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Peas and Rice-Little Nassau; Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-One

National Museum of American History
Bind Blake and his Royal Victoria Calypsos. side 1: Peas and Rice - Little Nassau; side 2: Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-One (Art Records 1). from the album, Blind Blake (Art Records AL 4) 78 rpm

Travels in the air. By James Glaisher, F.R.S., Camille Flammarion, W. de Fonvielle, and Gaston Tissandier. Edited by James Glaisher, F.R.S. With one hundred and eighteen illustrations

Smithsonian Libraries
Translation of: Voyages aériens.

Plates signed: Vincent Brooks Day & Son Lith.

Title printed in red and black.

Plate 2. Slave Pen, Alexandria

National Museum of American History
Text and photograph from Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War, Vol. II. Negative by William R. Pywell, text and positive by Alexander Gardner. In many of the Southern cities the people had erected buildings of this kind for the confinement of slaves awaiting sale. The establishment represented in the photograph was situated in the western suburbs of Alexandria, near the depot of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. The main building was used by the clerks of the firm and the overseers. The high brick wall enclosed a court yard, in which were stables and outhouses for the accommodation of planters who come in for the purpose of selling or purchasing slaves. The large building on the right was used for the confinement of the negroes. It had a number of apartments, in which the slaves could be kept singly or in gangs, and one large mess room, where they received their food, The establishment was essentially a prison. The doors were very strong, and were secured by large locks and bolts. Iron bars were fixed in the masonry of the windows, and manacles were frequently placed on the limbs of those suspected of designs for escape. Auction sales were regularly held, at which Virginia farmers disposed of their servants to cotton and sugar planters from the Gulf States. If a slave-owner needed money which he could not easily procure, he sold one of his slaves; and the threat of being sent South was constantly held over the servants as security for faithful labor and good behavior. Before the war, a child three years old, would sell, in Alexandria, for about fifty dollars, and an able-bodied man at from one thousand to eighteen hundred dollars. A woman would bring from five hundred to fifteen hundred dollars, according to her one and personal attractions.

Plate 21. Dunker Church, Battle-Field of Antietam

National Museum of American History
Text and photograph from Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War, Vol. II. Negative by James Gardner, text and positive by Alexander Gardner. This Church is located on a ridge near Sharpsburg, on the battle-field of Antietam, and suffered severely in that engagement, it was against this point that General Hooker, on the right of our line, made his assaults, and near it where he received his wound. The attack of King's Division, temporarily commanded by General Hatch, was made upon the rebels posted immediately around the Church. The slaughter here was fearful. Each of the contending lines charged repeatedly across the field in front of the building, and strewed the ground with their dead. The terrible effect of cannister was never more clearly demonstrated than in this vicinity. Battery B, Fourth United States Artillery, had lost heavily in the course of the engagement, its commander, Lieutenant Campbell, having been wounded and carried from the field, the command devolving on Lieutenant Stewart. Several of the horses had been killed, and Lieutenant Stewart, sending two guns to the rear, took up a position with his four remaining pieces on a little knoll near a sunken road. The smoke obstructed the view considerably, and the Lieutenant not seeing anything of the enemy was cooling his guns, when suddenly his sergeant shouted "Here they come! Here they come!" A rebel brigade was coming down the road on a double-quick, and when discovered were only fifty yards distant. The cannoniers sprang to their pieces, and instantly opened on the approaching column with cannister double-spotted, the discharge from the four twelve pounders sweeping out half a dozen panels of the fence, and driving a storm of slugs and spotted rails into the mass of Confederates. The rear still pressed on, ignorant of the havoc in front, and again and again the artillery poured its iron hail into the column, completely obstructing the road with dead and wounded. Later in the day a Captain of this brigade was taken prisoner, and stated, that of the command of eighteen hundred men which received that fire, but eighteen had returned to the division. Some of course had been taken prisoners or had wandered off after the annihilation of the brigade, but most of the men had fallen in front of the cannon.

Charles Lindbergh

National Portrait Gallery
The year 1927 was a golden age for celebrating American heroes. In June, New York City welcomed back Charles Lindbergh, who had recently flown across the Atlantic Ocean, from New York to Paris, nonstop. Unprecedented numbers of well-wishers threw eighteen hundred tons of confetti over his motorcade during a parade in Manhattan. To mark the festive occasion, Babe Ruth hit a home run for “Lindy” at Yankee Stadium, in what would be his best year in baseball. By season’s end, he would hit sixty homers, setting a record that would last thirty-four years. Meanwhile, the 1927 Yankees were phenomenal all season long. One of the best teams ever, they swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games to win the World Series. Ruth’s two home runs would be the only ones hit by either team.

El 1927 fue un año brillante para celebrar a los héroes estadounidenses. En junio, la ciudad de New York dio la bienvenida a Charles Lindbergh, quien acababa de cruzar el Atlántico en un vuelo sin escalas desde New York hasta París. Una multitud inaudita de simpatizantes lanzó mil ochocientas toneladas de confeti a su caravana durante un desfile por Manhattan. Para conmemorar la festiva ocasión, Babe Ruth bateó un jonrón para “Lindy” en el Estadio Yankee, en el que sería su mejor año en el béisbol. Al final de la temporada habría llegado a los sesenta jonrones, estableciendo un récord que perduraría treinta y cuatro años. Como conjunto, los Yankees estuvieron fenomenales toda la temporada de 1927. Con uno de los mejores equipos en su historia, arrasaron con los Pirates de Pittsburgh en cuatro partidos para ganar la Serie Mundial. Los dos jonrones de Ruth fueron los únicos que hubo en aquella Mundial, de parte de ambos equipos.

Necklace

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Twenty-one turquoises, eighteen pearls, one hundred forty-eight baroque pearls. Braided gold thread ties. In embroidered lavender box.

Experimental Sound Recording, Wax Disc on Binder’s Board

National Museum of American History
This is an experimental sound recording made in the Volta Laboratory, Washington, D.C., on 15 April 1885. It is a recording of Alexander Graham Bell’s voice. In a ring around the center, it is inscribed in the wax: “Record made April 15 1885/AGB and C.A.B. [Chichester A. Bell]/to test reproduction of numbers./ Disk A. G. B. No. 1.” A paper document, probably in Alexander Graham Bell’s handwriting, with a transcription of the recording is 287881.02 Sound was recovered from this recording in 2012. Transcript of recording (4:35 minutes): “[unintelligible] nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eight, twenty nine, thirty, thirty one, thirty two, thirty three, thirty four, thirty five, thirty six, thirty seven, thirty eight, thirty nine, forty, forty one, forty two, forty three, forty four, forty five, forty six, forty seven, forty eight, forty nine, fifty ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, one hundred “one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred, five hundred, six hundred, seven hundred, eight hundred, nine hundred, one thousand “one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand, five thousand, six thousand, seven thousand, eight thousand, nine thousand, ten thousand “ten thousand, twenty thousand, thirty thousand, forty thousand, fifty thousand, sixty thousand, seventy thousand, eighty thousand, ninety thousand, one hundred thousand “one hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, three hundred thousand, four hundred thousand, five hundred thousand, six hundred thousand, seven hundred thousand, eight hundred thousand, nine hundred thousand, one million “three thousand five hundred and seventy one / one hundred and twenty three thousand nine hundred and forty one/ one hundred and twenty five thousand eight hundred and seventy three “one million nine hundred and forty five thousand eight hundred and seventy six / thirty-five thousand nine hundred / thirty three thousand eight hundred and seventy eight “forty eight thousand seven hundred and fifteen/ seven hundred and ninety thousand [no?] hundred and forty two / four million five hundred and thirty thousand eight hundred and seventy “forty five dollars and a half / eighty nine dollars and seventy three cents / four thousand [no?] hundred and twenty nine dollars and forty-six cents “thirty five cents / twenty five cents / thirty cents / fifty cents “half a dollar [a? seems to be missing] quarter dollar “three dollars and a half / five dollars and a quarter / seven dollars and twenty nine cents “ten dollars and a half / three thousand seven hundred and eighty five dollars and fifty six cents “This record has been made by Alexander Graham Bell in the presence of Dr. Chichester A. Bell ---- on the 15th of April, eighteen hundred and eighty five at the Volta Laboratory Twelve hundred and twenty one Connecticut Avenue, Washington [D.C. ?] In witness whereof --- hear my voice Alexander Graham Bell” References: Patrick Feaster, “A Discography of Volta Laboratory Recordings at the National Museum of American History” Leslie J. Newville, “Development of the Phonograph at Alexander Graham Bell's Volta Laboratory,” in Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology, United States National Museum Bulletin 218, Paper 5 (1959): 69-79. Steven E. Schoenherr, “Charles Sumner Tainter and the Graphophone,” Wile, Raymond R. "The Development of Sound Recording at the Volta Laboratory," Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal 21, No. 2, 1990, pp. 208-225.

Exploring the Gettysburg Address

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Teacher's guide included in the online exhibit, The Gettysburg Address. Includes tips on how to use the interactive document tool, suggested discussion questions, and recommended resources.

Volta Laboratory Experimental Recording

National Museum of American History
This is an experimental sound recording made in the Volta Laboratory, Washington, D.C., on 11 March 1885. The recording process involved focusing a beam of light, projecting it through a liquid, and causing sound waves to interrupt both the light and the liquid to expose a prepared photographic plate. The recording, which starts at the center and spirals outward, is of variable density, that is the areas of exposure vary in density according to volume and pitch of the sound recorded. Process is described in U.S. Patent 341,213 awarded Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester A. Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter on 4 May 1886. Sound was recovered from this recording in 2011. Content summary: “Mary had a little lamb” Content transcript (37 seconds): “ [?]…Sumner Tainter and H. G. Rogers. This eleventh day of March, eighteen hundred and eighty-five. [trilled r sound] [indistinct phrase] Mary had a little lamb, and its fleece was white as snow [alternatively, black as soot?] . And wherever Mary went…Oh [indistinct word]. Mary had a little lamb, and its fleece was white as snow [alternatively, black as soot?]. And wherever Mary went, the little lamb was sure to go. How is this for high? [trill]” References: Patrick Feaster, “A Discography of Volta Laboratory Recordings at the National Museum of American History” Leslie J. Newville, “Development of the Phonograph at Alexander Graham Bell's Volta Laboratory,” in Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology, United States National Museum Bulletin 218, Paper 5 (1959): 69-79. Steven E. Schoenherr, “Charles Sumner Tainter and the Graphophone,” Wile, Raymond R. "The Development of Sound Recording at the Volta Laboratory," Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal 21, No. 2, 1990, pp. 208-225.

Ten Notable Apocalypses That (Obviously) Didn’t Happen

Smithsonian Magazine

1. The First Warnings From Assyria

An Assyrian clay tablet dating to around 2800 B.C. bears the inscription: “Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”

The world didn’t end (just look around), and despite the plague of corruption and petulant teenagers, four centuries later the Assyrians would establish an empire that eventually encompassed most of the Near East. The Assyrian Empire came to an abrupt end in 612 B.C., when its capital was attacked by the Babylonian army. Still, by the standards of ancient empires, 18 centuries wasn’t such a bad run.

2. Crusaders’ Concerns

Pope Innocent III relied upon apocalyptic theology in his efforts to rally Europe to launch a fifth crusade to capture Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land from the Ayyubid Empire. He identified the rise of Islam as the reign of the Antichrist—whose defeat would usher in the Second Coming.

In 1213, Innocent III wrote: “A son of perdition has arisen, the false prophet Muhammed, who has seduced many men from the truth by worldly enticements and the pleasures of the flesh… we nevertheless put our trust in the Lord who has already given us a sign that good is to come, that the end of this beast is approaching, whose number, according to the Revelation of Saint John, will end in 666 years, of which already nearly 600 have passed.”

The predicted date was 1284. Seven years later, the last crusader kingdom fell, when the Sultan Khalil conquered the city of Acre, in present-day Israel. The rest of the world, however, remained intact.

3. Botticelli Paints His Fears

The Renaissance is remembered as a golden age of art and learning, but the era also marked a resurgence in apocalyptic prophecies. The reason? “Advances in time keeping and in astronomy encouraged standardization of the calendar,” writes David Nirenberg, a professor of medieval history at the University of Chicago, “while a string of calamities (from the European point of view], such as the Turkish conquest of Constantinople… fomented a new numerological apocalyptic interest.”

Expectations of the apocalypse found their expression in the art of the period—most famously in The Mystical Nativity, painted by Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli. The lower part of the painting depicts several small devils wedged under rocks or pinned to the ground, while a Greek inscription offers this gloomy prediction: “I, Sandro, painted this picture at the end of the year 1500 in the troubles of Italy in the half time after the time according to the eleventh chapter of St. John in the second woe of the Apocalypse in the loosing of the devil for three and a half years. Then he will be chained in the twelfth chapter and we shall see him trodden down as in this picture.” (That would place the apocalypse at around A.D. 1504.)

Art historians believe that Botticelli was influenced by the sermons of Girolamo Savonarola—a Dominican monk who urged both rich and poor alike to repent for their sins and renounce worldly pleasures. Certain that the apocalypse was near, Savonarola predicted, “the sword of the Lord will come upon the earth swiftly and soon” in the form of war, pestilence and famine.

4. The Germanic Flood That Never Came

In 1499, the German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Stöffler predicted that a vast flood would engulf the world on February 20, 1524. (His calculations foretold 20 planetary conjunctions during this year—16 of which would take place in a “watery sign,” a.k.a. Pisces.)

In Europe, more than 100 different pamphlets were published endorsing Stöffler’s doomsday prophecy. Business boomed for boat-builders, not least for German nobleman Count von Iggleheim, who constructed a three-story ark on the Rhine.

Although 1524 was a drought year in Europe, a light rain did fall on the designated day. Crowds of people—hoping to gain a seat on Iggleheim’s ark—began to riot. Hundreds were killed and the count was stoned to death.

Stöffler later recalculated the actual date to be 1528, but by then his reputation as a soothsayer had been ruined. That’s kind of a shame because, according to a story told in 1558 by German historian Hieronymus Wolf, Stöffler once predicted that his life would be endangered by a “falling body.” He chose to spend that day indoors, where, during a discussion with friends, Stöffler reached to grab a book from a shelf, which came loose and smashed him on the head, seriously injuring him.

5. Black Skies Over New England

At 9 a.m. on May 19, 1780, the sky over New England was enveloped in darkness. An 1881 article in Harper’s Magazine stated that, “Birds went to roost, cocks crowed at mid-day as at midnight, and the animals were plainly terrified.”

The unnatural gloom is believed to have been caused by smoke from forest fires, possibly coupled with heavy fog. But at the time, some feared the worst. “People [came] out wringing their hands and howling, the Day of Judgment is come,” recalled a Revolutionary War fifer.

The “Dark Day” ended at midnight, when the stars once again became visible in the night sky. But lingering concerns about a pending apocalypse prompted some people to seek out an obscure Christian sect—the Shakers—who had recently settled near Albany, New York. A splinter of the Quaker movement, the Shakers preached complete celibacy as the true path to redemption. The Shakers knew an opportunity when they saw one and embarked on a 26-month mission throughout New England, which brought them hundreds of converts.

The most famous individual to emerge from the “Dark Day” was Abraham Davenport, a member of the Connecticut legislature, which was in session when the sky blackened. Members of the legislature, fearing the apocalypse had come, moved for adjournment. Davenport is said to have responded: “The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause of an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.” The New England poet John Greenleaf Whittier commemorated Davenport in a poem first published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1866.

Image by iStockphoto. Comets have long been viewed as portents of doom. (original image)

Image by Roger Ressmeyer / Corbis. Full-fledged panic erupted when Chicago's Yerkes Observatory announced in February 1910 that it had detected a poisonous gas called cyanogen in the Halley's comet tail. (original image)

Image by KSTFoto / Alamy. Charles Piazzi Smyth, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, became convinced that the Great Pyramid of Giza had been built not by the Egyptians but by an Old Testament patriarch under divine guidance. He saw theological implications such as a calculation for the End of Days. (original image)

Image by 19th era / Alamy. Pope Innocent III relied upon apocalyptic theology in his efforts to rally Europe to launch a fifth crusade to capture Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land from the Ayyubid Empire. (original image)

Image by Wikimedia Commons. Expectations of the apocalypse found their expression in the art of the period—most famously in The Mystical Nativity, painted by Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli. (original image)

Image by Martial Trezzini / epa / Corbis. It has been reported that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) could potentially create a black hole that would swallow the Earth. Technical difficulties prompted the LHC to be shut down after just nine days in 2008 but it expected to slowly resume in late 2009 and early 2010. (original image)

Image by iStockphoto. The 2012 doomsday prophecy isn't the first to predict the end of civilization. Such warnings have been around for millennia. (original image)

6. Finding Omens in the Great Pyramid of Giza

A.D. 1881 was a banner year for apocalyptic expectations. For starters, there was the prediction of “Mother Shipton,” a 16th-century British soothsayer whose prophecies were first published in 1641. A later edition, published in 1862, included the prediction: “The world to an end shall come; in eighteen hundred and eighty one.” However, the book’s author, Charles Hindley, admitted that this and other prophecies (including the invention of the telegraph and the steam engine) were added as a hoax in an apparent attempt to boost book sales.

Writing in an 1881 edition of Harper’s Magazine, an unnamed author lamented, “I fear it will be impossible… to deliver the English masses from this unhappy piece of miseducation.” However, on a more hopeful note, the article added: “I am assured by friends of mine employed in the British Museum that for months that institution has been fairly besieged by people anxious to know if there be any such manuscript as that referred to, or if the predictions are genuine.” Nonetheless, the 1911 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica noted that the 1881 end-of-the-world prophecy was “the cause of the most poignant alarm throughout rural England in that year, the people deserting their houses, and spending the night in prayer in the fields, churches and chapels.”

Supporting “evidence” for an apocalypse in 1881 came from an unlikely source: the Great Pyramid of Giza. Charles Piazzi Smyth, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, became convinced that the pyramid had been built not by the Egyptians but by an Old Testament patriarch (perhaps Noah) under divine guidance. As such, Smyth saw theological implications in just about every measurement of the Great Pyramid, including a calculation for the End of Days.

Smyth’s research was satirized in a January 5, 1881, column in the New York Times: “In the great gallery of the pyramid… there are precisely eighteen hundred and eighty-one notches… hence if the pyramid is trustworthy and really knows its business, we have arrived at the last year of the earth. There are a vast number of people who believe in this remarkable theory of the pyramid, and they are one and all perfectly sure that the pyramid cannot tell a lie… in case they should happen to be disappointed and to be under the unpleasant necessity of making New Year’s calls in the snow on the First of January 1882, they will probably blaspheme the pyramid and lose all faith in man and stones.”

7. Beware of Halley’s Comet

Comets have long been viewed as portents of doom—and the reappearance of Halley’s comet in 1910 was no exception. Early that year, British and Irish writers opined that the comet was a harbinger of a forthcoming invasion by Germany. Some Parisians blamed the comet for a massive flood of the Seine River that devastated their city.

But full-fledged panic would erupt when Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory announced in February 1910 that it had detected a poisonous gas called cyanogen in Halley’s tail. The New York Times reported that the noted French astronomer, Camille Flammarion believed the gas “would impregnate that atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet.”

Most scientists sought to reassure the public. The famed astronomer Percival Lowell explained that the gases making up Halley’s tail were “so rarefied as to be thinner than any vacuum.”

But the damage had already been done. People rushed to purchase gas masks and “comet pills.” The New York Times reported that “terror occasioned by the near approach of Halley’s comet has seized hold of a large part of the population of Chicago.” Likewise, the Atlanta Constitution reported that people in Georgia were preparing safe rooms and covering even keyholes with paper. (One man, the paper said, had “armed himself with a gallon of whiskey” and requested that friends lower him to the bottom of a dry well, 40 feet deep.)

After Halley’s passed by the Earth in May, the Chicago Tribune announced (unnecessarily) “We’re Still Here.” Not everyone, however, was caught up in the apocalyptic frenzy. Rooftop “comet parties” were all the rage in cities throughout the United States.

8. Planets Align, Nothing Happens

In 1974, John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann wrote a best-selling book, The Jupiter Effect, warning that in March 1982, an alignment of the major planets on the same side of the Sun would trigger a series of cosmic events - culminating in an earthquake along the San Andreas fault that would wipe out Los Angeles.

The book had an aura of credibility, since both authors were Cambridge-educated astrophysicists and Gribbin was an editor at the prestigious science magazine Nature. The scientists claimed that the combined gravitational force of the planets (especially dense ones, such as Jupiter and Saturn) would exert tidal forces on the Sun, causing an increase in sunspot activity that would douse the earth with high-speed particles, which, in turn, would cause abrupt changes to our planet’s rotation, leading to earthquakes.

Several scientists criticized The Jupiter Effect, saying its argument was based on a tissue-thin chain of suppositions. (Seismologist Charles Richter of Caltech called the thesis “pure astrology in disguise.”) Still, the book spooked people worldwide—thanks, in part, to the endorsement of other doomsayers such as Hal Lindsey (author of the best-selling 1970s book, The Late Great Planet Earth) who, in 1980, wrote that earthquakes across the planet would trigger meltdowns at nuclear power plants and would smash dams, causing massive floods.

As the dreaded date approached, panicked city residents bombarded Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory with phone calls. Elsewhere, the San Diego Vista Press reported on March 10, 1982: “We've literally had people ask, ‘Should I sell my house and move away?’ said Kevin Atkins of Gates Planetarium [in Denver, Colorado]… One small Christian sect in the Philippines is building a maze of padded cubicles and trying out padded suits in readiness for disasters.” Even Beijing’s newspaper, The People’s Daily, sought to assure readers that “there is no regular cause-effect relation at all between this astronomical phenomenon and natural disasters like earthquakes.”

One year after the non-doomsday event, Gribbin and Plagemann published The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered. It was also a best-seller.

9. The Y2K Panic

At least during this apocalyptic scare, there was someone to blame: Over the decades, computer programmers had used two, rather than four digits, to represent years. As such, computers would allegedly go haywire on January 1, 2000, since the dumb machines would not be able to make sense of the year “00”—and thus the dreaded “Y2K Bug” was born. Some pundits defended the programmers, noting that their actions had been a logical way to conserve precious computer memory and save money. Others were less flattering. “What led to the Y2K Bug was not arrogant indifference to the future,” wrote Brian Haynes in The Sciences Magazine. “On the contrary, it was an excess of modesty. (‘No way my code will still be running 30 years out.’) The programmers could not envision that their hurried hacks and kludges would become the next generation’s ‘legacy systems.’” A September 1999 poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal found that 9 percent of Americans believed Microsoft was hiding the solution to the problem.

The Independent newspaper warned of possible “nuclear war,” caused by glitches in early-warning systems; the International Monetary Fund predicted economic chaos in developing nations; Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan worried that panic over the Bug would prompt U.S. businesses to stockpile goods, leading to widespread shortages, and CNN reported that the U.S. milk supply would dry up because dairy farm equipment might malfunction.

Still, panic over the Y2K Bug never quite reached the fever pitch that many anticipated. A Gallup Poll reported that by mid-December 1999, only 3 percent of Americans anticipated “major problems,” compared with 34 percent the year before.

Billions of dollars were spent worldwide to fix the Y2K Bug, and debate still rages over how much of that spending was necessary.

10. A Man-Made Black Hole?

Ever since the early 1990s, the media has reported that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) could potentially create a black hole that would swallow the Earth.

The LHC—which was switched on in September 2008—is 17 miles in circumference and buried 570 feet beneath the Alps on the Swiss-French border. The collider has the capacity to smash together proton beams at velocities up to 99.99 percent of the speed of light. In doing so, it can simulate the conditions and energies that existed shortly after the start of the Big Bang—thereby providing insights into critical questions as to how our universe was formed.

Still, some skeptics worry that the high-energy collision of protons could create micro black holes. One reason this doomsday rumor persists is that quantum physicists have a tendency never to say never. As long as certain physical laws are obeyed, potential events are placed in the rather broad category of “non-zero” probability. Or, as Amherst physicist Kannan Jagannathan explains: “If something is not forbidden, it is compulsory… In an infinite universe, even things of low probability must occur (actually infinitely often).” However, by that same standard, Jagannathan adds, quantum physics dictates that it is theoretically possible to turn on your kitchen faucet and have a dragon pop out.

And that explains why physicists (with the possible exception of those who are dragon-phobic) are not terribly worried. “The world is constantly bombarded by energetic cosmic rays from the depths of space, some of them inducing particle collisions thousands of times more powerful than those that will be produced by the LHC,” says Stéphane Coutu, a professor of physics at {Penn State. “If these collisions could create black holes, it would have happened by now.”

Meanwhile, technical difficulties prompted the LHC to be shut down after just nine days. Operations are scheduled to slowly resume in late 2009 and early 2010.

If the world does end, check this Web site for updates.

A Consultation previous to an Aerial Voayage from London to Weilburg in Nassau, on the 7th day of November, 1836.

National Air and Space Museum
Uncolored etching of John Hollins, Sir William Millbourne James, Thomas Monck Mason, Walter Prideaux, Robert Holland, and Charles Green engaged in discussion around a table with a map. They are discussing an aerial voyage from London to Weilberg.

Charles Green, accompanied by Robert Holland, who financed the flight, and Monck Mason, ascended from Vauxhall Gardens at 1:30 p.m. on November 7, 1836. They crossed the channel at Dover that evening, and landed at 7 a.m., November 8, at Weilburg, Nassau, Germany, having travelled altogether about five hundred miles in eighteen hours. This print is engraved by J.H. Robinson and based on a painting by John Hollins that is now in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

'Painted by J. Hollins, A.R.A. Engraved by J.H. Robinson. Hon. Member of the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburgh. London, Published for the Proprietor, by Henry Graves & Co. Printsellers to the Queen & H.R.H. Prince Albert, 6, Pall Mall, Nov. 7, 1843.'

A Consultation previous to an Aerial Voayage from London to Weilburg, Novr. 1836.

National Air and Space Museum
Colored etching of John Hollins, Sir William Millbourne James, Thomas Monck Mason, Walter Prideaux, Robert Holland, and Charles Green engaged in discussion around a table with a map. They are discussing an aerial voyage from London to Weilberg.

Charles Green, accompanied by Robert Holland, who financed the flight, and Monck Mason, ascended from Vauxhall Gardens at 1:30 p.m. on November 7, 1836. They crossed the channel at Dover that evening, and landed at 7 a.m., November 8, at Weilburg, Nassau, Germany, having travelled altogether about five hundred miles in eighteen hours. This print is based on a painting by John Hollins that is now in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Scrapbook

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Two hundred and eighteen samples of brocades, embroideries, printed and painted cottons mounted in a book. Textile samples are from India, Japan and Indonesia and date from the 17th through the 19th century.

What did 1889 sound like?

National Museum of American History

Q: What’s cylindrical, made of wax, and part of one of history’s great showdowns?
A: These records in the museum collection with audio recorded 130 years ago.

Three cylinders of differing heights.Three wax cylinders recorded in 1889 from the museum’s collection.

One of these records was created at the top of the Eiffel Tower, another in a free-floating balloon, and the third in a fancy sound lab. It’s likely these recordings have remained silent for more than a century. 

Until now, that is.

The cylinders recently were scanned with IRENE, a system of special equipment that converts the grooves of these cylinders to digital sound files (all without touching the object), at Library of Congress. IRENE stands for the stages of the process:  Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Et Cetera.  Thanks to IRENE, we can listen in to the medium of recorded sound when it was a new technology.

These three cylinder records are some of the earliest examples of recorded sound. They are also evidence of a crucial showdown in 1889 between two of the era’s renowned tech titans: —Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.

Edison created the tinfoil phonograph, the first instrument to record and play back sound in 1877. In the process of improving on Edison’s tinfoil phonograph, Alexander Graham Bell and his Volta Laboratory Associates invented a wax cylinder for recording and playback, and a machine to play it on (the graphophone).

A man sits at a machineEdison listening to recorded sound. 

By the time of these recordings in 1889, Edison had improved his own sound recording device. He discarded the tinfoil of his prototype machine for wax cylinders. The inventors were in fierce competition.

Edison took his inventions to the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. There his extravagant display exposed the technology to millions of visitors, many of whom had never heard recorded sound before. Bell’s associate Charles Sumner Tainter staffed a display for sound recording and playback at the Paris world’s fair too, but it was a sad little spot when compared with the giant Edison exhibition.

A cylinder with grooves.One of the wax cylinders Edison’s team recorded in Paris.

While in France, Edison’s team made two of the recordings in our collection. The earliest of these cylinders, begins with key information about time and place, in French:

“…le six novembre [November 6th] en Haut de la Tour de Monsieur Eiffel [at the top of Mr. Eiffel’s tower]"

Then, very faintly, a violin begins to play. Listen carefully (the sound files are still somewhat difficult to hear) and you can hear it for yourself. 

“Mr. Eiffel’s tower” was built for the fair and served as its entrance arch. Eiffel built himself a hideaway on the top-most level, about 900 feet up. Edison visited the fair, where he was reportedly treated like royalty. Eiffel invited him to the tower, and Edison’s gift to his host was the most recent version of the phonograph.

The recording itself was made on the last day of the fair—November 6, 1889—on a blank wax cylinder manufactured by the Edison Phonograph Works of Orange, New Jersey. It’s not clear who did the recording, but the cylinder ended up in the hands of William J. Hammer, Edison’s representative to the Paris World’s Fair.

An impressive display of light bulbs and other technology.Edison’s exhibit at the Paris World’s Fair. Archives Center, William J. Hammer Collection.

After Hammer’s duties at the fair were over, he did something he’d always wanted to do—go up in a balloon. On November 14, 1889, in the company of two other Americans, he took that ride. Together they floated for nearly 100 miles over the French countryside and landed safely.

Several men stand in the basket of and around what appears to be a hot air balloon. You can see large horns to project sound from the balloon.W. J. Hammer and his associates prepare for their balloon ride. Hammer also borrowed a giant phonograph horn from the Edison exhibit to communicate with people below as they floated by. Courtesy of National Air and Space Museum Archives, William J. Hammer Collection.A small box and a round cylinder.A cylinder Hammer recorded for a balloon ride.

During the ride, Hammer reportedly dropped a dozen sealed boxes with recordings attached to parachutes. He imagined this technique could be used for military surveillance: “an officer making observations from a military balloon could dictate such observations to a small phonograph attached to his side.” In fact, Edison had just completed a miniature instrument he called “the military phonograph.”

We have one of those recordings in our collection. It is smaller than the standard record size and comes with a custom box, roughly a three-inch cube. On the box, an inscription reads “Sent from my free balloon November 14, 1889 Paris from W.J.H,” and another instructs if found, please return to William J. Hammer at the address of his Paris hotel.

There is a very large crack in this cylinder, so it was a challenge to recover sound from it. Those of us who have worked with the record think this is what we hear on it:

“An Edison phonograph […] American industrial nation, Paris Exposition 1889. Are you ready? Do not go yet. Bonjour, messieurs et mesdames. […] Into the […] phonograph […] everybody on the ropes. Lift off! […]”

Do you hear what we hear?

A black cylindrical recording.The third cylinder in our collection tells a different story.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, Alexander Graham Bell was making recordings as well. The museum has one of these recordings, the second confirmed recording of Bell’s voice known to exist. The recording was made on December 6, 1889 in Bell’s laboratory, a carriage house behind his father’s home in Washington, D.C. Bell recorded himself; his father, Alexander Melville Bell; a man who identifies himself as David Hess or Haas; and perhaps a fourth speaker. Here are the first words of the recording:

“Eighteen hundred and eighty-nine, December 6th, the phono-graphophone has made its appearance in the Volta Laboratory in Georgetown, D.C., for the first time on this day. How does it come out? Alexander Graham Bell.”

A machine with a rod, and a needle that allows you to play what is on a wax cylinder.Bell and his Volta Laboratory associates Charles Sumner Tainter and Chichester Bell invented this machine to play wax cylinders. Please note: In an 1888 business deal, the North American Phonograph Company renamed the Volta machine the phonograph-graphophone, an unwieldy name—shortened to phono-graphophone in the recording here—that never really stuck.

1889, the year these recordings were made, marks a major change in how Americans thought of recorded sound. At the World’s Fair, Edison exposed millions of visitors to the new technology. Back in the United States, enterprising agents of Edison’s phonographs started attaching coin-operated slots to them and set them up to play records in hotel lobbies, train stations, and other public places. Demand for prerecorded selections—music and spoken presentations—began to create a demand for Edison-made records. It looked like Edison emerged triumphant in the competition for recorded sound.

But triumphs can be fleeting. Emile Berliner would go on to find commercial success with discs that altered the audio landscape again. While Edison and Bell had encouraged recording, Berliner’s records were all prerecorded. Listening, not recording, became the new medium’s main experience for most people.

An exhibit with a large stain glass window featuring a dog.The works of all three sound pioneers—Edison, Bell, and Berliner—are on display at the museum.

You can listen in to these early recordings at the museum or online.

Special thanks goes to audio restoration specialist Peter Alyea, who scanned the records to create audio files. Earl Cornell and Carl Haber assisted from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. This team has had success in the past with retrieving sound from flat experimental recordings from Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory (hear earlier results here).

For drawing our attention to a box of very early Edison cylinder records in the collection, we thank researcher Patrick Feaster. For expert handling and repair in our most recent endeavor with cylinders, we had great help from paper conservator Janice Ellis, conservation fellows Mary Wilcop and Morgan Burgess, and Work and Industry collections manager Shari Stout. And we thank our generous funders for this stage of work: the Alexander and Mabel Bell Legacy Foundation, the GRAMMY Foundation, and the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.

Carlene Stephens is a curator in the Division of Work and Industry.

Posted Date: 
Friday, December 20, 2019 - 03:30
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100 years of Girl Scouts: part I

National Museum of American History

Plate 87. Dutch Gap Canal, James River

National Museum of American History
Text and photograph from Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War, Vol. II. Negative by John Reekie, text and positive by Alexander Gardner. The Dutch Gap Canal was cut across a narrow neck of land on the James River, eight miles in a direct line from Richmond. The object of this work was to save about seven miles of river navigation, by uniting two different points of the river, which here made a great bend flowing around a bluff, and forming an isthmus of only five hundred feet wide. The work of excavation commenced on the 9th of August, 1864. The rebels opened their formidable batteries on the laborers, on the 13th, and with few intervals maintained a fire from mortars and rifled guns until the conclusion of the enterprise. The regiments employed on the work were the 116th and 169th New York volunteers, and the 4th, 6th, 10th, 36th, 38th, and 100th United States colored regiments. From the commencement of the work, the labors of these troops averaged one hundred and twenty men for a period of ten hours each day, working eighteen days in August, twenty-five days in September, and twenty-six days in October. From the first of November until the time of completion, the average consisted of one hundred and thirty men, working eleven and a half hours each day. On the 8th of December the middle dam or partition holding back the water from the portion excavated by manual labor, and the use of carts, was blown out, five hundred pounds of powder being used. At this time fifteen feet of water was admitted into the entire Canal, except that portion at the upper end, comprising about fifty feet, remaining to be excavated. On the night of the 30th of December the mines were laid under the bulkhead, which divided the water in the Canal from the river above, and on the afternoon of the 1st of January were exploded in the presence of Major General Butler and Staff, General Ludlow, who had charge of the work, General Collis, and Senator Clarks, of New Hampshire. The chief correspondent of the New York Herald, who also witnessed the affair, says in his account: "The result of the explosion was hardly what was expected of it. The mass of dirt was heaved up by the powder, but fell back substantially in the same position. A crater was formed, into which the water ran slowly from the Canal below. This extended about two thirds of the distance from the head of the water in the Canal to the edge of the water in the James. No connection between the Canal and the River was established." Since that time, however, the Canal has been opened, and a few vessels of light draught have ventured to run through. The entire length of the Canal is five hundred and twenty-two feet, and the greatest width at the top of the excavation one hundred and twenty-two feet. The bed of the Canal is sixty feet wide and at high water sixteen feet deep, except at the upper end, where it is still obstructed to a considerable degree by the dirt which felt back after the explosion.

Record of taxes on property, including enslaved persons, owned by John Rouzee

National Museum of African American History and Culture
This handwritten single page, one sided document is a tax record written by Rober Hill for John Rouzee regarding the taxes on "thirty-three (33) negros, twelve (12) horses and one (1) Coachee," as well as four hundred and ninty-seven (497) acres of land, six hundred and thirty-nine (639) acres of land owned by Richard Rouzee, and twenty-four (24) levies at eighty (80) cents each. The line of the tax record is a Bill to the General Court eighteen (18) cents and nine (9) dollars. The total tax amount due is sixty-seven (67) dollars and four (4) cents. The page has been ripped at an angle across the bottom.

Record of taxes on property, including enslaved persons, owned by Edward Rouzee

National Museum of African American History and Culture
This handwritten, single page document is an account of taxes owed by Edward Rouzee to the Sheriff of Essex County for the year 1829. The taxable property is listed as four hundred and fifty-four and 3/4 (454 3/4) acres and two hundred and ninety-three (293) acres of land, "19 slaves , 12 horses, and1 Gig," as well as eighteen (18) county and poor levies, and the fee for the Caroline county clerk. It is noted that payment was received October 22, 1829. The document is signed in the bottom right by J.H. Mievny. On the reverse is written, "Sheriff acct for levees E.R." along with the date. Both sides are handwritten in black ink.

"Tom Mix" Style Cowboy Hat

National Museum of American History
This "Tom Mix" style cowboy hat made by the John B. Stetson Company dates from 1910 to 1930. The huge ten-gallon Stetson hat was Tom Mix's trademark. He was the top cowboy movie star of American silent films, known for his daring stunts and his equally famous elaborate cowboy outfits. More than any other star before 1930, Tom Mix had great influence on western wear.

Tom Mix was born on January 6, 1880 in Mix Run, Pennsylvania. His given name was Thomas Hezikiah Mix, but when he enlisted in the Army in April 1898, he listed his name as Thomas E. Mix. Mix appeared in over three hundred western films until his movie career ended when silent films were replaced by talking films. He then worked in rodeos and circuses until his death in 1940 from a freak automobile accident.

The average cowboy wore a hat called a "JB," which stood for John B. Stetson, a hatter who started his company in 1865. He built one of America's most well known and successful businesses and created hats that stood for innovation, quality, and durability. This cowboy hat is one of the styles that the John B. Stetson Company was known for producing. It is made of an off-white felt with a matching ribbon band and measures seven inches high by fourteen inches wide by eighteen inches deep.

Ramon Ayala

National Portrait Gallery
Born Monterrey, Mexico

Known as the “King of the Accordion,” Ramón Ayala has exemplified for more than five decades the best of norteño music, a genre rooted in rural Mexico and popular throughout the Southwest. Having started playing the accordion at age five, Ayala recorded his first album at age eighteen with the group Los Relámpagos del Norte—the Lightning Bolts of the North—and was soon regarded as one of the most inventive musicians in the norteño tradition. Now based in Hidalgo, Texas, he has recorded more than a hundred albums and is the recipient of four Grammy Awards. His songs are often concerned with the hopes and dreams of immigrants along the U.S.–Mexico border, although his music is also about conveying sentiments that speak to the heart of humanity. In this portrait—commissioned to accompany a profile of the legendary musician for Texas Monthly—photographer Jeff Wilson captures Ayala holding his signature rhinestone-studded accordion.

Record of taxes on property, including enslaved persons, owned by Edward Rouzee

National Museum of African American History and Culture
This handwritten, single page document is a sheriff of Essex account of taxes owed by Edward Rouzee for the year 1810. This account lists the taxes on "23 negroes 13 horses + 1 Coachee," as well as seven hundred and forty-eight (748) acres of land, eighteen (18) levies at sixty-two (62) cents each, and "1 Bill Essex office," and "Ditto" for Eliza M. Rouzee. At the bottom is a note that full payment of forty-three (43) dollars and eighty-eight (88) cents was received September 27, 1810.

Record of taxes on property, including enslaved persons, owned by Edward Rouzee

National Museum of African American History and Culture
This handwritten, single page document is an account of taxes owed by Edward Rouzee to the Sheriff of Essex County for the year 1827. The taxable property is listed as "18 slaves, 10 horses, and 1 gig," as well as eighteen (18) county and poor levies at eighty-three (83) cents each and taxes on seven hundred and ninety-eight (798) acres of land. The total amount of taxes due came to forty-one (41) dollars and thirty-eight (38) cents. It is noted that payment was received October 20, 1827. The document is signed at the bottom right by A. Mievny. On the reverse is written "Sheriff Acct for Taxes" along with the date paid. Both sides are written in black ink.

Masjid-i Shah Abd al 'Azim (Shah Abd al 'Azim Mosque) in Tehran (Iran) [graphic]

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
Title and summary note are provided by Shabnam Rahimi-Golkhandan, FSg curatorial research specialist.

Glass negative numbered FSA A.4 2.12 GN.53.10; available in Myron Bement Smith Collection, ca. 1910-1970.

Antoin Sevruguin is one of the early pioneers of commercial photography in Iran. He arrived in Iran from Tbilisi, Georgia in the mid 1870s to set up shop in Ala al-Dawla street in Tehran. From the early days, Sevruguin's studio was trusted both by the Qajar court and by foreign visitors to Iran. Highly regarded for their artistic ingenuity outside Iran, Sevruguin's photographs of 'ethnic types,' architecture and landscape, and depictions of daily life of Tehran found their way into foreign travelogues, magazines and books. As such, he stands alone in a relatively large group of early Iranian photographers for being recognized and celebrated outside the boundaries of the country. Antoin Sevruguin passed away in 1933, although his family studio continued for some time as a commercial enterprise.

Mr. Bisno purchased eighteen albumen prints from a shop in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1969 and donated them to the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Archives on September 23, 1985.

"The photo - taken from afar and a slightly elevated position - shows the courtyard and the entrance iwan of the Masjid-i Shah Abd al'Azim. The Seljuk Shrine/mosque has a lengthy list of restorations during the years, a few of the most significant of which is from Qajar period. From adding minarets and tile work to restoring the other structures and shrines around the main building, works were carried out in the span of about a hundred years during the reigns of Fath Ali Shah, Nasir al-Din Shah and Muzaffar al-Din Shah Qajar. Its golden dome was added during Nasir al-Din Shah's reign, who ordered the dome to be covered in Gold covered copper sheets around 1850s. The minarets were added around 1890s. Many of the images of the building in the 1900s publications are missing the most recent addition of the minarets. The image in Bisno collection however shows the building after the addition of minarets, which puts the date around 1895-1900. Abdullah Qajar has a very similar photo. Copies of Sevruguin's many photos of the site, along with Abdullah Qajar's photos, can be found on the website of the shrine." [Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, Curatorial Research Assistant]

- On recto of the print, handwritten number in white (inked, probably by Antoin Sevruguin) reads, "85."

- On verso of the print, handwritten caption (penciled, probably by Antoin Sevruguin) in French reads, "Chahzadeh Abdoulazime."

- On verso of the print, handwritten number (penciled) reads, "23a."
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