When Bruce Catton, our first editor, introduced American Heritage exactly thirty-five years ago, he said that “the fabric of American life is a seamless web. Everything fits in somewhere. History is a continuous process; it extends far back into the past, and it will go on—in spite of today’s uneasy qualms—far into the future.” That everything fits in somewhere is demonstrated, we submit, by “A Brush with History,” the major feature that fills this anniversary issue.
The germ of the idea came from our conviction that most people have at one time or another sensed they were in the presence of a historical event even if they did not immediately recognize it as such. To confirm our notion, we asked a number of historians, public figures, and journalists and novelists to recall any such moments—major or minor, pleasurable or horrendous—in their lives.
The results are so vivid and moving that we’ve decided to take the experiment one step further—into the memories of all our readers. Starting soon, we’ll try to publish a regular column called “A Brush with History,” and we hope you will contribute items ranging from a paragraph or two up to twelve hundred words recording your own encounter with any part of the history that stalks us with its giant boots. It’s not a matter of telling us “I looked on Harry Truman bare”—God forbid—so much as evoking the reverberation of the experience itself. For examples of what we mean, you can’t do better than read the stories in our special section. After which, let’s hear from you. You’ll be paid at our regular rates.
Marshall Davidson, who died in August at age eighty-two, was listed on the masthead of our first issue as a member of the advisory board. Over the years he was also a contributing editor to American Heritage and editor in chief of our then sister publication Horizon . He wrote and edited many articles for both magazines as well as a half-dozen books published by us. Most important, he contributed a mother lode of illustrations to help establish our picture library. These were the thousands of images Marshall had gathered for his book Life in America , published in 1951. We take illustrated histories for granted these days, but Marshall was the pioneer. As Barbara Klaw wrote in these pages, his two-volume Life in America “dealt with American history in a new way—it told its story by fusing pictures and words so that each had equal weight and yet their sum was greater than the parts.” By showing how it all fits, Marshall Davidson set a standard for American Heritage that still guides us. The worlds of art, history, and publishing will miss him.