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3D Copies of Art Let the Blind Experience Classic Works in New Ways

Smithsonian Magazine

In the 17th century painting "Apollo at the Forge of Vulcan," by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, Apollo bears a crown of laurels silhouetted by the light of a his godly aura. Velázquez is one of Guadelupe Iglesias’s favorite painters, but she hasn’t seen the artwork in years. "Since I went blind, I've been to museums maybe twice," she told Lauren Frayer at NPR. In 2001, Iglesias lost her vision to retinal disease. "I can listen to the audio guide, but I have to imagine — remember — what the paintings look like." 

Now the Prado Museum in Spain has put up a version of Velázquez that Iglesias can enjoy. It’s a 3D copy of the famous work that the blind and visually impaired can touch. Frayer describes how Iglesias runs her hands over the prickly laurel crown and exclaims: "Fantastic!" 

The small exhibit also includes copies of work by Francisco Goya, El Greco and a twin of the "Mona Lisa" painted by one of Leonardo da Vinci’s students. Frayer reports:

Curators began by taking a high-resolution photo of each masterpiece, and then used special pigments to paint on top of it.

"It's a special type of paint designed to react to ultraviolet light and rise like yeast when you're baking," says the curator of the exhibit, Fernando Pérez Suescun, who ordinarily works on the Prado's education team. "It creates volume and texture."

The colors are imitated as well, which lets the sighted and people with partial vision appreciate multiple aspects of the masterpieces. Some of the paintings are smaller than the originals, so that visitors can easily touch all parts. Sighted visitors can also use opaque glasses to experience the touchable art as blind people do. 

The small exhibit isn’t the only way museums have thought of their visually impaired patrons. The Metropolitan Museum of Manila has some tactile diagrams and audio guides that accompany portraits. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City holds special tours where visitors can touch and handle statues, listen to a guide give detailed descriptions of the collections and learn about drawing techniques to "see" works of art. 

After all, art doesn’t just need to be restricted to one sense when humans experience the world through touch, taste, sound and smell as well.

5 Boys and 2 men, unidentified

National Museum of American History
A Lewis Hine silver print circa 1906-1918. This image is one in a series of photographs made for The National Child Labor Committee. The image is of five boys and a man outside of a cotton mill. The boys are covered in cotton bits. The man is tall and wearing an impeccably clean black suit and hat. Another man is standing in the doorway behind.

Verso: In pencil: "55", "32E", "255."

Lewis Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to a working class family. He was orphaned at the age of fifteen and forced into the workforce. While supporting himself, Hine managed to continue his education. After high school graduation he worked a few odd jobs and then in 1900 eventually enrolled at The University of Chicago. At the University Hine studied Sociology. While taking classes, Hine came to know Frank Manny a professor at the State Normal School. Manny had recently received a job offer to be the superintendent of the Ethical Culture School in New York City. Hine decided to join his new friend and in 1901 moved to New York to teach at Manny's school. Hine continued to pursue his degree in Sociology at New York University. It was during this period that Hine began to use a camera. At first, his interest in photography was simply as a means to educate students and to document school events. However, Hine was quick to take an interest in photography and ultimately this new medium would become the means through which he could express his growing social concerns, especially about child welfare.

In 1904, Hine began his first photo essay. In an attempt to counter growing anti-immigration sentiment amongst New Yorkers, and Americans in general, Hine began a project to photograph immigrant families arriving at Ellis Island. Instead of making them appear pathetic or even animalistic, as other photographers were doing, Hine photographed these people with a humanitarian eye. He depicted them as brave, dignified pioneers of a new land. Hine's camera was a 5x7-plate box-type on a tripod. Often he had to work in low light. If he was indoors, Hine usually had only one chance to photograph an image because after he used a magnesium flash powder to create artificial light the room would fill with smoke, obstructing the image.

In 1905, Hine received his degree from NYU and began considering a career in Sociological Photography. By 1908, he had left his teaching job for a full time position as an investigative photographer for The National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). His first commission from the NCLC was to photograph home workers, children and adults, in New York City tenements. Hine was horrified with what he saw, he described the conditions as "One of the most iniquitous phases of child slavery." Later that year Hine, on commission from the NCLC, left New York to photograph child laborers all over the United States. In 1909 Hine published his first photo essay on children at risk. The essay was comprised of material from the first years of his tour of the United States.

Throughout his career many more photo essays would follow, alerting the public to the plight of these American children who were obviously in such grave danger in their working environments.

Hine's work also took him to Europe in 1917. Funded by the Red Cross he photographed European refugees of World War I. In the 1920's, Hine returned to America and to Ellis Island to once again photograph newly arrived immigrants. Although Hine was a pioneer in 'Sociological Photography' and he had vastly increased public awareness about child labor, he still struggled to make a living.

In 1930, ten years before his death, Hine received the honor of photographing the construction of the Empire State Building. For a change, Hine focused on the joyful and productive side of labor instead of the dark side. Lewis Hine died in 1940. As a photographer, Hine left a resounding impact on the worlds of journalism and art, pioneering a new form of storytelling that today we call photojournalism.

5 Francs, Guinea, 1962

National Museum of American History
One (1) 5 franc coin

Guinea, 1962

Obverse Image: Bust of Sekou Toure facing right.


Reverse Image: Denomination within wreath.


5 Francs, Guinea, 1962

National Museum of American History
One (1) 5 franc coin

Guinea, 1962

Obverse Image: Bust of Sekou Toure facing right.


Reverse Image: Denomination within wreath.


5 fascinating facts about Alexander Graham Bell that aren't about the telephone

National Museum of American History

The name Alexander Graham Bell has become indelibly tied to the telephone (so much so that I'm surprised we don't call those handheld lifelines Bell phones instead of cell phones). It was 100 years ago this very week that Bell placed the first transcontinental telephone call. He repeated into the device the now-famed phrase "Mr. Watson—come here—I want you." It's the phrase that Bell first spoke to his assistant, Thomas Watson, back on March 10, 1876, when Watson was one room over on the other end of the line. But on January 25, 1915, Bell was in New York City uttering the famous words, and Watson was listening to them thousands of miles away in San Francisco.

Side portrait of Bell, blue tinted

Bell's contributions to telephony are great—so great, in fact, that they tend to overshadow his work in other fields of scientific inquiry. "Hear My Voice": Alexander Graham Bell and the Origins of Recorded Sound, an exhibition opening at the museum on January 26, 2015, in our Albert H. Small Documents Gallery, explores Bell's lesser known work in recorded sound.

Here are five fascinating things visitors will discover about Bell in "Hear My Voice."

Illustration of the Visible Speech system invented by Bell's father

1.) Bell's interest in studying sound came from teaching those with hearing and speech impediments. He came from a family of speech teachers. His father, Alexander Melville Bell, created a system of symbols that helped deaf and hard of hearing students learn how to speak. His grandfather and brother were also speech teachers, and his mother and his wife were both deaf. He'd find great fame in his study of sound, but his devotion to the field was rooted in family.

Tracing of sound made by a phonautograph

2.) Bell's earliest sound recordings were made to help his deaf and hard of hearing students. They weren't the traditional "recordings" we think of today, which broadcast audible sound, but they picked up sound and translated it into lines traced onto a plate. His students couldn't hear sound, but they could modulate their voices until their tracings matched his tracings and learn to speak that way.

Map hand-drawn by Bell

3.) Bell's laboratory was based in Washington, D.C. Maybe this fun fact is only exciting to local residents, but you could walk from the museum to where his laboratory was located in, like, 30 minutes. It was in a laboratory near D.C.'s Scott Circle that Bell and his colleagues, collectively called the Volta Laboratory Association, produced hundreds of sound recordings. They toyed with many different methods and mediums—think wax, foil, plaster, anything that could be indented.

4.) Bell's Volta Laboratory ultimately gave birth to Columbia Records for entertainment and the Dictaphone Corporation for business dictation. That's an incredibly abbreviated and simplified account of many business formations and transfers, but just remember this fact the next time you're listening to that Beyoncé album.

Picture of sound recording containing Bell's voice

5.) Bell's actual voice was recorded 130 years ago, and we can listen to it today. That's where we get the title of this exhibition. In one of his experimental recordings he says the phrase "hear my voice," and boy do we! The fact that we can listen to his voice at all is not to be taken lightly. The museum has for many years held the records Bell made at Volta Laboratory, including those of his own voice, we just couldn’t play them—for lack of the technology, and for fear that these fragile things would fall apart if we touched them. But thanks to the work of three scientists dedicated to giving these recordings back their voice, we can now hear what Bell recorded all those years ago. The system these scientists developed, called IRENE (an acronym for Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.) takes pictures of recordings without touching them, and can translate those pictures into actual sound.

To learn more about Bell's work with the Volta Laboratory and to hear the recordings that the IRENE system was able to retrieve, check out "Hear My Voice" online or in person. If you enjoy Twitter, follow the hashtag #HearHistory on Monday, January 26, 2015, for tweets from a special tour of the exhibition. 

Leslie Poster is an editor and writer in the Office of Project Management and Editorial Services. She has also blogged about her trek to see a historic paint can.

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5 kid-tested ways to explore a museum exhibition (without touching)

National Museum of American History

Museum educator Sarah Erdman makes your next museum visit with the family just a little more fun with tips on how to boost interactivity when a "no touching" policy is in effect.

I've blogged before about strategies I use to make hands-off museum exhibitions more engaging for my students and my own toddler. I wrote about making observation active, asking your kid "visual thinking" questions, "theme-ing" your visit around a fun topic, and letting your kid be the tour guide. The response from readers? "Be more specific!"

Here are five kid-approved ways you can interact with different objects… without touching them!

A 1965 Ford Mustang on display in the museum lobby
A 1965 Ford Mustang on display in the museum lobby


  • Find all of the shapes and colors on the car. Hubcaps alone make this a fun challenge.
  • Compare and contrast this car to other cars (or even different types of vehicles). What is the same? What is different?
  • Make up a story about who owned the car. Can you find any information about who REALLY owned the car in the text panels?
  • Plan a trip! Where would you take this car? Does it have special features for certain terrain? What would you need? Maybe your kids can sketch out a road map.
  • Pretend to drive the car through the museums (beeping noises are a-OK). Can you find any other cars in the museum?
Food on display in "FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000"
Food on display in "FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000"


  • Go on a letter hunt! Can you find the whole alphabet? Can you find the letters to spell your name?
  • Is there anything you recognize? Can you describe how it tastes?
  • Is there anything you DON'T recognize? How do you find out about it?
  • Imagine eating a bite. Which food looks like it would be sweetest or the most salty? Which might be crunchy and which might be more smooth?
  • What is your favorite recipe? Does it use any of the food or tools you see in the exhibition? How do you make it? You can even pretend to make it together in the exhibition.
  • Bring a favorite book about food to share together near the display.
Carol Channing's dress from "Hello Dolly!"
Carol Channing's dress from "Hello Dolly!"


  • Describe the clothes. What colors are there? What do you think it would feel like if you could touch it?
  • Who did it belong to? How do we know? When did they wear it?
  • How would YOU act if you were wearing it? Which outfit might be best for dancing, working, or going on an adventure?
  • If you are looking at more then one outfit, which one do you like and why?
  • What clothes that YOU own do you think should be in a museum? Why?
  • What type of shoes might you wear with this outfit? What type of hat?
Dentures from the mid-1800s in the museum's collection
Dentures from the mid-1800s in the museum's collection

All-purpose strategies for a variety of objects

  • Scavenger Hunt: You can look for colors, shapes, letters, numbers, animals, faces... anything you can think of!
  • What is your favorite/least favorite thing you've seen? Why?
  • Pretend you were creating a new museum. What five objects would YOU put in it?
  • Can you make up a story about an object?
  • Can you move or pose like that object?
  • If the object could talk, what would its voice sound like?
  • What do you think these objects might smell like? 

Sarah Erdman is the Goldman Sachs Fellow for Early Learning at the museum and the founder of Cabinet of Curiosities. She has also blogged about the best things to pack for a museum trip with kids and how to handle tough topics in museum exhibitions with kids. She also recommends the museum's Our Story activities, including the newest one on money matters

Fellow Sarah Erdman
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5 of my favorite things in our Duke Ellington Collection

National Museum of American History

Within the first week of starting my internship in the Archives Center of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, I was tasked with searching through the Duke Ellington Collection materials for particular scans and images. Throughout my search, I gained a better appreciation for the legendary musician as well as for jazz music and culture. Here are my top five picks of the most interesting documents in the Duke Ellington Collection, which spans the years 1927 to 1974.

1. Miscellaneous IOUs

Printed form with handwritten sections filled in. "Ellington, Inc. I.O.U."

Several folders and boxes in the Duke Ellington collection contain hastily written, miscellaneous IOUs. It seems that during Ellington's career revival in the 1960s, IOUs were commonly used by the musician. At this time, Ellington had achieved international acclaim and, with his busy schedule, it appears he only had a few minutes here and there to jot down his financial notes.

2. Band members' salaries

Document with typed and handwritten portions. Columns: name, salary, expenses, net, W.T., S.S., D.I.

One of the largest series of materials in the Ellington Collection is Ellington's extensive business records. Although Ellington's name is not mentioned on this particular salary list, the business records section of the collection documents how he compensated his musicians. Cat Anderson, Paul Gonsalves, and Johnny Hodges are only a few of the many accomplished artists who performed in his extraordinary ensemble.

3. Pictures of international tours

Black and white photo of Ellington at piano. Ellington turns slightly to face camera, his right hand on the keys.

Ellington's musical legacy would not be complete without mentioning his multiple international tours. In this 1963 photograph, he is playing the piano in India. It was during this State Department tour that Ellington became severely ill, and band member Billy Strayhorn took his place at the piano for certain performances. Despite these unforeseen circumstances, Ellington was considered a diplomatic leader, captivating and uniting international audiences during the Cold War.

4. "Take the 'A' Train" manuscript

Sheet music

One popular piece that tied Ellington with Billy Strayhorn was "Take the 'A' Train." Strayhorn composed this piece in 1939 and it eventually became one of the most popular works performed by the Duke Ellington orchestra. In fact, it was the band's theme song from 1941 on. This musical collaboration between the two musicians ignited a 37-year-long working relationship between Strayhorn and Ellington.

5. A birthday card

Western Union message with colorful banner across the top that says, "Happy birthday" with a birthday cake. Text: Happy birthday Duke and many many more. You are the greatest and deserve it all regards. Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong and Lucille."

My favorite item from the Duke Ellington Collection is this telegram from Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong wishing Duke Ellington a happy birthday. Both musical giants, Ellington and Armstrong recorded the jazz album The Great Summit/Complete Sessions in 1961. The combination of their musical talents and years of long successful careers fostered an amicable relationship between the musicians.

Want to learn more? To get a firsthand look into the Duke Ellington Collection just in time for Jazz Appreciation month, make an appointment with the museum's Archives Center. Find out about Smithsonian Jazz concerts, programs, and resources.

Justine Thomas is a spring intern in the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History. She is a rising senior at The College of New Jersey. Sign up for the museum's jazz newsletter for more jazzy stories like this one.

Archives Center Intern Justine Thomas
Posted Date: 
Monday, April 25, 2016 - 08:00
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5 things I loved about interning with exhibition designers

National Museum of American History

Museum internships may be more varied than you expect. Intern Emma deVries shares experiences from behind-the-scenes, just in time for you to apply for a spring internship.

When I first arrived here in Washington, D.C., two months ago, I only thought I knew what being an exhibition designer would entail. I did not expect field trips, lunch design talks and many mentoring experiences during coffee breaks. This summer, I have been able to experience the life of an exhibition designer and can say with confidence that I have had the coolest internship ever.

Ford Mustang on display in the museum's lobby
Walking past this every morning? Sign me up!

1. New ways to experience museums

Now that I've experienced museums from behind the scenes, I will never look at exhibitions the same way again. It's hard to appreciate the time, creative problem-solving, and amount of caffeine that goes into making an idea into an exhibition. I now make more time to fully experience exhibitions I visit because I know how precious and personal such projects are.

I now pay very close attention to the visual connections between objects and their labels. Are they close enough together that visitors can easily decipher which label goes with an object? Is the graphic treatment consistent? Now that I've been trained to see these things, I can't un-see them! This may seem like a small detail, but it's a big one when you get it wrong 

2. Behind-the-scenes sneak peeks

A tour of the collections reveals treasures such as the whip used by Indiana Jones, the Batarang, and many other artifacts ranging from sports to the movies.
A tour of the collections reveals treasures such as the whip used by Indiana Jones, the Batarang, and many other artifacts ranging from sports to the movies

Many people don't realize how long it takes to put an exhibition together. In fact, I was exposed to exhibition projects that won't be visible to the public for years. After my experience in the museum, I get to tell friends, "I know what's happening in the renovation of the museum's West Wing! Spoiler alert: it's pretty awesome." I'm sworn to secrecy, but I can tell you that the new exhibitions will be dynamic, engaging visitors in new ways while showcasing incredible collections.

3. Fieldtrips

While visiting the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, I learned about the challenges designers face when creating a living exhibition. While there, I admired their interactive screens allowing visitors to access information about the animals.
While visiting the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, I learned about the challenges designers face when creating a living exhibition. While there, I admired their interactive screens allowing visitors to access information about the animals.

Research is an important part of the creative process and the design team was able to visit fellow museums, such as the National Air and Space Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, and the National Aquarium in Baltimore to learn how other curators and designers overcome design problems and find creative ways to communicate with the public. In addition to learning about design solutions, we also got to watch a shark feeding at the aquarium. 

4. Fellow Smithsonian interns and staff

Interns Daisy Alonso (left) and Emma deVries (right) prepare to present their summer project to Director John Gray
Interns Daisy Alonso (left) and Emma deVries (right) prepare to present their summer project to Director John Gray

Over the last few months, I have been able to work with many amazing people. In the exhibition design department, my fellow designers have given me invaluable advice, whether it was during our crossword puzzle lunch breaks or in an impromptu printroom critique. It has been remarkable to be a part of the 80 intern strong community here at the National Museum of American History.

5. Getting to design exhibitions (and other things)

Early concept illustration for Warner Bros. artifact wall
Early concept illustration for Warner Bros. artifact wall

I've worked on a range of museum projects, from big to small. The main design project was a group effort with my fellow intern Daisy: we worked on the wayfinding here in the museum, which is a technical way of saying maps, signs, and other elements that help visitors move through the space effectively. Our project quickly turned into something that wasn't a normal wayfinding sign and instead became a sculptural icon for the museum. The most amazing thing about our project is that it's not going to be left in the concept stage. In the coming year, the work we have done will be implemented throughout the building.

My final project was the Warner Bros. artifact wall. I was asked to design a potential layout of the artifacts and the graphics for the labels. Through multiple iterations and feedback from my mentor Nigel Briggs, I designed the display concept above.

Being a part of these creative endeavors has been incredible, I'm looking forward coming back sometime in the future to see the fruits of my labor in person!

My advice for anyone who wants to pursue a career as either an exhibition designer or in museums is the same as the advice I was given when I first met my mentor Nigel: gain as much experience as possible. Whether it was working as a volunteer in a local museum or general design work, gaining experience is invaluable. Internships provide the most immersive work-life environment. Here at the National Museum of American History, interns are able to thrive and grow skills that directly apply to careers in museums.

Emma deVries was an exhibit design intern at the National Museum of American History in summer 2014. She is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Intern Emma deVries
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50 Facts for the 50th Anniversary of the First Man in Space

Smithsonian Magazine

1 ) Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched into space in Vostok 1 on the morning of April 12, 1961, 50 years ago today.

2 ) He was a 27-year-old military pilot.

3 ) He and his family were thrown out of their house by the Germans during World War II.

4 ) They had to live in a dugout in the garden.

5 ) Gagarin was interested in space even as a child.

6 ) He joined the "AeroClub" in high school.

7 ) He met Valentina Goryacheva while in military flight school.

8 ) He married her in 1957.

9 ) They had two daughters, Elena and Galina.

10 ) Elena remembers that her father liked poetry and literature.

11 ) In 1960, the Soviet Union chose 20 pilots, including Gagarin, to begin training for a human space flight.

12 ) That group was narrowed down to the "Sochi Six."

13 ) Gagarin and Gherman Titov were the final two potential spacemen.

14 ) They were chosen not only for their excellence in training but also for their short stature (the cockpit was small).

15 ) Gagarin was 1.57 meters (5 feet 2 inches) tall.

16 ) Before taking off, Gagarin wrote a letter to his wife saying he likely wouldn't return.

17 ) But he didn't give it to her. (She found it after he returned home.)

18 ) Legend says that Gagarin had to relieve himself on the way to the launch pad.

19 ) And now modern (male) cosmonauts do so as well: "They leave the bus and stand at the left back wheel of the bus, to relieve themselves," says the European Space Agency.

20 ) Gagarin was launched into space at 6:07 UTC from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

21 ) This was only 3 1/2 years since the first object, Sputnik, had been launched into space.

22 ) Vostok 1 made one complete circuit around the Earth.

23 ) The journey took 108 minutes.

24 ) He was the first human to see Earth from space.

25 ) Gagarin ejected from the space capsule when it was still 7 kilometers from the ground.

26 ) He then deployed a parachute at 2.5 kilometers in altitude.

27 ) Some people have argued that Gagarin does not qualify for the title "the first man in space" because he didn't land inside his aircraft.

28 ) They are wrong.

29 ) Gagarin and his spacecraft landed 26 kilometers southwest of Engels, Russia, at 51° North, 45° East.

30 ) Two schoolgirls witnessed the landing and described a huge ball that bounced on the ground as it landed.

31 ) A farmer and her daughter came upon Gagarin dressed in his orange spacesuit and dragging his parachute and backed away in fear.

32 ) He told them, "don't be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!"

33 ) Americans congratulated the Soviets on their space achievement.

34 ) And then sent their own man, Alan Shepard, into space a few weeks later.

35 ) It wasn't until the next year, however, that an American astronaut, John Glenn, would make a full circuit around the Earth.

36 ) Gagarin became a celebrity.

37 ) He went on a world tour and was greeted by adoring crowds.

38 ) But he soon returned to the cosmonaut facility.

39 ) There, he spent years working on designs for a reusable spacecraft.

40 ) Although he was a backup pilot for later spaceflights, he was ultimately banned from space because the Soviets were worried about losing their hero.

41 ) Gagarin died on March 27, 1968 in a training flight in a MiG-15UTI fighter.

42 ) His ashes were interred on Cosmonauts' Avenue outside the Kremlin in Moscow.

43 ) So are the ashes of four other cosmonauts who died during their missions.

44 ) Current Soyuz crews leave red carnations at this Kremlin wall.

45 ) A crater on the Moon is named for Gagarin.

46 ) As is asteroid 1772 Gagarin.

47 ) More than 500 people have gone into space since Gagarin.

48 ) Every year, people around the world celebrate Yuri's Night on April 12.

49 ) You can post this handy infographic on your wall to remind yourself about details of Gagarin's flight.

50 ) And you can read this post from Starts With A Bang about what cosmonauts (and astronauts) can see as they orbit the Earth.

50 Francs, Guinea, 1958

National Museum of American History
One (1) 50 franc note

Guinea, 1958

Obverse Image: President Ahmed Sekou Toure.


Reverse Image: Mask.

Reverse Text: 50 / CINQUANTE FRANCS

50th Annual Tour!...BALTINO!

National Museum of American History

6 common phobias found in our collections

National Museum of American History

For some creepy fun before Halloween, a tour of common phobias through our collections.

1. The dark (nyctophobia)

Perhaps most pervasive in childhood, fear of the dark can still spook us as adults! Miners in the past got used to working in the dark. They used many different sources of light to guide their way underground, but many of those methods came with dangerous trade-offs. Oil-wick and carbide lamps could be hung on the brim of a cap, letting miners work quickly and efficiently in the dark, but their open flames could (and often did) ignite flammable gases. Deadly explosions were tragically common in U.S. coal mines until the early 20th century. If you’d like to learn more, check out the museum's expansive collection of mining lights and hats.

Black and white photo of miners in a mine sitting on a wooden bench

(Also, this 1897 mining journal may shed some light on the life of miners, including their harsh working conditions in the dark.)

2. Germs (germophobia or mysophobia)

While we may have the comforts of antibacterial hand gel, surgical masks, and modern medicine, previous eras had different soaps and cleansers that a germ-averse person might have turned to for their ailments.

Corrosive Soap

One ingredient in this Corrosive Sublimate Soap is mercuric chloride, which was used in early antibacterial soaps and is still used in skin-whitening soaps. Nothing to fear from mercuric chloride, except brain damage, kidney failure, and drooling

Tarkon Germicide and Antiseptic container

Also, anyone concerned with germs may have found solace in Tarkon Germicide and Antiseptic, with the following varied and myriad uses provided by the manufacturer: "Acid Mouth, After Shaving, Catarrh, Bad Breath, Cold Sores, Dandruff, Ear Troubles, Eye Troubles, Hives, Insect Bites, Odors, Piles, Pyorrhea, Sunburn, Women's Hygiene, Wounds, General Disinfecting and Deodorizing."

3. Dogs (cynophobia)

Black and white photo of man with dog

People scared of canines may not hold warm feelings toward Stubby the dog, but this pup was a brave companion to American soldiers. "Sgt. Stubby" found himself in a scary situation or two, serving in 17 battles during World War I. Once, he even managed to capture himself a German soldier! Upon returning home from the war, Stubby received fame and accolades, including visits to the White House and a meeting with General John J. Pershing.

Black and white photo of two men and one woman with dog wearing harness

Stubby lived on to strike fear in the hearts of his opponents when he became the mascot for the Georgetown Hoyas.

Taxidermy dog wearing vest covered in metals

4. Flying (aviophobia)

Illustration of a balloon with the name INTREPID on it and people watching it go up.

Imagine you have a fear of flying. Now imagine that it is the 1860s and you are an aerial spy floating in a hot-air balloon, trying to spy on the Confederates. Thaddeus Lowe, an aeronaut who conducted military reconnaissance in balloons, had no such fear, as he enthusiastically took to the sky in his balloon called the Intrepid, spying on Confederate camp and troop movements at the battle of Fair Oaks. While plenty of people may have balked at Lowe’s flying, President Lincoln was filled with wonderment and couldn't stop talking about the amazing floating spy machine.

Black and white image with trees, machinery, and people

5. Mice (musophobia)

What is it about mice that makes one shriek? That causes one to jump on the nearest available flat surface, as this 1892 stereograph depicts?

Person standing on a chair to escape a mouse, sepia image

Scientists who are afraid of mice must rise above it. The OncoMouse is a genetically modified laboratory mouse created in the mid-1980s to carry a specific gene that aids scientists in cancer research. Mallory Warner of the Division of Medicine and Science discusses the patented creature and the ethical concerns it raises surrounding animal research.

6. Thunder/Lightning (astraphobia)

Painting in wooden frame with flourishes. In an outdoor scene, a man holds string of a kite while a young boy watches.

Thunder and lightning aren’t so frightening. Well not to Ben Franklin, that is! While bolts of lightning snaking across the sky may frighten many of us, Franklin stayed outside to perform his famous kite experiment in which he attempted to prove that lightning was an electrical force. This painted panel dates to the early 19th century, when it was popular for volunteer fire companies to proudly decorate their engines for use in parades.  The panel depicts the famous scene in 1752 as Franklin and his son William (actually 21 years old at the time!) stand in the storm to observe the experiment.

Rebecca Seel works in the New Media and Communications and Marketing offices. She is terrified of spiders.

Posted Date: 
Thursday, October 27, 2016 - 09:00
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7 Epic Fails Brought to You By the Genius Mind of Thomas Edison

Smithsonian Magazine

Almost everyone can name the man that invented the light bulb.

Thomas Edison was one of the most successful innovators in American history. He was the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” a larger-than-life hero who seemed almost magical for the way he snatched ideas from thin air.

But the man also stumbled, sometimes tremendously. In response to a question about his missteps, Edison once said, “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

Leonard DeGraaf, an archivist at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, explores the inventor’s prolific career in his new book, Edison and the Rise of Innovation. The author offers new documents, photographs and insight into Edison’s evolution as an inventor, not to forget those creations that never saw wild success.

“One of the things that makes Edison stand out as an innovator was he was very good at reducing the risk of innovation—he’s not an inventor that depends on just one thing,” DeGraaf says. “He knows that if one idea or one product doesn’t do well he has others…that can make up for it.”

Chances are you haven’t heard of Edison’s botched ideas, several of which are highlighted here, because the Ohio native refused to dwell on them. DeGraaf says, “Edison’s not a guy that looks back. Even for his biggest failures he didn’t spend a lot of time wringing his hands and saying ‘Oh my God, we spent a fortune on that.’ He said, ‘we had fun spending it.’”

The automatic vote recorder  

Edison, who made an early name for himself improving the telegraph, moved to Boston in 1868 to expand his network and find investors. By night, he worked the wires, taking press reports from New York for Western Union. By day, he experimented with new technologies—one of which was his first patented invention, an electrographic vote recorder.

The device allowed officials voting on a bill to cast their decision to a central recorder that calculated the tally automatically. Edison dreamed the invention would “save several hours of public time every day in the session.” He later reflected, “I thought my fortune was made.”

But when he took the vote recorder to Washington, Edison was met with a different reaction. “Political leaders said, ‘Forget it,’” DeGraaf says. There was almost no interest in Edison’s device because politicians feared it hurt the vote trading and maneuvering that happens in the legislative process (much in the way some feared bringing cameras to hearings, via CSPAN, would lead to more grandstanding instead of negotiating).

It was an early lesson. From that point on, DeGraaf says, “He vowed he would not invent a technology that didn’t have an apparent market; that he wasn’t just going to invent things for the sake of inventing them but…to be able to sell them. I have to suspect that even Edison, as young and inexperienced innovator at that point, would have had to understand that if he can’t sell his invention, he can’t make money.”

Electric pen

As railroads and other companies expanded in the late 19thcentury, there was a huge demand for tools administrative employees could use to complete tasks—including making multiple copies of handwritten documents—quicker.

Enter the electric pen. Powered by a small electric motor and battery, the pen relied on a handheld needle that moved up and down as an employee wrote. Instead of pushing out ink, though, the pen punched tiny holes through the paper’s surface; the idea was employees could create a stencil of their documents on wax paper and make copies by rolling ink over it, “printing” the words onto blank pieces of paper underneath.

Edison, whose machinist, John Ott, began to manufacture the pens in 1875, hired agents to sell the pens across the Mid-Atlantic. Edison charged agents $20 a pen; the agents sold them for $30.

The first problems with the invention were purely cosmetic: the electric pen was noisy, and much heavier than those employees had used in the past. But even after Edison improved the sound and weight, problems persisted. The batteries had to be maintained using chemical solutions in a jar. “It was messy,” says DeGraaf.

By 1877, Edison was involved in the telephone and thinking about what would eventually become the phonograph; he abandoned the project, assigning the rights to Western Electric Manufacturing Co. Edison received pen royalties into the early 1880s.

Even though the electric pen wasn’t a home run for Edison, it paved the way for other innovators. Albert B. Dick purchased one of the pen’s patented technologies to create the mimeograph, a stencil copier that spread quickly from schools to offices to churches, DeGraaf says. And while it’s hard to trace for sure, the electric pen is also often considered the predecessor of the modern tattoo needle.

Image by National Park Service, Thomas Edison National Historical Park. Thomas Edison developed a hand-cranked machine called the tinfoil phonograph. (original image)

Image by National Park Service, Thomas Edison National Historical Park. This poorly received vote recorder allowed officials voting on a bill to cast their decision to a central recorder that calculated the tally automatically. (original image)

Image by National Park Service, Thomas Edison National Historical Park. The electric pen was noisy and heavy. (original image)

Image by National Park Service, Thomas Edison National Historical Park. The voice of Edison's talking doll was "just ghastly," says Leonard DeGraaf. (original image)

Image by National Park Service, Thomas Edison National Historical Park. Edison envisioned an ore separator with powerful electromagnets that could parse the fine ore particles from rocks, depositing them into two different bins. (original image)

Image by National Park Service, Thomas Edison National Historical Park. The Edison Home Service Club sent subscribers 20 records in the mail each month. (original image)

Image by National Park Service, Thomas Edison National Historical Park. Edison introduced a motion picture projector for non-commercial use in 1912, but it was too expensive. He struggled to create a catalog of films that appealed to customers. (original image)

The tinfoil phonograph

Edison debuted one of his most successful inventions, the phonograph, in 1888. “I’ve made some machines, but this is my baby and I expect it to grow up to be a big feller and support me in my old age,” he once quipped. But getting a perfected machine to market was a journey that took nearly a decade—and plenty of trial and error.

Edison’s entrée into sound recording in the 1870s was in some ways an accident. According to DeGraaf, Edison was handling the thin diaphragm the early telephone used to convert words into electromagnetic waves and wondered if reversing the process would allow him to play the words back. It worked. At first, Edison modeled the invention on spools of paper tape or grooved paper discs, but eventually moved on to a tinfoil disc. He developed a hand-cranked machine called the tinfoil phonograph; as he spoke into the machine and cranked the handle, metal points traced grooves into the disc. When he returned the disc to the starting point and cranked the handle again, his voice rang back from the machine. (The machine even worked on Edison’s first test: the children’s rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”)

Reporters and scientists were blown away by the invention; DeGraaf argues it helped make Edison a household name. He took the device to demonstrations up and down the East Coast—even making a midnight visit to President Rutherford B. Hayes at the White House—and eventually organized exhibitions across the country.

Edison imagined music boxes, talking clocks and dolls, speech education tools and talking books for the blind. But without a clear marketing strategy, the device did not have a target purpose or audience. As the man who ran the exhibition tour told Edison, “interest [was soon] exhausted.” Only two small groups were invested in it, those who could afford to indulge in the novelty and scientists interested in the technology behind it.

The machine also took skill and patience. The tinfoil sheet was delicate and easily damaged, which meant it could only be used once or twice and couldn’t be stored for a long period of time.

When Edison revisited the machine 10 years later, he was more involved in both the marketing and the medium—which he eventually changed to a wax cylinder— and his invention took off.

The Talking Doll

When he opened a lab in West Orange, New Jersey, in late 1887, Edison decided he wanted to turn out new inventions quickly and hand them over to factories to be manufactured and sold; what he earned from those sales would be put back into the lab.

“He didn’t want to do complicated things, he wanted to do projects he could turn out in a short time and [that would] turn a quick profit,” DeGraaf says.

Among the first of these attempts was the talking doll. (If you’ve ever owned a talking doll—and who didn’t love the pull-string Woody from Toy Story—you ought to thank Edison.) Edison crafted a smaller version of his phonograph and put it inside dolls he imported from Germany. He hoped to have the doll ready for Christmas 1888, but production issues kept the toys from hitting the market until March 1890.

Almost immediately, the toys began coming back.

Consumers complained they were too fragile and broke easily in the hands of young girls; even the slightest bump down the stairs could cause the mechanism to come loose. Some reported that the toy’s voice grew fainter after only an hour of use. Beyond that, the dolls didn’t exactly sound like sweet companions—their voice was “just ghastly,” DeGraaf says.

Edison reacted quickly—by April, less than a month after they were first shipped to consumers, the dolls were off the market. The swift move was one of the strongest indications of Edison’s attitude toward failure and how he operated when faced with it, DeGraaf says.

Ore mills and separators

For years, Edison corresponded with miners throughout the United States. The deposits of ore along the East Coast, Ohio and Pennsylvania were littered with nonferrous rock that had to be removed before the ore was smelted, DeGraaf explains. In 1890, Edison envisioned an ore separator with powerful electromagnets that could parse the fine ore particles from rocks, depositing them into two different bins.

But he wasn’t alone: at the same time, there were more than 20 small-scale ore separators being tested on Eastern iron beds. To give himself a competitive advantage, Edison constructed several large-scale plants he believed could process up to 5,000 tons of ore a day, DeGraaf says. After opening and closing a few small experimental plants, he constructed a plant near Ogdensburg, New Jersey, which gave him access to 19,000 acres of minerals.

Edison managed the plant in Ogdensburg—a change of pace for the inventor. The endeavor presented issues from the very beginning. The giant crushing rolls—5-foot by 6-foot tools Edison hoped would crush rocks up to six tons—that were crucial to the plant’s operations were all but useless when they debuted in 1894. As Edison redesigned them, his employees discovered the plant’s elevators had deteriorated, which meant he would have to rebuild an entirely new elevator system. Edison could never quite get the lab to full capacity. He rejiggered machines a dozen times over at all steps in the process, from crushing to separating and drying. The work came with a hefty price tag, with which Edison nor his investors could cover. Ore milling was a failed experiment Edison took a decade to let go—an uncharacteristically long time for the quick-stepping innovator.

The Edison Home Service Club

Before there was Netflix or Redbox, there was the Edison Home Service Club.

In the 1900s, Edison’s National Phonograph Co. rolled out a number of less expensive machines so people could bring entertainment—mostly music—into their homes. His and the other major phonograph companies, including Victor and Columbia, manufactured the machines as well as the records they played.

Edison believed his records were superior, DeGraaf says, and thought giving buyers access to more of his catalog was the only way to prove it. He rolled out the club in 1922, sending subscribers 20 records in the mail each month.  After two days, they selected the records they wanted to order and sent the samples on to the next subscriber.

The service worked well in small clusters of buyers, many of them in New Jersey. Edison refused to let celebrities endorse his product or do much of any widespread advertising; Victoria and Columbia both had much more effective mass circulation advertising campaigns that stretched across the country, something that was “way beyond Edison’s ability,” DeGraaf says. “The company just didn’t have the money to implement [something like that] on a national scale.”

Up until this point, most markets were local or regional. “They’re not operating on a national basis and the success is contingent on very close personal relationships between the customer and the business person,” DeGraaf says—which is exactly what Edison tried to achieve with the club and other plans for the phonograph, including a sub-dealer plan that placed the records and devices in stores, ice cream parlors and barbershops for demonstrations, then tasked the owners with sending Edison the names of potential buyers.

The key to mass marketing is lowering the cost of a product and recovering profits by selling more of it—but “ that was a radical idea in the 1880s and 1890s and there were some manufacturers”—Edison among them— “that just didn’t believe you’d be able to succeed that way,” DeGraaf says.

“Mass marketing today is so ubiquitous and successful we assume it’s just common sense, but it’s a commercial behavior that had to be adopted and understood,” says DeGraaf.

Home Projecting Kinetoscope

After early success with the motion picture camera, Edison introduced a motion picture projector for non-commercial use in 1912, with the idea they could serve as important educational tools for churches, schools and civic organizations, and in the home.

The machines were just too expensive, though, and he struggled to create a catalog of films that appealed to customers. Of the 2,500 machines shipped out to dealers, only 500 were sold, DeGraaf says.

Some of the kinetoscope’s issues mirrored the problems Edison encountered in other failed projects. “Edison is a very good hardware guy, but he does have problems with software,” DeGraaf says. The cylinder player that powered the tinfoil phonograph worked beautifully, for instance, but it was the disc that caused Edison problems; with home theater, the films themselves, not the players, were faulty.

Edison experimented with producing motion pictures, expanding his catalog to include one- and two–reel movies from documentaries to comedies and dramas. In 1911, he made $200,000 to $230,000 a year—between $5.1 and $5.8 million in today’s dollars— from his business. But by 1915, people favored long feature films over educational films and shorts. “For whatever reason Edison was not delivering that,” says DeGraaf. “Some dealers told him point blank, you’re not releasing films that people want to see and that’s a problem.”

“That’s part of the problem with understanding Edison—you have to look at what he does and what other people are saying around him, because he doesn’t spend a lot of time writing about what he’s doing—he’s so busy doing it,” DeGraaf explains. “I think he has impatience with that sort of navel gazing.”

7 Sutherland Sisters' Hair and Scalp Cleaner

National Museum of American History
This powdered shampoo was produced by the Seven Sutherland Sisters Corporation beginning in the late 1800s and into the 1930s. The sisters toured with Barnum and Bailey beginning in 1884 and were famous for their long hair, which stretched a supposed 37 feet in total. They were models, singers, and entertainers, and were among the first celebrity endorsers. They remain famous in Niagara County, N.Y., where they were born.

Henry Bailey married one of the sisters and trademarked the name "7 Sutherland Sisters" in 1886, claiming to have been using it since 1884. This particular box is dated to around 1918. The hair products were still being advertised in the 1930s, but had begun their decline in popularity.


Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

78 Years Ago Today, BBC Aired the First Science Fiction Television Program

Smithsonian Magazine

Doctor Who may be the world’s longest-running science fiction television series, but it’s not the oldest sci-fi program to have been broadcast on television. That honor goes to another BBC production, which first aired 78 years ago today: a live recording of Karel Čapek’s seminal play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots).

Written by Čapek in 1920, R.U.R. is a cornerstone not just for science fiction, but also real-life technological advancements – famously, Čapek coined the Czech word “robota” to mean an artificially created person, which was later translated into English as “robot.” On the surface, however, Rossum’s robots have very little to do with the various machines that use the term today.

As Noah Berlatsky writes for the Atlantic:

[R.U.R.] imagined its artificial servants not as metal men of nuts and bolts, but as biological products, much like clones. Domin, the robot-factory manager in the play, cheerfully gives a tour pointing out "the spinning mill for nerves. The spinning mill for veins. The spinning mill where miles and miles of digestive tract are made at once." These first robots were fleshy, goopy beings that grew like biological critters. In the play, robots are basically human bodies borne of mechanical production and process.

Rossum’s robots may be biological in nature, but they set the blueprint for all of science fiction’s robot uprisings, from The Terminator to The Matrix. At first, most of the human characters in R.U.R. see the robots as little more than appliances made in human shape, but as the robots become fed up with their place in society, they rebel. Eventually, they drive humanity toward extinction only to learn that they themselves cannot reproduce without the aid of their former masters.

While the play has fallen into relative obscurity over the decades, it was controversial when it first premiered. The New York Times panned the play when it started its run in the United States, but it curried favor with writers and poets who found power in Čapek's allegory of politics, power and technology, Erin Blakemore writes for Mental Floss.

“In its various windings, R.U.R. is significant, important, teasing, quizzical, funny, terrible, paradoxical," poet and writer Carl Sandburg writes in a letter to the editor for the New York Times, defending the play.

Just two years after the BBC Television Service launched, R.U.R. was adapted into the 35-minute-long production that aired on February 11, 1938 at 3:20 p.m. It’s unclear whether any recordings survived the decades, but it’s worth noting that the play's special effects made it a natural fit for the television format. A week before BBC first aired the program, the Radio Times advertised R.U.R. as “a play that should lend itself very well indeed to television from the point of view of effects.” Granted, the effects were probably rudimentary and the production may have used more than its fair share of tin foil, but a marketing first is still a first.

R.U.R. might have peaked in popularity in the 1920s and '30s, but it remains the bedrock that much of modern science fiction draws on. To this day, the play is occassionally adapted and revived, and its themes run through many television shows and movies now in production. Whether it is Doctor WhoThe Terminator or The Matrix, each of these science fiction franchises has a piece of Rossum's Universal Robots at its core.

8 Famous People Who Missed the Lusitania

Smithsonian Magazine

When the First World War began, in the summer of 1914, the Lusitania was among the most glamorous and celebrated ships in the world—at one time both the largest and fastest afloat. But the British passenger liner would earn a far more tragic place in history on May 7, 1915, when it was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland, with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives.

The Lusitania was not the first British ship to be torpedoed, and the German Navy had publicly vowed to destroy “every enemy merchant ship” it found in the waters surrounding Great Britain and Ireland. On the day the Lusitania set sail from New York, the German Embassy ran ads in U.S. newspapers, warning travelers to avoid liners flying the British flag.  But in the case of the Lusitania the warnings went largely unheeded, due in part to the belief that the powerful ship could outrun any pursuant. The ship's captain, W. T. Turner, offered additional reassurance. “It's the best joke I've heard in many days this talk of torpedoing,” he supposedly told reporters.

England and Germany had been at war for close to a year by that point, but the United States, whose citizens would account for about 120 of the Lusitania’s victims, had remained neutral; ships sailing under the stars and stripes would not be the deliberate targets of German torpedoes. Though the U.S. didn’t officially enter the war until 1917, the sinking of the Lusitania, and the propaganda blitz that followed, proved a major factor in swaying public opinion in that direction.

Among the prominent American victims were such luminaries of the day as the theatrical impresario Charles Frohman, the popular writer Elbert Hubbard and the very rich Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. But the list of passengers who missed the Lusitania’s last voyage was equally illustrious. Ironically, it wasn’t the fear of a German U-boat attack that kept most of them off the doomed liner but more mundane matters, such as unfinished business, an uncooperative alarm clock or a demanding mistress.

Here are the stories of eight famous men and women who were lucky enough to dodge the torpedo.

Arturo Toscanini

The conductor Arturo Toscanini was set to return to Europe aboard the Lusitania when his season at New York’s Metropolitan Opera ended. Instead, he cut his concert schedule short and left a week earlier, apparently aboard the Italian liner Duca degli Abruzzi. Contemporary newspaper accounts attributed his hasty departure to doctor’s orders. “His illness amounts practically to a nervous breakdown due to overwork during the season and also to excitement over the European war,” The New York Tribune reported.

In the years since, historians have offered other explanations, including the maestro’s battles with the Met’s management over budget cutbacks, a particularly bad performance of the opera Carmen and a recent ultimatum from his mistress, the singer and silent-movie actress Geraldine Farrar, that he leave his wife and family. Little wonder he set to sea.

Toscanini, who was then in his late 40s, lived for another four decades, until his death at age 89, in 1957. He recorded prolifically—an 85-disc boxed set released last year represents just a portion of his output—and became a celebrity in the U.S., conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra on radio and later television. In 1984, a quarter-century after his death, he received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement, sharing the honor that year with Charlie Parker and Chuck Berry.

Jerome Kern

Broadway composer Jerome Kern, then just 30 years old, supposedly planned to sail on the Lusitania with the producer Charles Frohman, but overslept when his alarm clock didn’t go off and missed the ship. The makers of the 1946 MGM musical biopic of Kern’s life, Till the Clouds Roll By, apparently didn’t consider that sufficiently dramatic, so the movie has Kern (played by Robert Walker) racing to the pier in a taxi and arriving just as the ship starts to pull away.

Kern would live for another three decades and write the music for such classics of the American songbook as “Ol’ Man River,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”

He died in 1945 at the age of 60 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Isadora Duncan

With her latest tour of the United States just ended, the American-born dancer Isadora Duncan had a number of ships to choose from for her return to Europe, where she was then living, among them the Lusitania. Though she had crossed the Atlantic on the luxurious liner before, she passed it up this time in favor of the more humble Dante Alighieri, which left New York eight days later. One reason may have been money: Her tour had been a financial disaster.

In fact, Duncan’s creditors had threatened to seize her trunks and keep her from leaving the country at all until she paid about $12,000 in debts racked up during her visit. In a newspaper interview Duncan pleaded, “I appeal to the generosity of the American people and ask them if they are willing to see me and my pupils disgraced after all I have done in the cause of art.”  Fortunately, within hours of the Dante’s departure, Duncan’s creditors had been placated and a benefactor had given her two $1,000 bills to buy the steamship tickets.

Several histories of the Lusitania disaster give the impression that Duncan sailed on the liner New York with Ellen Terry (see below). Though Duncan idolized the older actress and even had a child with her son, theater director Edward Gordon Craig, it seems to have been one of Duncan’s young dancers rather than Duncan herself who accompanied Terry.

Duncan mentions the Lusitania briefly in her autobiography: “Life is a dream, and it is well that it is so, or who could survive some of its experiences? Such, for instance, as the sinking of the Lusitania. An experience like that should leave for ever an expression of horror upon the faces of the men and women who went through it, whereas we meet them everywhere smiling and happy.”

A dozen years later, Duncan would have a famously fatal encounter with another form of transportation, strangled when her scarf became entangled in one of the wheels of a car in which she was riding.

Image by University of Iowa Digital Library. Made famous for his travel lectures, Lincoln Wirt reportedly cancelled his passage on the Lusitania in order to take another ship. (original image)

Image by Library of Congress via WikiCommons. On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland and nearly 1,200 lives were lost. (original image)

Image by Library of Congress. William Gillette was famed in his era as both a playwright and stage actor, especially for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. Due to a commitment to perform in Philadelphia, he was forced to stay behind did not board the Lusitania. (original image)

Image by California Faces: Selections from The Bancroft Library Portrait Collection. American-born dancer Isadora Duncan had previously crossed the Atlantic on the Lusitania but she decided to board the more humble Dante Alighieri on May 7, 1915. (original image)

Image by Robert Hunt Picture Library via WikiCommons. On the day the Lusitania set said from New York, the German Embassy ran ads in U.S. newspapers, warning travelers to avoid liners flying the British flag. (original image)

Millicent Fenwick 

A 5-year-old at the time of the disaster, Millicent Hammond Fenwick grew up to become an editor at Vogue, a civil rights activist, a Congresswoman from New Jersey and a possible inspiration for the famous “Doonesbury” character Lacey Davenport, whose outspokenness she shared.

Fenwick’s parents, Ogden and Mary Stevens Hammond, were both on board the Lusitania but left young Millicent and her siblings behind because their trip was humanitarian in nature rather than a family vacation, says Amy Schapiro, author of the 2003 biography Millicent Fenwick: Her Way. Her mother was headed to France to help establish a Red Cross hospital for World War I casualties.

Though they were warned not to take the Lusitania, Schapiro says, Millicent’s mother was determined to go and her father refused to let his wife sail alone. Her father survived the sinking; her mother did not. Perhaps because the subject was too painful, Fenwick rarely discussed her mother’s death or how the loss affected her, according to Schapiro. 

Millicent Fenwick died in 1992 at age 82. 

William Morris

The founder and namesake of what’s said to be the world’s oldest and largest talent agency, William Morris, born Zelman Moses, not only missed the Lusitania’s last voyage in 1915 but also the Titanic’s first and only attempt to cross the Atlantic three years earlier. 

In both cases, Morris had booked passage but canceled at the last minute to attend to other matters, according to The Agency: William Morris and the Hidden History of Show Business by Frank Rose (1995).  In those days, Morris’s business involved supplying vaudeville acts to thousands of live theaters across the United States. Among his clients were W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers and Will Rogers, popular stage performers who would go on to become even bigger stars in the new media of movies and radio. 

William Morris died of a heart attack in 1932, while playing pinochle.

Ellen Terry 

Widely considered the greatest English actress of her day, Ellen Terry had finished an American lecture tour and was reportedly offered a free suite on the Lusitania for her return home.  However, she had promised her daughter not to take an English ship because of war concerns, and instead booked passage on the American liner New York.

Though the New York was slower and considerably less comfortable than the Lusitania, Terry made the best of it. “I suppose on the whole I prefer this bed to the Ocean Bed,” she wrote in her diary.

Terry, who was 68 at the time, lived for another 13 years, during which she continued to perform and lecture as well as make several motion pictures.

William Gillette

The actor William Gillette often joined Charles Frohman on his trips to Europe and planned to accompany the producer aboard the Lusitania, according to Henry Zecher, author of the 2011 biography, William Gillette, America’s Sherlock Holmes. As Gillette later told the story, however, he had a commitment to perform in Philadelphia and was forced to stay behind. 

Though little remembered now, Gillette was famed in his era as both a playwright and stage actor, especially for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, today’s popular image of Holmes may owe nearly as much to Gillette’s interpretation as to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original.  It was Gillette, for example, who furnished Holmes with his trademark bent briar pipe, Zecher notes. Gillette also invented the line “Oh, this is elementary, my dear fellow,” which evolved into the immortal “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

The year after the Lusitania’s sinking, Gillette gave his one motion picture performance as Holmes. Unfortunately, the film, like many others of the silent era, seems to be lost.

Gillette died in 1937 at age 83. His eccentric and highly theatrical stone mansion in East Haddam, Connecticut, is now a tourist attraction, Gillette Castle State Park.

Lincoln Wirt

Probably the least famous person on our list by today’s standards, Lincoln Wirt was nationally known for his travel lectures, once a popular form of entertainment.  At a time when few Americans could afford international travel and much of the planet remained exotic and unexplored, adventurers like Wirt brought the world to them. He was also a minister and war correspondent.

Wirt’s lecture “The Conquest of the Arctic,” for example, promised its audience an account of his 1,250-mile journey by canoe and dog sled, complete with “the horrors of scurvy, typhoid and freezing” along with “bubbling humor” and “descriptions of exquisite beauty.” But Wirt missed out on what might have been the tale of a lifetime when he reportedly cancelled his passage on the Lusitania in order to take another ship, the Canopic, and head to Constantinople.

Wirt’s adventures continued for another half century. He died in 1961, at the age of 97. 

The Lusitania – Titanic connection

The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and the Titanic in 1912 may be forever linked as the two most famous maritime disasters of the 20th century. But the similarities between the Cunard liner Lusitania, launched in 1906, and the White Star liner Titanic, launched in 1911, hardly end here. Each was the largest ship in the world at the time of its debut, the Lusitania at 787 feet, the Titanic at 883 feet. They were also two of the most luxurious ships afloat, designed to compete for the rich and famous travelers of the day as well as for the profitable immigrant trade. In fact several notable passengers had ties to both ships:

• Al Woods, a well-known American theatrical producer, claimed to have had close calls with both the Lusitania and the Titanic, as did his frequent traveling companion, a businessman named Walter Moore. The two reportedly missed the Titanic when business matters kept them in London and called off their trip on the Lusitania because of fears of a submarine attack. 

•  The high-society fashion designer Lady Duff Gordon, among the most famous survivors of the Titanic disaster, was booked on the Lusitania but canceled her trip, citing health reasons.

•  Two other Titanic survivors, banker Robert W. Daniel and his wife, Eloise, also appear to have canceled passage on the Lusitania, deciding to take an American ship, the Philadelphia, instead. Eloise Daniel lost her first husband in the Titanic disaster and met her future mate when he was pulled aboard the lifeboat she was in.  They married two years later. Interviewed on their arrival in London, he described the crossing on the Philadelphia as “absolutely uneventful.”

•  Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, 37-year-old railroad heir and horse fancier, missed the Titanic in 1912 but unfortunately not the Lusitania in 1915, despite receiving a mysterious telegram telling him the ship was doomed. Vanderbilt died a hero in the disaster, reportedly giving his lifebelt to a young woman passenger, even though he couldn’t swim.

9-Keyed Bugle, used by Walter W. Smith

National Museum of American History

This 9-keyed bugle was made by an unknown maker in the United States around 1840-1850. It is an E-flat bugle made of copper with brass keys, bell garland, key mounts, finger saddle, and lead pipe band. The finger saddle (middle finger, right hand) is of the typical New England decorative curved style.


This bugle was previously owned by Walter F. Smith (1859-1937), cornetist in the Sousa Band (1893-1896) and the United States Marine Band (1885-1893 and 1898-1921).

Walter F. Smith joined the Sousa Band in 1893 and was made acting leader. In this role, Smith conducted Washington, D.C. concerts, various touring concerts, and also went with the band to perform in the inaugural ceremonies for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This experience was a huge success and an article from the Stanley Barney Smith Collection in the Western Michigan University Archives states:


“Played to an audience of 50,000… Although the hour set for appearance of Sousa’s old organization was 3 o’clock, the crowds began pouring into the great playground after luncheon… By 2 o’clock the crowd extended from Van Buren Street to Harrison, lined the East side of Michigan ten to twenty deep. Conductor Smith began his part without any delay and without any preliminaries… Every number was enthusiastically cheered and it is scarcely necessary to say the program was as near perfection as may be.”

96 Hours in Qatar

Smithsonian Magazine

From centuries-old maritime forts to state-of-the-art museums and from majestic desert sands to lush mangrove forests, Qatar is a land of rich contrasts. Combining old-world sensibility with cosmopolitan sophistication, it offers something for every traveler. What's more, travelers on Qatar Airways can book a stopover for up to four nights in the vibrant capital city of Doha. While you could spend weeks exploring Qatar, this itinerary will introduce you to Qatar's best natural and cultural treasures.

Day 1

Morning: Visit Katara Village

Located on Qatar's eastern coast between Doha's West Bay and The Pearl neighborhoods, Katara Cultural Village is one of the country's preeminent cultural hubs. Opened in 2010, it is home to an impressive network of theaters, galleries and performance venues featuring artists from around the country. Spend the morning wandering through the village's narrow alleyways past waterways and structures inspired by ancient Arabian architecture. Whether or not you reserve tickets for a concert, show or exhibition, there is no shortage of things to do and see. Stop into one of its many top-tier restaurants offering up a wide range of cuisines, soak up rays at the well-maintained Katara Beach or stroll along its promenade, enjoying expansive views of Doha’s skyline and browsing the seaside food stalls and markets. If you're visiting Qatar in late November, don't miss the Doha Film Institute’s annual Ajyal Youth Film Festival, one of the village's signature calendar events.

Afternoon: Discover The Museum of Islamic Art

This afternoon, head south to the Museum of Islamic Art, where in the space of just a few hours, you can travel through 14 centuries of Islamic history. Housed in a Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning modern building, the museum's collection of textiles, manuscripts, ceramics, glass, metalwork and more is regarded as one of the world's leading collections of Islamic art. Highlights include a 19th-century jewel-encrusted coffee cup holder and a ceramic bowl featuring one of the earliest modes of Arabic calligraphy. Between exhibitions, stop into one of the museum's cafes for a pick-me-up or enjoy a meal at IDAM, a world-class restaurant run by Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse.

Evening: Stroll Through Souq Waqif

This evening, head to Souq Waqif, a bustling street market located a short distance from the Museum of Islamic Art. The market is a veritable maze: around each corner, more and more shops greet you. As you walk through, inhale the aroma of spices, sample fresh dates and nuts, catch an impromptu musical performance and marvel at the dazzling array of merchandise for sale, from perfumes to jewelry, art clothing and handicrafts. Be sure to stop into one of the souq's many restaurants and cafes, which serve up everything from traditional Qatari food to regional dishes and cuisine from Asia and North Africa. And don't leave without stopping by souq's traditional falconry market, where the prized birds are bought and sold.

Day 2

Morning: Venture to Khor Al Adaid, or the Inland Sea

Some 40 miles from Doha in the southeastern corner of the country lies one of Qatar’s most impressive natural wonders: Khor Al Adaid, or the Inland Sea. A UNESCO-recognized natural reserve with its own ecosystem, it is one of the few places in the world where the sea encroaches deep into the heart of the desert. Inaccessible by road, this tranquil expanse of water can only be reached by driving across the rolling dunes. Tour operators offer dune bashing excercusions to this remarkable landscape.

After a morning packed with adventure, stop for lunch at the Regency Sealine Camp on the shores of the Inland Sea. Enjoy mouth-watering dishes, both regional and international, in a traditional Arabian lounge. If you're feeling adventurous after your meal, explore the surrounding desert on a quad bike or camel.

Afternoon: Promenade on Doha’s Corniche

Travel back to Doha this afternoon. Upon return, stretch your legs with a walk along the Corniche, a palm-tree lined promenade that spans four miles along Doha Bay. Enjoy spectacular vistas of the city, from the dramatic high-rise towers of the central business district to the bold shapes of the Museum of Islamic Art, and encounter traditional wooden dhow boats up close.

Evening: Cruise on a Dhow Boat

From pearl diving to fishing to trading with neighboring countries, Qatar enjoys a unique relationship with the open seas. This evening, experience country’s rich seafaring heritage with a cruise a traditional wooden Qatari dhow, or sailing, boat. Dhow sightseeing excursions, which include meals, can be arranged via a hotel or through any of the leading local tour operators.

Day 3

Morning: Visit the New National Museum of Qatar

Designed by world-famous French architect Jean Nouvel, the much-anticipated National Museum of Qatar opened to the public in March 2019 in Doha. A celebration of Qatari culture, it connects the country's rich heritage with its diverse cosmopolitan present through eleven immersive and experiential galleries. Representing this marriage of old and new, the museums surrounds the iconic and newly restored Old Palace of Sheikh Adbullah bin Jassim Al-Thani, a symbol of Qatari national identity. Between galleries, stop into the 220-seat auditorium to catch a film, wander through the landscaped garden featuring indigenous plants or head to the rooftop restaurant for a bite. Don't leave without catching a glimpse of the Pearl Carpet of Baroda, a collection highlight made from 1.5 million Gulf pearls.

Afternoon: Tour Al Shaqab

This afternoon, head to the Al Shaqab equestrian center located on the outskirts of Doha at the landmark Al Shaqab battle site, where over a century ago the people of Qatar fought a pivotal battle that led to Qatar's independence. On your tour, learn how the center's award-winning Arabian horses are cared for and trained. Stops include the air-conditioned stables as well as treadmills, swimming pools and jacuzzis—yes for the horses, not people.

Afternoon (Seasonal): Attend a Camel Race

From November through February, you will want to add camel racing to your afternoon itinerary. A centuries-old tradition, camel racing in Qatar has evolved into an official and professional sport. Al-Shahaniya racing track, an hour's drive into the gleaming desert north of Doha, holds domestic and international tournaments on Fridays during the winter.

Evening: See Art in the Middle of the Desert

This evening, travel west to the village of Zeekreet. Along the way, pass "East-West/West-East" by famed sculptor Richard Serra. Comprised of four, 50-foot steel plates rising vertically out of the desert, the installation emphasizes the vastness of the Qatari landscape and offers space for reflection on isolation and the passing of time.

Day 4

Morning: Kayak Through Mangroves

This morning, travel to Al Khor, a seaside city on Qatar's northeastern coast and home to one of Qatar's natural treasures: the Al Thakira white mangroves. Rent a kayak from one of several tour operators in the city to explore waterways that crisscross through the forest and keep an eye out for flamingos and herons.

Afternoon: Visit Al Zubarah Fort

For your final adventure, travel to Qatar’s northwestern coast. Your destination? The immaculately restored Al Zubarah Fort. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the walled coastal town once ranked as one of the Gulf’s most important pearl diving and trading centers with links extending to the Indian Ocean. Today, it is one of the most extensive and best-preserved examples of an 18th–19th century settlement in the region. Stop first at the visitor's center to get your bearings.

Evening: Reflect & Depart

Return to Doha in the evening and reflect on exceptional four days in Qatar filled with art, culture, history and jaw-dropping scenery.

BLK Vol. 1 No. 9

National Museum of African American History and Culture
The 9th issue of BLK magazine, published August 1989. The front cover features an image of James Baldwin. Baldwin is pictured from the shoulders up, wearing a plaid shirt, his proper right hand raised to his head. At top left,[BLK] is printed in large, bold, white uppercase letters within a red rectangular textbox with [Number 9] along the bottom. The letters are partially obscured by the image of Baldwin. There are 30 pages in total, with articles, advertisements, classifieds, black and white photographs, and cartoon illustrations throughout.

The inside cover features an ad for the [Minority AIDS Project with a list of services]. The content opens with a section entitled [WORD UP] with short blurbs about the singles scene at a Los Angeles carwash, Brown University funded by slave trade profits, homophobic comments by Prof. Griff of Public Enemy, and a comparison of the costs of bathhouses in various U.S. cities. This is followed by a calendar of events, titled [BLK BOARD] and several letters to the editor titled [BLK MAIL]. Pages 7-11 contain an interview with the South African anti-apartheid and gay rights activist Simon Nkoli along with a copy of his U.S. tour schedule. Within pages 13-16 is a tribute to James Baldwin.

In the [Blk Community News] section, the articles include: [African Americans Win at Gay Physique Contest], [N.Y. Poet Releases Book], [‘Coming Home’ Concert May Turn Profit for MAP], [NABWMT Holds Ninth Annual Convention in Florida], [Rage Faces More Woes], Superstars Raise Funds in N.Y.C. to Combat AIDS], [Billy Jones to Head Minority AIDS Program in D.C.], [Gay Alumni Organize], [Hughes Estate Protests Movie Exhibition in U.S.], [Black Hustler Guilty in Stabbing of Eye Doctor], and [Rue’s House to Get $]. The issue continues with a gossip column titled [Read My Lips] and concludes with a classified ads section titled [BLK MARKET].

There are advertisements throughout, including: [LAPIS PRESENTS A WOMEN’S EVENT: CARIBBEAN NIGHTS], [Being Alive / People With AIDS ACTION COALITION], [Visiting Nurse Home Services], [BWMT/LA Hot, Horny and Healthy!], [CHRIS BROWNLIE HOSPICE: A Place Where Everyday Counts], [APOLLO DESIGNS], [Unity Fellowship Church / A Church For All People], [National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum], [A DIFFERENT LIGHT] bookstore, [976-CAMP], [970-WOLF], [976 HUGE], and [MIDTOWNE SPA]. The back cover consists of a full page advertisement for [LABOR DAY GALA] in Oakland by [Something Special Productions].

Design Diaspora: Black Architects and International Architecture, 1970-1990

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Brochure for the Design Diaspora exhibition owned by Norma Sklarek. The front and back of the brochure has a black background with a red graphic of Ruggles Street Station in Boston, MA. On the front, white text at the top reads [DESIGN / DIASPORA] with [BLACK ARCHITECTS AND INTERNATIONAL ARCHITECTURE / 1970-1990] in the middle. The center of the brochure reads [AN EXHIBITION OF BUILT PROJECTS / DESIGNED BETWEEN 1970-1990 BY / FIFTY AFRICAN AMERICAN, / BLACK EUROPEAN, / AND AFRICAN ARCHITECTS.] The date, open hours, and location at the Chicago Athenaeum are at the bottom. The brochure expands open and has a summary of the exhibition, daily schedules, and a list of architects. There are highlight images of various buildings from different fields.

White printed text on the back cover reads [Curated by: Carolyn Armenta Davis / Exhibition Design by: Ioannis Karalias / Exhibition Fabrication by: Contempo Design / Graphic Design by: Logan Graphics / Cover: Ruggles Street Station – Boston, MA, 1986 by Stull & Lee/USA / Catalogue: “Design Diaspora: Black Architects and International Architecture”, is available / The exhibition “Design Diaspora: Black Architects and / International Architecture, 1970-1990,” it’s [sic] related / public programs and national tour is organized by The / Chicago Athenaeum: The Museum of Architecture and / Design and made possible by a major grant from the: / LILA WALLACE-READER’S DIGEST FUND / Travel is generously provided by UNITED AIRLINES the / official airlines of The Chicago Athenaeum. / Additional support has been received from: / The National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency / Graham Foundation for Advance Studies In The Fine Arts / Community Arts Assistance Special Project Grants / City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs / Apple Computer, Inc. / Abasubong Overseas Oil S.A. / The British Council / The Netherlands Ministry for Cultural Affairs / The Florence Gould Foundation / The Illinois Art Council, a state agency / The Gallery at 333 West Wacker Drive was created / and is being made available to The Chicago Ath- / enaeum through the generosity of The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States and Urban / Investment and Development Co. The 333 West Wacker / Drive Gallery is administered by Jeanne Malkin & / Associates. / Presented in cooperation with: / THE CHICAGO ATHENAEUM: / The Museum of Architecture and Design / THE DESIGN DIASPORA / ART IN PUBLIC PLACES, INC.]

Freedomways Vol. 20 No. 2

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Freedomways Vol. 20, No. 2. The cover features pictures in orange and black under the "Freedomways" title of President Jimmy Carter touring the South Bronx, an unemployment line, and Three Mile Island. The interior consists of 123 pages. The contents include editorials, poems, and book reviews.

Greater Miami Official Tour Map

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Part of the press kit put together by Dundee-MacDonald Enterprises, Inc., this is a brochure and map for the greater Miami area. The title text reads "GREATER MIAMI OFFICIAL TOUR MAP" in different colored inks.
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