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“This letter was left here for you. Yes, you!!”

National Postal Museum
By Ren Cooper, Marketing AssistantHere at the National Postal Museum, we love letters. Obviously! As poet and cleric John Donne once wrote, “…more than kisses, letters mingle souls.” One of our steadfast security officers came upon an unexpected object that had slipped into a crack within the mud wagon: a letter. How fitting for a museum dedicated to the preservation, study, and presentation of postal history!

“This is 9-1-1. What is your emergency?”: A history of raising the alarm

National Museum of American History

At 2 p.m. on February 16, 1968, a special red telephone rang at the police station in Haleyville, Alabama. Rather than a police officer, U.S. Congressman Tom Bevill answered the call. On the other end of the line was Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite, calling from the mayor’s office (actually located in another part of the same building). Bevill’s simple answer of “hello” may not rank alongside Samuel Morse’s “What hath God wrought,” but it ushered in an important part of daily life, one that has saved countless American lives over the past 50 years. The call marked the first use of the emergency number 9-1-1, a technological answer to a life-and-death question—how do you get help quickly in the event of an emergency? Americans wrestling with the problem have experimented with many innovative solutions over the years.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, getting to the scene of a fire as quickly as possible was the best defense against a damaging conflagration. Just as today, time was of the essence. Watchmen would alert the populace with wooden rattles and raise the alarm by shouting through the streets (sometimes known as “hallooing fire”). Citizens and volunteer firefighters alike would grab leather buckets, hooks, axes, and other necessary equipment and head in the direction of the clamor. A simple fire pumper might be drawn by hand to the scene as well. But finding a fire fast, especially in a warren of urban streets, could be difficult.

Wooden device with a grooved handleA wooden alarm rattle like this one would have been standard equipment for watchmen patrolling city streets in late-18th and early-19th-century America.

The citizens of Philadelphia tried one solution when they restored the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House (better known as Independence Hall) in 1828. They hung a new bell and put a watchman on duty to keep a lookout for fires. Franklin Peale, son of painter Charles Willson Peale, suggested an alarm system for the new bell that would direct fire companies to the scene of a blaze. In the event of a fire near the State House itself, the bell in the steeple was rung continuously. One peal at regular intervals indicated a fire to the north, two peals meant a fire to the south, three to the east, four to the west, and so on. This system is preserved in the decoration on the top of a fire hat from Philadelphia in the museum collections. A compass rose, with a bell at the center, displays the alarm code. Bell codes were used in other cities as well, like New York. In Boston, the city was divided into fire districts, and church bells would peal the number of a district where a fire was discovered. However, the 19th century saw American cities growing in size and population, and a better system was needed to pinpoint the location of an emergency.

Two images; Left, a fire hat with elaborate designs. Right, the top of the hat decorated with a compass rose.This fire hat, worn by a member of Philadelphia’s Taylor Hose Company, has the bell code for the city painted on its crown, in the form of a compass rose. The marks stand for the number of peals of the bell that corresponded to each direction, with Independence Hall as the center point.

William F. Channing and Moses Farmer were both obsessed with the potential for electromagnetism and telegraphy. Specifically, both believed it could be harnessed to create a reliable and near-instantaneous fire alarm system throughout the city of Boston. The two collaborated to lobby city officials to fund “the Application of the Electric Telegraph to signalizing Alarms of Fire” (as their presentation was titled) and received $10,000 to develop and establish their system.

After running nearly 50 miles of wire throughout the city, connected to dozens of alarm boxes and bells, Channing and Farmer’s system was ready in the spring of 1852. If someone opened an alarm box and turned a small crank, the special-purpose telegraph would send out a pulsating electric current to electromagnets that pulled and released the bell clappers, producing alarms both at the scene of the emergency and at the central station, where the location was recorded. The first attempt by the public to use the system was on April 29, 1852. Unfortunately, the helpful citizen cranked too fast, such that the message could not be read, and the man had to run to the central signal office to alert them of the fire in person. Nevertheless, Channing and Farmer would continue to refine their system, and within months it proved a reliable tool in raising the alarm in Boston.

Channing and Farmer made a joint application for a patent for their system, and a patent was issued on May 19, 1857 (Patent No. 17355). Their patent model resides today in the Electricity Collections here at the museum, along with earlier prototypes.

A wooden model. It consists of a wooden base supporting an upright board that has two fire alarm transmitting stations operated by a crank and one alarm station, powered by two battery cells at the back.This is the original patent model for William Channing and Moses Farmer’s “Electromagnetic Fire Alarm Telegraph for Cities.” Patent No. 17355 was issued on May 19, 1857. It consists of a wooden base supporting an upright board that has two fire alarm transmitting stations operated by a crank and one alarm station, powered by two battery cells at the back.

It was at a Smithsonian Institution lecture in March 1855 that emergency alarms took another step. At that lecture, William Channing described the details and merits of the Channing and Farmer system, humbly noting theirs was “a higher system of municipal organization than any which has heretofore been proposed or adopted.” Despite this lofty claim, both men had failed to sell their system to other cities and municipalities, and Channing was falling into debt.

Attending the lecture was John Nelson Gamewell, a postmaster and telegraph operator from Camden, South Carolina. Seeing an opportunity, Gamewell raised the funds to buy the rights to market the Channing and Farmer system. Beginning in 1856, he sold the system to several American cities, including New Orleans, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. By 1859 Gamewell obtained the full rights and patents to the system and was on the verge of creating a fire alarm empire when the Civil War broke out. The U.S. government seized the patents from the Confederate Gamewell, and John Kennard, a fire official from Boston, bought them on the cheap in 1867.

After the war, Gamewell moved north and partnered with Kennard to create a new company to manufacture and sell fire alarms. Building on their success, Gamewell established the Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Company, and its logo—a fist holding a clutch of lightning bolts—would soon be found on alarm boxes throughout North America. By 1890 Gamewell systems were installed in nearly 500 cities in the United States and Canada.

A red box shaped like a fire house station with a pull handle. The box is decorated with the company logo of Gamewell, complete with a hand gripping bolts of electricity.An example of a Gamewell fire alarm box, with the company’s innovative Peerless 3 Fold mechanism still inside. This unit dates to the mid-1940s. By the early 20th century, Gamewell had over 90% of the market share in the United States; these fire alarm boxes would have been a common feature in nearly every American town and city.

While Gamewell boxes became a common sight on public streets and buildings in the early 20th century, more and more Americans were installing a new device in their homes and businesses: the telephone. Before the advent of rotary dial phones (ask your parents, kids), all calls went through with operator assistance, and emergency calls could be directed to the appropriate party. With dial service, a person with an emergency had to call direct to their local police station, hospital, or fire department. Experiments with a universal emergency number in the UK in the 1930s prompted the National Association of Fire Chiefs to recommend such a system for the United States in 1957. On January 12, 1968, after a decade of study and debate and presidential commissions, the Federal Communications Commission and AT&T announced the selection of 9-1-1 as a national emergency number. One FCC member boasted at the time that 911 would be better remembered than 007.

The number was indeed easy to remember, quick to dial when needed, particularly on rotary phones (did you ask?), and difficult to dial in error. AT&T had already established special three-digit numbers—4-1-1 for directory assistance and 6-1-1 for customer service—so the new emergency number fit the existing system.

Some 2,000 independent phone companies in the United States had been left out of the decision, many preferring “0” as the standard number. Nevertheless, one such company decided get behind 9-1-1 in a big way. Bob Gallagher, the president of the Alabama Telephone Company (ATC), decided his company would beat “Ma Bell” to the punch. ATC staff picked Haleyville as the best location and worked after hours to design and implement the infrastructure. Almost exactly one month after AT&T’s announcement, Speaker Fite and Congressman Bevill spoke over the first dedicated 9-1-1 line. Nome, Alaska, would debut a 9-1-1 system about a week later.

A red rotary phoneThe phone from the first 9-1-1 call, on display in Haleyville, Alabama. Photo courtesy of Mayor Ken Sunseri, Haleyville, Alabama.

It would take time for the system to grow in the United States, so publicity like that which surrounded the Haleyville call helped to spread the idea. Twenty years later, only half the U.S. population had access to a 9-1-1 system. By the end of the last century, that number had grown to well over 90%. Today an estimated 240 million calls a year are made to 9-1-1. Upwards of 80% of these calls now come from wireless devices, something almost impossible to consider 50 years ago, just as the watchman with a wooden rattle might not envision an alarm traveling over electrical wires.

Tim Winkle is the deputy chair of the Division of Home and Community Life and the curator of the Firefighting and Law Enforcement Collection.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018 - 06:30
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“The Scream” Might Have Been Inspired By a Rare Type of Cloud

Smithsonian Magazine

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is iconic—but it's also mysterious. Why is the stressed-out subject screaming, anyway? A Norwegian scientist has an intriguing new theory, reports the BBC’s Jonathan Amos: Perhaps the scream was inspired by an atmospheric phenomenon called mother-of-pearl clouds.

The rare clouds got their nickname from the abalone shells they resemble. Also known as nacreous or polar stratospheric clouds, they’re iridescent and pretty unusual. They form in northerly latitudes during the winter when the dry stratosphere cools down.

Normally, the stratosphere is so dry that it can’t sustain clouds, but when temperatures get beneath about 108 degrees below zero, all of the scant moisture in the air gets chilly enough to form ice crystals. When the sun hits the perfect place along the horizon, those ice crystals reflect its rays, causing a shimmering, pearly effect.

Helene Muri, a meteorologist and cloud expert, recently gave a talk at this year's European Geosciences Union General Assembly about how the wavy mother-of-pearl clouds could be portrayed in Munch’s painting. “As an artist, they no doubt could have made an impression on him,” she tells Amos.

The clouds form in icy temperatures and can be viewed only at certain latitudes and times of day. (Wikimedia Commons)

Though the sky in "The Scream" is outlandish, the painting is widely believed to be autobiographical. Munch himself struggled with tragedy and fragile health that scholars believe could have informed the painting’s colors and themes. In a poem in his diary, Munch recalls the sky turning “blood red” after he felt “a wave of sadness” while walking with some friends. He put a similar poem on the frame of one of his versions of the painting.

That description has prompted other scientists to use natural phenomena to explain the origin of the painting. In 2004, physicists theorized that the clouds were created when Krakatoa erupted in Indonesia—an event that caused spectacular sunsets throughout Europe. But it’s tricky to ascribe a particular date, time, or event to a piece of art, especially since painting is by nature so subjective.

It turns out that mother-of-pearl clouds have a dark side: As Nathan Case explains for The Conversation, they cause the ozone layer to further break down by stoking a reaction that produces free radicals, which can destroy atmospheric ozone. That’s something to scream about—but until scientists invent artistic time machines, their theories about the weather events that precipitated history’s greatest paintings will remain mere suppositions.

“Strong Medicine” Speaks

Smithsonian Magazine

On a late spring afternoon, as the sun nears its highest point, fifty men and women form a large circle in the middle of a field, deep in the woodlands and marshes that border a great river. Each one stands quietly, focused on a small, smoky bonfire that smells of sage and tobacco. The chief speaks. He reminds everyone that the ceremony is sacred. Among those present is the chief's 85-year-old mother, "Strong Medicine," who is the matriarch of the tribe.

They are all members of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indian Tribe of New Jersey. More than 3,000 strong, they are the largest and most vibrant tribe of Lenni-Lenape Indians living within the "Land of the Ancestors." That they are still here, unlike the thousands who were forced onto reservations, is a little-known tale of survival and ingenuity.

Their history in the area dates back more than 10,000 years, when Lenni-Lenape territory stretched from Manhattan Island to the Delaware Bay. Their lands—arguably among the most magnificent in the world—included southeastern New York state (including Manhattan), all of New Jersey, portions of eastern Pennsylvania (including what is now Philadelphia) and parts of Maryland and Delaware. Their first confirmed encounter with white people occurred on a spring day in 1524, when the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian sailing a French vessel, sailed into the waters between what is now called Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York. In his journal, Verrazzano wrote that the Lenape paddled out to greet him, making "great shouts of admiration."

Like the other "Nations of First Contact," as East Coast tribes are sometimes called, Lenni-Lenape leaders were thrust into a world they did not understand. It was the Lenni-Lenape who famously "sold" Manhattan Island for the equivalent of twenty-four dollars to the Dutchman Peter Minuit in 1626. Less well known is that they were the first Indian tribe in America to sign a treaty with the United States government. Their chiefs met with every major American figure from William Penn to George Washington.

Many Lenni-Lenape Indians—also sometimes called Delaware Indians—died of diseases to which they had no immunity, or were killed outright by white colonists. Thousands were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and sent, over a period of decades, to reservations in the West and in Canada. Strong Medicine's tribe, located in rural Cumberland County in New Jersey, found a way to avoid that fate.

"When my husband and I were coming up, and for a long time before that, our tribe was in hiding," Strong Medicine explains. "We were a hidden people. If the government knew you were Indian, they would take your property and send you to a reservation. There is a story in our tribe that this happened as recently as 1924, two years before I was born. So we were in the habit of staying to ourselves and not saying who we really were."

Census workers, in fact, were intentionally misled. "We would say we were 'Colored,' which is a term they used in the old days for people who are not white," Strong Medicine recalls. "Well, the government workers were white and they didn't know what the heck we were. They thought we meant we were 'Black' when we said 'Colored,' and we just went on letting them think that."

Adding to the confusion is that some members of the tribe do indeed have a small amount of white or African ancestry. This is not uncommon among Indians on the East Coast.

Strong Medicine—whose full name is Marion Strong Medicine Gould—is true to her name, which was given to her in a religious ceremony more than thirty years ago by her son, Chief Mark Quiet Hawk Gould. He gave her the name because of her extensive knowledge of plants and herbs—and also because of her personality. Strong Medicine is unusually outspoken for a Native American Elder, many of whom refrain from speaking to the outside world. And she is known within the tribe for telling the unvarnished truth to anyone who is brave enough to seek her advice. "Half the tribe is afraid of Mom," jokes the Chief, who will turn 66 this month.

Born in 1922 in Bridgeton, New Jersey, near the Delaware Bay, Strong Medicine recalls being raised in a loving environment where families lived in clans, or clusters, near each other. (They still do.) "We did better than most people during the Great Depression," she recalls. "We already knew how to eat weeds and things like that—we just ate more of it.

"Some Indians are ashamed to admit they eat weeds," she adds. "But I'm not. Why should I be? It's part of our culture."

Married at 18 to her high school sweetheart, Wilbur "Wise Fox" Gould, the couple already had two small sons by the time he joined the Army during World War II. Trained as a forward scout, he was captured and listed as missing in action during the Battle of the Bulge.

The tribe continued to live in secret until the 1970s, when Mark Gould, along with a core group of others in his age group, decided that the time had come for the tribe to stop hiding its identity. The tribe's modern-day revival, in fact, coincided with a national movement, the Indian Civil Rights Movement, and the cultural rebirth known as Native Pride.

Part of the plan was to re-organize the ancient tribe as a modern-day entity. Most of the elders, however, would not sign incorporation papers, or put their names on the ballot for a spot on the newly-structured Tribal Council. Strong Medicine, however, did both.

"It really made a huge difference to have Mom behind us," the Chief recalls. "All of the other elders were afraid of change." The tribe's incorporation took place in 1978, the same year that Congress passed a law protecting the right of Indians to freely practice their religions.

When one considers the fate of most tribes in America, the fact that 3000 Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians can practice their religion on their ancestral homeland, seems nothing short of miraculous. During Strong Medicine's life, her tribe has come full-circle, from hiding their identity to embracing it. "I never thought I would live to see the day my grandchildren and great-grandchildren celebrate our heritage," Strong Medicine says with a smile.

Copyright © 2008 by Amy Hill Hearth. Printed by permission. Adapted from the forthcoming book "Strong Medicine" Speaks by Amy Hill Hearth to be published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (Available March 18, 2008 at your local bookstore and at ISBN: 0-7432-9779-2, $23.00).

“Science Ninjas” Capture Bugs at Camp Discovery

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
by Chris Patrick “Camp Discovery!” shouts Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) education intern Josie Whelan. “SCIENCE NINJAS!” a dozen 6- to 8-year-old campers respond as they strike ninja-esque poses. This is a callback, used by the three education interns—Henry Lawson, Addie Schlussel, and Whelan—to grab the attention of talkative future first- and second-graders at Camp […]

“Orchids In Classrooms” Turns Sixth-Graders Into Citizen Scientists

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

By Hannah-Marie Garcia, science writing intern Think back to your early childhood science classes. Was there ever a time you had to watch a plant grow? Your first natural sciences teacher may have used plant growth to explain basic concepts of plant biology. The process is a rewarding learning experience for students to observe their […]

The post “Orchids In Classrooms” Turns Sixth-Graders Into Citizen Scientists appeared first on Shorelines.

“Lost” 18th-Century Garden Found at Scottish Castle

Smithsonian Magazine

Culzean Castle, one of the grandest estates in Scotland, is best known for its sumptuous landscapes and structures, designed by famed architect Robert Adam in the late 18th century. There is a sweeping swan pond, a collection of foliage-filled greenhouses, and a towering, turreted castle situated dramatically on a cliff. But as Martin Hannan reports for The National, archaeologists recently uncovered an earlier feature of the sprawling property at Culzean: the remains of a walled garden that survived Adams’ renovations.

The stone walls of the garden were unearthed during a construction project to improve the drainage at Fountain Court, a manicured expanse of lawn set below the castle. Stretching for almost 200 feet across the landscape, the walls are “thought to result from work undertaken by Sir John Kennedy of Culzean, 2nd Baronet, in 1733,” the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) said in a statement. John Kennedy’s ancestors acquired the property in the late 16th century, according to Historic Environment Scotland.

The 1733 renovation extended the walls of the garden along the east side of the castle. Lined with a row of fruit trees, the space likely functioned as an enclosed kitchen garden. A 1755 map of the estate did in fact mark the kitchen garden with sketches of plant beds, but archaeologists did not realize that remains of the structure still stood beneath Culzean's grounds.

“[W]e never knew that any of it survived below the immaculate turf of the Fountain Court,” said Derek Alexander, Head of Archaeological Services for the NTS, according to the aforementioned statement.“This work has given us the perfect opportunity to explore a hidden aspect of Culzean’s past.”

In the late 18th century, Culzean was inherited by David Kennedy, “a man who was keen to impress with his wealth and status,” according to the NTS website. Looking to upgrade the estate, Kennedy commissioned Adam to lead a series of opulent building projects at Culzean. The kitchen garden was dismantled—though not completely—during the renovations and moved further afield, thereby improving the view from the castle, according to the BBC.

The site where the kitchen garden once stood continued to evolve over the course of the next century. In the mid 1800s, the area was used as a bowling green. In 1876, a large fountain was installed on the turf. Today, the aptly-named "Fountain Court" is popular amongst tourists and wedding parties, who have trod across the land, not knowing that a secret garden lay beneath their feet.

(National Trust for Scotland)

“I Hope It Is Not Too Late”: How the U.S. Decided to Send Millions of Troops Into World War I

Smithsonian Magazine

U.S. General John J. Pershing, newly arrived in France, visited his counterpart, French general Philippe Pétain, with a sobering message on June 16, 1917. It had been two months since the U.S. entered World War I, but Pershing, newly appointed to command the American Expeditionary Force in France, had hardly any troops to deploy. The United States, Pershing told Pétain, wouldn’t have enough soldiers to make a difference in France until spring 1918.

“I hope it is not too late,” the general replied.

Tens of thousands of Parisians had thronged the streets to cheer Pershing on his June 13 arrival. Women climbed onto the cars in his motorcade, shouting, “Vive l’Amérique!” The French, after three years of war with Germany, were desperate for the United States to save them.

Now Pétain told Pershing that French army was near collapse. A million French soldiers had been killed in trench warfare. Robert-Georges Nivelle’s failed April offensive against the German line in northern France had caused 120,000 French casualties. After that, 750,000 soldiers mutinied, refusing to go to the front line. Pétain, who replaced Nivelle in May, had kept the army together by granting some of the soldiers’ demands for better food and living conditions and leave to see their families. But the French were in no condition to launch any more offensives. “We must wait for the Americans,” Pétain told Pershing.

But the United States wasn’t ready to fight. It had declared war in April 1917 with only a small standing army. Pershing arrived in France just four weeks after the Selective Service Act authorized a draft of at least 500,000 men. Though President Woodrow Wilson intended to send troops to France, there was no consensus on how many. “The more serious the situation in France,” Pershing wrote in his 1931 memoir, My Experiences in the World War, “the more deplorable the loss of time by our inaction at home appeared.”

It fell to Pershing to devise the American war strategy. The 56-year-old West Point graduate had fought the Apache and Sioux in the West, the Spanish in Cuba, Filipino nationalists in their insurrection against U.S. rule and Pancho Villa in Mexico. He was blunt, tough, and stubborn—“a large man with small, trim arms and legs, and an underslung jaw that would defy an aerial bomb,” a contemporary wrote. He hated dithering, spoke little and hardly ever smiled.

Resisting French and British pressure to reinforce their armies with American soldiers, Pershing and his aides studied where to best deploy the American Expeditionary Force. Germany had seized nearly all of Belgium and the northeast edge of France, so the war’s Western front now stretched 468 miles, from the Swiss border to the North Sea. The British were deployed in France’s northern tip, where they could quickly escape home if they had to. The French were defending Paris by holding the front about 50 miles northeast of the capital.

So Pershing chose Lorraine, in northeastern France, as “a chance for the decisive use of our army.” If the Americans could advance just 40 miles from there, they could reach Germany itself, cut off the main German supply line, and threaten the enemy’s coalfields and iron mines. On June 26, Pershing visited Pétain again, and tentatively agreed on where to begin the first American offensive.

On June 28, the first 14,500 American troops arrived in France. “Their arrival left Pershing singularly unimpressed,” wrote Jim Lacey in his 2008 biography, Pershing. “To his expert eye the soldiers were undisciplined and poorly trained. Many of their uniforms did not fit and most were fresh from recruiting stations, with little training other than basic drill.” But Parisians wanted to throw a gala celebration for the troops on America’s Independence Day.

To boost French morale, Pershing reluctantly agreed. On July 4, he and the troops marched five miles through Paris’ streets to the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette. There, Pershing aide Charles E. Stanton delivered a speech that ended with a sweeping salute. “Nous voilà, Lafayette!” Stanton declared—“Lafayette, we are here!” in English—a phrase often misattributed to Pershing himself.

Ceremonies performed, Pershing got back to work. The British and French counted on 500,000 U.S. troops in 1918. But Pershing suspected a half-million soldiers wouldn’t be enough. His three weeks in France had deepened his understanding of the Allies’ plight and their inability to break the stalemate on the Western Front. America, he decided, needed to do more. 

On July 6, Pershing cabled Newton Baker, the Secretary of War. “Plans should contemplate sending over at least 1,000,000 men by next May,” the telegram read. Soon after, Pershing and his aides forwarded a battle plan to Washington. It called for a larger military effort than the United States had ever seen.

“It is evident that a force of about 1,000,000 is the smallest unit which in modern war will be a complete, well-balanced, and independent fighting organization,” Pershing wrote. And plans for the future, he added, might require as many as 3 million men.

Pershing’s demand sent shock waves through the War Department. Admiral William Sims, who commanded the U.S. fleet in European waters, thought Pershing was joking when he heard it. Tasker Bliss, the War Department’s acting chief of staff, expressed alarm, but had no alternate plan. “Baker seemed unruffled,” wrote Frank E. Vandiver in his 1977 Pershing biography, Black Jack. “Committed to winning peace at any kind of rates, Wilson followed Baker’s calm.” They accepted Pershing’s war plan.

Almost 10 million young men had already registered for the draft, giving the Wilson administration the means to fulfill Pershing’s demand. On July 20, Baker, wearing a blindfold, pulled numbers out of a glass bowl, choosing 687,000 men in the nation’s first draft lottery since the Civil War. By the end of July, the outlines of the war effort’s true scale—1 to 2 million men—began to emerge in the press.

But the news didn’t reverse public and congressional support for the war. The shock of the Zimmermann Telegram and the patriotic exhortations of the government’s Committee on Public Information had overcome many Americans’ past skepticism about sending troops to fight in Europe. By the end of 1918, the United States would draft 2.8 million men into the armed forces—just in time to help its allies win the war.

“Horn Violin” Patent Model

National Museum of American History
This “Horn Violin” was patented by Sewall Short of New London, Connecticut in 1854 and received U.S. Patent number 10,867. The violin was made by Derazey in Mirecourt, France around 1850. Short’s patent application describes fitting a brass “horn” and pegbox to the body and neck of a normal violin. By hollowing the wooden neck, sound vibrations are transmitted from the body through the amplifying “horn.” The tone and power of the instrument was said to be much improved. The violin neck has been overlaid with brass for strength and is made of a table of one-piece spruce, one-piece maple back with irregular fine to broad horizontal figure, ribs of medium figured maple, brass covered maple neck and pegbox with attached “horn” bell, and an orange-brown varnish.

“Double Pigeon” Model DHY Typewriter

National Museum of American History
This is a “Double Pigeon” Model DHY typewriter that was manufactured by the Shanghai Calculator and Typewriter Manufacturing Works of Shanghai, China around 1974. The typewriter is made to print Chinese characters. The character is selected, inked, and printed by the machine, in a somewhat tedious process due to the 2,500 characters available and the fact that each typist could change the organization of the type tray to fit their writing style, varying the organization from machine to machine. Other character sets can be placed in the machine, allowing it to print over 7,000 unique characters. The typewriter was acquired to be displayed in the bicentennial exhibit "A Nation of Nations."

“Call Me Ishmael” Is the Only Melville Tradition in This Innovative Presentation of “Moby Dick”

Smithsonian Magazine

“Call me Ishmael.” So begins Arena Stage’s current presentation of the play Moby Dick. But after that familiar line, this highly engaging production shrugs off tradition with strobe lights flashing, giant waves crashing and the audience swept up in a relentless sense of movement. The play has become an "experience" of life aboard the Nantucket whaler Pequod with Capt Ahab in pursuit of the white whale Moby-Dick.

Arriving at Arena from Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company and with an upcoming stop at South Coast Repertory in Cosa Mesa, California in January, Moby Dick is the product of a multidisciplinary group that received the 2011 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre.

Founded in 1988, the company is dedicated to creating original, story-centered theater through physical and improvisational techniques. For this production, playwright-director and founding member David Catlin was inspired by the challenge of transforming Herman Melville’s lengthy 1851 novel into a compact 21st-century production that reflects the pace and interaction demanded by today’s audiences.

As a faculty member of Northwestern University, Catlin calls himself a “theater-maker who acts, writes, directs and teaches.” Since Lookingglass was created, he has been part of more than 50 world premieres, and currently serves as the company’s director of artistic development.

Traditional “static theater” is dead-in-the-water to today’s theatergoers who are “used to interacting with multiple screens” and multitasking, says Catlin. So the idea for Moby Dick was to dramatically reimagine Melville’s classic seafaring tale, strip it of convention, and make it pulsate with bold acrobatics.

“We refer to the stage as the deck,” Catlin says, and “the people working back stage are the crew.”

He appreciates that theater has long been a primarily auditory experience. “In Shakespearean England, you wouldn’t go to see a play, you’d go to hear a play,” he says, referring to the rich language and iambic rhythms of Elizabethan theater. 

While he respects that tradition, Catlin wants to experiment with a type of theater that people “can experience in other ways, too.”

Lookingglass continually innovates with a performance style that shapes an immersive audience environment. Their method incorporates music, circus, movement, puppetry and object animation, symbol and metaphor, and visual storytelling to create work that is visceral, kinesthetic, cinematic, aural and psychological.  

The company collaborated with The Actors Gymnasium, in Evanston, Illinois, one of the nation’s premier circus and performing arts training centers. Actors tell their stories acrobatically, propelling themselves across a set designed as a ship’s deck. Filled with interlocking cables and rope riggings, the entire stage, or deck, is framed by arching steel-tubed pipes suggesting the curved ribs of a whale. The set, says Catlin, conveys the long connection between theater and ships—many of the mechanical elements used to move theatrical scenery are common to sailing, such as the block and tackle used to raise and lower curtains, and the use of rope lines.

This production of Moby Dick with its daring use of circus techniques plays to a shared history with the book’s origins.

Anthony Fleming III as Queequeg, Christopher Donahue as Captain Ahab and Emma Cadd as Fate in Moby Dick at Arena Stage. (Liz Lauren/Lookingglass Theatre Company)

Herman Melville published Moby Dick in a decade that’s been called “the golden age of the circus.” The circus was considered America’s most popular form of entertainment in the mid-19th century, and master showman P.T. Barnum even established his American Museum as a proto-circus on Broadway, winning great notoriety by displaying such wildly diverse entertainments as “industrious fleas, automatons, jugglers, ventriloquists….” 

While Melville never met Barnum, he was certainly aware of the circus and wrote about it evocatively in his short story “The Fiddler,” published anonymously in Harper’s in 1854. The story depicts a sad poet being cheered up by a friend who takes him to a circus:  he is swept up by “the broad amphitheater of eagerly interested and all-applauding human faces. Hark! claps, thumps, deafening huzzas; one vast assembly seemed frantic with acclamation. . . .” 

The stage audience experiences circus and movement, says Catlin, “in a visceral and kinesthetic and muscular way.” Some of the performers are circus-trained, adding authenticity to the aerial acrobatics displayed.

“The dangers of sailing and whaling are made that much more immediate,” he says, “when the performers are engaged in the danger inherent in circus.” 

Herman Melville's sixth and most famous novel, Moby-Dick was published in 1851. (Moby Dick, illustration by Rockwell Kent, Random House, 1930, NMAH)

Using movement to propel the art of storytelling is an increasingly popular theatrical approach. Earlier, modern dance pioneers occasionally incorporated a mix of artistic and theatrical ingredients; Martha Graham notably had a brilliant 40-year collaboration with sculptor Isamu Noguchi that resulted in 19 productions. A photograph of Noguchi’s “Spider Dress” for Graham is currently on display in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s new exhibition, "Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern."

Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is contemporary ballet’s leading proponent of storytelling through movement, and has applied his flowing narrative approach both to classical ballet and to Broadway, where his production of An American in Paris won a 2015 Tony Award.

Perhaps the singular, most dramatic example of a company that tells stories through movement is the Synetic Theater in Arlington, Virigina, which is renowned for its fluid synthesis of innovative techniques for silent storytelling using only mime and movement.    

Moby Dick has inspired countless adaptations: Orson Welles broadcast a 1946 radio version, Gregory Peck starred in a 1956 film, Cameron Mackintosh produced a 1992 musical that became a West End hit, and there was a 2010 Dallas Opera production that was a box office triumph.

The Lookingglass production of Moby Dick taps into the public’s continuing fascination for the classic novel with a grand and obsessive vengeance, but Lookingglass employs a more intimate approach.

The company creates a small-scale immersive theatrical experience that largely succeeds, although coherent storytelling in Act II sometimes loses out to vivid theatricality. The costume designs are highly imaginative—actors opening-and-closing black umbrellas seem perfectly credible as whales spouting alongside the Pequod, and the humongous skirt of one actor magically flows across the stage/deck in giant wave-like ocean swells.

Ahab’s doom is never in doubt, and we are there for every vengeful step. For David Catlin, the set’s rope riggings convey the play’s essential metaphor: the web they weave provides the “aerial story-telling” that connects Ahab to his fate, and the rest of us “to each other.”

Moby Dick is a co-production with The Alliance Theatre and South Coast Repertory. It will be in residence at Arena Stage through December 24, before heading to the South Coast Repertory in Cosa Mesa, California, January 20 through February 19, 2017. 

‘Hamilton: The Exhibition’ Opens in Chicago to Eager Fans

Smithsonian Magazine

On Saturday, April 27, hundreds of fans waiting in line for the opening of "Hamilton: The Exhibition" received a special surprise: The man behind the hit Broadway musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda himself, appeared on the scene with donuts in hand, ready to reward the so-called "Hamilfans" who had braved the dismal Chicago weather with sweet treats and selfies.

As Michael Paulson reports for The New York Times, a specially constructed 35,000-square-foot structure on Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline is the first locale to host an immersive, surprisingly educational exhibition on "Hamilton." Dubbed "Hamilton: The Exhibition," the show features an in-depth look at the eponymous Founding Father’s life, correcting historical inaccuracies seen in the musical while simultaneously fleshing out events and themes raised by Miranda’s Tony Award-winning creation.

Catering to the musical enthusiasts sure to flock to the space, the exhibit also includes an audio guide narrated by Miranda and original cast members Phillipa Soo and Christopher Jackson, a reworked instrumental version of the soundtrack recorded by a 27-piece band, and 3-D footage of Miranda leading the Washington, D.C. cast in a performance of the musical’s opening number.

Amazingly, "Hamilton: The Exhibition" cost $1 million more to launch than its Broadway predecessor. Built to travel (at least with the aid of 80 moving trucks), the show carries a hefty price tag of $13.5 million, as opposed to the musical’s $12.5 million—a fact that may account for its high admission rates, which stand at $39.50 for adults and $25 for children. Although the exhibit’s Chicago run currently has no fixed end-date, Jeffrey Seller, the musical's lead producer and the individual in charge of this latest venture, tells Paulson it will likely stay in the Windy City for several months before moving on to cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.

According to the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Johnson, Miranda, who served as an artistic advisor for the exhibition, describes the show as a “choose-your-own-adventure” experience. Those hoping to delve into the details of the Revolutionary War, federalism and early 19th-century fiscal policy will want to pay attention to wall text and audio narration, while those more interested in the musical will enjoy interactive visuals, games and set pieces crafted by exhibit designer David Korins.

Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Miriam Di Nunzio highlights several of the exhibition’s 18 galleries: There’s the “Schuyler Mansion” ballroom, dominated by bronze statues of Alexander Hamilton, the Schuyler sisters, and George and Martha Washington, and a recreation of the Battle of Yorktown that Seller, in an interview with the Sun-Times’ Mary Houlihan, likens to “a giant [animated] Risk board.” Also of note are a “Hurricane” room centered on Hamilton’s youth in St. Croix, a gallery dedicated to Eliza Hamilton’s efforts to ensure her husband’s legacy following his death in 1804, and a “Duel” space featuring life-size statues of Hamilton and Aaron Burr with their pistols raised.

In essence, "Hamilton: The Exhibition" strives to fill the historical gaps left by its namesake musical.

“I couldn't even fit Ben Franklin in my show,” Miranda tells the Daily Beast’s Kimberly Bellware. “I couldn't get the state of Pennsylvania in. But here, we can do a deeper dive on slavery in the north and the south. We can talk about Native American contributions, [and] we can talk about women in the war effort.”

As Bellware observes, one such nod to these hidden histories is a statue of an enslaved woman standing at the edge of the Schuyler ballroom. Rather than providing a cursory overview of slavery in colonial America, the accompanying audio narration urges visitors to consider the figure as an individual, asking, “Where was she from? Who did she love? What were her dreams?”

Focusing on Hamilton specifically, The New York Times’ Jacobs points toward an unassuming sign clarifying the “ten-dollar Founding Father without a father”’s stance on slavery: Although the song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” finds Eliza stating, “I speak out against slavery / You could have done so much more if you / only had— / Time,” the exhibit notes, “The real Hamilton wasn’t an abolitionist, but he did oppose slavery.”

It’s worth noting that "Hamilton: The Exhibition" has its flaws: For the Chicago Tribune, Johnson notes that the show features a cast of reproductions, as the warehouse’s climate has yet to prove stable enough to house actual artifacts, and argues that it too often relies on heavy blocks of text to convey the history behind the musical’s catchy tunes. Still, Johnson concludes, these are just “quibbles.” Overall, “there are a thousand choices on display in this exhibition, and almost all of them at least satisfy, while a great number go beyond that to surprise and delight.”

In the words of "Hamilton"’s King George III—the musical's resident source of comic relief—you’ll be back.

¡Yo soy de Cuba la Voz, Guantanamera!

National Portrait Gallery
Born Havana, Cuba

Celia Cruz’s dynamic performances, rich voice, and flamboyant attire brought her to the stage of Havana’s famed Tropicana nightclub in the 1950s. Shortly after Fidel Castro seized power of Cuba in 1959, Cruz left the island for a one-year contract in Mexico, never to return. She defected in 1961. Eventually, Cruz settled in New York City, where her music was initially considered old-fashioned. By the 1970s, however, when the new genre of salsa saturated the airwaves and filled the nightclubs, she had become its reina (queen). Her songs, while speaking to pan-Latino audiences, also became a direct connection to Cuba for the thousands of exiles living in the United States and elsewhere in the world. As artist Alexis Rodríguez-Duarte has noted, Cruz “brought [people] home again.” For this portrait session held in Miami, she sang acapella in a traditional guarachera dress while placed against a backdrop that evokes 1950s Havana.

Nacida en La Habana, Cuba

Las dinámicas presentaciones de Celia Cruz, su voz resonante y su llamativo vestuario la propulsaron al escenario del famoso club Tropicana de La Habana en los años cincuenta. Poco después de que Fidel Castro subiera al poder en Cuba en 1959, Cruz abandonó la isla para presentarse en México con contrato de un año, y nunca regresó. En 1961 pidió asilo político. Cruz terminó por radicarse en Nueva York, donde al principio su música se consideró anticuada. No obstante, para los años setenta, cuando el nuevo género de la salsa saturó los programas radiales y clubes nocturnos, Cruz se convirtió en su reina. A la vez que hablaban a un público panamericano, sus canciones ofrecían una conexión directa con la patria a los miles de exiliados cubanos que vivían en Estados Unidos y otros países. Como señala el artista Alexis Rodríguez-Duarte, Cruz “nos trajo de vuelta a casa”. Cuando posó para este retrato en Miami, Cruz cantó a capela vestida de guarachera, con un fondo tropical que evoca La Habana de los años cincuenta.

¡Mosquito! ¿Cómo podemos garantizar la salud para todos contra las enfermedades transmitidas por los mosquitos?- Parte 4

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Part 4 Transmission, focuses on understanding factors that affect how mosquito-borne diseases are transmitted. Research includes identifying potential host animals, local histories, and changes in the local environment that could affect how diseases may be transmitted through your research site now and in the future.


Smithsonian American Art Museum
The core of the Rufus Corporation’s “expedition to unravel utopian promise” would become this digital cinema installation whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoic. It is an experimental film composed from two screens: one reflecting the “movie” and one depicting the computer program behind the movie. In making the film, the collective traveled between Moscow and the Caspian Sea, compiling a cinematic record of the landscape, environment, and architecture while filming in local cafes, apartment blocks, and industrial plants. An audio/visual library comprised of 3,000 film clips, 80 voice-overs, and 150 pieces of music forms the basis of an improvised film noir.

A non-linear narrative unfolds through the observations and surveillance of the central protagonist, Holz, who finds himself living in a dystopian futuropolis. Further provoking cinematic form, the film’s presentation is edited in real time by a custom-programmed computer that Sussman has labeled the “serendipity machine.” The artwork is driven by key words that appear on the secondary screen and delivers a changing narrative that runs indefinitely, never playing the same sequence twice. The unexpected juxtapositions of voice, image, and sound create a sense of unyielding suspense that continuously divorces the protagonist from the full course of his own narrative.

Watch This!: Revelations in Media Art, 2015

whale oil lamp

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
One of a pair of whale oil lamps. Flat semicircular container with brass cup over the filling hole; attached to a triangular piece of tin, arched below and with hole at top; at the front of the container a pipe connecting with upright cylinder which is fitted with two brass tubes and a brass plate. -a and -b are the same.

whale oil lamp

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
One of a pair of whale oil lamps. Flat semicircular container with brass cup over the filling hole; attached to a triangular piece of tin, arched below and with hole at top; at the front of the container a pipe connecting with upright cylinder which is fitted with two brass tubes and a brass plate. -a and -b are the same.

spur with wire

National Museum of American History
The spurs were a gift from the paniolo cowboy Masatsu “Masa” Kawamoto. Spurs are the metal device attached to a cowboy’s boots that were used to dig into the horse’s side to encourage it to go faster. Masa has donated two different types of spurs. The first pair of spurs is made out of metal and leather with a piece of wire wrapped around it. The second pair of spurs is made from the traditional Spanish and Mexican style with a spiked metal wheel and a leather strap that fits the metal spur onto the boot.

spur with cord

National Museum of American History
The spurs were a gift from the paniolo cowboy Masatsu “Masa” Kawamoto. Spurs are the metal device attached to a cowboy’s boots that were used to dig into the horse’s side to encourage it to go faster. Masa has donated two different types of spurs. The first pair of spurs is made out of metal and leather with a piece of wire wrapped around it. The second pair of spurs is made from the traditional Spanish and Mexican style with a spiked metal wheel and a leather strap that fits the metal spur onto the boot.

single drift tube assembly from Brookhaven 50 MeV linac

National Museum of American History
Object 1997.0392.01 is a single drift tube assembly from the 50 million volt linear accelerator that served as the first injector to the 33 billion volt Alternating Gradient Synchrotron for protons at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, circa 1962. Later the linac was replaced and sent to Berkeley where it may have been used as an injector to the Bevatron. (Information from donor)

The assembly consists of a copper disc with slightly convex faces and a toroidal rim, with an axial hole for the beam. Two copper pipes extend radially, at right angles to each other. At the distal end of each is a copper bellows. From the bellows of the thicker pipe extends an internal coaxial steel pipe with an end fitting, from which emerge two insulated wires in a common braided sheath. These no doubt supplied current to a focussing quadrupole magnet embedded in the drift tube (disc).

The bellows of the thinner copper pipe has a black rubber O-ring and internal threads at the end; otherwise it is empty.

Basic Principles of Linac Drift Tubes

Object 1997.0392.01 is a single drift tube, one of a series of electrodes of various lengths, each with an axial cylindrical passage for the particle beam, that are positioned inside a vacuum chamber along the beamline of a linear particle accelerator (linac). This vacuum chamber functions as a resonant cavity for the standing-wave electromagnetic field in which the electric field is parallel to the cavity axis in order to accelerate the beam of electrically-charged particles. Protons or ions are accelerated through the cavity in the gaps between the ends of successive drift tubes by an electric field that alternates at radiofrequency, but inside the tubes the particles are shielded from the electric field when it reverses direction, so that they “drift” through each tube with constant velocity. In electron linacs, the corresponding electrode elements are copper cavities into which radiofrequency waves are fed to accelerate the particle bunches. (See object EM.N-09538, SLAC cavity cutaway.)

The length of the drift tubes increases progressively with the distance from the linac particle source, and is determined by the frequency and power of the electric field and the mass and charge of the particle to be accelerated, so that the particle passes through each electrode in exactly one-half cycle of the accelerating voltage. To counteract dispersive radial forces also experienced by protons or ions, magnetic or electrostatic focusing elements are included in the drift tubes to ensure that the particle beam remains focused in the center of the beamline. For a discussion of “strong focusing” using electrostatic quadrupole lenses in a proton linac, see object 1978.1073.01.1, Alvarez Proton Linear Accelerator.

The Brookhaven 50 MeV linac apparently had one focusing quadrupole magnet embedded in each drift tube. (The pole pieces of the quadrupole magnet in object 1997.0392.01 are enclosed and not visible.)

The drift tubes decrease the volume available to the electric field at a region where it is strongest and at a region where the magnetic field is the weakest. Thus, the drift tubes detune the frequencies of the cells (regions between centers of successive drift tube gaps). Tuning devices are often inserted into the cells to achieve a ‘flat’ field in the cavity of the linac. For a cavity tuning device used in the Brookhaven 50 MeV linac, see object 1997.0392.02, tuning ball.

For more on the basic principles of linacs and drift tubes, see the following web-based references:;;

The drift tube parameters for the Brookhaven 50 Mev proton linac are included in the latter reference.


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Similar wallhanging used in two rooms in Winterthur Museum, Delaware (1955). Has been folded under along top and cut to fit about a ceiling beam. Has been moth-eaten, and perforated with nail holes. Small stylized floral motif set within tracery, printed in green flock and orange pigment, on metallic gold color ground.

right chaperrera

National Museum of American History
The spurs were a gift from the paniolo cowboy Masatsu “Masa” Kawamoto. Spurs are the metal device attached to a cowboy’s boots that were used to dig into the horse’s side to encourage it to go faster. Masa has donated two different types of spurs. The first pair of spurs is made out of metal and leather with a piece of wire wrapped around it. The second pair of spurs is made from the traditional Spanish and Mexican style with a spiked metal wheel and a leather strap that fits the metal spur onto the boot.


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
The caption reads: La Femme a L’Éventail / Robe du soir, de Worth. Center woman stands with black plummed feather fan in a form fitting seafoam green evening gown with large bow, wrapped skirt, amd pink lace slip detailing along torso. She wears matching heels and has a strand of pears wrapped around her left wrist.


National Museum of American History
A poster promoting the Peace Corps. Authorized by Congress in 1962 more than 235,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps and served in 141 countries. They work with governments, schools, entrepeneurs in education, youth development, community health, business, information technology, environment, agriculture, as well as non-profit organizations.
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