Smithsonian Magazine July/August 2021

Smithsonian Magazine takes you on a journey through history, science, world culture and technology with breathtaking images from around the world.

United States
Smithsonian Institute
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3 min
“we admired the toughness of our bakhtiari companions.”

Truffle Trove What a wonderful article (“Earthly Delights,” June 2021). Technology, art, perseverance, philosophy and dreams all melded together to produce a much-loved culinary treat that just may save Southern farms. — Jacquie Lindsay | Raleigh, North Carolina Nice story about truffles in North Carolina. You might want to check out what’s happening on the other side of the country. My friend Dawn Meiklejohn and her Lagotto Romagnolo, Lidia, have been hunting and selling truffles here in western Washington and Oregon for years—as well as educating chefs and the public. —Michal Nortness | via email Sacred Struggle “The Sacred Runner” (June 2021) moved me to tears, and I was shamed again by actions taken by our government against the proud Native Americans. It also lessened my admiration for Theodore Roosevelt, who allowed this to occur. Until…

2 min
precedent and promise

AFTER A YEAR of absence, returning to my office in the Smithsonian Castle has renewed my wonder in the history that surrounds me and in the growth that nearly two centuries has brought. I walk past the crypt of James Smithson, who first envisioned this institution. I stroll through the Enid A. Haupt Garden, home to several American bison in the late 1880s. I pass through rooms that held the Smithsonian’s earliest collections, 19th-century herbarium specimens and technical apparatuses. I arrive at my office, where for decades my predecessors and I have pondered the same question: How can the Smithsonian best serve the American people? This year, the Smithsonian’s 175th anniversary, offers an opportunity to remember where we’ve been and appreciate what we’ve accomplished. And especially after all the nation has…

4 min
innovation nation

THE NATION WAS PREPARING to celebrate the inauguration of James Garfield in the United States National Museum, today called the Arts and Industries Building. The edifice was not scheduled to debut for several months, so workers moved quickly to install temporary floorboards and thousands of coat racks and hat bins. State flags were hung from above. A statue, America, which resembled the Roman goddess Libertas, was erected in the rotunda beneath the building’s dome, her raised torch lit by a new device, Thomas Edison’s electric light bulb. On inauguration night—March 4, 1881—guests must have noticed how different this building was from other grand museums. The massive exhibition hall in which they toasted the new president was open, with no walls to divide the space. Overhead were skylights, innovative but perhaps not…

8 min
whistle down the line

WHEN THE RAILROAD TYCOON Leland Stanford slammed home the fabled golden spike at Promontory Point, Utah, in May 1869, to join the Central Pacific to the Union Pacific and complete the country’s first transcontinental railroad, the news electrified the country. A single word dispatched by telegram to the newspapers—“DONE!”—set off brass bands and bell-ringing across the United States. The new venture, the Pacific Railway, was a heroic achievement, but it was hardly an immediate commercial success, in part because it was never really meant to be: President Abraham Lincoln authorized the undertaking back in 1862 primarily to unite East and West in the hope of making a stronger Union once the Civil War was over. Yet on that score, too, it fell short, leaving the job of unifying the country to…

2 min
dirty rotten scoundrels

THE GREAT RONDOUT TRAIN ROBBERY 1924 TAKE: $3M in jewelry, cash, bonds IN 2021 MONEY: $46.85M DATE: June 12, 1924 CULPRITS: The Newton Bros., Brent Glasscock, William Fahy (conspirator) LOCATION: Rondout, Illinois The elaborate plan involved a corrupt postal inspector, homemade tear gas, disguises and four stolen Cadillacs. But the scheme unraveled. One outlaw shot another, making it possible for the police to track them down. ROY GARDNER’S ROSEVILLE ROBBERY 1921 TAKE: $187,000 IN 2021 MONEY: $2.78M DATE: May 19, 1921 CULPRITS: Roy Gardner LOCATION: Roseville, California Months earlier, Gardner was being taken to prison aboard a train in Oregon when he distracted the marshals guarding him, took a gun, cuffed them both and fled to Canada. His robbery of a Southern Pacific train in Califronia landed him at Alcatraz. MINERAL RANGE RAILROAD ROBBERY 1893 TAKE: $70,000 IN 2021 MONEY: $2.07M DATE: Sept. 15, 1893 CULPRITS: Jack Butler,…

4 min
listening to stonehenge

STONEHENGE REMAINS profoundly mysterious. We still aren’t certain who built it, or why they aligned its geometry with the summer solstice, or brought the smaller stones from 180 miles away, or what range of purposes it served. But every year scientists learn more about the great stone enigma on Salisbury Plain. Most recently, a team from the University of Salford, in Manchester, and English Heritage, the charitable trust that manages Stonehenge, made a breakthrough about the monument’s acoustical wonders. Despite the lack of a roof, the research team has found, the original circle of 157 standing stones (only 63 complete stones remain today) once acted like a sound chamber. For people in the inner sanctum 4,000 years ago, the placement of stones would have amplified and enhanced human voices and music…