers.

Crunch by Leslie Connor
The Marriss family’s bike-repair business is not exactly a going concern—until the day that the gas pumps run dry across the nation. Connor’s high-spirited romp pays tribute to the rewards of a can-do spirit.

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
Rollicking good fun, Holm’s touching novel transports readers to the Depression-era Florida Keys, where 11-year-old Turtle finds a whole new world after her aunt Minerva Curry takes her in.

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers
There is nothing more difficult than turning your back on the past and the choices one made, as Reese discovers when he is sent to a juvenile facility. Myers has few peers in summoning the world of at-risk kids who are trying to make their way toward a better future. (Contains mature content)

Ashes by Kathryn Lasky
In a novel set in 1932 Berlin, 13-year-old Gabriella Schramm perceives the burgeoning threat shadowing their neighbor, a physicist named Albert Einstein, and her own scientist father.

Earth Heroes: Champions of the Wilderness by Bruce and Carol L. Malnor, illustrated by Anisa Claire Hovemann; Earth Heroes: Champions of the Ocean by Fran Hodgkins, illustrated by Cris Arbo; Earth Heroes: Champions of Wild Animals by Carol L. and Bruce Malnor, illustrated by Anisa Claire Hovemann.
The series on conservationist scientists continues with profiles of figures from pioneering environmentalist Aldo Leopold to ichthyologist Eugenie Clark and ethologist Jane Goodall.

The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt
When his older brother returns from a tour of duty as a Marine in the Middle East, high-school age Levi leaves everyday life behind to help his brother begin to heal from post-traumatic stress disorder. (Contains mature content)

Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl by Daniel Pinkwater
Wacky, big-hearted and wildly original, the novel unspools the escapades of big Audrey, whose feline lineage takes her far after a UFO touches down behind the big stone barn.

Efrain’s Secret by Sofia Quintero
For a gifted high-school student in the South Bronx, the yearning to escape the streets and attain an Ivy League education can become a dangerous aspiration. Quintero’s sensitive and fast-paced novel depicts the daunting challenges facing a boy who is attempting to transcend his circumstances. (Contains mature content)

And Both Were Young by Madeleine L’Engle
In the mountains of Switzerland in 1949, a boarding-school student meets a mysterious boy—and soon finds herself enmeshed in the aftermath of the war. L’Engle’s novel, re-issued in a new edition, contains an introduction by her granddaughter.

Flash by Michael Cadnum
A meditation on unintended consequences and the cost of violence explores dual narrative threads, the first involving brothers who set themselves on a self-destructive trajectory, and the second introducing a pair of siblings who thwart the mayhem before it can be fully unleashed. (Contains mature content)

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
At the fantastical New York Circulating Material Repository—which lends out objects rather than books—magical artifacts from the Brothers Grimm fairy tales begin to disappear. That’s when our heroine begins hurtling into an alternative reality, in a tour-de-force fantasy novel also grounded fully in the here and now.

Scientists Capture Rare Photographs of Red Lightning

Smithsonian Magazine

Sprites over Red Willow County, Nebraska, on August 12, 2013. Image courtesy of Jason Ahrns via Flickr.

Jason Ahrns, a graduate student at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and other scientists from the U.S. Air Force Academy and Fort Lewis College—all part of a project sponsored by the National Science Foundation—have been on a mission. This summer, the group has taken to the skies in the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Gulfstream V research aircraft, logging a total of 30 hours over multiple flights, in search of sprites.

Sprites, also known as red lightning, are electrical discharges that appear as bursts of red light above clouds during thunderstorms.Because the weather phenomenon is so fleeting (sprites flash for just milliseconds) and for the most part not visible from the ground, they are difficult to observe and even more difficult to photograph, rather like the mischievous air spirits of the fantasy realm that they’re named for. Ahrns and his colleagues, however, have captured extremely rare photographs of the red lightning, using DSLR cameras and high speed video cameras positioned in the plane’s window. The researchers hope to learn more about the physical and chemical processes that give rise to sprites and other forms of upper atmospheric lightning.

What’s it like to capture images of some of nature’s most short-lived and erratic features? I questioned Ahrns over email, and he explained what sprites are, why they occur, how scientists find them and why he’s so interested in the elusive phenomena.

First of all, what is a sprite? 

A sprite is a kind of upper atmosphere electrical discharge associated with thunderstorms. A large electric field, generated by some lightning strokes, ionizes the air high above the cloud, which then emits the light we see in the pictures. They obviously beg comparison to the regular lightning bolts we see all the time, but I like to point out that the sprites are much higher, with the tops reaching up to around 100 kilometers, and higher. A lightning bolt might stretch around 10 kilometers from the cloud to the ground, but a sprite can reach 50 kilometers tall.

A “jellyfish” sprite captured over Republic County, Kansas, on August 3, 2013. Image courtesy of Jason Ahrns via Flickr.

Under what conditions do they occur?

They’re associated with positive lightning strokes, which is when the cloud has a buildup of positive charge and releases a bolt of lightning. Negative strokes, from a buildup of negative charge, are about 10 times more common, so sprites aren’t strongly associated with the most common kind of lightning, but it’s not really that uncommon either. More than just a positive stroke, the more charge that was moved during the stroke, the better the chances for a sprite. So we look for a large positive charge-moment-change, which is basically the positive strokes weighted by how much charge was moved. Most large thunderstorms seem to produce the conditions that lead to sprites, but some more than others. We just look for a storm with a history of lots of large positive charge-moment-change and go look at it.

What’s your scientific background? And how did you get interested in sprites?

I’m primarily an aurora researcher, that’s what I’m doing my thesis on at UAF. I got involved in sprites because one of my graduate committee members is organizing these campaigns and needed some extra help. I thought sprites were fascinating, and my advisor was supportive of me branching out a bit, so I hopped aboard the team.

Sprites over Red Willow County, Nebraska, on August 12, 2013. Image courtesy of Jason Ahrns via Flickr.

From what I understand, not much is known about red lightning, discovered just 25 years or so ago. With the NSF project, what are you and the other scientists hoping to learn? What are the biggest questions you have?

With this campaign we’re focusing on three questions. First, what basic physical and chemical processes are occurring? It’s still not clear what exactly is happening in a sprite, and why there are different kinds of sprites, and what conditions give you a column sprite vs. a carrot sprite, for example. (All the sprite names just refer to their shape.) Next, do sprites have a large scale impact on the middle atmosphere? Sprites clearly represent some kind of transfer of energy, but is it on a scale that has a significant effect on the weather and climate? We can’t answer that without studying them. And, then, what can we learn about basic streamer physics? The tendrils coming off the bottom of the sprites are ‘streamers’—little balls of ionization—moving about. Streamer speed and lifetime is related to air density, so studying sprites in the very low density upper atmosphere is like looking at streamers with a magnifying glass in slow motion, though they’re still quite fast!

How many sprite-hunting missions have you been on?

Personally, this is my second aerial campaign. The first, in 2011, flew a total of 40 airborne hours, and this campaign did another 30 hours. It’s probably around 15ish total flights. The same crew, minus me, did one other aerial campaign in 2009.

Ahrns captured these blue jets, which look like flames from a butane lighter, over Republic County, Kansas, on August 3, 2013. Unlike sprites, blue jets aren’t directly triggered by lightning, but seem to be somehow related to the presence of hail storms. Image courtesy of Jason Ahrns via Flickr.

What conditions, times of the day, areas of the country and altitudes are ideal for these flights?

The midwest is productive, mostly because it gets these powerful thunderstorms that last all night. Obviously, we need it to be dark, but other than that the time of night doesn’t seem to matter much, only how strong the storm is and how much powerful positive lightning it’s producing. We do notice that when the storm is going good it produces the column sprites and carrot sprites, but as it dies off it seems to switch over to less frequent, but bigger and brighter, jellyfish sprites. We fly as high as we can get, usually between 41,000 and 45,000 feet, but that’s simply to get a view over the clouds. We’re still below the sprites.

The lightning lasts just milliseconds, so I’m especially curious about how you photograph it. What equipment do you use?

For the still photographs, I just set my camera (a Nikon D7000 and a fast lens) facing out the window and set an intervalometer so the camera just constantly snaps pictures. Then I go through later and delete everything that doesn’t have a sprite in it. It’s the same principle as lightning photography; it seems like you’d have to get the timing just right but it’s really just statistical, if you snap a bunch of pictures one of them is going to get something sooner or later. I probably snap on the order of 1,000 pictures for every sprite I come away with.

For the high speed video cameras, the camera has a buffer that constantly cycles through the previous however many frames of video, and when I see a sprite I hit a trigger that tells the camera to stop and save whatever it just recorded. When we’re running at 10,000 frames per second, the buffer fills up in about a second, so that’s how long I have to recognize a sprite and hit the button. This can be pretty taxing on a slow night when you have to watch nothing happen for 45 minutes straight and still be ready with that less than one second reaction time.

Can you describe the setup? How do you actually take photographs from the plane window?

A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Ahrns’s setup near the plane’s window. Image courtesy of Jason Ahrns via Flickr.

And for the high speed video…

His setup for capturing high speed video. Image courtesy of Jason Ahrns via Flickr.

We have an internet connection aboard the plane so we can watch weather conditions in real time. We just point the above cameras at the most productive looking part of the storm and wait for sprites.

How rare are photos like these that you have taken?

As far as I can tell, they’re pretty rare. There are some sprite images taken with meteor cameras and webcams out there, but they’re usually low resolution due to being very far away and using a wide angle lens. I’ve seen two or three sprite images taken with a DSLR, but they’re still from the ground and a good distance away, and usually shots of something else that got lucky with a sprite in the background. I have the advantage of being up in the air, close to the sprite producing region, with a good guess of where the sprites will appear, so I can use a lens with a narrower field of view to capture the sprite up close.

As for the images I got of blue jets, as far as I can tell they’re actually the first images of jets taken with a DSLR. That makes some sense, because the jets are a lot closer to the top of the clouds than sprites so much harder to see from the ground. Being in the air is a major advantage.

Taken over Red Willow County, Nebraska, on August 12, 2013. Image courtesy of Jason Ahrns via Flickr.

What do you find artful about the images, if anything?

I think there’s a really otherwordly starkness about them. Take this one (above), for example. You’ve got this nice serene starfield, and some cool, calming blue light coming up from the lightning below. Then BLAM! This weird, menacing, totally alien looking sprite just takes over the whole scene, like ‘I’m here, what are you gonna do about it?’

Hans Nielsen, the principal investigator on the campaign (and my previously mentioned committee member), says this one (below) reminds him of the classic Dutch paintings, with its sepia tones and slight blurring from the atmospheric haze.

Taken over Canadian County, Oklahoma, on August 6, 2013. Image courtesy of Jason Ahrns via Flickr.

What have you learned thus far about sprites by participating in this project?

Personally? When I joined the 2011 campaign I knew nothing about sprites beyond the Wikipedia entry. I learn more every night of the campaigns, listening to the others talk about conditions beforehand, what we’re seeing during the flights and our ‘what we did right, what we did wrong’ discussions over post-flight beer. I’m still a newbie compared to the other guys, but I’m now at the point where I can field most general public questions about sprites and sprite hunting.

Where and when are you flying next?

Nothing is set in stone, but we’d really like to fly again next summer. Hopefully we can make that happen.

To Understand the Elusive Musk Ox, Researchers Must Become Its Worst Fear

Smithsonian Magazine

Joel Berger is on the hunt. Crouching on a snow-covered hillside, the conservation biologist sports a full-length cape of brown faux fur and what looks to be an oversized teddy bear head perched on a stake. Holding the head aloft in one hand, he begins creeping over the hill’s crest toward his target: a herd of huddling musk oxen.

It’s all part of a plan that Berger, who is the wildlife conservation chair at Colorado State University, has devised to help protect the enigmatic animal that roams the Alaskan wilderness. He slowly approaches the unsuspecting herd and makes note of how the musk oxen react. At what distance do they look his way? Do they run away, or stand their ground and face him? Do they charge? Each of their reactions will give him vital clues to the behavior of what has been a notoriously elusive study subject. 

Weighing up to 800 pounds, the Arctic musk ox resembles a smaller, woollier cousin of the iconic American bison. But their name is a misnomer; the creatures are more closely related to sheep and goats than oxen. These quadrupeds are perfectly adapted to the remote Arctic wasteland, sporting a coat of thick fur that contains an insulating under layer to seal them away from harsh temperatures. 

Perhaps most astonishing is how ancient these beasts are, having stomped across the tundra for a quarter of a million years relatively unchanged. "They roamed North America when there were giant lions, when there were woolly mammoths," Berger told NPR's Science Friday earlier this year, awe evident in his voice. "And they're the ones that have hung on." They travel in herds of 10 or more, scrounging the barren landscape in search of lichen, grasses, roots and moss.

But despite their adaptations and resilience, musk oxen face many modern threats, among them human hunting, getting eaten by predators like grizzlies and wolves, and the steady effects of climate change. Extreme weather events—dumps of snow, freezing rain or high temperatures that create snowy slush—are especially tough on musk oxen. “With their short legs and squat bodies," they can't easily bound away like a caribou, explains Jim Lawler, an ecologist with the National Parks Service.

In the 19th century, over-hunting these beasts for their hides and meat led to a statewide musk ox extinction—deemed "one of the tragedies of our generation" in a 1923 New York Times article. At the time, just 100 musk oxen remained in North America, trudging across the Canadian Arctic. In 1930, the U.S. government shipped 34 animals from Greenland to Alaska's Nunivak Island, hoping to save a dwindling species.

It worked: by 2000, roughly 4,000 of the charismatic beasts roamed the Alaskan tundra. Yet in recent years that growth has slowed, and some populations have even started to decline. 

Which brings us back to how little we know about musk oxen. Thanks to their tendency to live in sparse groupings in remote regions that are near-impossible for humans or vehicles to traverse, no one knows the reason for today’s mysterious decline. The first part of untangling the mystery is to figure out basic musk ox behavior, including how they respond to predators. 

This is why Berger is out in the Arctic cold, dressed up as a musk ox’s worst nightmare. 

Image by Courtesy of Joel Berger. The name musk ox is a bit of a misnomer. The creatures don't produce true musk and are more closely related to sheep and goats than oxen. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Joel Berger. In recent years, Berger began similar work on Wrangle Island, a Russian nature preserve in the Arctic Ocean, where musk ox are facing the threat of an increasing population of polar bears on land. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Joel Berger. These prehistoric beasts are known to face their predators head on, huddling together with their young tucked behind. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Joel Berger. Berger poses as a grizzly bear in the Alaskan wilderness, slowly approaching a herd of musk ox. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Joel Berger. Musk ox contain a thick, insulating layer of underwool that protects the creatures in the harsh winter temperatures. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Joel Berger. When the Alaskan herds lacks males, they flee from their grizzly predators, which means that some of the musk ox, most often the babies, will get eaten. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Joel Berger. When a charging musk ox seems like it could be serious, Berger stands up out of his crouched position and throws off the bear head. This move confuses the burly beasts, halting the attack. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Joel Berger. When full grown, musk ox stand up to five feet tall and weigh up to 800 pounds. These long-haired ungulates survive in the desolate arctic landscape by eating roots, mosses, lichens and grasses. (original image)

Becoming the other

Donning a head-to-toe grizzly bear costume to stalk musk oxen wasn’t Berger’s initial plan. He’d been working with these animals in the field since 2008, studying how climate change was impacting the herds. Along with the National Parks Service, he spent several years tracking the herds with radio collars and watching from a distance how they fared in several regions of Western Alaska. 

During this work, scientists began to notice that many herds lacked males. This was likely due to hunting, they surmised. In addition to recreational trophy hunting, musk oxen are important to Alaskan subsistence hunters, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game grants a limited number of permits each year for taking a male musk ox. This is a common wildlife management strategy, explains Lawler: "You protect the females because they're your breeding stock." 

But as the male populations declined, park officials began finding that female musk ox and their babies were also dying.

In 2013, a study published in PlosOne by members of the National Park Service and Alaska's Department of Fish and Game suggested that gender could be playing a key role. In other animals like baboons and zebras, males hold an important part in deterring predators, either by making alarm calls or staying behind to fight. But no one knew whether musk ox had similar gender roles, and the study quickly came under criticism for a lack of direct evidence supporting the link, says Lawler.

That’s when Berger had his idea. He recalls having a conversation with his park service colleagues about how difficult these interactions would be to study. “Are there ways we can get into the mind of a musk ox?’” he thought. And then it hit him: He could become a grizzly bear. "Joel took that kernel of an idea and ran with it," says Lawler.

This wouldn't be the first time Berger had walked in another creature’s skin in the name of science. Two decades earlier, he was investigating how carnivore reintroduction programs for predators, such as wolves and grizzlies, were affecting the flight behavior of the moose. In this case, he dressed up as the prey, donning the costume of a moose. Then, he covertly plunked down samples of urine and feces from predators to see if the real moose reacted to the scent. 

It turns out that the creatures learned from past experiences: Mothers who had lost young to predators immediately took notice, while those who lost calves to other causes remained “blissfully ignorant” of the danger, he says.

To be a grizzly, Berger would need an inexpensive and extremely durable design that could withstand being bounced around "across permafrost, across rocks, across ice, up and over mountains and through canyons," he explains. The most realistic Hollywood costumes cost thousands of dollars, he says, and he couldn't find anyone willing to "lend one on behalf of science." 

So Berger, who is also a senior scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, turned to the WCS' Bronx Zoo to borrow a his teddy-bear-like ensemble. He then recruited a graduate student to make a caribou garment, so he could test how the musk oxen would react to a faux predator versus an unthreatening fellow ungulate. 

After comparing the two disguises in the field, he found that the bear deception worked. When dressed as a caribou, he's largely ignored. But when he dons his grizzly suit, the “musk oxen certainly become more nervous,” he says. Now it was time to start gathering data.

The trouble with drones

Playing animal dress-up is far from a popular method for studying elusive creatures. More common strategies include footprint tracking and GPS collars, and most recently, drones. Capable of carrying an assortment of cameras and sensors, drones have grown in popularity for tracking elusive creatures or mapping hard-to-reach terrains. They’ve even been deployed as sample collectors to collect, among other things, whale snot.

But drones are far from perfect when it comes to understanding the complex predator-prey drama that unfolds between bear and musk ox, for several reasons. 

They’re expensive, challenging to operate and finicky in adverse weather. "You can't have it all," says Mary Cummings, a mechanical engineer at Duke University who has worked with drones as a wildlife management tool in Gabon, Africa. Cummings found that the heat and humidity of Africa caused the machines to burst into flame. Meanwhile, Berger worries the Arctic cold would diminish battery life.

Moreover, when studying elusive creatures, the key is to leave them undisturbed so you can witness their natural behavior. But drones can cause creatures distress. Cummings learned this firsthand while tracking African elephants from the air. Upon the drone's approach, the elephants trunks rose up. "You could tell they were trying to figure out what was happening," she says. As the drones got closer, elephants began to scatter, with one even slinging mud at the noisemaker. 

The problem, the researchers later realized, was that the drone mimics the creatures’ only nemesis: the African bee.

"Drones have kind of this cool cache," says Cummings. But she worries we've gone a little drone-crazy. "I can't open my email inbox without some new announcement that drones are going to be used in some new crazy way that's going to solve all our problems," she says. Berger agrees. "Sometimes we lose sight about the animals because we are so armed with the idea of a technological fix," he adds.

Another option for tracking hard-to-find animals is hiding motion-activated cameras that can snap images or video of unsuspecting subjects. These cameras exploded on the wildlife research scene after the introduction of the infrared trigger in the 1990s, and have provided unprecedented glimpses into the daily lives of wild animals ever since.

For musk oxen, however, observing from the sky or from covert cameras on the ground wasn't going to cut it.

Musk oxen are scarce. But even scarcer are records of bears or wolves preying on the massive creatures. In the last 130 years, Berger has found just two documented cases. That meant that to understand musk ox herd dynamics, Berger needed to get up close and personal with the burly beasts—even if doing so could put him in great personal danger. “We can’t wait another 130 years to solve this one,” he says.

When he first suggested his study technique, some of Berger’s colleagues laughed. But his idea was serious. By dressing as a grizzly, he hoped to simulate these otherwise rare interactions and study how musk ox react to threats—intimate details that would be missed by most other common study methods.

It's the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that has helped Berger tackle tough conservation questions throughout his career. "We call it Berger-ology," says Clayton Miller, a fellow wildlife researcher at WCS, "because you really have no idea what's going to come out of his mouth and somehow he ties it all together beautifully."

Risks of the trade

When Berger started his work, no one knew what to expect. "People don't go out and hang out with musk ox in the winter," he says. Which makes sense, considering their formidable size and helmet-like set of horns. When they spot a predator, musk oxen face the threat head on, lining up or forming a circle side-by-side with their young tucked behind. If the threat persists, a lone musk ox will charge.

Because of the real possibility that Berger would be killed, the park service was initially reluctant to approve permits for the work. Lawler recalls arguing on behalf of Berger’s work to his park service colleagues. "Joel's got this reputation for … these wacky hair-brained ideas," he remembers telling them. "But I think you have to do these kinds of far out things to make good advances. What the heck, why not?" 

Eventually the organization relented, taking safety measures including sending out a local guide armed with a gun to assist Berger.

Besides the danger, Berger soon found that stalking musk ox is slow-going and often painful work. On average, he can only watch one group each day. To maintain the bear routine, he remains hunched over, scrambling over rocks and snow for nearly a mile in sub-zero temperatures and freezing winds. He sits at a "perilously close" distance to the musk ox, which puts him on edge. 

Between the physical challenge and the nerves, each approach leaves him completely exhausted. "When you are feeling really frostbitten, it’s hard to keep doing it," he says.

But by weathering these hardships, Berger has finally started to learn what makes a musk ox tick. He can now sense when they're nervous, when they'll charge and when it's time to abort his mission. (When things are looking tense, he stands up and throws his faux head in one direction and his cape in the other. This momentarily confuses the charging musk ox, halting them in their tracks.)

So far he’s been charged by seven male musk oxen, never by a female—suggesting that musk oxen do indeed have distinct gender roles in the pack. Moreover, he’s found, the presence of males changes the behavior of the herd: When the group lacks males, the females all flee. This is dangerous because, as any outdoor training course will tell you, “you don't run from a [grizzly] bear," says Berger. When the herds bolt, musk oxen—particularly babies—get eaten. 

The polar bear that wasn't

The charismatic polar bear has long been the poster child of Arctic climate change. Compared to musk ox, “they’re a more direct signal to climate,” says Berger. Polar bears need sea ice to forage for food, and as Earth warms, sea ice disappears. This means that tracking polar bear populations and health gives scientists a window into the impacts of climate change. Their luminous white fur, cuddly-looking cubs and characteristic lumber only make them more ideal as animal celebrities. 

As a result, much of the conservation attention—and funding—has been directed toward polar bear research. Yet Berger argues that musk ox are also a significant piece of the puzzle. "Musk ox are the land component of [the] polar equation," Berger explains. Though their connection to climate is less obvious, the impacts could be just as deadly for these brawny beasts. 

Musk oxen and their ancestors have lived in frosty climates for millennia. "If any species might be expected to be affected by warming temperatures, it might be them," he says.

Moreover, musk oxen have their own charisma—it’s just rare that people get to see them close enough to witness it. The easiest time to spot them, says Berger, is during winter, when the animals' dark tresses stand in stark contrast to the snowy white backdrop. "When you see black dots scattered across the hillside, they are as magic," he says.

From Greenland to Canada, musk oxen around the world face very different challenges. On Wrangle Island, a Russian nature preserve in the Arctic Ocean, the animals are facing increased encounters with deadly polar bears, but less direct climate impacts. To get a more complete picture of musk oxen globally, Berger is now using similar methods to study predator interactions with the herds on this remote island, comparing how the creatures cope with threats.  

"We can’t do conservation if we don’t know what the problems are," says Berger. "And we don’t know what the problems are if we don’t study them." By becoming a member of their ecosystem, Berger hopes to face these threats head on. And perhaps his work will help the musk ox do the same.

"We won't know if we don't try," he says.

During the Cold War, the C.I.A. Secretly Plucked a Soviet Submarine From the Ocean Floor Using a Giant Claw

Smithsonian Magazine

In a corner exhibit of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., which opens this weekend, a submarine control panel, a swoopy-banged wig, detailed whiteprints and a chunk of manganese are on display. Together, they represent relics of a Cold War espionage mission so audacious, the museum’s curator, Vince Houghton, compares it to the heist from Ocean’s 11. This mission, codenamed Project Azorian, involved the C.I.A. commissioning the construction of a 600-foot ship to retrieve a sunken Soviet submarine from the ocean floor—all in complete secrecy. “I can’t imagine there’s another country in the world that would have thought, ‘We found a Soviet submarine, under [more than three miles] of water. Let’s go steal it,’ says Houghton.

The six-year mission began in 1968, when the Soviet ballistic missile submarine K-129 went missing without explanation somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. In this post-Cuban Missile Crisis era, both American and Soviet submarines prowled the open seas with nuclear weapons aboard, prepared for potential war. Some reports indicate that the sinking was due to a mechanical error such as inadvertent missile engine ignition, while the Soviets for a time suspected the Americans of foul play. After two months, the Soviet Union abandoned its search for K-129 and the nuclear weapons it carried, but the United States, which had recently used Air Force technology to locate two of its own sunken submarines, pinpointed the K-129 1,500 miles northwest of Hawaii and 16,500 feet below the surface. According to the declassified C.I.A. history of the project, “No country in the world had succeeded in raising an object of this size and weight from such a depth.”

Internally, the intelligence community deliberated about the cost-to-reward ratio of such an expensive and risky undertaking even as the submarine offered a tantalizing trove of information. According to Houghton, the value of the K-129 stemmed not just from the code books and nuclear warheads onboard, but also the chance to understand the manufacturing process behind the rival power’s submarines. If the U.S. knew how the K-129’s sonar systems operated, or the mechanisms by which the submarines kept quiet, they could improve their ability to detect them. And by 1967, the Soviet Union had amassed an armament of nuclear weapons large enough that the two nations had “virtual nuclear parity,” Houghton explains. As a result, the Americans were hungry to gain a competitive advantage—an edge the K-129 might provide.

The C.I.A. brainstormed several improbable-sounding means of recovering the submarine. One suggestion involved generating enough gas on the ocean floor to buoy the submarine to the surface. Instead, they settled on an idea reminiscent of the classic arcade game—a giant claw that would grasp and pull the K-129 into the “moon pool” belly of a giant ship. Initially, the project boasted an estimated ten percent chance of success. (Granted, that figure increased as Azorian approached completion.)

Details from the Glomar Explorer's ship building plan (reproduction), 1971. In the bottom-center of the ship, you can see the plans for the "moon pool," which the claw would be able to pull the submarine into. (Courtesy of the International Spy Museum) A diagram of Project Azorian's retrieval mechanism on display at the International Spy Museum (Courtesy of the International Spy Museum)

Legally speaking, the U.S. was concerned that the project could leave them open to charges of piracy if the Soviets had an inkling of the illicit submarine-salvaging plans. Wanting to sidestep diplomatic tensions and keep whatever knowledge was to be gleaned from the mission secret, the C.I.A. constructed an elaborate cover story with the help of enigmatic billionaire Howard Hughes. The aviation mogul lent his imprimatur to the construction of the 618-foot-long ship, to be named the Hughes Glomar Explorer, which was advertised as a deep-sea mining research vessel. In 1972, a champagne christening ceremony and fabricated press release celebrated the ship.

When the ship first sailed from Pennsylvania to waters near Bermuda for testing in 1973, the Los Angeles Times noted the occasion, calling the vessel “shrouded in secrecy” and observing, “Newsmen were not permitted to view the launch, and details of the ship’s destination and mission were not released.” Evidently, the public and press chalked the mystery up to Hughes’ reputation as a recluse, such a loner that he was said to eschew even his own company’s board meetings.

Next, the Glomar Explorer navigated to the Pacific around South America—because it was too wide to pass through the Panama Canal. After some minor foibles (the U.S.-assisted 1973 Chilean coup happened the same day as seven technicians were trying to board the ship in the country’s port city of Valparaíso), the Glomar Explorer arrived in Long Beach, California, where it loaded more than 20 vans full of equipment (including a darkroom, paper processing, nuclear waste handling) for analyzing the K-129’s contents.

Meanwhile, a team built the claw (nicknamed “Clementine” and formally known as the “capture vehicle”) in a gargantuan floating barge called HMB-1 in Redwood City. In the spring of 1974, HMB-1 submerged and met up with the Glomar Explorer off the coast of Catalina Island in southern California. HMB-1 opened its roof, and the Glomar Explorer opened the bottom of its hollow “moon pool” to take the steel claw onboard. Then the HMB-1 detached and returned to Redwood City, the transfer unnoticed.

The 51,000-ton barge HMB-1 was where the "capture vehicle" that would grasp the submarine was constructed in secret. Here, HMB-1 sails under the Golden Gate Bridge. (Bettman / Getty Images)

That summer, the Glomar Explorer, with the approval of President Richard Nixon, set off towards the spot where the K-129 rested. By this point, the Cold War had reached a détente, but still, two separate Soviet ships (likely loaded with intelligence operatives) closely monitored the supposed mining vessel as it worked to retrieve the submarine. (At one point, Glomar crew members even piled crates on their landing deck to prevent any attempts to land a helicopter.) But the mission continued undetected—as the 274 pieces of heavy steel pipe that stretched between the claw and the ship were being slowly hauled back onboard, with the submarine in Clementine’s grasp, the second Soviet tug sailed away.

After about a week of slow upward progress, Project Azorian finally completed the lift of the K-129—but only one part of it. According to Project AZORIAN: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129, a book co-written by naval historian Norman Polmar and documentary director Michael White, about midway through the process, a few of the grabber arms encircling the submarine broke, and a large part of the K-129 fell back to the ocean floor. While the later media reports and history books generally relayed that the more desirable components of the submarine, like the code room, sunk, Houghton encourages skepticism of the details surrounding the project’s ostensible failure. “The conventional wisdom has become that this was a failed mission,” he explains. “[The C.I.A. has] allowed that belief to be what everyone understands, but why would they not? I always say, ‘We have no idea what they got.’” (Many of the details in this story are sourced from C.I.A. declassified documents and recently published historical accounts, but since other findings from the mission are still classified, and the C.I.A. may have had reason to obfuscate the story, skepticism remains warranted.)

We do know, however, that the Glomar Explorer retrieved the bodies of several of the K-129’s crewmembers, whom they gave a military burial at sea, which the C.I.A. filmed and gave to Russia almost 20 years later. Coincidentally, the retrieval also brought up manganese samples from the bottom of the sea, the material that the Glomar Explorer purportedly was researching.

Part of a control panel that was recovered from the K-129 in Project Azorian. (Courtesy of the International Spy Museum)

The U.S. seemed to have gotten away with the elaborate submarine heist—Ford’s secretary of defense, James Schlesinger, said in a White House meeting, “The operation is a marvel.” In early 1975, however, after a random robbery of the headquarters of Hughes’ Summa Corporation, which was acting as a front for the Glomar Explorer, the story made its way to the headlines of the Los Angeles Times and national television. The story broke later than it could have—famed New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh had been following it as early as 1973 but honored a request from C.I.A. director William Colby to suppress the story—and were riddled with inaccuracies. (The code name was thought to be “Jennifer,” which was actually referred only to its security procedures, and the L.A. Times report placed the recovery efforts in the Atlantic Ocean.) Nonetheless, it was enough to alert the Soviet Union and “disturb” (his words) President Ford. Project Matador, the plan to retrieve the rest of the K-129, apparently got nixed as news of the thought-to-have-failed mission and its rumored (but, Houghton says, ultimately unknowable) $300 million-plus price tag circulated.

The C.I.A. also faced a diplomatic dilemma that spring. Pressed by the Soviet ambassador to the U.S. and Freedom of Information Act requests from journalists, they wanted to avoid directly acknowledging that they’d illicitly stolen a submarine from the watchful Soviets, but were obligated to somehow respond. “[The U.S. government] did not want to embarrass the Soviets,” Houghton says, “mainly because in doing so, [they] really set diplomacy back significantly, because the Soviet premier would have to respond” through sanctions or an attack on a territory. In the effort to walk this diplomatic tightrope and comply with FOIA requirements, the “Glomar response”—“we can neither confirm nor deny”—was coined. While the Glomar response stood up in federal court as a reason to deny a FOIA request, the incident, writes historian M. Todd Bennett, “intensified otherwise routine ‘Intelligence Wars,’ tit-for-tat actions taken by the Soviet and American intelligence services.” That May, Soviet operatives increased the amount of microwave radiation trained on the American embassy in Moscow.

The wig Vernon Walters, the deputy director of the C.I.A., used to disguise himself when he visited the Glomar Explorer (Courtesy of the International Spy Museum)

Forty-five years after the Glomar Explorer hauled (part of) the K-129 from the ocean floor, Project Azorian remains “legendary within the [intelligence] community,” Houghton says. The glass cases show the onesies worn by crew members onboard, phony belt-buckle “safety awards,” a barometer from the ship and even a wig C.I.A. deputy director Vernon Walters wore to pay the Glomar Explorer an incognito visit, but they also name-check engineer John Graham and display a scaled-down version of the detailed whiteprint used to design the now-defunct ship.

Azorian stands out, Houghton says, because “it’s so bold, so ambitious, and it almost was guaranteed to fail.” And yet, although only part of the submarine was retrieved, the ship was built, the almost ridiculous proposition of a giant claw extending to the ocean floor proved functional, and despite the scale of the project, it stayed secret for seven years. The Spy Museum positions the Azorian saga as a paean to innovation, an exemplar of how the “unsolvable problems” of the intelligence world can be tackled with creativity and technological advances.

The Top 9 Baffling, Humbling, Mind-Blowing Science Stories of 2016

Smithsonian Magazine

2016 was a momentous year for science. Check out how Smithsonian covered a few of this year's biggest science news stories.

1. Cut the carb(on)

The Arctic is undergoing another unusually warm winter, but it's only part of the story of global climate change. (Sebastian / Alamy)

It's been one year since nearly 200 countries agreed to control greenhouse gas emissions at a United Nations conference in Paris last year. The agreement couldn't come soon enough—this summer, scientists reported that carbon dioxide levels in Earth's atmosphere will now remain above 400 parts per million year round, a threshold that scientists have called "the point of no return." Carbon levels in the atmosphere are now threatening to skew carbon dating in the near future, though one scientist seems to have found a workaround. And when it comes to carbon dioxide levels, all hope is not lost: Some researchers are getting creative with their innovations, including researchers who figured out how to successfully capture carbon dioxide and turn it into stone.

2. Bleached coral

An obituary for the Great Barrier Reef may be premature, but conservationists aren't breathing a sigh of relief yet. (Travelscape Images / Alamy)

Earth's rising temperatures have spelled trouble for coral reefs worldwide. Hotter waters disturb the coral organisms' food and pigment source, turning them a ghostly white and increasing their likelihood of dying. This year, Australia's Great Barrier Reef and Florida's elaborate reef system suffered massive bleaching events, and things are only set to get worse as temperatures keep rising. Though some have declared it too soon to sound the death knell on these prodigious ecosystems, we're not out of the woods yet: More frequent bleaching events keep coral from healing and preparing for future bleaching, putting them at risk of dying permanently.

3. Shipwrecks galore

This Byzantine wreck is one of over 40 ancient ships discovered in the Black Sea. (EEF / Black Sea MAP)

Besides dying coral, scientists also found a lot of shipwrecks underwater this year. From a "perfectly preserved" 19th-century cargo ship in Lake Superior to 40 ships at the bottom of the Black Sea that date back as far as the Byzantine era to 23 Greek shipwrecks as old as 525 B.C.E., it was a good year for finding nautical misfortune. The recent spate of shipwreck discoveries not only provides valuable archaeological finds, but has also allowed scientists to discover a possibly new termite species and piece together a history of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean before meterological records. Plus, now we know what 340-year-old cheese smells like.

4. Gravity's song

LIGO's founding fathers, from left: Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish. Not pictured: Ronald Drever (Brinson + Banks)

Just over a century after Albert Einstein first proposed their existence, scientists this year announced that they had detected gravitational waves. Using ultra-sensitive equipment spread across the United States, physicists were able to pick up the energy released by two black holes colliding more than a billion years ago. A few months later, the team of scientists announced the detection of more gravitational waves from another pair of colliding black holes.

With these new tools, scientists hope to be able observe parts of the universe that cannot be seen with light, and perhaps even study the creation of the universe itself. "They have given mankind a completely new way of looking at the universe," Stephen Hawking told the team when they were awarded a Smithsonian magazine American Ingenuity Award earlier this month.

5. Space is the place

Artist's rendering of Juno making a close pass of Jupiter. (NASA)

But gravitational waves weren't only things in space making waves this year. Two years after reaching the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe met its violent end in a planned crash landing on the comet's surface. Don't be too sad, however. “Rosetta will live on because we’re going to get loads of great science out of the data that’s been taken,” mission scientist Matt Taylor told Gizmodo. “I think we’ve done all that we can with the spacecraft, and I haven’t got any regrets.”

In the U.S., the country mourned astronaut, politician, and all-around nice guy John Glenn. "He was a great American hero, there’s no doubt about it," Smithsonian curator Michael Neufeld told Smithsonian on the day Glenn died. That same day, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos received a Smithsonian magazine American Ingenuity Award for his pioneering work on reusable rocket technology. Bezos named his new generation of rockets "New Glenn," and he received a letter congratulating him from the original Glenn.

Meanwhile, fellow private space entrepreneur Elon Musk announced his plans to start regularly landing spacecraft on Mars beginning in 2018. Despite some setbacks, Musk's SpaceX continues to push ahead.

And don't forget about NASA. The granddaddy space agency successfully put its Juno spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter. Except to see some cool things from our solar system's biggest planet in the near future.

6. Things got CRISPR

Precision gene-editing has changed the game for altering our genetic code, but controversy remains. (moodboard / Alamy)

With the help of new CRISPR technique for gene editing, Chinese scientists modified immune cells to attack cancer, marking the first time this method was used for treating a patient. U.S. scientists have meanwhile received permission to start testing gene editing of embryos to create "three-parent babies" that have potentially problematic genes replaced. Controversy remains, however, particularly when it comes to gene editing and food.

7. Man's best and longest friend

Dogs are not just our best friends, but possibly our oldest. (Tierfotoagentur / Alamy )

Dogs have been our trusted companions for far longer than previously thought, scientists discovered this year. It has been long thought that humans started domesticating dogs between 11,000 and 16,000 years ago, but genetic analysis of a 35,000-year-old wolf bone has shown that the process may have begun as long as 40,000 years ago. "One scenario is that wolves started following humans around and domesticated themselves," researcher Love Dalén told BBC News. "Another is that early humans simply caught wolf cubs and kept them as pets and this gradually led to these wild wolves being domesticated."

8. How Lucy fell from the sky (no diamonds, though)

For over four decades, Lucy has held the secret of her demise close to her chest—until now. (Juan Aunion / Alamy )

Lucy, the 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton discovered in Ethiopia in 1974, is one of our most famous ancestors. The 3-foot-tall hominid represents a bridge between apes and humans—it's believed she lived primarily in the trees, but she was also able to walk upright on two legs. While her fossilized remains have been studied extensively for more than four decades, it was only this year that scientists were able to piece together how she died. Based on how her bones were damaged, Lucy appears to have taken a fatal plunge of more than 40 feet from her arboreal home to the earth below. Whether it was an accident or murder is hard to know, but researchers have managed to reconstruct her final moments as she reached out her arms to futilely save herself.

“We've all fallen, and we know at that instant in time what she was trying to do,” says anthropologist John Kappelman, who helped solve the mystery of the hominid's death. “We can actually fully identify with her at that moment, and I just felt a wave of empathy that I've never felt before with any of the other fossils that I've ever studied. My mind just jumped to seeing this little broken form, bleeding out, lying at the foot of a tree.”

9. Zika Zika Zika

Genetically-modified mosquitoes are among the new technologies for fighting Zika. (Dylan Becksholt / Alamy )

Easily taking the cake for the health scare of 2016 was the mosquito-borne Zika virus. The virus, which usually has mild symptoms, generated little notice when it started spreading through Brazil last year—until doctors started noticing a rash of birth defects, namely a condition called microcephaly in which children are born with undersized heads. Panic set in, and it didn't help that Brazil was set to host the Summer Olympics this year. From mosquito-resistant uniforms to condoms dipped in antiviral gel, teams got creative in their efforts to reassure their athletes.

As the Zika virus reached the U.S. later this year, officials in Florida began planning to fight its spread with genetically modified mosquitoes that will hopefully spread a fatal gene through the natural population. Meanwhile, ecologists took the opportunity to point out how deforestation is one of the main forces pushing new pandemics to spread from animals to humans. "This is a wake-up call," Ecohealth Alliance president Peter Daszak said.

This Tiny, Uninhabitable Islet in the North Atlantic Has Attracted Fishermen and Adventurers for Decades

Smithsonian Magazine

After a week at sea, fishermen round Drumanoo Head before dropping anchor in Killybegs Harbour, Ireland. Carefully, they unload their catch onto the quay, box after box of mackerel, haddock, monkfish, and squid; spindly tentacles and scaled bodies packed tightly under ice. These trawlermen have come back from the North Atlantic, where conditions are treacherous. High waves and powerful gales range across those waters even in the summer months. Protection only comes with the return to Killybegs, sheltered as it is from the worst of the storms up its narrow bay.

This geographic advantage has helped make Killybegs the largest fishing port in Ireland. Last year, its trawlermen landed almost 200,000 tonnes of fish, helping to feed a burgeoning national export market for seafood. A large part of this catch is found around 420 kilometers north in the Rockall Trough, a remote stretch of the Atlantic between Ireland, Scotland, and Iceland. Here, the fish gather in vast schools, especially near the region’s namesake pinnacle: Rockall, a tiny, uninhabited, jet-black outcrop of granite crowned by a pointillist splattering of guano.

This unassuming speck on the map was thrust into the spotlight this past summer when the Scottish government accused Irish trawlermen of overfishing in its territorial waters, before announcing that its coast guard would board any Irish fishing boat venturing into a 19-kilometer zone around the islet of Rockall. Trawlermen from the town of Killybegs, who have been casting their nets in those waters since the late 1980s, were dumbfounded.

“They find it incredible,” says Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation. “The attitude, certainly among my members, [has been], we are not going to take this. They can come and arrest us and we’ll fight this all the way.”

Map data by OpenStreetMap via ArcGIS

For fishermen in Killybegs—where economic activity is concentrated overwhelmingly in the harbor—any exclusion from the water around Rockall could prove economically disastrous. O’Donoghue estimates that up to a third of the town’s herring and blue whiting catch comes from the 19-kilometer area around the outcrop. What’s more, he argues, Scotland has no right to prevent Irish fishermen from plying these waters. British claim of ownership over Rockall has never been legitimate, he says. “We … as an industry, and as an Irish government, have never recognized that.”

As Edinburgh and Dublin clash in distant boardrooms, Irish trawlermen continue to drop nets around Rockall, now under the watchful eye of Scottish enforcement vessels. For the moment, the outcrop’s status remains uncertain. But with Brexit threatening to cut off access to these waters to European Union trawlermen, Killybegs’s fishing community is set to be the first casualty in a maritime legal dispute decades in the making.

***

Rockall is at least 52 million years old, the battered remnant of an extinct volcano. As high as a four-story building and slightly wider than a city bus, the seamount only began appearing on navigational charts in 1606. Early descriptions portray a familiar, if unusual, sight for mariners crossing the Atlantic. “Rokel [sic] is a solitary island … not unlike [Sule] Stack, but higher and bigger, and white from the same cause,” wrote Captain William Coats of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1745.

That cause—namely, the abundance of guano deposited by resting gannets and guillemots—along with Rockall’s almost vertical cliffs must have put off most sailors from landing, because it wasn’t set foot upon until 1811 when Lieutenant Basil Hall of the HMS Endymion led a small crew in two longboats to its summit. After having mistaken the islet for a ship under sail, an expedition was mounted as, Hall later wrote, “we had nothing better on our hands.”

The trip was a waking nightmare. First came the difficult landing and ascent, complicated by a high swell and Rockall’s slippery cliffs: one false step, Hall wrote, “might have sent the explorer to investigate the secrets of the deep.” By some miracle, the crew clambered up to the summit, only for a dense fog to descend. Frightened about losing their ship, Hall and his men hopped back onto their boats as fast as the rising swell would allow. After several hours rowing through dense mist, they made it back to the Endymion.

The Royal Navy wouldn’t return in force until 1955—this time with a helicopter, four marines, and a plaque declaring Rockall British territory to prevent it from being used as a base for the Soviet Union to spy on the United Kingdom’s missile tests. The annexation briefly fixed the islet at the forefront of British cultural imagination. Many found the episode faintly ridiculous. Satirists Michael Flanders and Donald Swann captured the public’s bemusement in a loving ditty:

We sped across the planet
To find this lump of granite
One rather startled gannet
In fact, we found Rockall.

Lord of the Flies author William Golding used the islet as a convenient, if unlikely, metaphor for the human condition. In his 1956 novel Pincher Martin, Golding’s protagonist is stranded after his ship is torpedoed, only to slowly realize that he is dead and Rockall is his purgatory.

The United Kingdom’s annexation also provoked a spree of visits from a cavalcade of nationalists and adventurers who considered the rock their personal ultima Thule. In 1975, the Dublin rock climber Willie Dick almost drowned attempting to plant the Irish tricolor on the summit, an act that grew out of the simmering outrage among Irish nationalists at Rockall’s incorporation into Inverness-shire, Scotland, three years earlier. A decade later, British Special Air Service (SAS) veteran Tom McClean sought to reaffirm British sovereignty over Rockall by becoming the first man to live on the rock. He spent 40 days huddled in a plywood box.

McClean was followed by activists from Greenpeace in 1997, who rechristened Rockall the Republic of Waveland in protest of oil and gas exploration in its surrounding waters; a group of Belgian ham radio operators in 2011 who became so violently seasick during their trip to the island that they had to return to Scotland the next day; and Englishman Nick Hancock, who holds the world occupation record of 45 days for his stay on the islet.

As the founder of the Rockall Club, membership in which is extended to anyone who has successfully landed on the islet, Hancock is probably the world’s leading expert on its history and morphology. Hancock spent most of his stay sitting and sleeping inside an adapted water tank hauled up on the islet’s flattest ledge. He remembers a windswept, barren place that stank of dead fish. Legacies from past landings, he says, were easy to find.

“There’s a couple of plaques left by the Royal Navy, and one commemorating Tom McClean’s stay,” says Hancock. On the summit lies the remnants of a light beacon installed by British military engineers in 1972 which, from the sea, resembles a subterranean hatch, and a piece of half-carved graffiti on the side of the main ledge left by the SAS veteran. “He got as far as Tom McCl——”

Hancock worried about getting lonely on the rock and vowed to keep himself busy. Sometimes that meant making friends with passing birds, including two pigeons and a starling. For the most part, though, Hancock spent his time reading, learning the harmonica, and conducting a series of scientific experiments, including the successful confirmation of Rockall’s height (0.85 meters lower than previously thought). Aside from the fierce storm that cut his expedition to just three days over the existing record, the memories that stick most in his mind are of sitting under crystal blue skies, “watching gannets diving and minke whales surfacing around the rock. And you were the only person there.”

***

For fishermen like O’Donoghue, however, Rockall is less important for its natural beauty than its capacity to block access to vital fishing grounds. Their concerns are shared by the Irish government, which has never recognized the United Kingdom’s claim to Rockall.

On the face of it, Dublin’s position is in opposition to international maritime law, as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This agreement, signed by the vast majority of the world’s governments, lays out the rules for deciding a country’s maritime territory, stating that rocks that “cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no economic exclusive zone or continental shelf.” However, it does permit the creation of territorial waters around said outcrop if a country stakes a valid claim to it.

The Irish government, however, refuses to recognize the United Kingdom’s title over Rockall. This means, in turn, that the waters around Rockall are not British territory at all, but just the far reaches of the United Kingdom’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Since both nations are currently members of the European Union, Irish trawlermen are entitled to fish in the United Kingdom’s EEZ under the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy. In Dublin’s eyes, therefore, Rockall should have as much bearing on fishing rights as an iceberg or a shipwreck.

The United Kingdom, of course, believes otherwise. It considers Rockall and the water around it to be British territory, and therefore exempt from the Common Fisheries Policy. It has continuously reinforced this claim through symbolic acts, including fixing various plaques by the Royal Navy on the outcrop proclaiming British sovereignty over it and legally incorporating the islet into Inverness-shire in 1972.

Vintage engraving from 1862 showing Rockall, a small, uninhabited, remote rocky islet in the North Atlantic Ocean. (duncan1890/Getty Images)

Though this may not seem like much, a “symbolic act on a tiny, uninhabitable speck of land is very significant in terms of getting international ownership,” explains Clive Symmons, a professor of maritime law at Trinity College Dublin. What is actually more unusual, Symmons says, is that though the United Kingdom maintains Rockall is its territory, it has given up using the islet to further its EEZ into the North Atlantic. Typically, a country’s EEZ is calculated to extend 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from its claimed territory. In 1997, however, the United Kingdom unilaterally decided to pull back the starting point for this calculation from Rockall to St. Kilda, an archipelago around 180 kilometers off the Scottish mainland.

Ironically, it is the last remnant of Britain’s hold over Rockall that is proving to be the most troublesome. And with Brexit looming, this situation could deteriorate even further.

The latest version of the Political Declaration on withdrawal seeks to preserve the status quo of fishing rights until a new agreement on access is reached between London and Brussels by July 2020, a deal the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has endorsed provided no further concessions are made in permitting its European Union rivals to fish in British waters. However, because the federation’s members consider Rockall’s waters United Kingdom territory, and therefore never subject to the Common Fisheries Policy, access to the outcrop is likely to become an object of intense negotiation.

The situation will become much simpler if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal. Since Rockall lies at the westernmost edge of the United Kingdom’s EEZ, the British government would be within its rights to throw all Irish (and all European Union) fishermen out of these waters. The inverse is also true for British fishermen in European Union waters, says O’Donoghue. “They’re not going to accept that we can put them out.”

The Killybegs association chief executive suspects the Scottish government’s newfound belligerence is an attempt to whip up support for its own nationalist party against the Conservative Party in the country’s fishing communities, a claim disputed by officials in Edinburgh. As the United Kingdom’s withdrawal date nears, few can predict whether Brexit will lead to new opportunities for British trawlermen no longer bound by the Common Fisheries Policy or clashes with their European counterparts over who can fish where, as occurred last summer when French boats rammed their British counterparts in a row over scallop stocks in the Baie de la Seine.

Other observers, however, are keen to see how the British claim to the islet might evolve under these pressures.

“The Japanese are particularly interested in Rockall,” Symmons says. Japan, too, claims ownership of an isolated rocky outcrop hundreds of kilometers from shore. While the largest islet in the Okinotorishima reef is no larger than a double bed, the Japanese government has spent an estimated US $600-million literally shoring up its island status with concrete barriers and titanium netting. Unlike the United Kingdom, though, Japan continues to claim a 200-nautical-mile EEZ around the formation, “much to the displeasure of the Chinese, [who] of course cite the UNCLOS convention,” says Symmons.

Any future horse-trading over the territoriality of a granite outcrop in the North Atlantic could, therefore, set a valuable precedent in the ongoing tussle over an artificially sheltered atoll in the western Pacific.

The capacity for Rockall to create such mischief would have been unimaginable to its first visitors in 1811. To Hall and his crew, it was nothing but a curiosity that broke the endless monotony of the North Atlantic. “The smallest point of a pencil could scarcely give it a place on any map, which should not exaggerate its proportion to the rest of the islands in that stormy ocean,” he wrote. A moot point now, perhaps.

Related stories from Hakai Magazine:

How Japanese Artists Responded to the Transformation of Their Nation

Smithsonian Magazine

Not long after Japan formally decided to start trading with the West in the 1850s, photography also came to the island nation. Both signaled a new era of modernity.

The quest to understand and depict the soul of Japan as it evolved from Imperialist, agrarian and isolationist, to more populist, global and urban is the theme of two exhibitions now on view at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, D.C. The two shows, “Japan Modern: Photography from the Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck Collection” and “Japan Modern: Prints in the Age of Photography,” share much, says Frank Feltens, curator of the print show.

Neither are in chronological order, but both group images in common themes—with city and country dominating. The photography show is highly documentary; many are in black and white. The prints, made with carved wood blocks, are bold, visual and colorful. But, says Feltens, “between the two shows, you start finding more and more commonalities”—an interest in surfaces, angles, fragments.

The artists are “looking at the world outside, but reimagining it through one time, the lens and then through the wood blocks,” Feltens says.

As it did in the Western world, photography cast a large shadow. Wood block prints had been around for at least a millennium, primarily as a means of communicating something about the culture—telling stories. By the late 19th century, printmaking was dead—a casualty of the easier, cheaper photography.

The first known photograph taken in Japan dates to 1848, says Feltens. Daguerrotypes were popular in Japan—as they were in Europe and America—but photography really took off in the 1920s, with the rise of more portable equipment like Kodak’s vest pocket camera, says Carol Huh, curator of the photography show. The vest pocket, which is about the size of a modern camera, with a lens that pulls out, accordion style, was made between 1912 and 1926, and became extremely popular in Japan, giving rise to camera clubs and the Besu-Tan School photographic style.

The photo show was made possible by the partial gift in May 2018 of a trove of some 400 photographs collected by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, Japan aficionados and screenwriters, best known for American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The collection had largely been displayed on the walls of their Brentwood, California, home. Huh selected for the show 80 prints from two dozen artists, focusing on those that influenced the trajectory of Japanese photography.

Image by Freer|Sackler, Purchase and partial gift from Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck. Simmon: A Private Landscape (#1), by Hosoe Eikoh, 1971 (original image)

Image by Freer|Sackler, Purchase and partial gift from Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck. Seikan Ferryboat, from the series Karasu (Ravens) by Fukase Masahis, 1976 (original image)

Image by Freer|Sackler, Purchase and partial gift from Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck. Yokosuka, Kanagawa, by Tomatsu Shomei, 1959 (original image)

Image by Freer|Sackler, Purchase and partial gift from Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck. Koen Dori, Shibuya, from the series Karasu (Ravens), by Fukase Masahisa, 1982 (original image)

Image by Freer|Sackler, Purchase and partial gift from Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck. Peaks of Takachiho Volcano, Kagoshima and MiyazakiPrefectures, by Hamaya Hiroshi, 1964 (original image)

Image by Freer|Sackler, Purchase and partial gift from Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck. Kamaitachi #8, by Hosoe Eikoh, 1965 (original image)

Image by Freer|Sackler, Purchase and partial gift from Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck. Man in a Traditional Minobashi Raincoat, NiigataPrefecture, by Hamaya Hiroshi, 1956 (original image)

Image by Freer|Sackler, Purchase and partial gift from Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck. My Wife on the Dunes, by Ueda Shoji, ca. 1950 (original image)

Image by Freer|Sackler, Purchase and partial gift from Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck. Boku To Neko (The Cat and Me), by Ueda Shoji, ca. 1950 (original image)

Image by Freer|Sackler, Purchase and partial gift from Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck. Evening View, by Moriyama Daido, 1977 (original image)

The initial gallery—with prints from the 1920s and 1930s—shows how Japanese photographers were so keenly influenced by European contemporaries, especially the soft-focus pictorialists. “We’re hitting a kind of peak of affirming photography as a medium of expression—an art medium, and also a transition towards a more modernist aesthetic,” says Huh. Early photos documented the city and country—a canal; wheat waving in the breeze. The transition is seen in Ishikawa Noboru’s 1930s-era light-and-shadow study, Barn Roof, which hones in on a fragment of a cupola with a misty background.

An Afternoon on the Mountain, a 1931 gelatin silver print by Shiotani Teiko, could be an abstract painting. A lone, tiny skier looks to be fighting his way up the sharply angled gray slope that slashes across the bottom quarter of the photograph, dividing it from the equally gray sky. Teiko largely shot in Tottori Prefecture on Japan’s western coast, creating from its huge dunes and mountains. “The landscape becomes an opportunity for these studies of form,” says Huh.

Teiko also shot whimsical prints of unnaturally bent objects—a precursor to the surrealism that became so evident in his student Ueda Shoji’s work. Shoji’s 1950 My Wife on the Dunes features his kimono-clad spouse, cut off at the knees, staring from the right foreground; to her right, stand three men in business suits, facing in different directions with huge shadows looming behind each. Surreal-like, it also depicts a Japan co-existing with its ancient heritage and its modern imagery.

Many of the photos examine that interplay, especially as Japan looked inward and faced the reality of the devastation of World War II and how the country would rebuild and remake itself.

Japan is the only nation to ever have experienced the wrath of an atomic bomb. The show touches on Nagasaki, where the Americans dropped a bomb on the town of 200,000 at 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945. Japan barred photography in the aftermath of both Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but some 16 years later—in 1961—the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs commissioned Tomatsu Shomei to document the city’s recovery. “It was not unusual at the time for many Japanese not to have seen actually what happened there,” says Huh. That included Shomei. He delved into Nagasaki’s fabric, photographing current life, bomb survivors and objects at what is now the Atomic Bomb Museum.

One of those, shot on a simple background: a wristwatch stopped at 11:02. A bottle that was distorted by the blast takes on a disturbingly human form. “It looks like a carcass,” says Huh. Shomei’s book 11:02 Nagasaki is a personal reckoning and a key document of that horrific event.

He was also obsessed with—and photographed his take on—the Americans’ post-war occupation of Japan, which officially ended in 1952. The effects, however, were lasting. Many of the images show photographers’ curiosity and dismay with these foreigners who had inserted themselves into their nation. The show includes some prints from Yamamura Gasho’s 1959-62 series on Washington Heights, an American military residential area in Tokyo. In one, a group of mischievous-looking black and white children press up against a chain link fence. Gasho is literally “outside the fence looking in at this strange transplant in the middle of Tokyo,” says Huh.

The show ends with the 2009 Diorama Map of Tokyo, a modernist collage by Nishino Sohei, a 36-year-old artist. He walked Tokyo, snapping street views, echoing a similar project from the late 19th century that created the first measured maps of Japan. Sohei cut out tiny prints from contact sheets, laid them down next to each other and then photographed them again for the final print. “The act of putting them together is remembering that journey,” says Huh.

Pre-photography, that type of Tokyo mapping would have been done on a less grand scale through wood block printing. But printers struggled to prove their relevance in the face of photography’s rising popularity. As early as the 1870s, they began shifting how they worked. Shinbashi Railway Station, a bright, multicolored print done in 1873, was an example of the new style, showing off brick buildings and a train idling outside Yokohama station.

The proportions between the figures and buildings were accurate, and it has a photographic sense of perspective, says Feltens. But the gaudy colors were “emphatically unphotographic”—an attempt to compete with the medium that was then limited to black and white.

The effort, however, failed miserably—and printmaking fizzled out. In the 1920s, two new movements attempted to bring prints back to life. In the “new print” school, a publisher thought he could lure Westerners—who were snapping up idealized photographic views that presented a Japan that was perfectly modern and ancient simultaneously—with wood block prints that offered similar sentimental portraits.

Shin-Ohashi, from 1926, attempts this. It’s a night scene with the flicker of a gaslight reflected off the steel trestle of a railroad bridge; meanwhile, a man in a traditional straw hat pulls a rickshaw, while a kimono-clad woman holding a large parasol stands behind him. It was a naked bid to both outdo photography (pictures could not be taken at night) and to satisfy foreigners. “These kinds of prints were not sold to Japanese, even today,” says Feltens. They were also created as pieces of art to be collected—a new direction for prints.

In the 1930s, the “creative” movement began to take off. Japanese print makers had absorbed from Western art the idea that the creator’s genius was to be visible. Thus, printmakers began adding signatures—often in English—and edition numbers to their works. These were no longer the production of an army of carvers who handed their work off to a printing operation.

The printers were still using wood blocks, but in an increasingly sophisticated way. Color was a significant feature. And the perspective was still very photographic.

Ito Shinsui’s 1938 Mt. Fuji from Hakone Observatory is a masterpiece of photographic perspective and feel. The only tell are the range of blues, whites and browns.

Many of the 38 prints in the show are stunning in the depth of their artistry—a point that Feltens was hoping to make. “We wanted to show the breadth of color and shades, and this explosion of creativity happening,” especially from the 1930s onwards, he says. “These people, in terms of creativity, knew no limits,” says Feltens.

Like the photography show, the prints demonstrate that the artists had “an analytical gaze upon Japan,” Feltens says. But unlike the photographers, the print makers did not engage in direct or indirect political commentary or observations about World War II.

But there is a connection to that war, says Feltens. Many print collectors—including Ken Hitch, who loaned the Freer|Sackler a good number of the prints in the show—lived in Japan during the American occupation.

Both printmakers and photographers struggled to be accepted as fine arts in Japan, says Feltens. Ironically, prints, which were almost extinguished by photography, were the first to be recognized as a true art form, he says.

“Japan Modern: Photography from the Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck Collection,” curated by Carol Huh, and “Japan Modern: Prints in the Age of Photography,” curated by Frank Feltens, are both on view at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, D.C. through January 24, 2019.

How Colombia's Failed Peace Treaty Could Wreak Havoc on Its Diversity-Rich Ecosystems

Smithsonian Magazine

Halfway up the mountain in Colombia's Las Canoas reserve, five indigenous men hold herbs in the palms of their hands. They circle them through the air, asking for permission to climb towards the summit. The greenery of the Andean rainforest flourishes around them. 

One of the men, Wilson Valencia, carries a bastón, a wooden staff decorated with colored tassels that symbolizes his authority as a coordinator of the local indigenous guard. He and the others are part of the Nasa, a tribe that has lived in Colombia since long before the Spanish conquest. In 2001, after waves of violence against their villages, the Nasa formed the guard as a nonviolent police force to protect themselves from the threat of armed groups, drug traffickers and illegal miners. 

During the 52 years of conflict in Colombia, armed groups have engaged in illegal drug cultivation and mining in these territories, often murdering indigenous and Afro-Colombians who stood up to them. But in 2012, Valencia tells me, the indigenous guard worked alongside peasant farmers and Afro-Colombian communities, employing a number of nonviolent methods to protest these groups' activities. Improbably, the guards managed to shut down illegal gold mines and end the violence that came with them in the area around Munchique, the name of this mountain. 

Today, the fruits of their labor still stand: The entrances to the mines on the indigenous reserve at Las Canoas remain sealed, and the surrounding forest is thriving again after years of deforestation. The area's dense vegetation speaks to the country's natural assets: Colombia is a resource-rich, “megadiverse” country that lays claim to nearly 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity. This 7,650-foot mountain serves as both the source of the Nasa's spiritual life and the water supply for the 7,000 people who live below. 

But now, Valencia and others in his community fear that mining—both legal and illegal—could once again threaten Munchique.

Following the unexpected failure of Colombia's long-negotiated peace treaty, the provisions that likely would have protected indigenous groups from destructive environmental activities like mining face an uncertain future. As a result, the country's ecosystems and environmental defenders are at risk. Depending on the fate of the accord, this megadiverse country could see both legal and illegal mining continue unabated, or even get worse during the post-conflict period.

...

I visited Las Canoas in April, when the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the left-wing rebel group commonly known as the FARC, were nearing the end of a four-year peace negotiation. At that time, many Afro-Colombians and indigenous people—who had been caught between warring parties and had become some of the conflict’s primary victims—had misgivings about the accords. Even before negotiations began, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos gave away a significant portion of the country’s terrain in mining concessions to multinational companies, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

“We don’t know a lot [about the accords] because the government sat down and talked with the guerrillas but not with us, the Nasa community,” Valencia said.  

But this June, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities were given one day each to present their proposals to the negotiators in Havana. Improbably, after years of being excluded from the process, they were promised almost everything they asked for—in a section of the final deal called the Ethnic Chapter, according to Gimena Sanchez, a Colombia expert at WOLA. Among the chapter’s promises was the all-important guarantee of free, prior and informed consent: the principle that a community has the right to choose whether or not potentially destructive activities like mining or agribusiness could go forward in their lands.

For ethnic communities, the Ethnic Chapter was a hard-won triumph. If implemented well, the deal would have restored land to those who had been displaced, and likely helped curb illegal mining in their territories by ending the conflict, itself a major driver of environmental destruction. After four years, it seemed as if Colombia’s ethnic communities were finally going to get the protection they wanted written into the deal.

Then everything fell apart.

Aurelio Valencia, 18, is a member of the local indigenous guard. (Megan Alpert)

On October 2, 2016, the peace deal was rejected by less than one percentage point by Colombian voters. That unexpected failure launched conservative former president Álvaro Uribe into a position of unprecedented political power. Uribe, who led the campaign against the deal, was seen as representing Colombians who had voted no. 

Uribe quickly moved to consolidate his political capital, demanding a one-on-one meeting with President Santos and putting forth proposals of his own after criticizing the accords for years. Among those proposals was the suggestion that prior consultation—the cornerstone of ethnic land rights—be limited by the government so as not to “hinder the balanced development of the nation.” He also said that the state “should recognize the existence of large-scale commercial production, its importance within rural development and the national economy, and the state’s obligation to promote this.”

His statements put the protections that ethnic communities had fought so long for back in limbo.

Even before the peace deal, Colombia’s laws regarding the rights of ethnic communities who oppose large-scale economic projects in their territories were constantly under threat. Colombia’s constitution, ratified in 1991, gives wide-ranging rights to ethnic communities, including that of prior consent. So does the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169, of which Colombia is a signatory. However, multiple government administrations have attempted to limit communities’ rights to prior consent. In 2013, for instance, a decree passed that held that prior consent is only applicable to land for which communities hold legal title—which excludes many Afro-Colombian communities.

It gets trickier. Despite the constitutional guarantee, free trade agreements that Colombia has signed with Canada, the United States and the European Union undermine ethnic communities’ rights to prior consent. In international courts, these agreements are currently being used to challenge Colombia’s national laws. And to further complicate matters, while indigenous reserves and collectively held Afro-Colombian territories legally belong to the communities, anything beneath the topsoil—gold, minerals, oil—technically belongs to the government.

Amidst these complications, the Ethnic Chapter represented clear legal protections to indigenous communities. “We will protect the Ethnic Chapter with our very lives,” said Richard Moreno of the Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA) at a recent conference hosted by the Washington Office on Latin America. And it’s not just the Ethnic Chapter that these communities worried about: It’s the fate of the deal itself, which would have ended a conflict that has been extremely destructive to both ethnic communities and the environment. Danilo Rueda, a human rights activist and co-director of the Inter-ecclesiastical Commission of Justice and Peace, warned at the conference that if the accords fail, it could usher in a “new long-term era of paramilitarism.” 

Carlos Andrés Baquero, a lawyer with the Center for Law, Justice, and Society, a Colombian NGO devoted to promoting human rights and the rule of law, says that Uribe’s suggestion of restricting prior consent isn't necessarily new. A number of politicians, including Santos and Uribe, have been trying to do this for years. So far, the Constitutional Court has sided with ethnic communities. Baquero said that threats to prior consent were “like a ghost,” in that “you don’t know when they’re going to appear, but you know that it’s around . . . . Up to now what I can say is that I think the Ethnic Chapter will be safe.

“But that’s today,” he added. “We don’t know about tomorrow.”

Ecological damage caused by illegal gold mining in a rural area of Santander de Quilichao, in the department of Cauca February 13, 2015. The mines are reported to be controlled by illegal armed groups. (Reuters / Jaime Saldarriaga / Alamy)

Colombia's natural capital has often gone hand-in-hand with its entrenched conflict. That doesn't surprise Miguel Altieri, an agro-ecology professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has worked with small farmers in Colombia for 40 years. This is what is known in international development circles as the natural resource curse, or the "paradox of plenty." About half of all peace processes fail, and a 2001 study found that in places with valuable and readily available “spoils,” it was even more difficult to make peace. 

For Altieri, the demand for Colombia’s natural resources has put the Colombian government at odds with itself. “On the one hand, you’re trying to promote peace, and at the same time have a development model that is highly destructive to environment and indigenous people,” he told me in a phone interview. In Colombia, land—and thus, wealth—is concentrated in the hands of the few. Consequently, land rights and ownership have always been central to the conflict—and natural resources like drugs and gold have helped to drive it.

In 2015, Colombia ranked as the third most dangerous place in the world for environmental defenders, according to a Global Witness report. Much of that is due to the conflict, which has allowed instability and violence to flourish in rural areas. "We get threatened, vilified and killed for standing up to the mining companies on our land and the paramilitaries that protect them," Michelle Campos, whose family was among those killed, told Global Witness. 

Colombia’s violence has, inadvertently or not, often served the interests of multinational companies and big landowners, who have been able to grab land from peasant communities, indigenous, and Afro-Colombians. During the decades-long conflict, paramilitaries—in addition to the FARC—terrorized the Colombian population, carrying out forced displacement, massacres and sexual violence. They also assassinated labor leaders, leftists, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians, including those who protested illegal mining. The mining industry in particular has been infested with paramilitary and guerrilla violence. But not all forms of mining are created equal, says Gimena Sanchez.

Descending the mountain. In the foreground is Roldofo Pilque, who helps administer the Nasa's system of justice. (Megan Alpert)

Mining in Colombia can be loosely grouped into three categories. The first is ancestral mining, which is used by ethnic communities for the most part on a very small scale, by hand and without chemicals. These communities usually employ low-tech tools like trays, rods, hoes and in some cases, a motorized pump to drain water out of mineshafts dug with shovels, explains Carlos Heiler Mosquera, an Afro-Colombian leader from Colombia’s Chocó region. Mosquera serves on the Community Advisory Board, which regulates projects in the area that affect ecosystems.

Because communities only extract a little gold or other metal at once, and have been doing so for hundreds of years, ancestral mining is largely considered sustainable (though it too can cause small-scale pollution, especially when communities begin using cyanide and mercury, according to a report by Peace Brigades International.) Yet government efforts to crack down on illegal mining have sometimes lumped artisanal miners in with illegal medium- and large-scale miners, Sanchez told me.

The second is medium- and large-scale illegal mining, which is carried out principally by armed groups—including both left-wing rebels like the FARC and right-wing paramilitaries. Illegal mining, which uses heavy machinery including backhoes and dredgers, is often open pit, meaning that large areas of earth are usually blasted to get to the gold. This form of mining is carried out at such an intensive scale that in some cases accidents have occurred due to earth destabilization. One expert has estimated that as much as 88 percent of mining in Colombia is illegal. 

Because it is not regulated, illegal mining is highly polluting, Sanchez told me, leaving waterways laced with the mercury and other chemicals used to separate the gold from the rock. “The environmental destruction wrought by these machines is starkly evident—desert-like riverside landscapes and pools of mercury and cyanide used in processing gold,” wrote Nadja Drost, a Bogotá-based journalist who has investigated gold mining and armed gangs in Colombia, in 2011. (In Peru, mercury produced by the illegal gold mining industry led to a large-scale health emergency, with more than 40 percent of villagers in the Madre de Dios region sickened by heavy metal poisoning.) In 2012, the FARC's profits from gold mining surpassed those of the drug trade.

While regulated, legal large-scale mining carried out by multinational companies also creates pollution. As with illegal mining, explosives are used to clear land away, rivers are sometimes diverted from their paths, and land is deforested to make room for equipment and infrastructure. Mining companies also create waste-water pits, which can be hazardous and noise from the explosives can scare away birds and other animals. Observers say that paramilitary violence is also used to clear the way for mining done by large corporations, both by displacing local communities and suppressing opposition to the mines.

For years, the Colombian government has denied the existence of paramilitary successor groups, calling them instead “criminal bands” and downplaying their influence and reach. The Havana peace accord changed that. It not only acknowledged the existence of paramilitary successor groups, but set up a commission whose objectives included dismantling those groups and recommending reforms “to eliminate any possibility that the State, its institutions, or its agents can create, support, or maintain relationships with” armed groups. The accords would have brought both private and state actors before the transitional justice tribunals, and held them to the same standard as the FARC—which likely would have helped to dismantle paramilitary groups.

Yet Uribe has spoken against this aspect of the accords and advocated instead that private and state actors only be prosecuted if they submit voluntarily to the tribunals. Uribe maintains that it is better for the accords to be renegotiated than to have succeeded at the voting booth. While he has focused much of his critique on the justice elements of the accords, he has taken aim at other aspects as well. “These accords kill private investment in Colombia,” he said in a televised interview on October 4. Uribe is seen by many as representing the interests of Colombian business leaders and landowners who profited from the conflict. 

Despite the continued threat of armed groups and their fears about the post-conflict period, Afro-Colombians and indigenous people have not given up. Indigenous communities have begun organizing to demand that the accord be implemented in their areas, which overwhelmingly voted yes in the plebiscite. 

Asdrúbal Plazas, the main indigenous advisor to the Ethnic Commission for Peace and Defense of Territorial Rights, sees the threat against the accord as political rather than legal, since the plebiscite vote was technically non-binding. Plaza told me that there would soon be a massive movement of Colombian ethnic communities demanding that the accord, including its protections against illegal mining and agribusiness, be put into place. On October 19th, thousands of people marched into the center of Bogotá to demand just that.

“If our territories said yes, if our ethnic territories are those that have most suffered the armed conflict  . . . if we’re the ones who most want peace because we want to rest from this war, how can they deprive us of this right?” Plaza asked.

Reporting for this article was funded by an Adelante fellowship from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Destination: Smithsonian

Smithsonian Magazine

The Postal Museum

Did you know camels were used in the 1850s to deliver mail in the American Southwest?
We know that camels were used as beasts of burden in Australia, and even in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. However, as shown in this drawing, camels also were members of the U.S. Army's Camel Corps in the 1850s. Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, started the program, using camels to deliver mail, along with supplies, in the American Southwest. The carrier service was short lived though; the camels were too cantankerous, and the rocky terrain injured their feet. Relieved of their duties, the surviving postal worker camels were soon sent to zoos. Reindeer were used to deliver mail in the North, with slightly better results.

National Museum of African Art

Ever seen how the Tuareg people of Eastern Africa saddled up their camels?
This particular camel saddle, made of wood, leather and metal, was used recently in the late 20th century, by the Tuareg of Niger. The word for saddle is térik, and these saddles are placed in front of the camel's hump on two to four saddlecloths, while the rider sits cross-legged with his feet on the camel's neck. This saddle, with its forked saddle horn and detailed leather decorations, is called a tamzak saddle. Most are made in Agadez, Niger, by blacksmiths. Wood is lashed together with rawhide and covered with colored leather and metal ornaments.

This modern light-colored camel bell is most likely from Somalia. It is made of wood and plant fiber and is a gift of Mrs. Duncan Emerick.

The darker bell, also made of wood and fiber, came from Ethiopia. Large wooden camel bells in the museum's collections are attributed to pastoralists in Somalia, Ethiopia and northern Kenya. Not just an economic necessity to these peoples, the camel is also a symbol of a nomadic way of life. In Somalia especially, camels—kept as milk animals or as beasts of burden#151;are the subject of extensive poetry. Although the bells' lack of embellishment suggests a practical purpose, the bells also seem to hold a sentimental value. One anonymous poem uses the phrase "...Like a she-male with a large bell."

Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Conrad Gessner's Historia Animalium from the 15th century tempered the often mythical and inaccurate statements about the Asian beasts and illustrated a bactrian rather accurately.
In the 15th century, an artist named Erhard Reuwich accompanied author Bernhard von Breydenbach on a journey from Germany to Jerusalem so that he could illustrate Breydenbach's book, Peregrinatio in Terram Sactam. Most of Reuwich's illustrations are panoramas of the cities they passed through, but there is also this almost whimsical hand-colored woodcut that features the exotic animals they encountered at their destination, such as crocodiles, giraffes, salamanders and a camel. A unicorn is included as well, and according to the plate's caption, "These animals are accurately drawn as we saw them in the holy land." Whether Reuwich actually saw a unicorn is questionable, as you can imagine. But it is likely that he did see the camel that is drawn most realistically here, equipped with saddle and bridle.

Pictured here is a woodcut of an Asian, or Bactrian, camel that was included in Conrad Gessner's Historia Animaliam, which he compiled in the mid-16th century. Gessner gathered information from a variety of sources: ancient and medieval books, folklore, and the often mythical and inaccurate reports of travelers, which Gessner tempered with his own direct observations whenever possible. In his book, Gessner also included a woodcut of the single-humped arabian, or dromedary, camel.

Le Dromadaire is a beautifully engraved illustration of a single-humped Arabian camel found in a book about the french royal (later national) natural-history collection, Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, put together by George Louis Leclerc, the count of Buffon, in the latter half of the 1700s. Buffon served as the head of the collections, and his book included hundreds of such engravings.

Le Chameau portrays the double-humped Bactrian camel. Although Buffon's text notes that the Bactrian camel is native to Turkey and what is now Uzbekistan, the artist has placed it in Egypt. It is shown with one of its humps temporarily depleted and drooping, an indication that the camel's reserves are used up.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Artists like Louis Comfort Tiffany and Elijah Pierce included the camel in their painted works.
Here, camels carry the three wise men to the baby Jesus in this wood carving by self-taught artist Elijah Pierce (1892-1984). Pierce's imaginative use of oils, paper and glitter on carved wood expresses clearly the long shadows of night, the men's exhaustion from the long and tiring journey, and the dazzling light of the distant star. Pierce, a Southern African-American artist and preacher, is best known for his carved wooden panels inspired by Bible stories and fables.

Camels, loaded down with people and possessions, sit and stand placidly among the dusty crowds of a Tangier marketplace in an 1873 painting by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). No different from any other curious bohemian of his day, Tiffany traveled widely to exotic places and was greatly attracted to the colors and customs of the Orient, especially Morocco. The painting's lush details foreshadow the young artist's future fame for his opulent interiors, Art-Nouveau glass pieces and decorative objects.

National Museum of American History

Where else would you climb aboard a camel in the United States—but on a children's carousel ride?
Children have been climbing aboard delightful carousel animals since carousels, or merry-go-rounds, were first made in America in the late 1860s. Hand-carved from basswood in the 1880s by leading carousel maker Charles Dare in his New York Carousel Manufacturing Company, this camel is an "outside stander," unlike the jumping animals in the inner rings that move up and down. The camel's modest lines and simple detail are an excellent example of Dare's popular Country Fair style.

Camels are one of the most desired figures collected by carousel enthusiasts, along with pigs, lions and dogs.

The camel is part of the large collection of carousel animals, shop figures and weather vanes in the Eleanor and Mable Van Alstyne Collection of American Folk Art in the Division of Cultural History at NMAH, and was acquired in the 1960s.

National Air and Space Museum

Ever wonder how the Sopwith Camel got its name?
One of the most successful planes used by the British in World War I, the low-flying Camel got its name from the famous hump on its fuselage, which contributed to its round-shouldered appearance, accentuated by the fairing ahead of the plane's cockpit. However, it was so difficult to fly, that more men lost their lives learning how to fly it than in actual aerial combat. Rolled out in 1916 by the Sopwith Company, the Camel was the first British aeromachine of its class to have two Vickers guns attached as standard flight equipment.

Smithsonian National Zoo

Come visit Sake and Camille, a pair of camels who've been delighting zoogoers for years. Meet Brenda Morgan, their keeper.
I'll never forget the first time I ever laid eyes on Bactrian camels. The animals were exotic and immense, dark brown and shaggy, and loaded with an absurd amount of baggage. It was 1971, and I was with my father who was on a Peace Corps assignment in Afghanistan. There, in that austere landscape with the mountains of the Hindu Kush in the distance, these towering two-humped creatures were serving their keepers as they had since before the time of Marco Polo.

I didn't know then that I would one day count among my closest friends a pair of Bactrians, named Sake, a male, and Camille, a female. Both are 14 years old and were born at North American zoos. I have worked with Sake and Camille for about ten years, and during that time I have come to know them and they to know me. The camels can pick me, and a few of their other keepers, out of a crowd of hundreds of Sunday afternoon visitors. My fellow keeper, Ann Armstrong, taught Sake to come up to the fence and open his mouth so that we could show visitors his teeth. Camels have canines, which you would not expect in an herbivore. They are ruminants and will chew their cud like a cow. They produce copious amounts of saliva, but I have only once heard of our animals spitting on a person. It was a veterinarian whom Sake was not fond of having around, and he let him know about it.

For some reason Sake has this thing for pigeons. He doesn't hurt them, but when he has the chance, he gently corrals a pigeon in his stall, holds it down with his lips and then gives it a big sloppy lick, coating the poor bird with a load of sticky camel saliva. I like pigeons, so I rescue the slimy birds, too gooey to fly. I wash them in the sink, put them in a box to dry, then turn them loose. As far as I can tell this is just something weird Sake likes to do.

We camel keepers avoid going into the enclosure with the animals. Perhaps it is the way she was managed as a youngster, but Camille chases people from her enclosure, and trust me, it's best to avoid a chance encounter with 1,800 pounds of determined camel. Several years ago we had a tremendous ice storm that caused problems all around the region. More than an inch of glossy ice blanketed the entire Zoo. Cold weather is no problem for fur-insulated camels, but the slippery footing was another matter. Camille had gotten stuck at the bottom of the hill in the camel yard. Sake had managed to get up the ice-covered slope by turning and walking up back-end-first, a neat trick. But Camille would slip and fall whenever she tried to negotiate the slope. We were terrified that Camille would injure herself.

Desperate for some way to help Camille, I found an old pair of cleated golf shoes in a locker. With these spikes I slowly worked my way down the ice-covered hill, all the while feeling a bit apprehensive of what the territorial female camel might try to do. While keeping a watchful eye on the nervous Camille, I was able to surround her with hay that she could eat and use for bedding. The hay seemed to settle her down. As darkness approached, I looked around for something to lay down to improve traction on the ice. My eyes fell on a 40-gallon garbage can of camel dung. As a keeper I never thought I'd see the day when I would shovel manure back into an exhibit, but I did. The following morning Camille was able to get back up the hill and into the stalls, where she and Sake stayed until the ice melted.

To say Sake loves to eat would be an understatement. One look at that rotund belly of his rubbing both sides of a 40-inch doorway is proof this animal is motivated by food. When the commissary delivers bales of hay to the back gate of the exhibit, I move them by wheelbarrow to storage inside the camel barn. Sake's favorite is alfalfa hay, grown at the Zoo's Conservation Center near Front Royal, Virginia; and if a passing wheelbarrow stacked with alfalfa hay happens to catch Sake's attention, he'll snatch the 60-pound bale in his teeth as effortlessly as picking up a grape. In addition to the alfalfa, we feed grass hay, a pellet mix of grains, roughage and supplements; we give them tree limb browse, carrots and apples too. Sake eats lots of alfalfa, so he gets fewer pellets than Camille does, but Camille is reluctant to eat apples. I think it's because we used to hide wormer in apples, and she quickly figured out that we were messing with her food. Both animals love to eat fallen tree leaves, even dried brown ones. They relish these crunchy leaves like they were potato chips, and it certainly makes for less leaf raking inside the exhibit.

Our camels are oblivious to Washington's weather. They sleep outside on the coldest nights, and their remarkable coats insulate them from winter's chill. When I arrive on winter mornings, I sometimes find the pair asleep in their outdoor yard, having spent the night under the stars—the tops of their humps and the hair on the tops of their heads white with frost. They are so well insulated that the snow or ice will not melt on their backs. When they shed their coats in the spring, the tangled hair falls off in mats. Visitors have seen this tangled pile of hair on the ground in the camel yard and then chased down a keeper to report a dead animal in the exhibit. When you handle this soft hair, you have an immediate sensation of warmth. Its superb insulating ability prevents the loss of heat from your hands, and its effectiveness is instantly apparent.

After the camels shed in preparation for summer, tiny flies can drive a ton of camel indoors—even on a beautiful sunny day. When the flies are bad, the camels like to spend their time inside their darkened stalls, where fewer of the biting insects will pursue them. Of the two, Camille seems to be more susceptible to flies, which will often bite her forelegs until she bleeds. We use a citronella spray as a repellent. When these flies are feeding, I can sympathize with Camille, since they'll also bite a keeper in short pants. This past summer, late in the season, we experimented with releasing ant-size wasps that parasitize fly eggs. With the help of these wasps, both Camille and I had fewer fly bites on our legs, and next year we hope to get an early start with this biological method of fly control.

We will likely never have reproduction in our pair of camels. Camille has some medical problems that make breeding her unadvisable. She favors one leg, and as she has gotten older she has become a bit unsteady. Sake has always gotten around a little better. Perhaps nothing is more unusual to see, though, than a male camel in rut. Sake comes into rut in midwinter, and it's easy to tell by the odor. I don't know if the urine becomes stronger smelling or if there is simply more of it to smell. When in rut, Sake squats slightly, holding his moplike tail between his legs urinating on it until it is saturated. Next, he whips his tail up over his haunches, slapping it on his back with a smack, and droplets of pungent urine fly in all directions. His long hair gets soaked, and he seems to be acting supremely self-assured, looking down on the people and camels around him like a crown prince walking into a palace ball. He's back to his typical chowhound self in about five weeks.

Camels are usually the C word found in many children's alphabet picture books, and there have been times at the Zoo when I've seen a 2-year-old excitedly point out and identify a camel for a parent laboring behind a stroller. I like to tell the kids that you can remember that a Bactrian camel has two rounded humps just like the letter B, for Bactrian. And the dromedary camel has one rounded hump, like the letter D, for dromedary.

To make way for the American Prairie exhibit, Sake and Camille were moved to a nice paddock near the Small Mammal House. Their care was shifted to the keepers at the Lion House, and sadly I and my fellow primate and panda keepers no longer have the pleasure of working with the camels. But they still pick me out of the crowd and watch my every move.

There's an artificial mountain at the back of the new camel yard. It in no way compares to the grandeur of the Hindu Kush. But, when I stand along the railing with a crowd of zoogoers, and Sake and Camille come and find me in the crowd, I feel like I share in a long history of generations of camel keepers like those I saw in Afghanistan.

Smithsonian National Zoo

It was around 2500 b.c. that people began to use camels as beasts of burden. Meet Melinda Zeder and learn more.
Pioneer settlers in Australia were not the first to use camels to cross vast wastelands. In fact, more than 4,000 years ago, people in two different parts of the Middle East began a partnership with these desert-adapted animals that reshaped the course of human history.

Around 2500 B.C., in the far eastern reaches of present-day Iran, people began using the two-humped Bactrian camel as a beast of burden to carry both themselves and their goods. At about the same time, tribal peoples of the Arabian Peninsula, who had hunted the native one-humped dromedaries for thousands of years, began to use these animals in similar ways. It is probably no coincidence that when archaeologists found evidence for camel domestication in these two distant places, they also found evidence of a flourishing trade network that linked the Indus Valley civilization with Mesopotamian city-states clustered along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers of today's Iraq.

Some of the trade between these two powerful civilizations took a seaward route across the Indian Ocean. However, there were still large stretches of arid land that separated these two centers from Indian Ocean ports. There was also an overland route that linked these people, but it crossed the formidable salt deserts of the high Iranian plateau.

And this is where the camels came in. Camels are able to convert thorny desert shrubs and salty plants into highly nutritious food. They need little water for themselves, and they can carry large loads of people, goods and extra water. These abilities opened up barren lands that had once served as barriers to travel. Nomadic tribes that had previously eked out a modest living in these harsh areas now became major forces in both commerce and warfare throughout the Middle East.

Indeed, the rapid spread of Islam out of the Arabian Peninsula and across the large swath of territory from North Africa to Indonesia can be attributed at least in part to the use of these surefooted desert animals by early adherents of the teachings of Muhammad.

One View of the LM Orion

National Air and Space Museum
Ink and pencil painting on paper. One View of the LM "Orion," 23 April 1972. A page from a spiral-bound sketchbook. Three horizontal layers comprise this image. In the top left is the lunar module (LM) Orion against a dark blue background. The middle section is much larger and spans the width of the page. It is a predominantly green moonscape with two astronauts on the left and some details of the moon's surface on the right. In the lower right are two astronauts standing at the base of the lunar module against a vivid blue background. The text below the lower left corner of the middle image reads: "Composition of two live TV sequences from the moon and the graphic display of the path of the command module shown on a map of the moon." Text in the lower left corner reads: "Apollo 16 EVA II and preparations for "Orion's" liftoff from the moon's surface. 23 April 72 Goddard Spaceflight Center." Text in the lower right corner reads: "Stowing away the rocks and pictures before positioning the rover for the LM take-off."

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Service Tower Roll Back

National Air and Space Museum
Watercolor painting on paper. Service Tower Roll Back, 15 April 1972. A page from a spiral-bound sketchbook that contains other accessioned artworks. On the left side of the scene Apollo 16 is supported by a red gantry at the Pad 39A complex and the dark blue service tower is to the left. The sky is a brilliant blend of pastel pink and orange on the left and it blends into a deeper blue on the right. The grass beneath is green and a rounded white structure is on the right side. Text in the lower right corner reads: "Apollo 16 Service Tower Rollback Pad 39A Complex KSC 15:50 15 April 72." Text in the upper margin across the page reads: "The event takes on the air of a circus…with hundreds of VIP tour buses driving up to empty their loads on the beach sand…not to mention the photographers."

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Drawing, Felt Tip Pen on Paper

National Air and Space Museum
Site: Space Hall of Fame. A drawn proposal for a look-out tower with four wings. The main structure, drawn in green, is a central column with two crossing arches. A yellow torch is drawn at the very top of the column. The space between the arches is occupied by fountains. The margins around the main drawing are filled with handwritten text. Beginning in the upper left and moving clockwise the text reads: "Site: Space Hall of Fame John Glenn Pad Area Height 600' Materials Optional." Referring to the top portion of the column, the text reads: "Could hold lighted torch for night lighting. Upraised arms gold statue of man as space traveler. Lookout windows. Walk up to lookout windows - also a lift. Space Hall of Fame - 1 Level." Referring to the green cross at the bottom of the page, the text reads: "Elevator column Square glass enclosed landings & stairway. Four areas of cross to be 1 level at top of arches. Shops-displays-food, etc. Space Hall of Fame to be main floor of cross comprising all 4 wings of cross. 1 level." Referring to the empty space between the arches, the text reads: "Plaza area beneath arches."

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Press Site

National Air and Space Museum
Press Site, April 16, 1972. Page from a bound sketchbook. Depicts a cameraman on a platform with a large CBS camera. Other press people and cameras are on the ground below the platform. The scene is dominated by the linear structure of the platform supports and the camera tripods. Text in the upper right hand corner reads: "-2:15:47 and counting. Press Site, April 16, 1972, Alan E. Cober. As I am drawing this the astronauts drove by in a van on the way to the launch site. All the cameramen are focused on them. Well a few are, the rest of the cameramen are hiding from the sun under the press stand. Paul Calle is yelling, "Alan, there go the astronauts." Answer - "very nice."

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007