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Whose Father Was He?

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Errol Morris, documentarian and now blogger for the New York Times, brings us a fascinating investigation into the history of a single photograph (technically an ambrotype). Morris's article Whose Father Was He? explores the mystery of a photograph of three children, found on the body of a Union soldier who fell at Gettysburg in 1863. Here's the photo:

The story of the photograph, the soldier, and all the events that followed is massive and strange. In typical Morris style, the story becomes partly about its own telling -- how do we interpret history? How does evidence survive? And so on. But first, there's the mystery. Here's how Morris sets the scene (emphasis added):

The soldier's body was found near the center of Gettysburg with no identification &emdash; no regimental numbers on his cap, no corps badge on his jacket, no letters, no diary. Nothing save for an ambrotype (an early type of photograph popular in the late 1850s and 1860s) of three small children clutched in his hand. ... [This is] a story in which this photograph of three small children was used for both good and wicked purposes. First, the good.

Four men on their way to Gettysburg were forced to stop at Schriver's Tavern when their wagon broke down. They heard the tale of the fallen soldier and saw the photograph of the children. One of them, Dr. J. Francis Bourns, a Philadelphia physician on his way to tend to the wounded from the battlefield, was intrigued. He convinced Schriver to give him the photograph so that he might attempt to locate the dead man's family. Perhaps he was touched by the poignancy of the photograph &emdash; three children, all under the age of ten, now without a father. As a life-long bachelor he might have yearned for a wife or family of his own. On the other hand, perhaps he saw it as an opportunity for financial gain.

What happens next is a story of historical detective work, genealogy, nineteenth-century marketing, a cruelly mismanaged orphanage, embezzlement, a worldwide whaling voyage (!), Mayan hieroglyphics (!!), and at its core, a family tragedy told in the letters of the soldier to his wife back home...and by his descendants.

The story is broken into five increasingly rambling parts. See: Part one (the core story), part two (an extended interview with Mark Dunkelman, the author of a book about the story), part three (which opens with the line, "There is something magical and sad about chronicling the history of a man who went more than halfway around the world on a whaling ship and then died (presumably alone) in a small town, a couple of hundred miles from his home."), part four (more on Dr. Bourns, the orphanage he established, and a ton of material about the descendants of the soldier). Part five comes out tomorrow.

For more on Errol Morris, check out this interview, his documentary Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, or the classic Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

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Animals
Watch a Rogue Pet Dog Interrupt a Russian News Anchor on Air
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Last week, a Russian news broadcast briefly went to the dogs after its host was startled by a surprise co-anchor: a friendly black canine that wandered on set, announced its presence with a loud bark, and climbed onto her desk.

 

As TODAY reports, Mir24 TV anchor Ilona Linarte went off script for a few minutes, telling viewers "I've got a dog here. What is this dog doing in the studio?" After the initial shock wore off, she gave her furry guest a tepid welcome, patting its head as she gently pushed it off the desk. ("I actually prefer cats,'' Linarte remarked. "I'm a cat lady.")

Linarte’s query was answered when the TV station announced that the dog had accompanied another show’s guest on set, and somehow got loose. That said, rogue animals have a proud tradition of crashing live news broadcasts around the world, so we’re assuming this won’t be the last time a news anchor is upstaged by an adorable guest star (some of which have better hair than them).

[h/t TODAY]

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Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0
SpaceX Is Sending Two Private Citizens Around the Moon
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Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0

Two members of the public are set to take an historic trip around the Moon, according to an announcement from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. As The Verge reports, the anonymous private citizens have already placed substantial deposits on the commercial space flight.

The private spacecraft company SpaceX revealed on Monday that the Falcon Heavy rocket will be launching with its Crew Dragon spacecraft in late 2018. The mission will consist of a circumnavigation of the Moon, passing over the body’s surface before traveling farther into space and returning to Earth. In total, the trip will cover 300,000 to 400,000 miles and take a week to complete.

A noteworthy part of the plan is the human cargo that will be on board. Instead of professional astronauts, the craft will carry two paying customers into space. The passengers, who’ve yet to be named, will both need to pass several fitness tests before they're permitted to make the journey. According to The Verge, Musk said the customers are “very serious” and that the cost of the trip is “comparable” to that of a crewed mission to the International Space Station. The goal for SpaceX is to eventually send one or two commercial flights into space each year, which could account for 10 to 20 percent of the company’s earnings.

[h/t The Verge]

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