The Mapparium, a Stained-Glass Globe You Can Stand Inside

No matter how hard they try, most maps have an image problem. They’re flat, while the Earth (spoiler alert) is not, and the difficulty of squashing a spherical shape onto a flat object produces all kinds of distortions. 

The Mapparium in the Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston lets you experience the Earth’s geography without as many compromises.  The room includes a three-story, stained glass globe that you can actually walk inside of and, as Dylan Thuras of Atlas Obscura notes in the video above, the continents are reproduced in perfect relative scale. That means you can get an accurate sense of how big  (or small) Texas really is, compared to, say, Greenland.

Many of the features on the map are not, however, accurately labeled, at least in the way we would recognize them today. The labels on the glass are stuck in 1935, the year the map debuted in the Christian Science Publishing Society building. The building’s architect, Chester Lindsay Churchill, saw the Mapparium (originally called “the Glass Room” or “the Globe Room”) as a symbol for the global outreach of The Christian Science Monitor. The panels were originally designed to be replaceable—Churchill must have known 1935’s political boundaries and national names wouldn’t last forever—but Christian Science officials have seen fit to keep it preserved as a work of art, rather than something that should be constantly edited. 

Today, the room also functions as an example of a whispering gallery—a spherical or circular room with acoustics that allow a person whispering in one corner to be heard in another, even if it’s relatively far away (Grand Central Terminal includes a famous example). The Mapparium’s shape also creates other interesting acoustical features—people speaking in the middle of the room will sound much louder than usual. It’s a fun place to stand while you try to pronounce all the names of places that no longer exist. 

Header image via Smart DestinationsFlickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

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