Nonfiction is the new black
Though people have lived in the Yellowstone National Park region for at least 10,000 years, it was only “discovered” in 1807 by mountain man John Colter. People scoffed at his descriptions of the famous geysers and other features as “fire and brimstone.” Succeeding descriptions by other men during the following decades received similar dismissals.
An expedition led by geologist Ferdinand Hayden in 1871 established the reality of Colter’s observations. Its members included noted landscape painter Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson. Hayden immediately realized the potential of the area. Aided by the stunning images Moran and Jackson produced, he persuaded Congress to set aside the area as a national park—the first in the United States and perhaps the world. President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill establishing the park on March 1, 1872.
It was hardly an instant success. The new park’s remoteness and lack of amenities made it accessible only to the hardiest of travelers. Only about 300 people visited it in the first year.
Compounding the problem of access was the disapproval of many people who lived near the park. They wanted to continue to hunt its wildlife and cut down its trees for lumber as well as begin to mine its minerals.
It was difficult to exercise any control over the situation. Congress refused to provide more than a pittance for the park’s protection.
A key development came in 1886 when US Army General Phil Sheridan, acting on his own authority, ordered troops to take control of Yellowstone Park. They built Camp Sheridan (later renamed Fort Yellowstone) inside the park boundaries. Though their presence helped curb poaching and mining, they had little authority to punish offenders.
George Bird Grinnell, publisher of Forest and Stream magazine and founder of the Audubon Society, had long promoted the park even though he lived in New York City. He linked up with rising politician (and future president) Theodore Roosevelt to take advantage of a notorious poaching incident in 1894 and help pass the Lacey Act the same year. The new law provided “teeth” to prosecute lawbreakers.
By then, travel to Yellowstone had become a little easier. Railroads dropped off visitors near the park entrance. They boarded stagecoaches which took them to newly established lodging facilities. And by 1916, when Yellowstone became part of the newly established National Park Service, automobiles were making the park much more accessible. Today more than 3 million people thrill to Yellowstone’s natural wonders every year.
Jim Whiting was a voracious reader when he was a kid, and now he has turned into a voracious writer. He writes books on adventure, sports, history, and most of all, he writes about people. One of his biography series is "Modern Role Models," featuring such popular titles as David Beckham, Jeff Gordon, and Tim Duncan. For more information on the series, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "The Birth and Growing Pains of the First National Park."
Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
It was December 24, 1801, when bundled-up Philadelphians bought their 25¢ tickets and entered Peale’s Museum on Fifth Street. Once inside, they saw the owner’s paintings. And I’ll bet you have too—even if you’ve never heard of Charles Willson Peale. This one, for instance, of his fellow Revolutionary War soldier:
Visitors to the museum had seen Peale’s collections of butterflies, too, and other nature specimens, such as the fossilized teeth of mysterious beasts. (Who knew then that animals went extinct? Hardly anybody!) But on this extra-special Christmas Eve, people probably hurried past Peale’s handmade dioramas, with the lifelike bodies of birds and mammals that he’d stuffed and posed. Today, Mr. C.W. Peale himself was introducing his NEW ATTRACTION. People had paid an extra 50¢ just to see it! Now they looked up, up, UP at it, and were astonished.
What animal’s skeleton was eleven feet tall? Seventeen and a half feet from its bony tail to the tips of its giant, curving tusks? It was a mastodon.
No one had seen a live mastodon in more than ten thousand years. So how did one’s bones get to Philadelphia? Mr. Peale and other naturalists such as Thomas Jefferson, the new President-elect, wrote to one another about their studies, collections, and the latest discoveries, such as like these huge, mysterious bones in southern New York state. Some of North America’s long-gone mastodons ended up there, by the Hudson River. As soon as he heard about them, Peale hurried to see them. Then he not only figured a way to dig up the bones, but he also painted a picture of the huge excavation!
Peale’s son, Rembrandt helped to draw and assemble the bones:
For years, people paid to marvel at the enormous, sensational skeleton. Later on, after Mr. Peale’s death in 1827, his museum slowly went broke. P.T. Barnum, the circus showman, bought a lot of his exhibits. Later still, they were destroyed in a fire. And the mighty bones of the mastodon wound up lost for a hundred years, until the skeleton turned up in Germany, where you can see it today.
In Thomas Jefferson, her sixth presidential biography for National Geographic, Cheryl Harness illuminates the many sides of Thomas Jefferson: scientist, lawyer, farmer, architect, diplomat, inventor, musician, philosopher, author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of the University of Virginia, and third president of the United States. Readers meet this extraordinary man of contradictions: a genius who proclaimed that "All men are created equal" and championed the rights of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," while at the same time living a life that depended on the enforced labor of slaves.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "The Big Deal in Mr. Peale's Museum." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 18 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
How many of you have ever taken a selfie with friends and posted it on Instagram? Millions of people carry their cell phones with them all the time just in case they get a call or email. But we also use the camera on our iphones to record our day-to-day lives, sometimes exaggerating for affect.
Did you know that the first selfie was taken in 1839 by Robert Cornelius, an American pioneer in photography? He had to uncover the lens, run to be in the photo and then go back to replace the lens cap. There is a copy of his selfie etched onto his gravestone.
In 1913 the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia was only thirteen when she took a picture of herself in the mirror with a Kodak Brownie camera and sent it to a friend.
In the 1970s instant cameras made it easier for amateur photographers to take photos with instant results. And digital cameras thirty years later made it even easier.
When did the word selfie become a common word in the English language? I first heard it from my granddaughter, now thirteen-year-old Clara, who asked me to take a selfie with her on her smart phone. That was only about three years ago but by then “selfies,” especially by teenage girls, had flooded the internet. By 2017, social media, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, all of which encouraged the practice, reported over 800 million monthly users of their selfie promotion app. Features of this selfie phenomenon include apps that allow users to alter their appearance, sometimes in both hilarious and unflattering ways.
In 2013 the Oxford English Dictionary anointed the selfie word of the year, making it officially worthy of a spot in our vocabulary. Here is their definition.
“A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.”
Cindy Sherman, an artist who uses photographs as her medium, just as others might use paints and brushes, has made a career of using herself as the model, the photographer, the director and the costumer of her artwork. As a child she loved dressing up, disguising herself with make-up and clothes she collected at Goodwill or secondhand shops. When she grew up, she still liked playing dress-up and at art school, started photographing herself posed in various roles. Her first photographs in black and white, grainy images she meant to be faded and imperfect, came out in 1977. She was in her twenties, living in New York, working as a receptionist in an art gallery. As a clown, a teen queen, a society matron, a biker, and many other characters in elaborate costumes, she mainly explored roles of women in America’s cultural landscape. The art world took notice of these sixty-nine black-and-white prints of young women, who each seemed caught in an uncomfortable or scary moment. Sherman’s career has moved forward with fame and fanfare ever since.
Two summers ago she took her private Instagram account public. Tens of thousands of followers signed on to watch Sherman’s self-portraits, wildly distorted headshots of herself. Instead of masquerading with fake noses and lips, thick make-up and wild get-ups, she used Facetune, Perfect365, and YouCamMakeup to change the shape of her face, the color of her eyes, her hair and her complexion. The results were both hilarious and frightening. How did she start on this new quest? She says she was lying around for weeks after an injury and just started playing around with her iphone, taking a look at some apps friends had told her about. The results, she says, are not competing with her serious art. She’s not a perfectionist about these selfies as she is in her studio. But selfies freed her up to experiment. They allowed her to imagine the images of these molded and sculpted, at times grotesque, at other times fetching portraits going out into cyber space. She envisioned them arriving onto thousands of screens and devices, each time making us all wonder yet again, “Who is the real Cindy Sherman?” “Who is the real me?”
Jan Greenberg's latest book (with Sandra Jordan) is Meet Cindy Sherman: Artist-Photographer-Chameleon. They have created an unconventional biography, that much like Cindy Sherman's famous photographs, has something a little more meaningful under the surface. Infusing the narrative with Sherman's photographs, as well as young people's first impressions of the photographs, this is a biography that goes beyond birth, middle age, and later life. It's a look at how we look at art.
Kryptos stands in the shadow of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia−waiting to be revealed. No, Kryptos is not a foreign spy. It is a mysterious sculpture. The large, curved copper monument is covered with 1800 cut-out letters that together form four separate coded messages.
The sculpture was created by artist Jim Sanborn who was chosen to create it for the grounds of the CIA. When Sanborn began the work, he was not an expert in codes. He learned about writing codes and breaking codes from Ed Scheidt of the CIA.
Kryptos stood there, like a silent challenge, after it was installed in 1990. Two years later men from the National Security Agency (NSA) set out to crack the code and they did solve the first three messages. Then in 1998 one man at the CIA also solved the first three. But neither agency publicly announced they had done it. Nine years after Kryptos was unveiled, Jim Gillogly was the first person who did not work for a government agency who solved the first three of four messages. These three messages are a poetic phrase, coordinates for a location on the grounds of the CIA, and an account of the opening of King Tut’s tomb.
The fourth message is the shortest and only has 97 letters. For more than twenty years people all over the world have tried to figure it out. Sanborn, the creator of Kryptos, has grown impatient that the last section of Kryptos has not been solved. In 2010 he released a clue and revealed that one six word section of letters were code for the word “BERLIN.” Still no one could solve it. In November 2014, Sanborn announced another clue, a five word section of letters were code for the word “CLOCK.”
Still the fourth message on the Kryptos code has not been broken. It remains one of the world’s most famous unsolved mysteries.
Would you like to try to crack the fourth code of Kryptos? Here it is:
Carla Killough McClafferty writes about international intrigue in her book In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry. In this book you will learn the true story of how one American man traveled to France during World War II with the intention of rescuing refugees from the Nazis. Fry lived a double life as he secretly smuggled people out of Europe. Ultimately Varian Fry’s efforts saved the lives of more than 2000 people.
Carla McClafferty is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
In 1888, Vincent moved to Arles in the south of France. He planned to establish an artists’ commune where his friends could live together to create a new direction in painting. Vincent persuaded the artist Paul Gauguin, who was desperate for money, to move to Arles to help him. Vincent also was lonely.
For two months Gauguin lived in the Yellow House Vincent had lovingly filled with paintings hoping to impress his friend. Gauguin bossed Vincent around and criticized his artwork. Eventually, when Gauguin sold a few paintings, he threatened to abandon Vincent.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, after a quarrel at dinner, Gauguin stalked off into the streets. Vincent followed him. What happened next is unclear, but Vincent returned to the Yellow House alone and cut off his earlobe (not the whole ear) with a razor. Vincent couldn’t remember the details of this terrible night. But when he was discharged from the hospital a few weeks later, he went right back to work.
There have been many theories about Vincent’s condition. The theory most generally accepted is that he suffered from epilepsy, a disease that could have caused his seizures and hallucinations and for which there was no medication. In Vincent’s case, another reason for his “attacks” might have been his habit of drinking absinthe, an alcoholic drink popular in 19th century France. It contains a strong nerve poison, now illegal in most countries.
Today many popular performers advertise how dangerous and extreme their lives are by writing shocking lyrics and acted outrageously on stage. They are mimicking the lives of artists such as Van Gogh. But he was not advertising or pretending. He just wanted to be useful—to make art that would last. His glorious paintings are the result of his discipline and dedication, despite the turmoil of his life.
Vincent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888, oil on canvas, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. This is the house at 2 Place Lamartine, Arles, France, where, on May 1, 1888, Vincent van Gogh rented four rooms and where Paul Gauguin lived for nine weeks from late October, 1888. The left wing housed a grocery (French: Comestibles, inscribed on the signboard over the marque). Van Gogh indicated that the restaurant, where he used to have his meals, was in the building painted pink close to the left edge of the painting.
If you are interested in finding out more about Vincent Van Gogh, Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan have written an award-winning book on the subject. Click here for more information.
MLA 8 Citation
Greenberg, Jan. "Vincent Van Gogh and the Case of the Missing Ear." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 20 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/vincent-van-gogh-and-the-case-of-the-missing-ear.