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Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine November 2019

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

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United States
Smithsonian Institute
11 Issues

in this issue

3 min.
from the editors

THE ARTICLE in October’s “Secrets of American History” issue that prompted the most passionate responses was “Sidelined,” by Susan Dominus, about Margaret Rossiter’s efforts to spotlight overlooked female scientists. “No woman should ever again be subjected to the ‘Matilda Effect,’” Linda Bergofsky of Poolesville, Maryland, wrote, using Rossiter’s term for the phenomenon of men getting credit for women’s achievements. “As a woman in medicine…I had never heard of most of these women scientists,” wrote Laura E. Al-Sayed of Missouri. “It is lovely to see these accomplished women finally ‘unearthed,’ but very sad to think of all the women who were driven away before ever having a chance to succeed.” Readers also praised the novelist Ken Follett’s ode to Notre Dame: “He brought the building of this magnificent cathedral to life,”…

4 min.

FIFTY YEARS AGO this November, a group of Native American students arrived by boat on Alcatraz Island because, they said, it reminded them of home. Like many Indian reservations, Alcatraz had no modern facilities or fertile soil. The federal prison had closed six years earlier, and the island had been designated “surplus government property.” The students, who called themselves the Indians of All Tribes, offered $24 in glass beads and red cloth for Alcatraz. They noted that this was more than Europeans had paid Indians for Manhattan Island 300 years earlier, but that “land values have risen over the years.” Though the occupation seemed at first like a publicity stunt, the Indians had a vision for the island, including a Native American cultural center. But the protest collapsed after 19 months…

1 min.
how to escape alcatraz

WALK THE PLANK Leonard Wilmore, in prison for treason, floated on a board for eight hours before reaching shore. He told the story when he was convicted of robbery in Hawaii 16 months later. (Another inmate drowned in the attempt.) FORGE YOUR OWN PARDON Four prisoners created fake release papers and left with the best wishes of the guards. One was returned to Alcatraz six months later. ARRANGE A SPECIAL DELIVERY Frank Holt, a deserter, hid in a shipping crate, which he had rigged to open from the inside. Once onshore, he slipped away. BUILD A BOAT Using wood intended for a new pier, four prisoners fashioned a raft and escaped while everyone was celebrating Thanksgiving. One man was recaptured. RAID THE KITCHEN Two prisoners used a sink as a boat. It was no more seaworthy than the butter…

1 min.
long division

THE FALL OF THE Berlin Wall began on November 9, 1989, when an East German official prematurely announced that the government would lift restrictions on travel to West Germany. That weekend, more than two million Berliners streamed across the border, some scaling the wall or smashing it with sledgehammers and pickaxes. Most of the physical wall is gone now, but its lingering impact fascinates Diane Meyer, a photographer in Los Angeles. For her recent series “Berlin” (at Brooklyn’s Klompching Gallery until January 10), she created photographs of places where the wall once stood and then represented it with delicate embroidery—as if all that remained of the barrier were fading threads of memory. Modern Berlin is booming, and sleek new buildings occupy much of the “death zone” between the east and…

9 min.
the news from over there

ANDREW CARROLL is never far away from the slim black portfolio he calls “the football.” Inside are more than two dozen original letters, creased and faded, bullet-torn and tear-stained, spanning 225 years of American war history, from the early days of the Revolution to 9/11. Each page is sheathed in a protective plastic sleeve, and for added security, there are the handcuffs. Carroll locks the case to his wrist when he travels, which he does almost constantly. By his own count, he was on the road almost 200 days last year, using this remarkable sampling of letters to convince anyone who will listen how important—and ephemeral—such documents are. It’s all part of the historian’s ambitious effort to rescue these eyewitness accounts from attics, basements, garage sales and trash bins. The letters…

1 min.
code word: ruth

In April 1945, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Bert Drennen wrote a letter to his wife, Ethel, on stationery from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina—but that’s not where he was. He could not reveal his true location, says Lynn Heidelbaugh of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, because of wartime procedures for censoring the outgoing mail of service members overseas to prevent the release of sensitive information. But Drennen had found a way around the censors. Before he deployed, Drennen took the unusual step of leaving Ethel a code sheet (below, in red, now archived along with the note at the Center for American War Letters). The “Aunt Ruth” he mentions in his letter didn’t exist. His concern for her meant he was stationed in the Hawaiian Islands.…