Editor’s Letter

PrintPrintEmailEmail

The cover of this magazine should alert you to some of the surprises in this 60th anniversary issue of American Heritage. If you didn’t see that George Washington has been joined by ten notable Americans you might want to take a closer look.

For the past year, we debated how to celebrate this important marker in the life of a magazine with such an august tradition. At times our staff felt like young cadets at West Point gripped by “the far off hold of . . . the long gray line” of those who went before us. We kept coming back to the words of our founding editor, the great Civil-War historian Bruce Catton, who wrote: “We believe in good storytelling; that interesting writers can interpret history and restore it to the place it once occupied as the noblest branch of literature.”

That sentiment—the goal we also aspire to—gave us the idea for this special issue, the “Fate of the Nation.” Some of this country’s finest historians and thinkers (among them are 14 Pulitzer Prize winners) look at 35 decisive moments that helped define our country. Some will be obvious—such as Gettysburg and Midway, others less so, such as the schoolboy getting his polio shot. Feel free to write me about whether you agree or disagree with the choices. After all, history is not static, but living and breathing, and open to interpretation.

Most people we showed the cover to didn’t see right away that we had manipulated Washington Crossing the Delaware so that Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and FDR have now joined the general on that treacherous passage. We did that this on purpose: we want you to take a closer look at it—and history itself. (See the key on p. 8.)

Our staff gathered hundreds of portraits and photographs and worked carefully with the talented artist, Rob Wood of Wood Ronsaville Harlin, Inc. so that new men and women were able to join the crew on that frigid day (which was in reality at night.) Looking back over 60 years of this magazine’s publication, the one thing that always stands out is how fresh, surprising, and fascinating history at its best can be.

We were honored to have our longtime friend Bernie Weisberger write the introduction. He and two other authors in this issue, John Lukacs and Bill Leutchenburg, were first published in these pages in the 1950s and represent a continuity with our traditions that is so special in these days of Internet bloggers and instant “experts.”

Keep an eye out for the images opening our sections—you’ll notice we colorized some of the figures and left the rest of the images black and white. Our staff worked with Rob Wood to research the appropriate colors (the color of banners, for instance, carried by the suffragists on pages 76–77 and the shirt of the boy on pages 86–87). One can’t dismiss the World-War-I doughboys on page 72 as relics of another time when you see the color of their cheeks and the green of their khaki uniforms. They look like next door neighbors or young men who might be in Afghanistan or Iraq in a newer uniform. These images underscore the immediacy of history itself.

Stay tuned. We’ve got some more suprises up our sleeves during this, our 60th anniversary year.

Edwin S. Grosvenor, Editor-in-Chief Email Editor