Largest Lincoln Exhibit Ever Opens In California

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library just debuted a new exhibit on the most famous Republican. A. Lincoln: From Railsplitter to Rushmore opened Saturday and will run through September 31. With 250 items culled from major collectors, it’s the largest assemblage of the Lincoln family’s personal effects ever displayed.

But other museums have examples of this exhibit’s highlights, such as his stovepipe hats, Lincoln-signed 13th Amendments and his gold pocket watches. There are plenty of blood-stained fabrics from the night of his assassination (curiously, none have been used to yield a sample of Lincoln’s DNA – that doesn’t exist). What makes this exhibit in Simi Valley, California, stand out is the inclusion of sets and costumes from Lincoln, the recent movie by DreamWorks Studios.

If you saw the movie, you’ll recognize the office where Daniel Day-Lewis gave his entrancing soliloquies, Mary Todd Lincoln’s dresses and parts of Peterson’s Boarding House, the building where Lincoln died.

The exhibit, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, plays into the current fascination with Lincoln’s personal life. For decades he was widely perceived as a caricature – Honest Abe, who freed the slaves – and now Lincoln mania is drawing attention to the real man behind the stovepipe hat, his family and his political genius. Who would guess that 40 years ago, there wasn’t vast interest in Lincoln at all? According to James Cornelius, an Abe expert from Lincoln’s presidential library in Springfield, Ill., the 16th president enjoyed a big moment during the Civil War’s centennial in 1965, but then the fever died down until Ken Burns revived pop culture’s interest with his blockbuster Civil War documentary in 1990.

We’re pretty sure A. Lincoln won’t be the last homage for a while, though it will likely remain the largest.

WWII-Era Parisian Apartment Found Stopped In Time

Love letters from fans bundled with a ribbon. A Giovanni Boldini painting worth more than $2 million. Hairbrushes caked in 70 years’ worth of dust. All sitting right where the owner left them during World War II.

According to the Daily Mail, a time capsule of an apartment in Paris’s 9th arrondissement was discovered three years ago upon the 91-year-old owner’s death. She had fled to the south of France when World War II broke out, and it looks as though she never returned. Authorities found the once-elegant apartment in a cluttered, lived-in state, its brocade wallpaper faded and everything covered in cobwebs.

Among the abandoned possessions, one painting caught an expert’s eye: a luminous image of a flirtatiously posed young brunette with a slinky pink silk or satin gown spilling far down her shoulders. The expert suspected it to be a Boldini (the Italian was a friend of Edward Degas and a noted portrait artist in Paris in the late-19th century). But he had no proof – until he found, among the scattered papers in the residence, a love letter from Boldini to the actress Marthe de Florian, a French star at the turn of the century. De Florian was the apartment owner’s grandmother, and those bundled love letters were from her admirers, including one French prime minister.

Later identified as a 1898 Boldini, the painting eventually fetched more than $2 million at auction, six times its opening bid and more than any other work by the artist.

[Via the Daily Mail]

Report: Government Oversight Allowed Known Terrorists Onto US Flights

Some “suspected or known terrorists” on the TSA’s No Fly list were able to board commercial flights in and over the United States for years, according to a new internal report from the Department of Justice.

The report, released this month and cited by Breaking Travel News, focused on the U.S. Marshals Service and another office’s handling of terrorists in the federal witness security program (WITSEC), commonly called the witness protection program. It concluded that those authorities were not communicating with “national security stakeholders,” such as the FBI, before admitting terrorists into the program and giving them a new identity. Part of the problem was that the new names didn’t make it onto the Terrorist Screening Center’s watch list or the TSA’s No Fly list, creating a serious and surprising loophole:

We found that WITSEC Program participants include individuals known or suspected by the government to be involved in terrorism. This includes individuals trained in areas such as aviation and explosives, involved in plotting bombing attacks, and guilty of serious offenses such as conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals.

We identified some WITSEC Program participants who were on the TSA’s No Fly list yet were allowed to fly on commercial flights with WITSEC Program officials’ knowledge and approval. Moreover, these individuals, on their own accord, could have flown without WITSEC Program officials’ knowledge and approval.

But that’s not even the worst revelation in the report. This is:

In addition, we found that the Department did not definitively know how many known or suspected terrorists were admitted into the WITSEC Program.

This alarming example of the potential problem isn’t much better:

In one instance, we noted that in a June 2009 field report a USMS Inspector reported his belief that a WITSEC participant was trying to gather intelligence on sensitive policies and procedures of the USMS WITSEC Program for militant Muslim groups. We found no evidence that this information was shared with the FBI when it was reported to USMS WITSEC headquarters personnel near the time the Inspector recorded this concern.

The DOJ issued 16 recommendations to address the situation. Since March, 15 of those have been implemented, and the final one is in the works.

It is unclear from the report whether participation in the witness protection program overrides the terrorist watch list, but the fact that the loophole sparked a lengthy DOJ investigation suggests that it does not. At the very least, the government was supposed to know if witness protection participants who also appear on the terrorist watch list were attempting to fly, and it didn’t.

Notably, the report acknowledges the value of allowing terrorists into the witness protection program:

These witnesses cooperated in major terrorism investigations and prosecutions that the Department described as integral to its primary counterterrorism mission, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the East Africa Embassy bombings, the “Blind Sheik” prosecutions, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building attack in Oklahoma City, the New York City subway suicide-bomb plot, and the plot to bomb John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Via Breaking Travel News

Plane Crash Memorialized In The Deep Sahara

In a lonely corner the Sahara Desert, Google Earth shows what looks like a tattoo on the sun-parched sands: a dark graphic blot amid the vast remoteness of Niger’s Tenere region. The negative space in the center of the dot forms the shape of a DC-10 jet plane. Four arrows outside the circle point in each direction, like a compass.

The dark mass large enough to register on a satellite is actually an arrangement of boulders improbably hauled to the desolate area and hand-placed to create the precise image of a DC-10 – a memorial for the 170 victims of the UTA 772 plane crash on Sept. 19, 1989. A terrorist’s bomb downed the aircraft in Niger en route from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Paris, leaving no survivors.

Fifteen years later, victims’ relatives from the group Les Familles de l’Attentat du DC-10 d’UTA used some of their $170 million settlement to fund the memorial. (Last year, another commemorative site opened at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.) This photo gallery offers an up-close look at the arduous labor of love, illustrating such daunting tasks as excavating one of the wings, later incorporated into the design. Parts of the wreckage remained in the sand when the work began (a testament to the remoteness of the crash site), and the gallery includes stirring images of loose, twisted aircraft seats and other debris. Other striking photos show how the group spent two months moving stones by hand to outline a circle 200 feet in diameter and then fill it in with rocks, leaving an empty space in the shape of the aircraft with remarkable accuracy. Broken airplane windows ring the circle, one for each of the 155 passengers and 15 crew members who perished.

Considering that Lonely Planet describes the Tenere as a classic “endless, empty desert,” the photo gallery will be the closest look most of us ever get of this amazing memorial.

‘Fake’ Pilot Wanted By Police After Flying Jets To London

An American man found guilty of working as an airline pilot without proper credentials is on the lam after he failed to appear at his sentencing hearing in England last week, the BBC is reporting.

Michael Fay flew for Libya’s Afriqiyah Airways on false credentials, according to the news story that referred to him as a “fake airline pilot.” It claims he forged his pilot’s license and medical certifications to get the position. Calling him a “clever and resourceful man” who had settled in Hampshire County in southeast England, a British law-enforcement official told the BBC that Fay “targeted Libyan aviation at a time when the country’s political and economic standing was vulnerable and volatile.”

During his eight months in the cockpit of an Airbus 320, the former U.S. Air Force pilot landed at London’s Gatwick airport eight times, apparently without incident. But he aroused suspicion on an aviation forum online, prompting another user to tip off the British police. They arrested Fay in 2011, and he was found guilt of fraud. Though he failed to appear for his sentencing hearing last week, the court gave him a three-year prison term. According to the article, Fay might be seeking work as a pilot or flight instructor outside of the U.K.

A quick Internet search turned up a possible explanation for how Fay got the job. In 2010, a secondary school called La Salle Academy in Providence, Rhode Island, printed a letter from a graduate named Mike Fay in an alumni newsletter, under the headline “Mike Fay ’69 Sends A Note From the U.K.” His message:

“Had a few minutes of free time, so I thought I would take a moment and update everyone as to what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic!

I had been working as a pilot for the Royal Family in Abu Dhabi. However, one of their financial interests, Afriqiyah Airways, located in Libya had a very bad crash in May. I am not [sic? now?] the Director of Training there. Interesting would be an understatement to say the least. But, I spend about 2 weeks in Tripoli and then I am back in the UK.

As I write this email, I am sitting in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Via the BBC

[Photo credit: Mauro Orlando via Flickr]