Happy Birthday, NPS! (And thank you);Why the Smithsonian will display Emmett Till’s casket; the UDC is still in the education business; uncovering WWII aircraft carriers and a huge T-Rex skull!


This year the National Park Service has been celebrating its 100th anniversary, but tomorrow (Thursday) is the actual date of its creation. Over on We’re History, NPS historian Benjamin Todd Arrington has a good succinct history of the federal agency. While this is the 100th anniversary, he nicely shows that the history of America’s parks goes back further than that. (On a personal note: We all love our National Parks, and we history lovers can all attest to how special it is to be able to visit so many well preserved historical sites. There is something indefinably special about them, and I am a big believer that they are our best teaching tools. But those of us that have worked, or still work, for the NPS have an even deeper affection for it. Personally, it saved me from a miserable job at a bookstore chain, gave me my first job for which my undergraduate history degree prepared me, and then later saved me from having to substitute teach high school classes when I first started looking for teaching jobs. Many of the things that I researched and learned while working for the NPS helped to shape and inform my book. The agency played an enormous role in creating the historian that I am now, and I can’t even begin to express my sincere appreciation for the National Park Service). Happy 100!!!

We have seen many stories lately that have given us a preview of what to expect from the Smithsonian’s soon-to-open African American History Museum, but this one from the Washington Post really caught my attention. It focuses on the institution’s determination to not only be celebratory (there will be a lot of that), but to also not hide from the uglier parts of America’s history.  Founding director Lonnie G. Bunch remarked, “You couldn’t tell the story of the African American experience without wrestling with difficult issues, without creating those moments where people have to ponder the pain of slavery, segregation or racial violence.” As a result, visitors will encounter some objects that will be difficult to view, especially those connected to racial violence. I was stunned to learn, for example, that the museum houses Emmett Till’s casket—yes, the one his body was in when his mother shocked America by having an open casket funeral so that the world could see what was done to her child. Wow. Honestly, I’m not sure I could deal with seeing that and imagine that it will stir some very powerful emotions. Which is exactly what it and other displays will be designed to do. As such, there will also be a healthy dose of slave history, but I really appreciate what Bunch had to say about their slavery interpretations: “Slavery is this horribly painful moment,” he said, “but it is also a moment when people were strong and lived a life that many of us would emulate if we could in terms of trying to keep family together despite everything.” Amen. As you know, I wish that our current pop cultural depictions of slavery would focus on this fact more than they do. Can’t wait to visit this museum when it opens.

Call this next article the flip side to the story above, as well as to Vanderbilt’s decision to remove “Confederate” from the name of their memorial hall. As you know, the University is having to pay the Daughters of the Confederacy over a million dollars in order to change the name. Not sure how they will spend it, but if you think the UDC is no longer in the business of trying to educate our young, think again.

Out in the pacific, underwater researchers are using robotic subs to explore the WWII era aircraft carrier “Independence.” It not only saw action in the war, but was used in atomic blast experiments after the war. Be sure to check out the video that accompanies this story. 

Meanwhile, out in Montana, paleontologists have discovered one of the best preserved T-Rex skeletons ever found. But what has them really excited is the beast’s skull. It is one of the largest and best-preserved specimens ever dug up. Cool!




2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, NPS! (And thank you);Why the Smithsonian will display Emmett Till’s casket; the UDC is still in the education business; uncovering WWII aircraft carriers and a huge T-Rex skull!

  1. The WaPo story elides the story of the casket a bit. Till’s remains were exhumed some years ago at Burr Oak Cemetery by the FBI as part of a re-investigation of the case, and then re-buried in a new casket. The original was set aside and put in storage at the cemetery. A few years later, in 2009, the cemetery got caught exhuming old graves, dumping the remains (though not Till’s), and then re-selling the plots. The original casket was found in a shed during the subsequent criminal investigation. Bad stuff.


    • Yes, I should have added that he was originally buried in the one that will be on display. Makes it all the more disturbing to think about the impact of seeing it on display. I was sincere when I said I’m not sure I could handle it.


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