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Sanjay Patel: A Hipster’s Guide to Hinduism

Smithsonian Magazine

Sanjay Patel arrives at the entrance of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, breathless. His vahana, or vehicle, is a silver mountain bike; his white helmet is festooned with multicolored stickers of bugs and goddesses.

Though we’ve barely met, Patel takes my arm. He propels me through dimly lit halls, past austere displays of Korean vases and Japanese armor, until we arrive at a brightly lit gallery. This room is as colorful as a candy store, its walls plastered with vivid, playful graphics of Hindu gods, demons and fantastic beasts.

“This is awesome.” Patel spins through the gallery, as giddy as a first-time tourist in Times Square. “It’s a dream come true. I mean, who gets the opportunity to be in a freakin’ major museum while they still have like all their hair? Let alone their hair still being black? To have created this pop-culture interpretation of South Asian mythology—and to have it championed by a major museum—is insane.”

The name of the show—Deities, Demons and Dudes with ‘Staches—is as quirky and upbeat as the 36-year-old artist himself. It’s a lighthearted foil to the museum’s current exhibition, Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts. Patel, who created the bold banners and graphics for Maharaja, was given this one-room fiefdom to showcase his own career: a varied thali (plate) of the animated arts.

“I’ve known of Sanjay’s work for a while,” says Qamar Adamjee, the museum’s associate curator of South Asian Art, ducking briefly into the gallery. At first, she wanted to scatter examples of Patel’s work throughout the museum; the notion of giving him a solo show evolved later.

“[Hindu] stories are parts of a living tradition, and change with each retelling,” Adamjee observes. “Sanjay tells these stories with a vibrant visual style—it’s so sweet and so charming, yet very respectful. He’s inspired by the past, but has reformulated it in the visual language of the present.”

For those unfamiliar with Hindu iconography, the pantheon can be overwhelming. In Patel’s show, and in his illustrated books—The Little Book of Hindu Deities (2006) and Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010)—he distills the gods and goddesses down to their essentials. Now he wheels through the room, pointing to the cartoon-like images and offering clipped descriptions: There’s Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, with his cherished stash of sweets; Saraswati, the goddess of learning and music, strumming on a vina; the fearsome Shiva, whose cosmic dance simultaneously creates and destroys the universe.

“And Vishnu,” Patel adds, indicating a huge blue-and-yellow figure. His multiple hands hold a flaming wheel, a conch shell, a flowering lotus and a mace. “Vishnu is, like, the cosmic referee. He makes sure that everything is in harmony.”

Vishnu, I’m familiar with. He’s one of the main Hindu deities, and often comes up in Patel’s work. Vishnu is the great preserver. According to the ancient Vedic texts, he will reappear throughout history to save the world from menace. Each time, he returns as an “avatar,” a word that derives from the Sanskrit avatara, meaning “descent.”

“An avatar is a reincarnation of a deity,” Patel explains, “taking human form here on earth. Vishnu, for instance, has ten avatars. Whenever something’s wrong in the universe, some imbalance, he returns to preserve the order of the universe.”

One might think, from Patel’s enthusiasm, that he grew up steeped in Hindu celebrations.

“Never. Not one.” We’ve relocated to Patel’s sunny apartment, on a hill overlooking Oakland’s historic Grand Lake Theater. He reclines in an easy chair; his hands are wrapped around a mug created by his partner Emily Haynes, a potter. “Growing up in L.A., we went to run-down little temples for certain festivals. But the kids would just play in the parking lot while our parents chanted inside. I learned about Hinduism much later.”

Patel, 36, was born in England. When he was a boy his family relocated to southern California. His parents have run the Lido Motel, along Route 66, for more than 30 years. They never had much money, but through the perseverance of a devoted high-school art teacher—Julie Tabler, whom Sanjay considers almost a surrogate mother—Patel won scholarships first to the Cleveland Institute of Art and then to the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).

Image by © 2011 Sanjay Patel, gheehappy.com. "Vishnu is, like, the cosmic referee. He makes sure that everything is in harmony," says pop artist Sanjay Patel. (original image)

Image by From Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, published by Chronicle Books. In his illustrated books, Patel distills the gods and goddesses down to their essentials as shown in this illustration from Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010). (original image)

Image by © 2011 Sanjay Patel, gheehappy.com. For Patel, to have a show featured in a major museum is a dream come true. (original image)

Image by © 2011 Sanjay Patel, gheehappy.com. Patel created bold banners and graphics for Maharaja and was given a one-room fiefdom to showcase his own career. (original image)

Image by © 2011 Sanjay Patel, gheehappy.com. Patel didn't grow up enthralled with Hindu imagery, but the seeds were always there. (original image)

Image by Jeff Greenwald. Six years into his Pixar career, Patel opened an art book and came across paintings from India. "The more I read," he recalls, "the more I was drawn into a world of imagery that had always surrounded me." (original image)

Image by Jeff Greenwald. The name of the show at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum is titled, Deities, Demons and Dudes with 'Staches—which is a lighthearted foil to the museum's current exhibition, Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts. (original image)

Image by © 2011 Sanjay Patel, gheehappy.com. An illustration of Patel on his vahana, or vehicle, a silver mountain bike. (original image)

Image by From Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, published by Chronicle Books. An illustration from Patel's Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010). (original image)

Image by From Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, published by Chronicle Books. An illustration from Patel's Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010). (original image)

Image by From Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, published by Chronicle Books. An illustration from Patel's Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010). (original image)

Image by From Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, published by Chronicle Books. An illustration from Patel's Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010). (original image)

Image by From Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, published by Chronicle Books. An illustration from Patel's Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010). (original image)

Image by From Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, published by Chronicle Books. An illustration from Patel's Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010). (original image)

Image by From Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, published by Chronicle Books. An illustration from Patel's Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010). (original image)

Image by From Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, published by Chronicle Books. An illustration from Patel's Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010). (original image)

Image by From Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, published by Chronicle Books. An illustration from Patel's Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010). (original image)

It was while Patel was at CalArts that representatives from Pixar, which has a close relationship with the prestigious school, saw Patel’s animated student film, Cactus Cooler.

“It’s about a cactus going through puberty,” explains Patel. “At a certain point, his needles start coming in—but because of the needles, he inadvertently chases away his only friend.

“Pixar loved it, and they recruited me.” Patel was hesitant at first. “I was in love with hand drawing, and the job involved a computer. But after getting some good advice, I did join the studio.” Despite his initial misgivings, taking classes at “Pixar University” gave him a real respect for CAD (computer assisted design). “The computer is just a great big box of pens, pencils and colors,” he concedes. “It’s another fantastic tool.”

Patel has been at Pixar since 1996. He’s done art and animation for A Bug's LifeMonsters, Inc.The IncrediblesCars and the Toy Story films. The relationship works both ways. Pixar’s luminous palette and engaging, heroic characters ultimately inspired his own artwork.

Patel didn’t grow up enthralled with Hindu imagery, but the seeds were there. Six years into his Pixar career, he opened an art book and came across paintings from India. “The more I read,” he recalls, “the more I was drawn into a world of imagery that had always surrounded me. Before, it was just part of my family’s daily routine. Now I saw it in the realm of art.”

While Pixar is a team effort, Patel’s books are his personal passion. In The Little Book of Hindu Deities, he unpacks the mythic universe of ancient South Asia with bold, vibrant illustrations. A computer program massages his sketches into clean, geometric figures. It’s a cunning blend of East meets West, at a time when both cultures venerate the microprocessor.

Patel’s most ambitious book, so far, is Ramayana: Divine Loophole. A five-year effort, it’s a colorful retelling of India’s most beloved epic.

“Can you sum up the Ramayana,” I ask, “in an elevator pitch?”

Patel furrows his brow. “OK. Vishnu reincarnates himself as a blue prince named Rama. He’s sent to earth and marries the beautiful princess Sita. Through some drama in the kingdom, Rama, Sita and his brother are exiled to the jungle. While in the jungle, Sita is kidnapped by the ten-headed demon Ravana—and Rama embarks on a quest to find her. Along the way he befriends a tribe of monkeys and a tribe of bears, and with this animal army they march to Lanka, defeat the demons and free Sita.”

Just how popular is the Ramayana? “It would be safe to say,” Patel muses, “that almost every child in the Indian subcontinent would recognize the main characters—especially Hanuman, the loyal monkey god.”

In 2012, Chronicle will publish Patel’s first children’s book, written with Haynes. Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth tells the story of what happened when Brahma asked Ganesha—the elephant-headed god—to record another great Hindu epic, the voluminous Mahabharata. Ganesha broke off his own tusk to use as a stylus; the book imagines his various attempts to reattach it. (The Mahabharata’s plot, unfortunately, won’t fit in an elevator pitch.)

Among Patel’s many inspirations is Nina Paley, a New York-based animator whose 2009 film, Sita Sings the Blues, tells the story of the Ramayana from a feminist perspective. Patel credits Paley with giving him the inspiration to create his own version of the epic.

“Religion, like all culture, needs to be constantly reinterpreted to remain alive,” says Paley. “Sanjay’s work is not only beautiful—it updates and freshens history, tradition and myth.”

But interpreting religious themes can be risky, and Paley and Patel sometimes provoke the ire of devotees. Last summer, for example, a screening of Sita Sings the Blues was protested by a small fundamentalist group who felt the film demeaned the Hindu myths.

“It makes me sad,” Patel reflects. “I want to believe that these stories can withstand interpretation and adaptation. I want to believe that one person might have a pious belief in the legends and the faith, while another could abstract them in a way that’s personally reverent. I want to believe that both can exist simultaneously.”

A more immediate issue, at least for Patel, is the challenge of fame. Traditionally, Indian and Buddhist artworks have been anonymous. They arise from a culture where the artist is merely a vehicle, and the work an expression of the sacred.

“These characters have existed for thousands of years, and have been illustrated and re-enacted by thousands of artists,” he reminds me. “I'm just part of this continuum. So whenever the spotlight’s on me, I make a point of telling people: If you’re interested in these stories, the sources go pretty deep. I have nowhere near plumbed their depths.”

In the process of illustrating these deities and legends, though, Patel has been exploring his own roots. One thing he’s discovered is that the Hindu stories put many faces on the divine: some valiant, and some mischievous.

“One of the neat things my aunt told me,” Patel recalls, “was that the Ramayana is a tragedy, because Rama always put everybody else's happiness ahead of his own. But what’s interesting is that Vishnu’s next avatar—after Rama—is Krishna, the hero of the Mahabharata. Krishna is all about devotion through breaking the rules. He steals butter, has multiple lovers and puts his needs above everybody else’s.

“I was struck by the fact that—if you’re a follower of Hindu philosophy—there’s a time to be both. A time to follow the rules, and a time to let go, explore your own happiness, and be playful. That you can win devotion that way, as well.” The notion fills Patel with glee. “I think that’s really neat, actually,” he says. “It’s not just black and white.”

With this artist holding the brush, it could hardly be more colorful.

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

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.

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.

Can Physicists Ever Prove the Multiverse Is Real?

Smithsonian Magazine

The universe began as a Big Bang and almost immediately began to expand faster than the speed of light in a growth spurt called “inflation.” This sudden stretching smoothed out the cosmos, smearing matter and radiation equally across it like ketchup and mustard on a hamburger bun.

That expansion stopped after just a fraction of a second. But according to an idea called the “inflationary multiverse,” it continues—just not in our universe where we could see it. And as it does, it spawns other universes. And even when it stops in those spaces, it continues in still others. This “eternal inflation” would have created an infinite number of other universes.

Together, these cosmic islands form what scientists call a “multiverse.” On each of these islands, the physical fundamentals of that universe—like the charges and masses of electrons and protons and the way space expands—could be different.

Cosmologists mostly study this inflationary version of the multiverse, but the strange scenario can takes other forms, as well. Imagine, for example, that the cosmos is infinite. Then the part of it that we can see—the visible universe—is just one of an uncountable number of other, same-sized universes that add together to make a multiverse. Another version, called the “Many Worlds Interpretation,” comes from quantum mechanics. Here, every time a physical particle, such as an electron, has multiple options, it takes all of them—each in a different, newly spawned universe.

Image by NASA / WMAP Science Team. A representation of the evolution of the universe over 13.77 billion years. The far left depicts the earliest moment we can now probe, when a period of "inflation" produced a burst of exponential growth in the universe. (original image)

Image by The Kavli Prize. Kavli Prize winners for invention of inflation (original image)

Image by University College London. An image of how a collision with another universe might show up in the microwave background (original image)

But all of those other universes might be beyond our scientific reach. A universe contains, by definition, all of the stuff anyone inside can see, detect or probe. And because the multiverse is unreachable, physically and philosophically, astronomers may not be able to find out—for sure—if it exists at all.

Determining whether or not we live on one of many islands, though, isn’t just a quest for pure knowledge about the nature of the cosmos. If the multiverse exists, the life-hosting capability of our particular universe isn’t such a mystery: An infinite number of less hospitable universes also exist. The composition of ours, then, would just be a happy coincidence. But we won’t know that until scientists can validate the multiverse. And how they will do that, and if it even possible to do that, remains an open question.

Null results

This uncertainty presents a problem. In science, researchers try to explain how nature works using predictions that they formally call hypotheses. Colloquially, both they and the public sometimes call these ideas “theories.” Scientists especially gravitate toward this usage when their idea deals with a wide-ranging set of circumstances or explains something fundamental to how physics operates. And what could be more wide-ranging and fundamental than the multiverse?

For an idea to technically move from hypothesis to theory, though, scientists have to test their predictions and then analyze the results to see whether their initial guess is supported or disproved by the data. If the idea gains enough consistent support and describes nature accurately and reliably, it gets promoted to an official theory.

As physicists spelunk deeper into the heart of reality, their hypotheses—like the multiverse—become harder and harder, and maybe even impossible, to test. Without the ability to prove or disprove their ideas, there’s no way for scientists to know how well a theory actually represents reality. It’s like meeting a potential date on the internet: While they may look good on digital paper, you can’t know if their profile represents their actual self until you meet in person. And if you never meet in person, they could be catfishing you. And so could the multiverse.

Physicists are now debating whether that problem moves ideas like the multiverse from physics to metaphysics, from the world of science to that of philosophy.

Show-me state

Some theoretical physicists say their field needs more cold, hard evidence and worry about where the lack of proof leads. “It is easy to write theories,” says Carlo Rovelli of the Center for Theoretical Physics in Luminy, France. Here, Rovelli is using the word colloquially, to talk about hypothetical explanations of how the universe, fundamentally, works. “It is hard to write theories that survive the proof of reality,” he continues. “Few survive. By means of this filter, we have been able to develop modern science, a technological society, to cure illness, to feed billions. All this works thanks to a simple idea: Do not trust your fancies. Keep only the ideas that can be tested. If we stop doing so, we go back to the style of thinking of the Middle Ages.”

He and cosmologists George Ellis of the University of Cape Town and Joseph Silk of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore worry that because no one can currently prove ideas like the multiverse right or wrong, scientists can simply continue along their intellectual paths without knowing whether their walks are anything but random. “Theoretical physics risks becoming a no-man's-land between mathematics, physics and philosophy that does not truly meet the requirements of any,” Ellis and Silk noted in a Nature editorial in December 2014.

It’s not that physicists don’t want to test their wildest ideas. Rovelli says that many of his colleagues thought that with the exponential advance of technology—and a lot of time sitting in rooms thinking—they would be able to validate them by now. “I think that many physicists have not found a way of proving their theories, as they had hoped, and therefore they are gasping,” says Rovelli.

“Physics advances in two manners,” he says. Either physicists see something they don’t understand and develop a new hypothesis to explain it, or they expand on existing hypotheses that are in good working order. “Today many physicists are wasting time following a third way: trying to guess arbitrarily,” says Rovelli. “This has never worked in the past and is not working now.”

The multiverse might be one of those arbitrary guesses. Rovelli is not opposed to the idea itself but to its purely drawing-board existence. “I see no reason for rejecting a priori the idea that there is more in nature than the portion of spacetime we see,” says Rovelli. “But I haven't seen any convincing evidence so far.”

“Proof” needs to evolve

Other scientists say that the definitions of “evidence” and “proof” need an upgrade. Richard Dawid of the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy believes scientists could support their hypotheses, like the multiverse—without actually finding physical support. He laid out his ideas in a book called String Theory and the Scientific Method. Inside is a kind of rubric, called “Non-Empirical Theory Assessment,” that is like a science-fair judging sheet for professional physicists. If a theory fulfills three criteria, it is probably true.

First, if scientists have tried, and failed, to come up with an alternative theory that explains a phenomenon well, that counts as evidence in favor of the original theory. Second, if a theory keeps seeming like a better idea the more you study it, that’s another plus-one. And if a line of thought produced a theory that evidence later supported, chances are it will again.

Radin Dardashti, also of the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy, thinks Dawid is straddling the right track. “The most basic idea undergirding all of this is that if we have a theory that seems like it works, and we have come up with nothing that works better, chances are our idea is right,” he says.

But, historically, that undergirding has often collapsed, and scientists haven’t been able to see the obvious alternatives to dogmatic ideas. For example, the Sun, in its rising and setting, seems to go around Earth. People, therefore, long thought that our star orbited the Earth.

Dardashti cautions that scientists shouldn’t go around applying Dawid’s idea willy-nilly, and that it needs more development. But it may be the best idea out there for “testing” the multiverse and other ideas that are too hard, if not impossible, to test. He notes, though, that physicists’ precious time would be better spent dreaming up ways to find real evidence.

Not everyone is so sanguine, though. Sabine Hossenfelder of the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics in Stockholm, thinks “post-empirical” and “science” can never live together. “Physics is not about finding Real Truth. Physics is about describing the world,” she wrote on her blog Backreaction in response to an interview in which Dawid expounded on his ideas. And if an idea (which she also colloquially calls a theory) has no empirical, physical backing, it doesn’t belong. “Without making contact to observation, a theory isn’t useful to describe the natural world, not part of the natural sciences, and not physics,” she concluded.

Multiverse (Standford University)

The truth is out there

Some supporters of the multiverse claim they have found real physical evidence for the multiverse. Joseph Polchinski of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Andrei Linde of Stanford University—some of the theoretical physicists who dreamed up the current model of inflation and how it leads to island universes—say the proof is encoded in our cosmos.

This cosmos is huge, smooth and flat, just like inflation says it should be. “It took some time before we got used to the idea that the large size, flatness, isotropy and uniformity of the universe should not be dismissed as trivial facts of life,” Linde wrote in a paper that appeared on arXiv.org in December. “Instead of that, they should be considered as experimental data requiring an explanation, which was provided with the invention of inflation.”

Similarly, our universe seems fine tuned to be favorable to life, with its Goldilocks expansion rate that’s not too fast or too slow, an electron that’s not too big, a proton that has the exact opposite charge but the same mass as a neutron and a four-dimensional space in which we can live. If the electron or proton were, for example, one percent larger, beings could not be. What are the chances that all those properties would align to create a nice piece of real estate for biology to form and evolve?

In a universe that is, in fact, the only universe, the chances are vanishingly small. But in an eternally inflating multiverse, it is certain that one of the universes should turn out like ours. Each island universe can have different physical laws and fundamentals. Given infinite mutations, a universe on which humans can be born will be born. The multiverse actually explains why we’re here. And our existence, therefore, helps explain why the multiverse is plausible.

These indirect pieces of evidence, statistically combined, have led Polchinski to say he’s 94 percent certain the multiverse exists. But he knows that’s 5.999999 percent short of the 99.999999 percent sureness scientists need to call something a done deal.

The detailed, all-sky picture of the infant universe created from nine years of WMAP data. The image reveals 13.77 billion year old temperature fluctuations (shown as color differences) that correspond to the seeds that grew to become the galaxies. (NASA / WMAP Science Team)

Eventually, scientists may be able to discover more direct evidence of the multiverse. They are hunting for the stretch marks that inflation would have left on the cosmic microwave background, the light left over from the Big Bang. These imprints could tell scientists whether inflation happened, and help them find out whether it’s still happening far from our view. And if our universe has bumped into others in the past, that fender-bender would also have left imprints in the cosmic microwave background. Scientists would be able to recognize that two-car accident. And if two cars exist, so must many more.

Or, in 50 years, physicists may sheepishly present evidence that the early 21st-century’s pet cosmological theory was wrong.

“We are working on a problem that is very hard, and so we should think about this on a very long time scale,” Polchinski has advised other physicists. That’s not unusual in physics. A hundred years ago, Einstein’s theory of general relativity, for example, predicted the existence of gravitational waves. But scientists could only verify them recently with a billion-dollar instrument called LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

So far, all of science has relied on testability. It has been what makes science science and not daydreaming. Its strict rules of proof moved humans out of dank, dark castles and into space. But those tests take time, and most theoreticians want to wait it out. They are not ready to shelve an idea as fundamental as the multiverse—which could actually be the answer to life, the universe and everything—until and unless they can prove to themselves it doesn’t exist. And that day may never come.

Anne Truitt’s Artistic Journey

Smithsonian Magazine

“The light is wonderful in Washington, [D.C.]” said artist Anne Truitt in an interview near the end of her life. “I have a lifetime of friends here. It’s the latitude and longitude I was born on.”

Truitt, largely known for her richly hued columnar sculptures and often associated with Minimalism and the Washington Color Field, claimed the city as her home for more than 50 years. “It’s as if the outside world has to match some personal horizontal and vertical axis,” she wrote in Daybook, the first of three autobiographical journals she published during the 1980s and 1990s. “I have to line up with it in order to be comfortable. … I place myself in Washington, almost precisely on the cross of latitude and longitude of Baltimore, where I was born, and of the Eastern Shore of Maryland where I grew up.”

The first retrospective of Truitt’s entire 50-year career, on display from October 8 until January 3 at the Hirshhorn Museum, features more than 80 abstract sculptures, paintings and drawings that never fully meshed with the critics’ definitions, nor brought Truitt the notoriety enjoyed by peers like Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis and Donald Judd.

Although some critics contend that she might have become a bigger star had she moved to New York City, Truitt knew Washington was where she did her best work. It was a place to which she returned again and again with her husband, journalist James Truitt, between his stints working in Texas, New York, California and Japan for Life, Time, Newsweek and the Washington Post. Her years with James in the Kennedy era were a blur of endless socializing with journalists, artists, politicians and other Camelot-era officials.

After their marriage ended in 1969, she lived a quieter life. She bought a house in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood, where she raised her three children, built a studio and made sculptures until her death in 2004 at age 83.

Truitt prized continuity, and like Washington, her artworks provided another sort of axis for her life. For Truitt, they were objects that existed outside the linear progression of her life, objects that embodied her physical and emotional encounters with people, places and other works such as literature. “She came to feel that sculpture for her was a way that time essentially stood still,” says Kristen Hileman, associate curator at the Hirshhorn. Truitt initially started out writing fiction, but became frustrated with the conventions of the narrative, she says.

“One day I was standing in the living room of our house on East Place in Georgetown, a lovely, sunny little living room, and I thought to myself, ‘If I make a sculpture, it will just stand up straight and the seasons will go around it and the light will go around it and it will record time,’” Truitt said in a 2002 oral history interview conducted by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. “So I stopped writing and I called up the Institute of Contemporary Art and I enrolled myself, and I began in January and studied for one year. That’s all the art training I ever had.”

The Formative Years

Before moving to Washington, Truitt lived and worked in Boston for several years. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, she had declined an invitation to pursue a Ph.D. in Yale’s psychology department after realizing she preferred working directly with people. Truitt worked by day in the psychiatric lab at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital and, at night, as a nurse’s aide. Without her experiences in nursing, she said, she would never have become an artist. The work cultivated in her a kind of physical empathy for others.

“The more I observed the range of human existence—and I was steeped in pain during those war years when we had combat fatigue patients in the psychiatric laboratory by day, and I had anguished patients under my hands by night—the less convinced I became that I wished to restrict my own range to the perpetuation of what psychologists would call ‘normal,’” Truitt wrote in Daybook. “And in the light of what I was reading—D.H. Lawrence, Henry James, T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf—I had begun to see that my natural sympathies lay with people who are unusual rather than usual.”

Yet her work as a nurse’s aide was not her first encounter with pain and sickness. Born into an affluent family, she spent her first decade happily exploring the shore near Easton, Md. She and her younger twin sisters were taught by a private teacher and her Radcliffe-educated mother regularly read to them. But when Truitt was 12 years old, the Depression ravaged the family income and her parents’ health began to decline. Mr. Truitt struggled with alcoholism and depression and her mother was diagnosed with neurasthenia, characterized by chronic fatigue and weakness. The young Anne was often responsible for running the household.

She and her sisters spent one year with an aunt and uncle in Charlottesville, Va., and then joined their parents in Asheville, N.C., where their father was undergoing treatment and where Truitt felt “exiled.” She entered Bryn Mawr at age 17, but at the end of her first semester, she almost died when her appendix burst during a visit to a friend’s house on the Eastern Shore.When her family’s finances plummeted further, a scholarship saved her from having to drop out of college. The next year, Truitt’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Truitt spent many hours on the train between Pennsylvania and Asheville until her mother died later that year.

Truitt would later distill these places, events and memories into her work. She believed experiences—particularly difficult or painful ones—were “the ground out of which art grows,” as she said in her oral history interview. “People talk as if art were something that you did with your eyes and your brain, but it’s not. It’s something that grows out of a ground.”

Image by The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Helen B. Stern, Washington, DC. Artwork © Estate of Anne Truitt / The Bridgeman Art Library. A Wall for Apricots, Anne Truitt, 1968. (original image)

Image by © John Gossage. Anne Truitt in her Twining Court studio, Washington, DC, 1962. (original image)

Image by The Rachofsky Collection. Artwork © Estate of Anne Truitt / The Bridgeman Art Library. Photo courtesy of Danese Gallery, New York. Valley Forge, Anne Truitt, 1963. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery, New York / Photo by Lee Stalsworth. © The Estate of Anne Truitt / The Bridgeman Art Library. Elixir, Anne Truitt, 1997. (original image)

Image by The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of the artist, Washington, DC. Artwork © Estate of Anne Truitt / The Bridgeman Art Library. First, Anne Truitt, 1961. (original image)

Image by Estate of Anne Truitt. Artwork © Estate of Anne Truitt / The Bridgeman Art Library. Photo by Lee Stalsworth. Southern Elegy, Anne Truitt, 1962. (original image)

Life in Washington, D.C.

Truitt arrived in Washington with her new husband in 1947, and the experience of moving to into the city’s upper social circles felt like moving into a shoebox, she said. “I could not believe the consistency,” she said in 2002. “I guess it was…the fact that everybody was so well taken care of and there was a certain level of everybody being the same. They’d all been educated. The women had never worked. So I simply rode on top of all my experience. I didn’t mention it. I never talked about myself, for one thing. Of course, it’s not polite to talk about yourself.”

Her husband James initially worked for the U.S. Department of State, and many of the Truitts’ friends were in the CIA, including top official Cord Meyer and his wife Mary Pinchot Meyer, an abstract painter with whom Anne once shared a studio. “I was floating around in that world…I didn’t pay attention to what was going on. And remember, much was secret. People were covert,” she told art scholar James Meyer in a 2002 interview published in Artforum.

James became Washington Bureau Chief of Life and then vice president of the Washington Post. Through his position and Anne’s involvement with the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Truitts regularly entertained the towering figures of their time, including Truman Capote, Marcel Duchamp, Clement Greenberg, Isamu Noguchi, Hans Richter, Ruffino Tamayo and Dylan Thomas.

A Turning Point

It was in 1961 that Truitt experienced an artistic turning point while viewing the work of Ad Reinhardt, Barnett Newman and Nassos Daphinis in the exhibit “American Abstract Expressionists and Imagists” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The works “Reverse[d] my whole way of thinking about how to make art,” she wrote in Prospect, the third of her published journals. Instead of waiting for art to emerge out of material, she realized she could, like these artists, take control of the material to render visible her own ideas.

“I was so excited that night in New York that I scarcely slept,” she wrote. “I saw too that I had the freedom to make whatever I chose. And, suddenly, the whole landscape of my childhood flooded into my inner eye: plain white clapboard fences and houses, barns, solitary trees in flat fields, all set in the wide winding tidewaters around Easton. At one stroke, the yearning to express myself transformed into a yearning to express what this landscape meant to me…”

Soon after, Truitt made First, a wooden sculpture that resembled a white picket fence. She also made more room for her work amidst her husband’s social engagements and her children’s needs, and she invested the money she had inherited from her family in her career. There weren’t many women artists of her stature and seriousness that were also wives and mothers, says James Meyer, a professor of art history at Emory University. Truitt didn’t have to get rid of everything else in her life to make her art, nor was she a dabbling amateur, he notes.

Over time, Truitt began constructing more abstract, vertical wooden forms covered in dozens of layers of paint. She had her first show at the André Emmerich Gallery in New York in 1963. Critic Clement Greenberg deemed her a forerunner of the Minimalist movement. But while minimalist artists sought to purge their work of meaning and strip their work down to its most fundamental features, Truitt tried to fill her work with meaning and trigger emotional associations in viewers, says the Hirshhorn’s Kristin Hileman. As Truitt explained in a 1987 Washington Post interview: “I have never allowed myself, in my own hearing, to be called a minimalist. Because minimal art is characterized by nonreferentiality. And that’s not what I am characterized by. [My work] is totally referential. I’ve struggled all my life to get maximum meaning in the simplest possible form.”

She was very protective of her art, says James Meyer. “She would defend her art very intensely if it were exhibited wrongly or she felt it was misunderstood.” Truitt was particularly frustrated when critics—nearly all men in the 1960s—connected the form and content of her work to her gender. She was once described in an article as the “gentle wife” of James Truitt.

An Artist’s Life

The end of Truitt’s marriage in 1969 “set me free to examine and reexamine my own standards, to reaffirm some, discard some and to form new ones for myself, and for my family,” she wrote in Turn, her second book. On the day her new house became hers, she says, “I opened my own front door with my own key, and went straight out to the ground behind the house and lay down on it, among the tall May grasses, knowing it was mine.”

To make ends meet, she taught at the University of Maryland, first as lecturer and then professor, and incorporated art history and literary and philosophical context into her classes. She gave college-wide lectures on contemporary art and was honored as a “distinguished scholar-teacher. Truitt fell in love with teaching and remained with the university for 21 years, enriched by “seeing students go out into the world.”

Truitt became a regular at Yaddo, an artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where she served as acting director in 1984. And she began to follow a non-sectarian spiritual practice that originated in India. Her vegetarian diet, abstinence from alcohol and meditation bore little resemblance to her social life 20 years earlier.

Neither did she participate in the city’s art scene. Photographer John Gossage, who became friends with Truitt when she used a studio in the same building as his, says she didn’t fit in with the “macho male” bohemian art bar world. With her old-school, Bryn Mawr manners, she came across as more of an art historian, he says.

She was proud of how she successfully balanced work and family life and insisted it was possible for women to have both. “You just have to make up your mind to do it,” she said. “It has to be valuable enough to you for you to work harder, get up earlier, go to bed later, keep your temper.” With a Guggenheim Fellowship, she built a small fisherman’s shack studio in her backyard, just steps from where she raised her children.

Yet she acknowledged that the energy her work required left little room in her life for anything but her family. “It’s the human experience that is distilled into art that makes it great,” she said in the oral history interview. “It’s very difficult to do. It’s difficult to hold the line and it’s difficult to stay true, true in very many ways. True to yourself, true to your experience so you don’t lie about it, don’t fudge it. … It’s extremely difficult and you have to make sacrifices. …You can’t have it all. You can’t. In a way, you can’t have much of a personality or anything because everything has to go into your work. So often you just look dull.”

“Do you feel that about yourself?” asked the interviewer. “Oh, yes, I think I’m very boring,” she replied.

Drawing, Pen and Ink on Paper

National Air and Space Museum
Untitled drawing. Page from a bound sketchbook. Depicts an element of the V.I.C. (Visitor Information Center), which looks like a large propeller or satellite. The sketch divides the page in half on the diagonal. A large amount of text at the bottom of the page reads: "When I was drawing this little item I was talking to an elderly man from Michigan about his camera. We were inside the V.I.C. looking for Apollo 16 patches. At this point in history Bob McCall with his crewcut even good looks turns the corner and walks up to me and this elderly gentleman. The gentleman see the crewcut good look and NASA Badge with the equally good looks photo of McCall on it. He takes Bob for an astronaut and I introduce him as such. The man ends up banging his head on the above item. Bob denies this introduction. He has a sense of humor like most astronauts."

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

Experience Aerostatique

National Air and Space Museum
Framed, colored etching on paper. Untitled, 1783. Piece depicts scene of a mass crowd watching the launch of the Montgolfier brother's balloon on September 19, 1783. The blue and gold balloon appears to fill the majority of the sky, with clouds behind the apparatus. The ascent took place at the Palace of Versailles in France and the royal family was present for the launch. No human passengers were aboard this first balloon, only a duck, a rooster, and a sheep that were tucked inside a cage made of wicker. All three of the animals survived and helped to demonstrate that balloon flight was safe for humans.

Present at Creation:

The NASM Collection of Objects Related to Early Ballooning

The invention of the balloon struck the men and women of the late 18th century like a thunderbolt. The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph-Michel (August 26, 1740-June 26, 1810) and Jacques Etienne (January 6, 1745 - August 2, 1799), launched the air age when they flew a hot air balloon from the town square of Annonay, France, on June 4, 1783. Members of a family that had been manufacturing paper in the Ardèche region of France for generations, the Montgolfiers were inspired by recent discoveries relating to the composition of the atmosphere. Joseph led the way, building and flying his first small hot air balloons late in 1782, before enlisting his brother in the enterprise.

Impatient for the Montgolfiers to demonstrate their balloon in Paris, Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond, a pioneering geologist and member of the Académie Royale, sold tickets to a promised ascension and turned the money over to Jacques Alexandre-César Charles (1746-1823), a chemical experimenter whom he had selected to handle the design, construction and launch of a balloon. Charles flew the first small hydrogen balloon from the Champs de Mars, near the present site of the Eiffel Tower, on August 27, 1783. Not to be outdone, the Montgolfiers sent the first living creatures (a sheep, a duck and a rooster) aloft from Versailles on September 19.

Pilatre de Rozier, a scientific experimenter, and François Laurent, the marquis D'Arlandes, became the first human beings to make a free flight on November 21. Less than two weeks later, on December 1, 1783, J.A. C. Charles and M.N. Robert made the first free flight aboard a hydrogen balloon from the Jardin des Tuileries.

A wave of excitement swept across Paris as the gaily decorated balloons rose, one after another, over the skyline of the city. Throughout the summer and fall of 1783 the crowds gathering to witness the ascents grew ever larger. As many as 400,000 people - literally half of the population of Paris -- gathered in the narrow streets around the Château des Tuileries to watch Charles and Robert disappear into the heavens.

The wealthy and fashionable set purchased tickets of admission to the circular enclosure surrounding the launch site. Guards had a difficult time restraining the crush of citizens swarming the nearby streets, and crowding the Place de Louis XV (now the Place de la Concorde) and the garden walkways leading toward the balloon. People climbed walls and clambered out of windows onto roofs in search of good vantage points.

"It is impossible to describe that moment:" wrote one observer of a balloon launch, "the women in tears, the common people raising their hands to the sky in deep silence; the passengers leaning out of the gallery, waving and crying out in joy… the feeling of fright gives way to wonder." One group of spectators greeted a party of returning aeronauts with the question: "Are you men or Gods?" In an age when human beings could fly, what other wonders might the future hold?

The balloons had an enormous social impact. The huge, seething crowds were something new under the sun. The spectators who gathered in such huge numbers were just becoming accustomed to the idea of change. The old certainties of their grandparent's world were giving way to an expectation that the twin enterprises of science and technology would provide the foundation for "progress."

The balloons sparked new fashion trends and inspired new fads and products. Hair and clothing styles, jewelry, snuffboxes, wallpaper, chandeliers, bird cages, fans, clocks, chairs, armoires, hats, and other items, were designed with balloon motifs. Party guests sipped Créme de l' Aérostatique liqueur and danced the Contredanse de Gonesse in honor of the Charles globe.

The Americans who were living in Paris to negotiate a successful conclusion to the American revolution were especially fascinated by the balloons. It seemed only fitting that, at a time when their countrymen were launching a new nation, human beings were throwing off the tyranny of gravity. The oldest and youngest members of the diplomatic community were the most seriously infected with "balloonamania."

"All conversation here at present turns upon the Balloons…and the means of managing them so as to give Men the Advantage of Flying," Benjamin Franklin informed an English friend, Richard Price. Baron Grimm, another Franklin acquaintance, concurred. "Among all our circle of friends," he wrote, "at all our meals, in the antechambers of our lovely women, as in the academic schools, all one hears is talk of experiments, atmospheric air, inflammable gas, flying cars, journeys in the sky."

Franklin noted that small balloons, made of scraped animal membranes, were sold "everyday in every quarter." He was invited to visit a friend's home for "tea and balloons," and attended a fête at which the duc de Chartres distributed "little phaloid balloonlets" to his guests. At another memorable entertainment staged by the duc de Crillon, Franklin witnessed the launch of a hydrogen balloon some five feet in diameter that kept a lantern aloft for over eleven hours.

The senior American diplomat in Paris purchased one of the small balloons as a present for his grandson and secretary, William Temple Franklin. Released in a bed chamber, "it went up to the ceiling and remained rolling around there for some time." Franklin emptied the membrane of hydrogen and forwarded it to Richard Price so that he and Sir Joseph Banks might repeat the experiment. The delightful little toy was thus not only the first balloon to be owned by an American but also the first to reach England. Both Franklins were soon supplying little balloons to friends across Europe.

Sixteen year old John Quincy Adams also took note of the small balloons offered for sale by street vendors. "The flying globes are still very much in vogue," he wrote on September 22. "They have advertised a small one of eight inches in diameter at 6 livres apiece without air [hydrogen] and 8 livres with it. .. Several accidents have happened to persons who have attempted to make inflammable air, which is a dangerous operation, so that the government has prohibited them."

There was a general sense that the colorful globes marked the beginning of a new age in which science and technology would effect startling change. The results and the implications of the revolution in physics and chemistry underway for over a century were largely unknown outside an elite circle of privileged cognoscenti. The balloon was unmistakable proof that a deeper understanding of nature could produce what looked very much like a miracle. What else was one to think of a contrivance that would carry people into the sky?

If human beings could break the age-old chains of gravity, what other restraints might they cast off? The invention of the balloon seemed perfectly calculated to celebrate the birth of a new nation dedicated, on paper at any rate, to the very idea of freedom for the individual. In the decade to come the balloons and the men and women who flew them came to symbolize the new political winds that were blowing through France. While some might question the utility of the "air globes," flight was already reshaping the way in which men and women regarded themselves and their world.

Of course most citizens of Europe and America were unable to travel to see a balloon. They had their first glimpse of the aerial craft through the medium of single sheet prints. In the late 18th century it was difficult and expensive to publish anything more than the roughest of woodcuts in newspapers or magazines. In an effort to share the excitement with those who could not attend an ascent, to let people know what a balloon looked like, and to introduce the brave men and women who were taking to the sky, artists, engravers and publishers flooded the market with scores of single sheet printed images. Ranging from the meticulously accurate to the wildly fanciful, these printed pictures were sold by the thousands in print shops across Europe.

The business of producing and marketing such images was nothing new. In Europe, block prints from woodcuts had been used to produce book illustrations and single sheet devotional or instructional religious images since the mid-15th century. In the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, the technique was used to produce multi-sheet maps, bird's eye images of cities, and other products. In the early modern era, etching and engraving techniques enabled artists from Albrecht Dürer to Rembrandt van Rijn the opportunity to market copies of their paintings. .

In the 1730's. William Hogarth inaugurated a new era in the history of English printed pictures when he published his, "Harlot's Progress," a series of single sheet images charting the downfall of a young woman newly arrived in London. Other sets, including "Marriage à la Mode," appeared in the decade that followed. Other artists used the medium of the etching or engraving to reproduce portraits and offer examples of their work for sale.

By the late 18th century, Thomas Rowlandson, James Gillray and other English artists made considerable fortunes producing sporting prints and satirical images offering biting commentary on the shortcomings of the political and social leaders of the day. Rowlandson was said to have "etched as much copper as would sheathe the British navy." In order to publish his prints and caricatures while they were still newsworthy, Rowlandson worked rapidly. He would water color the first impression, then send it to refugee French artists employed by Rudolph Ackermann, one of his favored publishers, who would color each of the prints before they were hung up in the shop window. In the 1780's a typical print seems to have sold for a shilling, the price being sometimes included on the print itself.

The appearance of the balloon in 1783 provided artists, engravers and publishers in England, France, Germany and Italy a new subject for their efforts. As the wave of balloon enthusiasm swept across the continent, the production and sale of images depicting the great flights and daring aeronauts flourished. In addition to illustrating the birth of the air age, print makers made use of balloon motifs in comic images satirizing political events or social trends.

In the 19th century new lithographic techniques and the advent of improved presses and smooth paper, led to a revolution in the ability to mass produce images. Balloons remained a common subject of interest to readers, and ready material for satire in the talented hands of artists like Honorè-Victorine Daumier.

Today, the balloon prints produced by 18th and 19th century artists remain as a priceless window into the past. They enable us to share some sense of the excitement that gripped those watching their fellow beings rise into the sky for the first time. Engraved portraits tell us something of the appearance, and even the personality, of the first men and women to fly. Satirical prints utilizing balloon motifs help us to understand the impact that flight on the first generations to experience it.

The National Air and Space Museum owes its collection of balloon prints to the generosity of several leading 20th century collectors. The bulk of the prints in our collection come from Harry Frank Guggenheim (August 23, 1890 - January 22, 1971).. The son of industrialist and philanthropist Daniel Guggenheim and his wife Florence, Harry Guggenheim enjoyed multiple careers as a business leader, diplomat, publisher, philanthropist, and sportsman.

Aviation was the thread that tied his diverse activities together. A graduate of Yale and Pembroke College, Cambridge University, he learned to fly before the U.S. entered WW I and served as a Naval aviator during that conflict and as a Naval officer during WW II. In the mid- 1920's, he convinced his father to establish the Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, which had an enormous impact on aeronautical engineering and aviation in the U.S.

A collector of everything from fine art to thoroughbred horses, Guggenheim began to acquire aeronautica during the 1920's, gradually focusing his attention of aeronautical prints. His collection had grown to be one of the most complete in the world by the 1940's, when he loaned his prints to the New York museum maintained by the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences. When the IAS dissolved its museum in the 1950's, Guggenheim donated his own collection to the National Air and Space Museum.

The NASM collection of aeronautical prints also includes items donated by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and by a number of other private collectors, notably Constance Fiske in memory of her husband Gardiner Fiske, who served with the U.S. Army Air Service during WW I and with the USAAF in WWII; Thomas Knowles, a long-time executive with Goodyear Aircraft and Goodyear Aerospace; and Bella Clara Landauer, one of the great American collectors of aeronautica.

There can be little doubt that William Armistead Moale Burden was one of the most significant contributors to the NASM collection of furnishings, ceramics and other objects related to ballooning and the early history of flight. . Burden began collecting aeronautical literature and memorabilia during the 1920's, while still a Harvard undergraduate. Following graduation he rode the post-Lindbergh boom to prosperity as a financial analyst specializing in aviation securities. His business success was inextricably bound to his enthusiasm for the past, present and future of flight.

By 1939, Burden was reputed to have built a personal aeronautical library second only to that of the Library of Congress. He loaned that collection to the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences, an organization that he served as president in 1949. In addition to his library of aeronautica, Burden built a world-class collection of historic objects dating to the late 18th century - desks, chairs, bureaus, sofas, mirrors, clocks, ceramics and other examples of material culture -- inspired by the first balloons and featuring balloon motifs. After a period on display in the IAS museum, William A.M. Burden's balloon-decorated furnishings and aeronautica went into insured off-site storage in 1959. A member of the Smithsonian Board of Regents, Mr. Burden ultimately donated his treasures to the NASM, as well.

Thanks to the efforts of these and other donors, the NASM can share one of the world's finest collections of works of art and examples of material culture inspired b y the birth of flight with our visitors. We are pleased to extend the reach of our collections to those who visit our web site. Welcome, and enjoy.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

The Untold Story of the Vengeful Japanese Attack After the Doolittle Raid

Smithsonian Magazine

At midday on April 18, 1942, 16 U.S. Army bombers, under the command of daredevil pilot Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, thundered into the skies over Tokyo and other key Japanese industrial cities in a surprise raid designed to avenge the attack on Pearl Harbor. For the 80 volunteer raiders, who lifted off that morning from the carrier Hornet, the mission was one-way. After attacking Japan, most of the aircrews flew on to Free China, where low on fuel, the men either bailed out or crash-landed along the coast and were rescued by local villagers, guerrillas and missionaries.

That generosity shown by the Chinese would trigger a horrific retaliation by the Japanese that claimed an estimated quarter-million lives and would prompt comparisons to the 1937-38 Rape of Nanking. American military authorities, cognizant that a raid on Tokyo would result in a vicious counterattack upon free China, saw the mission through regardless, even keeping the operation a secret from their Pacific theater allies. This chapter of the Doolittle Raid has largely gone unreported—until now.

Long-forgotten missionary records discovered in the archives of DePaul University for the first time shed important new light on the extent to which the Chinese suffered in the aftermath of the Doolittle raid.

In the moments after the attack on Tokyo, Japanese leaders fumed over the raid, which had revealed China’s coastal provinces as a dangerous blind spot in the defense of the homeland. American aircraft carriers not only could launch surprise attacks from the seas and land safely in China but could possibly even fly bombers directly from Chinese airfields to attack Japan. The Japanese military ordered an immediate campaign against strategically important airfields, issuing an operational plan in late April, just days after the Doolittle raid.

Survivor accounts point to an ulterior objective: to punish the Chinese allies of the United States forces, especially those towns where the American aviators had bailed out after the raid. At the time, Japanese forces occupied Manchuria as well as key coastal ports, railways and industrial and commercial centers in China.

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Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor

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The United States had neither boots on the ground nor faith that the Chinese military could repel any farther advances by occupying Japanese forces. Details of the destruction that would soon follow—just as officials in Washington and Chungking, the provisional capital of China, and even Doolittle, had long predicted—would come from the records of American missionaries, some of whom had helped the raiders. The missionaries knew of the potential wrath of the Japanese, having lived under a tenuous peace in this border region just south of occupied China. Stories of the atrocities at Nanking, where the river had turned red from blood, had circulated widely. When the Japanese came into a town, “the first thing that you see is a group of cavalrymen,” Herbert Vandenberg, an American priest, would recall. “The horses have on shiny black boots. The men wear boots and a helmet. They are carrying sub-machine guns.”

Wreckage of Major General Doolittle's plane somewhere in China after the raid on Tokyo. Doolittle is seated on wreckage to the right. (Corbis)

Vandenberg had heard the news broadcasts of the Tokyo raid in the mission compound in the town of Linchwan, home to about 50,000 people, as well as to the largest Catholic church in southern China, with a capacity to serve as many as a thousand. Days after the raid letters reached Vandenberg from nearby missions in Poyang and Ihwang, informing him that local priests cared for some of the fliers. “They came to us on foot,” Vandenberg wrote. “They were tired and hungry. Their clothing was tattered and torn from climbing down the mountains after bailing out. We gave them fried chicken. We dressed their wounds and washed their clothes. The nuns baked cakes for the fliers. We gave them our beds.”

By early June, the devastation had begun. Father Wendelin Dunker observed the result of a Japanese attack on the town of Ihwang:

“They shot any man, woman, child, cow, hog, or just about anything that moved, They raped any woman from the ages of 10 – 65, and before burning the town they thoroughly looted it.”

He continued, writing in his unpublished memoir, “None of the humans shot were buried either, but were left to lay on the ground to rot, along with the hogs and cows.”

The Japanese marched into the walled city of Nancheng at dawn on the morning of June 11, beginning a reign of terror so horrendous that missionaries would later dub it “the Rape of Nancheng.” Soldiers rounded up 800 women and herded them into a storehouse outside the east gate. “For one month the Japanese remained in Nancheng, roaming the rubble-filled streets in loin clothes much of the time, drunk a good part of the time and always on the lookout for women,” wrote the Reverend Frederick McGuire. “The women and children who did not escape from Nancheng will long remember the Japanese—the women and girls because they were raped time after time by Japan’s imperial troops and are now ravaged by venereal disease, the children because they mourn their fathers who were slain in cold blood for the sake of the ‘new order’ in East Asia.”

At the end of the occupation, Japanese forces systematically destroyed the city of 50,000 residents. Teams stripped Nancheng of all radios, while others looted the hospitals of drugs and surgical instruments. Engineers not only wrecked the electrical plant but pulled up the railroad lines, shipping the iron out. A special incendiary squad started its operation on July 7 in the city’s southern section. “This planned burning was carried on for three days,” one Chinese newspaper reported, “and the city of Nancheng became charred earth.”

Over the summer, the Japanese laid waste to some 20,000 square miles. They looted towns and villages, then stole honey and scattered beehives. Soldiers devoured, drove away, or simply slaughtered thousands of oxen, pigs, and other farm animals; some wrecked vital irrigation systems and set crops on fire. They destroyed bridges, roads, and airfields.“Like a swarm of locusts, they left behind nothing but destruction and chaos,” Dunker wrote.

Four of the American fliers who raided Tokyo grin out from beneath Chinese umbrellas that they borrowed. (Bettmann/Corbis)

Those discovered to have helped the Doolittle raiders were tortured. In Nancheng, soldiers forced a group of men who had fed the airmen to eat feces before lining up ten of them for a “bullet contest” to see how many people a single bullet would pass through before it stopped. In Ihwang, Ma Eng-lin, who had welcomed injured pilot Harold Watson into his home, was wrapped in a blanket, tied to a chair and soaked in kerosene. Then soldiers forced his wife to torch him.

“Little did the Doolittle men realize,” the Reverend Charles Meeus later wrote, “that those same little gifts which they gave their rescuers in grateful acknowledgement of their hospitality— parachutes, gloves, nickels, dimes, cigarette packages—would, a few weeks later, become the telltale evidence of their presence and lead to the torture and death of their friends!”

A missionary with the United Church of Canada, the Reverend Bill Mitchell traveled in the region, organizing aid on behalf of the Church Committee on China Relief. Mitchell gathered statistics from local governments to provide a snapshot of the destruction. The Japanese flew 1,131 raids against Chuchow—Doolittle’s intended destination—killing 10,246 people and leaving another 27,456 destitute. They destroyed 62,146 homes, stole 7,620 head of cattle, and burned 30 percent of the crops.

“Out of twenty-eight market towns in that region,” the committee’s report noted, “only three escaped devastation.” The city of Yushan, with a population of 70,000 —many of whom had participated in a parade led by the mayor in honor of raiders Davy Jones and Hoss Wilder—saw 2,000 killed and 80 percent of the homes destroyed. “Yushan was once a large town filled with better-than-average houses. Now you can walk thru street after street seeing nothing but ruins,” Father Bill Stein wrote in a letter. “In some places you can go several miles without seeing a house that was not burnt.”

That August, Japan’s secret bacteriological warfare group, Unit 731, launched an operation to coincide with the withdrawal of Japanese troops from the region.

In what was known as land bacterial sabotage, troops would contaminate wells, rivers, and fields, hoping to sicken local villagers as well as the Chinese forces, which would no doubt move back in and reoccupy the border region as soon as the Japanese departed. Over the course of several meetings, Unit 731’s commanding officers debated the best bacteria to use, settling on plague, anthrax, cholera, typhoid, and paratyphoid, all of which would be spread via spray, fleas, and direct contamination of water sources. For the operation, almost 300 pounds of paratyphoid and anthrax germs were ordered.

Technicians filled peptone bottles with typhoid and paratyphoid bacteria, packaged them in boxes labeled “Water Supply,” and flew them to Nanking. Once in Nanking, workers transferred the bacteria to metal flasks—like those used for drinking water— and flew them into the target areas. Troops then tossed the flasks into wells, marshes, and homes. The Japanese also prepared 3,000 rolls, contaminated with typhoid and paratyphoid, and handed them to hungry Chinese prisoners of war, who were then released to go home and spread disease. Soldiers left another 400 biscuits infected with typhoid near fences, under trees, and around bivouac areas to make it appear as though retreating forces had left them behind, knowing hungry locals would devour them.

Major General Doolittle's fliers in China after the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo of April 18, 1942. (Corbis)

The region’s devastation made it difficult to tally who got sick and why, particularly since the Japanese had looted and burned hospitals and clinics. The thousands of rotting human and livestock carcasses that clogged wells and littered the rubble also contaminated the drinking water. Furthermore, the impoverished region, where villagers often defecated in holes outdoors, had been prone to such outbreaks before the invasion. Anecdotal evidence gathered from missionaries and journalists shows that many Chinese fell sick from malaria, dysentery, and cholera even before the Japanese reportedly began the operation.

Chinese journalist Yang Kang, who traveled the region for the Takung Pao newspaper, visited the village of Peipo in late July. “Those who returned to the village after the enemy had evacuated fell sick with no one spared,” she wrote. “This was the situation which took place not only in Peipo but everywhere.”

In December 1942, Tokyo radio reported massive outbreaks of cholera, and the following spring, the Chinese reported that a plague epidemic forced the government to quarantine the Chekiang town of Luangshuan. “The losses suffered by our people,” one later wrote, “were inestimable.” Some of Unit 731’s victims included Japanese soldiers. A lance corporal captured in 1944 told American interrogators that upward of 10,000 troops were infected during the Chekiang campaign.

“Diseases were particularly cholera, but also dysentery and pest,” an American intelligence report stated. “Victims were usually rushed to hospitals in rear, particularly the Hangchow Army Hospital, but cholera victims, usually being treated too late, mostly died.” The prisoner saw a report that listed 1,700 dead, most of cholera. Actual deaths likely were much higher, he said, “it being common practice to pare down unpleasant figures.”

The three-month campaign across Chekiang and Kiangsi Provinces infuriated many in the Chinese military, who understood it as a consequence of a U.S. raid designed to lift the spirits of Americans. Officials in Chungking and Washington had purposely withheld details of the U.S. raid from Chinese ruler Chiang Kai-shek, assuming the Japanese would retaliate.

“After they had been caught unawares by the falling of American bombs on Tokyo, Japanese troops attacked the coastal areas of China, where many of the American fliers had landed,” Chiang cabled to Washington. “These Japanese troops slaughtered every man, woman and child in those areas. Let me repeat—these Japanese troops slaughtered every man, woman and child in those areas.”

News trickled out in American media in the spring of 1943 as missionaries who witnessed the atrocities returned home. The New York Times editorialized, “The Japanese have chosen how they want to represent themselves to the world. We shall take them at their own valuation, on their own showing. We shall not forget, and we shall see that a penalty is paid.”

The Los Angeles Times was far more forceful:

To say that these slayings were motivated by cowardice as well as savagery is to say the obvious. The Nippon war lords have thus proved themselves to be made of the basest metal …

Those notices, however, did not get much traction, and the slaughter was soon forgotten. It was a tragedy best described by a Chinese journalist at the time. “The invaders made of a rich, flourishing country a human hell,” the reporter wrote, “a gruesome graveyard, where the only living thing we saw for miles was a skeleton-like dog, who fled in terror before our approach.” 

Excerpted from Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid that Avenged Pearl Harbor by James M. Scott. Copyright © 2015 by James M. Scott. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Even When He Was in His 20s, Winston Churchill Was Already on the Verge of Greatness

Smithsonian Magazine

Winston Churchill was on the run. He’d just escaped from a military prison in South Africa, throwing himself over a fence and into some bushes, where he squatted, hiding from his captors. He landed much too close to a well-lit house full of people. Worse, just yards away, a man was smoking a cigar— a man, he knew, who wouldn’t hesitate to shout for the armed prison guards.

So Churchill, then just 24 years old, remained motionless, trusting the darkness and shadows to hide him. A second man joined the first, also lighting up, each facing him. Just then, a dog and cat came tearing through the underbrush. The cat crashed into Churchill and shrieked in alarm — he stifled his impulse to yell or jump. The men dismissed the commotion, reentered the house, and Churchill took off for the nearest safe territory which was 300 miles away.

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Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill

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The formative experience of Churchill’s thrilling adventure during the turn-of-the-century Boer War serves as fodder for Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill, the latest book from best-selling author Candice Millard, a worthy addition to the 12,000-plus volumes already written about the famed British statesman. As with her two previous books, The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic  about Theodore Roosevelt and James A. Garfield, respectively, Millard has selected a single episode in a long and action-packed life of an iconic figure as her focal point.

Hero of the Empire centers on Churchill’s stint in South Africa as a war correspondent for London’s Morning Post  during the Boer War, which erupted in 1899 after gold and diamonds were discovered in southern Africa. The sought-after resources resided “in the South African Republic, also known as the Transvaal, an independent country that belonged to a group of Dutch, German and Huguenot descendants knows as the Boers,” according to the book. The British Empire wanted to make the land its own, but the white African population held their ground.

Several weeks into the war, Churchill was reporting aboard a train of British soldiers when the Boer army ambushed them and he was taken prisoner. After a month of detention, he made a break for it, riding the rails and hiking through Zulu country. At the lowest point in his journey, Churchill was sequestered in a horse stable in the bowels of a coal mine surrounded by fat, white rats that ate his papers and candles.

“I love to have a narrow story that I can dig really deeply into. I got to talk about South Africa, I got to talk about the Zulu, I got to talk about the Boers, I got to talk about railroads, and coal mines, and all these other things that interest me,” Millard says from one of two light gray leather couches in her office in the suburbs of Kansas City, Kansas.

The former National Geographic writer is unassuming and unadorned in a white T-shirt and baggy blue capris, her dark hair pulled back in a hasty ponytail. Hers is a corner office with two large windows, but the blinds shut out the hot September sun and the rest of the world. When she’s not travelling for research, Millard spends her days here, immersed in another century for years at a time.

Millard chose to tell the story of Churchill’s imprisonment and escape during the Boer War not because it’s unknown — very few Churchill stones have been left unturned. And she didn’t simply choose it so that she could talk about the railroads and coal mines, or Boer leader Louis Botha or visionary Solomon Plaatje, who founded the South African Native National Congress and spent a good deal of time observing and writing about the British army’s then-failing tactics -- though she allows many pages for them, too. Her reason, it seems, was at once grander and humbler than all that: to explore the basic humanity that dwells in even the greatest figure. She explains, “Garfield called it ‘the bed of the sea’ — when someone is ill or desperate, everything’s stripped bare. You see their true character. You see their true nature. That’s always stayed with me, that phrase, ‘the bed of the sea.’”

She says of writing about Churchill’s escape, “So much of who he was and who he became came through at this time and at this moment of danger and desperation. And all of his audacity and courage and arrogance and ambition comes to light. It really did make him a national hero.” As the son of the Sir Randolph Churchill, once a prominent politician, Churchill had been a high-profile prisoner.  His escape was swiftly reported in newspapers on both continents.  

“What, to me, was most amazing was that on the outside he looks so different from the Churchill we think of,” she says. “We think of this sort of overweight guy chomping on a cigar, and he’s bald and sending young men into war. And here, you have this young, thin guy with red hair and so much ambition. Inside he was fully formed. He was the Winston Churchill we think of when we think of him.”

Even so, throughout Hero of the Empire, Millard portrays Churchill as a fairly irritating upstart who couldn’t be trusted with plans for the prison break. According to her research, Churchill’s friend and fellow prisoner of war, British officer Aylmer Haldane, had “strong reservations about attempting to escape with him.” Churchill was known to have a bad shoulder, but in addition to that, she writes, “While the other men in the prison played vigorous games … to keep themselves fit, Churchill sat before a chessboard or stared moodily at an unread book. ‘This led me to conclude,’ Haldane wrote, ‘that his agility might be at fault.’”

“Just six months after his escape, Churchill ran for Parliament for the second time. This time, to no one’s surprise, least of all his own, he won. “It is clear to me from the figures,” he wrote to the prime minister, “that nothing but personal popularity arising out of the late South African War, carried me in.” (Doubleday)

But worse than the physical strikes against him, Churchill had little discretion, loved to talk, and, Haldane felt, “was constitutionally incapable of keeping their plans secret.”

This is the chatty, out-of-shape character Millard shows hiding in the bushes with “£75, four slabs of melting chocolate and a crumbling biscuit” in his pockets. The description of him only grows more pitiful when she references the wanted poster the Boers eventually issued. Aside from a regular physical description, they added: “stooping gait, almost invisible mustache, speaks through his nose, cannot give full expression to the letter ‘s,’ and does not know a word of Dutch … occasionally makes a rattling noise in his throat.” This is the boy who is alone and 300 miles from the safety of Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique, the Transvaal’s closest neighbor and closest unguarded neutral territory.

While the journey that followed his escape was fraught with ordeals, he also had the stupendous luck of encountering the British operator of a German-owned colliery who was willing to risk his own life to see Churchill to safety. The Boers considered Churchill’s recapture a top priority and launched a door-to-door campaign over several hundred square miles which made him something of an international celebrity--the locals determined to catch him, the British thrilled that one of their own was eluding capture. Only hours after he reached the British consulate, armed Englishmen gathered on the lawn, waiting to escort him to British territory.

“Churchill set sail for South Africa just two days after war was declared. Hired as a correspondent by the Morning Post, he quickly made his way to the heart of the war, settling into a bell tent with two other journalists. “I had not before encountered this sort of ambition,” one of his tent mates would later write of Churchill, “unabashed, frankly egotistical, communicating its excitement, and extorting sympathy.” (Doubleday)

“He said, after he won his first election right after he got back from South Africa, that [he won] because of his popularity,” Millard says.  The Empire had lost battle after battle to an enemy they had anticipated defeating with ease. Churchill’s successful evasion rejuvenated British hopes of victory.

Millard’s skill at humanizing larger-than-life figures like Roosevelt and Churchill, not to mention her deft aggrandizement of a lesser-known man like Garfield, reveals her literary wizardry. But she says that’s just a product of using a lot of primary sources. “It’s very, very important to me that people know absolutely everything is factual. That’s why I say you can go back and look for yourself.” Her notes pages exhaustively cite sources for every quotation and detail. 

Millard also travelled to South Africa and retraced parts of Churchill’s route with John Bird, a local Churchill enthusiast who managed the coal mine at Witbank until his retirement. “He showed me, ‘I think that’s the hill where [Churchill] hid, and he was waiting for the sun to go down so he could get some water. I think he must have gotten water right here,’” Millard says. The two emailed for years, and Bird proofed large portions of her manuscript for accuracy.

It was there on the African veld, waiting for the sun to set, that we see Churchill as most human. “His famously strident confidence had left him, leaving behind only the impossibility of finding his way to freedom, or even surviving the attempt … desperate and nearly defeated, Churchill turned for hope and help to the only source he had left: his God,” Millard writes.

The author glances at the table filled with black and white 8x10s of her visit to the Amazon’s River of Doubt during her Roosevelt research. While she was writing about Roosevelt’s near-loss of his son Kermit on that expedition, her own child was gravely ill. “I was so desperate and so scared, and you suddenly feel this connection to this larger-than-life person,” she says quietly. “But you live long enough and you’re going to have those moments of self-doubt or fear or sorrow or grieving or simply desperation. And I did absolutely sense that with Churchill when he’s on the veld. When he’s alone, he’s scared, he’s got no help, he’s lost hope, he doesn’t know what to do and he doesn’t know where to turn, he gets down on his knees and prays for guidance. I think that’s incredibly relatable.” 

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.

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."

The Enduring Climate Legacy of Mauna Loa

Smithsonian Magazine

About 60 years ago, David Keeling began to wind his way up the side of Mauna Loa. At 11,135 feet above sea level, he stopped at a small, gray concrete building—the only sign of human life among miles and miles of lava rock, aside from an outhouse some 50 yards from the building. Keeling, a 30-year old scientist from California, had initially made a name for himself in the science community by devising a unique method of sampling of carbon dioxide, which had revealed some intriguing patterns—namely, that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was relatively uniform throughout the entire northern hemisphere, averaging about 310 parts per million. Now, he came to the top of the world’s largest volcano to check in on a new project that he hoped would change the way that the scientific community measured atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Keeling had ended up in Hawaii at the behest of Harry Wexler, the director of the U.S. Weather Bureau’s Division of Meteorological Research. A few years earlier, Keeling had flown to Washington, D.C. to meet with Wexler and, in the span of a few hours, had convinced the director to completely overhaul the Weather Bureau’s carbon measurement program. What the world needed, Keeling argued, was a few remote sites set up around the world, continuously measuring fluctuations in the amount of carbon dioxide that was entering, or leaving, the atmosphere.

Keeling got his wish, even if Wexler didn’t necessarily get his: Instead of joining the Weather Bureau, Keeling took a position at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, passing over a windowless office at the Naval Observatory for the ocean breeze of San Diego. But Keeling and Wexler maintained a professional relationship, allowing both Scripps and the federal government to have a hand in the measurement program being set up in Mauna Loa—a public and private partnership that would continue for decades. In March of 1958, the first continuous measurements of carbon dioxide began at the observatory; months later, in November, Keeling visited the site for the first time.

Even just months into the program, the monitoring at Mauna Loa was already producing revolutionary results. In November, when Keeling first made the winding trek up the volcano, the measurements showed the concentration of carbon dioxide increasing—slowly, but steadily. Then, in the summer months, the opposite happened, with carbon dioxide concentrations dropping. The pattern repeated itself, almost exactly, during the second year of measurements. Keeling was fascinated.

“We were witnessing for the first time,” he wrote in his autobiography, “nature’s withdrawing CO2 from the air for plant growth during the summer and returning it each succeeding winter.” They had, in essence, captured a picture of the northern hemisphere drawing and releasing breath—exhaling carbon dioxide as forests turned bare for the winter, and inhaling as the leaves returned each summer.

The seasonal uptake and release of carbon dioxide would turn out to be just one of the stunning phenomena illustrated by the measurements at Mauna Loa. Over the next 60 years, the observatory’s data would reveal something far more sinister afoot in the atmosphere: a rapid increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

“If the human race survives into the twenty-first century with the vast population increase that now seems inevitable,” Keeling said during a speech presenting his research to the American Philosophical Society in 1969, “the people living then, along with their other troubles, may also face the threat of climatic change brought about by an uncontrolled increase in atmospheric CO2 from fossil fuels.”

The original structure of the Mauna Loa Observatory, dubbed the Keeling Building. (Ted Coran)

About 400,000 years ago, an underwater volcano breached the surface of the Pacific Ocean. For the next several hundred thousand years, the volcano continued to erupt in cyclical spurts, rapidly growing until it rose some 13,680 feet above the sea. Lava flowed down the sides of the mountain, eventually hardening to form the majority of the Big Island of Hawaii. To the native Hawaiians that first populated the island, the volcano became known as Mauna Loa, or Long Mountain—indicative of its gradual slopes that encompass some 19,000 cubic miles, making it the largest volcano in the world. In 1951, a small weather observatory—dubbed the Mauna Loa Summit Observatory—opened at the summit, the result of an alliance between the U.S. Weather Bureau, the Park Service, the U.S. Navy, and prison laborers, who spent years carving out the winding road that would lead to the top of the volcano. Four years later, the Mauna Loa Observatory was built a few thousand feet down the volcano from the original summit structure; today, it remains one of the most important observatory stations in the world.

The Mauna Loa Observatory has changed little since Keeling made his first visit in 1968. A second building joined the original structure in 1997, and the facility has indoor plumbing, making the outhouse mostly obsolete, at least for visitors. Other projects now compete for research time at the observatory; over 70 projects, spearheaded by institutions around the globe, measure some 250 atmospheric constituents, from aerosols to solar radiation. But it’s still the observatory’s continuous carbon measurements—the longest running in the world—that draw the most attention. Today, the graph based on those measurements is largely known by another name: the Keeling Curve, which Thomas J. Barton, a former president of the American Chemical Society, called “an icon of modern science.”

The carbon measurements at the observatory are drawn from samples of air taken at the top of a 130-foot tower, a structure conspicuously out of place in an environment barren of anything taller than a single-story building. One hundred and thirty feet up, the air is largely free of local pollution that can sometimes be carried up the mountain by an inversion layer that forms when the sun warms the mountain, drawing air up from lower altitudes during the day and down during the night. From the tower, two lines draw air samples into a small room in the observatory’s second building. Today, both NOAA and Scripps run concurrent measuring programs at Mauna Loa, using the same air samples, but with slightly different techniques (NOAA began its monitoring program in the 70s, and has stations set up around the world, from Mauna Loa to Barrow, Alaska to the South Pole).

The original device used by Charles Keeling to measure atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. (Ted Coran)

Keeling died in 2005, but his legacy is palpable throughout the observatory, from the dedicated plaque on the outside of the original building to the original carbon measuring device ensconced in Plexiglass in the second building’s hallway. His influence is perhaps most notable, however, in the program’s dedication to careful measurement and calibration. Hourly samples are bracketed by 15 minutes of calibration on each side, and an hour-long calibration is conducted every 25th hour. The resulting measurements are also run through a computer program that flags any outlier data—anything with too much fluctuation, or a higher-than-expected value—for manual approval. All data collected is also compared against 15 other labs around the world, and the NOAA and Scripps programs regularly examine their results against each other. Usually, the difference is so negligible as to be practically nonexistent.

“If you look at the plot of CO2 at Mauna Loa, the difference between [the Scripps] program and our program is less than the thickness of the line on the plot,” says Pieter Tans, head of the Carbon Cycle Greenhouse Gases Group in the Global Monitoring Division of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory. “It’s real quality assurance.”

The Mauna Loa Observatory complex. (Ted Coran)

But Keeling’s legacy of meticulous measurements isn’t the only reason that researchers at both NOAA and Scripps go to such great lengths to ensure that their results are unimpeachable. Since Keeling first presented his findings to the American Philosophical Society in 1968, the conclusion that atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasingly primarily due to the actions of mankind has become one of the most polarizing subjects in American politics. Almost a quarter of Americans believe that there is no solid evidence that the Earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, while almost 30 percent of Americans don’t view global warming as a serious problem.

Over the same period of time, carbon dioxide has been entering into the atmosphere at an alarmingly high rate—faster than any other time in recorded history. At the same time, the planet has seen a stunning run of record-breaking temperature stretches, with 10 of the warmest years on record occurring after 1998. Recently, the measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa passed 400 parts per million, a 42 percent increase from preindustrial levels. Making sure their numbers are undeniable is not just good science, but also protection against the threatening winds of a tempestuous political climate. 

Still, for all the political strife that surrounds anthropogenic climate change, the researchers in charge of collecting the data at Mauna Loa are almost coldly apolitical. Both Tans and Ralph Keeling—David Keeling’s son, who took over the Scripps portion of the program after his father’s death—see their role not so much as influencing policy, but gathering important data.

“I got into this field not to change policy but to discover things about the Earth, and I continue to see that as my main motivation,” Ralph Keeling says. “I think the process of figuring out what society should do and how to make changes still requires people like me that are simply fact gathering.” The rest, he and Tans say, is up to the policymakers of the world.

While the younger Keeling may believe in keeping politics out of science, that doesn’t stop the science from being impacted by politics. At least half of the partnership’s funding—the NOAA part—comes from the federal government, which has made overtures several times over the past few years toward cutting funding for non-weather related NOAA research. Those political vagaries, among other things, are what make the partnership with Scripps so invaluable to the continuity of the program, Tans explains.

“It is possible that a future president or Congress decides that climate change is a hoax, and we’re going to curtail NOAA’s program,” he says. “So it’s also an assurance against such vagaries. We wouldn’t want the Mauna Loa record to be discontinued, so it’s important that not one lab, but different labs in different countries, are all doing this.”

A view of Mauna Kea from the top of the Mauna Loa Observatory. (Ted Coran)

Ensuring constant funding for the Scripps portion of the program is not without its pitfalls as well. Long-term observation studies, Keeling explains, are often the provenance of federal agencies, which often have a more predictable stream of funding for projects on an extended timeline. For private agencies, the focus is often on new discovery—not the continual monitoring of a known phenomenon.

“The challenge is that there is an expectation, as a concept of what the science enterprise is supposed to be about, that you should go one place and make a discovery and then you should go to another place and make another discovery,” Keeling says. “That was a problem my father faced, and in a way the community that is engaged in this has to keep answering. The answer is that we aren’t just studying the same thing over and over again—we are looking at the Earth in a time of extraordinary change, and it would be very irresponsible and strange to just turn off the flow of information.”

If anything, the constant monitoring of atmospheric carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa might have entered an important new phase—monitoring global efforts to curb greenhouse gas pollution. In December, nearly 200 nations met in Paris and agreed to adopt efforts aimed at keeping the world well below 2 degrees Celsius of warming—the consensus limit for when the consequences of climate change would get really, really bad. Environmentalists and climate scientists generally applauded the agreement, but there was one main point of concern: How would the world know if countries were sticking to their promises? How could we be sure that the agreement was actually working?

That’s where NOAA’s Tans thinks that the carbon measurement program can be useful—and where he sees the program going, at least in part, in the future.

“There needs to be some way of objectively verifying to what extent these policies are actually successful. We’ve been thinking for a long time about how we can do this, how we can make measurements in such a way that if a policy goal is 20 percent less emissions in 10 years, can we actually measure that from the atmosphere?” Tans says.

NOAA’s researchers have been practicing measuring known sources of methane across the U.S. to try to measure and quantify reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Now, they are turning their attention towards carbon dioxide in cities, trying to devise a method that can capture changes in carbon emissions at a city level, and even pinpoint whether that carbon is coming from a natural source, or from the combustion of fossil fuels.

For a project that has spent more than half of the last century plotting mankind’s dangerous influence on the climate, it’s a hopeful prospect. “If the Paris agreement bears fruit and leads to reduction in emissions, we’ll start seeing that show up in the Mauna Loa record, and that will be a new discovery—we’ll see that humans are bending the curve,” Ralph Keeling says. “I’m eager to keep it going to show that there is a control knob that we can exercise.”

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."

Saving Face: How One Pioneering Surgeon Is Pushing the Limits of Facial Transplants

Smithsonian Magazine

On September 5, 2001, Patrick Hardison’s face caught fire.

The 27-year-old volunteer fireman had climbed into a mobile home through a burning window, after hearing a man scream that his wife might be trapped inside. It turned out the man's wife wasn’t inside at all; she was fishing in a stream down the road. Hardison wasn’t so lucky. Once he made it inside, the ceiling collapsed. Hardison tore off his fireman’s mask, only to feel it melting in his hands. By the time he was pulled from the window and paramedics had pushed an IV into his arm, his fellow firefighters couldn’t recognize him. His face had melted and turned to char.

Hardison ended up losing every facial feature he had: eyelids, ears, lips, scalp, facial skin, hair, most of his nose. Even after more than 80 reconstructive surgeries, his face still resembled a fright mask. Doctors used flesh pulled from his thigh to cover over his skull, leaving his eyes narrowed to pinpricks by layers of scarred and fused skin. He wore sunglasses and a baseball cap to protect himself from the stares of people on the street. He was going blind. He spent the next 15 years in the shadows, fighting depression and addiction to pain killers, and ultimately losing his marriage and his tire business.

Then in August, 2015, a miracle happened: a possible face donor had been found. 

Hardison’s surgeon at the time was Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, a renowned plastic surgeon in Manhattan and the chief of the department of plastic surgery at New York University Langone Medical Center. Rodriguez, known in medical circles as a surgical Rodin, had a reputation for pushing the envelope for radical transplant surgery farther, harder and more meticulously than ever before. And he had just received permission to transplant the face of a 26-year-old brain-dead man who had gotten in a horrific bicycle accident in Brooklyn. After genetic testing, the man’s tissues and blood type proved compatible—a once-in-a-decade stroke of luck. 

Now, Hardison was set to undergo the world’s most extensive face transplant to date. 

Dr. Rodriguez (NYU Langone Medical Center)

When it came to saving faces, Rodriguez had already set the bar high for himself. In 2012, the surgeon successfully transplanted a whole new face onto a man named Richard Norris, who had lost his choirboy good looks—including his tongue, teeth, nose and jaw—after a shotgun accident 15 years earlier. But with Hardison, Rodriguez planned to go further: He would replace Hardison’s entire face, from neck to scalp, including his jaw, chin, nose, mouth, lips, ears and eyelids, as well as all underlying tissues. In doing so, Rodriguez and team hoped to restore Hardison’s ability to blink, saving his dwindling eyesight.

Rodriguez had high ambitions. He wasn't content with creating merely a passable alternative to no face at all. Nor did he want to create a face with obvious surgical deformities—i.e. skin color mismatch, drooping lips, a boxy, square facial appearance—as had been the outcomes of most partial to whole face transplants of the past. Instead, Rodriguez was aiming for a completely animated replacement: a natural looking face, one that could easily pass in a crowd.

But he also recognized the risks. He was well aware of how rare it was to find a compatible donor at this stage, and knew that his decision to replace every bit of damaged facial tissue would give Hardison a chance to return to some semblance of normality. At the same time, what if the transplant failed? How long would it last, especially given the body’s immune system and its natural propensity to reject foreign transplant tissue, even with a daily regimen of immunosuppressive drugs? What would the patient do if his or her face failed entirely?

To make sure potential patients also understand these risks, Rodriguez’s NYU team of 100 physicians, nurses, immunologists, psychologists, social workers and medical ethicists go through an exhaustive patient screening process.

“I’m obsessive compulsive about patient selection,” he says. “To me, the quality of the result is far more important than the quantity of the cases.” Most of the time, Rodriguez can perform reconstructions rather than transplants. But in the rare cases where nothing else will work, “I tell my patients, as I told Richard Norris and Patrick Hardison, that this procedure has a 50-50 chance of succeeding,” he says. (He bases that figure on “the complexity of this surgical procedure and the lack of information” about long-term outcomes.) 

Rodriguez points out that an extensive facial transplant doesn't necessarily have a lower chance of succeeding than a less extensive one. But because so much tissue is being replaced, rejection by the patient's body could mean a critically dangerous amount of tissue loss.

An image created by 3D modeling of a face transplant donor. The contrasting colors provide a patient-specific cutting guide for surgical planning. (Source 3D Systems / NYU Langone Center)

The face transplant revolution is remarkably new, dating back to around 2005. Rodriguez, among other plastic surgeons, has built on little more than 38 known face transplant surgical experiences worldwide. These have had varying success; of those 38 patients, at least four have already died according to a recent study in the journal the British Medical Bulletin. Hospital reports indicate three causes of death: chronic immune system rejection, the failure or unwillingness of patients to take their daily immunosuppressive drugs, or secondary cancers, possibly associated with the drug regimen.    

In 2005, a French woman named Isabelle Dinoire, who had been mauled by her Labrador retriever, became the world's first partial face transplant patient. Her surgeons, Dr. Bernard Devauchelle and Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard, grafted a triangle of tissue—nose, mouth and chin—taken from a brain-dead female donor. Dinoire survived the procedure, but died in April 2016 at age 49. Her surgeons attributed her death to cancer after her immune system rejected her transplant last winter, causing a loss of sensation and control in her lips.

Like all transplant patients, Dinoire, a smoker, had been taking powerful immunosuppressive drugs since her operation. She had had numerous bouts of infection.  In a New York Times obituary, Dinoire’s hospital announced the return of Dinoire’s malignant tumor first operated on in 2015 could be “scientifically linked to immunosuppressive therapy,” noting that Dinoire’s death “perfectly illustrates the challenges of face transplants.”

In December 2008, U.S. surgeons ventured into the fray. The first American patient was Connie Culp, an Ohio woman whose husband—meaning to kill her—shot her point blank. Culp lost her right eye, nose, mouth and lower jaw in the shooting; afterwards, she could neither breathe normally, talk or eat.

Dr. Maria Siemionow, a pioneering hand surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, ended up replacing 80 percent of Culp’s face. Culp’s new face appeared boxy and square, the result of a surgical decision to perfuse the transplant with parotid arteries and glands. However, she recovered much of her nerve sensation, as well as the ability to eat, smell, swallow and even laugh. Since her surgery, Culp has become a passionate advocate for organ donation and travels extensively for speaking engagements. 

"I can smell now," she told CNN in 2010. "I can eat steak, I can eat almost any solid foods—so it's all getting better."

Patrick Hardison pre-surgery, and again post-surgery on November 11, 2015. (NYU Langone Medical Center)

Since Culp’s surgery, Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of plastic surgery and transplantation at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, has become another pioneer in this budding field. Pomahac focuses on “simple and feasible” procedures to replace the mid-face of severely injured patients; one of his achievements has been perfecting a facial artery technique to streamline the transplant operation. A conservative physician, he refuses to remove any surviving, living facial tissue from his patients, for fear of what would happen if the transplant fails. “I strongly believe in the concept of doing no harm,” Pomahac says.  

“We focus on not hurting patients, meaning there is a compromise on [facial] aesthetics,” he adds. In the event of a failed face transplant, “I’m comfortable we can salvage a patient,” he adds, presumably through reconstruction surgery.

Pomahac's team has performed seven face transplants to date. One of them, a 25-year-old man named Dallas Wiens, was the first in the U.S. to receive a whole face transplant (albeit with less tissue taken than with Rodriguez’s transplants). When Wiens’ forehead brushed against a high-voltage electrical wire in 2008, he was blinded and his face utterly destroyed, melted like candle wax. In March 2011, Pomahac and his team of surgeons, anesthetists, and nurses replaced Wiens’ face in around 22 hours. The surgery “proved the facial artery technique could work,” Pomahac says.

Pomahac notes that nearly every face transplant patient experiences an episode of acute rejection at some point, but most can be healed with a stronger course of immunosuppressive drugs. He worries about the more radical aesthetics of transplant teams that replace all facial tissue.  These, he says, include Rodriguez and another Polish surgeon, Dr. Adam Maciejewski of the Cancer Center and Institute of Oncology in Glicwice, who transplanted a new face in 2013 onto a 33-year-old Polish stone-cutter whose machine had severed his facial tissue so severely it couldn’t be reattached.

“There are groups that keep pushing the aesthetic component,” Pomahac observes. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but the downside is that patients could end up with a worse problem if the transplant is rejected.“ 

In Dinoire’s case, the transplant lasted 10 years. While her surgeons were contemplating a partial replacement to her lips, she died of cancer. In the cases of even more dramatically extensive transplants—Richard Norris and Patrick Hardison, for example—Pomahac fears that immune system rejection means there is little to no bailout option, except, perhaps, for risky repeat surgeries. “In Norris’s case, the surgical team removed the upper and lower jaw and connected the new tissue; so the gentleman could have a giant hole and no facial skin as a result if his transplant fails,” he says.

Eduardo D. Rodriguez with Patrick Hardison in November 2015. (NYU Langone Medical Center)

Rodriguez believes that rejection can be managed. He says that acute transplant rejection can be treated with medications and, in many instances, avoided through careful screening. For example, Langone doctors treated Patrick Hardison with the drug Rituximab before his transplant operation, effectively eliminating his B cell lymphocytes that could have proven “antigenic,” or incompatible, to his transplant, according to pre-op tests. The B cells have since grown back normally, and Hardison is yet to show any signs of transplant rejection, according to Rodriguez.

Acute rejection [is] likely a predictor of patients who are going to lose their allographs [transplants] with 10 years,” Rodriguez says. When chronic rejection happens, it’s not immediate, but a process that happens over months and even a year. This, he says, gives doctors time to consider options. “Will rejected transplants look the same as before?  No. Will patients live? Yes,” Rodriguez asserts.  If medication doesn’t work, surgery to replace damaged tissue is another option, although he admits no one has crossed that bridge as yet.

“The fear of a patient not living long with a transplant isn’t new,” Rodriguez says, referring to tissue transplants in general, including internal organs like kidneys and hearts. “In 2016, I would tell my patients the longest a face transplant is proven to last is 11 years (based on the Dinoire case). I even tell them they could potentially die in the operating room or as a result of complications related to this procedure. “

“I’m always concerned about the fears,” he continues. “But when a patient has had these horrific injuries, the consequence is that they want to look and feel normal again. Every member of our team is constantly explaining the severity and complexity of this procedure in addition to the consequences of long-term immune suppression medication.”

Still, the rare patient who makes it through the extensive face transplant screening process embraces the chance. For Patrick Hardison, life after his surgery returned to a new normal: He got his blink back. Rodriguez and his team successfully reconnected Hardison ‘s own surviving nerves and muscle remnants to the eyelids and blood vessels of the donor. Today, the Mississippi fireman has 20/30 vision. He can drive, spend time with his five children, visit and proceed with his business and life plans.

"After my accident, my life was really hard. I hated life," Hardison told The Telegraph earlier this year.  “I’m the same person I’ve always been, I’m the same guy ... I’m not some overnight sensation ... But I’m mobile now, I can do things ... I'm here today because I want others to see that there is hope beyond the injury."

Diamonds Illuminate the Origins of Earth's Deepest Oceans

Smithsonian Magazine

It was a spring day in 2009, and John McNeill had a pocket full of diamonds.

His PhD advisor, geochemist Graham Pearson, had sent McNeill to a lab in Vienna with a film canister that rattled with “ultradeep” diamonds. These weren’t the glittering gems of a jewelry store, but the rough, dull diamonds that had exploded towards the surface from a region hundreds of miles deep in the Earth’s mantle called the transition zone Miners in Brazil’s Juína district had discovered them several years before. Jewelers had passed on the cloudy stones, but for scientists, these precious minerals were windows into the deep Earth. 

In a darkened laboratory, McNeill aimed a beam of light onto the surface of stone after stone, measuring the spectrum scattered by the diamonds and their impurities—hoping to find minerals in these inclusions that could tell him how these diamonds formed. 

What he discovered instead gave scientists the first concrete evidence that there was water deep inside the Earth. If there was a vast reservoir of water molecules integrated into minerals hundreds of miles underground, it could explain how our blue planet evolved into one with plate tectonics and water, and eventually became habitable. Understanding that process isn’t just historical: The more we know about what made life possible on our planet, scientists argue, the more we’ll know about finding a habitable one outside of our solar system. 

At the time, McNeill was a researcher at Durham University. When he and Lutz Nasdala, the scientist in whose lab he was working, compared the spectrum created by an impurity in one of the diamonds against a database of minerals, they found something surprising: A microscopic fleck of greenish crystal trapped within the diamond looked like it might be ringwoodite, a mineral that had only ever been synthesized in laboratories or found on meteorites. It had never shown up in material from Earth. 

If it was, it would be a big deal. Synthetic ringwoodite was known to be able to incorporate water molecules into its structure. So this terrestrial sample might finally be able to settle a decades-long debate about the quantity of water trapped in the transition zone—a layer that stretches from 250 to 400 miles beneath the crust—and how it got there.  

In the late 1980s, geophysicist Joseph Smyth from the University of Colorado, Boulder predicted that certain minerals in the mantle’s transition zone might have room in their structures for molecules of water. But because no one could drill that far down into the transition zone to take a direct look, most of the evidence for this was either theoretical or the result of laboratory experiments. Other scientists disagreed, noting that the way an earthquake's seismic waves moved beneath the surface—and the infrequency of deep earthquakes—predicted a dry transition zone. 

McNeill’s diamond provided a pea-sized window into this hidden layer in the center of the Earth, allowing researchers to catch a glimpse of the composition of our planet. 

About two years later, McNeill had graduated and Pearson had moved from Durham University to continue his research at the University of Alberta in Canada. On a winter day in 2011, in a windowless basement laboratory, Pearson’s colleague Sergei Matveev painstakingly suspended the ringwoodite-containing diamond inside an infrared microscope to analyze the contents of the tiny inclusion. 

It took Matveev a few hours to position the diamond just right so he could take a measurement. But once he had it in place, it only took a few minutes to get their results: the ringwoodite contained water.

Matveev tried to stay calm, but Pearson was excited. He prefers not to repeat what he said the moment that he realized that theory and laboratory experiments could now be backed up by a direct observation of water from deep in the Earth’s mantle. 

“It’s possibly not printable,” he says.  

A bluish crystal of ringwoodite inside a diamond-anvil cell. (Steve Jacobsen/Northwestern University)

McNeill, Pearson and their colleagues published their discovery in the journal Nature in 2014, but the question remained: how representative was this tiny diamond of the entire transition zone? The two scientists were careful to note that their paper provided evidence of water only in the small pocket of the mantle where this diamond had formed.

If this tiny ringwoodite sample was truly representative, then the transition zone could contain as much water as all of Earth's oceans—possibly more. And if it did, it could help explain how plate tectonics move, forming mountains and volcanoes.

Geophysicist Steve Jacobsen from Northwestern University cautions against envisioning this water as Jules Verne’s subterranean oceans filled with sea monsters. Instead, he likens water in the transition zone to the milk in a cake. Liquid milk goes into the batter, but once the cake comes out of the oven, that liquid milk’s components are incorporated into the cake’s structure—it’s not wet anymore, but it’s still there.

And Jacobsen thought he had a way to find out just how much of this water was “baked” into the Earth beneath North America.

Inside our planet, incredibly hot and slightly viscous rock moves towards the surface in some places, while in others it oozes towards the core in a slow current called convection. As minerals like ringwoodite transit from higher to lower depths in the mantle, the high temperatures and pressures warp the mineral’s structure. Blue-tinged ringwoodite, for example, starts out as a green crystal called olivine near the surface, metamorphoses to ringwoodite in the transition zone, and changes into bridgmanite as it moves to the lower mantle. But unlike ringwoodite, bridgmanite doesn’t hold water.

Jacobsen theorized that if ringwoodite in the transition zone truly contained as much water as Pearson’s diamond suggested, then the water would ooze out of the ringwoodite as magma when the mineral was squeezed and heated to become bridgmanite.

So Jacobsen made ringwoodite that contained water in the laboratory, squeezed it between two diamonds in a pocket-sized vice called a diamond anvil press, and heated it with a high-powered laser. When he examined the results, he found that the high temperatures and pressures had indeed squeezed the water from the stone, creating tiny droplets of magma.

Jacobsen thought that if ringwoodite actually oozed water-rich magma as it was pressed into the lower mantle, then these patches of magma should slow an earthquake’s seismic waves—creating a kind of seismic signature for water.

So Jacobsen teamed up with seismologist Brandon Schmandt from the University of New Mexico to look for these signatures in the data collected by the National Science Foundation’s grid of mobile seismometers called the U.S. Array that was slowly moving east across North America. The researchers saw the seismic hiccups they predicted right where they thought they would—at the boundary between the transition zone and Earth’s lower mantle.

When he tries to describe what these results meant to him, Jacobsen is at a loss for words. “That was really the point where I felt that the last 20 years of my research were worthwhile,” he finally says. He and Schmandt had found evidence that water was trapped in the mantle’s transition zone underneath most of the United States, and they published their findings in the journal Science in 2014.

But there was still a big blind spot: no one knew where this water had come from.

Workers extract diamonds in the Juina region of Brazil. (Graham Pearson/University of Alberta)

In September 2014, Alexander Sobolev set out to find “fresh” samples of rare, 2.7-billion-year-old lava rocks called komatiites, hoping to learn about how they formed.

Sobolev, a professor of geochemistry from Grenoble Alpes University in France, made his way through portions of Canada’s Abitibi greenstone belt with a hammer—tapping komatiites that looked promising, and listening carefully to the tinny percussion. The best ones, he says, make a clean and beautiful sound. 

Sobolev and his colleagues Nicholas Arndt, also from Grenoble Alpes University, and Evgeny Asafov from Russia's Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry collected fist-sized chunks of these rocks to take back to France. There, they crushed them and extracted the tiny green grains of olivine nestled inside before sending the olivine fragments to Russia to be heated to more than 2,400 degrees F and then rapidly cooled. They analyzed the molten and cooled inclusions trapped inside the olivine to understand what had happened to the plumes of magma as they shot up through the mantle.  

Sobolev's team discovered that while these komatiites didn’t contain as much water as Pearson’s ringwoodite, it looked like the magma that formed them had picked up and incorporated a small amount of water as it traveled through the mantle—probably when it passed through the transition zone. This would mean that the mantle’s transition zone contained water 2.7 billion years ago. 

This time point is important because there are a number of different—but potentially complementary—theories about when and how the Earth acquired its water, and how this water made its way deep into the mantle. 

The first theory says that the young planet Earth was too hot to retain any water and that it arrived later, hitching a ride on soggy meteorites or comets. This water then slipped into the mantle when tectonic plates moved over one another in a process called subduction. The second theory says that water has been on our planet since the beginning—that is, ever since a cloud of gas and dust coalesced to form our solar system 4.6 billion years ago. This primordial water could have been trapped inside the Earth during its accretion, and somehow managed to withstand the young planet’s scorching heat. 

So if water was in the Earth’s transition zone 2.7 billion years ago, Sobolev says, it means that either the movement of tectonic plates had to have started much earlier in the planet's history than scientists currently believe, or that water was here from the very beginning. 

Lydia Hallis, for one, suspects that the water has been there all along. Hallis, a planetary scientist at the University of Glasgow, compared what she calls the different “flavors” of water in ancient rocks from the deep mantle and in regular seawater several years ago. While subduction mixes water into the upper levels of the mantle, the deepest portions stay relatively pristine. 

Water is made up of two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen. Sometimes, when it’s incorporated into rocks, it’s actually made up of one hydrogen and one oxygen, called a hydroxyl group. Different forms, or isotopes, of hydrogen have different molecular weights, and the heavier hydrogen isotope is known as deuterium. 

Scientists think that at the spot in the nascent solar system where the Earth formed, water contained a lot more regular hydrogen than deuterium. But as water has persisted on the Earth’s surface, the lighter hydrogen molecules escaped into space more readily, concentrating deuterium in our atmosphere and oceans. 

Hallis found that water trapped in stones from the Canadian Arctic that were formed by magma originating deep in the Earth’s mantle had a lower deuterium to hydrogen ratio than seawater. The ratio in those stones more closely resembled what scientists think primordial water looked like, suggesting that water was a component of the Earth’s mantle from the very beginning. 

This doesn’t exclude the possibility that damp space rocks also smacked into the Earth and shared some of their water. But the debate rages on. “That’s how science works," Hallis says. "You’re right, until someone proves you wrong.” 

A diamond-anvil cell is used to simulate conditions deep inside the Earth, squeezing samples using enormous pressures. (Steve Jacobsen/Northwestern University)

Pearson wondered if examining the ratios between deuterium and hydrogen in his ringwoodite inclusion might tell him more about whether the water in the transition zone was primordial, if it was there as a result of subduction, or whether it was a bit of both. 

He recruited Mederic Palot—a geochemist currently at Jean Monnet University in France—to polish the diamond down to the ringwoodite inclusion so they could analyze the hydrogen molecules trapped inside. It was a risky process. Bringing a diamond up from such depths meant that its insides were under a lot of strain. Cutting and polishing the diamond could damage it and its inclusion beyond repair.

Palot was careful. He created a kind of heat sink made of dry ice so that the diamond wouldn’t overheat as he shaved tiny slivers off the mineral's surface with a laser. After each minute of polishing, he took the diamond over to a microscope to make sure that the precious ringwoodite inclusion was still there. 

After 12 hours of polishing, Palot knew he was getting close to the inclusion. He checked the diamond under the microscope at 11 p.m.—almost there. He polished for another minute and then checked the diamond again. The inclusion was gone. 

Palot frantically searched for it for an entire day, scouring the area around the microscope for a speck of ringwoodite smaller than a grain of dust. 

He remembers the terrible feeling of having to call Pearson to deliver the news that the only sample of ringwoodite ever discovered that had been formed in the Earth was gone. 

But Pearson was already thinking about the next project. “He said, ‘That’s game, we know that we gambled on that,’” Palot recalls. And then Pearson told him that they had another sample that might be interesting. He had recently made a trip to the same region of Brazil where the ringwoodite-containing diamond came from, and he brought back new gems—each with promising inclusions to study. Now, Palot, Pearson, Jacobsen and others are working together to analyze a diamond from even deeper within the mantle.

For Palot and each of these scientists, looking at crystals that emerge from deep within our planet is about more than identifying the ingredients that were baked into the Earth billions of years ago. 

“This whole point is about life itself,” Palot says. “We know that life is closely related to water. If we know better the water cycle, we know better how life originated.” 

And if we know how life originated on our planet, it could potentially help us find life—or life-sustaining conditions—on others. 

Jacobsen adds, “We’re now discovering potentially habitable planets outside of our solar system. And the more we know about what a habitable planet looks like, the more we’ll be able to recognize them.”

Their search for water deep inside the Earth, Jacobsen says, has never been more relevant.

Learn about this research and more at the Deep Carbon Observatory.

Drawing, Pen and Ink on Paper

National Air and Space Museum
A sketch of a press conference for the Skylab. The attention is focused on three men sitting at a table on the left that has a round NASA insignia on it. The text in the empty space above this group are phrases that read: "The flight will be scrubed [sic] until we find the reason and whether there are any more…the thrust reaction trunion…reinstall the…stress and corrosion integrity." A camera on a tripod that is focused on the three men is at the center of picture, and it is labeled "KSC Television." Five other men are positioned around the scene. A bald man is seated in the lower left and is holding a long skinny microphone to the outline of a man's face behind the camera leg. Two other men with glasses are seated on the right side facing the men at the table. One man wearing a headset is standing looking into the camera. To his right are the head and shoulders of another man presumed to be standing.

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

A Window into the World of Diane Arbus

Smithsonian Magazine

Diane Arbus is known for her unsettling photographic portraits of people on the outskirts of society. She also was one of the first photographers to successfully leap from the commercial sphere to the art world, at a time when critics and curators by and large did not consider photography to be an art form. She did so in part based on the strength of a portfolio she began putting together in 1969 to try to create some financial independence and to establish her artistic identity.

That portfolio, A box of ten photographs, is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum until January 2019. The museum is the only venue for the portfolio, one of just four complete editions that Arbus printed and annotated. The three other editions—the artist never executed her plan to make 50—are held privately.

The Smithsonian edition was made for Bea Feitler, an art director who both employed and befriended Arbus. It includes an 11th photo, Mrs. Gladys “Mitzi” Ulrich with the baby, Sam a stump-tailed macaque monkey. After Feitler’s death, Baltimore collector G.H. Dalsheimer bought her portfolio from Sotheby’s in 1982 for $42,900. The American Art Museum then bought it from Dalsheimer in 1986. The portfolio was put away in the museum’s collection, until now.

Arbus was transparent in many ways, but mysterious in so many others, starting with how she decided on the ten photos included in the portfolio. “She has left virtually no information about that,” says John Jacob, the museum’s curator of photography. Jacob ventures that those photos are “how she saw herself, how she created her self-image,” he says. “It also becomes how we know her today.”

Equally unknown: why she took her own life in 1971, swallowing a handful of barbiturates and slitting her wrists, just as she seemed to be reaching the pinnacle of her career.

“Considered in relation to the portfolio, the odyssey of Diane Arbus is the odyssey of photography itself,” says Jacob. Writing in the exhibition catalog, Jacob says, “At the time of her death, Diane Arbus was already a growing influence on the field of photography but not widely known to the larger public.”

A woman with her baby monkey, N.J. by Diane Arbus, 1971 (Museum purchase. © The Estate of Diane Arbus)

A box of ten “initiated the transition, connecting Arbus’s past as a magazine photographer with her emergence as a serious artist, and bridging a lifetime of modest recognition with a posthumous career of extraordinary acclaim,” he writes.

A big breakthrough occurred when Philip Leider, editor of the art world’s pre-eminent publication—Artforum—published the portfolio’s Patriotic boy with straw hat, buttons and flag on the cover and five other portfolio images inside the May 1971 issue, breaking his long-held tradition of ignoring the field. “With Diane Arbus, one could find oneself interested in photography or not, but one could no longer. . . deny its status as art. . . . What changed everything was the portfolio itself,” Leider wrote.

A few years earlier—in 1967—Arbus’s work had caused a stir at New Documents, a show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). John Szarkowski, the MoMA’s curator of photography from 1962 to 1991, and a huge believer in Arbus, had chosen 30 of her portraits to display, including many of those included in A box of ten.

Jacob says that Leider’s enthusiasm, along with the portfolio’s selection for the 1972 Venice Biennale international art show—making her the first American photographer to be represented there—and a full layout of seven of the portfolio images in the October 1972 issue of Ms. magazine, “were the first steps toward the almost mythical status of Diane Arbus today.”

Carving Out Her Own Direction

Arbus had her own ideas of who she was and what her work was about. She was always defying convention—from the rejection of her privileged Manhattan childhood to her unorthodox marriage to her eventual choice of photographic subjects. Beginning in high school, Arbus was itching to go to the places where she wasn’t allowed or expected, or maybe even wanted.

She intended to live her life as she chose, and that included marrying at the age of 18, instead of going to college, and following her husband—Allan Arbus—into photography.

They started out working together on fashion spreads in the post-World War II period for Seventeen, Glamour and Vogue. He was the technical savant; she was the artiste, who came up with the vision for their work. But neither Allan nor Diane saw a future in what was then a relatively risk-free milieu. Allan wanted to be an actor—he would go on to an off-Broadway and a long television and movie career that included a ten-year run as the psychiatrist Sidney Freedman on the 1970s smash-hit M.A.S.H.

Diane, meanwhile, was absorbing everything she could about photography and the New York art world, studying at the New School for Social Research under Berenice Abbott—a photographer who had evolved out of the Parisian avant garde of the 1920s to become a documentarian. Arbus then went on to study in 1956 with Lisette Model, also at the New School. It was Model, a French-Austrian known for her massive 16 x 20 photographic portraits of the extremes of society—rich and poor, beautiful and ugly—who was considered to have the most influence on Arbus, outside of her husband.

Arbus also developed long-lasting and important relationships with Marvin Israel, an art director she’d first met at Seventeen, who went on to be one of her biggest patrons through his art direction at Harper’s Bazaar. It was Israel who suggested that she create a portfolio, and he came up with the translucent plastic box that contained the ten photographs. Walker Evans, an exquisite documentarian of the Depression and American life became a close friend and adviser, helping her land a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in photography in 1963. And fellow New Yorker and peer Richard Avedon—who also worked for Harper’s Bazaar and became known for his equally startling portraits—was an important lifeline during her rising art career.

Secrets and Adventures

Model instilled in Arbus the idea that photography could reveal secrets. Arbus imbued it with her own philosophy. “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells, the less you know,” said Arbus in 1971.

What seemed transparent in her motive and her work was really just a surface observation. Sometimes the riddle could not be solved.

She did, however, make it clear to anyone who wanted to know that photography gave her a way to step outside of herself and have an adventure. “My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been,” she said, in a 1970 slide show for a group of magazine editors that was organized by Cornell Capa, a photojournalist who was trying to generate interest in his idea for a photo museum that later became the International Center of Photography.

Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade by Diane Arbus, cover of Artforum, May 1971 (SAAM, Museum purchase. © The Estate of Diane Arbus © Artforum, May 1971, “Five Photographs,” by Diane Arbus. Photo by Mindy Barrett)

From 1962 to 1967, Arbus journeyed to nudist camps around New Jersey. She found them astounding, funny, shabby and full of paradoxes. “It was a naughty thing to do and it was terrific,” she said during that 1970 talk. Arbus couldn’t just go, fully clothed, and tromp around the camps. To gain the residents’ trust, she stripped down, wearing only a camera around her neck and a hat on her head. The nudists told Arbus they were morally superior—because without clothing, there was no longer a sexual obsession. Meanwhile, “they have dirty magazines and they’re really playing footsy all the time,” said Arbus.

One of the shots in A box of tenRetired man and his wife at home in a nudist camp in N.J. one morning, from 1963—drops into the living room of an older couple, as if the viewer were sitting in the corner, having coffee and chatting. They smile amiably. He wears slippers and she’s got on a pair of flip flops; both are otherwise entirely nude. Arbus found it hilarious that they had two framed portrait photos of themselves on top of the TV, both in the buff.

She was known to ride her bike all over New York, hunting for subjects. The subway also provided rich fodder. On the underground trains, Arbus encountered a woman who looked like Elizabeth Taylor. She followed her and begged for her picture. Thus came, A young family in Brooklyn on a Sunday outing (1966), which depicted the wife, husband, baby daughter, and, in Arbus’ own words, a “retarded” child.

Promotional flyer for A box of ten photographs by Diane Arbus, 1970-71 (Museum purchase. © The Estate of Diane Arbus © Artforum, May 1971, “Five Photographs,” by Diane Arbus. Photo by Mindy Barrett)

Arbus also habituated Hubert’s Freak Museum in Times Square, especially a favorite after she saw—and then obsessively watched again and again—Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks. One of her subjects from the various carnival shows she attended was Lauro Morales, a person with dwarfism who she photographed for a decade. In the 1970 photo she included in A box of ten, Morales sits half-naked in ruffled sheets, fedora jauntily perched on his head, pencil-thin mustache outlining full lips. He placidly stares directly at the camera. It’s an extremely intimate portrait, as if Arbus just had sex with him.

She also turned that intimate gaze onto personal spaces. Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, Long Is., N.Y. from 1962 puts the viewer right in the room. Two just-visible chair arms jut from the bottom of the frame. As it turns out, Arbus went to Levittown—home of the nation’s first planned suburb—to spy. She caught this image by looking through a window. The presents under the tree “had this incredible Christmas wrapping,” she said in 1970.

After seeing the Arbus portraits at the 1967 MoMA show, critic Marion Magid Hoagland wrote in Arts magazine that her works create a sort of transaction between the photograph and the viewer. “In a kind of healing process, we are cured of our criminal urgency by having dared to look,” wrote Hoagland. “The picture forgives us, as it were, for looking. In the end, the great humanity of Diane Arbus’ art is to sanctify that privacy which she seemed at first to have violated.”

Diane Arbus in Washington Square Park, NYC by John Gossage, 1967 (Private Collection, photo ©John Gossage)

The struggle

While Arbus had some critical and curatorial recognition in the late 1960s—and the admiration of many of her colleagues in the photo world—her commercial work was declining. Arbus and her husband Allan separated in 1960, and finally divorced in 1969. For years, she struggled not just as an artist trying to make a living, but as a single mother with two daughters.

She was skeptical of the museum world—despite her growing acclaim—and often of her own abilities. Sometimes she said she took “rotten pictures.”

And yet, Arbus “saw print sales as a potential source of income,” says Jacob, the show’s curator, even though purchasing prints as art was not yet common.

It was rough going. In 1969, MoMA bought two prints for $75 each. The same year, the Smithsonian Institution bought five prints for just $125. And after almost a year of protracted negotiation, in 1970, the Bibliotheque nationale de France received some 20 prints from her at about $20 to $30 each.

When she began putting A box of ten together, it was in the hopes of getting $100 each, or $1,000 total. Portfolios “were a labor of love,” for Arbus and other artists, says Jeffrey Fraenkel, owner of the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, which has exhibited many of Arbus’s photos. “They didn’t really make anybody any money. At best they established some sort of a stable stylistic identify that was disbursed into the world,” he said.

Lucite Box designed by Israel for A box of ten photographs, with cover sheet by Diane Arbus by Diane Arbus and Marvin Israel, 1970-71 (Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco; SAAM, ©The Estate of Diane Arbus, photographs courtesy Torin Stephens, Fraenkel Gallery)

The portfolio itself—ten prints, each with an overlaid vellum paper in which she handwrote the captions—was housed in a completely clear plastic box, which “served both as the storage container and the exhibition frame,” says Jeff L. Rosenheim, curator in charge at the photography department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met owns the entire Arbus archives. Instead of the photos being fixed statically on the wall, the owner of the portfolio “could rotate your pictures through and delight yourself, and I think she just must have loved that idea,” says Rosenheim.

When Arbus sold a portfolio to artist Jasper Johns, she wrote to her ex-husband in late April 1971, “First one who doesn’t know me,” adding, “four are sold, two-and-a-half paid for. The owners are out of who’s who. My confidence is absurdly on a roller coaster.”

Arbus never knew how famous she was to become. After her suicide, her daughters Doon and Amy, decided to complete the edition of 50, as had been planned. Neil Selkirk, an Arbus student, printed the remainder. It was a difficult task, not least because Arbus had perfected her own idiosyncratic printing technique. Although she proclaimed that the taking of the photo was the most important aspect of her work, “no one was more bananas than her about the print,” says Selkirk.

Many of those posthumous editions have been broken up for sale, having appeared at various auction houses. And, some of the complete posthumous editions have been sold, the most recently by Christie’s in April 2018—for $792,500. Other posthumous complete sets are being held in museum collections around the United States, London, Amsterdam and Hannover, Germany. Three sets printed by Arbus, labeled “artist’s proofs” because they do not have the vellum overlays, are held by the Tate London/National Gallery of Scotland, the Harvard Art Museums, and Pier 24 Photography in San Francisco.

But, as Arbus said in her 1970 talk, “Your images mean more to you than to anybody else.”

“Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs” is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. through January 21, 2019.

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.

Six Things to Do and Places to See Before Climate Change Swamps the Party

Smithsonian Magazine

If the polar bear fails to adapt to a world without ice, it may be doomed—or be forced to interbreed with brown bears. Photo courtesy of Flickr user adjacknow.

The conversation of climate change and its possible effects on our world and our future often hinges on millimeters of sea level rise and half degrees of temperature increase—little enough, perhaps, to make it all sound irrelevant if you’re already a skeptic, or by no means an emergency, anyway. Yet, little by little, ice is melting, storms are getting worse, deserts are expanding and islands are going under. In 2005, a hundred residents of Tegua, an island in the Torres group, turned off the lights, closed their doors and sailed away for good. It was reported as the first known instance when a modern community was abandoned to rising sea levels—though people have questioned what role global warming really had in the abandonment. Now, more islands, coastal cities, low-lying farmlands and wild wetlands are looking at a future growing grimmer by the year. Here are a few ideas of things to do and places to see before climate change swamps the party.

Walk on the beaches of Tuvalu. While standing on the sand and staring across the world of water that surrounds this Polynesian island group with roughly 10,000 people, climate change suddenly seems a force far beyond reckoning with—for predictions that the seas will rise by a full meter or more by 2100 plainly spell doom for a place like this, whose highest point stands no more than 15 feet above sea level. The island is already famous for its very inadequacy as a sustainable nation. There is not enough freshwater to drink, and there is virtually no economy. Now, sea level rise seems to be gnawing at Tuvalu’s wispy, sandy figure—and at its future. Although climate change doubters have accused islanders in Tuvalu of seeking economic gain by exploiting their predicament—and maybe even exaggerating it (islanders have threatened to sue nations of the developed world for reckless carbon emissions)—some scientists say that Tuvalu, and other islands like it, can count their days. Take a walk on this beach while you can. Other islands to visit while they’re above water might include Vanikoro, Kiribati and the Florida Keys.

Scientists predict that 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs, like this dying clump of coral on a reef in Cuba, are threatened by sea temperature rise and ocean acidification. Photo courtesy of World Resources.

Snorkel on a coral reef. Throughout the world’s tropical oceans, coral reefs are dying. Bleaching and diseases are destroying these rich sites of micro- and mega-organisms. Ocean acidification—caused by CO2 absorption into the sea and characterized by dropping pH levels—is also having severely deleterious effects on coral and could render some marine regions downright corrosive to certain materials by 2050. As of 2011, according to the environmental news source Grist, 75 percent of the earth’s coral reef environments were deemed to be threatened, while 20 percent were reported already dead—their busy, subsurface communities, occupying just 1 percent of the seafloor but home to 25 percent of marine species, gone silent. The timely correlation to rising global temperatures, plus the rapidity of the phenomenon, leaves little doubt that humans are at fault. Put on your masks and fins and jump in—soon.

Taste the fine wines of the Napa Valley before they turn to plonk. While midocean islanders might have to take to lifeboats as climate change unfurls, winemakers may also have consequences pending. In the Napa Valley, some bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon sell for more than $1,000—but a report in 2006 by Southern Oregon University climatologist Gregory Jones predicted that by the year 2050, this most esteemed of American winemaking areas could be too hot to grow premium wine grapes. Jones has said that just a 2 degree Celsius increase by 2050 could place the Napa Valley at the “upper limit of its capability.” But Jones recently told this reporter during a phone interview that the distinction between a fine wine and a mediocre wine is a nuance only detectable by, perhaps, 25 percent of wine drinkers.

Fine wines—like inky, opulent Cabs that can cost $1,000 for a newly released bottle—may lose value as global warming bakes the Napa Valley of California. Photo courtesy of Flickr user naotakem.

See a polar bear. The intrigue and mystique of the polar bear, to say nothing of its camouflaging properties, are so embedded in a world of floating ice that we may wonder just how this greatest of carnivores could live anywhere else. In fact, it may not be able to. While the polar bear is no stranger to munching berries and shoreline grasses, such bruins always take to the ice again at first freeze to resume the blubber hunt. But the ocean’s northerly ice cap, year by year and acre by acre, is disappearing. This summer, for instance, the Arctic sea ice shrank to less than half of its what it was 40 years ago. For the polar bear, extinction is the worst possible, and perhaps likely, outcome—while speciation is another. This could leave the earth without the polar bear but create a new one—a hybrid between Ursus maritimus and its close cousin, U. arctos, the brown bear. Already, the two have been observed mating and producing fertile offspring in the wild. This may be great news. Nonetheless, you may want to go see a wild polar bear while you can—before the great white bear turns brown.

Hike through the woods in the Everglades. The Everglades is among the world’s wild areas most threatened by climate change. A three-foot increase in sea level will flood much of this forested wetland, stealing precious habitat from the indigenous cougar subspecies, the Florida panther, and the local black bear. What’s more, millions of Floridians are looking at serious consequences of climate change. The entire coast is considered extremely vulnerable to the expected sea level rise, which may be accompanied by inundating storm surges during hurricanes.  Florida’s highest point is only 345 feet above sea level, and about 10 percent of its coastal zone could be swamped by seawater by 2100.

Kayak the streets of Venice. The future of Venice is nothing but a watery one—though it’s unclear whether the city will prosper or just go under. In 2009, residents held a mass mock funeral for their town when the declining population hit a benchmark low of 60,000. And while an expensive sea wall could save this city, already a gray urban swamp teeming with gondolas and aquatic taxis, some people—call them curmudgeons or realists—are talking about abandoning it. Exacerbating matters is the fact that Venice is sinking and has been for centuries. Four hundred years ago, occasional high tides washed into the streets. By 1900, high waters were washing over St. Mark’s Square at least a half dozen times annually. In 1996, the city flooded 99 times. Today, monuments and buildings are considered threatened by saltwater intrusion, many first floors have been vacated and thriving tourism on the order of 20 million visitors per year seems to be replacing the resident community itself. But it all spells good times for kayak rental companies—and this is at least one vacation you have plenty of time to take. Other cities that could be swallowed by the sea include New York City, Houston, Bangkok and New Orleans.

Sea kayaking in Venice is one vacation idea that you’ll have plenty of time to realize. As waters rise, this city is simultaneously sinking. Photo courtesy of Flickr user ECV-OnTheRoad.

Books on Bike Perfection and Women’s Bike-Won Freedom

Smithsonian Magazine

Sue Macy's Wheels of Change

Sue Macy‘s elaborately illustrated 2011 book, Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way), describes the surprising role that the bicycle played in freeing women—both physically and spiritually—from the oppressive and conservative constraints of 19th century America. Bicycles at the time were clumsy, heavy things made of iron and wood and sometimes called “boneshakers” until rubber tires softened the ride. But men were getting a kick out of them, and women wanted in on the fun. Their clothing was a problem, as Macy points out:

Imagine a population imprisoned by their very clothing; the stiff corsets, heavy skirts, and voluminous petticoats that made it difficult to take a deep breath, let alone exercise…How suffocated women must have felt. And how liberated they must have been as they pedaled their wheels toward new horizons.

To efficiently ride a bike there was only one thing to do: Take it off. Skin-tight lycra and tube tops were still some years down the road, but women were, at last, freed from the ridiculous layers that had physically anchored them to house, porch and trimmed Victorian lawn for ages. They swung their legs over the frames of their bikes and pedaled off on adventures, often with male companions. Macy tells of one bitter curmudgeon named Charlotte Smith who said in 1896 that “the alarming increase of immorality among young women in the United States” was a product of the bicycle. Smith also said that the bicycle was “the devil’s advance agent morally and physically.”

Other people, Macy tells us, saw the virtues of the bicycle.

“A girl who rides a wheel is lifted out of herself and her surroundings,” declared one Ellen B. Parkhurst. “She is made to breathe purer air, see fresher and more beautiful scenes, and get an amount of exercise she would not get otherwise.”

(Sounds like Parkhurst had the spirit of a bike tourist.)

The bicycle impacted the world in measurable ways in the 1890s. Cigar sales took a nosedive, Macy reports, as the collective preoccupation with cycling replaced smoking in stodgy reading rooms. Use of morphine, popular at the time as a sleep inducer, declined as people discovered how a little vigorous exercise could induce relaxation and sleep. Pastors and priests even observed that church attendance began dropping as more people opted to spend their Sundays jerseyed up, sipping off their CamelBaks and shredding sweet singletrack.

Well, riding bikes, anyway.

Cycling, unarguably, was fun, and voices of the conservative naysayers were drowned out as the American bicycle industry exploded. For instance, 17 manufacturers and a 40,000-bike output in 1890 increased to 126 manufacturers and the production of nearly a half million bicycles in 1895. Already, in fact, bike builders were customizing designs to accommodate women.

It was official: Ladies were on board. Critical mass had been reached, and there seemed to be no stopping the craze.

Some women engaged in competitions that lasted days as they pedaled hundreds of miles around oval tracks. For other women, just cycling somewhere, anywhere, was enough—and they began touring. In 1894, Annie Londonderry rode 1,300 miles between New Hampshire and Chicago. Later she would travel by boat and bicycle around the world, finishing with a ride from San Francisco to Chicago. Macy doesn’t tell us if lionhearted Londonderry camped out, how much weight she lost, what was the highest pass that she tackled, if she ever ran out of food or if she saw grizzly bears out West, but adventurous spirits, plainly, were taking flight.

Macy’s book ends abruptly and with a sad shocker: The bicycle craze curled up and died, for the automobile had been born. “By the turn of the century,” Macy writes, “the bicycle’s heyday was over and a new mechanical wonder promised to transport men and women faster and farther than ever before.” Great. Cars, traffic and suburbia were coming. But on bicycles, women had gained a huge spurt of momentum in gaining basic rights, and so they stepped off their bikes, straightened their dresses and went off to pursue other liberties.

Free at Last: This Sicilian, touring in Greece, may owe her liberty to the women's independence movement of the 1890s, described in Sue Macy's Wheels of Change.

In another book published this year, It’s All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels, the history of the bicycle goes on into the 20th century. The book is author Robert Penn’s account of his personal quest to find the perfect bicycle. Along the way he describes some of the same history of which Sue Macy writes. For example, Penn adds to our growing accumulation of bike trivia that Annie Londonderry carried a revolver in her saddlebag. What a lady! But mostly, Penn tells the history of the machine and the development of its many components—complex products of engineering that today allow us to scale mountains, freewheel back down, stop on a dime, keep at it for hours without getting a sore rear end, and so on. He talks frames, wheels, saddles, gears, hubs, derailleurs and chains. He looks at fixed-gear bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes and hand-built bikes so dashing that it seems foolish even to ride them. He chitchats with bike builders who are constantly pushing the improvement of every nook, cranny and corner of the bicycle.

Penn recalls for us, too, a great Ernest Hemingway quote that every cycle tourist should know: “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them…you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through.” And I’d always taken Hemingway for the sort who just writes short sentences in Parisian cafes. Seems he would have made a fine touring partner.

In one humorous encounter in a Welsh village, where Penn had just moved in, he describes the locals’ inability to comprehend why a man would choose to ride a bike unless he had to. In a pub one evening, a fellow asks Penn if he had lost his driver’s license. Penn tells the man that he simply loves riding and does so by choice. A year later in the same pub, the same man takes Penn aside once more.

“‘I see yor on the bike still, boy,’ he said. ‘A long time to be banned now, see. You can tell me…did you daw something tehr-ribble in a car? Did you kill a child?’”

We’re reminded that many people still regard the bicycle as a toy and by no means a valid form of transportation. But, as Penn writes, “The cultural status of the bicycle is rising again…In fact, there is a whisper that we might today be at the dawn of a new golden age of the bicycle.”

ne an intense sense of realism with flamboyant brushwork—which gives his work a highly personal quality. When we stand at a distance the image seems “real”: but when we’re close all we see is gestural marks, made by the human hand. At a sort of middle distance there’s a moment when the two modes of seeing precariously coexist, or at which one mode of seeing shifts into the other. The “real” and the “abstract,” the “objective” and the “subjective,” interact with each other in endlessly fascinating ways.

Hal’s other contribution is to fill his paintings with evident psychological intensity, the quality known as “psychological insight.” His figures feel as if we could speak to them.

There are many tricks that Hals used to create this effect, including his dashing brushwork, which gives mobility to the muscles of the face, as if the figures were alive. Another fascinating trick was also used by Rembrandt. Hals recognized that the human face has two halves and the expression on one side differs subtly from the expression on the other. Particularly in his late work, Hals exploited this effect in a dramatic way: the two sides of the face are two slightly different people. The lighted side portrays the sitter’s “public self,” and the shadowed side the “private self”—generally somewhat sadder and more thoughtful, perhaps with an eye that wanders a bit and looks out of focus. Without even being conscious of this difference, we respond to it. Because a portrait by Hals reveals not a single but a divided self, the act of looking at a Hals painting is one of penetrating through the surface presentation of the figure to the inner person.

It’s surely no accident that Hals’s life (1580-1666) overlapped with that of Shakespeare (1564-1616), and the way he evoked a sense of character provides interesting parallels to the characters in Shakespeare’s plays who are generally two or more people in one body, engaged in internal dialogue. In that sense, Hals’s portraits document the emergence of the modern self: they display a new awareness that the “self” is not a single, uniform thing, but the product of conflicting forces and disparate impulses, ruled by a consciousness filled with self-doubt.

I suspect that the robber barons’ fondness for Hals has something to do with this psychological penetration. Success in business depends on an accurate assessment of the person across the bargaining table, and this assessment often depends not only on what is presented on the surface but on facial expressions and gestures that reveal deeper, hidden motives. Is this person telling the truth? Will he double-cross me? Can I trust him? One might add that the rich brown palette of a Hals’ portraits fits nicely in the dark cave-like interiors of the gilded age.

Where to See Frans Hals

After the Metropolitan Museum, the largest collection of Hals in this country is that of the National Gallery in Washington, with an impressive cluster of portraits, most of them assembled by the industrialist Andrew Mellon. But perhaps the best way to get into the Hals spirit is to see his work in the actual home of a robber baron.

Two of these settings come to mind. One is the Frick collection in New York, already mentioned, in a mansion designed by Carriere and Hastings for Henry Clay Frick. The other is at the Taft Museum in Cincinnati, the home of Charles P. Taft, the brother of Supreme Court Chief Justice and U. S. President William Henry Taft. (It has a remarkable group of works not only by Hals but by two other top figures in the art of portraiture, Rembrandt and John Singer Sargent, including the latter’s wonderfully nervous Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson, showing the author in a wicker chair, nursing a cigarette.) Of the Taft Museum’s portraits by Hals, surely the most remarkable are those of a married couple: A Seated Man Holding a Hat and A Seated Woman Holding a Fan. Each is a masterwork, and there’s a delightful interaction between the two.

There are other Frans Hals experiences worth seeking out in the United States.

I always feel a bit wistful when I look at Hal’s Portrait of a Woman at the St. Louis Art Museum, or the Portrait of a Man in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. They’re a couple, but somehow got divorced, and ended up at opposite ends of the state.

Finally, it’s well worth studying the two examples of Hals’s work at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The larger of the two, Tielman Roosterman (1634), is not only one of the artist’s best large-scale portraits but one of the very best preserved. Its condition is near perfect. The other, portraying an unknown woman, has a surface that’s been abraded and rubbed, like a garment that’s gone too many times to the drycleaners.  If you study these two paintings you’ll see the distinction between a painting in good condition and one in poor condition, and you can apply this knowledge to every old master painting you encounter.

Tattoos

Smithsonian Magazine

Humans have marked their bodies with tattoos for thousands of years. These permanent designs—sometimes plain, sometimes elaborate, always personal—have served as amulets, status symbols, declarations of love, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even forms of punishment. Joann Fletcher, research fellow in the department of archaeology at the University of York in Britain, describes the history of tattoos and their cultural significance to people around the world, from the famous " Iceman," a 5,200-year-old frozen mummy, to today’s Maori.

What is the earliest evidence of tattoos?

In terms of tattoos on actual bodies, the earliest known examples were for a long time Egyptian and were present on several female mummies dated to c. 2000 B.C. But following the more recent discovery of the Iceman from the area of the Italian-Austrian border in 1991 and his tattoo patterns, this date has been pushed back a further thousand years when he was carbon-dated at around 5,200 years old.

Can you describe the tattoos on the Iceman and their significance?

Following discussions with my colleague Professor Don Brothwell of the University of York, one of the specialists who examined him, the distribution of the tattooed dots and small crosses on his lower spine and right knee and ankle joints correspond to areas of strain-induced degeneration, with the suggestion that they may have been applied to alleviate joint pain and were therefore essentially therapeutic. This would also explain their somewhat 'random' distribution in areas of the body which would not have been that easy to display had they been applied as a form of status marker.

What is the evidence that ancient Egyptians had tattoos?

There's certainly evidence that women had tattoos on their bodies and limbs from figurines c. 4000-3500 B.C. to occasional female figures represented in tomb scenes c. 1200 B.C. and in figurine form c. 1300 B.C., all with tattoos on their thighs. Also small bronze implements identified as tattooing tools were discovered at the town site of Gurob in northern Egypt and dated to c. 1450 B.C. And then, of course, there are the mummies with tattoos, from the three women already mentioned and dated to c. 2000 B.C. to several later examples of female mummies with these forms of permanent marks found in Greco-Roman burials at Akhmim.

What function did these tattoos serve? Who got them and why?

Because this seemed to be an exclusively female practice in ancient Egypt, mummies found with tattoos were usually dismissed by the (male) excavators who seemed to assume the women were of "dubious status," described in some cases as "dancing girls." The female mummies had nevertheless been buried at Deir el-Bahari (opposite modern Luxor) in an area associated with royal and elite burials, and we know that at least one of the women described as "probably a royal concubine" was actually a high-status priestess named Amunet, as revealed by her funerary inscriptions.

And although it has long been assumed that such tattoos were the mark of prostitutes or were meant to protect the women against sexually transmitted diseases, I personally believe that the tattooing of ancient Egyptian women had a therapeutic role and functioned as a permanent form of amulet during the very difficult time of pregnancy and birth. This is supported by the pattern of distribution, largely around the abdomen, on top of the thighs and the breasts, and would also explain the specific types of designs, in particular the net-like distribution of dots applied over the abdomen. During pregnancy, this specific pattern would expand in a protective fashion in the same way bead nets were placed over wrapped mummies to protect them and "keep everything in." The placing of small figures of the household deity Bes at the tops of their thighs would again suggest the use of tattoos as a means of safeguarding the actual birth, since Bes was the protector of women in labor, and his position at the tops of the thighs a suitable location. This would ultimately explain tattoos as a purely female custom.

Who made the tattoos?

Although we have no explicit written evidence in the case of ancient Egypt, it may well be that the older women of a community would create the tattoos for the younger women, as happened in 19th-century Egypt and happens in some parts of the world today.

What instruments did they use?

It is possible that an implement best described as a sharp point set in a wooden handle, dated to c. 3000 B.C. and discovered by archaeologist W.M.F. Petrie at the site of Abydos may have been used to create tattoos. Petrie also found the aforementioned set of small bronze instruments c. 1450 B.C.—resembling wide, flattened needles—at the ancient town site of Gurob. If tied together in a bunch, they would provide repeated patterns of multiple dots.

These instruments are also remarkably similar to much later tattooing implements used in 19th-century Egypt. The English writer William Lane (1801-1876) observed, "the operation is performed with several needles (generally seven) tied together: with these the skin is pricked in a desired pattern: some smoke black (of wood or oil), mixed with milk from the breast of a woman, is then rubbed in.... It is generally performed at the age of about 5 or 6 years, and by gipsy-women.”

What did these tattoos look like?

Most examples on mummies are largely dotted patterns of lines and diamond patterns, while figurines sometimes feature more naturalistic images. The tattoos occasionally found in tomb scenes and on small female figurines which form part of cosmetic items also have small figures of the dwarf god Bes on the thigh area.

What were they made of? How many colors were used?

Usually a dark or black pigment such as soot was introduced into the pricked skin. It seems that brighter colors were largely used in other ancient cultures, such as the Inuit who are believed to have used a yellow color along with the more usual darker pigments.

Image by Joann Fletcher. This mummified head of a woman from the pre-Inca Chiribaya culture, located at the Azapa Museum in Arica, Chile, is adorned with facial tattoos on her lower left cheek. (original image)

Image by Joann Fletcher. The tattooed right hand of a Chiribaya mummy is displayed at El Algarrobal Museum, near the port of Ilo in southern Peru. The Chiribaya were farmers who lived from A.D. 900 to 1350. (original image)

Image by Joann Fletcher. A tattooed predynastic female figurine (c. 4000-3500 B.C.) is displayed at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford. (original image)

Image by Joann Fletcher. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is home to this tattooed predynastic female figure. (original image)

Image by Joann Fletcher. This female figurine from Naszca, Peru, is now displayed at the Regional Museum of Ica. (original image)

Image by Joann Fletcher. Small bronze tattooing implements (c. 1450 B.C.) from Gurob, Egypt, can be found at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London. (original image)

Image by Joann Fletcher. This blue bowl (c. 1300 B.C.), housed in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, Amsterdam, features a musician tattooed with an image of the household deity Bes on her thigh. (original image)

What has surprised you the most about ancient Egyptian tattooing?

That it appears to have been restricted to women during the purely dynastic period, i.e. pre-332 B.C. Also the way in which some of the designs can be seen to be very well placed, once it is accepted they were used as a means of safeguarding women during pregnancy and birth.

Can you describe the tattoos used in other ancient cultures and how they differ?

Among the numerous ancient cultures who appear to have used tattooing as a permanent form of body adornment, the Nubians to the south of Egypt are known to have used tattoos. The mummified remains of women of the indigenous C-group culture found in cemeteries near Kubban c. 2000-15000 B.C. were found to have blue tattoos, which in at least one case featured the same arrangement of dots across the abdomen noted on the aforementioned female mummies from Deir el-Bahari. The ancient Egyptians also represented the male leaders of the Libyan neighbors c. 1300-1100 B.C. with clear, rather geometrical tattoo marks on their arms and legs and portrayed them in Egyptian tomb, temple and palace scenes.

The Scythian Pazyryk of the Altai Mountain region were another ancient culture which employed tattoos. In 1948, the 2,400 year old body of a Scythian male was discovered preserved in ice in Siberia, his limbs and torso covered in ornate tattoos of mythical animals. Then, in 1993, a woman with tattoos, again of mythical creatures on her shoulders, wrists and thumb and of similar date, was found in a tomb in Altai. The practice is also confirmed by the Greek writer Herodotus c. 450 B.C., who stated that amongst the Scythians and Thracians "tattoos were a mark of nobility, and not to have them was testimony of low birth.”

Accounts of the ancient Britons likewise suggest they too were tattooed as a mark of high status, and with "divers shapes of beasts" tattooed on their bodies, the Romans named one northern tribe "Picti," literally "the painted people."

Yet amongst the Greeks and Romans, the use of tattoos or "stigmata" as they were then called, seems to have been largely used as a means to mark someone as "belonging" either to a religious sect or to an owner in the case of slaves or even as a punitive measure to mark them as criminals. It is therefore quite intriguing that during Ptolemaic times when a dynasty of Macedonian Greek monarchs ruled Egypt, the pharaoh himself, Ptolemy IV (221-205 B.C.), was said to have been tattooed with ivy leaves to symbolize his devotion to Dionysus, Greek god of wine and the patron deity of the royal house at that time. The fashion was also adopted by Roman soldiers and spread across the Roman Empire until the emergence of Christianity, when tattoos were felt to "disfigure that made in God's image" and so were banned by the Emperor Constantine (A.D. 306-373).

We have also examined tattoos on mummified remains of some of the ancient pre-Columbian cultures of Peru and Chile, which often replicate the same highly ornate images of stylized animals and a wide variety of symbols found in their textile and pottery designs. One stunning female figurine of the Naszca culture has what appears to be a huge tattoo right around her lower torso, stretching across her abdomen and extending down to her genitalia and, presumably, once again alluding to the regions associated with birth. Then on the mummified remains which have survived, the tattoos were noted on torsos, limbs, hands, the fingers and thumbs, and sometimes facial tattooing was practiced.

With extensive facial and body tattooing used among Native Americans, such as the Cree, the mummified bodies of a group of six Greenland Inuit women c. A.D. 1475 also revealed evidence for facial tattooing. Infrared examination revealed that five of the women had been tattooed in a line extending over the eyebrows, along the cheeks and in some cases with a series of lines on the chin. Another tattooed female mummy, dated 1,000 years earlier, was also found on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, her tattoos of dots, lines and hearts confined to the arms and hands.

Evidence for tattooing is also found amongst some of the ancient mummies found in China's Taklamakan Desert c. 1200 B.C., although during the later Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 220), it seems that only criminals were tattooed.

Japanese men began adorning their bodies with elaborate tattoos in the late A.D. 3rd century.

The elaborate tattoos of the Polynesian cultures are thought to have developed over millennia, featuring highly elaborate geometric designs, which in many cases can cover the whole body. Following James Cook's British expedition to Tahiti in 1769, the islanders' term "tatatau" or "tattau," meaning to hit or strike, gave the west our modern term "tattoo." The marks then became fashionable among Europeans, particularly so in the case of men such as sailors and coal-miners, with both professions which carried serious risks and presumably explaining the almost amulet-like use of anchors or miner's lamp tattoos on the men's forearms.

What about modern tattoos outside of the western world?

Modern Japanese tattoos are real works of art, with many modern practioners, while the highly skilled tattooists of Samoa continue to create their art as it was carried out in ancient times, prior to the invention of modern tattooing equipment. Various cultures throughout Africa also employ tattoos, including the fine dots on the faces of Berber women in Algeria, the elaborate facial tattoos of Wodabe men in Niger and the small crosses on the inner forearms which mark Egypt's Christian Copts.

What do Maori facial designs represent?

In the Maori culture of New Zealand, the head was considered the most important part of the body, with the face embellished by incredibly elaborate tattoos or ‘moko,’ which were regarded as marks of high status. Each tattoo design was unique to that individual and since it conveyed specific information about their status, rank, ancestry and abilities, it has accurately been described as a form of id card or passport, a kind of aesthetic bar code for the face. After sharp bone chisels were used to cut the designs into the skin, a soot-based pigment would be tapped into the open wounds, which then healed over to seal in the design. With the tattoos of warriors given at various stages in their lives as a kind of rite of passage, the decorations were regarded as enhancing their features and making them more attractive to the opposite sex.

Although Maori women were also tattooed on their faces, the markings tended to be concentrated around the nose and lips. Although Christian missionaries tried to stop the procedure, the women maintained that tattoos around their mouths and chins prevented the skin becoming wrinkled and kept them young; the practice was apparently continued as recently as the 1970s.

Why do you think so many cultures have marked the human body and did their practices influence one another?

In many cases, it seems to have sprung up independently as a permanent way to place protective or therapeutic symbols upon the body, then as a means of marking people out into appropriate social, political or religious groups, or simply as a form of self-expression or fashion statement.

Yet, as in so many other areas of adornment, there was of course cross-cultural influences, such as those which existed between the Egyptians and Nubians, the Thracians and Greeks and the many cultures encountered by Roman soldiers during the expansion of the Roman Empire in the final centuries B.C. and the first centuries A.D. And, certainly, Polynesian culture is thought to have influenced Maori tattoos.

Cessna 180

National Air and Space Museum
N1538C; single-engine, four-seat general aviation aircraft; in this aircraft, Geraldine Mock became the first woman to fly around the world, March 19-April 17, 1964; Continental O-470A engine; semi-cantilever high-wing design with tailwheel.

Flying the Spirit of Columbus, Jerrie Mock became the first woman to pilot an aircraft around the world. She departed from Columbus, Ohio, on March 19, 1964, and arrived back home on April 17, 1964, after flying 36,964 kilometers (23,103 miles) in 29 days, 11 hours, and 59 minutes. Mock wrote about her exceptional solo flight in Three Eight Charlie.

Introduced in 1952, the Cessna 180 high-wing utility aircraft was a rugged and popular tail-wheel design which led to the tricycle gear-equipped model 182 still in production today. Russell Mock and Al Baumeister purchased a used model 180 and installed additional fuel tanks, radios, navigation and survival equipment for this flight.

A National Aeronautic Association press release, dated April 18, 1964, announced that Geraldine "Jerrie" Mock had become the first woman to pilot an aircraft around the world. Previous attempts by women, including the ill-fated 1937 flight by Amelia Earhart, were unsuccessful. When success did come, it was twenty-seven years later by a woman from Columbus, Ohio, flying a 1953 Cessna 180 single-engine monoplane, the Spirit of Columbus. Mock wrote about her exceptional solo flight in Three Eight Charlie.

The Cessna 180 series and its descendants are another great success story for Cessna Aircraft Corporation of Wichita, Kansas, and general aviation. Borrowing some features, such as flaps, from the Army's L-19 Bird Dog liaison airplane and evolving directly from the postwar Model 170B four-seat design, the 180, introduced in 1952, became a rugged four-place high-wing plane with a top speed of 165 mph. Variations on the basic airframe and 225 or 230 hp engines made it a popular bush-type aircraft in most of the undeveloped parts of the world as well as in the United States. The Model 180 was also successfully marketed as a sophisticated business and personal aircraft.

In 1956, by adding a tricycle landing gear, the 180 became the Model 182 Skylane, which, with cockpit and exterior improvements, enjoyed a long initial production run as a high performance workhorse in the personal, business, and utility categories. The Cessna 185 Skywagon was introduced in 1960 with a more powerful engine for the tail dragger 180 design. Cessna built more than 6,000 of the Model 180 series aircraft and 22,000 Model 182s through 1986. It halted production of single-engine piston aircraft in the mid-1980s when a product liability crisis, a surplus of general aviation aircraft, and other economic woes threatened the future of small light planes. However, with the passage of the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994, the company began producing the Model 182 (and other single-engine models) again in July 1996 at a new factory in Independence, Kansas.

Cessna built 640 Model 180s in its first production year and the Spirit of Columbus was the 238th aircraft, bearing serial number 30238 and registration number N1538C. During the first ten years, several owners put 990 flying hours on the aircraft. Russell Mock and Al Baumeister bought N1538C and began preparing it for Jerrie's world flight which she had initially envisioned as a fun, leisurely flight around the world until reminded that no woman had ever done it solo. The men installed a new 225 hp engine and stowed personal equipment and survival gear. A complement of twin radio direction finders, dual short-range radios, and a long-range radio, plus a new compass, allowed the aircraft to become a round-the-world vehicle. Javelin Aircraft engineered the extra fuel tanks that replaced passenger seats inside the cabin.

Born in 1925, Jerrie Mock first flew at five years of age in a Ford TriMotor and became one of the first female aeronautical engineering students at Ohio State University. She married a pilot, Russell Mock, and flying with him only furthered her interest in flight. At the age of 32, Mock began taking flying lessons in a Piper Tri-Pacer and received her private pilot’s license in 1958. Flying cross-country with her husband, she enjoyed listening to other pilots on the radio enroute to various destinations and she eventually began planning her own flight because she “just wanted to see the world.” Her filing for a feminine round the world flight surprised Joan Merriam Smith who was planning a world flight along Amelia Earhart’s route but had not yet filed with the National Aeronautic Association; neither woman had heard of the other until then. Though neither called it an actual race, and only Mock’s flight was officially sanctioned by the NAA, when Smith announced her imminent departure in a faster, more sophisticated twin-engine Piper Apache, Mock moved up her “sightseeing” takeoff by two weeks.

As the mother of three children (17, 16, and 3 years old), barely five feet in height and weighing little more than 100 pounds, this “flying housewife,” was far from the typical pilot. However, though she did not have over-water experience, she was armed with confidence, 750 hours of flight time, and a newly acquired instrument rating which allowed her greater latitude for weather conditions, though the flight would be primarily under visual flight rules (VFR). Her enthusiastic husband helped with fund raising and the preparation of the aircraft. Russell and his partner Al Baumeister prepared the 1953 Cessna 180 for long-distance flight by installing a new 225 hp engine, adding twin radio direction finders (ADF), dual short-range VHF NAV/Coms, a long-range HF radio with trailing antenna, autopilot, and a new compass. Dave Blanton of Javelin Aircraft Company engineered the preparation and installation of two extra fuel tanks in place of passenger seats that added 183 gallons of fuel, boosting the little Cessna’s range to 3,500 miles. Fully fueled the Cessna weighed nearly 900 pounds more than normal, which the FAA allowed with a ferry permit, and Mock reasoned that the single engine aircraft was quite sufficient for if an overloaded twin lost one engine, the second would not be able to sustain flight anyway. It would also require less fuel and thus weigh less. After stowing personal equipment, portable oxygen equipment and survival gear, Mock tucked in her typewriter for Columbus Dispatch articles and personal letters. Following her initial flight planning, she consulted with a USAF captain to prepare her jet-navigation strip charts and she also carried various enroute, terrain, radio station and other com/nav charts and publications, along with visas and clearances.

Mock departed Columbus, Ohio at 9:31 am on March 19, two days after Smith departed California; both were eastbound. When Mock tried her HF radio near Richmond, Virginia, she found it was not working at all, as if it was not even connected. She flew out over the Atlantic and found her two direction finders registering 60 degrees apart. After selecting one as most accurate and dodging clouds, she realized she has just overflown her first stop, Bermuda and quickly turned back. She landed at Kindley AFB airport in a dangerous cross-wind and the Cessna’s brakes proved inadequate during the long taxi-- a vicious wind pushed the plane in a circle and line boys had to grab and safely guide it out of the wind. The large fuel tanks were removed to access the radio where a technician discovered a lead that was not only unattached but also taped on its raw end. Because the radio had checked out perfectly when installed in Florida before arriving at the Cessna plant in Wichita, Mock could only conclude that someone had deliberately detached the leads there but for what purpose? The taped end was especially troubling, but nothing was to be done but reattach it and press on.

After a week of bad weather in Bermuda, and her husband’s updates on Smith down in South America, Mock flew 2,254 miles to Santa Maria, Azores. During the 13-hour flight she began picking up ice from rising mist, climbed above it to 11,000 feet and then made her first instrument approach without an instructor.

Arriving next at Casablanca, Morocco, she found the brakes still troublesome and on the phone her husband confessed he had forgotten to tell her that new brakes had not been installed as planned. The burning question for her at Bộne, Algeria was the local concern over her “flight clothing,” a white blouse and blue skirt and high heels. Mock responded that she washed her drip-dry clothes in the sink every night. She preferred pants but felt the public attention dictated more feminine attire and took off the heels while flying. Sandstorms at her planned stop at Cairo, Egypt, then dictated a stop Tripoli, Libya, which she located skimming along the Mediterranean coast, and through its Morse code radio beacon tuned on the ADF; meanwhile the long range antenna motor nearly burned up and she feared an inflight explosion. Confused on her approach to Cairo the next day, she mistakenly landed at Inchas AFB to be greeted by armed soldiers who allowed her to quickly take off and hop over to the international airport instead.

Though her flights across the Mideast proved relatively uneventful, she became keenly aware of the dramatic difference in flight rules and the near total absence of private or business aviation and the American concept of general aviation. Controlled airspace and airports for military and commercial aircraft meant red-tape, delays and outlays of cash. Later in Manila, commiserating with a friend, she worried: “Do you think it could ever get like this at home?” Still, she enjoyed the dramatic cultural changes in food and dress, as women’s full dark hijabs in the Middle East bloomed into brightly-colored saris or pantaloons of India. In Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where women could not drive or appear unveiled in public, the men cheered incredulously when they discovered there was no man on board the aircraft with her.

While arrangements with friends and diplomats had been made at some stops, in others she located food and lodging and set out on walking tours of her own. Aero Clubs often smoothed the way, as did the U.S. Air Force, and National Aeronautic Association observers filled in the forms to prove she had indeed hopscotched completely around the world. Mock also successfully avoided unfriendly countries such as Cambodia and military situations. As she flew over Vietnam on a 13-hour flight from Bangkok to Manila, she noted: “Somewhere not far away a war was being fought, but from the sky above, all looked peaceful.” After a nervous flight over the South China Sea due to a rough-running engine, a relieved Jerrie delivered 38C to the Cessna maintenance shop in Manila, Philippines; the brakes and antenna were fixed and the 180 received a 100-hour inspection in preparation for her long legs over the Pacific Ocean.

With a renewed “Charlie,” as she affectionately called her plane, she made an 11-hour flight non-precision overwater flight using ADF, VOR and radio beacons to Guam, happy to be back in U.S. airspace. Russ Mock reported that Joan Smith was only in Calcutta, but pressed Jerrie to immediately push on to Wake Island (another 12 ½-hour flight). With her longest flights over the Pacific still ahead of her, the people and press only wanted to talk about Amelia Earhart who was lost between Lae, New Guinea and Howland Island. Undaunted, Mock flew 2,300 miles from Wake to Honolulu in 15 hours and 46 minutes, looking forward to a planned luau in Hawaii. Unfortunately, her overzealous husband had cancelled it thinking she would need the sleep. On April 14, she flew the final and uneventful ocean leg of 2,409 miles to Oakland, California in 17 hours and 38 minutes. After a short flight to Tucson, she departed on April 17 for the 1,500 mile flight home via Texas and Kentucky, to be sure and fly more than 22,858.8 miles and qualify for a round the world flight. Meanwhile Smith was in Australia and no longer a threat.

Her husband called at her last stop of Bowling Green, KY to inquire about her ETA (estimated time of arrival) in Columbus as the governor, FAA Administrator Najeeb Halaby and several thousand people were eagerly awaiting her arrival. After 29 days, 11 hours and 59 minutes and 23,103 miles, Mock touched down at Port Columbus airport at 9:36 pm on April 17 to become the first woman to fly around the world. In addition, the National Aeronautic Association and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale certified the flight as a round-the-world speed record for Class C1-c aircraft (weighing less than 3,585 pounds), and, by default, a feminine speed record around the world. She set a total of seven records including first woman to fly across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

On May 4, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Mock with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Exception Service Decoration and she became the first American and the first woman to receive the FAI’s Louis Bleriot Silver Medal. Her self-described status as “the flying housewife” notwithstanding, Mock had thoroughly prepared for the flight and accomplished it in a professional manner, trouble-shooting as necessary and handling bureaucracy and diplomacy with firmness and grace. More personally, she achieved two of her three childhood goals: flying around the world and riding a camel in the desert (the Sahara while in Egypt); only riding on an elephant still eluded her.

Mock never flew the Spirit of Columbus again as first Javelin Aircraft and then Cessna acquired the aircraft, displaying it at the Cessna factory until donating it to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975 where it is now displayed at the Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center. Meanwhile Mock continued her aviation career in a Cessna P206, setting several other records, including a 500 KM closed course speed record of 206.73 mph in 1965 and, in 1969, fastest speed over the following recognized courses: Oakland to Honolulu , Oakland to Rabaul, Guadalcanal to Rabaul, NB (234.91 km/h), Tarawa to Guadalcanal (252.84 km/h), Honolulu to Tarawa (228.14 km/h), Columbus to San Juan (175.25 km/h), San Juan to Columbus (177.55 km/h), Columbus to San Juan to Columbus (175.40 km/h).

The Scandalous Story Behind the Provocative 19th-Century Sculpture "Greek Slave"

Smithsonian Magazine

Karen Lemmey, sculpture curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, knew she was making a bold move.

In the museum’s recently opened exhibition, Measured Perfection: Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave, she installed the artist’s 1849 patent application to protect his famous artwork Greek Slave from illegal duplication, juxtaposing it with a video clip of museum staff 3D-scanning Power’s artwork. She did it, after all, at a building that was once the U.S. patent office, but the scan will allow the museum to print out a full-scale replica of the artist’s work.

“Powers was fiercely protective of his artwork, and he was concerned with competition,” Lemmey says of the American artist, who lived and worked for much of his life in Florence, Italy. Scanning a model of his work, which could then be printed on-demand, represents “Powers’ worst fear,” Lemmey admits. “On the other hand, I think he was so clever and so committed to using whatever worked best for his production that he would have been interested in 3-D printing and 3-D scanning,” Lemmey adds.

Powers applied for the patent, the exhibition makes clear, because the artist hoped to “control the explosion of knockoff replicas and unauthorized images.” Both the patent and the video appear in a show that focuses on the processes and techniques that Powers used to create the plaster model—depicting a nude, shackled woman—and then the steps he employed in his workshop using the latest technological tools of the time, to carve six marble Greek Slave sculptures, which he sold to prominent patrons.

Several of these nude sculptures toured the United States from 1847 to the mid-1850s with stops in New York, New England, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Louisville, St. Louis and New Orleans—drawing such large crowds that Greek Slave became “arguably the most famous sculpture of the 19th century,” says Lemmey.

Several of sculptures toured the United States from 1847 to the mid-1950s with stops in New York, New England, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Louisville, St. Louis and New Orleans—drawing such large crowds that Greek Slave became “arguably the most famous sculpture of the 19th century.” (Historical Picture Archive/CORBIS)

The highly provocative stance of the female figure, which Powers described as a Greek woman stripped and chained at a slave market, was seen as so salacious that men and women viewed it separately. Though it addressed the 1821-1832 Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire, abolitionists seized on it as social commentary on the highly volatile subject of slavery in the United States.

“People sit before it as rapt and almost as silent as devotees at a religious ceremony,” reported the New York Daily Tribune in 1847. “Whatever may be the critical judgment of individuals as to the merits of the work, there is no mistake about the feeling which it awakens.”

“It was sensational and scandalous. It was the first time many Americans had ever seen a sculpture of a nude female figure,” says Lemmey. Unauthorized copies were manufactured and sold, prompting Power’s patent application.

The exhibition, not only contextualizes the artist’s work with the help of 3D printing, but also introduces new scholarship; Powers may have used an aesthetic shortcut, using life casts instead of modeling parts of his sculptures—a scandal akin to a discovery that Leonardo Da Vinci used tracing paper.

The show’s focus is the plaster cast dated March 12, 1843, and made from the artist’s clay model. It is described as Powers’ “original” Greek Slave. As nice as it would have been to feature one of the marble sculptures in the exhibition, the piece is a challenge because of its age and fragility to move from one museum to another, according to Lemmey.

Powers cast six marble Greek Slave sculptures, which he sold to prominent patrons. (Brooklyn Museum/Corbis)

“I think, in some ways, if we had the actual Greek Slave in marble, as delightful as it would have been, it would have kind of stolen the show,” she adds. “It’s hard to look at process when you’re looking at the finished work of art. This is giving you the opportunity to look at how something is made and then to go back and appreciate the finished work.”

The artist’s process included a fascinating measuring device called a “pointing machine,” a tool that is variously dated to the 18th century, or even as far back as ancient Rome. The machine allowed sculptors to use several adjustable “arms” and pointers to measure the contours of the prototype and transfer them to a block of marble stone.

Lemmey describes Powers’ creation process as the envy of European artists, “which says a lot because there was quite a bit of anxiety about what America could produce culturally,” she adds. In addition to charting the process Powers used to make the sculpture, the exhibition examines a time when a rising American collector class was making the voyage to Europe more frequently.

“They are building wealth, which puts them in a position to buy. So when you get to Florence as an American tourist, and you see a fellow American who’s really done right by himself, you are in a sense making a patriotic statement by buying his work and bringing it back to the United States. So Powers is, in a lot of ways, a cultural ambassador.” Powers’ studio was a must-see on the Grand Tour and was even listed in travel guides of the period.

That cultural ambassadorship came from a man, who identified as 100 percent American, and whose wife couldn’t wait to return to Cincinnati, where she grew up, to raise her children there. “He is keenly aware that he is raising American kids in Florence,” Lemmey says. (When Nathaniel Hawthorne visited Powers in Florence in 1858, he noted that Powers “talks of going home, but says that he has been talking of it every since he first came to Italy.”)

Perhaps precisely due to his distance from his homeland, Powers was able to tailor his Greek Slave, which interestingly appealed to both northern and southern audiences, to the fraught politics of the day—the divisive period leading up to the Civil War.

“He’s capitalizing on an American interest in slavery in general,” Lemmey says. “This composition was [acquired] by both Northern and Southern collectors. It sort of underscored the abolitionist sentiment, but also somehow resonated in a way with certain collectors in the South.”

Hiram Powers (1805-1873) (GraphicaArtis/Corbis)

Still Relevant

Charmaine Nelson, associate professor of art history at McGill University who has studied Powers within the context of race theory and trans-Atlantic slavery studies, sees things quite differently. Greek Slave enjoyed a “rather extraordinary reception on both sides of the Atlantic” and became “the iconic neoclassical work of the 1840s,” and the sculpture remains relevant today for Powers’ ability to “cleverly speak to the topic of American slavery indirectly, to create a fantastically popular sculpture that was accepted by multiple and complex publics.”

But, Nelson adds, he missed an opportunity.

“Powers’ decision to represent his slave as a white, Greek woman in the midst of the political turmoil of American slavery, speaks to the supposed aesthetic impossibility of the black female subject as a sympathetic and beautiful subject of American ‘high’ art of the time,” she says.

“If one looks at the landscape of black female subjects in neoclassical sculpture of the era, we see not the absence of black female subjects as slaves, but their absence as beautiful subjects rendered in compositions which produced narratives that called for the dominantly white audience to view them as equals and/or as sympathetic victims of slavery.”

Having located his slave in a Greek and Turkish context, then, Powers allowed his mostly white audience to determine whether it wanted to read an abolitionist narrative onto the work. “At the same time,” Nelson adds, “the work more sinisterly inverted the colonizer-colonized relationship, representing the sexually-vulnerable and virginal slave woman—the locket and cross on the pillar are symbolic references to her character—as white (Greek) and the evil enslavers and rapists as men of color (Turkish).”

White audiences’ choice to avoid confronting slave-owning practices may have been responsible for the sculpture’s popularity in the South, Nelson says. And, Powers’ agent Miner Kellogg, who created a pamphlet to accompany the works on their American travels, may have also helped frame the work for audiences that would have otherwise rejected it.

“If one looks at Powers’ personal correspondence, we can see the way he shifted over time from a rather ambivalent opinion about slavery to being a strident abolitionist,” Nelson says. “I think that his distance from America in these critical years allowed him to question the normalization of slavery in the United States.”

Image by Smithsonian American Art Museum. Cast of the Forearm and Left Hand of "Greek Slave" (thumb and two missing fingers), around 1843 plaster (original image)

Image by Smithsonian American Art Museum. The Greek Slace—Daguerreotype, 1848-49 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian American Art Museum,. Mold of a Child's Hand, 1840-50, plaster (original image)

New Scholarship

If viewers of the day had known of Lemmey and her colleagues’ research, the artwork would have been widely criticized. Powers may have repeatedly committed the artistic equivalent of plagiarism: using “life casts,” sculptures made from molds of body parts.

A life cast of a forearm and hand that exactly matches the left arm and hand of Greek Slave in the show prompts the question of whether or not the artist crossed a boundary. “Modeling in clay and body casting was strictly observed,” a label discloses, “sculptors risked their reputations and credibility if they were suspected of ‘cheating’ by substituting a body cast instead of modeling the figure themselves.”

“You’ve taken a shortcut that you ought not to have. You are not modeling it from the sketch; you are way too close to the original,” Lemmey says, noting several life casts in the exhibition, from a cast of Powers’ daughter Louisa (then aged six months) to a hand that, if rotated, fits the “Greek Slave” plaster cast like a glove.

“He would have been absolutely eviscerated by critics if they understood what this is suggesting.”

But, she adds, few if any patrons were probably privy to the casts. “We don’t know how much behind the scenes we are looking at. That’s part of the fun of this exhibition.”

Another gem in the show is a daguerreotype of one of the six marble sculptures, which Lemmey believes represents the version of the sculpture that was purchased by an English nobleman and subsequently destroyed in World War II.

“This may be the only visual record of that sculpture, which makes the daguerreotype all the more important,” says Lemmey of the image, which was in the collection of Powers’ agent Kellogg, who organized the Greek Slave tour of the United States.

“I love the idea that this has a really rich provenance of being made in front of an object, possibly in Powers’ presence, passing from the artist directly to his agent, who is also an artist, and then descending in the Kellogg family and then purchased by this individual giving it directly to the museum,” Lemmey says. “Imagine if a daguerreotype is the only standing record of a sculpture that’s gone forever.”

Measured Perfection: Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. through February 19, 2017. Home to more than 100 other works of Powers’ on exhibit and held in open storage, the museum also has an exquisite three-quarter size version of Greek Slave on its second floor. On November 13, when the Renwick Gallery re-opens after extensive renovations, a full-size 3D print of Greek Slave will go on display in the Octagon Room, created from a scan of the American Art Museum’s original plaster cast—the focus of the current exhibition. The National Gallery of Art, which recently acquired a full-size marble sculpture of Greek Slave from the Corcoran collection, says it will put the marble sculpture on view by spring of 2016.

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