Skip to Content

Found 1,954 Resources

Five Books on World War I

Smithsonian Magazine

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice between Allied forces and Germany put an end to the fighting of what was then referred to as the Great War. President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11, of the following year, Armistice Day. In 1938, an act of Congress made the day a legal holiday, and by 1954, that act was amended to create Veterans Day, to honor American veterans of all wars.

Journalist Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars (2011), an account of World War I from the perspective of both hawks and doves in Great Britain, provides his picks of books to read to better understand the conflict.

Hell’s Foundations (1992), by Geoffrey Moorhouse

Of the 84 British regiments that fought in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey in 1915 and 1916, the Lancashire Fusiliers from Bury, in northern England, suffered the most casualties. The regiment lost 13,642 men in the war—1,816 in Gallipoli alone.

For journalist Geoffrey Moorhouse, the subject hit close to home. He grew up in the small mill town of Bury, and his grandfather had survived Gallipoli. In Hell’s Foundations, Moorhouse describes the town, its residents’ attitudes toward the war and the continued suffering of the soldiers who survived.

From Hochschild: A fascinating and unusual look at the war in microcosm, by showing its effects on one English town.

Testament of Youth (1933), by Vera Brittain

In 1915, Vera Brittain, then a student at the University of Oxford, enlisted as a nurse in the British Army’s Voluntary Aid Detachment. She saw the horrors of war firsthand while stationed in England, Malta and France. Wanting to write about her experiences, she initially set to work on a novel, but was discouraged by the form. She then considered publishing her actual diaries. Ultimately, however, she wrote cathartically about her life between the years 1900 and 1925 in a memoir, Testament of Youth. The memoir has been called the best-known book of a woman’s World War I experience, and is a significant work for the feminist movement and the development of autobiography as a genre.

From Hochschild: Brittain lost her brother, her fiancé and a close friend to the war, while working as a nurse herself.

Regeneration Trilogy, by Pat Barker

In the 1990s, British author Pat Barker penned three novels: Regeneration (1991), The Eye in the Door (1993) and The Ghost Road (1995). Though fictional, the series, about shell-shocked officers in the British army, is based, in part, on true-life stories. Barker’s character Siegfried Sassoon, for instance, was closely based on the real Siegfried Sassoon, a poet and soldier in the war, and Dr. W.H.R. Rivers was based on the actual neurologist of that name, who treated patients, including Sassoon, at the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland. The New York Times once called the trilogy a “fierce meditation on the horrors of war and its psychological aftermath.”

From Hochschild: The finest account of the war in recent fiction, written with searing eloquence and a wide angle of vision that ranges from the madness of the front lines to the fate of war resisters in prison.

The Great War and Modern Memory (1975), by Paul Fussell

After serving as an infantry officer in World War II, Paul Fussell felt a kinship to soldiers of the First World War. Yet he wondered just how much he had in common with their experiences. “What did the war feel like to those whose world was the trenches? How did they get through this bizarre experience? And finally, how did they transform their feelings into language and literary form?” he writes in the afterword to the 25th anniversary edition of his monumental book The Great War and Modern Memory.

To answer these questions, Fussell went directly to firsthand accounts of World War I written by 20 or 30 British men who fought in it. It was from this literary perspective that he wrote The Great War and Modern Memory, about life in the trenches. Military historian John Keegan once called the book “an encapsulation of a collective European experience.”

From Hochschild: A subtle, superb examination of the literature and mythology of the war, by a scholar who was himself a wounded veteran of World War II.

The First World War (1998), by John Keegan

The title is simple and straightforward, and yet in and of itself poses an enormous challenge to its writer: to tell the full story of World War I. Keegan’s account of the war is, no doubt, panoramic. Its most commended elements include the historian’s dissections of military tactics, both geographical and technological, used in specific battles and his reflections on the thought processes of the world leaders involved.

From Hochschild: This enormous cataclysm is hard to contain in a single one-volume overview, but Keegan’s is probably the best attempt to do so.

The Commoner Who Salvaged a King’s Ransom

Smithsonian Magazine

George Fabian Lawrence, better known as “Stoney Jack,” parlayed his friendships with London navvies into a stunning series of archaeological discoveries between 1895 and 1939.

It was only a small shop in an unfashionable part of London, but it had a most peculiar clientele. From Mondays to Fridays the place stayed locked, and its only visitors were schoolboys who came to gaze through the windows at the marvels crammed inside. But on Saturday afternoons the shop was opened by its owner—a “genial frog” of a man, as one acquaintance called him, small, pouched, wheezy, permanently smiling and with the habit of puffing out his cheeks when he talked. Settling himself behind the counter, the shopkeeper would light a cheap cigar and then wait patiently for laborers to bring him treasure. He waited at the counter many years—from roughly 1895 until his death in 1939—and in that time accumulated such a hoard of valuables that he supplied the museums of London with more than 15,000 ancient artifacts and still had plenty left to stock his premises at 7 West Hill, Wandsworth.

“It is,” the journalist H.V. Morton assured his readers in 1928,

perhaps the strangest shop in London. The shop sign over the door is a weather-worn Ka-figure from an Egyptian tomb, now split and worn by the winds of nearly forty winters. The windows are full of an astonishing jumble of objects. Every historic period rubs shoulders in them. Ancient Egyptian bowls lie next to Japanese sword guards and Elizabethan pots contain Saxon brooches, flint arrowheads or Roman coins…

There are lengths of mummy cloth, blue mummy beads, a perfectly preserved Roman leather sandal found twenty feet beneath a London pavement, and a shrunken black object like a bird’s claw that is a mummified hand… all the objects are genuine and priced at a few shillings each.

H.V. Morton, one of the best-known British journalists of the 1920s and 1930s, often visited Lawrence’s shop as a young man, and wrote a revealing and influential pen-portrait of him.

This higgledy-piggledy collection was the property of George Fabian Lawrence, an antiquary born in the Barbican area of London in 1861—though to say that Lawrence owned it is to stretch a point, for much of his stock was acquired by shadowy means, and on more than one occasion an embarrassed museum had to surrender an item it had bought from him.

For the better part of half a century, however, august institutions from the British Museum down winked at his hazy provenances and his suspect business methods, for the shop on West Hill supplied items that could not be found elsewhere. Among the major museum pieces that Lawrence obtained and sold were the head of an ancient ocean god, which remains a cornerstone of the Roman collection at the Museum of London; a spectacular curse tablet in the British Museum, and the magnificent Cheapside Hoard: a priceless 500-piece collection of gemstones, broaches and rings excavated from a cellar shortly before the First World War. It was the chief triumph of Lawrence’s career that he could salvage the Hoard, which still comprises the greatest trove of Elizabethan and Stuart-era jewelery ever unearthed.

Lawrence’s operating method was simple but ingenious. For several decades, he would haunt London’s building sites each weekday lunch hour, sidling up to the laborers who worked there, buying them drinks and letting them know that he was more than happy to purchase any curios—from ancient coins to fragments of pottery—that they and their mates uncovered in the course of their excavations. According to Morton, who first visited the West Hill shop as a wide-eyed young man around 1912, and soon began to spend most of his Saturday afternoons there, Lawrence was so well known to London’s navvies that he was universally referred to as “Stoney Jack.” A number, Morton added, had been offered “rudimentary archaeological training,” by the antiquary, so they knew what to look for.

Lawrence made many of his purchases on the spot; he kept his pockets full of half-crowns (each worth two shillings and sixpence, or around $18.50 today) with which to reward contacts, and he could often be spotted making furtive deals behind sidewalk billboards and in barrooms. His greatest finds, though were the ones that wended their way to Wandsworth on the weekends, brought there wrapped in handkerchiefs or sacks by navvies spruced up in their Sunday best, for it was only then that laborers could spirit their larger discoveries away from the construction sites and out from under the noses of their foremen and any landlords’ representatives. They took such risks because they liked and trusted Lawrence—and also, as JoAnn Spears explains it, because he “understood networking long before it became a buzzword, and leveraged connections like a latter-day Fagin.”

London navvies–laborers who excavated foundations, built railways and dug tunnels, all by hand–uncovered thousands of valuable artefacts in the British capital each year.

Two more touches of genius ensured that Stoney Jack remained the navvies’ favorite. The first was that he was renowned for his honesty. If ever a find sold for more than he had estimated it was worth, he would track down the discoverer and make certain he received a share of the profits. The second was that Lawrence never turned a visitor away empty-handed. He rewarded even the most worthless discoveries with the price of half a pint of beer, and the workmen’s attitude toward his chief rival—a representative of the City of London’s Guildhall Museum who earned the contemptuous nickname “Old Sixpenny”—is a testament to his generosity.

Lawrence lived at just about the time that archaeology was emerging as a professional discipline, but although he was extremely knowledgeable, and enjoyed a long career as a salaried official—briefly at the Guildhall and for many years as Inspector of Excavations at the newer Museum of London—he was at heart an antiquarian. He had grown up as the son of a pawnbroker and left school at an early age; for all his knowledge and enthusiasm, he was more or less self-taught. He  valued objects for themselves and for what they could tell him about some aspect of the past, never, apparently, seeing his discoveries as tiny fragments of some greater whole.

To Lawrence, Morton wrote,

the past appeared to be more real, and infinitely more amusing, than the present. He had an almost clairvoyant attitude to it. He would hold a Roman sandal—for leather is marvelously preserved in the London clay—and, half closing his eyes, with his head on one side, his cheroot obstructing his diction, would speak about the cobbler who had made it ages ago, the shop in which it had been sold, the kind of Roman who had probably brought it and the streets of the long-vanished London it had known.

The whole picture took life and colour as he spoke. I have never met anyone with a more affectionate attitude to the past.

Like Morton, who nursed a love of ancient Egypt, Stoney Jack acquired his interest in ancient history during his boyhood. “For practical purposes,” he told another interviewer, “let us say 1885, when as a youth of 18 I found my first stone implement…. It chanced that one morning I read in the paper of the finding of some stone implements in my neighborhood. I wondered if there were any more to be found. I proceeded to look for them in the afternoon, and was rewarded.”

A Roman “curse tablet”, recovered by Lawrence from an excavation in Telegraph Street, London, is now part of the collection of the British Museum.

Controversial though Lawrence’s motives and his methods may have been, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that he was the right man in the right place to save a good deal of London’s heritage. Between 1890 and 1930 the city underwent redevelopment at a pace unheard of since the Great Fire of 1666; old buildings were demolished and replaced with newer, taller ones that required deeper foundations. In the days before the advent of widespread mechanization in the building trade, much of the necessary digging was done by navvies, who hacked their way down through Georgian, Elizabethan, medieval and finally Saxon and Roman strata that had not been exposed for centuries.

It was a golden age for excavation. The relatively small scale of the work—which was mostly done with picks and shovels—made it possible to spot and salvage minor objects in a way no longer practicable today. Even so, no formal system existed for identifying or protecting artifacts, and without Lawrence’s intervention most if not all of the 12,000 objects he supplied to the Museum of London, and the 300 and more catalogued under his name at the British Museum, would have been tipped into skips and shot into Thames barges to vanish into landfill on the Erith marshes. This was very nearly the fate of the treasure with which Stoney Jack will always be associated: the ancient bucket packed to the brim with a king’s ransom worth of gems and jewelery that was dug out of a cellar in the City of London during the summer of 1912.

It is impossible to say for certain who uncovered what would become known as the Cheapside Hoard, exactly where they found it, or when it came into the antiquary’s possession. According to Francis Sheppard, the date was June 18, 1912, and the spot an excavation on the corner of Friday Street and Cheapside in a district that had long been associated with the jewelery trade. That may or may not be accurate; one of Lawrence’s favorite tricks was to obscure the precise source of his most valued stock so as to prevent suspicious landowners from lodging legal claims.

This dramatic pocket watch, dated to c.1610 and set in a case carved from a single large Colombian emerald, was one of the most valuable of the finds making up the Cheapside Hoard–and led historian Kris Lane to put forward a new theory explaining the Hoard’s origins. Photo: Museum of London.

Whatever the truth, the discovery was a spectacular one whose value was recognized by everyone who saw it—everyone, that is, but the navvies who uncovered the Hoard in the first place. According to Morton, who claimed to have been present as a boy when the find was brought to West Hill by its discoverers one Saturday evening, the workmen who had uncovered it believed that they had “struck a toyshop.” Tipping open a sack, the men disgorged an enormous lump of clay resembling “an iron football, the journalist recalled, “and they said there was a lot more of it. When they had gone, we went up to the bathroom and turned the water on to the clay. Out fell pearl earrings and pendants and all kinds of crumpled jewellery.”

For the most accurate version of what happened next, it is necessary to turn to the records of the Museum of London, which reveal that the discovery caused so much excitement that a meeting of the museum’s trustees was convened at the House of Commons the next evening, and the whole treasure was assembled for inspection a week later. “By that time,” Sheppard notes, “Lawrence had somehow or other got hold of a few more jewels, and on June 26 sent him a cheque for £90…. Whether this was the full amount paid by the trustees for the hoard is not clear. In August 1913 he was paid £47 for unspecified purchases for the museum.”

Morton—who was 19 at the time of the discovery—offered a more romantic account many years later: “I believe that Lawrence declared this as treasure trove and was awarded a large sum of money, I think a thousand pounds. I well remember that he gave each of the astounded navvies something like a hundred pounds each, and I was told that these men disappeared, and were not seen again for months!”

Whatever the truth, the contents of the navvies’ bucket were certainly astonishing. The hoard consisted of several hundred  pieces—some of them gems, but most worked pieces of jewelery in a wide variety of styles. They came from all over the world; among the most spectacular pieces were a number of cameos featuring Roman gods, several fantastical jewels from Mughal India, a quantity of superb 17th-century enamelware, and a large hinged watch case carved from a huge emerald.

A finely-worked salamander brooch, typical of the intricate Stuart-era jewelry that made up the Cheapside Hoard. Photo: Museum of London.

The collection was tentatively dated to around 1600-1650, and was rendered particularly valuable by the ostentatious fashions of the time; many of the pieces had bold, complex designs that featured a multiplicity of large gems. It was widely assumed, then and now, that the Cheapside Hoard was the stock-in-trade of some Stuart-era jeweler that had been buried for safekeeping some time during the Civil War that shattered England, Ireland and Scotland between 1642 and 1651, eventually resulting in the execution of Charles I and the establishment of Oliver Cromwell’s short-lived puritan republic.

It is easy to imagine some hapless jeweler, impressed into the Parliamentarian army, concealing his valuables in his cellar before marching off to his death on a distant battlefield. More recently, however, an alternative theory has been advanced by Kris Lane, an historian at Tulane whose book The Color of Paradise: The Emerald in the Age of Gunpowder Empires suggests that the Cheapside Hoard probably had its origins in the great emerald markets of India, and may once have belonged to a Dutch gem merchant named Gerard Polman.

The story that Lane spins goes like this: Testimonies recorded in London in 1641 show that, a decade earlier, Polman had  booked passage home from Persia after a lifetime’s trading in the east. He had offered £100 or £200 to the master of an East India Company ship Discovery in Gombroon, Persia, to bring him home to Europe, but got no further than the Comoros Islands before dying–possibly poisoned by the ship’s crew for his valuables. Soon afterwards, the carpenter’s mate of the Discovery, one Christopher Adams, appropriated a large black box, stuffed with jewels and silk, that had once belonged to Polman. This treasure, the testimonies state, was astonishingly valuable; according to Adams’s wife, the gems it contained were “so shiny that they thought the cabin was afire” when the box had first been opened in the Indian Ocean. “Other deponents who had seen the jewels on board ship,” adds Lane, “said they could read by their brilliance.”

Cheapside–for many years center of London’s financial district district, but in Stuart times known for its jewelry stores–photographed in c.1900.

It is scarcely surprising, then, that when the Discovery finally hove to off Gravesend, at the mouth of the Thames, at the end of her long voyage, Adams jumped ship and went ashore in a small boat, taking his loot with him. We know from the Parliamentary archive that he made several journeys to London to fence the jewels, selling some to a man named Nicholas Pope who kept a shop off Fleet Street.

Soon, however, word of his treachery reached the directors of the East India Company, and Adams was promptly taken into custody. He spent the next three years in jail. It is the testimony that he gave from prison that may tie Polman’s gems to the Cheapside Hoard.

The booty, Adams admitted, had included “a greene rough stone or emerald three inches long and three inches in compass”—a close match for the jewel carved into a  hinged watch case that Stoney Jack recovered in 1912. This jewel, he confessed, “was afterward pawned at Cheapside, but to whom he knoweth not”, and Lane considers it a “likely scenario” that the emerald found its way into the bucket buried in a Cheapside cellar; “many of the other stones and rings,” he adds, “appear tantalizingly similar to those mentioned in the Polman depositions.” If Lane is right, the Cheapside Hoard may have been buried in the 1630s, to avoid the agents of the East India Company, rather than lost during the chaos of the Civil War.

Whether or not Lane’s scholarly detective work has revealed the origins of the Cheapside Hoard, it seems reasonable to ask whether the good that Stoney Jack Lawrence did was enough to outweigh the less creditable aspects of his long career. His business was, of course, barely legitimate, and, in theory, his navvies’ finds belonged to the owner of the land that they were working on—or, if exceptionally valuable, to the Crown. That they had to be smuggled off the building sites, and that Lawrence, when he catalogued and sold them, chose to be vague about exactly where they had been found, is evidence enough of his duplicity.

A selection of the 500 pieces making up the Cheapside Hoard that were recovered from a ball of congealed mud and crushed metalwork resembling an “iron football” uncovered in the summer of 1912. Photo: Museum of London.

Equally disturbing, to the modern scholar, is Lawrence’s willingness to compromise his integrity as a salaried official of several museums by acting as both buyer and seller in hundreds of transactions, not only setting his own price, but also authenticating artifacts that he himself supplied. Yet there is remarkably little evidence that any institution Lawrence worked for paid over the odds for his discoveries, and when Stoney Jack died, at age 79, he left an estate totaling little more than £1,000 (about $87,000 now). By encouraging laborers to hack treasures from the ground and smuggle them out to him, the old antiquary also turned his back on the possibility of setting up regulated digs that would almost certainly have turned up additional finds and evidence to set his greatest discoveries in context. On the other hand, there were few regulated digs in those days, and had Lawarence never troubled to make friends with London navvies, most of his finds would have been lost for ever.

For H.V. Morton, it was Stoney Jack’s generosity that mattered. “He loved nothing better than a schoolboy who was interested in the past,” Morton wrote. “Many a time I have seen a lad in his shop longingly fingering some trifle that he could not afford to buy. ‘Put it in your pocket,’ Lawrence would cry. ‘I want you to have it, my boy, and–give me threepence!‘”

But perhaps the last word can be left to Sir Mortimer Wheeler, something of a swashbuckler himself, but by the time he became keeper of the Museum of London in the 1930s–after Stoney Jack had been forced into retirement for making one illicit purchase too many outside a guarded building site–a pillar of the British archaeological establishment.

“But for Mr Lawrence,” Wheeler conceded,

not a tithe of the objects found during building or dredging operations in the neighborhood of London during the last forty years would have been saved to knowledge. If on occasion a remote landowner may, in the process, theoretically have lost some trifle that was his just due, a higher justice may reasonably recognize that… the representative and, indeed, important prehistoric, Roman, Saxon and medieval collections of the Museum are largely founded upon this work of skillful salvage.


Anon. “Saved Tudor relics.” St Joseph News-Press (St Joseph, MO), August 3, 1928; Anon. “Stoney Jack’s work for museum.” Straits Times (Singapore), August 1, 1928; Michael Bartholomew. In Search of HV Morton. London: Methuen, 2010; Joanna Bird, Hugh Chapman & John Clark. Collectanea Loniniensia: Studies in London Archaeology and History Presented to Ralph Merrifield. London: London & Middlesex Archaeological Society, 1978; Derby Daily Telegraph, November 20, 1930; Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, March 17, 1939; Gloucester Citizen, July 3, 1928; Kris E. Lane. The Colour of Paradise: the Emerald in the Age of Gunpowder Empires. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010;  J. MacDonald. “Stony Jack’s Roman London.” In J. Bird, M. Hassall and Harvey Sheldon, Interpreting Roman London. Oxbow Monograph 58 (1996); Ivor Noël Hume. A Passion for the Past: the Odyssey of a Transatlantic Archaeologist. Charlottesville : University of Virginia Press, 2010; Arthur MacGregor. Summary Catalogue of the Continental Archaeological Collections. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1997; Francis Sheppard. Treasury of London’s Past. London: Stationery Office, 1991;  HV Morton. In Search of London. Boston: Da Capo Press, 2002; Derek Sherborn. An Inspector Recalls. London: Book Guild, 2003; JoAnn Spears. “The Cheapside Hoard.” On the Tudor Trail, February 23, 2012. Accessed June 4, 2013; Peter Watts. “Stoney Jack and the Cheapside Hoard.” The Great Wen, November 18, 2010. Accessed June 4, 2013.

How Advertising Shaped the First Opioid Epidemic

Smithsonian Magazine

When historians trace back the roots of today’s opioid epidemic, they often find themselves returning to the wave of addiction that swept the U.S. in the late 19th century. That was when physicians first got their hands on morphine: a truly effective treatment for pain, delivered first by tablet and then by the newly invented hypodermic syringe. With no criminal regulations on morphine, opium or heroin, many of these drugs became the "secret ingredient" in readily available, dubiously effective medicines.

In the 19th century, after all, there was no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the advertising claims of health products. In such a climate, a popular so-called “patent medicine” market flourished. Manufacturers of these nostrums often made misleading claims and kept their full ingredients list and formulas proprietary, though we now know they often contained cocaine, opium, morphine, alcohol and other intoxicants or toxins.

Products like heroin cough drops and cocaine-laced toothache medicine were sold openly and freely over the counter, using colorful advertisements that can be downright shocking to modern eyes. Take this 1885 print ad for Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for Teething Children, for instance, showing a mother and her two children looking suspiciously beatific. The morphine content may have helped.

Image by NIH National Library of Medicine. 1885 advertisement for Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup. This product was for teething children and contained morphine. (original image)

Image by NIH National Library of Medicine. Published in Mumbles Railway Publishing, 19th century. (original image)

Yet while it’s easy to blame patent medicines and American negligence for the start of the first opioid epidemic, the real story is more complicated. First, it would be a mistake to assume that Victorian era Americans were just hunky dory with giving infants morphine syrup. The problem was, they just didn’t know. It took the work of muckraking journalists such as Samuel Hopkins Adams, whose exposé series, “The Great American Fraud” appeared in Colliers from 1905 to 1906, to pull back the curtain.

But more than that, widespread opiate use in Victorian America didn’t start with the patent medicines. It started with doctors.

The Origins of Addiction

Patent medicines typically contained relatively small quantities of morphine and other drugs, says David Herzberg, a professor of history at SUNY-University at Buffalo. “It’s pretty well recognized that none of those products produced any addiction,” says Herzberg, who is currently writing a history of legal narcotics in America.

Until the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, there were no federal laws regulating drugs such as morphine or cocaine. Moreover, even in those states that had regulations on the sale of narcotics beginning in the 1880s, Herzberg notes that “laws were not part of the criminal code, instead they were part of medical/pharmacy regulations.”

The laws that existed weren't well-enforced. Unlike today, a person addicted to morphine could take the same “tattered old prescription” back to a compliant druggist again and again for a refill, says David Courtwright, a historian of drug use and policy at the University of North Florida.

And for certain ailments, patent medicines could be highly effective, he adds. “Quite apart from the placebo effect, a patent medicine might contain a drug like opium,” says Courtwright, whose book Dark Paradise: A History of Opiate Addiction in America, provides much of the original scholarship in this area. “If buyers took a spoonful because they had, say, a case of the runs, the medicine probably worked.” (After all, he points out, “opium is a constipating agent.”)

Patent medicines may not have been as safe as we would demand today or live up to claims of panacea, but when it came to coughs and diarrhea, they probably got the job done. “Those drugs are really famous, and they do speak to a time where markets were a little bit out of control,” Herzberg says. "But the vast majority of addiction during their heyday was caused by physicians.”

From handbills and pamphlets advertising glyco-heroin 1900-1920, from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia's collection of medical trade ephemera. (Historical Medical Library, College of Physicians of Philadelphia)

Marketing to Doctors

For 19th century physicians, cures were hard to come by. But beginning in 1805, they were handed a way to reliably make patients feel better. That’s the year German pharmacist Friedeich Serturner isolated morphine from opium, the first “opiate” (the term opioid once referred to purely synthetic morphine like drugs, Courtwright notes, before becoming a catchall covering even those drugs derived from opium).

Delivered by tablet, topically and, by mid-century, through the newly invented hypodermic syringe, morphine quickly made itself indispensable. Widespread use by soldiers during the Civil War also helped trigger the epidemic, as Erick Trickey reports in By the 1870s, morphine became something of “a magic wand [doctors] could wave to make painful symptoms temporarily go away,” says Courtwright.

Doctors used morphine liberally to treat everything from the pain of war wounds to menstrual cramps. “It’s clear that that was the primary driver of the epidemic,” Courtwright says. And 19th century surveys Courtwright studied showed most opiate addicts to be female, white, middle-aged, and of “respectable social background”—in other words, precisely the kind of people who might seek out physicians with the latest tools.

Industry was quick to make sure physicians knew about the latest tools. Ads for morphine tablets ran in medical trade journals, Courtwright says, and, in a maneuver with echoes today, industry sales people distributed pamphlets to physicians. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Historical Medical Library has a collection of such “medical trade ephemera” that includes a 1910 pamphlet from The Bayer Company titled, “The Substitute for the Opiates.”

The substitute? Heroin hydrochloride, at the time a new drug initially believed to be less addictive than morphine. Pamphlets from the Antikamnia Chemical Company, circa 1895 show an easy cheat sheet catalog of the company’s wares, from quinine tablets to codeine and heroin tablets.

(College of Physicians of Philadelphia's Historical Medical Library)

Physicians and pharmacists were the key drivers in increasing America's per capita consumption of drugs like morphine by threefold in the 1870s and 80s, Courtwright writes in a 2015 paper for the New England Journal of Medicine. But it was also physicians and pharmacists who ultimately helped bring the crisis back under control.

In 1889, Boston physician James Adams estimated that about 150,000 Americans were "medical addicts": those addicted through morphine or some other prescribed opiate rather than through recreational use such as smoking opium. Physicians like Adams began encouraging their colleagues to prescribe “newer, non-opiate analgesics,” drugs that did not lead to depression, constipation and addiction.

“By 1900, doctors had been thoroughly warned and younger, more recently trained doctors were creating fewer addicts than those trained in the mid-nineteenth century,” writes Courtwright.

This was a conversation had between doctors, and between doctors and industry. Unlike today, drug makers did not market directly to the public and took pride in that contrast with the patent medicine manufacturers, Herzberg says. “They called themselves the ethical drug industry and they would only advertise to physicians.”

But that would begin to change in the early 20th century, driven in part by a backlash to the marketing efforts of the 19th century patent medicine peddlers.

"San Diego lynx bares its fangs vigorously when zoo veterinarian is near cage, vet says it acts this way because it fears his hypodermics," reads the first photo caption for this Librium advertisement. "Tranquil as a tabby," says the second. (LIFE Magazine)

Marketing to the Masses

In 1906, reporting like Adams’ helped drum up support for the Pure Food and Drug Act. That gave rise to what would become the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the notion that food and drug products should be labeled with their ingredients so consumers could make reasoned choices.

That idea shapes federal policy right up until today, says Jeremy Greene, a colleague of Herzberg’s and a professor of the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: “That path-dependent story is part of the reason why we are one of the only countries in the world that allows direct-to-consumer advertising," he says.

At the same time, in the 1950s and 60s, pharmaceutical promotion became more creative, coevolving with the new regulatory landscape, according to Herzberg. As regulators have set out the game, he says, “Pharma has regularly figured out how to play that game in ways that benefit them.

Though the tradition of eschewing direct marketing to the public continued, advertising in medical journals increased. So, too, did more unorthodox methods. Companies staged attention-grabbing gimmicks, such as Carter Products commissioning Salvador Dali to make a sculpture promoting its tranquilizer, Miltown, for a conference. Competitor Roche Pharmaceuticals invited reporters to watch as its tranquilizer Librium was used to sedate a wild lynx.

Alternatively, some began taking their messaging straight to the press.

“You would feed one of your friendly journalists the most outlandishly hyped-up promise of what your drug could do,” Greene says. “Then there is no peer review. There is no one checking to if see it’s true; it’s journalism!” In their article, Greene and Herzberg detail how ostensibly independent freelance science journalists were actually on the industry payroll, penning stories about new wonder drugs for popular magazines long before native advertising became a thing.

One prolific writer, Donald Cooley, wrote articles with headlines such as “Will Wonder Drugs Never Cease!” for magazines like Better Homes and Garden and Cosmopolitan. “Don’t confuse the new drugs with sedatives, sleeping pills, barbiturates or a cure,” Cooley wrote in an article titled “The New Nerve Pills and Your Health.” “Do realize they help the average person relax.”

As Herzberg and Greene documented in a 2010 article in the American Journal of Public Health, Cooley was actually one of a stable of writers commissioned by the Medical and Pharmaceutical Information Bureau, a public relations firm, working for the industry. In a discovery Herzberg plans to detail in an upcoming book, it turns out there is “a rich history of companies knocking at the door, trying to claim that new narcotics are in fact non-addictive” and running advertisements in medical trade journals that get swatted down by federal authorities.

A 1932 ad in the Montgomery Advertiser, for instance, teases a new “pain relieving drug, five times as potent as morphine, as harmless as water and with no habit forming qualities.” This compound, “di-hydro-mophinone-hydrochlorid” is better known by the brand name Dilaudid, and is most definitely habit forming, according to Dr. Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins.

And while it’s not clear if the manufacturer truly believed it was harmless, Alexander says it illustrates the danger credulity presents when it comes to drug development. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” he says. “It is this sort of thinking, decades later, that has driven the epidemic."

Image by A selection of contemporary ads for painkillers. (original image)

Image by A selection of contemporary ads for painkillers. (original image)

Image by A selection of contemporary ads for painkillers. (original image)

Image by A selection of contemporary ads for painkillers. (original image)

Image by A selection of contemporary ads for painkillers. (original image)

Image by A selection of contemporary ads for painkillers. (original image)

Image by A selection of contemporary ads for painkillers. (original image)

It wasn’t until 1995, when Purdue Pharma successfully introduced OxyContin, that one of these attempts was successful, says Herzberg. “OxyContin passed because it was claimed to be a new, less-addictive type of drug, but the substance itself had been swatted down repeatedly by authorities since the 1940s,” he says. OxyContin is simply oxycodone, developed in 1917, in a time-release formulation Purdue argued allowed a single dose to last 12 hours, mitigating the potential for addiction.

Ads targeting physicians bore the tagline, “Remember, effective relief just takes two.”

“If OxyContin had been proposed as a drug in 1957 authorities would have laughed and said no,” Herzberg says.

Captivating the Consumer

In 1997, the FDA changed its advertising guidelines to open the door to direct-to-consumer marketing of drugs by the pharmaceutical industry. There were a number of reasons for this reversal of more than a century of practice, Greene and Herzberg say, from the ongoing ripples of the Reagan-era wave of deregulation, to the advent of the “blockbuster” pharmaceutical, to advocacy by AIDS patients rights groups.

The consequences were profound: a surge of industry spending on print and television advertising describing non-opioid drugs to the public that hit a peak of $3.3 billion in 2006. And while ads for opioid drugs were typically not shown on television, Greene says the cultural and political shifts that made direct-to-consumer advertising possible also changed the reception to the persistent pushing of opioids by industry.

Once again, it was not the public, but physicians that were the targets of opioid marketing, and this was often quite aggressive. The advertising campaign for OxyContin, for instance, was in many ways unprecedented.

Purdue Pharma provided physicians with starter coupons that gave patients a free seven to 30-day supply of the drug . The company's sales force—which more than doubled in size from 1996 to 2000—handed doctors OxyContin-branded swag including fishing hats and plush toys. A music CD was distributed with the title “Get in the Swing with OxyContin.” Prescriptions for OxyContin for non-cancer related pain boomed from 670,000 written in 1997, to 6.2 million in 2002.

But even this aggressive marketing campaign was in many ways just the smoke. The real fire, Alexander argues, was a behind-the-scenes effort to establish a more lax attitude toward prescribing opioid medications generally, one which made regulators and physicians alike more accepting of OxyContin.

“When I was in residency training, we were taught that one needn’t worry about the addictive potential of opioids if a patient had true pain,” he says. Physicians were cultivated to overestimate the effectiveness of opioids for treating chronic, non-cancer pain, while underestimating the risks, and Alexander argues this was no accident.

Purdue Pharma funded more than 20,000 educational programs designed to promote the use of opioids for chronic pain other than cancer, and provided financial support for groups such as the American Pain Society. That society, in turn, launched a campaign calling pain “the fifth vital sign,” which helped contribute to the perception there was a medical consensus that opioids were under, not over-prescribed.


Are there lessons that can be drawn from all this? Herzberg thinks so, starting with the understanding that “gray area” marketing is more problematic than open advertising. People complain about direct-to-consumer advertising, but if there must be drug marketing, “I say keep those ads and get rid of all the rest," he says, "because at least those ads have to tell the truth, at least so far as we can establish what that is.”

Even better, Herzberg says, would be to ban the marketing of controlled narcotics, stimulants and sedatives altogether. “This could be done administratively with existing drug laws, I believe, based on the DEA’s power to license the manufacturers of controlled substances.” The point, he says, would not be to restrict access to such medications for those who need them, but to subtract “an evangelical effort to expand their use.”

Another lesson from history, Courtwright says, is that physicians can be retrained. If physicians in the late 19th century learned to be judicious with morphine, physicians today can relearn that lesson with the wide array of opioids now available.

That won’t fix everything, he notes, especially given the vast black market that did not exist at the turn of the previous century, but it’s a proven start. As Courtwright puts it: Addiction is a highway with a lot of on-ramps, and prescription opioids are one of them. If we remove the billboards advertising the exit, maybe we can reduce, if not eliminate the number of travelers.

“That’s how things work in public health,” he says. “Reduction is the name of the game.”

Poetry Matters: In Baseball, No Poet Has Yet to Do the Game Justice

Smithsonian Magazine

Baseball is a game of unpredictable actions occurring within strictly defined guidelines—innings, strikes and outs. It should be perfect for poetry. But there has yet to be a truly great poem about baseball. The desire to be serious is what kills most baseball poems—they’re all metaphor and have none of the spontaneous joy that went into, say, John Fogarty’s pop song “Center Field.”

Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.

“April is the cruelest month,” is one of the most famous lines in poetry, but it is one that only makes sense in the post-apocalyptic world of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” For the rest of us, clinging to hope, warm weather and the eternal prospect of new beginnings, April is not cruel at all, but welcomed. And in America, it’s welcomed because of baseball. Indeed baseball and spring, the meaning of one spills into the other in a mutually reinforcing bond of associations between the game and rebirth. It is the time when the white chill of snow is replaced by the diamond’s green growth of grass.

But this renewal is specific, even nationalistic, and uniquely American. Baseball speaks to the our country’s character and experience. In particular, the sport is rooted in special connection that Americans have with the land; an encounter with nature formed a particular type of person—and a particular type of democracy and culture.

This baseball was used in the 1937 Negro League East-West All-Star Game, played on August 8, 1937 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. Buck Leonard (1907-1997), first baseman for the Homestead Grays, hit a home run to help the East win 7-2, keeping this baseball as a souvenir. (Image courtesy of the American History Museum)

The founding myth about baseball—that General Abner Doubleday “invented” the game in and around Cooperstown, New York, as an activity for his troops—is historically inaccurate, but satisfying nonetheless. Where better for baseball to have been created than in the sylvan woodlands of upstate New York, home of James Fenimore Cooper’s frontier heroes, Leatherstocking and Natty Bumppo? If Cooperstown is a myth, it is one that endures because the idea of America’s game being born out of the land confirms the specialness, not just of the game, but of the people the game represents. Yet it is impossible to disentangle baseball from its myths; and it seems uncanny that the first professional baseball game ever played actually occurred in urban Hoboken, New Jersey, at a place called “Elysian Fields,” Uncanny, because in Greek mythology, these are the fields where the gods and virtuous disported after they had passed on. Is this heaven?

Recall a certain magical ballfield built in Iowa cornfield, where the old time gods of baseball came out to play? The 1982 novel Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, later adapted into the 1989 film Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner, certainly paid homage to that Greek myth.

The virtuous and heroic in baseball is the subject of much non-fiction journalism of course, from beat writing to one of the greatest essays ever penned, John Updike’s eulogy to Ted Williams, “the best old hitter of the century.”  Inevitably it is also the subject of both literary fiction and poetry. Poetry is especially suited to expressing the mythic attractions of the game. And back when poetry was more a part of regular conversation, sportswriters and newspapermen used verse to comment on the game. In 1910, Franklin P. Adams penned his famous tribute to the Cubs’ double play combination, “Tinker to Evers to Chance/A trio of bear cubs fleeter then birds.” And probably the single most well-known poem is Ernest Thayer’s comic 1888 ballad of mighty “Casey at the Bat.” Fiction inevitably requires the author to get down and dirty in the rough and tumble of a difficult sport played (mostly) by young men, full of aggression and testosterone–not always a pretty sight.

But poetry creates just the right tone to convey the larger meaning of the game, if not always the game itself. There are not many poems from the participant’s point of view. With a poem comes the almost automatic assumption that the poet will see through the baseball game to something else, frequently the restoration of some lost unity or state of grace. Poetic baseball creates an elegy in which something lost can be either regained or at least properly mourned.

In 1910 the great sportswriter Grantland Rice made just that point in his “Game Called,” that as the players and the crowd exit the stadium: “But through the night there shines the light/home beyond the silent hill.”

Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox wore this batting helmet around 1970. “Yaz” played 23 seasons and 3,308 games for Boston, racking up more than 3,000 hits and 400 home runs. He cut away the right earpiece to hear more clearly. (Image courtesy of the American History Museum)

In his comic riff on sports, the comedian George Carlin croons that in baseball “you go home.” There are a lot of poems in which families re-connect, sometimes successfully, by watching baseball or by having fathers teach sons how to play.

For modernist poets—the heirs to Eliot—baseball was generally ignored because it was too associated with a romantic, or even sentimental, view of life. Modernism was nothing, but hard headed and it was difficult to find a place for games. William Carlos Williams, in his 1923 poem “The Crowd at the Ball Game,” delights in the game, precisely because it’s a time out from the hum-drum grind of daily work.

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly
by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them

And this purposelessness has a point, “all to no end save beauty/the eternal.” Williams is mostly after the relationship between crowd and individual, the game is not really the thing.

The great Marianne Moore got something of a reputation in the popular press for actually being a fan of baseball, and in 1968 threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium (above). In fact she was often seen in stands, taking in a game and some of her poems reference bats and balls. She talked about creativity more expansively in “Baseball and Writing:”

Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do;
generating excitement

This gets closer to the flow experience of the game itself rather than just describing it but the poem then breaks down into a not very good roll-call of Yankee players from the early ‘60s. Baseball always crops up enough to make it interesting to see how poets have used it. May Swenson turned baseball into an amusing puzzle and word play game based on romance and courtship:

Bat waits
for ball
to mate.
Ball hates
to take bat’s
bait. Ball
flirts, bat’s
late, don’t
keep the date.

And at the end, inevitably, everyone heads home. The Beat Poet Gregory Corso has a typically hallucinatory encounter with Ted Williams “In the Dream of the Baseball Star” in which Williams unaccountably is unable to hit a single pitch and “The umpire dressed in strange attire/thundered his judgment: YOU’RE OUT!”

Fellow beat Lawrence Ferlinghetti invoked baseball to make a civil rights point.

Watching baseball, sitting in the sun, eating popcorn,
reading Ezra Pound,
and wishing that Juan Marichal would hit a hole right through the
Anglo-Saxon tradition in the first Canto
and demolish the barbarian invaders

You can sense in the shift from the game to Ezra Pound, the poet’s uneasiness with the game itself and his eagerness to move from the physical to the intellectual. When the body appears in a baseball poem it is the body of the aging poet, as in Donald Hall’s extended, very well done, but extremely depressing linkage of innings going by with aging—and death. Maybe baseball poems will always be troubled with an excess of seriousness; perhaps we’ve become too rooted in the mythology of baseball and character to treat it on its own terms. Alternate takes by African Americans, like Quincy Troupe’s “Poem for My Father” about the impact of the Negro leagues and the prowess of such players as Cool Papa Bell, give another angle on the tradition. Further such outsider views, especially from the point of view of women who are not either adoring spectators or “Baseball Annies”, would be welcome as well.

As with a new season, hope springs eternal not just that a new season is starting but that someday some poet will give baseball the kind of relaxed attention that does the sport justice. It really is remarkable that baseball, which occupies such a large part of our culture and history, remains in the view of this critic, so inadequately treated by our writers and poets.

Image by Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. Babe Ruth (1895-1948) also of the Yankees in a photograph by Nickolas Muray. © Courtesy Nickolas Muray Photo Archives © Family of Babe Ruth & Babe Ruth Baseball League, Inc. by CMG Worldwide (original image)

Image by Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. Josh Gibson (c.1911-1947) who played for the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords in a photograph by Charles “Teeny” Harris. © Estate of Charles “Teenie” Harris (original image)

Image by Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. Roger Maris (1934-1985) of the New York Yankees by Robert Vickrey. Gift of Scott Vickrey (original image)

When the Olympics Gave Out Medals for Art

Smithsonian Magazine

At the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, American Walter Winans took the podium and waved proudly to the crowd. He had already won two Olympic medals—a gold for sharpshooting at the 1908 London Games, as well as a silver for the same event in 1912—but the gold he won at Stockholm wasn’t for shooting, or running, or anything particularly athletic at all. It was instead awarded for a small piece of bronze he had cast earlier that year: a 20-inch-tall horse pulling a small chariot. For his work, An American Trotter, Winans won the first ever Olympic gold medal for sculpture.

For the first four decades of competition, the Olympics awarded official medals for painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and music, alongside those for the athletic competitions. From 1912 to 1952, juries awarded a total of 151 medals to original works in the fine arts inspired by athletic endeavors. Now, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the first artistic competition, even Olympics fanatics are unaware that arts, along with athletics, were a part of the modern Games nearly from the start.

“Everyone that I’ve ever spoken to about it has been surprised,” says Richard Stanton, author of The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions. “I first found out about it reading a history book, when I came across a little comment about Olympic art competitions, and I just said, ‘what competitions?’” Propelled by curiosity, he wrote the first—and still the only—English-language book ever published on the subject.

To learn about the overlooked topic, Stanton had to dig through crumbling boxes of often-illegible files from the International Olympic Committee archives in Switzerland—many of which hadn’t seen the light of day since they were packed away decades ago. He discovered that the story went all the way back to the Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the IOC and the modern Games, who saw art competitions as integral to his vision of the Olympics. “He was raised and educated classically, and he was particularly impressed with the idea of what it meant to be a true Olympian—someone who was not only athletic, but skilled in music and literature,” Stanton says. “He felt that in order to recreate the events in modern times, it would be incomplete to not include some aspect of the arts.”

At the turn of the century, as the baron struggled to build the modern Olympics from scratch, he was unable to convince overextended local organizers of the first few Games in Athens, St. Louis and Paris that arts competitions were necessary. But he remained adamant. “There is only one difference between our Olympiads and plain sporting championships, and it is precisely the contests of art as they existed in the Olympiads of Ancient Greece, where sport exhibitions walked in equality with artistic exhibitions,” he declared.

Finally, in time for the 1912 Stockholm Games, he was able to secure a place for the arts. Submissions were solicited in the categories of architecture, music, painting, sculpture and literature, with a caveat—every work had to be somehow inspired by the concept of sport. Some 33 (mostly European) artists submitted works, and a gold medal was awarded in each category. In addition to Winans’ chariot, other winners included a modern stadium building plan (architecture), an “Olympic Triumphal March” (music), friezes depicting winter sports (painting) and Ode to Sport (literature).  The baron himself was among the winners. Fearing that the competitions wouldn’t draw enough entrants, he penned the winning ode under the pseudonyms George Hohrod and Martin Eschbach, leaving the medal jury unaware of the true author.

Image by Collection: Olympic Museum Lausanne. The bronze medals awarded during the 1924 Olympic art competitions in Paris in the "Sculpture" category. (original image)

Image by Collection: Olympic Museum Lausanne. Jean Jacoby's Corner, left, and Rugby. At the 1928 Olympic Art Competitions in Amsterdam, Jacoby won a gold medal for Rugby. (original image)

Image by Collection: Idrottsmuseet i Malmö. Walter Winans An American Trotter won the gold medal in the "Sculpture" category at the first Olympic Art Competitions in 1912 in Stockholm. (original image)

Image by Collection: Norbert Mueller. Anniversary of the Reintroduction of the Olympic Games, 1914, Edouard Elzingre. (original image)

Image by Collection: Deutsches Sport & Olympia Museum, Cologne. Carlo Pellegrini's series of winter sport graphic artworks won an Olympic gold medal. (original image)

Image by Collection: Norbert Mueller. The original program of the presentation of prizes in May 1911 in the Court of Honor of the Sorbonne in Paris. (original image)

Image by Collection: Carl and Liselott Diem-Archiv. A letter from Pierre de Coubertin that aimed to motivate the IOC Art Congress in 1906 to artistically enhance sports festivals and inspire them to hold music and literature competitions in association with sporting events. (original image)

Image by Collection: Deutsches Sport & Olympia Museum, Cologne. Ode to Sport won the gold medal in "Literature" at the first Olympic Art Competitions in 1912. (original image)

Over the next few decades, as the Olympics exploded into a premier international event, the fine arts competitions remained an overlooked sideshow. To satisfy the sport-inspired requirement, many paintings and sculptures were dramatic depictions of wrestling or boxing matches; the majority of the architecture plans were for stadiums and arenas. The format of the competitions was inconsistent and occasionally chaotic: a category might garner a silver medal, but no gold, or the jury might be so disappointed in the submissions that it awarded no medals at all. At the 1928 Amsterdam Games, the literature category was split into lyric, dramatic and epic subcategories, then reunited as one for 1932, and then split again in 1936.

Many art world insiders viewed the competitions with distrust. “Some people were enthusiastic about it, but quite a few were standoffish,” Stanton says. “They didn't want to have to compete, because it might damage their own reputations.” The fact that the events had been initiated by art outsiders, rather than artists, musicians or writers—and the fact that all entries had to be sport-themed—also led many of the most prominent potential entrants to decide the competitions were not worth their time.

Still, local audiences enjoyed the artworks—during the 1932 Games, nearly 400,000 people visited the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art to see the works entered—and some big names did enter the competitions. John Russell Pope, the architect of the Jefferson Memorial, won a silver at the 1932 Los Angeles Games for his design of the Payne Whitney Gymnasium, constructed at Yale University. Italian sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti, American illustrator Percy Crosby, Irish author Oliver St. John Gogarty and Dutch painter Isaac Israëls were other prominent entrants.

In 1940 and 1944, the Olympics were put on hold as nearly all participating countries became embroiled in the violence and destruction of World War II. When they returned, the art competitions faced a bigger problem: the new IOC president’s obsession with absolute amateurism. “American Avery Brundage became the president of the IOC, and he was a rigid supporter of amateur athletics,” Stanton says. “He wanted the Olympics to be completely pure, not to be swayed by the weight of money.” Because artists inherently rely on selling their work for their livelihood—and because winning an Olympic medal could theoretically serve as a sort of advertisement for the quality of an artist’s work—Brundage took aim at the art competitions, insisting they represented an unwelcome incursion of professionalism. Although Brundage himself had once entered a piece of literature in the 1932 Games’ competitions and earned an honorable mention, he stridently led a campaign against the arts following the 1948 Games.

After heated debate, it was eventually decided that the art competitions would be scrapped. They were replaced by a noncompetitive exhibition to occur during the Games, which eventually became known as the Cultural Olympiad. John Copley of Britain won one of the final medals awarded, a silver in 1948 for his engraving, Polo Players. He was 73 years old at the time, and would be the oldest medalist in Olympic history if his victory still counted. The 151 medals that had been awarded were officially stricken from the Olympic record, though, and currently do not count toward countries’ current medal counts.

Still, half a century later, the concept behind the art competitions lingers. Starting in 2004, the IOC has held an official Sport and Art Contest leading up to each summer Games. For the 2012 contest, entrants sent sculptures and graphic works on the theme of “Sport and the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect.” Though no medals are at stake, winners will receive cash prizes, and the best works will be selected and displayed in London during the Games. Somewhere, the Baron Pierre de Coubertin might be smiling.

Why Did a Venomous Fish Evolve a Glowing Eye Spike?

Smithsonian Magazine

In 2003, Leo Smith was dissecting a velvetfish. Smith, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Kansas, was trying to figure out the relationships between mail-cheeked fishes, an order that includes velvetfishes, as well as waspfishes, stonefishes and the infamous lionfish. As he worked his way to the velvetfish's upper jaw, though, he realized something strange—he was having trouble removing the lachrymal bone.

“On a normal fish, there's a little bit of connective tissue and you can work a scalpel blade between the upper jaw and this bone,” recalls Smith, whose work centers on the evolution of fish venom and bioluminescence. “I was having just a horrible time trying to separate it. When I finally got it separated, I noticed there was this thing that's all lumpy and bumpy … it was then that it hit me that it had to be some sort of locking mechanism.”

To be fair, most velvet fish already resemble thorny, blobby mutants, so an extra skewer isn’t really that unusual. But given that Smith has spent years studying mail-cheeked fishes (Scorpaeniformes)—an order that gets its common name from the bone plates found on each cheek—you’d think he would have noticed a massive, locking eye spike before. He hadn’t. He and his colleagues would dub this strange new discovery the “lachrymal saber.”

(FYI: Lachrymal comes from the Latin word for “tear.” While fish can’t cry, it’s still the technical name for the bone forming the eye socket.)

Smith and his co-authors at the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists describe this unlikely eye spike for the first time in the journal Copeia—and even report on one that glows fluorescent green, a little eye lightsaber. The authors can’t yet say exactly what the appendage is for. But they do claim that it has the potential to profoundly rearrange the Scorpaeniformes evolutionary tree, changing what we know about these highly venomous fish.

The finding also raises the question: How the heck did a glowing, locking sword-like appendage go ignored for so long?

A species of stonefish, the Spotted Ghoul (Inimicus sinensis), buried in the gravel. (Leo Smith)

It’s easy to miss a stonefish. True to their name, they closely resemble rocks, with cobbled-covered exteriors that mirror underwater rubble or chunks of coral. But step on one, and you’ll never forget it.

There are more venomous fish in the seas than snakes on land—or indeed, than all venomous vertebrates combined—but the stonefish is one of the most venomous on the planet. Getting pricked by one of these marine monsters can feel, as an unlucky victim once put it, like “hitting your toe with a hammer and then rubbing over it again and again with a nail file." While it’s uncommon, divers have even died after such an encounter.

Stonefish and their cousins are also marvelous at camouflage. Some grow algae and hydroid gardens on their backs, others can change color at will, and one, the decoy scorpionfish, has a lure on its dorsal fin that resembles a tiny, swimming fish. Found mainly in the tropical waters throughout the Indo-Pacific, these remarkable creatures use their disguises to both ambush prey and avoid becoming lunch themselves.

But the lachrymal saber, a unique aspect of these fish, had somehow gone overlooked. And while it’s not a Star Wars lightsaber or a blade from Lord of the Rings, this saber might be something even more impressive. Picture a complex spine under the fish’s eye that operates like a ratchet and pawl, laterally locking into place like two sharp arms. “They don't actually even move the saber itself,” says Smith. “They move the underlying bone that's connected to it through the locking mechanism and then that rotation is what locks it out.”

In at least one species—Centropogon australis, a breed of waspfish—the saber glows a biofluorescent lime green, while the rest of the fish glows orange-red under certain light.

Adam Summers, a biomechanist and fish specialist at the University of Washington, is currently trying to CT scan all 40,000 species of fish. Summers, who was not involved in the recent study, has already scanned 3052 species and 6,077 specimens, while studying many mail-cheeked fishes for years. And he’s never noticed the saber.

“Erectile defenses in fishes are really common,” says Summers, who was also a scientific consultant on Pixar’s Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. He isn’t referring to fish penises, but anatomical defenses that pop up when certain species are stressed or threatened. “If you’ve ever caught a fish and tried to pull it off the hook, you know the dorsal spines erect and they can poke the living crap out of you," hes says, "but that we missed one that was under the eye—sort of an eye saber—is pretty insane.”

To determine that these fish really are related beyond the saber, the researchers in the new study used DNA sequencing to confirm their findings. Looking at 5,280 aligned nucleotides and using 12 outgroups as controls, they built a phylogenetic or evolutionary tree. Once you have the tree, Smith explains, there are methods called ancestral character state reconstruction that allow us to trace when characters evolve. And that may help biologists unify a group of fishes that was previously thought to be separate families.

“The taxonomy of Scorpaeniformes is historically muddled,” Smith explains. “The scorpionfish and stonefish relationships have been really problematic, and there have been a lot of family-level names attached to this group that are dramatically cleaned up when these groups are treated as the two main lineages rather than the 10 traditional families. It is much cleaner now and the presence of a lachrymal saber can separate the two revised families completely.”

An Ocellated Waspfish (Apistus carinatus) being skeletonized by flesh-eating beetles at the Field Museum. (Leo Smith)

When he was first dissecting the velvetfish, Smith didn’t understand what he was looking at. “I just thought they were kind of spinier or lumpier,” he says. “These fish have a lot of spines and bumps on their head. So I was like, ‘Oh, these [lachrymal] ones are kind of more interesting.’”

Smith spent years examining fish skeletons and live fish to determine how widespread this saber was. Fortunately, as a curator at the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas, he has access to one of the largest libraries of fish specimens in the world.

Many of these exemplar fish were made using a method called “clearing and staining,” in which scientists use a mix of liquid formaldehyde and a stomach enzyme called trypsin to dissolve muscle and other soft tissue. The result is a clear skeleton with red-tinted bones and blue-colored cartilage, like stained glass. This technique makes it easy to study skeletal structures of vertebrates.

“People who study fishes closely often work with dead preserved fish and these kinds of really cool things don't work in an animal that isn’t mobile,” says Summers. Still, “to find this and then to realize that it’s an uniting character for a whole group of fishes is very, very cool.”

Smith isn’t sure why the fish evolved this trait. The obvious assumption is it’s defensive, given the projected spines expand the width of the head, making the fish harder to swallow and more likely to puncture a would-be predator. Similar defensive measures exist: the deep-sea lanternshark, for example, has glowing “lightsabers” on its dorsal spine that are believed to defend against predators. But Smith hasn’t seen the lachrymal saber used defensively, except in photographs of mail-cheeked fishes getting eaten.

“I went into this assuming it was an anti-predator, complex anatomical thing that grew that way and now as every day goes on, I start questioning that more and more,” Smith says. “Part of it is I can never get the stupid things to do it … I mean you would think if it was just anti-predator, if I bumped the tank they would immediately get them out.” The other option, he says, is that it might be for attracting mates, though he points out that both genders appear to have the sabers.

In other words, for now, the eye spike is still a mystery.

In 2006, with Ward Wheeler, Smith found that more than 1200 species of fish are venomous, compared to previous estimates of 200. He updated that number a decade later to between 2386 and 2962. He also worked on a PLOS One paper with noted ichthyologists Matt Davis and John Sparks to show that bioluminescence evolved 27 separate times in marine fish lineages. He even revised the taxonomy of butterflyfishes.

With this new finding, Smith may have disrupted the way we think about fish relationships yet again, says Sarah Gibson, an adjunct professor of biology at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota who studies Triassic fish. “I think it's a pretty important, big study,” she says. “Knowing the evolutionary relationships of a group can really impact our understanding of the evolutionary history of fishes in general.” (Gibson worked with Smith when she was doing her dissertation, but was not part of the recent study.)

Understanding the evolution of stonefish is key to their conservation, adds Summers. “You can't conserve something unless you know who it is,” he says. The mystery of the lachrymal saber “is an interesting question that's worth addressing and I’m still blown away that we missed it.”

In the end, this discovery also underscores something Smith once told The New York Times: Despite centuries of research and exploration, “we really don’t know anything about fish.”

When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?

Smithsonian Magazine

Little Franklin Delano Roosevelt sits primly on a stool, his white skirt spread smoothly over his lap, his hands clasping a hat trimmed with a marabou feather. Shoulder-length hair and patent leather party shoes complete the ensemble.

We find the look unsettling today, yet social convention of 1884, when FDR was photographed at age 2 1/2, dictated that boys wore dresses until age 6 or 7, also the time of their first haircut. Franklin’s outfit was considered gender-neutral.

But nowadays people just have to know the sex of a baby or young child at first glance, says Jo B. Paoletti, a historian at the University of Maryland and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, to be published later this year. Thus we see, for example, a pink headband encircling the bald head of an infant girl.

Why have young children’s clothing styles changed so dramatically? How did we end up with two “teams”—boys in blue and girls in pink?

“It’s really a story of what happened to neutral clothing,” says Paoletti, who has explored the meaning of children’s clothing for 30 years. For centuries, she says, children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6. “What was once a matter of practicality—you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached—became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted,’ ” Paoletti says.

The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out.

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers. “It could have gone the other way,” Paoletti says.

So the baby boomers were raised in gender-specific clothing. Boys dressed like their fathers, girls like their mothers. Girls had to wear dresses to school, though unadorned styles and tomboy play clothes were acceptable.

Image by Bettmann / Corbis. Like other young boys of his era, Franklin Roosevelt wears a dress. This studio portrait was likely taken in New York in 1884. (original image)

Image by TongRo Image Stock / Corbis. Pink and blue arrived as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I. (original image)

Image by Winterthur Museum and Library. In 1920, the paper doll Baby Bobby has a pink dress in his wardrobe, as well as lace-trimmed collars and underclothes. (original image)

Image by University of Maryland Costume and Textile Collection. In the Victorian era, a boy (photographed in 1870) wears a pleated skirt and high button baby boots and poses with ornate millinery. (original image)

Image by University of Maryland Costume and Textile Collection. A boy’s T-shirt from 2007 announces why he would don pink. “When boys or men wear pink, it’s not just a color but is used to make a statement—in this case, the statement is spelled out,” says the University of Maryland’s Jo Paoletti. (original image)

Image by University of Maryland Costume and Textile Collection. Sister and brother, circa 1905, wear traditional white dresses in lengths appropriate to their ages. “What was once a matter of practicality—you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers, white cotton can be bleached—became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my babies in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted,’ ” says Paoletti. (original image)

Image by Ladies’ Home Journal, 1905. In 1905, the girls and boys are indistinguishable in a Mellin’s baby food advertisement. When the company sponsored a contest to guess the children’s gender, no one got all the correct answers. Notice the boys’ fussy collars, which today we consider feminine. (original image)

Image by University of Maryland Costume and Textile Collection. Rompers made from a 1960 sewing pattern would be passed down to younger siblings. Play clothes at this time could be gender neutral. An example from Hollywood is the young actress Mary Badham wearing overalls as Scout in the 1962 movie To Kill a Mockingbird. (original image)

Image by Winterthur Museum and Library. The wardrobe of the boy paper doll Percy (1910) included picture hats, skirts, tunics with knickers, knickers and long overalls. (original image)

Image by Simplicity Creative Group. A Simplicity sewing pattern from 1970, when the unisex look was all the rage. “One of the ways [feminists] thought that girls were kind of lured into subservient roles as women is through clothing,” says Paoletti. “ ‘If we dress our girls more like boys and less like frilly little girls . . . they are going to have more options and feel freer to be active.’ ” (original image)

Image by Don Berkemeyer. Paoletti is a historian at the University of Maryland and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, to be published later this year. (original image)

When the women’s liberation movement arrived in the mid-1960s, with its anti-feminine, anti-fashion message, the unisex look became the rage—but completely reversed from the time of young Franklin Roosevelt. Now young girls were dressing in masculine—or at least unfeminine—styles, devoid of gender hints. Paoletti found that in the 1970s, the Sears, Roebuck catalog pictured no pink toddler clothing for two years.

“One of the ways [feminists] thought that girls were kind of lured into subservient roles as women is through clothing,” says Paoletti. “ ‘If we dress our girls more like boys and less like frilly little girls . . . they are going to have more options and feel freer to be active.’ ”

John Money, a sexual identity researcher at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, argued that gender was primarily learned through social and environmental cues. “This was one of the drivers back in the ’70s of the argument that it’s ‘nurture not nature,’ ” Paoletti says.

Gender-neutral clothing remained popular until about 1985. Paoletti remembers that year distinctly because it was between the births of her children, a girl in ’82 and a boy in ’86. “All of a sudden it wasn’t just a blue overall; it was a blue overall with a teddy bear holding a football,” she says. Disposable diapers were manufactured in pink and blue.

Prenatal testing was a big reason for the change. Expectant parents learned the sex of their unborn baby and then went shopping for “girl” or “boy” merchandise. (“The more you individualize clothing, the more you can sell,” Paoletti says.) The pink fad spread from sleepers and crib sheets to big-ticket items such as strollers, car seats and riding toys. Affluent parents could conceivably decorate for baby No. 1, a girl, and start all over when the next child was a boy.

Some young mothers who grew up in the 1980s deprived of pinks, lace, long hair and Barbies, Paoletti suggests, rejected the unisex look for their own daughters. “Even if they are still feminists, they are perceiving those things in a different light than the baby boomer feminists did,” she says. “They think even if they want their girl to be a surgeon, there’s nothing wrong if she is a very feminine surgeon.”

Another important factor has been the rise of consumerism among children in recent decades. According to child development experts, children are just becoming conscious of their gender between ages 3 and 4, and they do not realize it’s permanent until age 6 or 7. At the same time, however, they are the subjects of sophisticated and pervasive advertising that tends to reinforce social conventions. “So they think, for example, that what makes someone female is having long hair and a dress,’’ says Paoletti. “They are so interested—and they are so adamant in their likes and dislikes.”

In researching and writing her book, Paoletti says, she kept thinking about the parents of children who don’t conform to gender roles: Should they dress their children to conform, or allow them to express themselves in their dress? “One thing I can say now is that I’m not real keen on the gender binary—the idea that you have very masculine and very feminine things. The loss of neutral clothing is something that people should think more about. And there is a growing demand for neutral clothing for babies and toddlers now, too.”

“There is a whole community out there of parents and kids who are struggling with ‘My son really doesn’t want to wear boy clothes, prefers to wear girl clothes.’ ” She hopes one audience for her book will be people who study gender clinically. The fashion world may have divided children into pink and blue, but in the world of real individuals, not all is black and white.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed the 1918 quotation about pink and blue clothes to the Ladies’ Home Journal. It appeared in the June 1918 issue of Earnshaw's Infants’ Department, a trade publication.

The Prussian Nobleman Who Helped Save the American Revolution

Smithsonian Magazine

The baron wore an eight-pointed silver star on his chest, etched with the word Fidelitas. “Squad, halt!” he shouted—some of the few English words he knew. He walked among the 100 men in formation at Valley Forge, adjusting their muskets. He showed them how to march at 75 steps a minute, then 120. When their discipline broke down, he swore at them in German and French, and with his only English curse: “Goddamn!”

It was March 19, 1778, almost three years into the Revolutionary War. The Continental Army had just endured a punishing winter at Valley Forge. And a stranger—former Prussian army officer Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben—was on the scene to restore morale, introduce discipline and whip the tattered soldiers into fighting shape.

To one awestruck 16-year-old private, the tall, portly baron in the long blue cloak was as intimidating as the Roman god of war. “He seemed to me the perfect personification of Mars,” recalled Ashbel Green years later. “The trappings of his horse, the enormous holsters of his pistols, his large size, and his strikingly martial aspect, all seemed to favor the idea.”

Some of the baron’s aura was artifice. Von Steuben had never been a general, despite the claim of the supporters who recommended him. A decade past his service as a captain in the Prussian army, von Steuben, 47, filled his letters home with tall tales about his glorious reception in America. But the baron’s skills were real. His keen military mind and charismatic leadership led George Washington to name him the Continental Army’s acting inspector general soon after his arrival at its camp in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. In less than two months in spring 1778, von Steuben rallied the battered, ill-clothed, near-starving army.

“They went from a ragtag collection of militias to a professional force,” says Larrie Ferreiro, whose recent book, Brothers at Arms, tells the story of foreign support for the American Revolution. Ferreiro considers von Steuben the most important of all the volunteers from overseas who flocked to America to join the Revolution. “[It was] Steuben’s ability to bring this army the kind of training and understanding of tactics that made them able to stand toe to toe with the British,” he says.

Born into a military family in 1730—at first, his last name was the non-noble Steuben—he was 14 when he watched his father direct Prussian engineers in the 1744 siege of Prague. Enlisting around age 16, von Steuben rose to the rank of lieutenant and learned the discipline that made the Prussian army the best in Europe. “Its greatness came from its professionalism, its hardiness, and the machine-like precision with which it could maneuver on the battlefield,” wrote Paul Lockhart in his 2008 biography of von Steuben, The Drillmaster of Valley Forge.

Von Steuben spent 17 years in the Prussian army, fought in battles against Austria and Russia during the Seven Years’ War, became a captain, and attended Prussian king Frederick the Great’s elite staff school. But a vindictive rival schemed against him, and he was dismissed from the army during a 1763 peacetime downsizing. Forced to reinvent himself, von Steuben spent 11 years as court chamberlain in Hohenzollern-Hechingen, a tiny German principality. In 1769, the prince of nearby Baden named him to the chivalric Order of Fidelity. Membership came with a title: Freiherr, meaning “free lord,” or baron.

In 1775, as the American Revolution broke out, von Steuben’s boss, the Hechingen prince, ran out of money. Von Steuben, his salary slashed, started looking for a new military job. But Europe’s great armies, mostly at peace, didn’t hire him. In 1777, he tried to join the army in Baden, but the opportunity fell through in the worst way possible. An unknown person there lodged a complaint that von Steuben had “taken liberties with young boys” in his previous job, writes Lockhart. The never-proven, anonymously reported rumor destroyed von Steuben’s reputation in Germany. So he turned to his next-best prospect: America.

In September 1777, the disgraced baron sailed from France to volunteer for the Continental Army, bankrolled by a loan from his friend, French playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. A letter from America’s diplomats in Paris, Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane, vouched for him and reported that France’s minister of war and foreign minister had done so too.

But Deane and Franklin’s letter also falsely claimed that von Steuben was a lieutenant general and exaggerated his closeness to Frederick the Great—“the greatest public deception ever perpetrated in a good cause,” wrote Thomas Fleming in Washington’s Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge. Why? Only the highest recommendation would make an impression back home. Congress, desperate for volunteers earlier in the war, had been overwhelmed by unemployed Europeans eager for military jobs, and the number of officers from overseas had begun to stir resentment among American-born officers. “Congress had sternly warned they wanted no more foreigners arriving in America with contracts for brigadier and major generalships in their trunks,” Fleming wrote. Though von Steuben didn’t exaggerate his accomplishments to Franklin and Deane, he went along with the story once he got to America—and added some flourishes of his own. At one point, he even claimed he’d turned down paid positions with the Holy Roman Empire to serve in the United States.  

Von Steuben landed at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on December 1, 1777, with four French aides to translate for him and a large dog named Azor. His exaggerated reputation spread fast. In Boston, he met John Hancock, who hosted a dinner for him, and chatted up Samuel Adams about politics and military affairs. Next, von Steuben headed to York, Pennsylvania, the temporary American capital while the British occupied Philadelphia. Aware that the Continental Congress had soured on foreign volunteers, von Steuben offered to serve under Washington and asked to be paid only if America won the war. They took the deal and sent von Steuben to Valley Forge.

“Baron Steuben has arrived at camp,” Washington wrote soon after. “He appears to be much of a gentleman, and as far as I have had an opportunity of judging, a man of military knowledge and acquainted with the world.” Washington’s confidence in von Steuben grew quickly. Within two weeks, he made the baron acting inspector general and asked him to examine the Continental Army’s condition.

“What [Steuben] discovered was nothing less than appalling,” wrote Fleming in Washington’s Secret War. “He was confronting a wrecked army. A less courageous (or less bankrupt) man would have quit on the spot.” Unlike the American forces in New York, who had beaten the British at Saratoga in fall 1777, the army in Pennsylvania had suffered a series of defeats. When they lost the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, the British had seized Philadelphia. Now—following common military practice of the era—they had camped for the winter. But Valley Forge, their winter quarters, was nearly as punishing as battle: hastily built huts, cruel temperatures, scarce food.

The baron found soldiers without uniforms, rusted muskets without bayonets, companies with men missing and unaccounted for. Short enlistments meant constant turnover and little order. Regiment sizes varied wildly. Different officers used different military drill manuals, leading to chaos when their units tried to work together. If the army had to fight on short notice, von Steuben warned Washington, he might find himself commanding one-third of the men he thought he had. The army had to get into better shape before fighting resumed in the spring.

So, von Steuben put the entire army through Prussian-style drills, starting with a model company of 100 men. He taught them how to reload their muskets quickly after firing, charge with a bayonet and march in compact columns instead of miles-long lines. Meanwhile, he wrote detailed lists of officers’ duties, giving them more responsibility than in English systems.

Soldiers gaped at the sight of a German nobleman, in a French-style black beaver hat, drilling poorly clothed troops. Though von Steuben raged and cursed in a garbled mixture of French, English, and German, his instructions and presence began to build morale. “If anything, the curses contributed to Steuben’s reputation as an exotic character who was good for a laugh now and then,” wrote Fleming.

And though the baron was appalled at the condition of the army he was tasked with making over, he soon developed an appreciation for its soldiers. “The genius of this nation is not in the least to be compared with that of the Prussian, Austrians, or French,” von Steuben wrote to a Prussian friend. “You say to your soldier ‘Do this and he doeth it’; but I am obliged to say [to the American soldier]: ‘This is the reason why you ought to do that: and then he does it.’”

Off the drilling field, von Steuben befriended the troops. A lifelong bachelor, he threw dinner parties rather than dine alone. One night, the guests pooled their rations to give von Steuben’s manservant the ingredients for a dinner of beefsteak and potatoes with hickory nuts. They also drank “salamanders”—cheap whiskey set on fire.

As von Steuben’s work progressed, news of the United States’ treaties of alliance with France reached Valley Forge. Washington declared May 6, 1778 a day of celebration. He asked von Steuben to ready the army for a ceremonial review.

At 9 a.m. on May 6, 7,000 soldiers lined up on the parade ground. “Rank by rank, with not a single straying step, the battalions swung past General Washington and deployed into a double line of battle with the ease and swiftness of veterans,” Fleming wrote. Then the soldiers performed the feu de joie, a ceremonial rifle salute in which each soldier in a line fires in sequence—proof of the army’s new discipline. “The plan as formed by Baron von Steuben succeeded in every particular,” wrote John Laurens, an aide to Washington.

The baron’s lessons didn’t just make the American troops look impressive in parades—under his tutelage, they became a formidable battlefield force. Two weeks after the celebration, the Marquis de Lafayette led a reconnaissance force of 2,200 to observe the British evacuation from Philadelphia. When a surprise British attack forced Lafayette to retreat, von Steuben’s compact column formation enabled the entire force to make a swift, narrow escape. At the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, the Revolution’s last major battle in the northern states, American troops showed a new discipline. They stood their ground during ferocious fire and bayonet attacks and forced the British to retreat. “Monmouth vindicated Steuben as an organizer,” wrote Lockhart. The Continental Army’s new strength as a fighting force, combined with the arrival of the French fleet off the coast of New York in July 1778, turned the tide of the war.

Von Steuben served in the Continental Army for the rest of the Revolutionary War. In 1779, he codified his lessons into the Army’s Blue Book. Officially the Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, it remained the Army training manual for decades. The Army still uses some portions of it in training manuals today, including von Steuben’s instructions on drill and ceremonies.

After the war, the governor of New York granted von Steuben a huge wilderness estate in the Mohawk Valley as a reward for his service in the war. Von Steuben died there in November 1794 at age 64. His importance to the Revolution is evident in Washington’s last act as commanding general. In December 1783, just before retiring to Mount Vernon, he wrote von Steuben a letter of thanks for his “great Zeal, Attention and Abilities” and his “faithful and Meritorious Services.” Though his name is little known among Americans today, every U.S. soldier is indebted to von Steuben—he created America’s professional army.

Lunar Bat-men, the Planet Vulcan and Martian Canals

Smithsonian Magazine

Bat-Men On The Moon!
One August morning in 1835, readers of the New York Sun were astonished to learn that the Moon was inhabited. Three-quarters of the newspaper's front page was devoted to the story, the first in a series entitled "Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, L.L.D, F.R.S, &c At The Cape of Good Hope." Herschel, a well-known British astronomer, was able "by means of a telescope of vast dimensions and an entirely new principle," the paper reported, to view objects on the Moon as though they were "at the distance of a hundred yards." Each new story in the six-part series reported discoveries more fantastic than the last.

Herschel's telescope revealed lunar forests, lakes and seas, "monstrous amethysts" almost a hundred feet high, red hills and enormous chasms. Populating this surreal landscape were animals resembling bison, goats, pelicans, sheep—even unicorns. Beavers without tails walked on two legs and built fires in their huts. A ball-shaped amphibian moved around by rolling. There were moose, horned bears and miniature zebras. But the biggest surprise of all was reserved for the fourth article in the series. Herschel and his team of astronomers had spotted humanoids: bipedal bat-winged creatures four feet tall with faces that were "a slight improvement" on the orangutan's. Dubbed Vespertilio-homo (or, informally, the bat-man), these creatures were observed to be "innocent," but they occasionally conducted themselves in a manner that the author thought might not be fit for publication.

The Sun also described massive temples, though the newspaper cautioned that it was unclear whether the bat-men had built them or the structures were the remnants of a once-great civilization. Certain sculptural details—a globe surrounded by flames—led the Sun's writer to wonder whether they referred to some calamity that had befallen the bat-men or were a warning about the future.

Reaction to the series—an effort to boost circulation, which it did—ranged from amazed belief to incredulity. Herschel himself was annoyed. In a letter to his aunt Caroline Herschel, also an astronomer, he wrote, "I have been pestered from all quarters with that ridiculous hoax about the Moon—in English French Italian & German!!" The author of the piece was most likely Richard Adams Locke, a Sun reporter. The newspaper never admitted it concocted the story. It's tempting to think that we're immune to such outlandish hoaxes today, and perhaps we are. But a passage from the series reminds us that we're not as different from our forebears of almost 200 years ago as we might think. When Herschel made his supposed optic breakthrough, the Sun reported, a colleague leapt into the air and exclaimed: "Thou art the man!"

Planet Vulcan Found!
Vulcan is best known today as the fictional birthplace of the stoic Mr. Spock on "Star Trek," but for more than half a century it was considered a real planet that orbited between Mercury and the Sun. More than one respectable astronomer claimed to have observed it.

Astronomers had noticed several discrepancies in Mercury's orbit. In 1860, French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier speculated that an undetected planet exerting a gravitational pull on Mercury could account for the odd orbit. He named it Vulcan.

An astronomer named Edmond Lescarbault said he had spotted the planet the previous year. Other astronomers pored over reports of previous sightings of objects crossing in front of the Sun. Occasional sightings of planet-like objects were announced, each prompting astronomers to recalculate Vulcan's orbit. After the solar eclipse of 1878, which gave astronomers a rare opportunity to see objects normally obscured by the Sun's glare, two astronomers reported they had seen Vulcan or other objects inside Mercury's orbit.

Le Verrier was awarded the Légion d'honneur for predicting the location of a real planet: Neptune. He died in 1877 still believing he had also discovered Vulcan. It took until 1915 and improved photography and the acceptance of Einstein's general theory of relativity, which explained Mercury's orbital discrepancies, for the idea to be laid to rest. The observations of the phantom planet were either wishful thinking or sunspots.

Martians Build Canals!
Percival Lowell peered through a telescope on an Arizona hilltop and saw the ruddy surface of Mars crisscrossed with canals. Hundreds of miles long, they extended in single and double lines from the polar ice caps. Bringing water to the thirsty inhabitants of an aging planet that was drying up, the canals were seen as a spectacular feat of engineering, a desperate effort by the Martians to save their world.

Lowell was an influential astronomer, and the canals, which he mapped with elaborate precision, were a topic of scientific debate during the early 20th century. We know now that the canals didn't exist, but how did this misperception begin?

In 1877, Giovanni Schiaparelli, an Italian astronomer, reported seeing canali on the surface of Mars. When his report was translated into English, canali, which in Italian means channels, was rendered as canals, which are by definition man-made.

Lowell's imagination was ignited by Schiaparelli's findings. In 1894, Lowell built an observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and focused on Mars. Other astronomers had noticed that some areas of the planet's surface seemed to change with the seasons—blue-green in the summer and reddish-ocher in the winter. These changes seemed to correspond with the growing and shrinking of the polar ice caps. Lowell believed that the melting caps in summer filled the canals with water that fed large areas of vegetation. He filled notebook after notebook with observations and sketches and created globes showing the vast network of waterways built by Martians.

The intricacy of Lowell's canal system is all the more mystifying because it doesn't seem to correspond to any actual features on the planet—yet he apparently saw the same canals in exactly the same places time after time. Even in Lowell's day, most other astronomers failed to see what he saw, and his theory fell into disrepute among most of the scientific community (though the public continued to embrace the notion). To this day, no one knows whether Lowell's maps were the result of fatigue, optical illusions or, perhaps, the pattern of blood vessels in his eye.

Like any romantic idea, belief in Martian canals proved hard to abandon. The possibility of life on the planet closest to ours has fascinated us for centuries and continues to do so. Lowell's canals inspired science fiction writers including H.G. Wells and Ray Bradbury. It took the Mariner missions to Mars of the 1960s and 1970s to prove that there are no canals on the Red Planet.

The Earth Is Hollow!
(and we might live on the inside)

Imagine the earth as a hollow ball with an opening at each pole. On its inner surface are continents and oceans, just like on the outer surface. That's the Earth envisioned by Capt. John Cleves Symmes, an American veteran of the War of 1812. He toured the country in the 1820s, lecturing on the hollow Earth and urging Congress to fund an expedition to the polar openings. His hope was that Earth's inner surface would be explored and that trade would be established with its inhabitants.

The hollow Earth theory wasn't entirely new—the idea of open spaces inside Earth had been suggested by ancient thinkers including Aristotle, Plato and Seneca. Caves and volcanoes gave the concept plausibility, and legends and folktales abound with hidden civilizations deep below the crust.

In 1691, to explain variations in Earth's magnetic poles, royal astronomer Sir Edmond Halley, better known for recognizing the schedule of a brilliant comet, proposed a hollow Earth consisting of four concentric spheres. The interior must be lit and inhabited, he said; the idea of the Creator failing to populate the land and provide its populace with life-giving light seemed inconceivable. Halley proposed a luminous substance that filled the cavity, and he attributed the aurora borealis to its escape through the crust at the poles.

To make a weird idea even weirder, Cyrus Teed, a 19th-century physician, alchemist and experimenter with electricity, concluded that the world was not only hollow but also that human beings were living on its inner surface. He got the idea in 1869, when an angelic vision announced (after Teed had been shocked into unconsciousness by one of his experiments) that Teed was the messiah. According to the angel, the Sun and other celestial bodies rose and set within the hollow Earth due to an atmosphere that bent light in extreme arcs. The entire cosmos, he claimed, was contained inside the sphere, which was 8,000 miles in diameter. Teed changed his name to Koresh (the Hebrew form of "Cyrus"), founded his own cult (Koreshanity) and eventually built a compound for his followers, who numbered 250, in southwestern Florida. The compound is now preserved by the state of Florida as the Koreshan State Historic Site and draws tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Venus Attacks!
In 1950, Immanuel Velikovsky published Worlds in Collision, a book that claimed cataclysmic historical events were caused by an errant comet. A psychoanalyst by training, Velikovsky cited the Old Testament book of Joshua, which relates how God stopped the Sun from moving in the sky. Moses' parting of the Red Sea, Velikovsky claimed, could be explained by the comet's gravitational pull. He theorized that in 1500 B.C., Jupiter spewed out a mass of planetary material that took the form of a comet before becoming the planet Venus.

Velikovsky was one in a long line of catastrophists, adherents of the theory that sudden, often planet-wide cataclysms account for things like mass extinctions or the formation of geological features. His book is remarkable not so much for its theories—which are unexceptional by catastrophist standards—but for its popularity and longevity. A New York Times best seller for 11 weeks, it can be found on the science shelves of bookstores to this day and enjoys glowing reviews on some Web sites.

Worlds in Collision was met with derision from scientists. Among other problems, the composition of Venus and Jupiter are quite different, and the energy required for ejecting so much material would have vaporized the nascent planet. At a 1974 debate sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Carl Sagan, the popular astronomer, was among the panelists opposing Velikovsky. But the attacks may have strengthened Velikovsky's standing; he struck some people as an underdog fighting the scientific establishment.

Velikovsky's ideas seemed radical a half century ago—most astronomers assumed that planetary change occurred at a slow, constant rate. His remaining adherents point to the asteroid impact that killed most of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago as evidence he was ahead of his time.

Erik Washam is the associate art director for Smithsonian.

I'll have an order of desegregation, please

National Museum of American History

We often remember the civil rights movement as a few iconic events that took place at famous landmarks—the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the National Mall. Programming intern Alex Kamins learned that it took place all over the country, including a small roadside eatery in the middle of Maryland.

I recently drove about 40 miles to go to a diner. There's nothing wrong with the diners closer to home here in Washington, D.C., but I knew the Double T Diner in Catonsville, Maryland, had a story to tell—along with some solid diner fare.

A contemporary photograph of the outside of the Double T Diner. It has a traditional chome exterior. Several cars are parked in the parking lot in front of it.

Located on Route 40, once the main connection between Washington, D.C., and New York, the Double T offers a retro setting designed to evoke the 1950s, complete with neon colors, chrome design, and a jukebox on every table. The clientele tends to be locals looking for a bite to eat and perhaps a friendly chat. I managed to go the day before the Fourth of July and it was packed. People were lining up in droves in order to get a table. As I was by myself, I managed to sneak in under the radar and find a spot at the counter.

As popular as it is, I don't think most of the people squeezing into the Double T know that 55 years ago, this diner refused to serve African American patrons. Back in 1961, a demonstration took place there in which students took days off from classes, risked their lives, and stood outside and picketed—probably feeling fear and apprehension every minute they were there. They were fighting for one simple cause: that African Americans would be treated as equals and that the diner would drop its Jim Crow-era segregationist policy.

With the election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960, many people (particularly African Americans) hoped that he might lead the country away from segregation. But progress was slow and Kennedy's focus seemed to be on the Soviet Union and the threat of communism spreading around the globe.

A booklet concerning the 1962 nuclear fallout plans. It is yellow with red and black text boxes and font. A mushroom cloud decorates the righthand side.

However, a few events in the first couple years of his term forced him to acknowledge that something had to be done about civil rights in America. Starting in 1960, the United States received an increase in diplomatic representatives from Africa. Multiple African diplomats, in particular William Fitzjohn of Sierra Leone and Adam Malik Sow of Chad, were harassed and beaten at a number of establishments as they made their way along Route 40 from Washington, D.C., to the United Nations headquarters in New York. In an August 1960 article for the Washington Post titled "D.C. is a Hardship Post for Negro Diplomats," reporter Milton Viorst was able to convey to his readers the state of affairs for these diplomats as they made their way to D.C.: "[The diplomat] has learned to live in 'colored' hotels, eat in 'colored' restaurants, and spend his evenings in 'colored' movies. When asked how he accepts it, he shrugs and calls it a hazard of his profession."

While Kennedy publicly apologized to Fitzjohn and Sow for what happened, he saw these incidents as a thorn in his side in terms of his overall plan for the time he was in office. According to Nick Bryant'sThe Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality, he even chastised the African diplomats (not directly, but in a private phone call with one of his advisors) for taking Route 40 saying, "Can't you tell those African ambassadors not to drive on Route 40? It's a hell of a road—I used to drive it years ago, but why would anyone want to drive it today when you can fly? Tell these ambassadors I wouldn't think of driving from New York to Washington. Tell them to fly!"

Kennedy created the Special Protocol Service Section at the State Department and installed Pedro Sanjuan as its head. Sanjuan personally visited every establishment along Route 40 and pleaded with them to cease segregation, presenting himself as representing the president, complete with a letter from Kennedy. As a result of his visits, more than half of the 78 restaurants along Route 40 voluntarily complied with his request.

According to Raymond Arsenault's Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, Sanjuan plead his case to Maryland lawmakers by saying, "when an American citizen humiliates a foreign representative or another American citizen for racial reasons, the results can be just as damaging to his country as the passing of secret information to the enemy." Unfortunately for Kennedy, he didn't know this twist was coming. According to Nicholas Murray Vachon's The Junction: The Cold War, Civil Rights, and the African Diplomats of Maryland's Route 40, Kennedy aide Harris Wofford remembers that when it came to civil rights, the president made decisions "hurriedly, at the last minute, in response to Southern political pressures without careful consideration of an overall strategy." He felt as though his involvement in this crisis would make America look weak in the eyes of the rest of the world and that the Soviet Union would take advantage of the situation, which they eventually did. Bryant describes in The Bystander how Soviet officials in New York "offered to sign leases on behalf of at least three United Nations-based African diplomats who had been rebuffed by white landlords."

Four students stand in the foreground of this photo depicting a three story building with clocktower in the back and campus grounds. Other students mill around.

Around this time, African American students saw a strategic opportunity to increase the visibility of the movement. Vachon describes how the students donned dashikis, robes, and fake accents and proceeded to go to a number of establishments along Route 40. The response they received was mixed but often cordial. One place demanded to see their credentials while others either served them in another room or treated them as regular customers.

Bryant continues his narrative by describing how Sanjuan, frustrated that "the administration was unwilling to enact new legislation," began to turn to civil rights groups such as CORE to organize and picket the remaining segregated institutions along Route 40. CORE (short for the Congress of Racial Equality) decided to initiate a Freedom Motorcade that was to be scheduled for November 11, but just a few days before it was to take place, "the majority of restaurant owners along U.S. #40 agreed to desegregate," as stated on CORE's protest flyer "End Racial Discrimination along U.S. 40 between the Delaware Memorial Bridge and Baltimore."

However, some institutions refused to comply and CORE printed up flyers for anyone who was interested. The call on those flyers was to "Help us finish the job!" and the aim was to orchestrate a number of sit-ins in the segregated establishments. On the flyers, the demonstrators outlined a step-by-step process of what would happen to the volunteers. They would be verbally abused and under the constant threat of violence. Some were arrested, but the focal point (as outlined in the flyer) was to "be courteous and stay non-violent throughout, no matter what the provocation."

A photo from the museum of the installed portion of the counter from the Greensboro diner. It includes the countertop, four chairs, and part of the back wall with a mirror on it.

Every day for the next few months, 300 to 400 students made their way into the remaining segregated establishments and would remain there until they were read the trespass law by the owner in the presence of police, as was required by Maryland law. These sit-ins were so successful that by June 1962, all of establishments along Route 40 were completely desegregated thanks to the Public Accommodations Law passed by the Baltimore City Council.

As for the Double T Diner…

Though I was at the diner only long enough to enjoy a burger and fries, it seemed almost surreal to picture what happened there 55 years ago. Both black and white students, as well as ordinary volunteers and prominent civil rights activists, sat at this very counter silently protesting the treatment of African Americans. I kept turning my head in many directions, looking for any glimpse of the dramatic events of the past. Diners were talking about their plans for the Fourth of July and the score of the previous night's Orioles game, and were unlikely to be thinking about the events of the past. There's no plaque or newspaper article taped to the wall to inform diners about what happened here.

As I left the diner, I kept thinking to myself how, even though we tend to think of the civil rights movement as a few seminal events, the reality was it took place all over the country, where thousands of people risked their lives every day for a more humane nation. We can still think about the history surrounding a location even as we enjoy a cheeseburger.

A photograph of the meal the author ordered; there is a hamburger with fixings and fries, along with condiments, a glass of water and eating utensils.

Alex Kamins completed a programming internship working with the Office of Programs and Strategic Initiatives. He is a graduate student at New York University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and is set to graduate next May.

intern Alex Kamins
Posted Date: 
Monday, December 5, 2016 - 08:00
OSayCanYouSee?d=qj6IDK7rITs OSayCanYouSee?d=7Q72WNTAKBA OSayCanYouSee?i=ZkHPPuKXOvE:RQP18VX4gtE:V_sGLiPBpWU OSayCanYouSee?i=ZkHPPuKXOvE:RQP18VX4gtE:gIN9vFwOqvQ OSayCanYouSee?d=yIl2AUoC8zA

Crashing Alexander Hamilton's Birthday Weekend

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s a birthday card the recipient will never see, given the year he’s celebrating: His 258th. But were he to glimpse the missive — signed with ink, quills and looping cursive handwriting — he might blush from the posthumous attention.

“Today is Alexander Hamilton’s birthday, right?” asks an excited guest on the morning of Saturday, January 10. She’s just entered Hamilton Grange National Memorial, a preserved historical house in Harlem where Hamilton lived for two years with his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, and seven children. The woman is off by one day — Hamilton was born on January 11 — but it hardly matters: It’s the Founding Father’s birthday weekend, and the festivities stretch across three days.

Even though Hamilton’s visage is printed on the $10 bill, the canny, wunderkind statesmen is often overshadowed by the likes of Jefferson, Washington and Adams. Never elected president, Hamilton’s highest rank in the executive branch was as Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington. Hamilton played paramount roles at the Constitutional Convention and crafting the Federalist Papers, but — other than his currency placement — may be best known for having been killed by then-Vice President Aaron Burr in a duel in 1804. Except this past weekend and with this small but passionate band of Hamilton devotees, who gather annually to fete the late thinker, honor his legacy, and trek around New York City to his various haunts, houses and stomping grounds.

“[We want] to make it easier, quicker for people to get to the essence of Alexander Hamilton’s greatness,” says Rand Scholet, the founder of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society (AHA), an organization that trumpets Hamilton’s achievements and for three years has organized the annual birthday crawl. It’s in New York City that Hamilton attended school (Kings College, today’s Columbia University), practiced law, and built his home.

The weekend’s traditions are equal parts solemn and quirky: A cake cutting at the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street, where a permanent exhibition spotlights Hamilton’s economic acumen; a long-distance call dialed from the museum to Nevis, the Caribbean Island where Hamilton was born; and a blessing at Trinity Church in lower Manhattan, where Hamilton is buried. Each time the group sings “Happy Birthday,” an unwritten rule is in effect: no agreement beforehand on how to address Hamilton. As a result, the final verse is always more cacophony than song. Revelers call him “Alexander,” “Major General Hamilton,” and — if they’re feeling particularly playful — “Hammy.”

The Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York City is the last surviving headquarters of George Washington’s revolutionary army in Manhattan and one of the stops on the Alexander Hamilton birthday tour. (Trish Mayo/Morris Jumel Mansion)

On Saturday morning, Scholet dons a colorful Continental Congress-themed tie and AHA-emblazoned sport coat, shepherding around fellow fans and eager to rattle off Hamilton’s unheralded accomplishments: creating a blueprint for the nation’s economy; establishing the Coast Guard; and serving as Washington’s loyal aide-de-camp throughout the Revolutionary War.

“Alexander Hamilton was George Washington’s indispensable partner in war and peace for over 22 years,” Scholet says excitedly in a creaky, third-story room of Hamilton Grange.

Downstairs, a team of historians reads Hamilton’s love letters aloud. A particularly steamy passage causes one attendee to smirk and waggle his eyebrows suggestively.

Hamilton Grange serves as the weekend’s hub, a gathering place for admirers to swap anecdotes, recount favorite stories, and debate apocrypha. (No, Martha Washington probably didn’t have a pet cat named Hamilton.) Alice and Ed Magdziak — Hamilton enthusiasts from New Jersey — share an analogy.

“Hamilton is the George Harrison of the Founding Fathers,” Ed says, alluding to the talented Beatle who never quite got the same acclaim as bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Like Harrison, Hamilton might not be as well-known as his colleagues — but he has all their zeal and passion, if not more, Ed adds.

Nearby are Ian and Hartley Connett, a father-and-adult-son duo from Dobbs Ferry, New York. This is Ian’s third Hamilton birthday weekend. This year, the younger Connett, managed to sell Hamilton to his father and friends, and the cadre crawls the city to celebrate.

“For me, Hamilton represents the epitome of what it means to be an American,” Hartley says, referencing Hamilton’s success despite a modest upbringing and lowly pedigree.

The Connett party’s itinerary parallels AHA’s for a time, and then veers off. They’ll have drinks at Fraunces Tavern, that iconic Manhattan watering hole that dates back to the 18th century. They’ll also venture to the Weehawken, New Jersey, site where political rival Burr killed Hamilton in a duel in 1804.

Members of the US Coast Guard, Sector New York place the traditional wreath sponsored by the Museum of American Finance next to Alexander Hamilton's grave following a blessing led by Trinity Church (Nicole Scholet)

Burr makes some Hamilton fans bristle — “No comment,” says one of Connett’s friends brusquely when asked his thoughts — but AHA is eager to make peace. “Aaron Burr is not a villain,” Scholet says. “He actually has a very similar background to Hamilton,” he continues, noting both men lost their parents early in life. The National Parks Service, which maintains Hamilton Grange, seems eager to sow peace, too. One of the docents at the site is Elizabeth Reese, a fifth great grandniece of Burr. Her volunteering at the site is penance, she jokes, for a deadly duel two centuries ago.

When the Connetts depart for New Jersey, a different passel of Hamilton disciples migrates about 20 blocks north to the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights, a Washington headquarters during the war that’s now a historic landmark and museum. Here, Hamilton devotees pack into a cozy parlor to hear lawyer Pooja Nair speak about Hamilton’s career in law — and that strange time he teamed up with Burr to defend a client.

“This is a legal dream team,” Nair says breathlessly. The case — dubbed the Manhattan Well Murder — was a consummate media frenzy, Nair notes, and placed Hamilton’s legal prowess in the national spotlight. Nair’s audience is rapt, and varied: Hamilton fans are young and old, male and female, and — perhaps — even Federalists and anti-Federalists.

The weekend’s events conclude at Trinity Church early Sunday afternoon, where a group of two dozen gathers at Hamilton’s grave. His tomb, a faded marble obelisk, is adorned with gifts: Wreaths, flags, bows, and — in a clever nod to the first-ever Secretary of the Treasury — various American currency. It’s here that two clergy members lead a blessing, bringing the birthday weekend to a close.

“Do we have any Hamilton descendants here?” asks the rector.

“In spirit,” quips one woman, earnestly. Those around her nod in agreement.

Whistler's Peacock Room is Reimagined in a State of Oozing and Broken Decay

Smithsonian Magazine

Just as the National Portrait Gallery last year commissioned its first piece of earth art, a six-acre portrait in sand on the National Mall, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art is breaking new ground, presenting a radical contemporary work of art inspired by the Freer Gallery’s most iconic treasure: the Peacock Room by artist James McNeill Whistler.

Steps away from Whistler’s room, which is considered a masterpiece of the Aesthetic Movement, California painter Darren Waterston has created a life-size deconstruction of it in the adjacent Sackler Gallery. But Waterston reimagined the period room in a very 2015 way: appropriation with a tortured point of view. As if Mad Max had rampaged through it, the room is in a state of decay, its famous pottery smashed, shelves fractured and its gold paint oozing on to the floor. The Smithsonian has titled it “Peacock Room Remix: Darren Waterston’s Filthy Lucre.”

“This is a completely new form for us,” says Julian Raby, the director of the Sackler and Freer Galleries.

One that takes some explanation.

In 1876 Whistler created Harmony in Blue and Gold: the Peacock Room for the London home of the British shipping magnate Frederick R. Leyland. After Leyland commissioned the architect Thomas Jeckyll to design a dining room in the house where he could display his collection of Chinese porcelain, Leyland asked his friend Whistler to consult on the color scheme, probably because he had commissioned two Whistler canvases for the same room.

Whistler instead transformed the entire decor. With no one around (Jeckyll had taken ill and Leyland had left London after the summer social season), Whistler went wild. He covered nearly every square inch of the room—including its fine leather-covered walls, wooden shutters, wainscoting and ceiling—in teal blue. Over the blue he painted gold feathers, wave patterns and pairs of magnificent peacocks.

In Waterston’s version, the room is a decomposing still life. The paint has formed stalactites. The gilded spindles of the shelves are smashed. There are lichen-like growths under the mantle. The porcelain has been replaced with pottery from junk shops. Some pieces are on the floor, shattered; others sit on precarious perches. Instead of daylight, an ominous red glow peaks through the shutters.

In the background one hears muffled, whispering voices and a cello playing mournful, dissonant notes.

“This project is the perfect confluence of art, architecture and design,” says Lee Glazer, associate curator of American art at the Freer and Sackler galleries. “It’s a whole new way to present new and old together, taking the Peacock Room and putting it in conversation, even confrontation, with a major endeavor by a living artist.”

But what does “Filthy Lucre” mean?

“It is the story of the Peacock Room reimagined in three-dimensional form by Darren, who has taken animosity and turned it into a three-dimensional experience,” Raby says.


He is referring to the famous falling out between patron and artist. When Whistler demanded payment for his many months of work, Leyland refused, stating quite correctly that he had not commissioned it. Famously combative, Whistler was incensed and turned his ire on his patron. “Once friends, forever enemies,” he declared.

The Gold Scab: Eruption in Filthy (or Frithy) Lucre by James McNeill Whistler, 1879 (The Fine Art Museums of San Francisco)

Art historian John Ott tells the tale in the excellent exhibition catalog: “Unable to secure his desired fee of two thousand pounds from Leyland, the artist’s only recourse was a pair of acidic visual satires: the sparring peacocks he added to the room’s south wall and titled Art and Money; or, the Story of the Room and a painted caricature of Leyland, The Gold Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre (the Creditor).”

The fighting peacocks represent artist and patron. Whistler’s can be identified by a tuft of white hair, which the artist had. The puffed-up Leyland peacock has “feathers” in the form of gold coins.

Whistler’s caricature, a large canvas painted in 1879 that is also on view at the Sackler, depicts Leyland as demonic peacock man covered in scales of gold with talons for hands and feet. He plays a piano that has sacks of money piled on top. His piano seat is a white house, representing Whistler’s beloved studio, lost when Whistler was forced to declare bankruptcy soon after the affair.  

Darren Waterston knew the caricature well. The Bay Area artist had seen it many times at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He was also a student of Whistler’s painting techniques.

Artist Darren Waterston (Art Evans)

In 2012, Susan Cross, curator of Visual Arts at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass. commissioned Waterston to do a 100-foot-long mural in a public space outside the museum’s theater. He accepted the challenge with dedication and enthusiasm. His research on great painted interiors from the past led him to the Freer and Whistler’s Peacock Room, which Freer donated to the Smithsonian in 1906 with his collection of Asian art.

“My work for the last two decades is about volatility and the underbelly of beauty,” Waterston explains. “Beauty is an unstable concept. The Peacock Room felt like so much tragedy. It kind of functions as a memento mori. It demands our scrutiny.”

Waterston went back to Cross with a new vision. As Cross writes in the catalog, “Much like Whistler, he had moved far beyond the task first put before him and found his own vision.” Waterston wrote her: “My proposal of Filthy Lucre, a painterly, sculptural subversion of Whistler’s Peacock Room, is truly what I feel most moved to create….”

MASS MoCA gave its approval and Waterston spent a year in residence at the museum, working with a large team of fabricators (carpenters, painters, glass artists, ceramicists) to build the installation in the old textile mill. He painted the walls, reinterpreted the peacocks as far more aggressive (they are disemboweling each other), and over-painted the pottery with rough brushstrokes. He also commissioned the rock group Betty to play the dissonant soundscape that accompanies the work.

What was he trying to show?

“It’s about the complex relationship between art, money and the artist,” Waterston says. "It’s about the commodification of art, the collision of enormous wealth and extraordinary deprivation.”

The work is intentionally beautiful and ugly.

“The room is reeling with beauty but has an over-the-top-ness that isn’t so beautiful,” Glazer says. “When I walked in for the first time, I saw within its perfection violence. It has a sense of decadence that almost becomes grotesque.”

Cross further adds, in the catalog, “A portrait of both desire and disgust, Filthy Lucre, like Waterston’s paintings, expresses emotional and psychological states as well as the physical. Articulating the inextricable link between creative and destructive forces, the installation continues Waterston’s investigations of the duality—the multiplicity—of all that we know. Never quite one thing or another, his works constantly move between darkness and light, past and future, abstraction and representation, liquid and solid.”

Filthy Lucre of course could not be timelier, in an age where the relationship between artists and wealthy patron/collectors has never been more fraught, nor the art market more volatile. As Cross writes, “Waterston felt a personal connection to the story of the Peacock Room in terms of an artist’s labor and relationship to capital. Every artist knows the pressure of making a living. The need for ‘lucre.’”

But the triumph of the installation in the Sackler, accompanied by other works by Whistler and Waterston’s concept drawings, is its proximity to the original.

As Raby writes in the catalog, “Significant in its own right, Waterston’s work represents an opportunity to better understand the Peacock Room’s multifaceted history and enduring influence—and to do so in the only museum in the world where it is possible to compare it with the original source of inspiration.”

"Peacock Room REMIX: Darren Waterston's Filthy Lucre" is on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, adjacent to the Freer Gallery (home of the James McNeill Whistler famed Peacock Room), in Washington, D.C. through January 2, 2017.

Remembering Forrest Mars Jr.

National Museum of American History
Photograph of a copper chocolate pot and wooden whisk, 1740s-1760s

Hearing that Forrest Mars Jr. had passed away on July 26, 2016, put me in a sad but reflective mood. One of the giants of the chocolate world, Forrest, along with his brother John and sister Jacqueline, owned and led the $35 billion food company Mars Inc. Many people think of Forrest Mars as a businessman famous for managerial skills, but I knew him as a devoted historian of early American chocolate and a donor of important chocolate consumption objects to the Smithsonian.

Photograph of Howard Shapiro delivering a presentation before a museum audience.
Photographs of museum visitors at a hands-on station during the 2009 Smithsonian Chocolate Symposium.
In 2008, my colleagues at the museum and I first began working with Forrest when he encouraged us to host a symposium on the history of chocolate. Held at the museum in February 2009, the meeting was wildly successful. People clamored for a ticket to hear scholars reveal a fascinating and largely unknown history of international colonial trade and cultural diffusion. We quickly realized that the business history of chocolate was an outstanding prism for gaining insight and understanding into what made the early American economy tick.
Josiah Webb & Co. advertisement, about 1860. Horses pull a wagon carrying packed goods away from the factory building, which bears the company's name.
M&M point of sale display, 1942. The display contains several tubes of wrapped M&M containers and reads "Chocolate...flavor sealed in."
Forrest’s interest and commitment to history was strong. As Howard Shapiro, Global Director of Plant Science and External Research for Mars, explained, Forrest believed that chocolate was “inextricably linked to the soul of America.” Forrest was adamant that the story of early American chocolate should be recorded and preserved – not just in popular magazine stories and trade books, but in serious scholarly works. Along with our symposium Mars sponsored the major opus Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage (several chapters of which are available on our museum’s website) as well as museum installations and demonstrations around the United States and Canada. The Mars family was so strongly committed to history that they became the naming sponsor of American Enterprise, an exhibition chronicling the business history of America, which opened just a year ago.
Screenshot of the Colonial Drinks interactive included in the American Enterprise exhibition.
But history is more than beautiful objects, archival photographs, and interpretive words. History, if you talked to Forrest Mars, was also about taste and smell. Committed to preserving all aspects of chocolate history, Forrest encouraged his company to commercially produce historic American chocolate so that everyone could smell and taste what the nation's founders would have consumed. I for one was pleasantly surprised to experience the peppery and complicated taste that defined chocolate in the late 1700s. 
Photograph of museum visitors and staff interacting during the Business of Chocolate public program.
Forrest Mars was the epitome of a high-impact, low-profile leader. He was a business manager who with his sister and brother expanded their father’s company into a truly global brand. Fiercely committed to the company’s five founding principles—Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency, and Freedom—Mars did more than watch the bottom line. Constantly looking long-range, the family made decisions that were often about the planet and people, not simply profit. They chose to fund projects like the sequencing of the cacao genome, not because it made sense on the accounting books, but because it made a huge difference to the thousands of small holder farmers raising cacao around the world. 
Photograph of curator Peter Liebhold posing in front of a Dove chocolate display in China alongside a sales agent.
I would see Forrest at least once a year at the annual meeting of the Colonial Chocolate Society. Modest and unassuming, he would sit quietly in a back corner munching on a small bag of M&Ms, listening intently to the scholarly presentations. I’m pretty sure most of the conference attendees didn’t recognize him and that would have made him happy.
Peter Liebhold is a co-curator of the American Enterprise exhibition and a curator in the Work and Industry Division at the National Museum of American History. 
Posted Date: 
Thursday, July 28, 2016 - 18:45
OSayCanYouSee?d=qj6IDK7rITs OSayCanYouSee?d=7Q72WNTAKBA OSayCanYouSee?i=LuuMB1FBxMY:fE9d83FN0LE:V_sGLiPBpWU OSayCanYouSee?i=LuuMB1FBxMY:fE9d83FN0LE:gIN9vFwOqvQ OSayCanYouSee?d=yIl2AUoC8zA

Broadway, Inc.

Smithsonian Magazine

Debuting a show on Broadway, like attending the first day of a very expensive kindergarten, is an experience filled with fear, trepidation and even tears. If you stay long enough, however, you're uplifted by the storytelling and the songs, and you can't wait to do it all again tomorrow. Of course there's the small matter of tuition. Today, it can cost as much as $13 million to develop a Broadway musical through to opening night, and the immense pressure to make good on that investment has ushered in the era of the name-brand musical, the one that begins with something familiar—a book, a film, a Swedish pop sensation—and ends with audience members standing dazed in the lobby gift shop, debating whether to buy the T-shirt or the coffee mug.

By hedging their ideas with proven entities (see: The Lion King, Wicked, Mary Poppins, Legally Blonde), Broadway producers hope to add a dash of certainty to the mix of skill, luck, novelty, nostalgia and jazz hands required to succeed on the Great White Way. "There are no rules on Broadway," the author and screenwriter William Goldman once noted. "And one of them is this: art must be both fresh and inevitable; you must surprise an audience in an expected way." That could explain why the most commercially successful show for the past three Broadway seasons has been Wicked, based on the Gregory Maguire book that sheds light on characters from the classic American movie, The Wizard of Oz. Critics hated it. Audiences remain entranced. The show has grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide.

Although the trajectory of film to musical (and sometimes back to film, as with Hairspray) is increasingly popular, adaptation is not as new as it might seem. "There are all these movies being adapted into musicals now, and people tend to forget that after My Fair Lady (1956), until almost as late as 1973-74, there were many more things adapted from previous sources than there are now," says Broadway historian Laurence Maslon of New York University. "Everything from books like Don Quixote and Billy Budd to movies like The Apartment or Some Like It Hot. That was actually a much more fertile field of adaptation of known quantities."

The difference now? Branding. "There was a time when the Broadway musical felt that it needed to advertise itself as a new product," says theater critic Peter Filichia. And so Russell Bissell's novel Seven and a Half Cents became The Pajama Game, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop got a new life as Damn Yankees and the 1939 Garbo film Ninotchka took the stage as Silk Stockings. "In those days, the '50s and the '60s, it was very important to put your best foot forward and say you're not seeing the same old thing you saw in the movies," says Filichia. "That's changed. Now the brand name of the property is important, and they want to make sure that people know that they're seeing a musical version

Broadway's emerging corporate mentality, seemingly so American, was actually spearheaded by a Brit, Cameron Mackintosh, the producer behind such megahits as Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, and the new musical Mary Poppins (a co-production with Disney). "He made the show the product, not the star, which is a complete 180 from the way Broadway had existed for decades," says Maslon. No longer did one go to see Ethel Merman as Mama Rose in Gypsy or Anna Maria Alberghetti headlining in Carnival; now people lined up to see an ensemble cast prowling the stage. In 1981, Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber co-produced Cats—the first name-brand musical aimed at the entire family, based on the 1939 poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot.

Image by Courtesy of Regent Releasing. Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, and the cast of Wicked at their opening night curtain call. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Regent Releasing / Anita and Steve Shevett. Director/Producer of ShowBusiness, Dori Berinstein. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Regent Releasing. Cast members of Avenue Q Opening Night of Avenue Q on Broadway and After Party John Golden Theatre and Splashlight Studios New York City, New York United States July 31, 2003 (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Regent Releasing. Jeff Marx and Bobby Lopez at work on Avenue Q. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Regent Releasing. ""Now Broadway is matching the corporate economic world, so we see the Disney musicals, all the movie brands, anything that was something else before is an automatic hit," says Tony-award winning actress Tonya Pinkins (in Caroline, or Change). (original image)

The focus gradually shifted from star performers to grand spectacles that could be reproduced on stages worldwide with multiple, modular casts. "Financially, producers said, 'Hey, that's working. And it's a lot easier to deal with than a performer,' " says Tony-award winning actress Tonya Pinkins. "Now Broadway is matching the corporate economic world, so we see the Disney musicals, all the movie brands, anything that was something else before is an automatic hit, and it's kind of critic-proof, because people already know it, they're familiar with it."

Some of the most successful shows of recent seasons—The ProducersThe Color Purple and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, to name a few—have plucked familiar names, plots and characters from their original sources. "If people already have a good taste in their mouth, they have an expectation of something, and that's being delivered," says Pinkins. Now in the works are musical versions of ShrekGone with the Wind and Desperately Seeking SusanDirty Dancing: The Musical holds the record for advance sales—taking in more than $22 million before opening in fall 2006—in the history of the West End, London's answer to Broadway. The show makes its North American debut this November in Toronto. This fall will also see the Broadway premiere of Mel Brooks's new musical, an adaptation of the 1974 film Young Frankenstein.

"From an economic point of view, if you have a proven property, something that's a hit, there's always going to be a desire to capitalize on that rather than risk it with an untested story," says Adam Green, who writes about theater for Vogue magazine. "I think that by and large, that's what's going to happen, but there's always going to be things that are original, like Avenue Q."

Still, Broadway's most original productions are influenced by existing works. "Writing a Broadway musical is so difficult that you need something to start from, a germ of an idea that may already exist or may already work," says Bobby Lopez, who co-wrote and composed the Tony-award winning musical Avenue Q, a show that features Sesame Street-style puppets in adult situations. "For us, it was the idea of children's television, and then we spun our own story and put a lot of ourselves into it."

Adaptation also tends to demand rigorous reevaluation of the original. "When you're writing an adaptation, you're absolutely writing it about yourself, pouring out your heart, and making it your own," says Lopez, who recently co-wrote Finding Nemo: The Musical, which is now playing at Disneyworld. "In order to remake something as a musical you need to completely rethink it. You have to reconsider the point of telling the story and why you care about it."

For Dori Berinstein, one of the producers of the musical version of Legally Blonde, it comes down to finding the best possible story and then figuring out how to tell it. "Both Legally Blonde the musical and Legally Blonde the film celebrate this amazing heroine who goes on a mission of discovery," says Berinstein, who captured contemporary Broadway in a 2007 documentary, ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway. "Figuring out how to tell the story on a stage, live and in front of an audience, is a completely different thing. It's extraordinarily challenging, and it's not any different, really, than creating an original story."

New York City-based writer Stephanie Murg contributes to ARTnews and ARTiculations,'s art blog.

Commemorating 100 Years of the RV

Smithsonian Magazine

Every December 15, Kevin Ewert and Angie Kaphan celebrate a “nomadiversary,” the anniversary of wedding their lives to their wanderlust. They sit down at home, wherever they are, and decide whether to spend another year motoring in their 40-foot recreational vehicle.

Their romance with the road began six years ago, when they bought an RV to go to Burning Man, the annual temporary community of alternative culture in the Nevada desert. They soon started taking weekend trips and, after trading up to a bigger RV, motored from San Jose to Denver and then up to Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Sturgis, Devil’s Tower and through Yellowstone. They loved the adventure, and Ewert, who builds web applications, was able to maintain regular work hours, just as he’d done at home in San Jose.

So they sold everything, including their home in San Jose, where they’d met, bought an even bigger RV, and hit the road full time, modern-day nomads in a high-tech covered wagon. “What we’re doing with the RV is blazing our own trail and getting out there and seeing all these places,” Ewert says. “I think it’s a very iconic American thing.”

The recreational vehicle turns 100 years old this year. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, about 8.2 million households now own RVs. They travel for 26 days and an average of 4,500 miles annually, according to a 2005 University of Michigan study. The institute estimates about 450,000 of them are full-time RVers like Ewert and Kaphan.

Drivers began making camping alterations to cars almost as soon as they were introduced. The first RV was Pierce-Arrow’s Touring Landau, which debuted at Madison Square Garden in 1910. The Landau had a back seat that folded into a bed, a chamber pot toilet and a sink that folded down from the back of the seat of the chauffeur, who was connected to his passengers via telephone. Camping trailers made by Los Angeles Trailer Works and Auto-Kamp Trailers also rolled off the assembly line beginning in 1910. Soon, dozens of manufacturers were producing what were then called auto campers, according to Al Hesselbart, the historian at the RV Museum and Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana, a city that produces 60 percent of the RVs manufactured in the United States today.

As automobiles became more reliable, people traveled more and more. The rise in popularity of the national parks attracted travelers who demanded more campsites. David Woodworth—a former Baptist preacher who once owned 50 RVs built between 1914 and 1937, but sold many of them to the RV Museum—says in 1922 you could visit a campground in Denver that had 800 campsites, a nine-hole golf course, a hair salon and a movie theater.

The Tin Can Tourists, named because they heated tin cans of food on gasoline stoves by the roadside, formed the first camping club in the United States, holding their inaugural rally in Florida in 1919 and growing to 150,000 members by the mid-1930s. They had an initiation; an official song, “The More We Get Together;” and a secret handshake.

Another group of famous men, the self-styled Vagabonds—Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs—caravaned in cars for annual camping trips from 1913 to 1924, drawing national attention. Their trips were widely covered by the media and evoked a desire in others to go car camping (regular folks certainly didn’t have their means). They brought with them a custom Lincoln truck outfitted as a camp kitchen. While they slept in tents, their widely chronicled adventures helped promote car camping and the RV lifestyle. Later, CBS News correspondent Charles Kuralt captured the romance of life on the road with reports that started in 1967, wearing out motor homes by covering more than a million miles over the next 25 years in his “On the Road” series. “There’s just something about taking your home with you, stopping wherever you want to and being in the comfort of your own home, being able to cook your own meals, that has really appealed to people,” Woodworth says.

Image by Photograph from the collections of Al Hesselbart and the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. Overland Park Trailer Camp, circa 1925. (original image)

Image by © Jill Fromer. An RV travels through Yellowstone National Park. (original image)

Image by Photograph from the collections of Al Hesselbart and the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. Adams Motor Bungalo, 1917. (original image)

Image by Photograph from the collections of Al Hesselbart and the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. Sportsman Trailer, 1932. (original image)

Image by Photograph from the collections of Al Hesselbart and the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. Airstream, 1933. (original image)

Image by Photograph from the collections of Al Hesselbart and the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. Airstream Clipper, 1936. (original image)

Image by Photograph from the collections of Al Hesselbart and the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. Hunt Housecar, 1937. (original image)

Image by Photograph from the collections of Al Hesselbart and the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. Frank Motorhome, 1961. (original image)

Image by Photograph from the collections of Al Hesselbart and the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. Winnebago Motorhome, circa 1966. (original image)

Image by Photograph from the collections of Al Hesselbart and the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. Newell motorhome, 1978. (original image)

The crash of 1929 and the Depression dampened the popularity of RVs, although some people used travel trailers, which could be purchased for $500 to $1,000, as inexpensive homes. Rationing during World War II stopped production of RVs for consumer use, although some companies converted to wartime manufacturing, making units that served as mobile hospitals, prisoner transports and morgues.

After the war, the returning GIs and their young families craved inexpensive ways to vacation. The burgeoning interstate highway system offered a way to go far fast and that combination spurred a second RV boom that lasted through the 1960s.

Motorized RVs started to become popular in the late 1950s, but they were expensive luxury items that were far less popular than trailers. That changed in 1967 when Winnebago began mass-producing what it advertised as “America’s first family of motor homes,” five models from 16 to 27 feet long, which sold for as little as $5,000. By then, refrigeration was a staple of RVs, according to Hesselbart, who wrote The Dumb Things Sold Just Like That, a history of the RV industry.

“The evolution of the RV has pretty much followed technology,” Woodworth says. “RVs have always been as comfortable as they can be for the time period.”

As RVs became more sophisticated, Hesselbart says, they attracted a new breed of enthusiasts interested less in camping and more in destinations, like Disney World and Branson, Missouri. Today, it seems that only your budget limits the comforts of an RV. Modern motor homes have convection ovens, microwaves, garbage disposals, washers and dryers, king-size beds, heated baths and showers and, of course, satellite dishes.

“RVs have changed, but the reason people RV has been constant the whole time,” Woodworth says. “You can stop right where you are and be at home.”

Ewert chose an RV that features an office. It’s a simple life, he says. Everything they own travels with them. They consume less and use fewer resources than they did living in a house, even though the gas guzzlers get only eight miles a gallon. They have a strict flip-flops and shorts dress code. They’ve fallen in love with places like Moab and discovered the joys of southern California after being northern California snobs for so long. And they don’t miss having a house somewhere to anchor them. They may not be able to afford a house in Malibu down the street from Cher’s place, but they can afford to camp there with a million-dollar view out their windows. They’ve developed a network of friends on the road and created, a Web site for younger RV full-timers (Ewert is 47; Kaphan is 38).

Asked about their discussion on the next December 15, Ewert says he expects they’ll make the same choice they have made the past three years—to stay on the road. “We’re both just really happy with what we’re doing,” he says. “We’re evangelical about this lifestyle because it offers so many new and exciting things.”

Nine Famous People and What They’re Buried With

Smithsonian Magazine

When the comedian David Brenner died earlier this year, obituaries reported that he’d asked to be buried with $100 in small bills, “just in case tipping is recommended where I’m going.”

Brenner is not the first celebrity to challenge the conventional wisdom of “you can’t take it with you.” Here are nine more:

Leonard Bernstein (1918 to 1990). The famous conductor and composer, whose works included the musicals On the Town and West Side Story, was buried with a piece of amber, a lucky penny, a baton, a copy of Alice in Wonderland and a pocket score of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, according to the 2014 biography Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician. While each item had its significance in Bernstein’s life, the Mahler symphony was probably closest to his heart. At least one account claims it was placed directly over his heart in his casket, though others say it was simply put in alongside him.

Bernstein was known to have both idolized and identified with the late Austrian conductor and composer. Introducing a 1960 Young People’s Concert devoted to Mahler’s work, Bernstein observed, “It’s a problem to be both a conductor and a composer; there never seems to be enough time and energy to be both things. I ought to know because I have the same problem myself… It’s like being two different men locked up in the same body; one man is a conductor and the other a composer, and they’re both one fellow called Mahler (or Bernstein).”

Humphrey Bogart (1899 to 1957). Before the actor’s cremated remains were laid to rest, they were supposedly joined in their urn by a small gold whistle bearing the inscription “If you want anything, just whistle,” which he had given his widow, Lauren Bacall, years earlier.

The line was a reference to their 1944 film, To Have and Have Not, loosely based on an Ernest Hemingway novel, and the first movie to pair the then 43-year-old Bogart and his 19-year-old future wife. Though the quote in the inscription is often cited as a line of dialog from the movie, what Bacall’s character actually says would have required a much bigger whistle: “You know you don't have to act with me. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

For whatever reason, Bogart seems to have inspired memorable misquotations. Perhaps his most famous line of movie dialogue, “Play it again, Sam,” from 1942’s Casablanca never appears in the actual movie either.

George Burns (1896 to 1996). For the vaudeville, radio, television and movie comedian, cigars were a constant prop, and he went to his grave with three in his pocket.

What brand those might been doesn’t seem to have been recorded, though Burns was known to favor El Producto Queens. He explained the very practical reason behind his preference in a 1994 interview with the magazine Cigar Aficionado. The interviewer was Arthur Marx, son of another well-known cigar-chomping comedian, Groucho Marx.

George Burns. (Wikipedia)

Burns told him, “the reason I smoke a domestic cigar is because the more expensive Havana cigars are tightly packed. They go out on the stage while I'm doing my act. The El Producto stays lit. Now if you're onstage and your cigar keeps going out, you have to keep lighting it. If you have to stop your act to keep lighting your cigar, the audience goes out.”

Roald Dahl (1916-1990). The author of the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, celebrated chocolate in both his art and his life. So it isn’t surprising that he was reportedly buried with some (as well as a bottle of Burgundy, snooker cues, pencils, and a power saw).

In his 1984 memoir, Boy, Dahl wrote that one of his happiest childhood memories involved the newly invented candy bars that the British chocolate maker Cadbury sent to his boarding school from time to time, asking Dahl and his classmates to rate them. He fantasized about working in a chocolate laboratory when he grew up and inventing a chocolate that would wow even “the great Mr. Cadbury himself.” That fantasy, he said, became the inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

If Dahl didn’t grow up to become a chocolate inventor, he did remain a chocolate lover. He is said to have kept a red plastic box stuffed with chocolates, which he’d offer to guests after every meal, or simply eat by himself if he was dining alone. The box is preserved at the Roald Dahl Museum archives in the village of Great Missenden, north of London.

Harry Houdini (1874 to 1926). The famous magician and escape artist was buried with his head resting on a packet of letters from his beloved mother, Cecilia Weiss. As Houdini’s friend Howard Thurston (perhaps the second most famous magician of the day) observed at the time, “His love for his mother was his deepest devotion.”

Cecilia’s death, in 1913, had been a shock that her son never quite recovered from. Hoping to communicate with her in the next life, Houdini became fascinated with the then-popular fad of spiritualism. Open-minded at first, he was soon disenchanted and spent much of the remainder of his life exposing the tricks of psychics and mediums.

Houdini’s coffin was a specially designed solid bronze model with a hermetically sealed inner liner that he had used underwater in his act. As The New York Times reported, Houdini had it “made to prove his contention that any one could live without air for an hour if they did not let fear overcome them. It was his expressed wish that he be buried in this coffin.”

Houdini got his wish. He was buried in Queens, New York, in a plot he shares with his mother and other relatives.

John F. Kennedy (1917 to 1963). Among his leisure pursuits, the 35th President was a collector of scrimshaw, pieces of whale bone or ivory that were engraved with pictures and designs, most famously by New England whalers. Highlights of his collection were on prominent display in the Oval Office during his presidency.

            A particular favorite was a 9 1/2-inch-long whale tooth, engraved with the presidential seal by the scrimshaw artist Milton Delano. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who had commissioned the piece, gave it to her husband for Christmas in 1962, the last Christmas he’d live to see. It was buried with him in Arlington National Cemetery after his assassination the following November.

            Not long before his death, Kennedy himself gave another piece away, to the actress Greta Garbo, who had admired the collection during a White House visit. Much of the remaining collection now resides at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

            Other items buried with the President include letters from his wife and two children and a pair of gold cufflinks. His brother Robert, who would be assassinated less than five years later, is said to have added a PT-109 tie clip and a silver rosary.

Bela Lugosi (1882 to 1956). As the most famous interpreter of Dracula on both the Broadway stage and Hollywood screen, the Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi spent much of his career in coffins. In 1956, when the nearly forgotten Lugosi died from a heart attack, he was laid to rest in his final one.

At the suggestion of family and friends, according to Arthur Lennig’s 2013 biography, The Immortal Count, Lugosi was buried in full Dracula regalia, including his trademark black cape. The actor himself might have had mixed feelings about that. Even before his immortal turn as the Transylvanian vampire in the 1931 Tod Browning film, Lugosi had recognized the dangers of being typecast as a monster, no matter how suave and well dressed.

“He hopes, when the talkie Dracula is completed, to escape the shackles of the role,” an Associated Press writer reported in 1930. “He will never again play Dracula on the stage, he says. If the wide distribution of the film did not make such a venture unprofitable, he would refuse because of the nervous strain the gruesome character puts upon him.”

In fact, Lugosi would go on to portray Dracula or Dracula-like characters on stage and in several more films, including the 1948 comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and the posthumously released Plan 9 from Outer Space, widely considered one of the worst movies of all time.

Frank Sinatra (1915 to 1998). The “My Way” singer was buried his way, with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, a pack of Camel cigarettes, a Zippo lighter, and a dollar’s worth of dimes, according to contemporary news accounts. The dimes were reportedly in case he needed to use a pay phone.

Jack Daniel’s had been Sinatra’s frequent companion, both on stage and off, ever since he was introduced to it by the comedian Jackie Gleason. In Gay Talese’s celebrated 1966 Esquire article “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” Talese quotes the singer as saying, “I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel.” He was also known to refer to it as the “nectar of the gods.”

Sinatra’s fondness for Jack Daniel’s, and the fact that he was buried with a bottle, have since been featured in the whiskey maker’s advertising, adding posthumous celebrity endorser to Sinatra’s many other credentials. Jack Daniel’s has also created a premium whiskey in his honor, Sinatra Select.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987). By some accounts the pop artist and filmmaker was buried clutching a bottle of Estee Lauder perfume. By other, possibly more reliable reports, a bottle was tossed into his grave by a friend, after the casket had been lowered. Either way, he would have appreciated the gesture; as he wrote in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, “I really love wearing perfume.”

He goes on to confess that, “Sometimes at parties I slip away to the bathroom just to see what colognes they’ve got. I never look at anything else—I don’t snoop—but I’m compulsive about seeing if there’s some obscure perfume I haven't tried yet, or a good old favorite I haven’t smelled in a long time. If I see something interesting, I can't stop myself from pouring it on. But then for the rest of the evening, I’m paranoid that the host or hostess will get a whiff of me and notice that I smell like somebody-they-know.”

Warhol’s relationship with perfume didn’t end with his death. Today his name is on no fewer than seven different men’s and women’s fragrances.

Andy Warhol's grave, located at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in a suburb of Pittsburgh. (Wikipedia)

And 10 more, in brief:

William S. Burroughs (1914 to 1997). The Beat Generation novelist was reportedly buried with, among other things a loaded .38 caliber revolver, a sword cane, a ballpoint pen, a fedora and a joint.

Tony Curtis (1925 to 2010). The movie actor shares his coffin with a long list of items, including his Stetson hat, a pair of driving gloves, his grandson’s baby shoes, and the ashes of his dog.

Miles Davis (1926 to 1991). The jazz trumpeter is said to be buried with one or more of his horns.

Wild Bill Hickok (1837 to 1876). Legendary Wild West gunslinger and lawman Hickok was buried with his rifle.

Ernie Kovacs (1919 to 1962). Comedian and television pioneer Kovacs, who by some accounts died in a car crash while trying to light a cigar, was supposedly buried with one put in his hand by his widow, Edie Adams, and another tucked into his jacket by his friend Jack Lemmon.  

Bob Marley (1945 to 1981). The reggae great is reportedly buried with his red Gibson Les Paul guitar, a Bible, and some marijuana.

Stan Musial (1920 to 2013). St. Louis Cardinals slugger and Baseball Hall of Famer Stan “The Man” Musial was nearly as fond of the harmonica as he was of the bat. He was buried with one of the former in his jacket pocket  

Harland Sanders (1890 to 1980). The Colonel of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame was buried in his trademark double-breasted white suit.

Tiny Tim (1932-1996). Best known for his 1968 rendition of “Tip-Toe Thru' The Tulips With Me,” the ukulele-strumming falsetto singer was reportedly buried with—what else?—a ukulele and one or more tulips.

Ronnie Van Zant (1948 to 1977). The Lynyrd Skynyrd front man, killed in a 1977 plane crash, is said to be buried with a black hat and his fishing pole.

We're Entering a New Age of Meatless Meat Today. But We've Been Here Before

Smithsonian Magazine

Add two cups peanut butter, two cups mashed beans, four cups water, three tablespoons corn starch, one teaspoon chopped onion, a pinch of sage, a pinch of salt and mix it all together. After you steam that in a double boiler for three hours, you’ll get around 24 servings of protose, arguably the earliest commercial meat substitute in the West.

While today high-tech companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are investing big in meatless meat—billed by Bill Gates, an early investor in both businesses, as the “future of food”—the concept of meatless meat for all was a conversation happening at the turn of the 20th century, too.

Before Upton Sinclair’s damning account on the meatpacking industry forced new federal food safety laws in the 1900s, a growing vegetarian movement had taken hold of the country, paving the way for products like protose to sell widely. The mock meat didn’t taste like the beef or chicken it was meant to imitate (the primary flavor was protose’s star ingredient: peanut butter), but all the same, the “healthy” alternatives to flesh—many coming out of Michigan’s Battle Creek Sanitarium—had an influential run as early substitutes to meat.

Battle Creek, founded in 1866, was part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The medical center, hotel and spa became, as Howard Markell, author of The Kelloggs: Battling Brothers of Battle Creek writes, the denomination’s equivalent of the Vatican for more than half a century.

By that logic, the man who ran it, John Harvey Kellogg, may very well have been its pope. Between 1895 and 1905 roughly 100 foods billed as healthy (though, today, nutritionists would likely push back against that label) were developed there under his supervision. Kellogg, whose parents converted to the Adventist faith and moved the family to Battle Creek to be closer to the church, was one of the most influential surgeons of the late 19th century and an expert in health and nutrition. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he and his brother, Will, were those Kelloggs. As it happens, that Corn Flake recipe, which divided the brothers bitterly, also subscribes to Adventist teachings to abstain from eating excitable foods that might stimulate untoward moral and physical activity. That same philosophy, unfortunately, didn't just lead Kellogg to health food, but also to an especially cruel anti-masturbation crusade that lingers over his legacy today.

Kellogg became increasingly interested in diet while studying to become a doctor, and was especially influenced by the ideas of Sylvester Graham, of the Graham cracker fame, whose popular vegetarian diet reforms nodded back to the temperance movement’s ideas of linking a healthy body to a righteous, Christian life. In keeping with those ideals, by the late 1870s Kellogg had established a health food company out of Battle Creek, where he developed products like granola, crackers and Corn Flakes. As he began focusing on nut-based food substitutes, he launched the Sanitas Nut Food Company in 1889. It was there that he began to experiment endlessly with meatless meats like protose, as well as bromose, nuttose, nut-cero, nuttolene, savita, and vijex, among others.

(Of course, while Kellogg gets create for patenting some of the first modern meat analogues, references to the “first meat replacement” tofu, for instance, go back centuries, first referenced at least as early as 965 C.E. in China, authors Akiko Aoyagi and William Shurtleff write in their history of meat alternatives.)

Kellogg wasn’t creating these canned meat alternatives in a vacuum. The Progressive-Era philosophies that shaped many of the doctor’s ideas created an environment that made other people interested in eating the concoctions, too. The American diet was seeing a larger shift away from meat at the time, as Vegetarian America: A History chronicles. Thanks to the work of writers and activists like Sinclair, as well as progressives like Jane Addams and politician Robert LaFollette, the book observes vegetarianism was coming into a “golden age” in the country.

Battle Creek Sanitarium, circa 1910 (Library of Congress)

W.H. Wiley, chief chemist of what is now the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who served in the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, was one of many concerned about the American diet. Wiley, perhaps best known for founding the Poison Squad in 1902—a group made up of healthy young people who tested chemicals and adulterated foods on themselves—had been working, unsuccessfully, to pass pure-food bills in the 1880s and 1890s. He was also looking for meat alternatives. Vegetarian America adds that in addition to his concerns around the cost of meat, the “wasteful economics” of animal agriculture was on his mind. In a 1902 talk where he addressed the high price of beef, he called attention to the need for meat substitutes:

“It is well known that men nourished extensively on cereals are capable of the hardest and most enduring manual labor,” he said. “Meats,” he added disparagingly, “are quickly digested and furnish an abundance of energy soon after consumption, but it is not retained in the digestive organism long enough to sustain permanent muscular exertion.”

To that end, Charles Dabney, an assistant professor working for the government, approached Kellogg to take part in Wiley's quest for new protein alternatives. As Kellogg recounted in the 1923 book The Natural Diet of Man: “Recognizing that the increase of population would ultimately lead to an increase in the price of foodstuffs and particularly of meats, and possibly a scarcity of meats, Professor Dabney requested the writer to solve the problem by the production of a vegetable substitute for meat.” With that first experiment, protose, Kellogg already knew he was onto something. To “a considerable degree [it] resembles meat in appearance, taste and odor,” he wrote, adding that it even had “a slight fibre like potted meat.”

Taste was perhaps stretching it. But if it the fake meat didn’t taste like meat, as Aubrey Taylor Adams writes in her dissertation on American Health Food Culture, that wasn’t too big of an issue. Unlike the Impossible Burger or Beyond Burger of today, the technology wasn’t there yet to expect it to. What early mock meat could do was at least look like the real deal. For instance, Adams points to a Good Health recipe for “Brazil Nut and Lentil Roast” where, she notes, “the editors were careful to emphasize the importance of the firm, dry texture generally expected of a meat roast: ‘For if too moist, it will not be firm and solid like meat, and will not slice nicely.’”

If a wider tent of consumers didn’t subscribe to the religious underpinnings of Kellogg’s vegetarian philosophy, his health warnings certainly played into the fears of the day. Kellogg’s skill as a nutritionist was recognized throughout the country, and he knew how to make a statement. In one anecdote Markel shares in his book, the doctor used a projector to show that there were “420 million [disease-causing microbes]” in one sliver of meat “not as big as your thumb.”

Such claims, Markel writes, “resonated loudly in an era when health inspections of meat, dairy, and other food products were still rudimentary, at best, and everyone in the room knew someone (if not themselves) who had contracted typhoid fever, cholera, tuberculosis, and any number of diarrheal disease from ingesting tainted water, meat, eggs, and dairy products.” (For the faith-based consumer thinking about how meat impacted demeanor, another yarn involved a wolf whom Kellogg claimed only became vicious once it was allowed meat.)

Kellogg and his wife, Ella Eaton Kellogg, went on to oversee a bevy of canned, nut-based mock meats under the Sanitas label. At the height of the mock-meat craze, Kellogg was reporting health food sales figures of almost half a million dollars. The reach of their product was impressive: They were sold in groceries and early health food stores across the Anglophone world (England’s first health food store, named after vegetarian Sir Isaac Pitman, had launched in 1898), stretching from Australia to South America.

Today’s faux meat has come a long way since protose and its offsprings. As Smithsonian previously recounted in the history of the veggie patty, the individual credited with creating the first commercially sold veggie burger (in 1982), for instance, had never even eaten a meat patty before coming up with his recipe.

By contrast, the latest companies to take on the challenge have taken pains to continue to make their patties look and taste like the real thing. This time around, the mission driving their creations isn’t grounded in organized religion, but instead in the environment. With a crusade to end the harmful impact of animal agriculture on the planet, the latest campaigns to divest from meat aren’t trying to attract just vegetarians and vegans, but also people who regularly enjoy meat yet worry about the effect their consumption habits are having on the planet.

That’s why it was something of a coup that Impossible Food recently announced the rollout of the Impossible Whopper, (the announcement came on April Fool’s Day—the joke being that the chain was serious). But as Chris Finazzo, president of Burger King's North American division, recently told the Washington Post, the company’s research showed there’s a market for it. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, vegetarians and vegans remain a minority—fewer than one in 10 Americans follow the diets—however, meatless meat appeals to a wider demographic. According to Finazzo, some 90 percent of people buying plant-based meat are, in fact, meat eaters who want better options.

"There's a lot of people who want to eat a burger every day but don't necessarily want to eat meat every day," Finazzo said.

The initial rollout of the Impossible Whopper, which is being sold in 59 St. Louis locations, is already looking promising. If it everything goes according to plan, the Impossible Whopper will debut in all 7,200 Burger King locations nationwide next. The patty uses Impossible Burger’s 2.0 recipe, which is vegan and certified kosher, and has been largely hailed as an improvement by those who’ve tasted it. The patty now browns as a beef-based burger would when you cook it and “bleeds” due to a genetically modified yeast cell soy leghemoglobin or “heme,” which also gives the burger its meatier taste (though that’s also what caught the attention of some food safety advocates, as Bloomberg breaks down).

It seems as though the next age of meatless meat might be right ahead of us. Just last Saturday, ten Chinese plant-based meat manufacturers came together for Meat Fest in Shanghai, an event organized by Vegans of Shanghai and Plant Based Consulting China to “boost the profile of Chinese plant-based meat manufacturers and promote a healthy lifestyle based on meat alternatives,” according to an article in the South China Morning Post. Citing research from the firm Markets and Meats, SCMP points out that the global meat substitute business, estimated at $4.6 billion in 2018, is already predicted to rise to $6.4 billion by 2023.

Washington Post food reporter Tim Carman’s glowing dispatch from St. Louis suggests a meatless future won’t just be an ethically tasteful choice. Praising the meat alternative he sampled as a “master illusionist,” Carmen ends his review with a prediction: “America, get ready for the Impossible Whopper. I suspect it will be coming your way soon, once it passes through St. Louis.”

From the Joshua Tree to The Slaughtered Lamb: Destinations of Story and Song

Smithsonian Magazine

U2 was here—and so were thousands of fans who managed to find the remote Mojave Desert location of the very Joshua tree depicted in the photo series accompanying U2's 1987 album. The tree has died and now lies in brittle bits and pieces. Photo by Steve Hall.

Satellite views of the Earth plus the advent of digital photography and remote communication technology have rendered virtually no place on the planet unexplored—or unseen, anyway. To be an explorer in the old days was a legitimate and noble occupation, but traveling today is much less about first-time discovery than it is about rediscovery. But there is a particular thrill in going where certain others have gone before, to walk where they walked and to know that their eyes, too, played across the very landscape before you. So forget the world’s last lingering corners of wilderness for a moment, or the last unsettled islands, and consider these special sites of interest where writers, artists, musicians and heroes once walked:

The toppled Joshua tree. On a cold December day in 1986, the biggest budding rock band of the time—a group of young Irishmen known as U2—walked into the Mojave desert with photographer Anton Corbijn, posed before a lanky-limbed Joshua tree and created one of the most famous rock and roll image galleries, portrayed on the album sleeve of U2′s 1987 album The Joshua Tree. The images spurred a quiet pilgrimage of followers seeking to locate the Joshua tree—the Joshua tree, that is, the one shown on the album. The site is located near Death Valley, and presumably the first U2 fan to locate the place found it by following the skyline seen in the famed black and white photographs. Today, the tree itself lies fallen and broken, while a shrine and plaque, a variety of stone-based artwork and four stone circles indicating where each U2 band member once stood still give visitors a chilling sense of rediscovery.

The Slaughtered Lamb pub. “I vote we go back to The Slaughtered Lamb.” So said Jack Goodman, played by Griffin Dunne, to his friend David Kessler in the 1981 horror cult classic An American Werewolf in London. Two young American men, students on vacation, were walking on the cold, wild moors of Northern England not far from a fictional village called East Proctor. The pair had just left the town’s spooky village pub, The Slaughtered Lamb, where a bizarre cast of locals sent the Americans packing with crazy talk suggesting monsters and witchcraft. But some distance out of the town, piercing half-man howls echoed through the fog and scared Jack and David back again toward the pub—but a werewolf got them first. Jack was killed, and David, played by David Naughton, was rendered a once-per-month monster whose own days would soon end after a bloody rampage in the streets of London. Today, the village of Crickadarn, Wales, which portrayed East Proctor, remains a vaguely known source of attraction for traveling film buffs. If you go, stick to the road, keep clear of the moors and take some good pics—and perhaps post driving directions in the comment box below. Heads up: The interior of The Slaughtered Lamb is actually in The Black Swan, a pub in Ockham, Surrey, in case you should want a pint.

Cephalonia, home island of Odysseus. Just which Aegean waters Homer’s hero stirred and which Greek islands he passed as he voyaged home from Troy may be unclear, but we may know just where Odysseus landed at the journey’s end, the island he called home. Named Ithaca in The Odyssey, the home island of Odysseus is believed to be that now called Cephalonia, off Greece’s west coast, as described in Smithsonian in 2006. An amateur scholar named Robert Bittlestone made this claim after studying translations of Homer’s narration and touring possible islands in Greece, surveying the landscapes and imagining just where was the likeliest abode of Odysseus. The modern-day island of Ithaca seems not to be the old Ithaca—but on Cephalonia, Bittlestone believes he can even trace the footsteps of Odysseus from the moment he came ashore at Phorcys Bay to the hut of the benevolent swineherd to—at last—the cone-shaped hill called Kastelli, where Odysseus’ wife Penelope and their son Telemachus endured for years the hounding of suitors and drunkards—men who died in a bloody, skull-crashing fight when Odysseus finally walked through his door. Should you go to Cephalonia, bring along a pair of binoculars and a copy of the Odyssey, perhaps the truest guidebook there is to this lesser-known Greek island.

Cephalonia, off of western Greece, might be the island where Odysseus—or his real-life prototype—lived. Photo courtesy of Flickr user The Photo Factory by Christel Egberts.

Fairbanks City Bus 142. The broken-down bus in which a young man lived his final days in Alaska in 1992 has become an attraction for back-country visitors in recent years. Made famous by Jon Krakauer in his 1995 book Into the Wild, Chris McCandless, who took up the alias Alexander Supertramp, has been the subject of scorn, sympathy and admiration. He came to the interior Alaskan bush country with idealistic visions of living off the land in a place void of human contact and government control—but things didn’t go well. Though he had a rifle, he failed to feed himself adequately, and after more than 100 days in the wild, he died of starvation inside the retired Fairbanks city bus. McCandless’ tribe of followers exploded in numbers following the 2007 movie adaptation of Krakauer’s book, and today many—too many, perhaps—visit the bus each summer and fall, posing for photos exactly as McCandless did, signing their names inside the bus and taking pieces away. Locals have begun to consider the defunct vehicle an attractive nuisance. Though the bus has long served as a campsite for local hunters, there has been talk of removing it from the bush. Go see this piece of junk while you can.

Steinbeck Country. It’s sunburned, desolate and populated by pigs and cougars—and everywhere you go in the hill country of California’s Monterey and San Benito Counties, you are likely to be viewing the same wild country that inspired the writing of John Steinbeck. While you have a sure bet at mingling with the ghosts of Steinbeck’s past at tourist hubs like Cannery Row, the real excitement lies farther afield—where one might explore the scrubby back country and ask of suspect homesteads, trees and road crossings: “Was Steinbeck here?” Eight years ago while exploring California on a long bicycle tour, this very question came to me, along with a strange and eerie feeling in my gut, when I came upon a lonely intersection in Monterey County, far from any stores or farms or gas stations. I was riding northward on Peach Tree Road, parallel to and east of the Salinas Valley, and came to the junction with Long Valley Road, which led deep into the hill country to the west. I instantly recalled Steinbeck’s The Long Valley and felt with certainty that the author had walked up this road in its unpaved days, through these dry expanses of classic California oak and scrub, absorbing impressions of the land that would later move him to write. But in the lonely hills of Steinbeck Country, fiction overlays reality, and whether here once was a god unknown, or a red pony, or a man named Adam Trask—who really knows but the writer who invented them all?

There are many other literary journeys, sites to see and paths to follow:

Jack Kerouac‘s route in On the Road. Kerouac disguised many of his real-life characters with clever pseudonyms in On the Road, yet travelers and journalists seem to have pinned down where he went, drank, ate and slept, from San Luis Obispo to Colorado to New York.

The pond and cabin of Henry David Thoreau‘s Walden days.

The Overlook Hotel of The Shining. Film director Stanley Kubrick relied on multiple locations, including a set in England, for shooting his 1980 horror hit, but for a face-to-face, head-on look at the hotel that swallowed up the Torrance family for a long, frightening winter, head straight to the Timberline Lodge in Oregon.

The Abbey Road crossing in London as seen on the Beatles album. Should you go, take three long-haired friends, set up a camera and don’t forget the most important part: One of you must walk barefoot.

The Fairbanks city bus in which Chris McCandless died of starvation in 1992 has become a tourist attraction. This photo was taken in 2011. Photo by Dave Korn.

Sewing for joy: Ann Lowe

National Museum of American History

"I was 17 years old at the time and the dress made me feel so grown up and beautiful," Pauline "Polly" Carver Duxbury wrote about the dress she wore to her 1967 debutante ball. "It is in my mind the most beautiful dress I have ever seen."

A white dress, the fabric has a sheen, around the top are flowers made of velvet and satin.Ann Lowe designed this dress for Pauline "Polly" Carver Duxbury for her 1967 debutante ball.

Debutante ball gowns, prom dresses, quinceañera gowns : the outfits we wear for special occasions often hold a special place in our memory. However, Polly Duxbury's debutante dress is more than just special to Duxbury—it is part of American history because of the person who created it.

The dress was designed by Ann Lowe, an acclaimed African American dress designer who was happiest when she created in cloth. "All the pleasure I have had, I owe to my sewing," Lowe told a reporter for Ebony in 1966, "I wish I were physically able to do all the work myself."

Her hair pulled tightly back, wearing her signature sunglasses and a black dress, Ann Lowe examines a dress in a photograph from a magazine article. Below the photo, the title: "Ann Lowe: Society's Best-Kept Secret."Dressmaker, designer, seamstress, couturier, businesswoman: all are terms that could describe Ann Lowe. Each term holds a specific connotation—both today and in the first part of the 20th century, when Lowe was working. We have chosen to use the words "dressmaker" and "designer" in this piece because they best describe Lowe's work envisioning the gowns and helping to create them. Even when Lowe's eyesight failed, she still designed dresses. Unlike some of the most modern uses of the word "designer," Lowe did not design ready-to-wear lines for her store or others. This 1964 Saturday Evening Post article profiled Ann Lowe, calling her a "dress designer." Photograph courtesy of the author.

Born in Clayton, Alabama, in 1898, Ann Lowe (née Cole) was the daughter and granddaughter of accomplished seamstresses. "She learned from them," said curator Nancy Davis. "She was really gifted, but she was also part of this lineage of seamstresses . . . and really capable ones." When Lowe was a child, she loved to play with the scraps left over from her mother's work, sewing and shaping them to transform them into flowers.

The back of the dress. You can see a flat of the dress that reveals the bright pink fabric. The back is filled with Lowe's signature flowers.As a child, Ann Lowe would transform the scraps from her mother's work as a dressmaker, sewing and shaping them into flowers. Years later, flowers would be a hallmark of an Ann Lowe dress. One debutante brought her dress to Lowe for repairs when her date snipped a flower off of the dress and wore it as a boutonniere.

In 1914, when her mother died suddenly, young Ann Lowe, only 16 years old, completed her mother's commissions—including one for the First Lady of Alabama. Lowe continued to pursue her passion for design and sewing. When a wealthy Floridian invited Lowe to Florida to make dresses, Lowe recalled "I picked up my baby and got on that Tampa train."

In 1917 Lowe studied at New York's S.T. Taylor Design School. With racial segregation the common practice even in the North, Lowe "was separated from the other students and had her own space where she worked," Davis said, "but her work was so exceptional that she was used as an example."

After earning her diploma, Lowe continued to work as a designer for the social elite. "I love my clothes and I'm particular about who wears them," Lowe later told Ebony magazine, "I am not interested in sewing for . . . social climbers. I do not cater to Mary and Sue. I sew for the families of the Social Register." Lowe's clients included the du Ponts, the Roosevelts, the Rockefellers, and the Auchinclosses (famous today for family member Jacqueline "Jackie" Bouvier, better known as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis).

Mrs. Auchincloss brought her daughter Lee Bouvier, Jackie's sister, to Ann Lowe to order her wedding gown. However, Lee and her mother soon canceled the order. They heard another designer, Pauline Trigère, would cost less. Ultimately the Trigère dress cost more, and when Jackie announced her engagement to then Senator John F. Kennedy, it was Ann Lowe who designed the bridal gown, as well as dresses for the bridal party.

The newly married Senator and Mrs. Kennedy stand at the center of the frame. She smiles at the camera, he smiles at her. They are surrounded by their bridal party, some looking at the camera, some joking, some staring off.The newly married Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy with members of their wedding party in 1953. Lowe designed both the bride's gown and the attendants' gowns. Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress features trapunto. "Trapunto is a layering of fabrics to create a dimensional effect—it was a technique Lowe was well known for," Davis said. Photograph by Toni Frissell, courtesy of Library of Congress, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

A week before the Kennedy wedding, Lowe's workroom flooded, ruining 10 of the 15 gowns, including the wedding dress. Lowe and staff worked around the clock for a week to remake the dresses. The wedding gown originally took eight weeks to make—it was duplicated in five days. After repurchasing all the fine fabric, and working day and night, Lowe's projected $700 profit on the job was actually a $2,200 loss. Lowe never told the family.

When Lowe arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, to deliver the bridal party's dresses, the staff at the front door would not let her enter, telling her to use the back door. Lowe reportedly countered, "I'll take the dresses back" if she had to use the back door—and walked through the front door.

While a poorly timed flood wasn't typical for Lowe, the dramatic story of the Kennedy wedding gives us a window into Lowe's daily struggles. Lowe's prices were lower than her competitors'. Lowe's son, Arthur, helped her manage the business. After he died in a car accident in 1958, making ends meet became a struggle. "Too late, I realized that dresses I sold for $300 were costing me $450," Lowe said. She ended up owing money to friends, to suppliers, and to the IRS. "The Internal Revenue agents finally closed me up for non-payment of taxes. At my wits end, I ran sobbing into the street," Lowe said. In 1962 she declared bankruptcy. Someone anonymously paid Lowe's IRS debt. Many believe it was Jackie Kennedy—who would have discovered both the dramatic story of completing her wedding dress and Lowe's financial struggles. Lowe picked up her sketchbook and went back to work.

During her career, Lowe had her own label and a store on 5th Avenue. She worked for designer Hattie Carnegie. Her dresses were sold in Neiman Marcus, Henri Bendel, and Saks Fifth Avenue. At Saks, Lowe became the head designer of The Adam Room, a special in-house boutique that catered to the social elite. It was there that Polly Carver Duxbury ordered an Ann Lowe dress for her debutante gown.

A detail of the Lowe dress. The structure of the dress is evident in the fitted nature and darts around the bust.A detail of the dress Lowe designed for Duxbury. 

"The quality of this dress? Unbelievable," said curator Nancy Davis. "All the seams are lined with lace. There's an amazingly complex interior structure that the dress is built around—the slip and bra are built in. According to Polly Duxbury, the fit is absolutely glorious—it's like your skin. The slip has tulle along the hem, which gives it shape. This kind of really detailed, really high-end work is very time-intensive."

Looking at the interior of the dress, one can better understand why Lowe was so sought-after, and why she struggled financially. "Everything is so perfect—and she didn't charge enough for the cost of the fabrics or the handwork that went into them," Davis said. "Sewing was her lifeblood. It was her gift, but also her being. She just wanted to sew. She just wanted to make beautiful dresses that gave her clients joy." Indeed, Lowe told a reporter for the Saturday Evening Post in 1964, "I like for my dresses to be admired. I like to hear about it—the oohs and ahs as they come into the ballroom. Like when someone tells me, 'the Ann Lowe dresses were doing all the dancing at the cotillion last night.' That's what I like to hear."

Ann Lowe's story brings to mind Elizabeth Keckley, an African American dressmaker for the elite in the mid-1800s. Keckley used her earnings as an accomplished seamstress to purchase her freedom, and that of her son. She went on to create dresses for Washington, D.C., high society, including First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and Mrs. Mary Anna Custis Lee. A christening gown created by Keckley is currently on display in American Enterprise.
Nancy Davis is a co-curator of the exhibitions Many Voices, One Nation and American Enterprise. She is a curator emeritus in the Division of Home and Community Life at the National Museum of American History. Amelia Grabowski is a social media and blog assistant focusing on business and philanthropy history.
Posted Date: 
Monday, March 12, 2018 - 17:00
OSayCanYouSee?d=qj6IDK7rITs OSayCanYouSee?d=7Q72WNTAKBA OSayCanYouSee?i=d9XiTXVZs3A:HqACZOM6eF4:V_sGLiPBpWU OSayCanYouSee?i=d9XiTXVZs3A:HqACZOM6eF4:gIN9vFwOqvQ OSayCanYouSee?d=yIl2AUoC8zA

Day 1: Seeing Kenya from the Sky

Smithsonian Magazine

June 13, Nairobi, Kenya. Weather: Sunny, warm and humid. Mpala Ranch (elev. 6000 feet): Sunny, warm, cool breezes.

The redoubtable Francine Berkowitz, director of international relations for the Smithsonian informs me that the Institution and its people are involved in activities in 88 countries, ranging from large permanent operations like the Panama to remote sites visited only occasionally by researchers and scientists collecting data. These international operations are critical to the diverse and varied work of the Smithsonian and that that is what brings me to Kenya.

I am here to visit the Africa that are at risk as the human population encroaches into what was once natural habitat.

Smithsonian scientists from the STRI, and the Secretary Robert Adams signed a cooperative agreement with the center. A number of SI researchers are at Mpala during my visit, including Biff Bermingham, STRI's director; soil scientist Ben Turner, Senior Scientist Emeritus Ira Rubinoff and Dave Wildt, head of the Center for Species Survival at the Zoo.

At places like Mpala, there is a chance to preserve a part of the natural world that is fast disappearing. Mpala is home to a stunning array of African wildlife, as diverse as that found at larger preserves like Serengeti . At the same time, Mpala is situated among several working ranches and the Mpala Ranch itself has a substantial cattle herd. African people, including the fabled Maasai , occupy community lands and move their cattle and goats from one place to another to seek better grazing for their animals. Mpala offers the opportunity to understand how people and wild animals might coexist so that both can succeed. My job as Secretary is to better understand the Smithsonian’s role in this important work and how it may evolve in the future.

Kenya is a country blessed by geographical diversity, ranging from a windblown coastline and the high elevations of Mount Kenya to desert in the north. The Mpala Ranch is located roughly in the middle of Kenya, about 20 miles north of the equator. It lies on the flanks of Mount Kenya, an extinct volcano that looms to the east of the Ranch. Rainfall averages about 20 inches per year, but it is not consistent and currently, Mpala is in the throes of a drought.

Mpala Ranch owes its existence to the vision of two brothers, Sam and George Small who fell in love with this land. Sam purchased the land in 1952 and left it to George when he died in 1969. George believed the land should be preserved and used as a center for research into the preservation of the flora and fauna. He also understood the obligation of landowners to the people of the region and provided for a state-of-the-art health clinic and schools for the children. In 1989, George created the Mpala Wildlife Foundation. Mpala is funded through the foundation, established and administered by the Mpala Research Trust, in collaboration with Princeton University, the Smithsonian, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the National Museums of Kenya.

Image by Smithsonian Institution. The Mpala Research Centre is a 48,000-acre preserve that allows scientists and researchers to observe the wild animals of Africa. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. The wild animals at the Mpala Research Centre are at risk due to the human population that has encroached into what was once natural habitat. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. Cheetahs are best observed from the roof of the Land Rover. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. Secretary Clough observes an African elephant. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. Ira Rubinoff stands next to elephant dung. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. Elephants always have the right of way. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. Giraffes are one of the many species Secretary Clough observed during his wildlife drive. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. Hippopotumuses submerge themselves to stay cool in the Kenyan heat. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. During the wildlife drive, spotting animals was sometime effortless. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. Secretary Clough spotted wild dogs during his wildlife drive. They are Africa's most common large carnivore. (original image)

Image by Brad Bergstrom. The marica sunbird feeds on nectar from long-throated flowers. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. Aptly named superb starlings enjoy the bird feeder at Mpala Ranch. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. Migratory animals such as elephants cover long distances over both public and private lands. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. Hornbills, such as this pair, mate for life. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. Two giraffes pay an early morning visit. (original image)

Image by John Hames. Red ants can be seen on the thorns of this acacia tree. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. The nests of weaverbirds can be seen dangling from the branches of the tree. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. Goats and cattle have contributed to overgrazing of community lands near Mpala. (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution. This aerial view shows the boma, or corral, that protects the familiy's animals from predators at night. (original image)

My wife, Anne, and I arrive in Nairobi early on the morning of the June 12 and are met by our Smithsonian colleague, Scott Miller, the Deputy Under Secretary for Science. Our journey from Washington, D.C., was to have taken about 24 hours, but due to weather delays for the first leg of our flight, we missed our connection from London to Nairobi and had to wait 12 hours for the next flight. We arrive in Nairobi at around 6 a.m. after 36 hours of travel, a bit wanting for sleep, but excited about being here. In Nairobi we transfer to a local airport for the short flight to Mpala. On the drive to the airport, we watch Nairobi waking up. Throngs of people are on the move. The streets are full of cars, trucks, buses and bicycles. There are thousands of pedestrians, including boys and girls in school uniforms. The school buses illustrate the religious diversity of Kenya with some representing Christian schools and others, Muslim schools.

Our Mpala flight initially takes us over land that is as green as Ireland, indicating high levels of rainfall and rich soil. As we continue north and come within sight of Mount Kenya and its peak, the land becomes brown and reflects a transition to a country with low precipitation. We learn later that much of the land also has been overgrazed by goats and cattle, as well as wild animals, causing serious problems in some areas near Mpala. Our pilot makes a low run over the dirt airstrip at Mpala Ranch to frighten off any animals that might be on the runway before we land smoothly in a cloud of dust. We are greeted by Margaret Kinnaird, executive director of the Research Center and others of the SI team who arrived earlier.

We drive in an old-school Land Rover over dirt roads to the Mpala Ranch headquarters. The trip is jolting at times when ruts and rocks are encountered. The Ranch is composed of a series of low stone and stucco buildings with sloped roofs. Each building, designed for utility, has its own character, and the ranch has a charm all its own in the middle of the large dry savannah. Our room is spacious with clay tile floors a large bed with a wrap-around mosquito net to keep the pesky creatures at bay.

We take lunch at the Research Center, a nearby complex of buildings with living quarters for students and visiting faculty, laboratories, computer rooms and an open-air dining hall. We are pleased to learn that the Smithsonian Women’s Committee provided funding for several of the buildings at the Research Center. After lunch we are treated to a series of talks that introduce us to the research done at Mpala.

At about 4 p.m. we break up and head out in Land Rovers on a “wildlife drive” to explore. Early on, we spot three cheetahs through binoculars. As we drive slowly along, the spotters on top of the vehicle thump the roof as a signal to spot if an animal is sighted. In some cases, you don’t really have to look very hard—elephants, gazelles and impala amble across the road at their pleasure. Others, like the beautifully colored bushbucks, shy from human contact. By the end of the wildlife drive, the list of species we have seen includes bushbuck, dik-dik, warthog, impala, giraffe , mongoose, scimitar-horned oryx , elephant, hippo , Cape buffalo, kudu , cheetah, hyenaand Grevy’s zebra (an elegant zebra with small black and white stripes). Remarkable!

We conclude the day with a wonderful al fresco dinner perched on a ridge overlooking a wide canyon. The air is sweet and the scenery distinctly Kenyan. With sunset, the temperature drops quickly and we crowd around a roaring fire. Finally, jet lag kicks in around nine and we call it an evening after an eventful day that we will long remember.

The Trouble with Bottled Water

Smithsonian Magazine

In the spring of 2007, the quietly simmering backlash against bottled water began to boil. Responding to well-organized pressure groups, first one, and then a dozen cities across the nation canceled their contracts for bottled-water delivery. Upscale restaurants struck fancy waters from their menus, and college students conducted taste tests intended to prove, once and for all, that most people can't tell the difference between bottled water and tap.

Suddenly bottled water was big news. Every time I opened a newspaper, magazine or Web browser, there was another story announcing that this harmless indulgence is anything but. On the lookout for this sort of material, I nearly drowned in the tidal wave of eco-criticism. With a mounting sense of anticipation—how far will the attacks go?—I watched as reporters, using statistics from academics and environmental groups, blasted away at the bottled-water industry. But curiously, their focus wasn't water, at first. It was oil.

Specifically, the 17 million barrels it takes each year to make water bottles for the U.S. market. (Plastic-making also generates emissions of nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide, and benzene, but because we're in the thick of the global-warming movement, not the environmental-carcinogen movement, this doesn't get much play.) That's enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year.

Is 17 million barrels a lot? Yes and no. Total U.S. oil consumption is 20 million barrels a day. But the oil that goes into water bottles themselves doesn't include the energy needed to fill them or to move them to consumers. Every week, a billion bottles snake through the country on tens of thousands of trucks, trains and ships. (In 2007, Poland Spring alone burned 928,226 gallons of diesel fuel.) And then there's the energy it takes to chill water in fridges and to haul the empties off to landfills. It adds up.

Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, estimates that the total energy required for every bottle's production, transport and disposal is equivalent, on average, to filling that bottle a quarter of the way with oil. His finding, undisputed by the water-bottling industry, shocks me. Oil, as we know, is a nonrenewable resource, mostly imported. The hunt for more oil is politically dangerous and expensive, and can be environmentally ruinous.

And then there's the water itself—increasingly important as we enter what's been called the post-Peak Water era. Manufacturing and filling plastic water bottles consumes twice as much water as the bottle will ultimately contain, in part because bottle-making machines are cooled by water. Plants that use reverse osmosis to purify tap water lose between three and nine gallons of water—depending on how new the filters are and what they remove—for every filtered gallon that ends up on the shelf. Cleaning a bottling plant also requires a great deal of municipal water, especially if the end product is flavored. On average, only 60 to 70 percent of the water used by bottling plants ends up on supermarket shelves: the rest is waste.

These costs—water, energy, oil—aren't unique to bottled water. It takes 48 gallons of water to make a gallon of beer, four gallons of water to make one of soda. Even a cow has a water footprint, drinking four gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk. But those other beverages aren't redundant to the calorie-free (and caffeine- and coloring-free) liquid that comes out of the tap, and that's an important distinction.

As 2007 wound down, bottled water sales slowed a bit, but it's hard to say if it was due to activist pressure, cool weather, high prices (oil costs more) or, as Nestlé Waters North America CEO Kim Jeffery says, a lack of natural disasters, which always spur demand. In any event, billions of cases of water continued to march out of supermarkets, and millions of bottles dribbled from everyplace else.

"People don't go backwards," says Arthur Von Wiesenberger, author of The Pocket Guide to Bottled Water and a consultant to the beverage industry. "Once they've developed a taste for bottled water, they won't give it up." Indeed, new bottling plants opened this past year in the United States, Europe, India and Canada; and entrepreneurs announced plans to bottle water in the Amazon, among other fragile landscapes, while Nestlé—the Swiss conglomerate that owns Poland Spring, Calistoga and many other U.S. brands of spring water, not to mention the French Perrier—continues to buy and explore new spring sites.

Overall, Americans drank 29.3 gallons of bottled water per capita in 2007, up from 27.6 gallons in 2006, with the 2007 wholesale revenue for bottled water in the U.S. exceeding $11.7 billion.

Still, among a certain psychographic, bottled water, not so long ago a chic accessory, is now the mark of the devil, the moral equivalent of driving a Hummer. No longer socially useful, it's shunned in many restaurants, where ordering tap is all the rage. Writing in Slate, Daniel Gross calls this new snob appeal entirely predictable. "So long as only a few people were drinking Evian, Perrier, and San Pellegrino, bottled water wasn't perceived as a societal ill. Now that everybody is toting bottles of Poland Spring, Aquafina, and Dasani, it's a big problem."

But is it fashion or is it rising awareness of the bottle's environmental toll that's driving the backlash? I'm starting to think they're the same thing. Fashion drove a certain segment of society to embrace bottled water in the first place, and fashion (green chic, that is) may drive that same segment to reject it. But the imperative to stop global warming—the biggest reason for the backlash—reaches only so far. For some, the imperative to protect oneself from tap water that either tastes bad or is bad, or the simple allure of convenience, may trump planetary concerns.

Bottles ready to be recycled (iStockphoto/Martin Bowker)

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), which represents 162 bottlers in the United States, is counting on it. Now in panic mode, the group is deflecting critics left and right. Bottled water uses only 0.02 percent of the world's groundwater, Joseph Doss, the group's president, argues in advertisements and interviews. (Yes, but it takes all those gallons from just a few places.) Other beverages move around the country, and the world, too: it's unfair to single out bottled water for opprobrium. (True: only about 10 percent of bottled water, by volume, is imported in the United States, compared with 25 to 30 percent of wine. But we don't drink 28 gallons of wine per person per year, and wine doesn't, alas, flow from our taps.)

Another industry argument is that bottled water is a healthy alternative to high-calorie drinks. The IBWA says it competes with soda, not tap water. But this appears to be a change in stance. In 2000, Robert S. Morrison, then CEO of Quaker Oats, soon to merge with PepsiCo, distributors of Aquafina, told a reporter, "The biggest enemy is tap water." And Susan D. Wellington, vice president of marketing for Gatorade, also owned by PepsiCo, said to a group of New York analysts, "When we're done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes." In 2006, Fiji Water took that dig at Cleveland, with its "The Label Says Fiji Because It's Not Bottled in Cleveland" ad.

Since Americans still drink almost twice as much soda as bottled water, it's not surprising that Coca- Cola, owner of vitaminwater and Dasani, and PepsiCo. are covering all their bases. The companies now offer vitamin-fortified sodas, extending what Michael Pollan calls "the Wonder bread strategy of supplementation to junk food in its purest form."

The bottling industry also plays the emergency card: consumers should consider bottled water when tap isn't an option. When the pipes break and pumps fail, of course, but also when you are, well, thirsty. "It's not so easy, walking down Third Avenue on a hot day, to get a glass of tap water," John D. Sicher Jr., editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, a trade publication, says. And, yes, all those plastic bottles, which use about 40 percent less resin now than they did five years ago, really should be recycled, the bottlers all cry. "Our vision is to no longer have our packaging viewed as waste but as a resource for future use," says Scott Vitters, Coke's director of sustainable packaging, says. At the same time, bottlers tend to oppose container-deposit laws, which are funded by the beverage industry, in favor of curbside or drop- off recycling programs, which have, so far, been funded by taxpayers.

Are environmental activists making too much of bottled water's externalities? Surely other redundant, status-oriented consumer products—the latest iteration of an iPod, for example—are worse for the environment, and for those affected by their manufacture (though nobody buys an iPod a day). Michael Mascha, who publishes a bottled-water newsletter, is adamant on the topic: "All I want is to have a choice about what I drink. I want five or six waters to match a dining experience. Fine waters are a treat." Mascha can't help marginalizing the opposition. "The backlash is the green movement," he says, "and it's antiglobalization. They say water shouldn't be a commodity, but why should water be free? Why is it different from food, which we also need to live, or shelter?"

The antiglobalization argument comes from pressure groups such as Food and Water Watch, which runs a "take back the tap" pledge campaign, and Corporate Accountability International (CAI). They have ideological roots in single-issue social and environmental campaigns (curbing sweatshop abuses and old-growth logging, for example). In recent years, such campaigns have converged to challenge the political power of large multinational corporations that, often by exercising free-trade agreements, are presumed to harm the environment and infringe upon human rights, local democracies and cultural diversity.

In the United States, CAI's anti-bottled water campaign—which taps both the environmental and the antiprivatization movements—has a multi-tiered agenda. First, it wants to demonstrate that most people can't discern between bottled and tap water. Second, it informs the public that most bottled water is "just tap" (which isn't, strictly speaking, true). Volunteers also make their points about bottled water's carbon footprint and its expense compared to tap, and then they ask individuals, and local governments, to quit buying it. Depending on the city, CAI may also ask local officials to forswear selling public water to private bottlers.

The group also pushes for water bottlers in the United States to quit undermining local control of water sources with their pumping and bottling. This last bit—opposing the privatization of a public resource—may be too outré for most mainstream news outlets to pick up on, perhaps because it raises sticky questions of ownership and control, and it offends many Americans' ideas about the primacy of capitalism. But while Corporate Accountability's mission to halt corporate control of a common resource might be abstract to most bottled-water drinkers, it isn't the least bit abstract to Californians resisting Nestlé's efforts to build a bottling plant in McCloud, near Mount Shasta, or to Floridians who swam in Crystal Springs until Nestlé began bottling it, or to those residents of Fryeburg, Maine, raging against Nestlé's boreholes and the big silver Poland Spring trucks that haul local water to markets throughout the northeast.

The fate of a spring-fed pond in Maine might not interest the average person slapping down two bucks for a bottle of Poland Spring at a concession stand, but the issue of who controls water may in the long run be even more important than how many barrels of oil are burned to quench the nation's thirst. We can do without oil, but we can't live without water.

Adapted from Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It. Copyright Elizabeth Royte. Published by Bloomsbury.

The Great Moon Hoax Was Simply a Sign of Its Time

Smithsonian Magazine

Anyone who opened the pages of the New York Sun on Tuesday, August 25, 1835, had no idea they were reading an early work of science fiction—and one of the greatest hoaxes of all time.

In that issue began a six-part series, now known as the Great Moon Hoax, that described the findings of Sir John Herschel, a real English astronomer who had traveled to the Cape of Good Hope in 1834 to catalog the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. But according to the Sun, Herschel found far more than stars through the lens of his telescope.

The 19th century was “the time before we knew everything,” says Kirsten van der Veen of the Smithsonian Institution’s Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology. “Science was very accessible,” she says. Common people of the time could easily read about scientific discoveries and expeditions to far-off places in the pages of newspapers, magazines and books. So the Herschel tale was not an odd thing to find in the daily paper. And that the series was supposedly a supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science leant it credibility.

But careful readers could have picked up hints early on that the story was unreal. On the first day, for example, the author claimed that Herschel had not only discovered planets outside our solar system and settled once and for all whether the moon was inhabited but also “solved or corrected nearly every leading problem of mathematical astronomy.” The story then described how Herschel had managed to create a massive telescope lens 24 feet in diameter and 7 tons in weight—six times larger than what had been the largest lens to date—and carted it all the way from England to South Africa.

Then the tale began to delve into the lunar discoveries made with the colossal telescope: First there were hints of vegetation, along with a beach of white sand and a chain of slender pyramids. Herds of brown quadrupeds, similar to bison, were found in the shade of some woods. And in a valley were single-horned goats the bluish color of lead.

From the Italian version of The Great Moon Hoax. Leopoldo Galluzzo, Altre scoverte fatte nella luna dal Sigr. Herschel (Other lunar discoveries from Signor Herschel), Napoli, 1836 (Smithsonian Institution Libraries)

More animals were documented in part three, including small reindeer, mini zebra and the bipedal beaver. “It carries its young in its arms like a human being, and moves with an easy gliding motion.” But the real surprise came on day four: creatures that looked like humans, were about four feet tall—and had wings and could fly. “We scientifically denominated them as Vespertilio-homo, or man-bat; and they are doubtless innocent and happy creatures,” the author wrote.

Like the 1938 radio program based on H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the stories in the New York Sun had not been published as an attempt to fool anyone, but the writer “underestimated the gullibility of the public,” van der Veen says. Years later, after confessing to authorship of the series, Richard Adams Locke said that it was meant as a satire reflecting on the influence that religion had then on science. But readers lapped up the tale, which was soon reprinted in papers across Europe. An Italian publication even included beautiful lithographs detailing what Herschel had discovered.

One of those lithographs is now on display at the Dibner’s new gallery at the National Museum of American History in the exhibition “Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction 1780-1910,” along with illustrations from the works of Jules Verne, Mary Shelley and L. Frank Baum, (a sampling of the exquisite offerings is included below). 

“In the years between 1780 and 1910, scientific disciplines were coming into their own, and whole new frontiers of discovery were emerging,” says Doug Dunlop of the Smithsonian Libraries. “The public was engaged with science at an unprecedented level. Fiction writers were inspired, too, preemptively exploring these new worlds, using science as a springboard.”

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. "Search for the Silver Whale; or, Under the Ocean in the Electric “Dolphin,” by Frank Reade, Jr.,Frank Reade Weekly Magazine, New York, 1903 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. "The Twentieth Century: The Electric Life," (Le vingtième siècle: la vie électrique) by Albert Robida, Paris, 1893 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. "The Twentieth Century: The Electric Life," (Le vingtième siècle: la vie électrique) by Albert Robida, Paris, 1893 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. "Lands of the Sky: Astronomical Travel to Other Worlds," ((Les terres du ciel; voyage astronomique sur les autres mondes) by Camille Flammarion, Paris, 1884 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. The Flying Man by Harry Kennedy, "Adventures of a Young Inventor," The Boy's Star Library, New York, 1891 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Gustave Doré, "Sailing to the moon," London, 1867 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Smith's Illustrated Astronomy: Designed for the Use of the Public or Common Schools in the United States by Asa Smith, New York, 1849 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Smith's Illustrated Astronomy: Designed for the Use of the Public or Common Schools in the United States by Asa Smith, New York, 1849 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. From the Earth to the Moon Direct in Ninety-seven Hours and Twenty Minutes, and a Trip Round It by Jules Verne, New York, 1874 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Ozma of Oz: A Record of Her Adventures by L. Frank Baum, Chicago, 1907 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Ozma of Oz: A Record of Her Adventures by L. Frank Baum, Chicago, 1907 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. News from Nowhere: or, An Epoch of Rest, Being Some Chapters from a Utopian Romance by William Morris, Hammersmith, London, 1892 (original image)

Image by Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, London, 1831 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. "Theoretical and Experimental Essay on Galvanism" (Essai théorique et expérimental sur le galvanisme) by Giovanni Aldini, Paris, 1804 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by Jules Verne; llustration from Jules Verne, Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers, Paris, 1890s (original image)

Image by Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Iconographic Encyclopaedia of Science, Literature, and Art by Johann Georg Heck, New York, 1851 (original image)

And Locke was not the only writer to perpetuate a hoax on an unsuspecting readership. Shortly before Locke’s story appeared in the Sun, Edgar Allan Poe wrote his own tale, “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall,” which was published in the June 1835 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger. Poe later accused Locke of stealing his idea. That isn’t certain, but Poe’s story did inspire—and even appear in—Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon.

Similar to how the science of black holes informed the 2014 blockbuster Interstellar, discoveries of that period inspired writers during this time, though most, including Verne, labeled their works as fiction. Mary Shelley, for instance, incorporated the science of surgeon Luigi Galvani into her novel Frankenstein. In the late 1700s, Galvani had experimented with electricity on animals. And those readers that didn’t want to tackle an entire book could turn to illustrated dime novels such as the Frank Reade Weekly Magazine—several issues of which are on display at the museum.

“Through this exhibition, we want to highlight the impact of scientific discovery and invention,” says Dunlop, “and we hope to bridge the gap between two genres often seen as distinct.”

"Fantastic Worlds: Science Fiction, 1780-1910" is on view through October 2016 at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

How to FedEx a Giant Panda

Smithsonian Magazine

Flying a panda from the United States to China is simpler than you might expect: It just takes a lot of experienced, hard-working people to pull it off.

The Smithsonian National Zoo’s Nicole MacCorkle knows that first-hand, having helped transport Tai Shan to China in 2010. She and her charge were making that trip in accordance with the Chinese government’s panda loan agreement, which holds that all members of the species born abroad will travel to China around their fourth birthdays. On February 21, the 3-and-a-half-year-old, female panda Bao Bao will depart the Zoo under similar circumstances, this time in the care of Marty Dearie. As with that 2010 flight, both keeper and creature will be traveling by unusual means: On a specially chartered FedEx cargo plane.

MacCorkle recalls her own flight fondly, so much so that she jokes she came away from it never wanting to fly commercial again. “I just wanted to be FedExed everywhere I had to go in the future,” she tells me, explaining that the plane’s crew did everything they could to make the long trip pleasant for all their passengers—both human and animal. Though they had accommodations for her outside the cargo area, she says she spent roughly two-thirds of her time by Tai Shan’s enclosure—a specially-designed construction of Plexiglas and steel, carefully secured to a standard airline shipping palette—making sure he was okay.

“I just kind of sat with him and made sure he was okay,” she remembers. “When he slept, that’s when I took an opportunity to take a nap myself, because I knew that once we got on the ground in China things were going to be really busy.”

Bao Bao’s transit may be more complicated, if only because she’s a bit less easygoing than her older brother—at least by the relatively placid standards of her species. “Bao Bao can be a little more tentative than Tai,” say MacCorkle, but Dearie suspects she’ll quickly adapt to the new environment. If she does start to seem upset, he may lead her through a training session, encouraging her to focus on familiar behaviors. He’ll also be attentive to signs that she wants to play, though he acknowledges that she’ll only do so on her own terms, as befits her feline reputation among her keepers.

Image by Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao August 2013 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao September 2013 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao September 2013 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao October 2013 (original image)

Image by Connor Mallon/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao November 2013 (original image)

Image by Abby Wood/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao July 2014 (original image)

Image by Abby Wood/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao August 2014 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao August 2014 (original image)

Image by Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao August 2014 (original image)

Image by Connor Mallon/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao April 2015 (original image)

Image by Connor Mallon/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao May 2015 (original image)

Image by Jim and Pam Jenkins/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao August 2015 (original image)

Image by Adam Mason/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao August 2016 (original image)

Image by Connor Mallon/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao October 2016 (original image)

Image by Connor Mallon/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao October 2016 (original image)

Image by Connor Mallon/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao October 2016 (original image)

Image by Connor Mallon/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao October 2016 (original image)

Image by Connor Mallon/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao October 2016 (original image)

Image by Connor Mallon/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao October 2016 (original image)

Image by Connor Mallon/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao October 2016 (original image)

Image by Connor Mallon/Smithsonian's National Zoo. Bao Bao October 2016 (original image)

Ultimately, moving a panda—whether or not it’s calm—isn’t all that different from transporting other animals, and FedEx has delivered plenty. David Lange, the company’s director of charters, says that he and his team regularly arrange for the transport of teams of horses to equestrian competitions. And Capt. John Hunt, who will pilot the Boeing 777 carrying Bao Bao to China, adds that they’ve carried penguins, brown bears, and at least one dolphin, among others.

Lange, for his own part, rattles off a lengthy checklist of issues that he and his team have to take into account for any such flight: They’ll need to prepare support equipment, from cargo palettes to supplemental oxygen. They’ll have to confirm that everyone’s documents—including Bao Bao’s own papers—are in order, to avoid complications on landing. They’ll check day-of temperatures, to make sure it’s not too hot or cold outside for their cargo while she’s waiting to get on the plane. To Lange’s mind, though, much of this is routine, even if the particulars vary slightly each time. “We go through the same things and make sure that we have all the plans in place, and the contingencies,” he says.

Where pandas are concerned, however, the surrounding media buzz adds an extra facet to FedEx’s ordinary logistical maneuvering. “There’s usually a media event at the same time that we’re doing our operational execution,” Lange says. “We need to make sure in the planning process that everything that’s going on doesn’t disrupt what we’re doing on the operations side.” The demands of public relations can potentially complicate flight schedules somewhat, since a 2 a.m. takeoff isn’t going to make for a pleasant press event, even if it’s the optimal departure window.

Having transported many pandas over the years—a service that it provides for free—FedEx has learned to take such issues into account. While weather and other issues may demand day-of adjustments, Captain Hunt and his teammates are prepared to take such issues into account, as they would be on any flight. As he puts it, “We will avoid turbulence, as we would on a passenger carriage airplane, or even in our own operation.” They’ll also carefully regulate the internal temperature of the plane to meet Bao Bao’s needs. All of this simply goes with the territory. “We’ve never had the packages, as they say in the cargo business, complain,” Hunt tells me.

While the process may be familiar for FedEx, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to pull off. Talk to Lange about it for a few minutes and you’ll quickly realize just how involved and elaborate his work really is. He says that there are at least 60 people involved, teams grappling with everything from airplane preparation and airport relations to meteorological projection and route planning. And that’s just in the United States: Some 30 more people are working on similar issues from the Asian side. The main difference, Lange says, is that he takes calls with the U.S. team in morning and their Asian counterparts in the evening.

By contrast, the team onboard for the 16-plus hour flight will be relatively small—a group of four who will relieve each other at regular intervals, along with Bao Bao’s own support personnel. Cargo will also be relatively scant, since the 777 won’t be transporting anything other than Bao Bao, her roughly 800-pound shipping container—which Lange describes as the “Rolls Royce of enclosures”—and enough food and water to get her through the trip.

Indeed, they won’t even be bringing any toys along for Bao Bao, since pandas typically don’t need external objects for stimulation. To the contrary, when she’s in a playful mood, the young bear will sometimes put her own arm in her mouth—not, her keepers say, out of any aggression, but simply because her own body is plaything enough. All told, Bao Bao’s needs are slight enough that they’ll likely be outweighed by the parts kit of supplies—extra tires, brakes, oil, and everything else needed to keep a plane in working order—that FedEx brings along when it’s flying into locations such as Chengdu where it doesn’t have an established presence. 

Long as it will be, the flight should be a relatively simple operation—or at least a relatively routine one. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be special, perhaps for Hunt—whose first teddy bear was a panda—most of all. As he explains, the crew will have opportunities to go back and take a look at its precious cargo along the way. And when they do? “Yes, we’ll have the opportunity to take pictures,” Hunt says.

The National Zoo is hosting “Bye Bye, Bao Bao” from February 11 through 20, featuring daily Facebook Live events and other happenings on the Panda Cam. 

Where Did the FDA Come From, And What Does It Do?

Smithsonian Magazine

In the past month, the Trump administration has already started to reshape the alphabet soup of federal agencies that regulate Americans’ food, air and water. Most of the spotlight has been on the Environmental Protection Agency, which underwent a hearing this week titled “Make EPA Great Again” that laid out a controversial bill seeking to limit the scientific data the agency can use to create regulations. But there are plenty of other science-focused agencies that regulate issues critical to Americans’ health and well-being.

As fundamental changes come to some of these agencies, it’s worth looking back at how they originated and what they actually do. We’ll start with the Food and Drug Administration, which exists to ensure the safety of America's food, cosmetics, drugs and medical devices. For most Americans, the phrase “FDA approved” serves a seal of trust: It means that the product in your hands—whether it’s a tube of lipstick, an insulin pump or a condom—has been deemed scientifically, medically and nutritionally sound. But who’s doing all that vetting?

What it does

Overall, the FDA estimates that it regulates roughly $1 trillion worth of products annually. These include consumer products that emit radiation, such as microwaves and sunlamps, and even tobacco products and pet and livestock food and medicines. 

The FDA conducts this regulation through the rules it issues, and employs more than 14,000 people to inspect food and drug production and conduct research into new technologies for inspection. (Meat, poultry and eggs fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, while tap water falls under the purview of the EPA.)

How it came to be

The FDA got its start with the passage of the country’s first major food and drug safety bill, the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. That law's origins stem from a decades-long fight for the government to regulate food.

As the Industrial Revolution swept America, the production of food and medicine became a large-scale enterprise. Inventions like canning allowed foods to last long enough to be shipped around the country, and sit on store shelves for extended periods. Meanwhile, "patent medicines" started being sold in catalogs for a variety of ailments. This industrialization put a new veil between consumer and product: Besides artful labels and hyped slogans, there was no way of knowing what a product really contained.

Naturally, manufacturers began to exploit this ambiguity. Using spices or additives, canners could mask the taste of expired meat and other substandard ingredients. Many patent medicines ended up relying on large quantities of morphine or cocaine to give users a high instead of actually healing them.

The federal government largely took a hands-off approach to food and drug safety at this time. It didn't help that manufacturers had a significant influence on Congress through aggressive lobbying. But there was resistance from within: One of the most powerful advocates of food and drug regulation was Harvey Wiley, who served as head of the USDA's Bureau of Chemistry. Wiley’s official role was to support scientific developments to help farmers, but his passion was to make America's foods and medicines safe.

Wiley tapped into a network of powerful support: millions of American women who feared for the safety of themselves and their families. Led by activist Alice Lakey, these women formed an unstoppable crusade of lobbyists. "Historians and Dr. Wiley himself credit the club women of the country for turning the tide of public opinion in favor of the 'pure food' bill," FDA historian Wallace Janssen wrote in 1981.

The crusade for the Pure Food and Drug Act received a final push from the 1906 publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. This powerful exposé, which set out to document the inhumane labor conditions in America's factories, also ended up drawing attention to the horrifically unsanitary production of many processed foods. As Sinclair famously wrote: “I aimed at the nation's heart and by accident hit its the stomach." Around the same time, muckraking journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams published a 12-part expose on the fraudulence and dangers of the patent-medicine industry in the widely read Collier’s magazine. Soon after the book and series’ publication, an outraged President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill into law on June 30, 1906.

The law was nicknamed the Wiley Act, and regulation power was given to Wiley's Bureau of Chemistry. Later amendments and laws expanded and reorganized the agency, which eventually grew into today’s Food and Drug Administration.

A key accomplishment

The FDA has maintained its watch over the American consumer for a century. One of its most famous accomplishments was its rejection of thalidomide, a widely used drug that was later revealed to cause significant birth defects. The drug was marketed extensively in Europe in the late 1950s as a way to suppress morning sickness in pregnant women. At the time, doctors thought that drugs given to a mother couldn’t affect fetuses. Thus, they didn’t even bother to test its safety for developing babies.

When thalidomide’s manufacturers sought approval from the FDA to sell the drug in the U.S. in 1960, FDA inspector Frances Kelsey put the brakes on the process by requesting the company conduct more safety studies. The following year, reports of thousands of babies being born with severe birth defects started coming out. The FDA’s work on thalidomide earned Kelsey praise from President John Kennedy and helped spur the passage of amendments strengthening the FDA’s drug review process.

“Her exceptional judgment in evaluating a new drug for safety for human use has prevented a major tragedy of birth deformities in the United States,” Kennedy said while awarding her with a medal for distinguished federal service in 1962.

Major criticisms

One of the biggest critiques against the FDA in recent years has been for its continued approval of opioid medicines, despite the increasingly devastating epidemic of opioid abuse nationwide, with overdoses now killing 91 people per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“They’re listening to these patients, and the people who stand to gain a lot financially from opiates, instead of taking notice of the evidence,” University of Washington physician Jane Ballantyne told Roll Call in 2015.

Ballantyne, who also served as president of the Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, said that the FDA had repeatedly declined to consider the highly addictive nature of opioid drugs when it reviewed the medicines. This left many patients unaware of the dangers of the pain medicines they were prescribed.

Marion Nestle, a food historian and professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, also worries about the FDA’s rapid approval of many other kinds of drugs. This process, she says, has led to the approval of controversial drugs that she believes should not have been marketed. “The drug industry wants fast approval of the drugs that it’s coming up with, whether they work or not,” she says.

Its leadership

The majority of the FDA's leaders have been medical doctors. This includes the most recent Commissioner of Food and Drugs, cardiologist Robert Califf. Califf, who worked at Duke University for 35 years before being appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as commissioner in 2015. In an exit interview with the Washington Post last month, Califf defended his efforts to speed up the approval of generic drugs to fight the rising cost of medicines while still cracking down on ineffective medicines.

"I think we have pretty clear evidence from the public that they would like to have a system that's giving them some assurance that the treatments they are given work," Califf says.

In response to rumors that the next FDA commissioner may come from the investment world, Nestle says that a non-medical or scientific figure would reshape the agency in potentially negative ways. “To put somebody who doesn't have any science background at all in that job turns it into a very different kind of agency,” says Nestle, who has also served on the FDA’s science advisory board. She also calls for strong future government support for the FDA, despite its shortcomings.

“It's an enormously important agency that needs more funding, not less,” she says.

A ridiculous fact

Maggots are an FDA-approved medical device. In 2004 the agency certified that doctors could use these creepy-crawlies to safely clean dead and infected tissue from open wounds, and help stimulate healing growth. And they aren't the only bug the agency regulates: Leeches and worms are also recognized as medical treatments. Something to think about the next time you see the words "FDA approved."

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of Smithsonian primers on science-driven government agencies and how they came about.

1921-1944 of 1,954 Resources