Digging Up James Smithson

Alexander Graham Bell traveled to Italy at the turn of the 20th century on an audacious mission to rescue the remains of the man whose legacy endowed the Smithsonian Institution.

Alexander Graham Bell did not spend the Christmas season of 1903 in the festive tradition. On the contrary, the inventor of the telephone passed the holiday engaged in a ghoulish Italian adventure involving a graveyard, old bones, and the opening of a moldy casket. Accompanied by his wife, Mabel, he had traveled by steamship from America at his own expense and made his way down to the Italian Mediterranean by train.Read more »

American Pie

How a Neapolitan street food became the most successful immigrant of all

Almost every American food—from egg foo yung to empanadas—is covered in the phone book under the generic heading “Restaurants.” Only pizza stands alone. Pizza, a Johnny-come-lately compared with such long-standing national favorites as the hamburger and hot dog, has secured a special place on the American table. Everybody likes pizza.Read more »

Grab Shot

A DICTATOR’S END, CAPTURED UNEXPECTEDLY

In December of 1942 I was drafted and sent overseas to Oran, Algeria, where I was assigned to the 91st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. The eyes and ears for the troops, we rode in jeeps, armored cars, and light tanks, scouting the numbers and supplies of the enemy forces. The 91st did so well that Gen. George Patton insisted we do his reconnaissance all through Africa and Sicily. At the end of the fighting, the 91st had a record of 341 combat days. Read more »

America’s Venice

RALPH WALDO EMERSON SEEMS TO BE THE ONLY U.S. CITIZEN WHO HASN’T FALLEN UNDER THE CITY’S SPELL.

 

What could be more different than Venice and an American city? One pretends to represent the continued existence of the past. The other pretends to represent the ideal of progress, of the future. In their separate ways both are illusions, but no matter. The relationship of the Old and the New Worlds is not simple. It is like that of the sexes: Opposites may repel, but often they attract. Thus there are towns named and emulating Venice across America.

 
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Bravo Caruso!

The great tenor came to America in 1903, and it was love at first sight—a love that survived an earthquake and some trouble with the police about a woman at the zoo

WHEN, ON COLUMBUS DAY OF 1980 , the operatic superstar, Luciano Pavarotti, sitting on a bay horse, his massive bulk arrayed in fancy dress, jounced up New York’s Fifth Avenue at the head of the annual parade celebrating the discovery of America, some elitist opera patrons were dismayed. A primo tenore , they believed, should stand aloof from the common run, should maintain an inaccessibility, a certain mystery.Read more »

The Jump Into Sicily

“For This Challenge, I Had Come Three Thousand Miles and Thirty-six Years of My Life”

The future General James M. Gavin of the celebrated 82nd Airborne Division was a thirty-six-year-old colonel in July 0f 1943, facing his first combat assignment. The target was Sicily, and he was to lead a regiment of the 82nd in the first large-scale, organized invasion of Europe by airborne troops. Gavin had trained the men believed in them, was eager to prove their value in battle.

 
 

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Garibaldi And Lincoln

Would the great fighter come over for the Union? Italian freedom and lead troops Lincoln hoped so

In the summer of 1861, when the newspaper generals in New York clamored for a clash of arms to put down the Confederate rebellion, the battle and the recriminations came sooner than expected. The people of Washington loaded up picnic baskets in buggies and carriages and drove across the bridges of the Potomac to watch the fun. Under the southern sunlight the sabers of the Union cavalry glistened, and the hope of a quick and punishing victory was in the smoking air.Read more »

Disaster At Bari

It was the most devastating enemy surprise attack since Pearl Harbor—but what mysterious affliction were people dying of two days later?

The port of Bari, Italy, was crowded on the afternoon of December 2, 1943, when Captain Otto Heitmann returned to his ship, the John Bascom , with the two thousand dollars he had drawn from the U.S. Army Finance Section to pay his crew. Bari was a pleasant, peaceful city on the heel of the peninsula, little changed by the war except that in 1943 American and British military personnel crowded Victor Emmanuel Street and Corso Cavour instead of the Germans, who had been forced to flee northward.Read more »