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New-York Historical Society Examines ‘Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.’

Juxtaposed portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, Schiller’s photo taken just days before RFK’s assassination, open the exhibit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy are tethered together in peoples’ minds, and not only because they both were assassinated within two months of each other in that fateful year of 1968. A new, remarkable exhibit that has just opened at the New-York Historical Society commemorates the 50th anniversary of those events, examines their conjoined legacy and makes some interesting discoveries: their lives had a kind of parallel trajectory, yet, they consciously steered separate courses, intersecting finally in death.

On view through May 20, 2018, Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. showcases 61 photographs and 30 documents and artifacts that reveal the relationship between these historic figures. The exhibit is based in part on The Promise and the Dream, written by Vanity Fair contributing editor and New York Times writer David Margolick and produced by Lawrence Schiller for National Geographic Publishers. Schiller, a photojournalist who covered many of the significant events throughout the 1960s, conceived of the project and collected 21,000 photographs, sifting them down to 3,000, then 2,000, and ultimately, over the course of just three days, laid out the photographs that are presented much like a 20-page photo essay in Life Magazine, where Schiller worked, would have produced.

Lawrence Schiller, a photojournalist since the 1960s, recalls a fateful day when he was 26 years old: “The elevator opened to reveal Oswald, who was only 24 years old. It shocked me that evil could be in such a person – a kid my age had caused this tragedy.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But in the course of gathering that material, an essential question arose: why were there so few photos of King and Kennedy together? The exhibit has just one where the two men were at the same event, with then-Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Another instance where they would have been together was when King testified to a Senate Committee which included Robert Kennedy, in which he stated that the millions of dollars that were being sent to support the war in Vietnam should better be spent to revitalize America’s ghettoes (a photo is taken from behind King). Significantly, while Kennedy supported the idea of spending more in cities, he was forced for political reasons (like the fact that his brother, as President, dramatically escalated America’s role in Vietnam) to disassociate himself from King’s anti-Vietnam stance.

Margolick, who researched and wrote the book in a mere seven months time, started off with no pre-conceived notion, but wanted to come up with some original construct about these two lions of American history.

Indeed, if news is the first draft of history, books provide the room for reflection and context.

The big idea of the book and the exhibit is that “Robert Kennedy was a political person and Martin Luther King Jr. a spiritual person; they respected one another but there was a limit how closely they could ally,” Margolick said at the press opening of the exhibit.

The two men had reason to be wary of one another.

Robert Kennedy was at his core a politician from a political family; on top of that, his brother, as president, had made key decisions including significantly involving the US in war in Vietnam, and was skittish about making civil rights a key focus of his administration; as JFK’s Attorney General, Robert Kennedy had signed off on J. Edgar Hoover’s request to surveil King, whom Hoover was convinced was a Communist. But Kennedy also sent US Marshals to force school integration.

King, for his part, was a spiritual man for whom civil rights was not merely a political issue but a matter of everyday survival for millions of people who could be brutalized without repercussion under a Jim Crow regimen.

“They were initially wary of each other,” Margolick said. “There was an enormous chasm which gradually shrank, but did not entirely disappear.”

Bobby Kennedy on the cover of Time Magazine © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

“RFK felt MLK a liability, he couldn’t get close.” There was that special night, when Robert Kennedy, who made a concerted effort to embed himself into black communities when he realized he did not have more than a superficial understanding of issues, was in “black” Indianapolis for a campaign speech and gets notice that King has just been killed, and instead of rushing away, he spoke compassionately to the crowd. “That was a special night. Death was the only time Kennedy actually embraced [the idea] of King. Kennedy was dead two months later. There was no time to carry torch of MLK.

“But even in limited time, Kennedy was reluctant to embrace King. The Kennedys were politicians King was a spiritual man. Kennedy considers the political implications of everything. Part of the purpose of this book is to examine and correct the revisionist idea that were together – really was there was always space between them.”

They also came from completely different worlds: Kennedy chose to take up the fight; the fight chose King.

Over the course of researching the book, Margolick said, “my point of view was constantly evolving. I wanted it to be as original as it could. I looked at newspapers no one had; primary documents not examined before. I came to realize the most precious thing was to talk to dwindling supply of people who knew both men – very few knew both: Andrew Young, William Vanden Heuval and some behind scenes intermediaries.

Margolick realized that an excellent source would be the photographers who photographed both – including Harry Benson, Steve Shapiro – who could even describe how differently they interacted with crowds.

“Both men had a sense of their mortality – they knew they were doomed.” One of the photographers, he thinks it was Harry Benson, said that when King was in a crowd, he would look it over carefully, mindful of his safety. He never stayed in one place longer than he had to.”

But, he adds, “Robert Kennedy didn’t care. He had a premonition of death but approached it differently. He told his security force he didn’t want precautions. There were reporters who never left RFK’s side because they expected he would be assassinated and wanted to be there when it happened.”

David Margolick with the Time Magazine featuring Robert Kennedy on the cover © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lawrence Schiller, who organized the project and curated the exhibit, was one of those photographers who helped document history beginning in the 1960s. He was assigned to Robert Kennedy and followed him for the last 40 days of his life. Schiller was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles the night that Robert Kennedy delivered his last speech, tried to hurry out by going through the kitchen, where he was met by Sirhan Sirhan who shot him dead. (The portrait that opens the exhibit was taken by Schiller on board Kennedy’s plane en route to California just days before the speech.)

He was just 26 years old working as a photojournalist on a fateful day in 1963 when he was summoned from Los Angeles to Dallas after President John F. Kennedy was shot. He was in the police station when, as it happened, the police were booking Lee Harvey Oswald.

“The elevator opened to reveal Oswald, who was only 24 years old. It shocked me that evil could be in such a person – a kid my age had caused this tragedy.”

Schiller, who has several photos in the exhibit, called upon many of the photographers he knew who are represented, but there are many which had not been published before.

The exhibit is laid out chronologically for the most part, but in some cases “emotionally chronologically”, as when a portrait of Robert Kennedy, photographed on Feb. 26, 1962, with a movie slate, is juxtaposed next to a police mug shot of King from Feb. 22, 1956, upon which someone had scrawled “DEAD 4-4-68”; and in a case with artifacts, the Time Magazine editions with each on the cover, is displayed. ”King’s ‘Man of the Year’ drove people crazy,” Schiller remarks.

Parallel lives: portrait of Robert Kennedy, photographed on Feb. 26, 1962, juxtaposed next to a police mug shot of King from Feb. 22, 1956, upon which someone had scrawled “DEAD 4-4-68” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Asked which photo was the most impactful, Schiller points to one of a man with a broom, sweeping the blood from outside King’s hotel room in Memphis, a photo which he said had never been published; another shows the hotel room. Schiller says that people came in and collected vials of blood to keep as a memento.

The exhibit starts with Rosa Parks and ends in a field after Kennedy’s assassination, where people are holding a sign, “So long Bobby.” Several of the photos don’t feature King or Kennedy at all, but provide context: the KKK, US Marshals, Freedom Riders, the march after Medgar Evers was assassinated in June 1963, just five months before JFK was assassinated, in eerie similarity to the one-two King-Kennedy assassinations.

There is great intimacy of the experience – the photos, which were printed all at the same time in the same lab from negatives and then scanned –  are 8 x 10 and smaller, the room is compact, so you are close to the images, can easily read the captions and notes.

“The insight we came to early on emerged from the question: Why were there not more photos of the two together?” Margolick said. “The book tries to fill the gap, why there were no more photos of the two together. They kept apart. We are documenting, explaining the absence of something.”

One notable absence is a still photo of Robert F. Kennedy addressing a black audience in Indianapolis the night that King was killed, which in itself, says a lot.

“No one knew how important that speech by Kennedy would be, the night MLK was killed,” Margolick said. “The event that became so important was so scantily covered, there were just two still photographers there from local papers. It was only a 6-7 minute speech, but there is no film of the entire speech.” But it was at that point that Kennedy most fulsomely embraced King. (A portion of the video is displayed.) There’s a monument in Indianapolis commemorating the event.

Born Worlds Apart

Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) and Robert F. Kennedy (November 20, 1925 –June 6, 1968) were born worlds apart—culturally, geographically, racially, financially, and politically—but by the time they were killed within months of each another in 1968, their worlds had come together. As their concerns expanded beyond civil rights (King) and organized crime (Kennedy), their ties deepened to encompass shared interests in supporting the poor and opposing the war in Vietnam. This unprecedented exhibition explores the overlapping paths of their lives through images taken by some of the most renowned photojournalists of the era, including Bob Adelman, Danny Lyon, Henri Dauman, Jacques Lowe, Spider Martin, Steve Schapiro, Lawrence Schiller, and Paul Schutzer, alongside original correspondence, publications, and ephemera.

“The year 1968 rocked the nation in many ways, but it would be difficult to point to anything that shocked and sickened Americans more that year than the senseless and tragic deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “Fifty years later, the legacies of Kennedy and King still reverberate. This timely exhibition underscores the two men’s lasting impact on our nation while drawing attention to the ways in which their lives intersected. ”

Author David Margolick, Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, and Lawrence Schiller, photojournalist and curator of “Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Exhibition highlights include images of King and his son looking at the charred remains of a cross the Ku Klux Klan burned outside his Atlanta home in 1960, King’s mug shot after being indicted for the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Kennedy being swarmed by an adoring crowd during his 1968 presidential campaign. Also on view are posters reading “Honor King: End Racism!” and “I Am a Man” that were carried in a Memphis march led by widow Coretta Scott King and her children on April 8, 1968, as well as a black and white “Kennedy/King” button worn by a New Yorker in memory of the two slain leaders.

An adjunct display showcases the bronze sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr.―one of five existing casts created by Harlem Renaissance artist Charles Alston (1907– 1997), on loan from the Community Church of New York.
Rebel Spirits is based in part on The Promise and the Dream, written by David Margolick and produced by Lawrence Schiller for National Geographic Publishers. The exhibition was curated by Lawrence Schiller, Cristian Panaite, and Marilyn Kushner. It was produced by Wiener Schiller Productions, Inc. in association with Susan Bloom International with support from Getty Images, The Jacques Lowe Estate, and Steve Schapiro.

Published by National Geographic and written by  David Margolick, The Promise and the Dream: The Interrupted Lives of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. features an introduction by historian Douglas Brinkley. The book is available at the NYHistory Store.

Several public programs will provide further insights into the exhibition and its time period. On March 6, eminent legal experts survey the evolution of the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretations of the 14th Amendment—in commemoration of its 150th anniversary—and civil rights throughout American history, highlighting landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education. On April 23, scholar Randall Kennedy discusses the Supreme Court and Martin Luther King Jr. On May 21, journalist Chris Matthews sits down to explore the rebel spirit of Robert Kennedy.

Vietnam War

The New-York Historical Society has a variety of fascinating exhibits, some short term and some ongoing.

The Vietnam War: 1945 – 1975, on view through April 22, 2018, is particularly timely in conjunction with the “Rebel Spirits.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Vietnam War: 1945 – 1975  on view through April 22, 2018 is particularly timely in conjunction with the “Rebel Spirits.” Featuring interpretive displays, digital media, artwork, artifacts, photographs, and documents, the exhibit provides an enlightening account of the causes, progression, and impact of the war. Spanning the duration of U.S. involvement in Indochina, the narrative incorporates perspectives covering both the home and the war fronts. Displays touch upon the Cold War, the draft, military campaigns initiated by both sides, the growth of the antiwar movement, the role of the president, and the loss of political consensus. The exhibition explores themes of patriotism, duty, and citizenship. Key objects include a troopship berthing unit, interactive murals, vibrant antiwar posters, artwork by Vietnam vets, a Viet Cong bicycle, the Pentagon Papers, and news and film clips.

Gallery of Tiffany Lamps

Step into the Gallery of Tiffany Lamps, a permanent exhibit which is the centerpiece of a newly designed fourth floor, and you are aglow in light and beauty. The exhibit features more than 100 illuminated Tiffany lamps from N-YHS’s  spectacular collection displayed within a dramatically lit jewel-like two-story space (the glass staircase is exquisite).

Step into the Gallery of Tiffany Lamps, a permanent exhibit which is the centerpiece of a newly designed fourth floor, and you are aglow in light and beauty. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The presentation is breathtaking, and so insightful: it was only in the last decade that it was learned through a series of letters that some of Tiffany’s most famous and prized lamps, featuring nature imagery like wisteria, dragonflies, spider webs, were designed by 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).

It was only in the last decade that it was learned through a series of letters that some of Tiffany’s most famous and prized lamps were designed by Clara Driscoll who headed the Women’s Glass Cutting Department of some 50 young women © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.comThe collection comes from Dr. Egon Neustadt. an Austrian immigrant enamored with all things American, who purchased his first Tiffany lamp in 1935 for $12.50 (by then, Tiffany Lamps were no longer in favor, the company closed, Tiffany went bankrupt in 1932 and died in 1933) and went on to amass the largest and most comprehensive Tiffany lamp collection ever assembled. The docent explained that he bequeathed half his collection to the N-YHS and half to the Queens Museum. She points out what would have been the most valuable lamps: the wisteria would have sold for $450; the cobweb for $500, at a time when you could buy a brand new car for that amount. On the mezzanine level, you not only can look down onto the lighted lampshades, but can try your hand at designing your own.

Learn how Tiffany Lamps were made at the New-York Historical Society’s Gallery of Tiffany Lamps © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The redesigned fourth floor also offers exhibitions and interactive media that explore American history. Themed displays in the North Gallery present a variety of topics—such as slavery, war, infrastructure, childhood, recreation, and 9/11—offering unexpected and surprising perspectives on collection highlights. Touchscreens and interactive kiosks allow visitors to explore American history and engage with objects like never before. When I visit, a docent is discussing the Industrial Revolution with high school students.

Women’s Rights & Social Activism

 A new Center for Women’s History enables visitors to discover hidden connections among exceptional and unknown women who left their mark on New York and the nation with the multimedia digital installation, Women’s Voices, and through rotating exhibitions in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery. Objects from the Billie Jean King Archive are also on view. 

Celebrating the centennial of women’s right to vote in New York and on view in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery, Hotbed brings to life the neighborhood’s bohemian scene and energetic activist spirit © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hotbed, a special exhibit on view through March 25, 2018, is about Greenwich Village in the early 20th century, when it was a hotbed of political activism and social change—where men and women joined forces across the boundaries of class and race to fight for a better world. At the heart of the downtown radicals’ crusade lay women’s rights: to control their own bodies, to do meaningful work, and above all, to vote. Celebrating the centennial of women’s right to vote in New York and on view in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery, Hotbed features immersive installations and more than 100 artifacts and images—drawn from New-York Historical’s archives and several private collections—that bring to life the neighborhood’s bohemian scene and energetic activist spirit.

Collecting the Women’s Marches, on view through June 3, 2018, documents  January 21, 2017, when hundreds of thousands rallied at the Women’s March on Washington for diverse issues including women’s rights, racial equality, and the environment. Counting more than 500 sister marches across the United States, it was the largest single-day protest in the nation’s history. As part of its History Responds program, the New-York Historical Society collected a range of artifacts, including signs, sashes, pussyhats, and colorful props, to document the moment. One year later, Collecting the Women’s Marches highlights some of the political and visual themes that emerged, as well as the efforts of individuals and groups that worked behind the scenes. An adjunct display of protest clothing by Olek (Agata Oleksiak), an artist who works in crochet, and Brick x Brick, a public art performance group, is also on view. It is odd to have an exhibit of a major historic event so recent, and to actually have been there.

New York through the Lens of George Kalinsky on view through June 3, 2018 is an amazing photo exhibition of some of New York’s most iconic cultural moments over the past 50 years as captured by George Kalinsky. Serving as Madison Square Garden’s official photographer, Kalinsky has turned truly memorable moments―sporting events, legendary performances, and notable occasions―into lasting images that have defined the city. Among the quintessential photographs on view are Pope John Paul II hoisting a seven-year-old child onto the Popemobile in Madison Square Garden, Bill Bradley celebrating a New York Knicks victory, Sloane Stephens winning the 2017 US Open, and Jesse Orosco falling to his knees on the mound as the Mets won the 1986 World Series.

Collector’s Choice: Highlights from the Permanent Collection, ongoing: Since 1804, the New-York Historical Society has been welcoming to its collection some of the most esteemed artworks of the modern world. Collector’s Choice: Highlights from the Permanent Collection showcases a selection of paintings that reflect the individual tastes of several New York City collectors who donated their holdings to New-York Historical. Joining Picasso’s Le Tricorne ballet curtain are featured American and European masterpieces spanning the 14th through the 21st centuries from Luman Reed, Thomas Jefferson Bryan, and Robert L. Stuart, including colonial portraits of children, marine and maritime subjects, and an installation showcasing recently collected contemporary works.

Picasso’s Le Tricorne ballet curtain is part of the New-York Historical Society’s permanent collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 10 am – 6 pm; Friday: 10 am – 8 pm; Saturday: 10 am – 6 pm; Sunday: 11 am – 5 pm  Admission: Adults: $21; Teachers and Seniors: $16; Students: $13; Children (5–13): $6;  Children (4 and under): Free. The museum has a pay-as-you-wish policy on Fridays from 6-8 pm.

Check the website for special events and lecture.

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

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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

 

“Liberty’s War” Exhibit at American Merchant Marine Museum Spotlights Unsung Heroes of WWII

Scots maritime artist Jim Rae depicts a German aircraft firing on the Murmansk-bound Liberty ship, SS Cornelius Harnett, part of the convoy JW-52 in the Norwegian Sea, Jan. 25, 1943. The painting is included in the “Liberty’s War” exhibit at the American Merchant Museum Museum, Kings Point © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The first stunning realization from the new exhibit at the American Merchant Marine Museum, “Liberty’s War,” is how vital the cargo ships, manned by civilian volunteers, were to winning World War II. The second is how dangerous this was – the convoys of merchant ships under near-constant attack by U-boats, Luftwaffe and kamikaze aircraft. Indeed, more than 9,500 merchant mariners lost their lives manning nearly 3,000 ships during the war. And finally, that the merchant seamen only received $5,000 compensation if they were killed or disabled in the war, and were not eligible for any of the GI Bill benefits the soldiers received. This probably tells the story more than anything else why their heroism is unsung and virtually unknown until a memoir of one engineer, Herman Melton.

The new exhibit, which is on view through February 28, 2019, is based on the life and wartime experiences of Herman Melton, a graduate of USMMA’s class of 1944, as described in his memoir edited by his son, Will Melton, Liberty’s War: An Engineer’s Memoir of the Merchant Marine, 1942-45.. Herman Melton became an engineer, serving from 1942 to 1945 on so-called Liberty ships. His position on the ships – in the engineering room deep in the bowels of the ship– was particularly hazardous because enemy submarines would target the engine rooms as the most vulnerable part of a ship. But the men had to stay in their positions to give the ship a fighting chance for survival.

Will Melton autographs a copy of the memoir of his father, Herman Melton, an engineer on a Liberty ship in World War II, at the opening of the “Liberty’s War” exhibit at the American Merchant Marine Museum, Kings Point © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, the USMMA is the only military academy that flies the Battle Standard, in honor of the 142 of its students who died aboard merchant ships in World War II – tributes to them play in a tiny chapel-like room in the former Barstow mansion where the museum is housed. In all, more than 9,500 merchant mariners lost their lives in World War II.

The USMMA actually came into creation because of World War II – the need to staff the merchant ships was so critical that a four-year training program was compressed into 18 months.

The role of these Liberty ships – there were nearly 3,000 of the cargo ships between 1941 and 1945 – was critical to supply the war effort, to bring fuel and supplies to allies.

“They were an absolutely crucial link in the Allied supply chain that ultimately resulted in victory in 1945,” Joshua Smith, interim director of the American Merchant Marine Museum, writes in the exhibit’s brochure. “Too often that story gets ignored, but in the American Merchant Marine Museum’s latest exhibit, ‘Liberty’s War,’ the story of these valiant little freighters is told through the eyes of a young man from Texas, Herman Melton.”

Herman Melton was 89 years old when his son convinced him to write a memoir. As the exhibit notes reveal:

Melton faced combat in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theatres during World War II, always serving aboard Liberty ships, the slow but enormously useful vessels that carried the supplies that propelled the Allies to victory.  During his time on convoy duty in three oceans, Herman entered combat at sea in some of the fiercest fighting with both the Germans and the Japanese. In the treacherous Murmansk run of 1942-43, Herman sailed as a Cadet-Midshipman as American and British merchant ships delivered urgently needed Lend-Lease supplies to the Soviet Union. Allied convoys faced German U-boats and Luftwaffe torpedo bombers operating at their peak efficiency, out of Norwegian bases.  The result was that many Allied supply ships were lost, and many merchant mariners died while trying to supply the Russians.

“Liberty’s War” exhibit includes photos of some of the men who served on the Liberty ships © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During his January 1943 voyage across the Arctic Sea to north Russia, Herman’s Liberty ship, SS Cornelius Harnett, was attacked by torpedo bombers of Germany’s Coastal Air Group 406 based in Norway.  Herman’s battle station called for him to carry ammunition and reload shell magazines for the U.S. Navy Armed Guard gun crew aboard the Harnett. The gunners helped to shoot down two of the four attacking aircraft, and their commander received the Silver Star from the U.S. Navy for his performance in the action. More than fifty years later, The Russian Embassy in Washington recognized Melton in a 1992 ceremony with a medal from the Russian Government for his service.

Herman again entered a deadly combat zone during the Allies’ invasion of the Philippines in the fall of 1944. Airmen of the combined Japanese army and naval air forces waged a do-or-die battle against American forces. Herman was now the Third Assistant Engineer aboard SS Antoine Saugrain in an Allied convoy steaming from New Guinea carrying specially-trained troops and super-secret anti-aircraft equipment. During an attack by Japanese torpedo bombers, the Saugrain took two direct hits before its Master gave the order to abandon ship off Leyte Island. Although the ship’s rafts and lifeboats could carry only a fraction of the more than 200 crew and soldiers to be rescued, all hands survived thanks to two U.S. Navy frigates dispatched to pick up men in boats and swimming in the water. After two more attacks by Japanese bombers, the Saugrain was sent to the sea bottom.

Helen and Herman Melton were married in the chapel at the US Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit also tells a love story, Herman’s wartime romance with Helen Dunn, his Kansas junior college sweetheart. Before departing for service in General Douglas MacArthur’s war in the South West Pacific, Herman and Helen were married in a saber ceremony in the Academy’s chapel in the old Chrysler mansion.

It is this personalization that makes the exhibit all the more poignant.

Melton’s memoir is being published by U.S. Naval Institute Press in September, to coincide with the museum’s exhibit highlighting Herman’s experiences battling both the Germans and the Japanese.

The American Merchant Marine Museum showcases the vital role that merchant mariners play in war and peace © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The “Liberty’s War” exhibit is illustrated with wonderful photos – personal as well as military – along with period uniforms, souvenirs of Herman’s wartime assignments and documents of his training as one of the first Engineer Cadet-Midshipmen of the USMMA, artifacts, ship models, and maps that let you trace Melton’s own harrowing journey as well as a superb documentary video you can watch in a small alcove.

Scots maritime artist Jim Rae depicts a German aircraft firing on the Murmansk-bound Liberty ship, SS Cornelius Harnett, part of the convoy JW-52 in the Norwegian Sea, Jan. 25, 1943. The painting is included in the “Liberty’s War” exhibit at the American Merchant Museum Museum, Kings Point © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition, there are remarkable paintings that were created by Jim Rae, who came to the exhibit opening at Kings Point from his home in Scotland to attend the opening reception, September 8. Rae’s drawings and paintings, which he has been making since he was a boy, are remarkably precise and exacting – he says he can complete one in the time it takes to watch a show over lunch.

Paintings by Scots maritime artist Jim Rae show the drama of the Liberty ships © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rae has spent his life at sea – first as a cabin boy in the British Merchant Navy and later enlisting in the Royal Navy. “It was while serving on various aircraft carriers that I took up painting once again.”

Rae says his subjects “are really quite specialized: not many people want a painting of the ‘Battle of the North Cape’ unless Granddad served in one of the ships taking part. I tend to concentrate on lesser known events, and the ‘little ship’ rather than the battleship and great battles.”

Captain Hugh Stephens, now an adjunct professor at SUNY Maritime, recalled his pwm experience serving on one of the Liberty merchant ships during World War II during the opening of the “Liberty’s War” exhibit © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Barstow Mansion

The setting of the Barstow Mansion, now the American Merchant Marine Museum, on Kings Point, overlooking Long Island Sound, on the campus of the US Merchant Marine Academy © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Merchant Marine Museum is housed in the former Barstow Mansion.

The Gold Coast mansion, harking back to the Gilded Age, is utterly stunning, William Slocum Barstow, the first mayor of Kings Point, made his fortune first, as a partner with Thomas Edison until he set out on his own, in 1901, one of the first electrical engineers. He founded many electric utility companies and was the man responsible for lighting the Brooklyn Bridge. He was very much involved in Great Neck community, even funding the bridge and overpass at the Long island Railroad to cut down on the fatalities when the train crossing was a street level, and he and his wife donated the funds for the Woman’s Club of Great Neck. The Mediterranean Revival-style mansion was Barstow’s main residence The Barstow Mansion was his main residence from 1 915 until the end of his life, in 1942, and then his wife’s until 1953 when it was sold to the Lundy family (of Lundy Restaurant fame). The architectural features – wood paneling, decorative ceilings – are breathtaking.

The American Merchant Marine Museum is located on the grounds of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, 300 Steamboat Road, Kings Point, NY 10024fammm.us. Admission is free, and it is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday (closed during USMMA holidays and the month of July).  It is highly recommended that you call (516) 726-6047 or e-mail museum@usmma.edu before visiting.

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© 2017 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

Fifth Avenue Museum Mile Festival Showcases Exhibits Not to Be Missed This Summer in NYC

The Metropolitan Museum of Art at night © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Even if you were unable to get to the once-a-year Museum Mile Festival along Fifth Avenue on June 13, when six museums (some of them with pricey admissions) throw their doors open to one and all for free, it provided a marvelous preview of some spectacular exhibits that are on through the summer or fall.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the southern “border” of Museum Mile, I visited the Irving Penn Centennial, a marvelous survey of this brilliant photographer’s career and an opportunity to see the museum quality prints that would have been seen in the pages of important magazines like Vogue; the exhibit is on through July 30, 2017.

Met Museum-goers viewing the “Irving Penn Centennial” exhibit © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I went from Irving Penn Centennial to the “Age of Empires” exhibit of breathtaking sculpture and artifacts from the Qin and Han dynasties, spanning 221 BC to 220 AD, including near life-size but extraordinarily realistic statues of terracotta warriors from Xian (so life-like they appear to breathe) that I had seen for the first time when I visited what was at the time newly uncovered site in 1978 in China. This important exhibit is on view through July 16, 2017.

One of the terracotta warriors on view in the “Age of Empires” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, I couldn’t resist, I luxuriated in the galleries devoted to Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

Outside, the Met Museum hosted performance art – a troupe of dancers whose movements formed artistic poses. (My favorite time to visit is on a Friday or Saturday evening when the Met is open late, has music on the mezzanine; favorite place to eat is in the American Café in the sculpture garden; also, take a docent-led “Highlights” tour, which brings you all around the museum.)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue (at 82nd Street), New York, NY 10028, (212) 535-7710 http://www.metmuseum.org/. 

Performance of Sidra Bell Dance New York outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the Museum Mile Festival © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

(My clever strategy was to start at the Met at 5 pm, giving me an extra hour of the Museum Mile Festival in order to cover more territory.)

I next visit the Neue Galerie New York and get my annual “fix” of the breathtaking “Woman in Gold” and other Gustav Klint paintings (Klint has become one of my favorite artists).  The Austrian Masterworks exhibit is a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the museum’s founding, highlighting Gustav Klint, Oskar Kokoschka, Alfred Kubin and Egon Schiele.

Neue Galerie New York, 1048 Fifth Avenue (at 86th Street), New York, NY 10028, (212) 628-6200, http://www.neuegalerie.org/. 

The Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, which always gets an enormous crowd for the Museum Mile festival, is featuring “Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim,” “Hugo Boss Prize 2016: Anicka Yi, Life is Cheap” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 88th Street) New York, NY 10128, (212) 423-3500, https://www.guggenheim.org/

You get to try your hand at design, at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum housed in an exquisite Fifth Avenue mansion © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian Institutions, a collection established by Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt as the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration in 1897, housed in an exquisite mansion, is presenting a marvelous exhibit, “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s” – bringing together the design elements of the era through a range of furnishings, architecture, clothing, paintings and music, and what made the designs so distinctive and reflective of cultural trends of the time. For example, “Bending the Rules,” the cross-pollination of American and European artists (“A Smaller World”), the infatuation with technology and machines. One of the special delights of the Cooper Hewitt is their interactive opportunities to create designs.

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum, 2 East 91st Street (off Fifth Avenue) New York, NY 10128, 212-849-8400, http://www.cooperhewitt.org/ 

Painting of the Stettheimer sisters and mother by Jazz Age, avant-garde artist and poet Florine Stettheimer, on view at the Jewish Museum © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Jewish Museum’s special exhibit this season also focuses on the 1920s, featuring the painter and poet and exemplar of the avant-garde, Florine Stettheimer. This was all new to me – I had never heard of her, or her incredible sisters, before (their independence, feminism and stunning range of creativity reminded me of the Bronte sisters, except these ladies did not keep their creative output a secret).

The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue, (between 92nd & 93rd Streets), New York, NY 10128, (212) 423-3200, www.thejewishmuseum.org.

The two exhibits – at the Cooper Hewitt and the Jewish Museum – are that much more inspiring to see contiguously, to have this extraordinary in-depth insight into the Jazz Age, a time of tumultuous change in culture, social mores and political currents on a scale that only recurred 40 years later, in the 1960s, and now.  I became intrigued when I heard of the Jewish Museum’s exhibit at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island in June (you have another opportunity to enjoy this fantastic festival August 26 & 27, jazzagelawnparty.com; see story)

From there I walked further north, to just about the top of the Museum Mile with only about an hour to go of the festival.

Dancing in the street, outside the Museum of the City of New York, during the Museum Mile Festival © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of the City of New York always has smart, clever exhibits. The not-to-be missed exhibit, “New York at its Core,” that is on now is in three parts, in three different galleries. It explores the essential question, “What makes New York New York?” (Answer: Money, Diversity, Density, Creativity) and takes the city from its very beginnings (room-sized images of neighborhoods morph from centuries ago into today), to its development as a melting pot for cultures, and then lets viewers imagine what the city of the future should look like (“Future City Lab”) and how it should solve the challenges of affordable housing, greenspace, environment, transit, and so forth. One of the most interesting parts is a computer-generated animation that puts you into the scene.

Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street), New York, NY 10029 (212) 534-1672, http://www.mcny.org/  

See yourself in the city of the future and have a crack at solving urban challenges, at the Museum of the City of New York © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, at the end of the Museum Mile, El Museo Del Barrio is featuring “Belkis Ayon: Nkame” and “A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayon” El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street), New York, NY 10029, (212) 831-7272 (http://www.elmuseo.org/)

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© 2017 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

 

 

 

New ‘Mummies’ Exhibit at American Museum of Natural History Lets You Peer Through Wrappings, Peel Away Layers of Time

Haunting images: the coffin that still harbor the thousands-year old mummified remains of a teenage boy who lived in Ancient Egypt thousands of years ago, and his scanned image reflected in his glass case. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Gilded Lady seems to be resting peacefully, her painted visage staring up to the sky. But inside this container are the remains of a real woman who lived nearly 2000 years ago, and for the first time, the ancient coalesces with 21st century scientific techniques: we actually get to peer inside, probing down layer by layer to her mortal remains, and then, at a digitally reconstructed, 3-D image of her as she lived: this middle-aged woman was beautiful.

She has already traveled from Chicago where she lives at the Field Museum, to Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Denver and now she is reposing here in New York as part of Mummies, an extraordinary exhibit featuring one of the largest collections of mummies housed in North America that just opened at the American Museum of Natural History through January 7, 2018.

The Gilded Lady, the gold-masked coffin of a middle-aged woman who was mummified during the Roman Period (30BC-AD 395) © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit provides an unparalleled glimpse into the lives and traditions of people from ancient cultures. It puts us face to face, head to head with people who lived their lives thousands of years ago, in Egypt and in Peru – two of the many cultures that practiced mummification. The contrasts and the similarities are striking, and just as their similarities speak to a unity of humanity, this extraordinary way of connecting past to present connects us as human beings. (And to bring about an even broader connection, increasing the span from thousands to 100s of thousands of years ago, be sure to visit the AMNH’s Human Evolution wing.)

Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Mummies have long been fascinating, and now the intersection of these ancient relics and cutting-edge technology is revealing new and intriguing secrets,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “For generations, the Museum has studied and presented the diverse cultures of humanity, past and present, to help us better understand one another and ourselves. Today, when such understanding is more important than ever, Mummies invites us all to consider both what may be distinct among cultures and what is universal in the human condition.”

On a special, limited tour from the collections of The Field Museum in Chicago — and presented for the first time on the East Coast (the traveling exhibition has already been on view in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Denver), Mummies showcases the ritually preserved remains of 18 individuals from ancient Egypt and pre-Columbian Peru. The Peruvian mummies that are on display have not been seen since they were exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Significantly, you get to discover how modern imaging techniques have transformed the study of mummification by letting researchers peer inside centuries-old mummies without disturbing or damaging them. Digital touchscreens let you “virtually” peer into Peruvian mummy bundles, layer by layer from the skin to the bones, as well as animal mummies buried as offerings to Egyptian gods. You also get to handle 3D-printed figurines of burial goods that were encased within mummy wrappings for millennia and only recently revealed.

“You may think you know mummies,” Futter said at a press preview, pointing to the most popular representations in horror movies. “That’s not what this show is about. This is serious business that simultaneously offers a window to the past – two different ancient worlds – and into the latest technology and study. You get a glimpse of actual people entombed – who they were, what their lives were like, what they looked like.”

“They are like messages from a different time – they are our sisters and brothers in a shared humanity. It may not be as sensational as a [horror] movie, but more amazing than you would have imagined.”

Scan of a bundle from Peru reveals a woman in her 20s with two children, around six and two years old who died of unknown causes © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, most people – especially  young people – have never actually seen a dead body before. The most profound experience in the exhibit is seeing the remains of a woman who lived 5500 years ago, whose bundled body was left in the Egyptian desert where it naturally mummified.

Indeed, it wasn’t just pharaohs and their spouses and other royal figures who were mummified, though their tombs and the possessions that were left with them reflected their station. This was the common practice – as people were lower and lower down the economic totem pole, the possessions that they would have been buried with were more and more modest.

In Egyptian society, it was also common for animals to be mummified and buried – there is a baboon and a crocodile in the exhibit. Cats were actually popular and David Hurst Thomas, the co-curator of the exhibit, said that archaeologists found cemeteries of a million mummified cats, manufactured  for sale to be entombed with the loved one.

Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President, Provost of Science and Curator, division of Paleontology and David Hurst Thomas, curator of North American archaeology and co-curator of Mummies, American Museum of Natural History © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is fascinating to have this view to contrast the Peruvian mummies (I’m betting few people have even realized that pre-Colombian Peruvian peoples practiced mummification), with the Egyptian burial practices. The two civilizations never interacted – mummification developed independently, indeed, on every continent but Antarctica, Dr. David Hurst Thomas, curator of North American archaeology, division of Anthropology and co-Curator of the Mummies exhibit, said at a press preview of the exhibit.

In Peru, mummification was intended to enable the living to stay connected with their loved ones. The body was carefully prepared and wrapped and then a mask was placed on top the canvas.

One of the scans of a bundle reveals that it is a woman with two children. The scans also show artifacts that have been buried with the individual.

The ancient Egyptians, in contrast, mummified their dead so that they could live on – their limbs intact – in the next world. The earliest mummies, like the 5500-year old woman, were not buried in elaborate pyramids or tombs, but were put into a pit grave. Over the centuries, the mummification process became more and more elaborate – organs were preserved in canopic jars and bodies placed in magnificently painted coffins with gilded masks.

By using these new technologies – most that have come from medicine – the scientists have been able to see artifacts that were buried with them, how a mother is buried with her two children (how did they die?).

“They have so much to teach us – medical infirmities, migration, interaction of societies,”

The Gilded Lady, for example, is utterly fascinating – you see her in her magnificently decorated coffin, and on the wall are the slides that show how her hair was curled, had a damaged spine, possibly as a result  of tuberculosis. Based on the scan of her skull, they made a 3-D reconstruction using a 3-D printer, and from that, like a forensic scientist, re-created what she likely looked like in life – all of this in one view.

Gilded Lady with the scans that show what she likely looked like © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The gilded mask that we see was not meant to illustrate how the woman looked in life, but was an idealized portrait that had a purpose: the Ancient Egyptians believed that in the afterlife, the dead would need their faculties – eyesight, hearing, taste and smell. The masks allowed them to maintain these senses. The golden skin was used to show divinity: after death, the dead would be transformed into the god Osiris, who, like most gods, had skin of gold.

The Gilded Lady lays across the room from another mummy, named Minirdis according to the hieroglyphs on the coffin. The coffin was opened for the first time in a century for this exhibition. In examining the remains, researchers discovered the teenaged boy inside was mummified around 250 BC, or 200 years after the coffin was made, construction of the coffin, indicating that the mummified individual wasn’t Minirdis after all, and confirming that coffins were occasionally recycled (though might not the inscription have been added when the boy was buried?)

The hieroglyphs on the coffin say the name of the mummy who is supposed to go inside it – Minirdis, son of a priest. Preserving the person’s name was essential for their soul to reach the afterlife. Minirdis means “Min is the one who gave him,” and Min was a god of fertility. The inscription also says that Minirdis’ father, Inaros was a priest, in charge of purifying and clothing the god’s statue. The only problem was that the boy inside was mummified around 250 BC, or 200 years after the coffin was made, indicating that the mummified individual wasn’t Minirdis after all, but also confirming that coffins were occasionally recycled.

The scans of the body show that the coffin was too large for the body inside and the bones hadn’t fused, indicating that the body was a teenage boy.

Ancient culture meets Modern science: A mummy as it would go through the CT scanner, on view at the American Museum of Natural History © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The CT scans enabled scientists to generate 3D-printed skull reconstructions of both the “Gilded Lady” and Minirdis. Then, artist Elisabeth Daynès studied the replicas and built facial muscles and skin layer by layer. The hyper-realistic portraits in 3D. we meet at the end of the exhibit let us come face-to-face with these ancient people, seeing them as they may have looked in life —while their mummified remains sleep peacefully.

Peruvian Mummies On View for the First Time in a Century

We are much more familiar with Egyptian mummies, particularly with the sensational exhibits of King Tut and the artifacts uncovered from his tomb in the Valley of Kings, as well as the scientific analysis of his mummified remains. But this exhibit goes much further in its exploration of the cultural significance of the burial practice.

The first part of the exhibit focuses on the collection of Peruvian Mummies, which had not been seen in public since they were on display in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

People living along the Pacific coast of South America in what is now Peru began to mummify their dead more than 5,000 years ago. Scholars think that the Chinchorro culture (5,000–2,000 BC)—the world’s first practitioners of mummification—prepared the bodies of their loved ones personally, removing the deceased’s skin, de-fleshing the bones, and removing the organs before reinforcing the skeleton with reeds and clay and reattaching the skin. The mummy was then painted black or red and given a wig and an individualized clay portrait of the deceased.

In addition to the Chinchorro, dozens of societies in the region mummified their dead to remember and remain connected with the departed.

As we walk through the  Mummies exhibit, we encounter a number of Peruvian mummy bundles, including the mummified remains of three children from the Chancay culture (AD 1000–1400), which placed their dead into a sitting position and wrapped them in layers of cloth.

The exhibit is very much hands-on, interactive, if you can believe it, because you get to do what scientists do, in penetrating the layers of scans to reveal the body contained in the wrappings, through the skin layer, to the bones.

There are digital touchscreens, where you can examine composite CT scans of these mummies and virtually “unwrap” them to reveal figurines and other burial offerings that are contained within, becoming surprised as surely the scientists were, when a scan reveals a mother with two children bundled together, or seeing the objects that were personal or prized which reveal so much about who they were in life.

A life-sized diorama of a Chancay pit burial demonstrates the common practice of interring members of an extended family together © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

A life-sized diorama of a Chancay pit burial demonstrates the common practice of interring members of an extended family together. These burial pits were accessible to living family members, allowing relatives to bring food or drink to their loved ones’ graves, or even to remove mummies to take them to festivals or other special events. We see examples of real burial offerings such as chicha (corn beer) pots.

Jim Phillips, curator of The Field Museum, tells me that the Peruvian mummies were uncovered on expeditions in the 1880s and 1890. This means they would have been recent finds – the most modern discoveries – when they were displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Jim Phillips, curator of The Field Museum, with the Gilded Lady and the scan that shows how imaging techniques helped reconstruct her face © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Egyptian Mummies of the Nile Valley 

Unlike people in Peru, ancient Egyptians believed the dead could live on in the next world if provided with a physical home, preferably within the body itself. This belief made it essential to preserve the corpse, and Egyptians used an elaborate process of mummification to halt the natural process of decay. Scholars posit that natural mummification—an example of which can be seen in the remains of a woman whose preservation occurred naturally in the hot, dry sand about 5,500 years ago—gave Egyptians the idea for artificial mummification.

Mummies invites visitors to compare and contrast burial practices of Egypt (statue of Osiris on left) and Peru © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Within centuries, ritual burial in Egypt evolved into a complex practice that included elaborate embalming, brilliantly decorated sarcophagi, and grandiose tombs designed to deter grave-robbers (we see magnificent limestone busts from sarcophagi that were an added layer of security to those who could afford this extra protection and would have weighed thousands of pounds). Organs that would hasten decay—the liver, lungs, intestines, and stomach—were removed, preserved, wrapped, and housed in separate containers. The heart—thought to be the source of emotion and intellect—often stayed in place, since it would be necessary in the afterlife, while the brain, thought to have no use, was removed through the nose. Forty days in salt desiccated the body, and embalmers then used resins, oils, and padding to restore its appearance before wrapping it in linen. Artifacts on view include a Ptolemaic Period mummy (332-30 BC) along with canopic jars containing the person’s organs. Here, there are stations where you can handle 3D-printed burial figurines that depict ancient Egyptian gods provide visitors with an opportunity to explore the hidden artifacts within its wrappings.

Students get to discover burial practices of ancient peoples. The exhibit is designed to be “family friendly”; the notes that accompany the exhibit are easy to understand © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The objects found in Egyptian tombs were meant to provide for the deceased in the afterlife. Burials of wealthy Egyptians include their servants, represented by figurines called shawabti; ideally there would be 365 of these, one for each day of the year, with 36 overseers, one for each week in the Egyptian calendar. Even mummified animals were included in tombs, and archaeologists have uncovered cemeteries containing millions of animal mummies, including cats, baboons, gazelles, birds and even crocodiles, some of which are on view. Grave-robbing was rampant in ancient Egypt, and an Egyptian tomb diorama represents a type of crypt that Egyptians with rank or wealth constructed to guard against such thefts. Within the tomb, a plain stone sarcophagus contains a smaller stone sarcophagus and a wooden coffin from the Late Period (525-343 BC) covered in hieroglyphs. Most of the imagery on the coffin was inspired by scenes in The Book of the Dead, a collection of funerary texts believed to assist a person’s journey into the afterlife.

Dr. Thomas says the Gilded Lady steals the show, and indeed she does. She was mummified during the Roman Period (30 BC-AD 395), a period when we see in the exhibit the most magnificently painted coffins. There is one of a woman whose coffin is a stunning piece of artwork – it has a magnificent gilded mask and the body had pronounced breasts. Why? The anthropologists could not say, showing that there is still so much more to be learned.

Magnificently decorated coffin from Egypt’s Roman Period (30 BC-AD 395) © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mummies is on view in New York through January 7, 2018. The exhibition is co-curated at the American Museum of Natural History by David Hurst Thomas, Curator of North American Archaeology in the Division of Anthropology, and John J. Flynn, Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals in the Division of Paleontology. 

Mummies was developed by The Field Museum, Chicago, and will go back there for an exhibition after its New York showing.

Explorer

Mummies is featured in the Museum’s recently re-launched Explorer app, developed with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which lets visitors think like an explorer by personalizing their onsite experience using cutting-edge location-aware technology that provides unique journeys through the Museum’s 45 permanent halls.

More information about the exhibit is available at amnh.org/mummies.

A Major Scientific Research Institution

When we see these fantastic exhibits, we don’t necessarily see behind them, to the fact that the American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions, whose research has contributed not only to their discovery, but to the understanding of what is displayed.

Indeed, the press tour takes us behind the scenes to the institution’s Microscopy and Imaging Facility – the technology that would have been used to scan the mummies. The equipment is shared by all five departments of the institution, whether AMNH scientists are studying fossils, cultural artifacts, planets or solar systems, the cutting-edge imaging technologies in the facility make it possible to examine details that were previously unobservable. While earlier studies often required unwrapping mummies – which could have damaged them – tools like high-resolution computerized tomography (CT) scanner provide scientists with non-invasive methods to examine them. MIF technician Morgan Hill walked us through the process, along with Zachary Calamari, a Ph.D. student in comparative biology program at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, who showed us how the scans help in research of two naturally-mummified newborn wooly mammoths – one who was mummified by being frozen and the other who was “pickled.”

Zachary Calamari, Ph.D. student at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, shows scan of a naturally mummified newborn wooley mammoth © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

During our visit, the CT scanner is doing an image of a rabbit. It is this ability to understand the internal aspects of dinosaurs and fossils that have led scientists to rejigger Evolution’s schema, to redefine who is related to who and what is connected to what.

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 33 million specimens and artifacts, as well as specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data, and one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree and the Master of Arts in Teaching degree.

The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including 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.

The museum gets 5 million visitors a year and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows can be seen in venues on five continents. The Museum’s website and apps for mobile devices extend its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to millions more beyond its walls.

American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100. Open daily from 10 am-5:45 pm except on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Visit amnh.org for more information. 

Become a fan of the American Museum of Natural History on Facebook at facebook.com/naturalhistory, follow us on Instagram at @AMNH, Tumblr at amnhnyc, or Twitter at twitter.com/AMNH

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.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