Arctic Explorer Gets Belated Recognition

arctic
Wikimedia Commons

When I took my family to the Orkney Islands of Scotland last year I saw this curious memorial in St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. It’s for an Arctic explorer named John Rae. While the name struck a bell, I knew virtually nothing about him.

Most people don’t, and that’s a shame. Rae grew up in the rugged Orkney Islands in the 19th century. Although he trained as a doctor, the wilderness was his true love. He got work with the Hudson’s Bay Company, which owned large swatches of land in northern Canada and made millions off of the fur trade. Rae set off to Canada to work as a surgeon for the company, spending ten years at the remote outpost of Moose Factory.

Rae soon distinguished himself by spending large amounts of time with the Cree and Inuit, learning their languages and customs and gaining their respect for his ability to endure the tough conditions of the Canadians north.

When the Franklin Expedition, a Royal Navy group that was searching for the Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific, went missing in 1845, Rae was the man that was called upon to find them. He spent several years trying to track them down. In the course of his search he mapped many previously uncharted regions and found the Northwest Passage, the very thing the Franklin Expedition had failed to do.

In 1854 he learned from the Inuit that several years before, the last of the Franklin Expedition had died of starvation. The remaining survivors had resorted to cannibalism before they, too, succumbed. The site of the tragedy was deep in the back country and the Inuit refused to take him there.

When Rae filed his report, he was immediately criticized for not checking on the natives’ story himself and for daring to suggest that members of the Royal Navy would eat each other. His reputation was ruined. Even though another expedition did go to the site and concluded that there was strong evidence that the Franklin Expedition had resorted to cannibalism, the damage had been done. Rae died all but forgotten in 1893. Of all the great explorers from the Victorian era, he is the only one not to have been given a knighthood.

Now the Arctic explorer has been given some belated recognition with a new statue in Stromness, not far from where the local Hudson’s Bay Company office used to be. It was unveiled on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

You can learn more about the adventures of Dr. John Rae in this excellent article.

Historian Says Best Way To Save Manassas Battlefield Is To Expand Highway Through It

Manassas
Wikimedia Commons

Manassas Battlefield Park has been struggling with traffic for a long time. The site of the First and Second Battles of Manassas, also known as the battles of Bull Run, it’s rich in Civil War history. The main reason two battles were fought there was that the Warrenton Turnpike, the main road from Virginia to Washington D.C., cut right through it.

That turnpike is now Lee Highway (Route 29) and is busier than ever. The roads are clogged with traffic through much of the day, and historic preservationists have fought any expansion of the two-lane highway because it would encroach on the park. They’ve also fought off a giant strip mall and a Disney theme park.

The traffic problem, however, is only getting worse, especially at its intersection with Sudley Road (Route 234). Traffic gets seriously backed up there, making it difficult for visitors to get around the park and passersby to continue to their destination.

Now Edwin C. Bearss, a Civil War historian and tour guide, has written an op-ed in the Washington Post with a controversial solution — expand the highways and build the proposed Bi-County Parkway, which would skirt the park. He says expanding the roads would be a small price to pay for easier access through the park, and would reduce the noise pollution caused by hundreds of idling cars waiting for the light at the intersection to change.

Other supporters of the park oppose any expansion of the roads through and around the battlefield. In such a busy region, however, history may end up taking a back seat to construction.

105 Years of Road Tripping: A Slideshow of Car Travel Through the Decades

1950s Unlimited, Flickr

Today marks the 105th birthday of the Ford Model T. It was on October 1, 1908 that the vehicle was introduced, and how we travel has never been the same since.

Between 1908 and 1927, Ford would build some 15 million Model T cars, making it the longest production run until the Volkswagen Beetle came along. The car was meant for ordinary people to be able to drive every day, and so they did.But it was not just for driving to work. As cars became more and more ubiquitous they paired with the American spirit of independence and adventure, and the road trip slowly worked its way into American culture. There was freedom in the open road, and Americans wanted to experience it first hand.

Cars became the symbol of travel and exploration.

In honor of the 105th birthday of the Model T, and the trips that it inspired, here is a selection of vintage posters, maps and images embracing the spirit of the open road.

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Spanish Cave Paintings Discovered to be Some of the Oldest in Europe

cave paintings
Image courtesy GipuzkoaKultura

Cave paintings at the Altxerri cave system in the Basque region of northern Spain are about 39,000 years old, making them some of the oldest in Europe, Popular Archaeology reports.

A team of French and Spanish scientists analyzed the paintings, which include images such as the bison shown here, as well as finger marks, a feline, a bear, an unidentified animal head and more abstract markings. This early dating of these images puts them in the Aurignacian Period, believed by most archaeologists to be the first flowering of modern humans in the region, although whether or not there were still Neanderthals in the area at this time is an open question.

A later set of paintings in another part of the cave system, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, date from “only” 29,000-35,000 years ago.

By comparison, the art at Cauvet Cave in France is about 31,000 years old, although it is of a much higher quality. The beautiful paintings there were the subject of Herzog’s breathtaking 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

A full report on the cave paintings can be found in the latest issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.

Where Will You Go For Free Museum Day?

Cartoon Art Museum - free museum day
Flickr, Kim Smith

Whether you are traveling in the U.S. or having a staycation this Saturday, be sure to include some culture. September 28 is Museum Day Live! (aka Free Museum Day), when museums all over the country open their doors without charging admission.

The annual event is inspired by the Smithsonian museums, which offer free admission every day. You’ll have to register and download your free ticket in advance, which will get two guests in free to participating museums.

A few of our favorite museums participating:

Chicago
Smart Museum of Art
The University of Chicago’s art museum is always free, but this weekend is also the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, and museum-goers can also enjoy free concerts in the sculpture garden.

Dallas/Ft. Worth
American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum
Regular price: $7 adults
Serious airline nerds, frequent flyers and those on a long layover can check out this museum of aviation and American AIrlines history, just a few miles from DFW airport. Exhibits include a rare Douglas DC-3 plane.

Las Vegas
Burlesque Hall of Fame
Regular suggested donation or gift shop purchase: $5)
What’s Sin City without a little strip tease? See costumes, props and photos documenting the history, traditions and stars of burlesque dance.
Los Angeles
Grammy Museum
Regular price: $12.95 adults
Pop music lovers can check out four floors of music exhibits and memorabilia. The current exhibition features the career of Ringo Starr, including an interactive drum lesson with the Beatles‘ rhythm man himself.

New York
Museum of Chinese in America
Regular price: $10 adults
Learn about the immigrant experience in New York’s Chinatown in a building designed by Maya Lin. Current special exhibitions on the glamour of Shanghai women and the role Chinese-American designers in fashion. Follow it up with dim sum in the neighborhood.

San Francisco
Cartoon Art
Regular price: $7 adults
Take your comics seriously? This is the art museum for you, with 6,000 works of cartoon cels, comic strips and book art. Best. Museum. Ever.

Washington, D.C.
Museum of Crime and Punishment
Regular price: $21.95
Value the free admission and your freedom at a museum dedicated to criminals and police work. Fans of police procedural TV shows will enjoy the CSI lab and the filming studio for “America’s Most Wanted.”