5 Things You Didn't Know About Maya Lin

Maya Ying Lin, the Yale architecture student who submitted the winning design for the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, holds a scale model of her design on May 6, 1981. © Bettmann/CORBIS

Sculptor and architect Maya Lin is best known for her design of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, D.C., but modern viewers may not know about her rise to prominence and the subsequent controversy. Let’s take a look at five interesting facts about the architect from Athens, Ohio.

1. She Had an Early Start

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Lin’s design has become so celebrated that it’s easy to forget how young she was when she first proposed it. The national contest to design a Vietnam memorial drew 1,421 entries, including such oddball suggestions as a steel soldier’s helmet the size of a house, but in the end, Lin’s granite wall won the competition. She wasn’t a seasoned architect and sculptor, though; when Lin won she was still a 21-year-old senior at Yale.

Although the victory obviously kick-started Lin’s career, it also led to some awkward situations. Lin had originally designed the monument as a project for a class on funerary architecture with Professor Andrus Burr. Burr had submitted his own design in the memorial competition but lost out to Lin. It's often reported that Burr gave Lin's design a B+, but the professor claims she received an A (but she received a B+ for his course).

2. She Had Her Share of Critics

Lin had to weather harsh criticism from a variety of sources. The National Review denounced Lin’s project as “Orwellian glop.” Vietnam veterans decried it as a “black gash of shame.” And those were the nicer critiques. Tom Wolfe and Peter Schlafly witheringly dubbed it “a tribute to Jane Fonda.” While Lin had intended for the wall’s simplicity to prompt introspection and honor for the fallen soldiers, many critics just thought it was bleak or strange, particularly because the soldiers’ names were listed chronologically rather than alphabetically.

Ross Perot might have been Lin’s most visible opponent, though. The tycoon and future presidential candidate had put up $160,000 to help fund the design competition, but he dismissed the winning design as “something for New York intellectuals.” Lin later told The New Yorker that Perot even visited her office and asked, “Doncha just think they need a parade?” Lin responded, “Well, they really need more than a parade.”

3. But She Had One Very Polite Ally

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As veterans’ groups and Perot were publicly agitating for Lin’s design to either be scrapped or heavily modified, Lin found an unlikely advocate: Miss Manners. Judith Martin, better known to the world as the etiquette columnist, took Lin under her wing during the architect’s tumultuous time in Washington as she tried to get the memorial built. Martin, along with Washington Post architecture critic Wolf von Eckardt, helped Lin get some positive publicity to sway attitudes in favor of her project.

4. Her Critics Ended Up Eating Crow

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Although Lin’s design was controversial when it was in the planning stages, once it was built a number of her more outspoken critics changed their stances. Lin later told PBS that the critic who had penned the “Orwellian glop” insult wrote her a very nice letter to apologize. Lin recounted that the critic wrote, “I'm really sorry. I made a mistake."

In the end, Lin took all of the controversy in stride. In the same PBS interview she said the only people she ended up really thinking less of because of the whole fracas were Ross Perot and Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt, who held up the memorial’s building permits in an attempt to change the design.

5. The Wall Wasn’t Her Only Controversial Win

For a while, Lin seemingly couldn’t escape controversy no matter how hard she tried. In 1994, documentary filmmaker Freida Lee Mock won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision. Nice honor for Lin as the film’s subject, right? Not so much. Turns out that Lin was part of another award-winning project that drew considerable fire.

While most critics agreed that the film about Lin was a perfectly good documentary, they couldn’t understand why Hoop Dreams, which most viewers thought was a vastly superior film, couldn’t even garner a lousy nomination for the Oscar. After similarly praised docs like The Thin Blue Line and Roger & Me had suffered the same slight, many insiders began agitating for a new way to nominate documentaries. Since Mock had formerly chaired the Academy’s documentary committee, conspiracy theorists leveled charges of cronyism against the award.

The real problem, though, was that the criteria for garnering a nomination were a bit bizarre. Since the Academy only had 47 people on its documentary nomination committee – as opposed to 400-plus on its foreign film committee – it was incredibly difficult to screen every potential nominee. While most categories required that films be shown for at least a week in a theatrical run in Los Angeles, best doc nominees could only be drawn from a list of films that had appeared at a select handful of festivals. While this system helped cut the undermanned committee’s workload, it led to head-scratching omissions from the final lists of nominees.

The Lin documentary’s controversial win (and Hoop Dreams’ snub) ended up being the last straw for documentary filmmakers. Within a year the Academy added a second documentary review committee in New York and began requiring a weeklong theatrical run for eligibility in the category.

If there's someone you'd like to see profiled in a future edition of '5 Things You Didn't Know About...,' leave us a comment. You can read the previous installments here.

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5 Things You Should Know About Robert Todd Lincoln
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Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln's oldest son and the only Lincoln child to survive into adulthood. While he didn't make quite the mark on history that his father did, Robert Lincoln had a pretty interesting life himself. Let's take a look at five things you might not know about him:

1. He Was on Ulysses S. Grant's Personal Staff

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Part of Abraham Lincoln's mystique lies in his humble roots as a self-made man who found education where he could. His eldest son didn't have to go through quite as many trials and tribulations to do some learning, though. Robert left Springfield, Illinois, to attend boarding school at New Hampshire's elite Phillips Exeter Academy when he was a young man, and he later graduated from Harvard during his father's presidency.

After completing his undergrad degree, Robert stuck around Cambridge to go to Harvard Law School, but that arrangement didn't last very long. After studying law for just a few months, Lincoln received a commission as a captain in the army. Lincoln's assignment put him on Ulysses S. Grant's personal staff, so he didn't see much fighting. He did get a nice view of history, though; Lincoln was present as part of Grant's junior staff at Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.

After the war ended, Lincoln moved to Chicago with his mother and brother and wrapped up his legal studies.

2. The Booth Family Did Him a Favor

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In 1863 or 1864, young Robert Lincoln was traveling by train from New York to Washington during a break from his studies at Harvard. He hopped off the train during a stop at Jersey City, only to find himself on an extremely crowded platform. To be polite, Lincoln stepped back to wait his turn to walk across the platform, his back pressed to one of the train's cars.

This situation probably seemed harmless enough until the train started moving, which whipped Lincoln around and dropped him into the space between the platform and train, an incredibly dangerous place to be.

Lincoln probably would have been dead meat if a stranger hadn't yanked him out of the hole by his collar. That stranger? None other than Edwin Booth, one of the most celebrated actors of the 19th century and brother of eventual Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln immediately recognized the famous thespian "“ this was sort of like if George Clooney pulled you from a burning car today "“ and thanked him effusively. The actor had no idea whose life he had saved until he received a letter commending him for his bravery in saving the President's son a few months later.

3. He Had a Strange Knack for Being Near Assassinations

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Lee's surrender wasn't the only history Lincoln ended up witnessing, although things got a bit grislier for him after Appomattox. As he arrived back in Washington in April 1865 Lincoln's parents invited him to go see Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater with them. The young officer was so exhausted after his journey that he begged off so he could get a good night's sleep. That night, of course, John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln's father, and Robert Todd was with the celebrated president when he passed away the next morning.

By 1881, Lincoln's political lineage and prominence as a lawyer qualified him for a national office, and he became Secretary of War under the newly inaugurated James A. Garfield. That July, Lincoln was scheduled to travel to Elberon, New Jersey, by train with the President, but the trip never took off. Before Lincoln and Garfield's train could leave the station, Charles Guiteau shot the Garfield, who died of complications from the wound two months later.

Oddly, that wasn't all for Lincoln, though. Two decades passed without a presidential assassination, but Lincoln's strange luck reared its head again in 1901. Lincoln traveled to Buffalo at the invitation of President William McKinley to attend the Pan-American Exposition. Although he arrived a bit late to the event, Lincoln was on his way to meet McKinley when anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot the president twice at close range.

Following these three bits of bad luck Lincoln refused to attend any presidential functions. He dryly noted that there was "a certain fatality about the presidential function when I am present."

4. He Realized His Mom Was a Little Nutty

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Mary Todd Lincoln is fairly widely renowned today for being mentally ill, but it wasn't quite such an open secret when she was still alive. Robert, however, realized that his mother needed psychiatric help so she didn't become a danger to herself or an embarrassment to her family, so he had her involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in 1875 following a hearing that declared her insane.

Mary Todd was none too pleased about this plan. She not only snuck letters to her lawyer to help her escape from the institution, she also wrote newspaper editors in an effort to convince the public of her sanity. Mary Todd's ploy worked; at a second sanity hearing in 1876 she was declared sane and released from the Batavia, Illinois, sanatorium to which she'd been confined. However, by this point she'd been publicly humiliated and never really patched up her relationship with Robert before her death in 1882.

5. He Made Some Serious Dough on the Railroads


Once he got his legal practice up and running, Lincoln found a particularly lucrative clientele in the booming railroad industry. He spent most of his career working as a corporate lawyer for various railroads and train-related companies; the only breaks were his four-year stint as Secretary of War under Garfield and successor Chester A. Arthur and a four-year hitch as a minister to Britain under President Benjamin Harrison.

One of Lincoln's major clients was the Pullman Palace Car Company, for which he served as general counsel. When founder George Pullman died in 1897, Lincoln became president of the company, and in 1911 he became chairman of the Pullman Company's board. His lofty position in one of the country's most lucrative companies made him a millionaire and enabled Lincoln to build a sprawling estate, Hildene, in Manchester, Vermont.

16 404 Pages That Are Worth the Error

The poem above is old, but the sentiment is universal. I first saw the verse at Plinko's error page, but the original author is nowhere to be found, although the verse owes a lot to Edgar Allan Poe. Looking for something on the internet that leads to an error page is frustrating, but there's an art to alleviating the reader's pain. Only this, and nothing more. Some websites make their 404 page entertaining in itself, and a few make it a real treat. You might even be distracted from what you were trying to find in the first place!

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is all about movies, so it makes sense that their error page gives you a well-known quote about your situation. There are about a dozen quotes that rotate, with some exact quotes, and some that are altered for the occasion.

BedMap is a hotel finder. They also found a great movie quote to adapt for their error page.

The Association for Computing Machinery's error page talks to you in text. The message goes on way after what you see here, until you feel much sorrier for the poor web server than you feel for yourself.

The error page at the game Brain Chef does the same thing as ACM, but instead of becoming melancholy, it flirts with you! And it keeps on, trying to keep you from navigating elsewhere.

The 404 page at Everlasting Blort acknowledges that the server is just as confused as you are. The page contains a flashing .gif that may trigger reactions if you suffer from photosensitive epilepsy. Those who visit Blort often already know that disorientation is what you go there for in the first place.

NPR's error page looks pretty normal for National Public Radio, but it cleverly contains a list of other things besides your missing destination link that cannot be found. After Amelia Earhart and the erased Watergate tape, they list Jimmy Hoffa, your luggage, Atlantis, and Waldo. Each item links to an article about the subject.

Homestar Runner blames you for the error. Which is just as well- I blame them for not adding anything new for years. Still, if you haven't seen all the cartoons, they are there for your enjoyment. But the other error messages they've used over the years were memorable as well.

Lesson learned: don't ever cram a Swiss cake roll into your disc drive.

This Russian business site 404 page is liable to make you forget what you were looking for, even if you don't understand a word of Russian (or Romanian -thanks, !). Let's all dance! This animation is found at more than one Russian site, so it's probably a feature of the hosting service. Warning: the song might be in your head all day.

Blue Fountain Media would like to develop websites and apps for you, but if you reach their error page instead, they offer on online version of Pac-Man for you to play. That makes everything all better, doesn't it?

Titlest golf equipment knows when you've lost a link, and they'll pitch in to help you look for it. In the rough. They've found a lot of golf balls there, after all.

Joel Veitch composed a song and video for Rathergood's 404 page. As you might guess, it's sung by a kitten.

Oh dear, you've got a 404
This isn't what you came here for
Oh dear, you've got a 404, there's nothing here to see
Oh dear, you've got a 404
This isn't what you came here for
Now that you're here, let's have a 404 party!

It's just as silly as anything you could possibly be looking for in his archives.

Woodland Farmers Market sells fresh produce in Washington state. They are also Star Wars fans and punsters.

Mashable did not find the page you're looking for. But they found your socks, so that's a plus, huh? Hey wait, who's wearing my socks? Oh, that's okay, they've got a hole in them anyway.

Bluegg is a company that designs websites. They also designed a sweet 404 page that says,

Ahhhhhhhhhhh! This page doesn't exist
Not to worry. You can either head back to our homepage, or sit there and listen to a goat scream like a human.

I listened to that goat scream quite a few times while preparing this item.

The Rolling Stones website gives you a video on their error page. A very appropriate video.

To be honest, these error pages came from a list that I've been keeping for seven years now. I just added to the list as I found great 404 pages, but I hadn't stopped to check how long the list was until recently. Over the years, many great error pages were lost because the website went out of business. Others just don't seem that creative anymore. Some error pages were changed or gutted due to copyright violations. To save time, I had kept a few posts that were lists of great error pages. Now I find that those posts no longer exist, and the links redirect to boring, everyday error pages. If you know of a wonderful error page everyone should see, please tell us about it!


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