May 25, 2011
The Civil War, which left virtually no community in the country untouched, also changed the way Americans grieved for those who died in battle. At the end of the war, mourners in both northern and southern states began decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flags and flowers. Seeking to unite the local practices into a national observance, General John A. Logan, leader of the Union Army’s veterans’ association, officially proclaimed Decoration Day on May 5, 1868. The holiday was first observed on May 30 of that same year, with a large ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, across the river from Washington, D.C.
Honoring the soldiers who died fighting in the Civil War, the holiday was recognized by all of the northern states by 1890. But many southern states, however, refused to acknowledge the holiday.
Despite this, Decoration Day continued to grow, and by the end of the 19th century it had been renamed Memorial Day. It wasn’t until after World War I, when the holiday was expanded to honor all Americans who died in battle, and at last recognized by most states. Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971 and is now celebrated on the fourth Monday in May.
Currently on display at the National Museum of American History is the exhibition “The Price of Freedom: American at War,” which displays a number of artifacts from American armed conflicts. With the help of Jennifer Jones, chair and curator of the Armed Forces History Division at the musem , we’ve selected a few that are not to be missed.
Tricorn Hat— During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), militia troops did not have uniforms, instead, they wore their civilian clothes into battle. This black felt tricorn hat was worn by Colonel Jonathan Pettibone, a member of the 18th Regiment, Connecticut Militia. When Col. Pettibone was killed in battle, the hat was worn by his son, Jonathan Pettibone, Jr.
Battlefield Relics— General Winfield S. Hancock, an 1844 graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Mexican-American War, was considered one of the best commanders in the Union army. When John F. Reynolds died in an early battle at Gettysburg, Hancock was selected to take over that wing of the army. His leadership and tactical skill in battle made him a formidable opponent. These battlefield relics in a wooden frame were presented to him at Gettysburg in 1885. Hancock would later be chosen as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 1880, when he was narrowly defeated by James Garfield.
Christian Fleetwood’s Medal of Honor— Sergeant Major Christian Fleetwood was a free man of color born in Baltimore, Md. Educated at the Ashmun Institute (later Lincoln University) in Oxford, PA, Fleetwood also traveled to Liberia as a young man. When the Civil War disrupted trade with the country, he enlisted into the 4th Regiment U.S. Colored Infantry of the Union Army. In 1864, during the battle at Chaffin’s Farm, the 22-year-old Fleetwood carried the American flag through battle after two other color bearers had been shot down. For this act of bravery, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Cher Ami— During World War I (1917-1918), 600 birds were owned and flown by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France. One of those birds was Cher Ami, a Black Check cock carrier pigeon, who delivered 12 important messages during his service. Cher Ami was shot and injured during his last mission, but still managed to return carrying an important message about isolated troops needing relief and help. Cher Ami was awarded the French “Croix de Guerre” for his heroic service and returned to the U.S. where he died in Fort Monmouth, NJ in 1919 as a result of his wounds.
Gold Star Pin— The Women’s Committee of National Defenses recommended to President Woodrow Wilson that American women wear a black arm band adorned with a gold star in lieu of traditional mourning attire. In May 1918, Wilson agreed and coined the term “Gold Star Mother,” in a letter to the committee. The American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. is a nonpolitical, nondenominational nonprofit organization open to all mothers of fallen soldiers “as well as those who have a service-related death.” The “Gold Star” pin honors their loss, however; the actual Gold Star Pins are awarded by the Department of Defense to relatives of the deceased, not just mothers.
Remember Pearl Harbor Lapel Pin— After the military base of Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, Americans mobilized in support of World War II (1941-1945) with the patriotic cry, “Remember Pearl Harbor.” Thousands of buttons and pins were printed and distributed to both remind and rally Americans behind the war effort.
POW Bracelets— In 1970, Carol Bates Brown and Kay Hunter were two college students looking for a way to support U.S. troops fighting in the Vietnam War (1956-1975), when they came up with the idea for POW bracelets. Worn to honor and increase awareness about Prisoners of War and soldiers who are Missing in Action, the bracelets were traditionally worn until the POW returned to the U.S., whereupon the bracelet was presented to the former prisoner. Since 1970, millions of bracelets have been distributed nationwide.
At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, curators there shared with us a few patriotic artifacts they have already acquired— a sneak peak at what visitors can expect when the museum opens on the Mall in 2015.
Early American Powder Horn— Prince Simbo, a former slave and resident of Glastonbury, Connecticut, used this horn during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), during which he served as a private in the Seventh Regiment, Connecticut.
Binoculars & Helmet used by Peter L. Robinson, Sr.—First Lieutenant Peter L. Robinson served in the U.S. Army during World War I (1917-1918). After his service, he graduated from law school and went on to teach military science at Armstrong High School in Washington, D.C.
Tuskegee Airmen Congressional Gold Medal— This medal was awarded to the famous aviators by President Bush on March 29, 2007. At the ceremony, the president said, “”These men in our presence felt a special sense of urgency. They were fighting two wars. One was in Europe and the other took place in the hearts and minds of our citizens.”
May 24, 2011
Today, we receive and share visual information in many ways— digital cameras, cell phone cameras, Flip Cams, online photo sharing site likes Flickr and Snapfish, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook—but how did it all start?
In the last half of the 19th century, the United States experienced what has been described as an “explosion of media,” says Helena E. Wright, curator of graphic arts at the American History Museum. “Improvements in printing and publishing led to the proliferation of pictures that became affordable for everyone—and very desirable.” The result of this media explosion is the subject of a small display at the museum called “Pictures for Everyone.”
The display showcases both how images were used—illustrated newspapers, sheet music covers, posters, trade cards and scrapbooks—as well as how they helped pierce social and physical barriers of language (there is a German-language edition of the magazine Puck on one panel), class (mass-media formats like advertising were available to anyone) and race (the display includes a quote from the abolitionist Frederick Douglass about pictures being a luxury of free men).
In addition to the pictures, there is also a case that includes objects used in the production of images including: a stereograph viewer and stereographs, a framed chromolithograph, a relief plate for printing sheet music and an early Kodak camera with snapshots. “The 1888 Kodak camera is at the heart of all the cameras that every tourist passing the case possesses,” says Shannon Perich, curator of the museum’s photographic history collection, reflecting on her favorite piece in the display. “This camera represents the shift from buying pictures to having a broader capacity to make their own; to be able to record, and depict the world as they saw, defined and experienced it.”
As pictures became more widely available, they were used and shared in a variety of ways, Wright says, much as the evolution of technology allows people to do today.
Take a look back at “Pictures for Everyone,” currently on display at the National Museum of American History. The museum is open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM (except December 25). See the website for extended visiting hours.
May 23, 2011
In September 2005, members of the VISIONS 05 expedition crew were studying the volcanic activity of the Juan de Fuca Ridge 200 miles off of the Oregon coast when they came across a white deep-sea octopus, Grimpoteuthis bathynectes, at a depth of 6,600 feet. They captured high-definition video footage of the octopus—one of the first high-definition videos of this species—which, complemented by beautiful music, makes for a spectacular video. The video made a debut appearance recently on the Smithsonian Ocean Portal. At the end of the video, the text states that “little is known about the deep-sea octopods,” so the ATM blog team got a little curious and sought out zoologist Michael Vecchione, director of the NMFS National Systematics Laboratory and renowned cephalopod expert, who helped to shed some light on this mysterious deep-sea creature. Here is what we’ve learned:
1. Taxonomy: Dumbo octopuses are a group of deep-sea octopods. Vecchione estimates there are a few dozen species.
2. Appearance: They are different from the octopuses that most people recognize. Dumbos have fins on the sides of their bodies. Instead of jetting around and squirting water out of their funnels, they swim by flapping the fins and sometimes by pulsing their arms, which are webbed. They also have two little finger-like projections on their arms, in between the two suckers, called cirri. While scientists aren’t sure how the projections are used (for instance, whether or not they are sensory), they do know that they are associated with eating.
3. Behavior: Some Dumbo octopuses spend most of their time swimming around and others spend more time on the bottom of the ocean floor, flattened out. The one in the video does both. Dumbo octopuses are some of the largest invertebrates of the really deep sea.
4 . Location: They are usually found anywhere from 1,000 meters to about 5,00o meters below the surface. “People don’t normally explore those kinds of depths, so we don’t know a whole lot about what lives down there,” Vecchione says. While this octopus was found in an area with hydrothermal vent fields, there is no evidence that the animals are restricted to those kinds of areas.
5. The name: Submarine pilots gave the octopuses their nickname because their fins resemble the ears of the cartoon character “Dumbo, the Flying Elephant.”
Vecchione has seen many videos of Dumbo octopuses, including this one shortly after it was recorded. The quality of the video is what makes it stand out, he says. “It was nice video,” he says, “it was nothing Earth-shattering, but it’s a very nice video of a Grimpoteuthis.”
Nothing special for a octopus-man, but we thought it was pretty cool. Take a look.
May 19, 2011
Renowned jazz singer Nancy Wilson recently donated two of her designer gowns to the National Museum of American History, fulfilling a long-time dream of John Edward Hasse, the curator of American music.
“Mindful of her importance in American song and jazz, I’ve been seeking a donation from Nancy Wilson for some years,” says Hasse.
Born in Chillicothe, OH in 1937, Nancy Wilson knew she wanted to be a singer from a young age. With early influences like Billy Eckstine, LaVerne Baker and Nat King Cole, she began her professional singing career at 15, when she became the host of a local television show. In 1956 she began singing and touring with The Rusty Bryant Band throughout the Midwest, but Wilson had bigger ambitions. She moved to New York City in 1959, and soon after her arrival, the artist had a regular gig singing in a nightclub and within six weeks, she had a record deal with Capitol Records. Her songs were so successful that she recorded and released five albums in two years. The three-time Grammy award winner would go on to perform on variety shows, host one season of her eponymous Emmy Award-winning television show, and take acting roles on many popular TV series into the 1990s, including the The Cosby Show and Hawaii Five-O.
Hasse says he pursued an acquisition from Wilson because of her distinctive song styling, versatility, range of intensity, clear respect for the lyrics and her impeccable musicianship. “We can’t literally collect her voice, of course,” says Hesse, “so the question becomes, what material culture represents her?” Her distinctively-styled dresses seemed like an obvious choice .
The jazz vocalist’s decision to donate the gowns came in the wake of two events—her participation in an oral history interview for the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program and the decision of her manager, John Levy, to donate his professional archives to the museum.
As is true with most donations to the museum, these two dresses have stories.
In February of 2007, Nancy Wilson wore a sliver-gray silk velvet wrap-dress with poet sleeves to the 49th Annual Grammy Awards, where she received her third Grammy Award for “Turned to Blue,” selected as best jazz vocal album. “I designed this dress for Nancy with an expression of elegance and timelessness,” said dress creator Angela Dean, according to a report.
In October of 2010, Wilson appeared at a special event at Jazz at Lincoln Center wearing a strapless “Trumpet” gown in champagne silk and wool. The dress, with hand-draped embroidered tulle and a matching tulle bolero, was designed by b michael. “Nancy has a sound and a motion that is visual and inspires the epitome of glamor, sophistication and sensuality,” said the designer, who grew up listening to Wilson’s music, according to a report.
“I’m not an expert on fashion design,” says Hasse, “but it seems to me that the dress styling, like Ms. Wilson’s public personae and her singing style, are graced with individuality, ‘class,’ and elegance.”
Wilson’s dresses now join the museum’s collection of famed ensembles, including gowns from: the First Ladies, Ella Fitzgerald, Beverly Sills and the Supremes.
While plans have not been established for the display of the Wilson dresses, the Levy Collection and the Jazz Oral History Collection can be found in the museum’s Archives Center.
Update: Nancy Wilson made the donation official April 22, signing the deed of gift after her sold-out performance at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland.
May 18, 2011
On 8:32 AM, May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted. The Sunday morning earthquake measured a 5.1 on the Richter scale and in its wake, “nearly 150 square miles of forest was blown over or left dead and standing,” according to the USDA Forest Service. “The eruption lasted 9 hours, but Mount St. Helens and the surrounding landscape were dramatically changed within moments.” That was 31 years ago. So, what about today? Which volcanoes pose great danger?
On the anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the ATM blog team, with the help of curator Elizabeth Cottrell, director of the Global Volcanism Program in the Department of Mineral Sciences at the National Museum of Natural History, has compiled a list of five volcanoes that currently threaten population centers. They are:
1. Ecuador: Tungurahua—This stratovolcano is one of Ecuador’s most active, and it has been erupting this year. Tungurahua threatens multiple nearby populations, especially the city of Baños, located at the foot of the volcano. In 1999, Baños was temporarily evacuated due to a long-term eruption.
2. United States: Mt. Rainier—The highest peak of the Cascade Mountain Range, located southeast of Seattle, Washington, Mt. Ranier last erupted in 1894. A new eruption could melt its glacial ice, sending landslides of mud and ash (called lahar) into the Seattle-Tacoma metro area.
3. Indonesia: Merapi—In one of the world’s most densely populated areas lies one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes. Merapi has been erupting for the past year, killing hundreds and displacing hundreds of thousands of residents in the Jakarta area.
4. Italy: Vesuvius—Best known for its massively destructive eruption in 79 AD that buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Vesuvius last erupted in 1944. It is the only volcano on the European mainland that has erupted within the past hundred years. Vesuvius threatens millions of people living in or near the city of Naples.
5. Mexico: Popocatépetl—From the Aztec word for smoking mountain,Volcán Popocatépetl is the second-highest volcano in North America. Currently erupting, this stratovolcano threatens Mexico City.
To learn more about these and other volcanoes, visit the Plate Tectonics Gallery in the Geology, Gems and Minerals Hall of the National Museum of Natural History and check out the website of the Global Volcanism Program.