Monthly Archives: December 2010

Virginia to Review History Textbook Approval Process

Better late than never — as the old adage goes . . .

Story by Kevin Sieff from The Washington Post, December 30, 2010:

Reports of extensive errors in Virginia social studies textbooks prompted state education officials on Wednesday to propose revamping the approval process to prevent the issuing of flawed textbooks. Fairfax County officials also said they may discontinue using one of the books.

The new state procedures would require that publishers hire context experts and provide extensive new documentation for claims in their textbooks. Education Department staff also would do more-detailed reviews before passing the books to the small groups of classroom teachers who traditionally have reviewed them, according to a statement from Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright.

“Virginia students deserve textbooks that reflect the quality of the commonwealth’s nationally recognized history and social science standards, and as the errors found by the reviewers clearly show, the review process must be improved,” Wright said.

Proposed changes would require the Virginia Board of Education’s approval.

The Education Department began increasing its scrutiny of textbooks after The Washington Post reported in October that one provided to fourth-graders, “Our Virginia: Past and Present,” included a controversial claim that thousands of African American soldiers fought for the South during the Civil War. The claim is often made by Confederate heritage groups but rejected by most historians. That book’s author, Joy Masoff, has since apologized for that problem, as has the publisher, Five Ponds Press of Weston, Conn.

Historians that the department selected to review “Our Virginia” and another book by same publisher, “Our America: To 1865,” submitted lists of dozens of errors this month. A review of books by other publishers also found problems with some depictions of events in the Civil War. State officials plan to meet Jan. 10 to discuss the historians’ concerns.

Five Ponds Press publishes four other textbooks used in Virginia classrooms: “Our World Let’s Go,” “Our World Then and Now,” “Our World Near and Far” and “Our World Far and Wide.” Officials say they have no plans to have expert panels review those books.

Five Ponds Press owner Lou Scolnik said this week that he was aware of the errors discovered by the state’s panels of historians and will correct the problems in future editions of the books. The company also plans to hire a historian to review its books.

On Wednesday night, Scolnik said through a spokesman that he had no comment on the latest actions by state and school district officials.

Individual school districts choose which textbooks to use based on lists approved by the Education Department. It traditionally approves textbooks after panels of reviewers, often elementary school teachers, verify that the books cover the Standards of Learning themes that each course is mandated to teach.

As Virginia officials attempt to improve their textbook approval process, school districts across the state are grappling with what to do with thousands of books already in their classrooms.

Loudoun County stopped using “Our Virginia” in October, after the controversy over the book’s claims about black Confederate soldiers. Fairfax initially planned to continue using “Our Virginia” but is rethinking that decision, according to school district spokesman Paul Regnier. He said Fairfax officials, who are awaiting further feedback from the state and a response from the publisher, may stop using the book.

“Initially, we thought it was just a single mistake. But after this review, it’s clear that this is a more-significant problem,” Regnier said. “We know we’re going to have to do something.”

A textbook review committee in Prince William County this month recommended approval of “Our Virginia” and “Our America” for use in classrooms. But the division’s review committee made that decision only after being assured by Five Ponds Press that it would receive error-free editions of the textbooks.

Kenneth Bassett, Prince William’s social studies supervisor, said the committee found the books engaging and well-designed. “It’s unfortunate that they had all those things but not the level of historical scholarship that would have made them a home run,” Bassett said.

Officials with Arlington County schools, which use “Our Virginia,” did not return phone messages seeking comment.

 

 

 

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Virginia Textbook Errors

Unfortunately, textbooks — especially history ones — often display bias. Although, technically, an historian should present facts in an unbiased fashion AND accurate manner, many times this simply doesn’t happen.  Most, if not all, reputable publishing houses send textbook proposals out to a number of other scholars in the field to be assessed for accuracy and scholarly worthiness at various stages in the proposed textbook’s or general history book’s “life” (i.e., at the proposal stage and prior to publication — if it is agreed worthy of publication).  Highly reputable publishers generally ask ten or even fifteen scholars or experts in a particular field to lend their critical eye to a manuscript.  So, what happened in the case of textbooks by Five Ponds Press that now have been deemed full of inaccuracies?

Here is an article written by Kevin Sieff and published in The Washington Post, December 29, 2010, about the Virignia textbook controversy:

In the version of history being taught in some Virginia classrooms, New Orleans began the 1800s as a bustling U.S. harbor (instead of as a Spanish colonial one). The Confederacy included 12 states (instead of 11). And the United States entered World War I in 1916 (instead of in 1917)

These are among the dozens of errors historians have found since Virginia officials ordered a review of textbooks by Five Ponds Press, the publisher responsible for a controversial claim that African American soldiers fought for the South in large numbers during the Civil War.

“Our Virginia: Past and Present,” the textbook including that claim, has many other inaccuracies, according to historians who reviewed it. Similar problems, historians said, were found in another book by Five Ponds Press, “Our America: To 1865.” A reviewer has found errors in social studies textbooks by other publishers as well, underscoring the limits of a textbook-approval process once regarded as among the nation’s most stringent.

“I absolutely could not believe the number of mistakes – wrong dates and wrong facts everywhere. How in the world did these books get approved?” said Ronald Heinemann, a former history professor at Hampden-Sydney College. He reviewed “Our Virginia: Past and Present.”

In his recommendation to the state, Heinemann wrote, “This book should be withdrawn from the classroom immediately, or at least by the end of the year.”

The review began after The Washington Post reported in October that “Our Virginia” included a sentence saying that thousands of black soldiers fought for the South. The claim is one often made by Confederate heritage groups but rejected by most mainstream historians. The book’s author, Joy Masoff, said at the time that she found references to it during research on the Internet. Five Ponds Press later apologized.

The unusual review process involved five professional scholars. The results, said three of those involved in the process, proved disturbing. Some submitted lists of errors that ran several pages long. State officials plan to meet Jan. 10 to review the historians’ concerns.

“The findings of these historians have certainly underscored and added urgency to the need to address the weaknesses in our system so we don’t have glaring historical errors in our books,” said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for Virginia’s Department of Education.

Five Ponds Press, based in Weston, Conn., has not disputed that its books have errors, and it said in an e-mail that it plans to incorporate historians’ critiques into the next editions of their books.

“Most of the items you reference have been identified, and we sent a notice a week ago to the Virginia Department of Education with our intent to make these edits in the book’s next printing,” Lou Scolnik, owner of Five Ponds Press, wrote in response to questions.

Five Ponds Press provides books mainly to the Virginia Department of Education. The department is required to find texts that meet the state’s stringent Standards of Learning, which includes lists of themes that each textbook must cover. That disqualifies many books produced for the national textbook market.

The department approves textbooks after panels of reviewers, often elementary school teachers, verify that the books cover each of the Standards of Learning themes. Experts in particular subject matters also sometimes review books.

“Teachers are not reading textbooks front to back, and they’re not in a position to identify the kinds of errors that historians could identify,” Pyle said.

The creation of Standards of Learning requirements helped create niche markets for smaller publishers, including Five Ponds Press. One of its early books was “Mali: Land of Gold & Glory,” which, according to news reports, was crafted to fit a newly introduced Standards of Learning theme.

Five Ponds Press gradually expanded to other subject areas, filling a growing portion of Virginia’s $70 million-a-year textbook market. Many larger publishers employ professional historians, but all of the books by Five Ponds Press have been written by Masoff, who is not a trained historian. Other titles by her include “Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty” and “Oh, Yikes! History’s Grossest, Wackiest Moments.”

Scolnik said Five Ponds is in the process of hiring a professional historian from a Virginia university.

School districts choose textbooks from a list approved by the state. Among the factors is price. The books by Five Ponds Press often are less expensive than those produced by larger publishers.

Fauquier County uses “Our America.” Loudoun County used “Our Virginia” but pulled it in October, after The Post’s report. Fairfax County still uses “Our Virginia,” and last week, a review committee in Prince William County recommended both “Our America” and “Our Virginia” for approval.

“They are willing to go to great lengths for our business. Their product is substantially less expensive than the committee’s next highest-rated competitor – very appealing in these lean economic times,” said Kenneth Bassett, Prince William’s social studies supervisor.

He said the textbook was not the only state-approved option with inaccuracies. “Unfortunately, errors are not all that uncommon in textbooks,” Bassett said. “For example, one of the other publisher’s books we reviewed confused Mount Vernon and Monticello,” he said.

Four of the five experts reviewed books published only by Five Ponds Press. The fifth reviewer, DePaul University sociology professor Christopher Einolf, has written a book on a Civil War general. He reviewed Civil War content in nine Virginia textbooks published by companies other than Five Ponds Press.

His review found that one book – from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – has particular problems. Einolf took issue with some characterizations, saying, for example, that Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman did not “destroy” Atlanta but only portions of the city. Einolf also said that Pickett’s Charge, which the book says involved 5,000 men, actually involved more than 10,000.

Calls to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt over the past week were not returned.

Einolf said many of the other books neglect key elements, such as the role of African Americans in 19th-century Virginia.

“Making a mistake is one thing. Ignoring the role that African Americans played in the state is almost as bad,” Einolf said.

Historian Mary Miley Theobald, a former Virginia Commonwealth University professor, reviewed “Our America” and concluded that it was “just too shocking for words.”

“Any literate person could have opened that book and immediately found a mistake,” she said.

Theobald’s list of errors spanned 10 pages, including inaccurate claims that men in Colonial Virginia commonly wore full suits of armor and that no Americans survived the Battle of the Alamo. Most historians say that some survived.

 

 

 

 

 

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New York Military Museum Puts Civil War Information Online

By New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, December 27, 2010:

As the Nation prepares to observe the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the New York State Military History Museum and Veterans Research Center is making capsule histories of 360,000 New York Civil War Soldiers available online.

The entire roster of New Yorkers who served during the Civil War Years, 1861-1865, is now available online, as well as the five annual reports issued by the Bureau of Military Statistics from 1864 to 1868 that chronicle the accomplishments of New Yorkers in battle.

The Civil War began on April 12 1861 when Confederate cannons fired on Union-occupied Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Caroline. On April 19 1861 the New York National Guard’s 7th Regiment was mustered into service and departed for Washington to defend the Capitol.

More than 360,000 Soldiers enlisted in New York regiments to fight for the Union during the Civil War. Capsule histories of those Soldiers military records were recorded from 1893 to 1906 in 17 volumes based on data from the New York Adjutant General’s Office and the War Department, the predecessor to today’s Department of the Army. These records have been posted in PDFformat and are searchable.

The Bureau of Military Statistics was established by the Legislature in 1863 to record the history of New York’s volunteer Soldiers by collecting newspaper clippings, artifacts, and securing the battle flags of returning units. The Bureau published five reports summarizing the information collected and detailing the contributions made by New Yorkers during the Civil War. These records are also in searchable PDF format.

That collection of printed materials, weapons, artifacts and battle flags is maintained by the Military Museum today under the control of the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs.

Visitors to the museum’s website can find out that John Hurley, the assistant surgeon of New York City’s 69th Infantry Regiment, who enlisted on Nov. 1 1862, was killed accidently in camp on April 15, 1863 near Falmouth, Virginia. Or they can learn that the towns of Onondaga County collected $8.2 million in taxes to pay bonuses to Soldiers enrolling in volunteer regiments in 1862.

The museum staff has also begun scanning in, and making available online most of the thousands of Civil War newspaper clippings that the museum has preserved since the 1860s.

“The Civil War was a critical time in the history of the United States and of New York,” said Major General Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General of New York. “I am pleased that the New York State Military Museum has been able to make this fascinating information readily accessible to New Yorkers and all Americans.”

“With the addition of these new online resources, the Military Museum and Veterans Research Center continues to make important historical and genealogical works from its collection more easily available to the public through our website.” Michael Aikey

“Almost everybody who contacts me is amazed at how much we have been able to put online,” said museum archivist Jim Gandy. “Without fail they are thankful that it is online because some of the stuff only exists on microfilm so you can’t even get it from the library.”

The process of digitizing these historic documents began almost eight years ago and has relied heavily on volunteers willing to spend time scanning in documents, Gandy said.

The museum’s catalog of its collection of photographs, books, articles, and paintings is also being turned into digital information and is now searchable online, Gandy said.

While the museum holds vast amounts of information about the Civil War and is making that available online, other military data of interest to history and genealogy buffs is also now available online.

Thanks to the efforts of volunteers the names of all 13,025 who served as officers in the New York State Militia, the precursor to the New York National Guard, prior to 1858, have been indexed. Local high school students fulfilling the obligation to spend 20 hours volunteering did much of this work over the last year, Gandy said.

Another volunteer project involved establishing a searchable database of the 23,315 members of the New York National Guard who were awarded the New York State Long and Faithful Service Medal between its inception in 1894 and 1963.

One of those volunteers was Greta Hamilton, a Webster Grove, Missouri resident.

She was doing research on the history of the 369th Infantry, a historically Black New York National Guard Regiment, discovered the museum’s website and also discovered that Gandy was looking for people to help digitize records, she explained.

“I told him whatever was pressing I would be willing to work on,” she said.

“I learned a great deal about the units of New York and took the time to read up on many of their histories.”

“I am curious by nature, so this was really fun. Bottom line anything that will help promote the veteran I am all for it,” said Hamilton, a veteran herself.

Gary Mitchell, a veteran, Rochester resident, and West Point graduate, also volunteered to digitize information and said he really enjoyed spending time turning paper information into searchable, online documents.

“I learned that New York (National Guard) was often on the cutting edge of military technology, and in the 1880′ and 1890’s was frequently far in advance of the US Army in technology and application,” Mitchell said. “I learned to have a great respect for our early citizen soldiers, who volunteered their time without any pay what-so-ever, often paying dues and buying their own uniforms in exchange for the privilege of belonging to a local unit.”

“I learned that much of our military heritage is forgotten and exists only in scattered records and accounts, and if we do nothing, this heritage will be lost forever. Every time I make an entry in the digital database, I imagine a family member’s delight as this entry someday provides another piece of their family’s genealogy,” Mitchell explained.

The Military History Museum is also the custodian of New York’s Civil War Battle Flags. More than 800 flags collected when regiments returned from the war are stored. Many of those have been conserved.

Other items now available online at the New York State Military Museum website relate to the New York National Guard’s history in World War I and World War II.

Copies of two publications issued just before and during World War I, the “Rio Grande Rattler” from 1916 and the “Wadsworth Gas Attack “from 1917 are now available for download from the website.

The Rio Grande Rattler was published when the New York National Guard was mobilized and sent to the Mexican Border in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson following a raid on Columbus New Mexico by the troops of Mexican Revolutionary Poncho Villa. New York National Guardsmen guarded the border with Mexico in 1916 just as they would in 2006.

In 1917, New York’s 27th Division was mobilized for service in World War II and trained at Camp Wadsworth South Carolina.

Twenty-three years later the Guardsmen of the 27th Division were again on federal service, this time at Fort McClellan Maryland following President Franklin Roosevelt’s activation of the National Guard for one year of service following the successful German invasion of France. The yearbook published for the division’s Soldiers that year, which includes photographs of every unit and key officer, as well as pictures of the training, can be downloaded.

Key links on the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center Website:

•Roster of New York Volunteers during the Civil War:http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/rosters/rosters.htm

•Annual Reports of the Bureau of Military Statistics, 1864-1868:http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/annual_reports/annual_reports_index.htm

•New York State Militia Officers Prior to 1858:http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/research/OfficersPriorTo1858/NYSM_OfficersPriorTo1858_Intro.htm

•List of Long and Faithful Service Medal: Holders:http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/research/decorations/LongAndFaithful/Index_LF.htm

•The Wadsworth Gas Attack and Rio Grande Rattler:http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/mexBorder/Rio_Grande_Rattler.htm

•27th Division Year Book, 1941:http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/wwii/infantry/27thInfDiv/27thInfDivMain.htm

 

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Civil War Message in a Bottle

Steve Szkotak for the Associated Press, December 25, 2010:

A glass vial stopped with a cork during the Civil War has been opened, revealing a coded message to the desperate Confederate commander in Vicksburg on the day the Mississippi city fell to Union forces 147 years ago.

The dispatch offered no hope to doomed Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton: Reinforcements are not on the way.

The encrypted, 6-line message was dated July 4, 1863, the date of Pemberton’s surrender to Union forces led by Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Siege of Vicksburg in what historians say was a turning point midway into the Civil War.

The message is from a Confederate commander on the west side of the Mississippi River across from Pemberton.

“He’s saying, ‘I can’t help you. I have no troops, I have no supplies, I have no way to get over there,’ ” Museum of the Confederacy collections manager Catherine M. Wright said of the author of the dispiriting message. “It was just another punctuation mark to just how desperate and dire everything was.”

The bottle, less than 2 inches in length, had sat undisturbed at the museum since 1896. It was a gift from Capt. William A. Smith, of King George County, who served during the Vicksburg siege.

It was Wright who decided to investigate the contents of the strange little bottle containing a tightly wrapped note, a .38-caliber bullet and a white thread.

“Just sort of a curiosity thing,” said Wright. “This notion of, do we have any idea what his message says?”

The answer was no.

Wright asked a local art conservator, Scott Nolley, to examine the clear vial before she attempted to open it. He looked at the bottle under an electron microscope and discovered that salt had bonded the cork tightly to the bottle’s mouth. He put the bottle on a hotplate to expand the glass, used a scalpel to loosen the cork, then gently plucked it out with tweezers.

The sewing thread was looped around the 6 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch paper, which was folded to fit into the bottle. The rolled message was removed and taken to a paper conservator, who successfully unfurled the message.

But the coded message, which appears to be a random collection of letters, did not reveal itself immediately.

Eager to learn the meaning of the code, Wright took the message home for the weekend to decipher. She had no success.

A retired CIA code breaker, David Gaddy, was contacted, and he cracked the code in several weeks.

A Navy cryptologist independently confirmed Gaddy’s interpretation. Cmdr. John B. Hunter, an information warfare officer, said he deciphered the code over two weeks while on deployment aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. A computer could have unscrambled the words in a fraction of the time.

“To me, it was not that difficult,” he said. “I had fun with this and it took me longer than I should have.”

The code is called the “Vigenere cipher,” a centuries-old encryption in which letters of the alphabet are shifted a set number of places so an “a” would become a “d” — essentially, creating words with different letter combinations.

The code was widely used by Southern forces during the Civil War, according to Civil War Times Illustrated.

The source of the message was likely Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, of the Texas Division, who had under his command William Smith, the donor of the bottle.

The full text of the message to Pemberton reads:

“Gen’l Pemberton:

You can expect no help from this side of the river. Let Gen’l Johnston know, if possible, when you can attack the same point on the enemy’s lines. Inform me also and I will endeavor to make a diversion. I have sent some caps (explosive devices). I subjoin a despatch from General Johnston.”

The last line, Wright said, seems to suggest a separate delivery to Pemberton would be the code to break the message.

“The date of this message clearly indicates that this person has no idea that the city is about to be surrendered,” she said.

The Johnston mention in the dispatch is Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, whose 32,000 troops were encamped south of Vicksburg and prevented from assisting Pemberton by Grant’s 35,000 Union troops. Pemberton had held out hope that Johnston would eventually come to his aid.

The message was dispatched during an especially terrible time in Vicksburg. Grant was unsuccessful in defeating Pemberton’s troops on two occasions, so the Union commander instead decided to encircle the city and block the flow of supplies or support.

Many in the city resorted to eating cats, dogs and leather. Soup was made from wallpaper paste.

After a six-week siege, Pemberton relented. Vicksburg, so scarred by the experience, refused to celebrate July 4 for the next 80 years.

So what about the bullet in the bottom of the bottle?

Wright suspects the messenger was instructed to toss the bottle into the river if Union troops intercepted his passage. The weight of the bullet would have carried the corked bottle to the bottom, she said.

For Pemberton, the bottle is symbolic of his lost cause: the bad news never made it to him.

The Confederate messenger probably arrived to the river’s edge and saw a U.S. flag flying over the city.

“He figured out what was going on and said, ‘Well, this is pointless,’ and turned back,” Wright said.

___

 

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John Wilkes Booth Brother’s Body to be Exhumed

Travis Andersen for The Boston Globe, December 24, 2010:

The woman believed to be the closest living relative of presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth hopes to exhume the remains of his brother at a Cambridge cemetery to help determine if the man who shot Abraham Lincoln is buried in a family plot in Baltimore, as claimed, she and her lawyer said yesterday.

The woman — Lois Trebisacci, 60, of Westerly, R.I. — identified herself yesterday as the great-great-great granddaughter of legendary actor Edwin Booth, the trigger man’s brother. He died in 1893 and is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

She said by phone that the family may be able to compare Edwin Booth’s DNA to remains of the man believed to be John Wilkes Booth, located in the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C., and the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.

If there is a DNA match, said Trebisacci, the family would know that John Wilkes Booth is buried in a family plot in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore. Family members could then dismiss the theory that he escaped after shooting Lincoln in 1865 and lived under an assumed name for decades, she said.

“I just feel we have a right to know who’s buried there,’’ she said.

Neither Trebisacci nor the family have filed any requests to exhume the body in Cambridge. A spokeswoman for Mount Auburn Cemetery could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In 1995, a judge in Baltimore denied her request to exhume the remains of the man believed to be John Wilkes Booth in an effort to confirm his identity, her attorney, Mark Zaid of Washington, said yesterday. He said the cemetery objected to an exhumation, even though he had secured permission from 26 living relatives.

“The family was as much interested in disproving [the escape] theory as they were in proving it,’’ he said by phone.

Zaid said he plans to contact Mount Auburn about the possibility of an exhumation early in the new year.

Nate Orlowek, 53, of Silver Spring, Md., said by phone that he has spent his entire adult life researching the theory that the assassin escaped from custody and died in Oklahoma in 1903.

He said he appeared on the television program “Unsolved Mysteries’’ in 1991 with Arthur Ben Chitty, a former historiographer at the University of the South in Sewanne, Tenn., to discuss the case. Chitty has since died.

Orlowek said there is strong evidence that Booth escaped capture, including eyewitness descriptions of the body later said to be Booth’s that contradicted descriptions of the assassin in life. He said he believes the real Booth confessed to the killing to his friend and attorney, Finis Bates, in Texas in 1877.

Bates published “Escape and suicide of John Wilkes Booth’’ in 1907, a purported account of that confession, according to the Library of Congress.

Orlowek and Trebisacci said a program exploring the escape theory was scheduled to air last night at 10 on the History Channel.

Orlowek said he was interviewed for the segment and was pleased to see renewed interest in the case.

“I’m the troublemaker,’’ he said. “I’m the person who’s been behind this all along for 37 years.’’

 

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Civil War Anniversary Controversy

Controversy continues to swirl as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War nears in 2011.

Story by Wayne Washington, “Celebrate or Commemorate: Debate Rages over Civil War Anniversary, The State, December 16, 2010:

Organizers of Civil War anniversary events sought Wednesday to distance themselves from a ball being held Monday to celebrate secession.

“I won’t be going,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said after a news conference held at the Historic Charleston Foundation’s headquarters on East Bay Street, where the mayor and those organizing events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War underscored their desire to bring attention to historic events without celebrating the war.

The Secession Ball, organized by the Confederate Heritage Trust and sponsored in part by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, is scheduled to be held on Monday in Charleston’s Gaillard Auditorium. The ball will feature a 45-minute play re-enacting the signing of the Ordinance of Secession before a gathering of party-goers wearing period clothes.

Charleston in ruins

With Civil War-related anniversary events planned over the next five years, the ball is the first flashpoint between those who want to celebrate the war and those who want to note its historic significance.

Riley said the 150th anniversary of the war is “not a celebration.”

“There’s nothing to celebrate,” Riley said. “It was a huge tragedy.”

Riley said he is not concerned the ball will cloud efforts to have inclusive events that do not celebrate the Confederacy. “It’s not a sanctioned event,” he said of the ball. “It’s a private activity. America is a country that recognizes and respects differences.”

Efforts to reach ball organizers Wednesday were unsuccessful. Randy Burbage, listed on the Confederate Heritage Trust’s Web site as its vice president, said when contacted he could not speak for the organization.

The National Parks Service and the Fort Sumter/Fort Moultrie Trust, as well as a slew of other groups, are holding a variety of events to commemorate the start of the war.

Leaders of those groups emphasized on Wednesday they have no control over the actions of private groups.

The Fort Sumter/Fort Moultrie Trust said, in a news release, the Trust “has not supported or contributed to the Secession Ball as the Trust does not see it as part of its mission.”

“One of the stated purposes of the ball is to celebrate a ‘joyous’ occasion when South Carolina seceded from the Union,” said the Trust’s statement. “The Trust cannot join in that celebration as a fair reading of the Declaration of Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina adopted by the Secession Convention shows that the cause for secession rested on the North’s hostility to slavery and its refusal, among other things, to enforce the fugitive slave laws.”

The Trust’s Web site links to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a secession ball sponsor that disputes the Trust’s reading of history.

In its press release, the Trust said, “Because we disagree on some points does not mean the Trust cannot find common ground on others.”

Trust president Robert Rosen said his organization wants to “work with groups in a constructive manner,” ensuring all points of view — including Confederate points of view —- have a chance to be aired.

Rosen said there is no single set of facts regarding the war, complicating efforts to understand it and making it more important for all sides to be heard. “Who owns the story?” Rosen asked rhetorically. “It’s not one story.”

Before Wednesday’s news conference, representatives of different organizations held a meeting to discuss the logistics of what will be a five-year period of events tied to war’s anniversary.

Of the roughly 40 people who participated in that meeting, only a handful were African-Americans. One, Michael Allen of the National Parks Service, oversaw the meeting, repeatedly saying the goal of the events is to educate and bring people together.

He said the upcoming events won’t bear similarities to those in 1961, when the 100th anniversary of the war’s start became a point of Southern nostalgia. “We’re on the road to a different commemoration,” Allen said.

Another African-American participant, Janie Harriot, vice chairwoman of the S.C. African American Heritage Commission, thinks the events will be a net positive for the state. “We will come out of this commemoration with a better South Carolina, and we will have some healing as South Carolinians.”

 

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Possible Remains of Amelia Earhart Found?

Story by Sean Murphy of the Associated Press, December 18, 2010:

The three bone fragments turned up on a deserted South Pacific island that lay along the course Amelia Earhart was following when she vanished. Nearby were several tantalizing artifacts: some old makeup, some glass bottles and shells that had been cut open.

Now scientists at the University of Oklahoma hope to extract DNA from the tiny bone chips in tests that could prove Earhart died as a castaway after failing in her 1937 quest to become the first woman to fly around the world.

“There’s no guarantee,” said Ric Gillespie, director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, a group of aviation enthusiasts in Delaware that found the pieces of bone this year while on an expedition to Nikumaroro Island, about 1,800 miles south of Hawaii.

“You only have to say you have a bone that may be human and may be linked to Earhart and people get excited. But it is true that, if they can get DNA, and if they can match it to Amelia Earhart’s DNA, that’s pretty good.”

It could be months before scientists know for sure — and it could turn out the bones are from a turtle. The fragments were found near a hollowed-out turtle shell that might have been used to collect rain water, but there were no other turtle parts nearby.

Earhart’s disappearance on July 2, 1937, remains one of the 20th century’s most enduring mysteries. Did she run out of fuel and crash at sea? Did her Lockheed Electra develop engine trouble? Did she spot the island from the sky and attempt to land on a nearby reef?

“What were her last moments like? What was she doing? What happened?” asked Robin Jensen, an associate professor of communications at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., who has studied Earhart’s writings and speeches.

Since 1989, Gillespie’s group has made 10 trips to the island, trying each time to find clues that might help determine the fate of Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan.

Last spring, volunteers working at what seemed to be an abandoned campsite found one piece of bone that appeared to be from a neck and another unknown fragment dissimilar to bird or fish bones. A third fragment might be from a finger. The largest of the pieces is just over an inch long.

The area was near a site where native work crews found skeletal remains in 1940. Bird and fish carcasses suggested Westerners had prepared meals there.

“This site tells the story of how someone or some people attempted to live as castaways,” Gillespie said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press. “These fish weren’t eaten like Pacific Islanders” eat fish.

Millions of dollars have been spent in failed attempts to learn what happened to Earhart, a Kansas native declared dead by a California court in early 1939.

The official version says Earhart and Noonan ran out of fuel and crashed at sea while flying from Lae, New Guinea, to Howland Island, which had a landing strip and fuel.

Gillespie’s book “Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance,” and “Amelia Earhart’s Shoes,” written by four volunteers from the aircraft group, suggest the pair landed on the reef and survived, perhaps for months, on scant food and rainwater.

Gillespie, a pilot, said the aviator would have needed only about 700 feet of unobstructed space to land because her plane would have been traveling only about 55 mph at touchdown.

“It looks like she could have landed successfully on the reef surrounding the island. It’s very flat and smooth,” Gillespie said. “At low tide, it looks like this place is surrounded by a parking lot.”

However, Gillespie said, the plane, even if it landed safely, would have been slowly dragged into the sea by the tides. The waters off the reef are 1,000 to 2,000 feet deep. His group needs $3 million to $5 million for a deep-sea dive.

The island is on the course Earhart planned to follow from Lae, New Guinea, to Howland Island, which had a landing strip and fuel. Over the last seven decades, searches of the remote atoll have been inconclusive.

After the latest find, anthropologists who had previously worked with Gillespie’s group suggested that he send the bones to the University of Oklahoma’s Molecular Anthropology Laboratory, which has experience extracting genetic material from old bones. Gillespie’s group also has a genetic sample from an Earhart female relative for comparison with the bones.

The lab is looking for mitochondrial DNA, which is passed along only through females, so there is no need to have a Noonan sample.

Cecil Lewis, an assistant professor of anthropology at the lab, said the university received a little more than a gram of bone fragments about two weeks ago. If researchers are able to extract DNA and link it to Earhart, a sample would be sent to another lab for verification.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That’s why we’re trying to downplay a lot of the media attention right now,” Lewis said. “For all we know, this is just a turtle bone, and a lot of people are going to be very disheartened.”

Under the best circumstances, the analysis would take two weeks. If scientists have trouble with the sample, that time frame could stretch into months, Lewis said.

“Ancient DNA is incredibly unpredictable,” he said.

Other material recovered this year also suggested the presence of Westerners at the isolated island site:

• Someone carried shells ashore before cutting them open and slicing out the meat. Islanders cut the meat out at sea.

• Bottles found nearby were melted on the bottom, suggesting they had been put into a fire, possibly to boil water. (A Coast Guard unit on the island during World War II would have had no need to boil water.)

• Bits of makeup were found. The group is checking to see which products Earhart endorsed and whether an inventory lists specific types of makeup carried on her final trip.

• A glass bottle with remnants of lanolin and oil, possibly hand lotion.

In 2007, the group found a piece of a pocket knife but didn’t know whether it was left by the Coast Guard or castaways. This year, it found the shattered remains of the knife, suggesting someone had smashed it to extract the blades. Gillespie speculated a castaway used a blade to make a spear to stab shallow-water fish like those found at the campsite.

Following Earhart’s disappearance, distress signals picked up by distant ships pointed back to the area of Nikumaroro Island, but while pilots passing over saw signs of recent habitation, the island was crossed off the list as having been searched, Gillespie said.

In 1940, a British overseer on the island recovered a partial human skeleton, a woman’s shoe and an empty sextant box at what appeared to be a former campsite, littered with turtle, clamshell and bird remains.

Thinking of Earhart, the overseer sent the items to Fiji, where a British doctor decided they belonged to a stocky European or mixed-blood male, ruling out any Earhart connection.

The bones later vanished, but in 1998, Gillespie’s group located the doctor’s notes in London. Two other forensic specialists reviewed the doctor’s bone measurements and agreed they were more “consistent with” a female of northern European descent, about Earhart’s age and height.

On their own visits to the island, volunteers recovered an aluminum panel that could be from an Electra, another piece of a woman’s shoe and a “cat’s paw” heel dating from the 1930s; another shoe heel, possibly a man’s, and an oddly cut piece of clear Plexiglas.

The sextant box might have been Noonan’s. The woman’s shoe and heel resemble a blucher-style oxford seen in a pre-takeoff photo of Earhart. The plastic shard is the exact thickness and curvature of an Electra’s side window.

The body of evidence is intriguing, but Gillespie insists the team is “constantly agonizing over whether we are being dragged down a path that isn’t right.”

 

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