Category Archives: Museums and Exhibits

First Ever Exhibit of LIFE Magazine’s 6 Women Photographers, Now at New-York Historical Society

The exhibit, LIFE: Six Women Photographers, at the New-York Historical Society through October 6, 2019, features the work of Margaret Bourke-White, one of LIFE Magazine’s first four full-time photographers, one of only six women LIFE photographers; her photograph was the cover of LIFE’s inaugural issue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

From its founding in the 1930s to the end of weekly publication in the 1970s, LIFE Magazine elevated and showcased photojournalism. Instead of just being the acoutrement to reporting, the photos were the story, or as Henry R. Luce saw it, the photojournalist as essayist.

During that time, only six out of 101 full-time LIFE photographers were women. Now, for the first time, these women – who contributed so much to the evolution of photojournalism as well as the cultural and societal trends they spotlighted –  are featured in their own exhibit, LIFE: Six Women Photographers, at the New-York Historical Society through October 6, 2019.

“For the editors of LIFE—the first magazine to tell stories with photographs rather than text—the camera was not merely a reporter, but also a potent commentator with the power to frame news and events for a popular audience. For decades, Americans saw the world through the lens of the magazine’s photographers. Between the late 1930s and the early 1970s, LIFE magazine retained only six women photographers as full-time staff or on a semi-permanent basis. LIFE: Six Women Photographers showcases the work of some of those women and how their work contributed to LIFE’s pursuit of American identity through photojournalism,” the curators write. The exhibition features more than 70 images  showcasing the extraordinary work created by Margaret Bourke-White, Hansel Mieth, Marie Hansen, Martha Holmes, Nina Leen, and Lisa Larsen. 

How were these women part of a larger editorial vision? What topics did they cover, and how did their work reflect—and sometimes expand—the mission of the magazine? The exhibit reveals these photographers’ important role in creating modern photojournalism and defining what LIFE editor-in-chief Henry Luce called the “American Century.” The level of influence that LIFE Magazine wielded was considerable – at its height, one out of every three Americans read the magazine each month.

We learn that of the six, three were immigrants of whom two fled Fascist Europe. In all, they produced 3,000 stories, 325,000 images that curator Sarah Gordon, curatorial scholar in women’s history at NYHS’ Center for Women’s History, and Marilyn Satin Kushner, curator and head, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, combed through to select out the 70 images featured in the exhibit. The exhibit, interestingly, highlights not only the photos that were selected for publication, but photos out of the series that were not, as well as the contact sheets. There are also displays with the magazine opened to the page, and notes from the photographers.

Asked how the six featured stories were selected out of the photographers’ 3,000, Kushner reflects, “We thought about what we wanted to show and say – that kept me up at night, how to tie as a thread. The first thought was to show a woman’s point of view, but then we don’t know how a man would have treated the same subject. What the women did was illustrate Luce’s idea, that the photos [depict] the American story.”

Margaret Bourke-White, one of the first four staff photographers, her image of Fort Peck Dam was the cover of LIFE Magazine’s inaugural cover ; she photographed from front lines in World War II, and worked for LIFE until her death in 1971

Yet, except for Margaret Bourke-White’s famous series on the Fort Peck Dam – illustrative of her talent to show Industrial America and technological progress – the photo essays selected for this exhibit predominantly show women and women’s issues – wrestling with their place in society after World War II’s independence, the WACS. And even when there is a story, like the Dam, Bourke-White and others showed a great sensitivity to how ordinary people – families – lived. Bourke-White chose to show shantytowns that developed around the dam, and what Saturday night dancehall was like.

Margaret Bourke-White’s feature on nightlife in the “New Wild West” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Her telegram to her editor reads, “Swell subjects especially shanty towns. Getting good nightlife. Nobody camera shy except  ladies of evening but hope conquer them also…. May I give one picture FortPeck Publishing booklet for local sale. Would help repay their many courtesies. Could choose pattern picture we probably wouldn’t use anyway.”

How did they get their assignments? “Sometimes the women wrote and asked for an assignment, but usually were told to ‘do that’” Kushner tells me. Luce wanted LIFE Magazine to reflect the American Century, and while Bourke-White documented steel mills and dams – America’s technology and industrial achievements – she also depicted new towns in the middle of no where, “FDR’s New Wild West.”

Standing in front of one of the most controversial and substantial photos in the exhibition – Martha Holmes’ 1949  image of singer Billy Eckstine being embraced by a white  female fan, surrounded by other gleeful white teenagers  – I meet Holmes’ daughter, Anne Holmes Waxman, and granddaughter of the photographer, Martha Holmes., Eva Koshel Castleton.

LIFE Photographer Martha Holmes’ granddaughter, Eva Koshel Castleton, and daughter Anne Holmes Waxman, with one of the photographer’s most controversial and important photographs, of Billy Eckstine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“My mother came on when a lot of men were in the war. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, she was working as a photographer at the Courier-Journal when Life Magazine came to recruit her to come to New York. “She was shaking in her boots, just 24 years old. She never went back.”

The exhibit shows the contact sheet with other images of multiracial crowds waiting for tickets and autographs, but the editors chose to publish the more controversial image. They were so concerned that they sought permission from Luce, who agreed with Holmes that the photograph reflected social progress and was appropriate for the story. “Holmes felt the photo was one of her best, claiming ‘it told just what the world should be like.’ The magazine, however, received  vicious letters in response  and the fallout adversely affected Eckstine’s career.”

LIFE Magazine photographer Martha Holmes.

In the weekly report of letters received for April 24 issue, “Fifty-nine readers are very much upset. ‘That picture of Billy Eckstine with a white girl clinging to him after a performance just turns my stomach. Why a teen-age white girl conducts herself in this manner over a Negro crooner is beyond me. Juvenile delinquency is bad enough in our own race without mixing it up with another.”  “The most nauseating picture of the year.” “That picture qualifies as the most indecent picture ever published by LIFE.” “ That picture should have appeared in Pravda Your publication of it leads me to believe that Mr. Chambers was not the only Communist on your staff.” Eight readers cancelled their subscriptions, but nine praised the feature.

(What I notice in the magazine that is featured in the display is the ad for new Coty eye cosmetics . “Eyes of natural glamour. Newest style in beauty.”)

It becomes clearer why LIFE Magazine had women photographers exploring women’s issues when you look at the ads that accompanied features like Martha Holmes’ Billy Eckstine piece © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I ask her daughter Anne whether her mother got or lost certain assignments because of being a woman. She related that the only assignment her mother turned down was when, she was 8 ½ months pregnant with her, in 1956, and had to refuse an assignment to photograph Elvis Presley. “It was the one job she couldn’t take.” But she is renowned for her photos of artist Jackson Pollack and the House on UnAmerican Activities hearings.

LIFE Magazine photographer Nina Leen.

A very interesting series, “The American Woman’s Dilemma” by Nina Leen, published in the July 16, 1947 issue, danced around the issue of “how are you going to get them back on the farm, after they’ve seen Par-ee” – in this case, women who worked traditionally male jobs and had independence during the war, now being shoved back into housework and child-rearing rather than pursue a career. “The essay also reflected cultural anxieties about a ‘return to normalcy’ after the Depression and war. LIFE assumed that all women desired marriage and children but voiced concern that a woman’s time was so stretched, she did not have time to pursue her husband’s interests.

“The American Woman’s Dilemma” by Nina Leen that was published in the July 16, 1947 issue danced around the issue of career and childrearing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The article barely acknowledged that many women had no choice but to find work. It did recognize women’s struggles with child care buit disparaged separation as creating insecure children.”  Only one of Leen’s photos of an unmarried woman made the cut. “This article represented a clear attempt at setting out women’s choices in the post-war era of societal realignment.” (The article is opposite an ad for Singer sewing machines; LIFE Magazine clearly had an investment in women as homemakers, wanting the latest appliances.)

LIFE Magazine photographer Marie Hansen’s series “The WAACs” (September 7, 1942) helped America accept the idea of women in uniform..
LIFE photographer Hansel Mieth.

Hansel  Mieth is represented by her feature on “International Ladies’ Garment Workers: How a Great Union Works Inside and Out” (August 1, 1938). She worked as a migrant worker in California when she first emigrated to the US from Germany, and photographed fellow migrant workers in San Francisco, the city’s neighborhoods and cultural enclaves before LIFE hired her in 1937, publishing her socially engaged photo essays over the next seven years.

Among Lisa Larsen’s iconic assignments for LIFE was photographing the John F. Kennedy-Jacqueline Bouvier wedding in 1953.

I am left to wonder to what extent were the projects reshaped by a woman’s perspective, or how much the women photographers were directed to focus on “women’s subjects”. Even Lisa Larsen’s feature, “Tito as Soviet Hero, How Times Have Changed!” (from June 25, 1956) featured a spread, “Wives Materialize to Greet a Visitor.” We would have to see many more examples of the photographers’ assignments to make that appraisal, and hope these topics will be revealed in future exhibits NY-HS’ Women’s Center.

Based on this cursory examination, it seems Luce wasn’t being progressive in having women photographers for their point of view. He was realizing that women were the market for advertisers. And they were used to socialize women back to their pre-World War II prescribed roles – as homemakers and consumers.

The exhibit is curated by Sarah Gordon, curatorial scholar in women’s history, Center for Women’s History, and Marilyn Satin Kushner, curator and head, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections; with Erin Levitsky, Ryerson University; and William J. Simmons, Andrew Mellon Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellow, Center for Women’s History.

NYHS brilliantly uses its space to maximize an immersion into Women’s History. Just outside the Women Photographers of LIFE Magazine exhibit is Women’s Voices, a multimedia digital installation where visitors can discover the hidden connections among exceptional and unknown women who left their mark on New York and the nation, even going back to Colonial America. Featuring interviews, profiles, and biographies, Women’s Voices unfolds across nine oversized touchscreens to tell the story of activists, scientists, performers, athletic champions, social change advocates, writers, and educators through video, audio, music, text, and images.

Among the many fascinating profiles featured in Women’s Voices are those of the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor; Nobel Prize-winning scientist Barbara McClintock; civil rights activist and poet Audre Lorde; the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S., Elizabeth Blackwell; award-winning actress Meryl Streep; Brooklyn-born opera star Beverly Sills; Seneca leader and artisan Caroline Parker Mountpleasant; trailblazing dancer and principal ballerina Misty Copeland; the Manhattan Project physicist who was snubbed by the Nobel Prize committee, Chien-Shiung Wu; Gilded Age novelist Edith Wharton; and the teacher whose 1854 lawsuit helped desegregate public transit in New York, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, among others.

There are also displays about the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), Women’s Activism and Billie Jean King. And in the middle of the floor is a most sensational gallery devoted to Tiffany, which includes a fascinating display about Clara Driscoll, who headed the Women’s Glass Cutting Department of some 45-55 young women (mainly 16-17 year olds who would work until they went off to be engaged). And who until this exhibit was unheralded for her role in creating many of Tiffany’s iconic designs.

Revolutionary Summer at New-York Historical Society

Also on view:

The New-York Historical Society, the oldest museum in New York, celebrates Revolutionary Summer, a Museum-wide exploration of Revolutionary War times, Revolutionary Summer presents outdoor events every weekend featuring characters from the era; 18th-century art and artifacts; a diorama of the Continental Army; and a host of programs for all ages, including trivia nights, a DJ evening, and a Revolutionary Drag Tea Party. On select weekends, visitors can explore a replica of George Washington’s Headquarters Tent at an outdoor Continental Army encampment, meet Living Historians portraying soldiers and spies, and learn about the many facets of camp life during the War for Independence.

“We’re so excited to welcome visitors to New-York Historical this summer with a full line-up of fun ways to experience the Revolutionary era,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “Revolutionary Summer celebrates the outstanding, revolutionary times that ignited the birth of our country with everything from a scavenger hunt to the chance to meet George Washington.”

The centerpiece of Revolutionary Summer is a replica of George Washington’s Headquarters Tent, on display in New-York Historical’s outdoor courtyard on select weekends. The original Tent is on display at the Museum of the American Revolution (MoAR) in Philadelphia. Often called the “first Oval Office,” the Headquarters Tent was where Washington and his most trusted staff plotted the strategy that ultimately won the Revolutionary War. On loan from MoAR, this painstakingly detailed, hand-sewn replica—made of custom woven linen and wool fabrics—was created as part of a collaboration between MoAR and Colonial Williamsburg. The Tent is staffed by MoAR educators, who lead visitors on an immersive tour through history. (On view July 4–7,  26–28, August 16–18,  23–25,  September 13–15)

A host of special installations and artifacts are on view at New-York Historical as part of Revolutionary Summer. One of the highlights is a recently discovered watercolor painting of the 1782 Continental Army encampment at Verplanck’s Point, New York—the only known eyewitness image of Washington’s Headquarters Tent during the Revolutionary War—on loan from MoAR. Other highlights include a camp cot used by Washington at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777; John Trumbull’s iconic painting of Washington that he gave to Martha Washington in 1790; and a pipe tomahawk gifted by Washington to Seneca Chief Sagoyewatha. Also on display is a diorama depicting the Verplanck’s Point encampment and the Hudson River shoreline, providing visitors with a 360-degree view of the scope and scale of Washington’s forces.

Revolutionary Summer also showcases historic documents from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, including an original 1823 William J. Stone facsimile of the Declaration of Independence; a broadside from King George III announcing the armistice and officially ending the war; and a letter by Martha Washington detailing domestic life in the aftermath of the Revolution.

Independence Day Celebration: Celebrate the Fourth of July exploring George Washington’s encampment! Enter his Headquarters Tent, meet the man himself, and experience where the future first president strategized, dined, and slept while MoAR staff describe his daily life. Also on tap: singalongs with the Hudson River Ramblers; fife and drum corps music; a one-woman play about Deborah Sampson, the woman who disguised her gender to enlist in the Continental Army; family-friendly food for purchase; and Living Historians portraying soldiers from the Continental Army, as well as John Adams, who’ll read the Declaration of Independence. Free Admission for kids age 17 and under

And this fall, the New-York Historical Society explores the life and accomplishments of Paul Revere (1734–1818), the Revolutionary War patriot immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1860 poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.” On view September 6, 2019 – January 12, 2020, Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere separates fact from fiction, revealing Revere as a complex, multifaceted figure at the intersection of America’s social, economic, artistic, and political life in Revolutionary War-era Boston as it re-examines his life as an artisan, activist and entrepreneur. The exhibition, featuring more than 140 objects, highlights aspects of Revere’s versatile career as an artisan, including engravings, such as his well-known depiction of the Boston Massacre; glimmering silver tea services made for prominent clients; everyday objects such as thimbles, tankards, and teapots; and important public commissions, such as a bronze courthouse bell.

Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (77th Street), New York, NY 10024, 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Apollo Astronauts Look Back During Gala at Long Island’s Cradle of Aviation Museum Marking 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing

Apollo astronauts and flight directors reflect on their experiences at a Gala at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, June 6: Charlie Duke (Apollo 16), Gerry Griffin, Milt Windler, Jack Schmitt (Apollo 17), Walt Cunningham (Apollo 7), Rusty Schweickart (Apollo 9), Fred Haise (Apollo 13) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On a grand night at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale, Long Island, five of the Apollo astronauts, including three of only 12 men who have ever walked on the moon, and two flight directors who controlled the Apollo missions, reflected on their experiences. It was an epic event in a year of events at the museum marking the 50th Anniversary of the first man to walk on the moon, inspiring interest in space science, which will climax on July 20 at the exact moment when Neil Armstrong made his “giant leap for mankind.”

The Cradle of Aviation Museum has special meaning to the astronauts, many of whom have come to the museum over the years to give talks and participate in events. Not only is it home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of Lunar Modules,(LM-13, LTA-1),  Lunar Module parts and Lunar Module photos and documentation, but it also is home to the engineers of Grumman Aerospace Corporation that designed, built and tested the Lunar Modules between 1961-1972 which successfully landed 12 men on the moon between 1969-1972.

“I helped build that:” Richard A. Hoffman, in front of the Cradle of Aviation’s actual lunar module, was a metallurgical engineer at Grumman who helped design the lunar module. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are highlights from the discussion of Walt Cunningham (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 7), Rusty Schweickart (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 9), Fred Haise (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 13). Charlie Duke (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 16), Harrison Schmitt (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 17) and Apollo Flight Directors, Gerry Griffin and Milt Windler.

Apollo 9 astronauts were in space March 3-13, 1969. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rusty Schweickart was the first to pilot the Lunar Module, testing the craft on the Apollo 9 mission in 1969 before it was used on the moon in Apollo 11. He was one of the first astronauts to space-walk without a tether, and one of the first to transmit live TV pictures from space. He is also credited with development of the hardware and procedures which prolonged the life of the Skylab space station.

Apollo 9 Lunar Module pilot Rusty Schweickart at Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Schweickart reflected on a moment when he was essentially stranded in space. “I turned around and looked at earth, brilliant blue horizon. There was no sound – I was floating inside my suit which was floating. Just hanging out looking at earth, completely silent. My responsibility at that moment was to absorb: I’m a human being. Questions floated in: how did I get here, why was I here. I realized the answer was not simple. What does ‘I’ mean?  ‘Me’ or ‘us’.  Humanity – our partnership with machines allowed humankind to move out to this environment. 10,000 years from now, it will still be the moment when humanity stepped out to space. While we celebrate something we were part of, it’s one of the events in human history, , that if we don’t wipe ourselves out, we will still have this unique moment in time when life moved out to outer space.”

Apollo 13 astronauts held the world’s collective breath during their dramatic time in space, April 11-17, 1970, a mission considered a “successful failure.” Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Fred Haise, the Lunar Module Pilot on the Apollo 13 mission, would have been the 6th man to walk on the moon. After the Apollo program ended in 1977, he worked on the Shuttle program, and after retiring from NASA, worked for 16 years as an executive for Northrop Grumman Corporation.

Haise reflected that when JFK made his challenge to go to the moon before the end of the decade, he thought this was mission impossible based on where the technology was. “I saw nothing at hand that would have accomplished that. By then, there was just Alan Shepherd who went up and down, the rockets were invented by Germans in World War II.”

“We weren’t afraid,” said Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When the disaster struck the Apollo 13 – an oxygen tank exploded, crippling the Service Module which supplied power and life support to the Command Module, he reflected, “We weren’t afraid. All of us in the program did the best we could. We were aware of the problems. Everyone was willing to pay the price to make the mission successful.”

The situation was not immediately life-threatening .  ”Clearly we had lost one tank. I was sick to my stomach with disappointment that we had lost the moon. It took us almost an hour to stop the leak in the second tank. “

The Lunar Module was pressed into service as a literally lifeboat and tugboat – a role never anticipated for it.

Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The LM bought time. I was never worried. Not sure how it would operate past the two days. Nothing had been damaged in the LM, so I knew we had a homestead we could operate from, and people on the ground were losing a lot of sleep working through the challenges. We never really got to the cliff we were about the fall off.”

Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of cooling water and the critical need to make repairs to the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth. It was hailed as the most successful failure.

Apollo 16, April 16-27, 1972, was the fifth mission to land on the Moon. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Charlie Duke (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 16, the 10th person to walk on the moon and the youngest, at 36 years old), reflected “Driving over the surface of the moon, we didn’t have TV. I was the travel guide for mission control, 250,000 miles away. So I narrated, ‘Now we’re passing on the right…’ – giving a travelogue – as we drove from point A to point B, and I was taking pictures. My job was to get us A to B and describe for mission control what seeing while John was driving…

Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The rover did tremendously well, it revolutionized lunar exploration. Prior, we had to walk everywhere, not the easiest thing.  Thankfully the rover was a revolution to see so much. Say to all the Grumman folks here who worked on that, you guys built a great machine. We shared the moon speed record because the odometer only went to 17 mph. Three rovers are up there – if you want an $8 million car with a dead battery.”

Apollo 17, Dec. 7-19, 1972, was the last mission in which humans traveled to and walked on the moon. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Harrison Schmitt (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 17) was also a former geologist, professor, US Senator from New Mexico. He was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 17, the final manned lunar landing mission. He was the first scientist and one of the last astronauts to walk on the moon – the 12th man and second youngest person to set foot on the moon.

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Apollo 17’s Lunar Module pilot, became a US Senator from New Mexico. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The thing about our valley [where the mission explored], Apollo worked in a brilliant sun, as brilliant as any New Mexico sun, but the sky was absolute black. That was hard to get used to. We grow up with blue skies. I never felt comfortable with black sky. But in that black sky was of course that seemingly small planet Earth, always hanging over the same part of the valley. Whenever I was homesick, I would just look up – home was only 250,000 miles away.”

Milt Windler was one of the four flight directors of Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team, all of whom were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard M. Nixon for their work in guiding the crippled spacecraft safely back to Earth. Formerly a jet fight pilot, he joined NASA in 1959 during Project Mercury. Windler also served as a flight director for Apollo 8, 10, 11, 14, 15 and all three Skylab missions. After Apollo, he worked in the Space shuttle project office on Remote Manipulator Systems Operations until 1978. He is the recipient of the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.

Milton “Milt” Windler is best known for his work helping bring back Apollo 13. He also served as flight director for Apollo 8, 10, 14, 15 and all three Skylab missions. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reflecting on the Apollo 13 mission, he said, “It is a common misconception that flight control was one person all 15 days of a mission. But missions were divided into distinct phases – launch, lunar descent, EVA, rendezvous – and there were teams for each. Each team simulated, practiced problems. One of the things that worked well on Apollo was anticipating what would happen. After a flight, we would discuss lessons learned, to come up with improvements. By the time of Apollo 13 developed a real serious problem, we were a finely honed machine.”

Gerald D. “Gerry” Griffin was flight director during Apollo program and director of Johnson Space Center. His team played key role in safe return of Apollo 13 astronauts. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gerry Griffin joined NASA in 1964 as flight controller in Mission Control during Project Gemini. In 1968, he was named a Mission Control flight director, for all the Apollo manned mission. Gerry’s “Gold” team conducted half of the lunar landings made during Apollo 14, 16, and 17, and would have conducted the landing of Apollo 13 but played a key role in the safe return of the astronauts. Later Griffin played several Hollywood roles in movies including “Apollo 13, “ “Contact”, Deep Space” and “From the Earth to the Moon,”, as a consultant and even an actor.

The astronauts reflected on the “perfect storm” of forces and factors that resulted in the incomparable space program that put a man on the moon within a decade – Griffin, quoting Neil Armstrong, said you needed four things: threat, bold leadership, public support and resources. “He said that most of the time, those are out of sequence with each other – you may have the threat but not the resources. It was a perfect storm when Apollo happened”: the threat from the Soviet Union taking mastery of space frontier; a balanced budget not yet weighted down by national debt; bold political leadership and public support. “You had the resources and human resources, primarily from World War II from the aviation industry, with Grumman part of that. 

Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the American flag on the moon, the first humans to land on the lunar surface. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“If it hadn’t been Apollo, it would have been something else. When the Soviets launched Sputnik and then Gagarin [became the first man in space], the threat was clear, and everything else fell into line. I think he’s right. Nowadays, we have a threat now – China – those guys are good. There is a technological threat now, and could be more later. Leadership? Draw your own conclusion. Resources? We haven’t had them. Public support? … But I’m an optimistic. If we are going to make 2024 – that’s awful tight, but I was like Fred, I didn’t think we could land on moon in the 1960s, but we did. Maybe if things line up better, we could do it by 2024, if not 2028.”

Asked why we haven’t been back to the moon, Schweickart said, “You need to be young, innovative, not an aging bureaucracy….

“You need technological, political courage. The moon was in exactly the right place. The next steps are not quite that easy . There is a debate between going back to the moon or on to Mars that has raged for years and still does. There’s not the same opportunity that we had at that time. In many ways, the most important thing in terms of a sense of challenge, moving out, moving forward is one of age. Bureaucracy – corporation or government – where the average age increases every year, you’re cooked.”

Charlie Duke, Apollo 16 Lunar Module Pilot, recalls his Rover ride on the moon. “The rover revolutionized lunar exploration.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

They are much more encouraged by private enterprise taking over space exploration. “You don’t see much about Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos, but we will. When you see [Elon Musks’s] SpaceX launch Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and bring back two stages that land in formation, and the cameras show all these kids, 20 years old, hooping and hollering, they did it! That’s what it takes. NASA used to be that way. Part of the real juice in space exploration is encouraging private activities in space. That today is where most of the juice is, getting young people involved is the key, giving them the opportunity. Jeff Bezos says it well. His fundamental motivating, commitment to space is to reduce the cost so more and more can take part and therefore dramatically increase the quality and opportunity for innovation. As the cost of getting to space drops, the creativity will dramatically increase. That’s where it’s at in the future.”

Apollo 7, Oct. 11-22, 1968, was the first mission in the Apollo Program to carry a crew into space. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walt Cunningham a fighter pilot before he became an astronaut, in 1968, he was a Lunar Module Pilot on the Apollo 7 mission. He’s also been a physicist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and author of “The All American Boys.”

“Our society is changing,” he reflected the next evening when he gave a lecture at the museum. “Back when Apollo was a story of exploration and adventure – my generation – we had te opportunity and courage to reach around the moon and to the stars. We were willing to take risks, didn’t shy from unknown. In those days, it seemed normal to do what we were doing – exploring the next frontier. Today, the entire world takes pride in this greatest adventure.”

Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham at Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sixty years ago, “the main drive was beating Russians to the moon. They beat us around earth. When that started a technological fight to finish, not a single American had been in orbit, but Kennedy was willing to take the risk – not just technological, but human, economic, political. He took the initiative, the leadership. Today, that goal is history. Fifty years ago, we never thought of failing –we had fighter pilot attitude – common dream to test limits of imagination, daring.

“That attitude enabled us to overcome obstacles. Any project as complex as Apollo required resources, technology, but most importantly, the will. Driven by the Cold War, all three came together in the 1960s and we went to moon. Think of it: only three generations separated man’s first flight off the earth and man’s first orbit around the earth. Only three generations.”

Littlest Astronaut meets Astronaut Walt Cunningham: Mission of Cradle of Aviation Museum inspire a new generation of space scientists and astronauts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Somewhat ironically, on the same day as the astronauts were assembled at Cradle of Aviation, President Donald Trump was contradicting Vice President Mike Pence and his own policy, which said that the US would be back on the moon by 2024. Trump called another moon mission  a waste of money which should be spent, instead to go to Mars.

Trump also has called for the creation of a Space Force, a new branch of the armed forces, effectively undoing the spirit of international cooperation in space exploration to advance human knowledge, with a shift toward militarizing space.

Cradle of Aviation Museum, Charles Lindbergh Blvd, Garden City, NY 11530, General (516) 572-4111, Reservations (516) 572-4066, http://cradleofaviation.org.

Earth as a blue marble in this famous image taken from space. Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

See also:

Long Island’s World-Class Cradle of Aviation Museum Hosts Special Events for 50th Anniversary of Moon Landing

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Long Island’s World-Class Cradle of Aviation Museum Hosts Special Events for 50th Anniversary of Moon Landing

Littlest Astronaut meets Apollo 7 Astronaut Walt Cunningham at one of the 50th Anniversary of the Lunar Landing events being held at Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, Long Island this year. A central mission of Cradle of Aviation Museum is to inspire a new generation of space scientists and astronauts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The countdown clock in the lobby of the Cradle of Aviation Museum showed 43 days to July 20, the 50th anniversary of the first man to walk on the moon, on the night of the museum’s grand gala at which seven former astronauts and flight directors were fetedWalt Cunningham (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 7), Rusty Schweickart (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 9), Fred Haise (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 13). Charlie Duke (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 16), Harrison Schmitt (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 17) and Apollo Flight Directors, Gerry Griffin and Milt Windler along with Grumman employees who built the lunar module and the equipment which put them there.

Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Throughout this year, the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale, Long Island, not far from where the lunar module was designed and built by Grumman engineers in Bethpage and a stone’s throw from Roosevelt Field where Charles Lindbergh took off for his historic transatlantic flight to Paris, has been hosting special events to mark the anniversary, use it for STEM education and inspire a new generation eager to reach for the stars.

Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, LI, celebrates 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The events climax on July 20, when at the exact same moment as Neil Armstrong made his “giant leap for mankind”, a replica lunar module will descend from the ceiling. Museum goers also can see an actual lunar module, one of the six that Grumman built (three are still on the moon, and the other three are in the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and here at the Cradle of Aviation Museum).

One of the extraordinary exhibits on view at the museum now is “Space: A Journey to Our Future,” which is on view through August 18, 2019, an absolutely thrilling, immersive exhibit which takes you from the dawn of man’s earliest visions of space exploration to the heroic achievements of the past, the unfolding discoveries of today, and the frontiers of the universe that lie ahead. You get to touch actual rocks from the lunar surface and the red planet, explore a futuristic Lunar Base Camp while walking through a full-size space habitat and work pod, get an up-close look at a wide range of artifacts from the space program and experience the past, present and future of space through these and dozens of other displays, interactive (try your hand at landing the space shuttle!) and experiences.

Find yourself in a lunar station in Cradle of Aviation’s “Space: A Journey to Our Future” exhibit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, as part of this special celebration, the museum is showing Todd Douglas Miller’s new documentary film, “Apollo 11: First Steps Edition,” a special giant-screen edition created exclusively for science centers and museum theaters, like Cradle’s Dome Theater. With a newly-discovered trove of never-before-seen 70mm footage and audio recordings, APOLLO 11: First Steps Edition joins Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, the Mission Control team and millions of spectators around the world, during those momentous days and hours in 1969 when humankind took a giant leap into the future.  

The “Apollo at 50: Moon Fest,” on July 20 will be a family festival (9:30-5 pm, with activities 12-4pm) with visits from Long Island Space Shuttle Astronauts including Bill Shepherd (Babylon) and Charlie Carmada (Ozone Park). All day activities include virtual reality experiences, model rocket launches, and a countdown at 4:18 pm to collectively watch, re-experience, and honor as a community, the historic “The Eagle has Landed” Lunar Module landing on the moon. As a special bonus, all museum attendees will get a free showing of the new highly-acclaimed documentary, Apollo 11 First Steps Edition in the immersive Dome Theater. (Tickets: $20)

Then, in the evening, there will be a Countdown Celebration, a lively dinner and champagne toast with 1960s music and dancing, as the community watches and re-experiences the unforgettable first steps on the moon at 10:56 pm with a special moon landing viewing and countdown. There will also be photo opportunities in a re-created 1969 living room.  (The dinner event ticket includes admission to Apollo Moon Fest events during the day; tickets: $125).

Long Island: The Nation’s Cradle of Aviation

The Cradle of Aviation Museum and Education Center is home to over 75 planes and spacecraft  representing over 100 years of aviation history, from hot air balloons to the lunar module, in eight galleries, a planetarium and Long Island’s only Giant Screen Dome Theater.

Cradle of Aviation Museum displays its collections in the original hangars of historic Mitchel Field © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cradle of Aviation Museum commemorates and celebrates Long Island’s part in the history of aviation and space exploration. It is set on land once part of Mitchel Air Force Base which, together with nearby Roosevelt Field and other airfields on the Hempstead Plains, was the site of many historic flights. In fact, so many seminal flights occurred in the area, that by the mid-1920s the cluster of airfields was already dubbed the “Cradle of Aviation”, the origin of the museum’s name. The Museum was recently recognized and listed on New York State’s National Register of Historic Places as a significant part of American history.

The museum originally opened with just a handful of aircraft in the un-restored hangars in 1980. A major renovation and expansion program in the late 1990s allowed the museum to re-open in a state-of-the-art facility in 2002. The museum is undergoing a major fund-raising campaign for a future expansion.

Historic aircraft hang from the ceiling at Cradle of Aviation Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is remarkable to contemplate that within a century, aviation went from the Wright Brothers to the moon, from a dangerous sport to mass transportation and commercial enterprise, and Long Island played a significant part.

It starts with Long Island’s geography: a natural airfield, on the eastern edge of the United States, the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean, adjacent to a major population center, and Hempstead Plains, the only natural prairie east of the Allegheny Mountains, writes Joshua Stoff, Curator, Cradle of Aviation Museum.

We trace flying back to the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903, lasting 59 seconds over a distance of 852 feet but Stoff notes that the first recorded aircraft flight took place on Long Island, in 1896 when a Lilienthal-type glider was flown from the bluffs along Nassau County’s north shore. By 1902 gasoline-powered airships were flown over Brooklyn (why doesn’t Long Island get more credit?). By 1910, there were three airfields operating on the Hempstead Plains, Long Islanders were building their own planes, and there were several flying schools and aircraft factories that made Long Island “the center of the aviation world.” Exhibits show artifacts of these early pursuits.

Belmont Park hosted the 1910 International Aviation Meet of the greatest aviators from America and Europe.

Long Island’s vital role in aviation history is told at Cradle of Aviation Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The period between 1918 and 1939 is considered the ‘Golden Age of Aviation’ when flying went from being a dangerous sport to a major commercial industry,” Stoff writes. Most famous of all was Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo transatlantic flight, from Roosevelt Field to Paris, in 1927. “This single event revolutionized aviation as nothing else before or since…

“By the early 1930s Roosevelt Field was the largest and busiest civilian airfield in America with over 150 aviation businesses and 450 planes based there. In 1937 the first regular commercial transatlantic airline service in America was begun at Port Washington as huge Pan American Martin and Boeing flying boats departed and arrived regularly at Manhasset Bay.”

Long Island’s aviation history is told in eight galleries at Cradle of Aviation Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

World War II sparked aviation and demand for aircraft. The two biggest aircraft companies, Grumman, was founded in Long island in 1930; Republic in 1931. They produced most of the military aircraft; other companies, Sperry, Brewster, Ranger, and Columbia, also contributed to the war effort. By 1945, 100,000 Long Islanders were employed in the aircraft industry.

Though aircraft are no longer manufactured on Long Island (the Grumman plant in Bethpage is now a movie and television studio), it is surprising to realize that there are still 240 Long Island producing parts for virtually every American aircraft that flies. 

Long Island’s important contribution to aviation is brilliant displayed in exhibits throughout the halls.

Long Island in Space

Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale, Long Island, has one of only three actual lunar modules on display. Built by Grumman, in Bethpage, Long Island, the other three were left on the moon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Thomas J. Kelly, of Cutchogue, retired president of the Grumman Space Station Integration Division and formerly lunar module engineering director, writes that there is still some Long Island left on the moon – six spacecraft built on Long Island remain on the moon,

Lunar rock on view at Cradle of Aviation Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Designing and building those craft, as part of the greater challenge of beating the Russians to the moon by 1969, was a monumental endeavor. Writing on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the moon landing, Kelly reflected, “For some 7,000 Grumman employees, however, it was far more intimate than an issue of national prestige. We felt personally empowered to put Americans at the edge of a frontier that even today seems incomprehensible. Yet not only did we succeed in meeting the mission; the efforts of our nation’s commitment to lunar exploration also inspired people around the world and showed the finest possibilities of human achievement and of creating technology that now helps to power our society…

“Nobody at Grumman who worked on the LM will ever forget it. Even the 12-and 14-hour weekdays, the frustrating paperwork and the sheer complexity of designing, building and testing the module could not dim our dedication. From the sweeper to the chief engineer, we all knew that we were part of a majestic endeavor, that we were making history happen.”

I helped build that:” Richard A. Hoffman, in front of the Cradle of Aviation’s actual lunar module, was a metallurgical engineer at Grumman who helped design the lunar module. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the gala, I meet Richard A. Hoffman sitting in front of the museum’s own actual lunar module, built by Grumman in Bethpage. He was a metallurgist who determined what the different parts should be made of aluminum for the struts, titanium for the propellant tanks, stainless steel propellant lines, high output silver and silver oxide batteries. He had to figure the pyrotechnics that would cause the four bolts that secured the module on the descent, to burst at just the right time with guillotine cutters for lift off from the moon. Hoffman told me he came to Grumman in the summer of 1963, and got a job there right after graduating Brooklyn Polytech in 1964. He was in just the right place at the right time, when Grumman started working on the Apollo program and he was transferred to engineering.

Next: Apollo Astronauts Look Back During Gala at Long Island’s Cradle of Aviation Museum Marking 50th Anniversary of Lunar Landing

Cradle of Aviation Museum, Charles Lindbergh Blvd, Garden City, NY 11530, General (516) 572-4111, Reservations (516) 572-4066, http://cradleofaviation.org.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt: ‘World’s Greatest Travelers’ Winners Crowned in New York

The Three Graces, a Roman marble statue from 2nd C AD copying a Greek theme from the 2nd C BC, is repeated throughout Western civilization, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Global Scavenger Hunt teams arrive in New York City for the last leg of the Global Scavenger Hunt that has taken us to 10 countries in 23 days. Bill Chalmers, the ringmaster and Chief Experience Officer of this around-the-world mystery tour, in which the challenges and scavenges are designed to get us out of our comfort zone and immerse us in a culture, fine-tune our skills as world travelers, and most significantly, “trust in the kindness of strangers.” Back in New York, he is delighted all 10 teams circumnavigated the world “in one piece” without dramatic incident, in this, the 15th annual Global Scavenger Hunt competition.

The leading teams vying for the title of “World’s Greatest Travelers” as we enter this final leg of the contest in 4th place, SLO Folks from California with 96 points (where the low-score wins); in 3rd, Order & Chaos, doctors from San Francisco with 81 points; in 2nd place, Lazy Monday, computer networking consultant and think tank professional from California with 46 points, and Lawyers Without Borders, from Houston, with 33 points, five-time winners who are competing in the Global Scavenger Hunt for the 12th time.

There is one more challenge in New York (an easy urban Par 1), and even though, based on points and placement, the winners of the 15th annual, 2019 edition of the Global Scavenger Hunt have been determined, still the teams go out and give it their all. Those in contention must complete at least one of the scavenges in New York, and complete their time sheet and hand in by the 4 pm deadline.

Examples of the scavenges: take in a Yankees game or a Broadway show; have one of each of following: a New York bagel, a New York hot dog, a New York deli sandwich, a slice of New York pizza, New York cheesecake, a New York egg cream, or an old-fashion Manhattan; -locate five pieces from five of the nations you just visited in the Met; visit Strawberry Fields, pay John Lennon tribute; do one scavenge in each of the five boroughs of New York City.

A native New Yorker, this is really my turf (though there is the oddest sensation of feeling like I am in a foreign place, reminding myself of what is familiar like language, money, streets, drink water, eat salad), and I delight in walking up Madison Avenue to 82nd Street to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue.

Hunting for an object from Morocco, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I elect to take up the challenge of going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to seek out objects from five of the countries we visited (Canada, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Greece, Morocco, Gibraltar, Portugal, Spain). Greece will be easy, of course, but Morocco and Jordan (Petra), Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma) are just a bit trickier. It is Chalmers’ way of making us experience things on a different level, and for me, it brings together so much of what we’ve seen, learned and experienced along the way.

An object from Thailand, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I first join a docent-led Highlights Tour, knowing from past experience that these always lead me to parts of the museum I am unfamiliar with, and enlighten about aspects of art and culture with the in-depth discussion of the pieces the docents select to discuss.

Not easy to find to complete the Global Scavenger Hunt: an object from Vietnam, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The docent, Alan, begins in the Greco-Roman exhibit with a stunning marble sculpture of the Three Graces, showing how this theme – essentially copied from the Greek bronzes (which no longer exist because the bronze was valuable and melted down for military use) – was repeated over the eons, into the Renaissance and even beyond.

The Magdala Stone, 1st Century, Migdal, Synagogue, on the Sea of Galilee. The stone, whose exact function is uncertain, dates to a time when the temple in Jerusalem still stood. One short side features a 7-branched menorah – the earliest such image known in a synagogue – flanked by amphorae and columns. The Migdal synagogue would have been in use during the lifetime of Jesus, whom the Gospels describe as preaching in synagogues throughout Galilee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Obviously, finding an object from Greece is going to be easy, and I hope to find objects from Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand in the Asia wing where there is a massive collection of Buddhist art (it proves just a tad more difficult, but I succeed). Morocco and Jordan (Petra) proved trickier than I expected, but brought me to an astonishing exhibit, “The World Between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East,” with an extraordinary focus on the territories and trading networks of the Middle East that were contested between the Roman and Parthian Empires (ca. 100 BC and AD 250). “yet across the region life was not defined by these two superpowers alone. Local cultural and religious traditions flourished and sculptures, wall paintings, jewelry and other objects reveal how ancient identities were expressed through art.”

The Greek sun god Helios, from Petra, 1st C BC – 1st C AD, found at Qint al-Bint temple in Petra, visited on the Global Scavenger Hunt © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit features 190 works from museums in the Middle East, Europe and the United States in an exhibition that follows the great incense and silk routes that connected cities in southwestern Arabia, Nabataea, Judea, Syria and Mesopotamia, that made the region a center of global trade along with spreading ideas, spurring innovations (such as in water control), and spawning art and culture.

It was the most incredible feeling to come upon the objects from Petra, having visited the site (was it only 10 days ago?) and having a context for seeing these isolated objects on display.

The World between Empires

The landmark exhibition The World between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East, which is on view through June 23, 2019, focuses on the remarkable cultural, religious and commercial exchange that took place in cities including Petra, Baalbek, Palmyra and Hatra between 100 B.C. and A.D. 250. “During this transformative period, the Middle East was the center of global commerce and the meeting point of two powerful empires—Parthian Iran in the east and Rome in the west—that struggled for regional control.”

The exhibition focuses on the diverse and distinctive cities and people that flourished in this environment by featuring 190 outstanding examples of stone and bronze sculpture, wall paintings, jewelry, and other objects from museums in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

Wall Painting of Christ Healing the Paralytic/Wall Painting of Christ Walking on Water, ca 232, Dura-Europos, Christian building, considered the world’s oldest surviving church. The paintings include images of Jesus Christ performing miracles, and are the earliest securely dated representations of him © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the highlights is a Nabataean religious shrine, reconstructed from architectural elements in collections in the United States and Jordan; the unique Magdala Stone, discovered in a first-century synagogue at Migdal (ancient Magdala) and whose imagery refers to the Temple in Jerusalem; and wall paintings from a church in Dura-Europos that are the earliest securely dated images of Jesus. Sculptures from Baalbek illuminate religious traditions at one of the greatest sanctuaries in the ancient Middle East, and funerary portraits from Palmyra bring visitors face to face with ancient people. The exhibition also examines important contemporary issues—above all, the deliberate destruction and looting of sites including Palmyra, Dura-Europos, and Hatra.

Ossuaries, Israel, excavated at Azor, Chalcolithic period, early 4th millennium BC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The compelling works of art in this exhibition offer a view into how people in the ancient Middle East sought to define themselves during a time of tremendous religious, creative, and political activity, revealing aspects of their lives and communities that resonate some two millennia later,” said Max Hollein, Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  “Further, in focusing on an area of the world that has been deeply affected by recent conflicts and the destruction of sites, monuments, and objects, this show also engages with complex questions about the preservation of cultural heritage.”

Dead Sea Scroll Jar and Lid, ca 2nd Century BC, found in the Qumran caves, the documents now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls represent biblical texts and Jewish religious practices in the last centuries BC and first century AD. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibition evokes a journey along ancient trade routes, beginning in the southwestern Arabian kingdoms that grew rich from the caravan trade in frankincense and myrrh harvested there and used throughout the ancient world. Camel caravans crossed the desert to the Nabataean kingdom, with its spectacular capital city of Petra, which I had just visited, walking through very much as the caravan travelers would have.

Statuette of nude goddess, 2nd C BC-2nd C AD, Ctesiphon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From here, goods traveled west to the Mediterranean and north and east through regions including Judaea and the Phoenician coast and across the Syrian desert, where the oasis city of Palmyra controlled trade routes that connected the Mediterranean world to Mesopotamia and Iran and ultimately China. In Mesopotamia, merchants transported cargoes down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the Persian Gulf, where they joined maritime trade routes to India. These connections transcended the borders of empires, forming networks that linked cities and individuals over vast distances.

3rd C biblical wall paintings discovered in the Dura-Europos synagogue were exceptional because they demonstrated that early Jewish art included figural scenes. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandne

Across the entire region, diverse local political and religious identities were expressed in art. Artifacts from Judaea give a powerful sense of ancient Jewish identity during a critical period of struggle with Roman rule. Architectural sculptures from the colossal sanctuary at Baalbek and statuettes of its deities reveal the intertwined nature of Roman and ancient Middle Eastern religious practices. Funerary portraits from Palmyra represent the elite of an important hub of global trade. Wall paintings and sculptures from Dura-Europos on the River Euphrates illustrate the striking religious diversity of a settlement at the imperial frontier. And in Mesopotamia, texts from the last Babylonian cuneiform libraries show how ancient temple institutions waned and finally disappeared during this transformative period.

In Athens and Petra, particularly, you appreciate this synergy between trade, migration, environmental sustainability and technology (in Petra, the ability to control water supply was key), economic prosperity and political power, and the rise of art, culture, and community.

Bearded God, ca 1st C, Dura-Europos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is rare (if ever ) for the Metropolitan Museum to venture into the political, but a key topic within the exhibition is the impact of recent armed conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen on archaeological sites, monuments, and museums, including deliberate destruction and looting. Some of the most iconic sites affected—Palmyra, Hatra, and Dura-Europos—are featured in the exhibition, which discusses this damage and raises questions regarding current and future responses to the destruction of heritage. Should the sites be restored or will they now only exist “on paper”? How much money and resources should go to restoring or excavation when villages and homes for people to live in also need to be rebuilt?

There is a fascinating, if frantic, presentation of three archaeologist/historians speaking about what the destruction by ISIS and Islamic fundamentalists of Palmyra, Eura-Europos and Hatra – what it means to destroy a people’s heritage, their cultural identity. “It may seem frivolous to focus on [archaeological sites] when people are enslaved, killed…but to wipe out, destroy culture is a way of destroying people.”

Happening upon this exhibit made the travel experiences we had to these extraordinary places all the more precious.

It is a humbling experience, to be sure, to go to the origins of the great civilizations, fast forward to today. How did they become great? How did they fall? Greatness is not inevitable or forever.  Empires rise and fall. Rulers use religion, art and monuments to establish their credibility and credentials to rule; successors blot out the culture and re-write history.

(“The World Between Empires” is featured on The Met website as well as on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #WorldBetweenEmpires.)

I peek out from the American Café windows to Central Park and see sun and the early spring blossoms on the trees, and dash out to walk through my other favorite New York City place. There is nothing more beautiful than New York City in the spring – brides are out in force taking photos; there are musicians and entertainers. There is a festive atmosphere as I walk through the park toward the Palace Hotel in time for our 4:30 pm meeting.

Spring in Central Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

15th Annual Global Scavenger Hunt Winners Crowned

At the end of the New York City leg:

1st Lazy Monday, completed 10 scavenges earning 385 points

2nd SLO Folks with 6 scavenges, 250 pts

3rd Lawyers, with 150 pts

4th Order & Chaos

And now, drumroll please, Chalmers announces the winner of the 2019 Global Scavenger Hunt: “Only one team wins. The competition was fierce.”

3rd – Order & Chaos, Sal  Iaquinta & Vivian Reyes, doctors from San Francisco

2nd – Lazy Monday, Eric & Kathryn Verwillow, computer networking and think tank professional of Palo Alto, California (“I am in awe of how hard worked beginning to end – embraced the spirit,” Chalmers says.

1st Lawyers Without Borders, Rainey Booth and Zoe Littlepage of Houston, who have competed in the Global Scavenger Hunt 12 times, and won it for the 6th time. “You embody the spirit of the event, to go out of your comfort zone.” (You can follow Zoe’s blog of her experience to get a sense of how strenuous, outrageous, and determined the team was in accumulating their points: https://zoeandraineygreatescape.blogspot.com/2019/05/gsh-2019)

We celebrate at a final bon voyage dinner.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is the brainchild of Bill and Pamela Chalmers, who in addition to forging understanding and bonds among travelers and the people in the destinations visited, use the program to promote voluntourism (one of the scavenges is to volunteer at an orphanage or school during our stay in Yangon, Myanmar, and in the past travelers visited & helped out at: Tibetan refugee camps in Nepal, orphanages in Laos, hospitals in Cambodia, homeless schools in India, hospices in Manila, disabled facilities in Sri Lanka, Ethiopian schools, the slums of Nairobi) and raised money for the GreatEscape Foundation.

“The foundation is one of main reasons we do the event,” Chalmers says. The foundation has raised money to build 12 schools (1 each in Niger, Haiti, Ecuador, India & Ethiopia; 2 each in Sri Lanka & Sierra Leone, and 3 in Kenya), helped build the Tamensa Medical Clinic in Niger for migrating Tuareg nomads which serves as a midwives & nurse training center too. “We know that we saved lives and bettered the lives of hundreds. We have helped over 2400 families in more than 60 countries (mostly women entrepreneurs) with our interest and fee free micro-loans (96% of which have gone to women with a 99% repayment).”

 Through the event this and last year, the foundation will build 2 more co-ed elementary schools , in Ethiopia and Haiti.

TheGlobal Scavenger Hunt travel adventure competition is aimed at returning the romance of travel while testing the travel IQ of the most travel savvy of globetrotters. The travelers (who must apply and be accepted to compete) completed a series of highly participatory, authentic and challenging cultural site-doing scavenges in ten secret countries over a 23-day circumnavigation between April 12 and May 4, 2019 designed to bring people out of their comfort zone and trust strangers in strange lands.

 “The Global Scavenger Hunt covers a lot of extraordinary travel bases,” says Chalmers, who dubs his mystery tour, “A blind date with the world.”

For more information, contact GreatEscape Adventures at 310-281-7809, or visit GlobalScavengerHunt.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt, Leg 6: Petra, a True Wonder of the World, is Highlight of Jordan Challenge

The Treasury, Petra, Jordan in the early morning © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the start of Leg 6, in Amman Jordan, only four of the original 10 teams competing in the Global Scavenger Hunt are still in contention to win, many of the teams can now join together, use their cell phones for planning and booking, get help from the concierge.

But for those competing, some of the mandatory challenges pose a difficult puzzle to achieve in terms of logistics and timing. The one that proves problematic is requiring to go one way to or from Petra along the ancient Kings Highway – the problem is that the Jett Express Bus doesn’t take that route, the rules don’t allow a taxi from outside the city. Hearing how the two top teams surmount the challenge is quite interesting.

All but one team is intent on going to Petra, but have chosen different means to get there. I find myself on the Jett Express Bus, departing 6:35 am, with three of the teams including one that is in second place in the Global Scavenger Hunt, only a point behind the leader. Another 5 of us hired a car and driver (allowed because none of them were competing), and Bill Chalmers, the ringmaster of GSH, Pamela and son Luka are traveling separately. Each of us left at a different time by a different conveyance. But what a surprise! we all wind up at the same mid-way trading post at the same time. Hugs all around.

Struck for decades by the Frederic Church painting of Petra, and then by hearing at a New York Times Travel Show talk about Petra at night, I have decided to arrange my own overnight stay. I learn that the Petra at night is only offered twice/weekly and am lucky enough to be there for Wednesday. I hastily consult hotels.com for a hotel – none available under $200/night. I check booking.com and find a hotel – more of a hostel, really – at a very affordable price, less than a mile from the entrance to Petra. “Only one room left” the site warns. And considering how so many of the hotels were booked, I take the leap and book it. The concierge has reserved the seats on the Jett bus for the morning, with the return the next day (only one departure each way/daily), at 5 pm.

While the others have to move hastily through Petra – in fact, don’t even get as far as the Treasury (so what is the point?), I am able to move as slowly and contemplatively as I want, knowing I will return the next day. The bus – which is an hour late in departing because the company has put on a second bus – arrives at around 11 am. I use our Jordan Pass (which gives pre-paid admission to most archaeological sites, including two consecutive days at Petra, along with the visa) for the day’s admission and buy the ticket for Petra at Night ($25).

I am amazed by Petra. That now-iconic view that comes into focus as you walk through caverns with the most beautiful striations and shapes, then come upon the teaser of The Treasury through the opening, is as wonderful as I had hoped. But the rest of Petra was a complete surprise – I had not realized how vast – an entire city, in fact – how much has been carved out of the rock (the Royal Tombs are not to be believed), and how much in the Roman era had been built (The Great Temple, the colonnade). All around are fellows who hawk riding their camel, their horse, their donkey, or take the horse-drawn carriage (at fantastic speed considering the narrow walkway), to or from the entrance (it is a full mile walk from the entrance to The Treasury). It is hot, but dry and the breeze is surprisingly comfortable. Besides exploring the archaeological structures, Petra turns out to be a hiking place – you can take trails that bring you up to amazing views. One of the toughest is up to the Monastery – a mile each way up stairs and then back down again.

I decide to reserve that for the next day.

The “park” closes at about 6 and reopens for the 8:30-10:30 night program at 8 pm (it is operated separately and privately from Petra) – I still have to get my pack, which I have left at the Exchange ($5 tip), and get to the hotel, which I had thought was within walking distance (.7 mile), but turns out to be totally up hill. I take a taxi (negotiating the rate).

My el cheapo-supremo hotel turns out to be exactly that – the nicest part os the name and front entrance. When I am brought to my room, I thought the fellow made a mistake and brought me to a room under construction (or rather deconstruction) – plaster patches, exposed electrical outlet, rusting shower, cracked bathroom shelf, an “armoire” that was falling apart, only a bed and a stool (not even a chair), slippers left for the bathroom that were too disgusting to contemplate putting on. Ah, adventure. But overall, clean and no bugs. So this will do for a night (considering I had left behind in Amman the five-star, ultra-hip and luxurious W Hotel).

I head out just after 8 pm, walking down the hill into the park again, where I join throngs of people making their way along the stony path illuminated by nothing more than lanterns and starlight, thinking how dramatic and wonderful.

After 45 minutes, arrive at The Treasury where there are perhaps 1000 people sitting on carpets. I am keen to reproduce the photo I had seen of the event. The Treasury at this point is barely lighted at all. There is some traditional music, then a fellow sings, talks for a few minutes, and then garish neon-colored lights are shown on The Treasury, completely destroying the mood. And then it is over. 9:30 pm (not 10:30 pm). People start leaving, and I am totally exhausted, so leave also. I hike up the hill to the hotel.

My adventure is redeemed the next morning when I am able to return to Petra as early as 6 am. The hotel proprietor has packed my breakfast in a baggie in the refrigerator. When I arrive, who should I come upon at 6:14 am but the last team (Lawyers Without Borders). What are the odds!

Walking through the caverns (some of the most exquisite scenes) is unbelievably peaceful at this hour – I am even the only one at some points. There are no horse-drawn carriages rattling through, none of the hoards of people stopping for selfies and posing. And once inside, there was perfect peace also at The Treasury – the camels posing just perfectly.

A word about the guides – I didn’t use one and they try to convince you that they will take you places you couldn’t go yourself – but what I observed was that they were very knowledgeable, very considerate of their guests (in fact, it is difficult to become a guide – you have to take a test, be accepted, and then trained). The people who provided the camels, the horses, the donkeys (you can ride donkeys up to the Monastery), and the carriages work exceptionally hard (the animals work even harder). And all through are the souvenir stands (they actually look pretty good) – and you realize, Petra was a trading center, a stop along the vital caravan routes, and this is very likely what the scene would have looked like even then.

One guide offers to lead me on a trail that would take me to the overview of The Treasury (ranked moderate), but I am not feeling 100% and hope I will be able to do the Monastery trail.

I go through the park again, this time to the Monastery trail – get some scouting information and begin the ascent. It is a very interesting hike not just because of the gorgeous stone contours and colors, and the views back down, but because of the stands set up along the way.

And the Monastery proves to be a highlight – it is actually bigger than The Treasury – the largest structure carved out of a rock face (if I have that right). So worth it.

But back down, I am exhausted and have several hours before the Jett Bus back to Amman (I expect to arrive after the 8 pm deadline but have informed Bill that the bus likely won’t be back until after 9 pm, and I won’t miss a flight, will I?)

I have my plan: first I linger at the Basin Restaurant at the entrance to the Monastery Trail, where I sit outside under trees and have refreshment. I regain some strength and wander some more. At this point, I realize what a phenomenal experience I had in the early morning – some 2,000 passengers off the MSC cruise ship, another 2,000 off a second MSC cruise ship, and hundreds more off a Celebrity ship look like invaders – led by a guide with a number (50) for their group.

My next plan is to stop into the Petra Guest House, which is located right at the entrance to the park. (This is the hotel I would recommend for those who want to come overnight in order to experience Petra in the early morning – it is very comfortable, pleasant and moderate prie).

I have left an hour to visit the newly opened Petra Museum, sandwiched between the Visitor Center and the Bus Station (perfect!). It offers an outstanding exhibit (curiously Japan was a major contributor) – that explains extremely well how Petra developed, the Nabateans, how they grew to power first by controlling water through ingenious engineering, then the main trade route, the King’s Highway, that linked three kingdoms. Artifacts including art as wlel as everyday materials going back to the Stone Age, are on display; there are excellent videos, graphics, displays that are engaging and clear.

I board the Jett Bus (it is the first-class bus geared to foreign tourists) for the 3 hour trip back. The driver is excellent, but apparently, a taxi driver has accused him of knicking his cab and the entire bus has to go to the police station. Surprisingly, this is handled within 20 minutes and we are on our way.

The bus station is not even a mile from the W Hotel (15 minute walk versus 5 minutes by cab) and I considered getting an Uber (much, much cheaper than a taxi), but started walking instead. I am trying to get my bearings when a taxi driver who solicited my business at the bus station pulls up. I reluctantly agree – we settle the price and set out – in the wrong direction. What should have b een 5 minutes, I see on my GPS is taking me 8 km away from the hotel. The driver drives frantically, going the wrong way down one-way streets, zipping here and there but essentially driving in circles that go further away from the hotel. I show him the card, show him my GPS with the hotel address. Finally, in frustration I think, he tries to dump me at another hotel, saying, “W.”  Perhaps he thought I hadn’t been there yet and would be convinced this imposter was my hotel. I tell him he is going the wrong way, the wrong hotel. Finally he sets out again, and what should have taken 5 minutes, has taken 30.

I’ve missed the meeting when Bill Chalmers tells us our next stop on our Global Scavenger Hunt. My teammate has texted the answer: Athens.

In the Throes of Competition

It is so amazing to listen to everyone’s separate adventures and experiences – even those who aren’t competing any more still pick up on Bill’s challenges because they invariably lead us to wondrous and fascinating things that we may not have considered, or some experience at a highlight that we might not have considered. And since the competition is intended to crown “World’s Best Traveler” it is designed to challenge one’s ability for logistics.

Lawyers Without Borders, the team of Zoe and Rainey Littlepage, of Houston, has now done this trip more than a dozen times, in addition to being well-traveled adventure travelers on their own. But appreciate the difference in traveling this way – first as a mystery tour, so you have no ability to research or plan in advance what you will see or do at a destination; second, the challenges force you to experience things or see things from a different point of view.

The Lawyers are currently leading the contest (no surprise). Rainey explains that a lot is luck, but I think it is more art and willingness to embrace challenge as opportunity. And an ability to plan so effectively you can accomplish more scavenges, higher-point scavenges, and simply amass points. The problem is, if you fail to achieve any of the “mandatory” challenges, you don’t get any points at all for that leg.

“It’s different than regular travel. Play t”he game. The sheet gives purpose to do things you wouldn’t do. You have to plot,” Rainey says. “It’s a brilliant way to see things. .. You decide how many to do, but you turn to look and find another.  How between trains you might have an hour, and get 3 scavenges done. It’s an experience to get it done. I feel pity for those who are just there – no points.

Innocuous things bring a sense of accomplishment (like identifying local fish at the market). “How you solve. I love the game. We have been lucky this year,” he says, pointing to how one of the mandatory challenges in Jordan was to be at the Citadel in Amman at sunset – no mean feat since they had to get there from Petra. The sunset was at 7 and they arrived at 6:15 only to discover the Citadel closes at 6 pm. It was cash, not luck, that got them in: they paid the guard $5 to let them in to get the photos they needed as proof at sunset. “We would have lost the whole competition if he didn’t let us in.”

At the Dead Sea, where the mandatory challenge was to swim, it was nighttime when they arrived, but found someone (the kindness of strangers, is a theme of the Global Scavenger Hunt), to let them take the required dip.

At Wadi Rum, where they stayed in a tented camp, another mandatory was to be on a camel wearing headdress. But it was night and camel rides were no longer available. They found somebody to provide the camel and even let him put on his headdress. They then paid a guy with a pick up truck to bring them fro the tented camp to a taxi at 3:40 am to get to Petra by 6:15 am (when I met them). They completed the challenge of making it all the way through Petra, hiking up the Monastery Trail (about 8 miles altogether) by 9:15 am when they dashed off to Jerash (by 2:30 pm), accomplishing in three hours what it takes most 4-5 hours.

They had to sit through an hour-long church service before the required element would appear, took a Turkish bath, went to a café to smoke a hooka, ate falafel at a particular place, sent a stamped postcard from Petra to Petra (Bill and Pam’s daughter who couldn’t come), and for the “beastie” challenge, pose on a camel. “Points are king,” he said.

But here’s an example of real luck: Getting back from Inle Lake in Myanmar, Zoe has her plane ticket but not Rainey (again, they had to be back in time for the 6 pm deadline). Rainey was 30 on the waitlist, when a man offered his place on the plane. “I had to run to an ATM down the street to get the cash to give him.”

(Read Zoe’s blog: https://zoeandraineygreatescape.blogspot.com)

Think of it as “Around the World in 80 Days,” where Phileas Fogg had to use such ingenuity to get place to place (and out of trouble) by a deadline to win the bet. Or how Indiana Jones, who had that powerful scene at Petra, in “”The Last Crusade used the clues in his father’s notebook which ended with a “leap of faith.”

We are now midway in our 23-day around-the-world mystery tour.

Here are the points after the Amman, Jordan leg:

5th place, Transformed Goddesses with 13 scavenges, 4 bonus, 1065 points

4th Slow Folk with 15 scavenges 3 bonus, 1150 points

3rd Order & Chaos with 25 scavenges 8 bonus, 1860 points

2nd Lazy Monday with 25 scavenges, 9 bonus, 2045 points

1st Lawyers Without Borders with 22 scavenges, 12 bonus, 2190 points

So the standings in the Global Scavenger Hunt so far (where like golf, the low score wins):

1 Lawyers Without Borders 25

2 Lazy Monday 30

3 Order & Chaos 57

4 Slow Folk 66

Still 4 legs, 6 countries to go

“You all feel confident, comfortable, would do new things, trust strangers, found balance between event and joy. Maximum joy, embrace that,” Bill Chalmers, our Chief Executive Officer and ringmaster of the Global Scavenger Hunt says.

And we’re off to Athens for a 30- hour leg.  

See more at https://globalscavengerhunt.com/

Spy v Spy in New York City: New KGB Spy Museum is Window into How Spies Impact World Affairs

 

Sergey, a KGB Spy Museum guide, describes the conditions that political prisoners would have suffered in a society where opposition was suppressed by fear © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you really want to be freaked out by the KGB Spy Museum that opened just a few months ago in Manhattan, do what I did: come directly from Spyscape, where you learn about the whole business of being a spy, and be in the middle of reading a book like “The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West,” by Malcolm Vance.

The KGB Museum would be scarier if it were not laid out somewhat like an antique shop (but aren’t all spy centers sequestered behind something innocuous like a tailor shop?). Row by row, there are some 3500 artifacts, all of them real, many on view publicly for the first time. They date from 1910 until 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union when the KGB was replaced by the FSB. But these mundane objects – a lipstick, an umbrella, a pen – were lethal weapons; a tie pin and belt buckle were cameras; a heart reader could seek out a live person hiding even in a refrigerator. Another important tool? A thermometer to determine if a person were truly dead. And if a master key couldn’t unlock an apartment to install a bug? No matter, a transmitter could be aimed at the window from a huge distance to decipher the sound vibrations and eavesdrop anyway. There is even a letter remover which could take out a letter from its envelope, read its contents and replace it back in the envelope, without leaving a mark.

The Patient Chair, used for interrogation, one of some 3500 artifacts on view at the KGB Spy Museum © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

And then there is the “patient chair,” used in a psychiatric hospital, with scary restraints, that were used for interrogations under truth serum or other means.

It turns out that those fantastical gadgets from the James Bond movies, and even the Get Smart spy spoof, were actually based on the real thing. It seems that there is nothing too absurd in the spy world.

The KGB story is really scary though. KGB (КГБ in Cyrillic) stands for “Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti,” which can be translated as the Committee for State Security. The KGB was the main security agency for the Soviet Union, and during the Cold War the KGB was in direct competition with the CIA and other state security agencies around the world for cultural, economic, and military dominance.

Some 3,500 artifacts from the KGB, from 1910 to 1991, many seen publicly for the first time, are on view at the newly opened KGB Spy Museum in Manhattan © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The KGB was born in the Russian Revolution – one of the artifacts is the carpet memorializing Lenin (not his real last name, it turns out) and the beginning of the Revolution in 1917 – and was initially designed to ferret out counter-revolutionaries, or enemies of the Communist state.

One of the world’s largest and most sophisticated intelligence operations, the KGB served a multifaceted role as both a spy agency outside of Soviet Union and a force of secret police within it.

You realize how pervasive and ruthless the KGB was (is), and sense the constant terror that the people must have lived under, as that term “enemies of the state” was broadened to mean any one who criticized or opposed the ruling party, the leadership or policies.

There are real doors from jail cells, and you look through at real video of real prisoners. Those who were placed in solitary were allowed nothing to wear but their underwear; they could sleep only four hours, when the bed would be closed up, and fed only bread and water for 5 to 15 days.

Sergey demonstrates robot hands used to handle dangerousmaterials in a lab © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the world’s largest and most sophisticated intelligence operations, the KGB served a multifaceted role as both a spy agency outside of Soviet Union and a force of secret police within it.

Some of the best engineering and scientific minds were employed to devise gadgets and gizmos – miniaturizing cameras, maximizing surveillance and detection, inventing new ways of transmitting.

“Virtually undetectable, the agency used its state-of-the-art tools and ruthless methods to seamlessly monitor the citizens’ lives and keep them in constant fear of repercussions for any subversive behavior. The investment in the spy technology had a devastating toll on the country’s economy yet it was deemed the most effective and necessary way to keep the state isolated from the rest of the world and keep the Western world out.”

With spies operating in countries all over the world, the KGB had a vast influence on world affairs, which reached its peak during the Cold War. KGB Spy Museum presents a never-before-seen collection of items used in the missions of prominent KGB agents, illuminating the strategies and methods that underlay many of history’s top-secret espionage operations.

In addition to perusing artifacts and learning about the history of the notorious agency, you can read and listen to real stories from spies, witnesses and journalists as well as explore and interact with authentic objects, such as telephone switchboards (most of the operators who connected the calls and then listened in on conversations were KGB), encryption machines, an interrogation chair, designed to extract information from suspects and enemies.

he KGB managed to hide a listening device in this wooden replica of the Great Seal, which hung over the US Ambassador’s desk in Moscow for 7 years before being detected. It took another 1 ½ years to figure out how it worked. The inventor won a Stalin Prize. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the most interesting stories surrounds a wooden Great Seal in one of the cabinets, that was also one of the KGB’s greatest triumphs, that arose out of the famous summit in the Crimea of Stalin, Churchill and FDR. The head of the KGB, Lavrenty Beria, had a replica of the Great Seal made as a gift for Ambassador Averell Harriman, presented most charmingly by cherubic Young Pioneers (like boy scouts) as a “gesture of friendship.” But inside was an ingenious bug that used electromagnetic energy instead of an external power supply. It hung above the Ambassador’s desk in Moscow for seven years before it was exposed in 1952. “The Americans couldn’t figure out how it worked for a year and a half,” my guide, Sergey, says. (The original is in the NSA’s Cryptology Museum in Washington.)

The inventor of the Zlatoust/Receiver LOSS, Lev Sergeyevich Termen, was a physicist and a musician, who began his career by developing previously unseen electronic musical instruments. In 1947 he won the Stalin Prize for Inventions of Listening Devices.

One of the objects that is literally one-of-a-kind, is a record player made expressly for Stalin; there is also a safe, made by the Bernstein company in Berlin, that came from KGB HQ, still containing the currency that would have been enough to buy 30 cars. Both indications of the privilege along with the power amassed by the Communist leadership despite their calls for a equal society.

The one-of-a-kind record player made especially for Stalin © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the rarest objects, which are a point of pride, also seem mundane but were “mechanical masterpieces”:

Tool set КАРОЕД/KAROED (Bark beetle): This is a manual set of special drills and instruments for drilling very narrow holes less than 0.04 inches without any sound in the tree or plastic. Holes were needed to listen to secret conversations with a help of secret microphones. These sharp and pointed drills are specially machined from the very hard metal. The set includes drill extensions, which can be used to drill holes in 3.3 ft and even thicker walls or wooden floors. A special hand-held drill holder had a stopper to drill holes of a certain depth to protect the drill from coming out across the wall by making only a small, hardly visible hole. A special container collects shavings in order not to leave any suspicious marks.

Also very rare: KGB secret drill ИГЛА/IGLA (needle): “It is a unique mechanical masterpiece – the drill IGLA. This very complicated drill reflects the name ‘needle’, because it drills a very thin hole through the concrete. It drills with the help of air compressor with abrasive dust to avoid the sound and vibration. Even the drilling sound was designed by the constructors to simulate that era washing machine Малютка/Maliutka. The person at home thought that a neighbor was probably doing the laundry. The Igla drill had a hole through which the air pressure was inflated according to the manometer readings, and when the drill approached the outside of concrete wall, the air pressure dropped in the drill as the air went out and the drill automatically shut off. The hole was 0.04 inches in size. If the walls were painted or lined with ceramic tiles, the eye did not even see the hole or dust outside. With this drill, the abrasive powder and concrete dust were absorbed by air. Agents who were very patient, slow and responsible were chosen to drill such a hole. In order to drill a 4 inches concrete wall took about 4 hours, and with the preparation – the whole day. Agents, through drilled miniature holes, installed listening or photo devices. After the operation, they applied a hole with the cement mixture and no suspicious marks were left.”

Mundane objects like a belt buckle hid miniature cameras © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

There’s an old fashioned phone where you can “dial” a selection of officials. My guide, Sergey, dials Putin and hands me the phone so I can hear Putin talking (it’s like listening to the LBJ telephone tapes at the LBJ Presidential Museum in Austin). There are also actual phones on display from KGB offices that would have features to disguise the voice at the push of a button.

The two spy experiences – Spyscape and the KGB Museum – have completely different approaches and perspectives, but they complement each other so well, especially when visited one after the other.

Spyscape is modern, state of the art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience. KGB is old-school but so relevant today, with the Russian actively hacking elections and using social media to impact US and other elections, policy, and political discourse.

“The KGB Spy Museum aims to present espionage and intelligence operations in an educational and interesting way, emphasizing the importance of human intelligence and setting out a frame of reference for the public to appreciate the great extent to which spies have always influenced world events. The Museum has a policy of presenting the history of espionage without political bias, thus offering visitors a factual and balanced view of the subject. “

The Museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are available online or in the museum. You need about 1 ½ hours to visit. Tickets are adults (18-64)/$25; Children 7-17, seniors, students, $20; a guided visit, minimum 3 people is $43.99.

KGB Museum, 245 W 14th Street, NY 10011, kgbespionagemuseum.org.

See also: Spy v Spy Has New Addresses in NYC: At Spyscape Find Your Place in World of Espionage

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Spy v Spy Has New Addresses in NYC: At Spyscape Find Your Place in World of Espionage

The most chilling part of Spyscape, New York’s new spy experience, is the up-to-the-minute, torn from the headlines stuff: Here, Anonymous, as seen from two sides © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Are you Bond or Bourne? Once you leave Spyscape, you will learn there are many more roles to play in the complex and ever more ubiquitous world of intelligence. After going through eight “tests” and many stations which do their best to insert you into the realm of espionage and profile you to figure out what job you are best suited to, I would make a sorry spy. I knew from the start I wasn’t either Bond or Bourne. But I found a new calling.

I was expecting a museum, even as museums have become more interactive and engaging and multimedia. But Spyscape, one of the newest attractions in New York City, is not a museum. It is an interactive experience more than anything else, designed to inform you, yes, about the world of espionage and surveillance which, it turns out, is ubiquitous today, but put you in the picture so that you see yourself in the complex enterprise that is intelligence.

Spyscape is modern, state of the art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience that lets you peek into the world of espionage, spycraft, intelligence and counterintelligence today from the inside.

You don’t just get taken on a journey through the history of espionage from World War II and on, but become immersed in up-to-the-minute, ripped from the headlines events. Edward Snowdon. Wikileaks. Stuxnet. Black hat hackers.  Anonymous. “You might be persuaded not to vote.”

Pandora has truly been let out of her box.

There is a feeling of intensity from the moment you arrive – intended to give you that sense of tension and excitement that must be omnipresent in espionage, and visitors will enjoy as much as the adrenaline rush of skiing down a double-black trail. But is there a place for me?

I am risk adverse. I’m not a gamer. I don’t do puzzles. I’m frightened of going into small dark rooms when I don’t know what is there. I frighten easily.

As you arrive, you are given a bracelet that identifies you at scanning machines that basically track your progress as you go about the exhibit – you complete a series of tasks and quizzes and at the end, are assessed as to what role you might play in the spy apparatus – it turns out there are many, many different functions.

Your entrée into the world of spycraft is the largest passenger elevator in New York City,  escorted by a very professional person with a clipboard – it turns out that the ride up is also a multi-media orientation (think “Mission Impossible”).

Your mission: What kind of spy will you be? Or put another way: Where do you fit in the pantheon that is the world of espionage.

The experience is constructed as if a job interview, to immerse you and personalize what would otherwise be technical machines and bios. But it turns out that not all spies work for governments – corporations engage in some of the same techniques, so do journalists, and so do hackers and criminals. And it turns out that the profile you wind up with at the end of all the tasks and quizzes is authentic and serious – not tongue-in-cheek or hokey. I can see some young people seeing new career paths in intelligence (most of the CIA are analysts, not cloak-and-dagger operatives) or even outside, since, as is noted, the skills of a spy are broadly applicable.

The layout (Spyscape takes up a massive amount of space) is purposefully cold, grey, institutional, with constant pulsing sounds – sometimes electronic music, sometimes sound effects, sometimes narration.

I am quite unprepared for the experience, expecting a more conventional exhibit, so am put off stride when all of a sudden confronted with quizzes and tasks. It would have been completely different if I were primed and in a game mode.

One of the tasks I find more engaging (once I got the hang of it), was in the room about coding/decoding, the German’s Enigma machine and the Bombe that British mathematician Alan Turing and colleagues at Benchley developed to break the Enigma code. Here the task is to organize a spy’s escape, but you only have 3 minutes before the Germans will cut off communication to her, and you have to convert a message to code and then decode the response. I do this for the “Limping Lady”, who turns out to be a real person (I later realize she is the spy Virginia Hall) and this was a real scenario.

See what it would be like to code a message on a repiclica of the German Enigma that so confounded the Allies in World War II © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

You get personal insights into Alan Turing, the mathematician who developed a program to break the German “Enigma” machine code. (A fascinating artifact is a copy of Turing’s notes, as a teenager, summarizing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as a gift for his mother). There is also a brief bio of Joan Clark, one of the Enigma codebreakers who rose to become Deputy Head of the Hut eight. You get to type code on a replica Enigma machine.

After one “test”, in which I fail to figure out patterns, I am given these words of encouragement: “You didn’t do too well today, but you are obviously better in other things.”

Another that is sure to delight is a room of laser beams where the timed task is to shut off lights without piercing the beams – very Oceans 11. (This task gauges your agility.)

All through, the exhibits personalize the serious issue being raised – the history, technology, impact on society – with real people, real events and real artifacts. This is serious business after all with real life and death consequences. Double agents have been exposed and executed; moles have exposed agents who were executed. Wars declared or averted, extended or curtailed, won or lost.

As you weave through, taking your own quizzes and tasks, the exhibits tell stories about real spies, double agents, like Robert Hansen and how he was discovered. Hansen’s treachery led to the unmasking of three soviets who spied for the US, two of whom were executed. – how he was discovered and trapped. Would you have detected Hansen’s deceit?

I have all sorts of trepidation about going into a small dark room which turned out to be the test of how well I could detect Deception (I think I do well at that one, probably by accident).

“Gadgets of defiance” describes the devices that British and American operatives used to carry out perilous missions in Nazi-occupied Europe – forged documents to support their cover identifies; one-time encryption pads and miniature radios to communicate with handlers. They supplied downed Allied pilots with escape maps and compasses and targeted the enemy with weapons and explosives.

I learn about Virginia Hall, an American special operations officer who, as a girl, had dreamed of joining the US foreign service and became fluent in foreign languages, but after she lost part of her left leg in an accident, her dream was cut off as well. When Hitler invaded Paris in 1940, Hall was working for a French ambulance service. She made her way to Britain and joined British special operations. She worked as a journalist for the New York Post in occupied France, and the Germans nicknamed Artemis;the Gestapo  considered her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies”. Virginia Hall was the “Limping Lady” of the code scenario.

A spy plane camera from the Cuban Missile Crisis © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I learn about Oleg Penkovsky, known as “HERO” who was a Soviet military intelligence (GRU) colonel who was responsible for informing the United Kingdom about Soviet installing missiles in Cuba. The information he provided helped Kennedy through the Cuban Missile Crisis because he realized that a naval blockade could force the Soviet Union to stand down. Penkovsky, the highest ranking Soviet official to provide intelligence for the UK up until that time, is credited with altering the course of the Cold War. He was executed six months after being arrested.

I learn about the British couple, Ruari and Janet Chisholm, who were his handlers in Moscow. Ruari was Moscow Station Chief for M16, the British secret intelligence service. Janet collected much of Pankovsky’s intelligence. During one “brush contact” he walked casually over to her in a park and offered her children a tin of Vitamin C pills. Janet quickly swapped the tin which contained military secrets for another identical one hidden in her baby stroller. The thought of exposing children like that was chilling. (There’s a photo of Janet with her children on a park bench.)

We meet the real life “Q” gadget wizard, Charles Fraser Smith, who was Ian Fleming’s inspiration for the character he used in James Bond. The new multi-sensory James Bond experience explores the creative process behind the 007 movies while revealing the secrets of James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5. You get to peek at gadgets in Q’s lab, examine original concept art in Oscar®-winning Production Designer Sir Ken Adam’s studio and look behind the scenes of Skyfall’s explosive finale.

Surveillance. It’s all around you. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At another section, you go through a dark curtain and find yourself in this dark round room, illuminated only by giant screens,that give you some sense of the state of surveillance (it is all around). This area showcases whistleblower Edward Snowden who exposed the NSA’s surveillance programs and the reporters who have unmasked government secrets – Laura Poitras  and Glenn Greenwald, the journalists who exposed modern day slavery(old school pad and pen, videocamera and computer are the weapons of choice).

This is where you see the message blazing out of a giant screen: “You might be persuaded not to vote.” This is the brave new world of intelligence – not extracting secrets, but in distorting and implanting messages to shape, disrupt or derail society.

Anonymous, the new face of intelligence/counterintelligence; governments no longer have a monopoly..© Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the last stations is actually the most chilling: Hacktivism discusses hacking, hackers – by anarchists, profiteers as well as nation states. Stuxnet, which was used to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program (a centrifuge is on view). After Iran realized what had been done, it called for the hackers to join in an army.

We learn that Stuxnet is now open source, sold on the blck market, and could be used by any number of actors to shut down electric grids, water systems or air traffic control or remotely give instructions to launch a nuclear attack. And no one knows who has it.

Whistleblower Edward Snowdown, at Spyscape © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

And now, I am really to go into my “debrief – encryption, deception, surveillance, special ops, brainpower (7/18), which comes up with my spy role: Agent Handler (I suspect they give that one to all those who don’t measure up as real spies).

But it isn’t done flippantly or tongue-in-cheek. The authentic personal spy profile is based on psychologists and a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, and sounds pretty authentic (as were the short tests for which I was totally unprepared):

“Your Spy Profile is your unique (and ever evolving) combination of attributes. When compared to others, it allows us to determine the Spy Role you are best suited to.”

My profile – “empathetic, inquisitive, composed” – turns out to be fairly accurate and also serious, developed with real psychologists.

At Spyscape’s Debriefing, you learn your role in espionage, based on the profile compiled. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Later in the day, I am sent a comprehensive profile to my email and a Welcome letter. “Your Spy Skills can be valuable in everyday life. We’ve evaluated your Core Attributes and Spy Skills to determine your Spy Profile. Top psychologists and spymasters helped us build our Spy Profile system. We hope the self-knowledge in your Spy Profile will empower you, and inspire you to further develop your Spy Skills.”

The missive gives me more detail about my role as Agent Handler: A manager of agents who provide secret intelligence or operational support, and an insider view from General David Petreus.

In the real life example, I am given the bio of the agent handler for my new spy hero, Oleg Penkovsky (his code name was Hero) and the background that I found so compelling in the exhibit, about his handler, Ruari Chisholm, and an example of a typical operation, procuring cover material for an agent in the Iranian government who wants to provide info on Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons.

(This makes me think of important omissions in Spyscape: Valerie Plame, the CIA undercover agent who was infiltrating the Iran nuclear program until Plame’s identity as covert officer of the CIA working in counter proliferation was leaked to the press by members of George W Bush administration and subsequently made public  as retribution for her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s reveal about the false information that led to the US invasion of Iraq; she also had knowledge to disprove Bush’s contention that the aluminum tubes that Iraq had could be used as centrifuges for nuclear material. Also, how Andrew McCabe, the foremost counter-intelligence expert on Russia, was drummed out of the FBI by Trump to short-circuit the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and the 2016 election).

Spyscape will excite and thrill as it informs and intrigues. It helps to be prepared in advance for what you will encounter – I think I would have done considerably better and had better attitude.

And like skiing, it is an experience that adults and older children will relish doing together.

There is a continuing relationship – they send you the profile, and follow up with articles, stories, spy challenges, sharing news about factual and fictional worlds of spying and hacking “and helping you develop your own spy skills. We will be adding content from top hackers and spies to spyscape.com/academy so check in regularly to see what’s new.”

I think I’m being groomed. I’m definitely intrigued.

From Spyscape, I walk down to the KGB Museum in Chelsea. It is an interesting Spy v Spy counterpoint that enhances the experience of each one separately.

Visiting:  SPYSCAPE is optimized for adults and teens, but children are welcome. Bringing pre-school-age kids is not recommended. You need about two hours. There is a pleasant café and the gift shop is loaded with spy-related merch.  Open Monday-Friday, 10 am-9 pm and Saturday-Sunday, 9am-9 pm, last entry at 7:30 pm. (Adult, $39; child 3-12 $32).

Spyscape, 928 8th Avenue (entrance on SE corner of 55th Street), 646-585-7012, spyscape.com

Next: Spy v Spy in New York City: New KGB Spy Museum is Window into How Spies Impact World Affairs

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Come Face to Face with T Rex, The Ultimate Predator, at the American Museum of Natural History

The new exhibit T. rex: The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History brings you face to face with the most fearsome dinosaur © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have become well aware how terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex was, but who knew that T. rex hatchlings were fluffy and gangly, more like turkeys than the massive killing machines they grow to be? Or that the mega-predator had the rare ability to pulverize and digest bones and re-grow its teeth? Or that it grew at the rate of 140 lbs. a month, weighing 6 to 9 tons when fully grown and lived no more than 28 years? That it had excellent vision and sense of smell, but puny hands that probably were vestigial? T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the first major exhibition of the American Museum of Natural History’s 150th anniversary celebration, brings us face to face with  the most iconic dinosaur in the world through life-sized models—including the most scientifically accurate representation of T. rex to date–fossils and casts, engaging interactives, and the Museum’s first multiplayer virtual reality experience.

T. rex: The Ultimate Predator opens Monday, March 11, 2019 and will be on view through August 9, 2020, when the exhibit will likely go on tour.

Founded in 1869, the Museum has a long and celebrated history of international exploration and research in paleontology dating back to the 1890s, with an outsized influence in a field that sits at the intersection of cutting-edge science and the popular imagination. The Museum has a particularly special relationship to T. rex: its famous paleontologist, Barnum Brown, was the first to discover T. rex – in 1902 in Montana – and the first T. rex on display anywhere was here at the museum. This makes the new blockbuster exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, inspired by a legacy of scientific exploration and bringing the latest science to the public, a natural launching point for the museum’s 150th anniversary programming.

With more than 120 years of dinosaur research and discovery, the Museum continues to be a leader in this field. Its paleontology collection is one of the largest and most diverse in the world, with specimens that have led to amazing discoveries, including the identification of the first dinosaur eggs and early evidence of dinosaur feathers. A number of recent discoveries about the tyrannosaur group are highlighted in this exhibition.

“Dinosaurs, and Tyrannosaurus rex in particular, are such an important and iconic part of the Museum and have been throughout our history,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “So it seems fitting to launch the Museum’s 150th Anniversary celebrations with a major new exhibition on the ever-intriguing King of Dinosaurs.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

“Dinosaurs, and Tyrannosaurus rex in particular, are such an important and iconic part of the Museum and have been throughout our history,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “So it seems fitting to launch the Museum’s 150th Anniversary celebrations with a major new exhibition on the ever-intriguing King of Dinosaurs. This exciting and fascinating exhibition will do what the Museum has done throughout its history and continues to do today: share the latest scientific breakthroughs with the public, introduce visitors to the researchers on the cutting-edge of discovery, shed new light on the great story of life on Earth, and inspire wonder and curiosity in visitors of all ages.”

Indeed, while Barnum assembled the most complete collection of dinosaur fossils in the world for the museum, the museum has some 34 million specimens and artifacts – one of the most important collections of natural history anywhere. Its library and archives of research documents – like Barnum’s own field notes and letters which show how painstaking and difficult the expeditions were – are the most complete and extensive in the world.

”Dinosaur fossils, like other echoes of ancient life, are discoveries of the science of paleontology. But dinosaurs have a special status that transcends their importance to science—they fascinate and inspire the masses like few other animals—living or extinct—can,” said Michael Novacek, the Museum’s senior vice president and provost for science. “Chief among them is T. rex, perhaps the most famous and celebrated dinosaur that ever lived.”

Visitors to T. rex: The Ultimate Predator encounter a massive life-sized model of a T. rex with patches of feathersthe definitive representation of this prehistoric predator. The exhibition includes reconstructions of several T. rex hatchlings and a four-year-old juvenile T. rex; a “roar mixer” where visitors can imagine what T. rex may have sounded like by blending sounds from other animals; a shadow theater featuring a floor projection of an adult T. rex skeleton coming to life; and a life-sized animation of T. rex in a Cretaceous environment that responds to visitors’ movements. At a tabletop “Investigation Station,” visitors can explore a variety of fossil casts ranging from coprolite (fossilized feces) to a gigantic femur, with virtual tools including a CT scanner, measuring tape, and a microscope to learn more about what such specimens can reveal to scientists about the biology and behavior of T. rex.

T. rex: The Ultimate Predator is curated by Mark Norell, who joined the Museum in 1989. Norell, who is the Macaulay Curator in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology and its chair, has led and participated in a number of scientific investigations into the biology and evolutionary history of tyrannosaurs and other theropods—the group of dinosaurs most closely related to modern birds. His work includes the first discovery of a feathered tyrannosaur, Dilong paradoxus, in China in 2004. In addition to Dilong, many of the species studied by Norell and his colleagues and former students, and recent research findings, are featured in the new exhibition.

Scientists discuss the research that went into the new exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator: #1 Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President, Provost of Science and Curator, division of Paleontology; Mark Norell, chair and Macaulay Curator, Division of Paleontology and Curator of T.rex: The Ultimate Predator; Gregory Erickson, Paleobiologist, Florida State University and Jasmina Wiemann, Molecular Paleobiologist, Yale University. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the last 30 years, we’ve seen a huge increase in both the number of tyrannosaur fossil discoveries as well as the availability of technology that lets us explore complex questions about these charismatic animals,” Norell said. “I never would have imagined that one day we’d be able to look at the shape of T. rex’s brain, analyze the tiny daily growth lines on their massive teeth to determine how quickly they put on weight, or use advanced biomechanical modeling to figure out the force of its bite.”

Humble Origins

T. rex may have been a mega-predator, but it evolved from humble origins. The full tyrannosaur family includes more than two dozen different species and spans more than 100 million years of evolution, with T. rex appearing only at the very end of that period, between 66 and 68 million years ago. Most dinosaurs in the superfamily Tyrannosauroidea were not giants like T. rex, which, fully grown, weighed between 6 and 9 tons. Early species were small and fast, likely avoiding confrontations with larger dinosaurs.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the exhibit, we come face to face with life-size models of a number of tyrannosaurs, including: Proceratosaurus bradleyi, the earliest known tyrannosaur that lived about 167 million years ago and was about the size of a wolf with a crest on its snout; Dilong paradoxus, which like many early tyrannosaurs, had arms that were relatively long and capable of seizing small prey, and was the first tyrannosaur found with fossilized feathers (discovered by exhibition curator Mark Norell and his colleagues in China); and Xiongguanlong baimoensis, a mid-sized tyrannosaur that, when it was discovered in 2009, offered a rare glimpse of a transitional species between the smaller early tyrannosaurs and the later giants.

The exhibit features interactive elements: visitors are tasked with placing various tyrannosaur family members in the correct time period on a magnetic wall and can experiment with a praxinoscope that animates the difference between walking and running—T. rex could only truly run when it was young. A hands-on interactive lets visitors attach the right size tail to a T. rex torso to create a balanced posture.

Getting Big

How did T. rex get so big when its ancestors were so small? And how did a young T. rex, the size of a turkey grow to the size of a truck? The simple answer: by growing very quickly. T. rex reached full size by its early 20s—about as fast as a human does—but it put on much more weight in that time, gaining up to 140 pounds (65 kg) per month. The exhibition shows T. rex in early developmental stages, showing how the dinosaur transformed from a vulnerable hatchling with a more than 60 percent chance of succumbing to predators, accidents, disease, and failure to find food in its first year of life, to a gargantuan predator at the top of the food chain. No T. rex has been found that has been identified as being older than 28 years.

“T. rex was the ‘James Dean’ of dinosaurs; he would have been very beat up,” said Gregory Erickson, paleobiologist from Florida State University.

Much of what we see in the exhibit is the result of a new approach to studying dinosaurs – integrating other scientific disciplines, such as molecular biology and chemistry, and comparative techniques to contemporary animals such as crocodiles and birds, as well as new technologies like 3D scanning.

The latest understanding also presents T. rex’s “arms” as even tinier than before, suggesting that they had no function and were vestigial in the course of evolution. Also, the “hands” have two fingers instead of three.

So far, though, the scientists have been unable to determine a dinosaur’s sex from the skeleton. “It would be nice to know the sex ratio to understand population biology, how bodies changed over their lifespan,” Erickson said. “You have to appreciate just how rare these specimens are – just 1,000 dinosaurs have been named.”

Erickson explains that though scientists know what strata to search, it has to be relatively close to the surface for paleontologists to safely extract the bones without damaging them; also, many of the sites where dinosaurs might be found are in very remote, difficult places. And it may well be true that there were relatively few of the largest dinosaurs, because of the supply of resources available.

The exhibits display T. rex at various stages of its development.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see a life-size model of a four-year-old T. rex, which although not yet the “king” it would become in adulthood, would have weighed about five times more than a four-year-old boy and was as large as any other predatory dinosaur in its habitat. Fully covered in feathers for warmth and camouflage, this juvenile T. rex had relatively long arms (unlike its adult counterparts), a slim body, and bladelike teeth that could cut through flesh but were not yet capable of crushing bone.

We encounter a real fossil of a T. rex toe bone and a touchable cast of a T. rex thigh bone to gain a sense of scale for the fully grown giant, which stood about 12 to 13 feet high at the hip and was about 40 to 43 feet long. Fossil casts from a close relative to T. rex, Tarbosaurus bataar, illustrate that T. rex wasn’t the only tyrannosaur that looked and behaved dramatically differently throughout its life. A cast of the youngest and most complete juvenile tyrannosaur fossil found to date, a two-year-old Tarbosaurus, has a delicate skull with thin bladelike teeth it likely used to catch small vertebrates and insects, while the cast of the huge adult Tarbosaurus skull indicates that when fully grown, it used its heavy, bone-crushing teeth and jaws to eat large animals.

Biggest, Baddest Tyrannosaur

All tyrannosaurs were built to kill, but the biggest and baddest of them all was T. rex. With its huge size, sharp claws, and teeth that could bite through bone, it dominated the competition. New research shows that a T. rex could bite with about 7,800 pounds of force—equivalent to the weight of three cars – compared to 3,700 pounds of force of a modern crocodile.

We see a fossil of one of these huge, banana-shaped teeth, which relied on deep roots to withstand the immense forces during a bite, as well as a cast of a fossilized T. rex lower jaw demonstrating the constant replacement cycle of its fearsome teeth. A full-scale reproduction of the T. rex fossil skeleton on display in the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs—in a different pose—is the subject of the exhibition’s “shadow theater,” in which the skeleton’s 40-foot shadow (somewhat jarringly) “comes to life” and demonstrate to visitors how the animal moved and interacted with prey and its own kind.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Scientists long suspected T. rex could bite through bone, thanks to fossils of its powerful skull and teeth. But now there’s proof in fossilized feces, or coprolites, which contain many tiny chunks of bones eroded by stomach acid. High-tech imaging tools like CT scanners, X-ray fluorescence, and microprobe analysis reveal that T. rex was one of the rare species on Earth that could pulverize and digest solid bone. In fact, some T. rex coprolites are 30-50 percent crushed bone. The exhibition features a cast of one of these telltale coprolites as well as a cast of a tail bone from a duck-bill dinosaur with an embedded T. rex tooth surrounded by new bone growth, indicating that T. rex was not just a scavenger but also attacked live prey.

We learn about the fierceness of two other top predators in the tyrannosaur subfamily, which lived side by side in Asia about 70 million years ago: Alioramus and Tarbosaurus. Bulky Tarbosaurus and nimble Alioramus likely specialized in different prey, much like lions and leopards do today.

Keen Senses of Sight, Smell

We know T. rex from fossils—but what was it like in the flesh? The exhibition’s massive life-size adult T. rex model is based on the most up-to-date findings and represents the most scientifically accurate representation of this pop culture icon to date. New research on this powerful hunter’s senses show that keen vision, smell, and hearing made it very hard for this predator’s prey to avoid detection.

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Brain casts indicate that T. rex had excellent vision. Its eyes, the size of oranges—some of the largest eyes of any land animal—faced forward like a hawk and were set wider apart than most other dinosaurs, giving it superior depth perception.

How can you tell the shape of an extinct animal’s brain? Soft tissues such as brains rarely fossilize. But fossilized skulls often contain a space where the brain used to be, revealing its precise shape. Scientists use these fossilized brain cases to make a model, or endocast, of the missing brain. They also use CT scanning to make a 3D printout of the brain. The exhibition includes a fossilized partial brain case of a T. rex as well as the endocast scientists created from it for study.

By comparing the areas of the brain that are responsible for scent, vision, and hearing in tyrannosaurs’ closest living relatives, birds and crocodilians, researchers have determined that the T. rex brain had similar regions. For instance, T. rex had an unusually large olfactory region for a dinosaur, indicating it had a very good sense of smell. Also like their alligator and crocodile cousins, tyrannosaurs would likely have had highly sensitive faces. Visitors can inspect the series of tiny holes on a fossilized skull of Daspletosaurus torosus, a tyrannosaur that lived between 77 and 74 million years ago. The holes are nearly identical in number and location to those on an alligator, which have jaws so sensitive to touch that they can gently pick up an egg or tiny hatchling without harming it. Fossils of T. rex show similar rough, pitted surfaces, suggesting it also had similar sense organs.

Technology has allowed scientists to uncover a great deal about the inner workings of these gigantic predators, but a number of mysteries remain. For one, what did a T. rex sound like? No one knows. But a logical place to start is to study their closest living relatives. In the exhibition, a “roar mixer” enables visitors to combine the calls of birds and crocodilians with the sounds of contemporary large animals such as elephants, whales, and bison to create a customized roar that accompanies an animated T. rex

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And what about its outward appearance? Feathers are very delicate and are rarely preserved, and they haven’t been found yet on T. rex. But many other dinosaur fossils, including those from other tyrannosaurs and their relatives, preserved feathers, suggesting that T. rex had at least some feathers. Many scientists think that T. rex hatchlings were probably covered in fuzz like a duckling—but adults were mostly covered in scales, likely with patches of display feathers concentrated on attention-getting areas such as the head and tail. Nobody knows what color T. rex was, and it is often depicted as drab, like a crocodile. But reptiles come in every color of the rainbow, so T. rex could have been brightly colored. Exhibition visitors get to choose from a wide palette of colors, stripes, and spots to imagine what T. rex may have looked like in an engaging interactive experience

Despite the high level of scientific research that has gone into T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the notes that accompany the displays are designed to be accessible especially for young people who will be enthralled.

At the end of the exhibition, there is a 32-foot long animated projection of a T. rex and its offspring in a Cretaceous-age setting. The huge dinosaur seems to react to visitors, leaving you wondering, “Did that T. rex see me?”

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Engaging with T. rex in Virtual Reality

The Museum’s science visualization group renders the latest scientific discoveries in paleontology and other fields through the visualization of big data. Using digital technologies, scientists today observe, measure, and reproduce hidden dimensions of the natural world. From the edges of the observable universe to the evolution of life on Earth, researchers are developing a radically new understanding of nature that the Museum strives to communicate to visitors in highly authentic, intuitive, and novel ways. One of these is virtual reality: an experiential tool that uses objects, models, photos, video footage, and other types of physical evidence of life history to engage and excite visitors.

As part of T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the Museum will present T. rex: Skeleton Crew, its first interactive, multi-player virtual reality experience, created in collaboration with HTC VIVE. The five-minute experience will be offered to visitors ages 12 and up within the exhibition.

“Virtual reality is a magical realm in which our perceptions of time and space are suspended,” said Vivian Trakinski, the Museum’s director of science visualization. “In virtual reality, nothing is too small, too big, too fast, too slow, too distant, or too long ago to be appreciated. We hope this technology will let our visitors experience the most fantastic and inaccessible realms of nature.”

“Through VR, visitors can engage with the subject of the exhibition in an exciting, in-depth way that enriches their knowledge and leaves a lasting memory for years to come,” said Victoria Chang, director of HTC VIVE Arts. “This remarkably engaging VR project harnesses the power of premium VR, bringing visitors closer to the anatomy, scale, and majesty of T. rex like never before.”

The facilitated experience “transports” as many as three players at a time to a space similar to the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, where they team up to build a T. rex skeleton bone by bone. Once all of the bones are in place, the players watch as the T. rex comes to life in marshland that is now Montana, its home 66 million years ago.

A home version of T. rex: Skeleton Crew will launch on VIVEPORT, HTC VIVE’s global platform and app store, for VIVE owners in summer 2019.

Visitors need to purchase a timed ticket to see the exhibit. You can book online, https://ticketing.amnh.org/#/tickets.

150 Years of Scientific Inquiry

Be amazed – this cast of Titanosaurus skeleton (the actual bones would be way to heavy to display) – is 150 feet long, extending out of the Orientation Room. Makes you think: how did dinosaurs of such size reproduce?How many of them could have lived at any one time, given the amount of resources they would need? © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including those in the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president, and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation.

A rare tour of the AMNH’s proboscidean laboratory, where scientists research mammals including mammoths and mastodons that would have lived 1-2 million years ago. The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists and sponsor about 100 expeditions a year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, as well as on specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data and on one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. The museum is the launchpad for some 100 expeditions a year. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree and also to grant the Master of Arts in Teaching degree.

Visits to the museum have grown to 5 million, and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows are seen by millions more in venues on six continents. The Museum’s website, mobile apps, and massive open online courses (MOOCs) extend its scientific research and collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to additional audiences around the globe.


Fantastic prehistoric creatures roamed New York City! On a shelf in the Proboscidean lab, mastodon jaw bone uncovered from Inwood! In March 1925, the AMNH was notified that mastodon remains were exposed during a construction excavation. They were buried in a peat bog, 21 ft. below the sidewalk level at NW corner of Seaman Ave., and Dyckman St. Several of the teeth were stolen while on display at the construction site, but two molars were recovered after a plea for their return. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Open daily from 10 am – 5:45 pm except on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100, amnh.org.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island Presents ‘Chinese Artists in America’ Exhibit

Artists Ping Wang and Arthur Liu with Town North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Gold Coast Arts Center Executive Director Regina Gil at opening of exhibit, “Chinese Artists in America© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island presents an exhibition of “Chinese Artists in America.” The works by eight contemporary Chinese-American artists is on view through March 20.

“The exhibition reflects the creative vitality of Chinese and American cultural interaction and growth through the arts and its historical and aesthetic links to other communities,” Gallery Curator Jude Amsel writes.

“These artists created a new visual language that embodies aspects of traditional Chinese art while responding to a time of great transition. Their artworks express personal beliefs, national pride, and international awareness.”

“The Gold Coast Arts Center is dedicated to promoting awareness and understanding through the arts and through public events that bring people together,” stated Regina Gil, founder and Executive Director of the Gold Coast Arts Center. “We are proud to have enabled artists from around the world to share their vision and craft with our audiences. The exhibition of art by Chinese-American artists weaves the heritage, experience and craft that has emerged from each artist’s personal exposure to Chinese and American culture and education.”

The opening reception for the art exhibition was accompanied by a cultural performance, music and dance presented under the aegis of the Great Neck Chinese Association.

Here are highlights, with the artists’ own statements.

Zhen Guo © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zhen Guo: “With ‘Muted Landscape; I present a view of the world, and we who live on its surface, that is at once expansive and frightening.  The images, created (I do not say painted because there is no obvious brush work in the ink on rice paper creation) present a landscape as if from 36,000 feet, muted by both the gray color and by the distance.  Mountains, lakes, a sheer rock face wall, caldera, fields of snow, high and pointed peaks and rivers are joined and blended but not necessarily in the places or ways we expect.  It is as if the vision of Ansel Adams has been stirred shaken and kneaded merged a late Autumn vision of the natural world.  As our eyes travel over the painting the view changes and rivers become shadows, mountains become fields, and lakes become snow covered peaks.  We are entranced and at the same time afraid that, if we landed, there we could not find our way out. Perhaps this is a place for own internal search for a perch for our soul or to find our way forward.”

“Country Fair,” by Dexiang Qian © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dexiang Qian: “I was born in Zhijiang. Many artists have come to Zhijiang to observe, sketch, and experiment with depicting the rural countryside. During my creation process, I use a glazing technique with a limited color palette. I continue to simplify the elements, and the resulting composition often is in geometric patterns.”  © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xiangdong Shi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xiangdong Shi: ““Food: Chinese beauty, taste and auspicious meaning. Chinese cuisine is not only delicious, but also the pursuit of form and color, such as Sweet Dumplings, put in a few red medlar, and immediately look happy, and eat the Sweet Dumplings at the Lantern Festival, so the Sweet Dumplings are also called Yuan Xiao, means the first full moon night of the year. Chinese cuisine is rich and auspicious Meaning, such as birthday, Chinese people often cook a bowl of noodles, called longevity noodles, meaning healthy longevity. Another example is the Traditional Chinese Rice-Pudding, is the exclusive food of the Dragon Boat Festival, it is to commemorate the ancient Chinese famous poet Qu Yuan, in addition, often in the  Traditional Chinese Rice-Pudding have any jujubes, white rice and red jujubes are put together, the color contrast is strong. Red has a special meaning in Chinese culture, and represents good luck. Therefore, the food series I painted not only expresses the taste of food, but also the sense of form and meaning of food. This is the true essence of Chinese culture.”

Arthur B. Liu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Arthur B. Liu is President of Queens Art Education Center, New York, visiting professor of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, member of the Watercolor Society of USA, artist of the National Art League of USA, director of the Chinese Culture Art Association of New York, USA. He is the Educator, Artist and Inventor. He is the only one Chinese American artist who has been granted patents for inventions. He is showing “The flowing colors Chinese painting series” in this exhibition.

Ping Wang © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ping Wang: “The initial idea of my “In and Out” series were body parts extended from a “Square”(space ) merged into a background. The background scenes are from Chinese illusional landscapes to recent New York City landmarks and daily life.  After a year or two reminiscing in depth I subconsciously escaped in the collision between China and American culture. I was enormously inspired by traditional Chinese composition and techniques. In the ‘Fight Club; series, I tried to combine some oriental perspectives and compositions into a Western story. Now living in New York for several years, I can see the integration of eastern and western cultures.”

“Sacrifice the Body to Feeding the Tiger,” by Yulin Huang
© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Yulin Huang: “In the face of the canvas, I have never forgotten all the so-called knowledge, just by intuition, in a simple, primitive, child-like way, straightforward and quick to smear. “Sacrifice the Body to Feeding the Tiger” (2018) is a “Dunhuang” mural from the ancient East, painted on the walls of the grotto 2000 years ago. It tells a Buddhist story. A prince, giving up his life and helping his hunger with his own flesh   The hungry tiger mother and son are born into Buddha after death. Like the cross that Jesus passed. In “Chinese New Year,” red lanterns, dragon dances, lion dances, firecrackers, fireworks, spring couplets, red envelopes… The people celebrate the biggest festivals, joyous and lively. But I feel a very loneliness.”

Hai Wei © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hai Wei: “Even though we all advocate tolerance, different habits and beliefs sometimes constitute an offense.  Each different culture and art is connected of each other while learning from each other and integrating with each other. When the plane flies over the Arctic Circle, across the window, the outside is a mountain like a scarf, inside is a scarf like a mountain… All things connected, miraculous conversion. Similarly, in the body, the blood, the fresh life, can also be converted and reincarnation?  We have been watching ourselves for too long and rarely look at them. Most people think the sheep is weak ,ordinary, silent. In fact, they still have power and charm of wildness. The art created by nature is life, the beauty of life, and it does not depend on us. It is a kind of dignity.”

Yafu Wang with “Chinese Artists in America” curator Jude Amsel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Yafu Wang: Yafu’s works are varied and diverse.  Those selected art pieces cover his early works in road, shadows, posters, and temples etc.  Yafu always states that his work expresses his deep love and awe for the mighty God.  It fulfills all the missing parts in his life. 

Here are highlights from the performances:

Chinese Drum “Ma Deng Dance” featuring Anthony Wu, Dorie Liu, Kexin Huang, Yuxin Huang, Kingsley Liu. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese Guzheng Duet “Dong Ting New Song” featuring Ella Li, Shiying Wei. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese Cucurbit Flute Solo, “Wedding Vow,” featuring Ricky Deng © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Violin & Piano in Chinese song, “Painted Heart” with Aili Tian, Phoenix tian, Joy Yang and Selena Lu (piano). © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese Instruments ensemble “Xi Yang Yang (Be Happy)” “Turpan’s Grapes Turn Ripe (with Dance)” featuring Xiulu Xin (Banhu):, Yuqi Sun (Erhu), Xianyi Wang (Dulcimer), Xiuzhen Liang (Ruan), Rongxian Chen (Electronic Guitar), Cathong Li (Rock Percussion/Dance) © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Children’s Chorus: Jasmine Flowers featuring Evan Cao, Derick Chen, Melissa Chiang, Jessica Chiang, Anthony Chiang, Athena Jin, Ella Li, Jack Pei, Dorothy Qian, Lucas Wang, Madeline Wang, Isabella Wu, Kenneth Wu, Katharine Xu, Carolyn Zuo and Kaitlyn Feng (piano) © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island Presents “Chinese Artists in America”

The Gallery is open when the Gold Coast Arts Center is open, 113 Middle Neck Road, Great Neck, NY, 516-829-2570, goldcoastarts.org.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Rails-to-Trails Sojourn on the Delaware-Lehigh Trail: America’s Revolution Comes to Life at Washington Crossing

The Thompson-Neely house is interpreted as it would have been in 1776, when it was used to hospitalize soldiers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Being here at Washington Crossing State Park on the Pennsylvania shore of the Delaware River, hearing the story of General George Washington crossing icy water on that fateful Christmas night, I realize that all I knew of that scene was the image from the painting so indelibly impressed on every school child’s brain. The actual events are much, much more dramatic, as the 300 Sojourners, cyclists who have come down the Delaware-Lehigh Trail, learn on our guided tour.

This opportunity to tour Washington Crossing Historical Park is built into the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn, one of several options for our layover day on the fourth day of the five-day biking-and-camping trip.

The Sojourn rides- usually five or six days of supported camping and biking – are typically constructed with a layover day where you get to choose from activities and excursions that exemplify the area or just hang out on your own. Other options include a kayak tour on the Delaware Canal; a visit to the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, a tour of the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton, NJ, or just exploring New Hope, PA on our own to take in attractionsdining and art galleries.

I have opted to join the historical tour of both the Upper Park and Lower Park of Washington Crossing Historical ParkBowman’s Hill TowerThompson-Neely HouseSoldiers’ Gravesthe Village and the Visitor’s Center.

I realize I had no clue of just how heroic, indeed, how much of a Mission Impossible this feat was, and how many were involved, nor how significant this relatively small battle of was for the ultimate success of the revolution that founded our nation.

A copy of the famous painting depicting Washington crossing the Delaware is on the boathouse wall, likely to give inspiration to the reenactors © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The visit to the Washington Crossing Historical Park starts with an excellent 14-minute video introduction that lays out why Washington said of this desperate mission ““Dire necessity will, nay must, justify the attack.”

It was winter of 1776. The Continental Army had suffered terrible defeats on Long Island and New York. Washington was forced to retreat across New Jersey to Pennsylvania on December 7 and 8.

The British were on the march to Philadelphia, plundering and ravishing homesteads as they went. They were waiting for the Delaware River to freeze so they could march across. That gave Washington some time to regroup.

Morale of the American troops was low. The soldiers lacked food and warm clothing, even boots. Washington watched his army shrink due to desertions and expiring enlistments. Now, more than ever, a victory was desperately needed.

Washington hatched a daring plan to cross the Delaware River under the cover of darkness, march to Trenton and unleash a surprise attack on the Hessian outposts in and around Trenton.

He ordered every boat that could be found to be at the ready. Among the various types of boats gathered, most notable were the large, heavy Durham boats that were used to carry pig iron down the Delaware.

His plan was for a Pincer-style attack, with two divisions attacking from the south of Trenton.

Sojourners tour McConkey’s Ferry Inn at Washington Crossing Historic Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

We walk into a historic village – and come to McConkey’s Ferry Inn, which was the only building here at the time of Washington’s Crossing – the other buildings were constructed 40 years or more after.

Walking through it, it is an amazing feeling to sense Washington sitting here, plotting what could have been a suicide mission, making such decisions.

The inn was built on the major thoroughfare between Philadelphia and New York City to accommodate the ferry, one of many along the river.

You can imagine George Washington sitting at the table in McConkey’s Ferry Inn to compose his letter to Colonel Cadwalade, “I am determined.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

We go into the boathouse – which was built in 1977 to house re-creations of the Durham boats that Washington would have used.

These are all re-creations, and smaller (40 feet long) and lighter and more nimble than the ones Washington would have used.  By the 1830s, these boats, built to carry cargo, were obsolete – indeed, even in their day, they were often used for one-way trips and discarded.

Washington’s boats were 65 feet long, weighing 7,000 pounds, 50 percent heavier that these re-creation. As it is, it takes a day to put four boats in the water for the annual Christmas re-enactment.

In Washington’s time, the boats would have been kept in the water, not a boat barn, which was built in the 1950s when they started doing the reenactments.

There were no seats in the boats – everyone stood up, but no one was as high up as Washington is depicted in the famous painting.

The painting shows 13 people – 12 in the boat and one standing up; for the reenactments, they use 11 crew, four oars each 15 feet long and 50 lbs, with two people per oar at shoulder level. One of the oars is 22 ft, weighing 100 lb,that is used like a rudder to steer the boat.

One of the replica Durham boats that are used for the annual reenactments of Washington’s crossing of the Delaware © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

“We do it in one hour. It took 11 hours to transport Washington’s troops during the night, going back and forth.” Once, he recalled, it was snowing heavily during reenactment which was most like the actual conditions.

Each boat made five trips both ways, carrying 45 soldiers plus the boat crew (imagine what that would have been like for the boat crews). It took a half-hour or longer for each trip. One man fell off the boat, but was saved.

The river was fast, but 45 feet wider than normal, and with ice blocks as big as six feet wide, would come suddenly with speed, joggle the boat and knock it off course. It was difficult to see.

Over the course of the 11 hours, Washington’s 2,400 soldiers were shuttled across. But then, these soldiers, some of whom were dressed in rags and barely had shoes, had to wait for hours as they were pounded by a Nor’easter that set in at 11 pm, for the rest to arrive, and then march 9 miles over mud paths to fight the same Hessian troops who had beaten them five times before.

“The odds were not in their favor. It shows the fortitude of the men.”

Because surprise was his key weapon, Washington kept the mission a secret until the last minute.

“Washington didn’t tell the men the attack was underway until 1 pm. That was not enough time for the men to prepare supplies and march. So a lot of the men were late,” he tells us, standing in front of a map that illustrates the battle plan.

Washington assembled his own troops near McConkey’s Ferry in preparation for the crossing. By 6 pm, 2,400 troops had begun crossing the ice-choked river. The operation was slow and difficult due to the condition of the river. There was an abrupt change in the weather forcing the men to fight their way through sleet and a blinding snowstorm. These obstacles proved to be too much for the supporting divisions led by colonels Cadwalader and Ewing, ultimately preventing their crossing at southern points along the Delaware.

Washington had planned for a Pincer-style attack. He had them synchronize their watches. He had already started sending the men across when he learned that the other two generals were not able to send their men. He decided to continue anyway.

In this ferry building, Washington writes to Colonel Cadwalader, “’Dear Sir. Notwithstanding the discouraging accounts I have received from Colonel Reed of what might be expected from the operations below, I am determined, as the night is favorable, to cross the river and make the attack upon Trenton in the morning. If you can do nothing real, at least create as great a diversion as possible. I am, Sir, your most obedient servant.’”.

The guide at Washington Crossing Historic Park describes Washington’s “pincer-like” battle plan which depended upon the element of surprise © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

“Now the weather works to the Americans’ advantage,” our guide relates, standing in front of a battlefield map. “Hessian guards (pickets) are in houses. Washington sneaks through perimeter undetected. But one rogue group launches a raid, which undermines the crucial element of surprise. The Hessian guards run into city to warn the commander, Colonel Johann Gottlieb Riall, but Riall thinks it is just a raid. He musters half to guard two main roads, but doesn’t meet Washington head on. Washington tries to retain initiative.”

The First Battle of Trenton takes only an hour. Of the 1,500 Hessians, 100 killed or wounded. Rall is fatally wounded.

Washington informed Congress of victory but neglected to mention how many men were lost (the Hessians lost about 100).

It was a relatively small battle but the victory elevated the American cause in eye of world. Then, within 10 days, Washington chalked up victories at Trenton and Princeton.

There were still 5 more years of war, until 1781, to come, but this was the turning point in revolution.

“The 3 victories are huge for Continental Army. France and Spain began to pay attention. If Washington had lost, Continental army would have disbanded.”

The Hessian prisoners were paraded through Philadelphia to Lancaster where they worked on farms, were paid and given free room and board. A quarter of the Hessian prisoners wound up staying or returning to the area after the war (the Pennsylvania Dutch were already here.) But American prisoners were badly treated.

The single biggest fact we don’t know about Washington’s crossing of the Delaware? Who crossed.

Each December, thousands of people gather on the banks of the Delaware River to watch the reenactment of George Washington’s daring 1776 Christmas night river crossing. During the event, several hundred reenactors in Continental military dress row across the river in replica Durham boats.

This year, there are two opportunities to view the reenactment at Washington Crossing Historic Park, on December 9 (10 am to 4 pm, the crossing is at 1 pm, $8/adult, $4/child 5-11; in addition to the crossing reenactment, special colonial-era activities and demonstrations in the Historic Village will offer a full day of family fun and learning) and Christmas Day, December 25 (noon to 3 pm, crossing is at 1 pm; free. The event draws thousands of people; arrive well before 1 pm for a good place to view (see www.WashingtonCrossingPark.org).

The Historic Village

The McConkey Ferry Inn which we get to visit was the only building here at the time of Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware; the other structures came later.

The first ferry building was built in 1752, but only the basement kitchen remains. The current inn was built in several stages; the west side, the one farthest from the river, was built around 1790 and includes the original basement.  The building represents a typical country inn or tavern of the Revolutionary era and suggests the variety of amenities that would have been available to the traveler at that time.

Mahlon K. Taylor House: Born in 1791, Mahlon K. Taylor became the wealthiest and most influential member of the Taylor family, a fixture of Taylorsville’s commercial success until his death in 1870.The stately home, built 1816-17,  illustrates Taylor’s successful career as a merchant and entrepreneur. The house is an example of the degree to which the fashions and refinement of upper-class Philadelphians were beginning to influence rural Pennsylvania.

Taylorsville Houses: These 19th century buildings were built by different members of the Taylor family as their own residences or to rent to trades and craftsmen. Many 19th-century country villages and towns also had general stores that sold a wide array of merchandise. Mahlon Taylor opened the Taylorsville store around 1828 shortly before the Delaware Canal was constructed, and served as postmaster there for 40 years.

Hibbs House: Built in 1828, this building was one of several tenant houses the Taylor family constructed to attract artisans to Taylorsville. It served as the home and workshop of a shoemaker, then a cooper, a wheelwright, and finally a carpenter, Abdon Hibbs. A typical two-room over two-room stone structure, it housed a worker, his family, and his apprentice, as well as his shop.

Frye House and Blacksmith Shop: Bernard Taylor built the Frye House in 1828 as a tenant property. It housed Taylorsville’s blacksmith and his family, as well as an apprentice. The blacksmith was indispensable, fashioned iron tools and implements essential to work and to family life in the preindustrial era. The current shop was built in 1990. Living-history demonstrations are conducted during special events.

Revolutionary War Memorial Cemetery

Our afternoon tour begins with a visit to a memorial cemetery where an unknown number of Continental soldiers who died during the December 1776 encampment in Bucks County are buried.

Memorial to fallen Continental soldiers at Washington Crossing Historic Park. The only one who is identified is James Moore, a 24-year-old artillery captain from Alexander Hamilton’s New York company © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Although no Americans were killed during the Crossing and the First Battle of Trenton, these soldiers would have died due to exposure, disease or previous injuries. James Moore, a 24-year-old artillery captain from Alexander Hamilton’s New York company, is the only veteran buried in this plot whose identity is known.

Washington Crossing Historic Park, 1112 River Road, Washington Crossing, PA 18977, 215-493-4076, www.WashingtonCrossingPark.org.

Thompson-Neely House & Farmstead

I love visiting the Thompson-Neely House, on Bowman’s Hill, just across a road from where we camp at the Washington Crossing State Park, and on the other side of the canal.

The house is presently interpreted as it would have been when it served as a temporary regimental army hospital during Washington’s winter campaign of 1776/1777. Ill and injured soldiers were brought to this home of the Thompson and Neely families for medical treatment and recovery. A young officer from Virginia named James Monroe, who was seriously injured during the First Battle of Trenton, convalesced here. In 1817, he became the fifth president of the United States. William Washington, a distant cousin of the commander-in-chief, was also wounded and he too recovered. This is where Captain James Moore of the New York Artillery died of camp fever on Christmas day and is buried on the property (in what is now the Soldiers’ Graves area).

© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Thompson-Neely House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is an example of vernacular 18th-century architecture. Originally a low, one-room dwelling, it was expanded over time to a two-story, multi-roomed farmhouse reflecting the growth of colonial Pennsylvania’s agricultural economy and the prosperity of the Thompson family, who milled grain into flour for export.

Several hundred years ago, the area occupied by the Thompson-Neely House and Farmstead and the nearby mill were inhabited by natives of the Lenni Lenape village of Winnehawcnunick. Around 1684, a runaway indentured servant, John Pidcock, fled his master and took possession of the property, establishing a fur trading station there around 1701.

The next owner of the property, Quaker miller John Simpson, constructed the original central section of this house about 1740, as well as a gristmill along Pidcock Creek. At the time of his death in 1747, Simpson was a prosperous farmer with an interest in a sawmill besides his other holdings. His widow, Hannah, married Scots-Irish miller Robert Thompson in 1748, whose farming and milling businesses on the property made him one of the wealthiest men in Solebury Township by 1761.

In 1757, owner Robert Thompson built a two-story addition on the west end (away from the river) of the house.

Nine years later, Thompson’s daughter, Elizabeth, married her father’s apprentice William Neely, an Irish immigrant, and Thompson added a second story above the old first section.

The Thompson-Neely house is interpreted as it would have been in 1776, when it was used to hospitalize soldiers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Neely, who was in the militia in 1775 with Washington’s troops. Neely brought the army here to camp out. There would have been some 500 Continental army troops camped here (7400 in the area), among them James Monroe (the future president), and William Washington, a cousin to General Washington.

Robert Thompson enlarged the house once again by constructing the two-story east wing in 1788 to accommodate the Neely’s growing family. Taller ceilings gave this newest portion a higher roofline than the existing structure.

When he died in 1804, Robert Thompson left his large estate to his grandson, Robert Thompson Neely, including the main farmhouse with outbuildings, two mills, a cooper’s shop, and a distillery. Although Robert Thompson Neely continued to expand his family business and real estate holdings, he died in debt in 1848. Succeeding generations of the Neely family continued to own the farmhouse. When the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania acquired it in 1926, the building had been little changed since the early 19th -century.

Once the centerpiece of a working farm and milling complex, the Thompson-Neely House is surrounded by the numerous outbuildings needed for farmlife in the 18th-century, such as the restored smokehouse, chicken coop and privy. Washington Crossing Historic Park’s flock of sheep may be visited at the restored barn.

Thompson-Neely Grist Mill

The Thompson-Neely grist mill, built in 1875, is actually the third grist mill to be built on the property.

The grist mill figured into the prosperity of the families who lived here, first Englishman John Simpson who acquired the property around 1740 and built the first grist and saw mill. After he died, in 1747, the mill passed to his journeyman, Robert Thompson, who married Simpson’s widow, Hannah. The couple farmed and ran the mill at a time when Philadelphia was the largest city in British North America and had a thriving flour market, exporting five million pounds in 1771. By 1782, Thompson had become one of the wealthier men in Solebury Township.

William Neely, Thompson’s apprentice, married Thompson’s daughter in 1766, and ran the mill for more than 40 years before his death in 1804. Thompson’s daughter and grandson, Robert T. Neely, inherited the mill.

The Thompsons and the Neelys built up an estate that included the grist mill, a saw mill, cooper’s shop, distillery, store, sawyer’s house, miller’s house, and assorted barns and outbuildings on 500 acres of land.

The Thompson-Neely grist mill has been restored and only recently reopened to the public © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Second Mill, 1829-1873: The Pennsylvania Canal Commission built the Delaware Canal through Neely’s property, along the original creek bed that powered the mill’s water wheel which put  Neely’s mill out of business. He received $8,000 from the state for damages and built a new mill further upstream on the site of the present grist mill.

The Third Mill, 1875-1910: Robert’s Neely’s son John owned the mill when it caught fire in August 1873. The mill was rebuilt in the same place and reopened in 1875 and operated until 1910, after being purchased by the State of Pennsylvania.

The mill was closed for 50 years, until the state renewed interest in it as a historical site.

Restoration: During the 1970s, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission carried out archaeological research and restoration of the site. A new water wheel was installed in its original location, and the mill was restored to a state resembling that of a grist mill of the late 1820s. But the mill was again shuttered 20 years later.

Restoration work began in late 2016. And after two decades shuttered to the public, the Thompson-Neely Grist Mill’s doors reopened on March 17, 2018, just a couple of months before we Sojourners arrive. In-depth programming including live demonstrations of the milling process, field trips for area students and a special program for children during the park’s annual Sheep-to-Shawl Day are planned.

Bowman’s Hill Tower

Bowman’s Hill Tower, we discover on the tour the Sojourn has arranged for us, is just about the only place in Bucks County to get an above-the-trees, bird’s-eye view of the surrounding countryside and Delaware River. The Tower, which was built between 1929-31 as a Depression-era project, rises 125 feet high atop Bowman’s Hill; on a clear day, you can see 14 miles away.

We hike up the 124 steps (an elevator installed during the 1980s restoration can take you up three-quarters of the way, to the last 23 narrow steps).

Bowman’s Hill Tower © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Soon after the tower’s construction, workers planted 28,300 seedlings in the area to reforest the hill like people thought it would have been in Washington’s time. Some of those seedlings have become today’s towering trees on Bowman’s Hill.

Walking up from the Thompson-Neely House, passed the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve (so many wonderful, themed trails to explore! Next time!), proves to be quite a hike, because it is about 1.5 miles up on a winding road before you even get to the staircase.

During the regular season, a 60-minute walking tour of the Thompson-Neely House and Farmstead and the grist mill is offered daily from 10 am to 4 pm; tickets are $7 or $15 for all park sites (the Historic VillageBowman’s Hill Tower and the Thompson-Neely House and Mill).

Sojourner’s pose at the base of Bowman’s Hill Tower © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Washington Crossing Historic Park, 1112 River Road, Washington Crossing, PA 18977, 215-493-4076, www.WashingtonCrossingPark.org.

The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, 2750 Hugh Moore Park Road, Easton, PA 18042, http://delawareandlehigh.org/ (It also has a description of the bike trail.) 

Sojourners enjoy kayaking on the Delaware © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors; it advocates for  its 160,000 members and supporters, 31,000 miles of rail-trails and multi-use trails, and more than 8,000 miles of potential trails waiting to be built, with a goal of creating more walkable, bikeable communities in America. RTC offers TrailLink, a free service that lets you access RTC’s 30,000 miles of trail maps and itineraries and downloadable mobile app.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 2121 Ward Court, NW, Washington, DC 20037, 866-202-9788, railstotrails.org, TrailLink.com.

See also:

Biking the Delaware & Lehigh Trail, Showcased on Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Last Sojourn BikeTour

Rails-to-Trails Sojourn on Delaware-Lehigh Trail Showcases Repurposed Canal Towpath & History of Industrial Revolution

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures