This Week in History

This Week in History: Lost in Space


Happy Birthday Nicolaus Copernicus! Born Feb. 19, 1473 in Torun, Poland, little Nicolaus would go on to become noted as an astronomer. However, not content with revolutionizing the long-held belief that the earth was the center of the cosmos, he also tried his hand in the fields of math, physics, art, economics, the law, religion, and warcraft. Go big or go home I guess.

So, in case you’ve never had the joy of reading De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (regrettably not a New York Times bestseller), here’s some facts about this sun-centric Pole:

  • Copernicus attended Krakow Academy, where he was introduced to astronomy. This school was later named Jagiellonian University, which is the second oldest university in Central Europe and was voted best University in Poland in 2006.
  • The astronomy library he had collected during his time at the Krakow Academy was carted off by the conquering Swedes during the Deluge (1655-60). It can now be seen at Uppsala University Library in Sweden.
  • Copernicus’ final resting place was officially confirmed in 2008 by National Public Radio. This declaration was based on the findings of a 2005 archaeological survey in Frombork Cathedral, where it was long believed he was interred.

Here are some places to get better acquainted with the life and times of Copernicus:

  • He studied in Krakow, Padua, Bologna, Rome, and Frombork. These cities are home to some of the world’s oldest universities. Stop in for some history.
  • Nicolaus Copernicus Museum in Frombork includes a planetarium. Stop into the Frombork Cathedral to see his grave and explore this centuries-old church that once employed our inquisitive birthday boy.
  • Copernicus Museum in Torun. Better brush up on your Polish, we here English isn’t always readily accessible.

Can’t make it to Europe? Here’s some ways to uncover your inner space geek at home:

  • Head to your nearest planetarium and do a little stargazing of your own. The work and theories of Copernicus run throughout the field of astronomy, so stopping in at the planetarium is an easy way to learn something without having to wade through complex scientific theories. There is even a statue of Copernicus outside the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
  • The Copernicus Foundation in Chicago embraces the astronomer’s renaissance ways. They sponsor “Taste of Polonia” each year, which features ethnic food, dancing, music and games. It’s Solidarity Tower was built to replicate the Royal Castle in Warsaw. Art fairs, educational classes and programs, health fairs, law fairs, and a variety of other cultural programs make for an entertaining and diverse learning experience.

This Week in History

This Week in History: Sunny, with a chance of rain


This week in history has lots of momentous events (i.e the US House of Representatives electing John Quincy Adams as president), but I thought I would take the opportunity to celebrate something a little less well-known. So, Happy Birthday National Weather Service! Originally named the U.S. Weather Bureau, this cloud-watching organization was created February 9, 1870.

If you are one of those individuals who can’t tell a cirrostratus from a altocumulus cloud, here are some facts about the National Weather Service:

  • Brigadier General Albert J. Meyer gave the newly formed Weather Bureau its second name: The Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce.
  • The NWS has been put under the command of the Secretary of War, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Environmental Science Services Administration. See, weather affects everyone.
  • The Weather Service has a hierarchy for informing us “what is happening in our neck of the woods”:  Outlook, Watch, Warning, Advisory, and Special Weather Statement. You can figure out what each one means on your own.

Now that your meteorological interest is piqued, here’s where you can go to learn more:

  • The John C. Freeman Weather Museum at Weather Research Center in Houston, Texas. Make your own weather forecast, learn about world climates, and go into the Tornado Chamber (which was designed by those friendly folks at the National Weather Service).
  • Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire has measured the highest wind speeds recorded by a surface station at 231 mph. Its Summit Museum and syndicated radio program, The Weather Notebook, make this little hilltop station worth a visit.
  • Nature Unleashed is currently on display at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in Denver, Colorado through May 3. This traveling exhibit created by the Field Museum in Chicago explores the science behind tornadoes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. It’s a whole lot more interesting than the Weather & Climate class that I took in college. Can’t make it to Denver? Check out the touring schedule or visit the online exhibit on the Field Museum’s website.

This Week in History

This Week in History: Rockwellian


A weekly series in which an interesting historical event spurs a journey through the museum world.

Happy Birthday, Norman Rockwell! The prolific illustrator that brought images of American life to the pages of books and magazines was born this day in 1894 in New York City. Even though Norman may not have met with much critical acclaim in his day, the continued popularity of his works has earned him the title of American icon.

Get to know Norman:

  • Norman Rockwell produced over 4,000 works in his lifetime.
  • Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. The award was given in honor of his “vivid and affectionate portraits of our country.”
  • Both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have Norman Rockwell drawings hanging in their workspaces. Lucas owns The Peach Crop original and Spielberg displays a drawing of Triple Self Portrait.
  • Movies inspired by Rockwell works include Empire of the Sun, Funny Farm, Forrest Gump, The Polar Express, Lilo & Stitch, and American Gangster.
  • Rockwell described his work: “Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.”

Where you can find Rockwell’s works:

New York City: Rockwell’s images of Americana can be found at both the American Illustrators Gallery and the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators.

Stockbridge, MA: the Norman Rockwell Museum is the museum that Rockwell helped to create when he donated 574 of his original paintings and drawings to the historical society in Stockbridge.

Newport, RI: the National Museum of American Illustration boasts Rockwell’s works in its collection.

Los Angeles: Norman often spent the winter months teaching at the Otis College of Art and Design.

New Rochelle, NY: Rockwell lived and prayed here. The church of which he was a member still stands.

Arlington, VT: he and his wife lived in this Vermont town as a way to experience small-town life.

Dave Hickey once said: “Rockwell taught me how to remember.” So, enjoy your own trip down memory lane as you go in search of Norman Rockwell.

This Week in History

This Week in History: Raven-ous


A weekly series in which an interesting historical event spurs a journey through the museum world.

Happy 200th Birthday Edgar Allan Poe! Born January 19, 1809, Mr. Poe is known mainly for his poems and short stories (for a list of his works click here), which range from Romanticism and Gothic to satire and detective fiction. His works tend to be a little “dark,” dealing with death, mystery, and the macabre. His transient and somewhat tragic life was a short one, and his path is marked with landmarks and plaques up and down the East Coast.

Some interesting facts about Edgar Allan Poe:

  • Born as Edgar Poe to parents – both actors – in Boston, Massachussetts. He may have been named after a character in King Lear, a production of which his parents appeared in 1809.
  • After his father’s abandonment and mother’s death, a young Edgar moved to Richmond, Virginia. Here he was a foster son to the Allans (John and Frances), who never formally adopted him despite giving him their name.
  • Poe had himself intentionally court-martialled in order to get thrown out of West Point.
  • He married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, in 1835.
  • One of his most famous poems, The Raven, was published in the Evening Mirror in 1845. He was paid $9 for it.
  • In 1849, at the ripe old age of 40, Poe was found in a delirious state in the streets of Baltimore. He died in a hospital soon after from unknown causes. The mysterious nature of his death has led to several theories: alcohol, brain congestion, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide, tuberculosis, etc.
  • A mysterious figure, known as the Poe Toaster, visits Poe’s headstone in Baltimore every year on his birthday. While the identity of the Toaster is not known, they always do a toast of cognac and leave three roses.

So, where can you satisfy your Poe curiosity? Start by paying a visit to New York City, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Charleston, Charlottesville, or Richmond. You’re bound to find yourself standing in Poe’s footsteps sooner than you think.

Boston: a plaque stands near the spot where Poe’s birth home stood on Charles Street.

Baltimore: the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum is the earliest surviving home in which Poe lived. It is also home to the Edgar Allan Poe Society. The Horse You Came in On is a bar that claims to be the last place the poet was seen before – and apparently after – his death. Poe’s ghost is said to haunt the upstairs rooms.

Philadelphia: the Spring Garden House is the only remaining home from Poe’s time in the city of Brotherly Love. It is known as the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site.

New York City: His little cottage in the Bronx stands to commemorate his time in New York.

Charleston: Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island.

Richmond: Although Poe never actually lived there, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum is housed in the city’s oldest home.

Charlottesville: Poe’s dorm room at the University of Virginia is maintained by a group known as the Raven Society, which consists of university staff and students.

Need more Poe info? Check out here and here for details on events throughout Virginia and Baltimore celebrating Poe’s bicentennial.

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