CLOSE
Original image
NASA (Public Domain)

On This Day in 1959, America Met the Mercury Seven

Original image
NASA (Public Domain)

On April 9, 1959, NASA introduced the Mercury Seven, the first American astronauts. After exhaustive tests that some called "torture," the seven were selected from a pool of more than 500. The criteria for selection were extremely specific, including everything from educational achievement to the ability to withstand sitting in a 130-degree chamber for hours. They were all military test pilots, and they stood 5'11" or shorter, because NASA intended to build small spacecraft.

The Mercury Seven in pressure suits, circa 1960. Back: Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Gordo Cooper. Front: Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter. Note the shoes. Slayton and Glenn are wearing boots that have been spray-painted. Photo courtesy of NASA (Public Domain)

At their first press conference, the astronauts wore civilian clothes, despite all holding military ranks. They seemed like normal guys, and NASA was somewhat dismayed when the men turned into overnight celebrities. (See The Right Stuff for an account of their, ahem, adventures.) The Mercury Seven were: Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon "Gordo" Cooper Jr., John H. Glenn Jr., Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Walter "Wally" Schirra Jr., Alan Shepard Jr., and Donald "Deke" Slayton.

All seven of the men ended up serving on missions, though John Glenn was clearly the most famous, as the first American in orbit and the sole Marine in the seven. He was also the longest-lived member of the group, passing away on December 8, 2016. (Gus Grissom died tragically in the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967.)

Here's the press conference featuring the seven, dressed in snappy suits. Note the ashtrays.

In this last bit of the conference, note John Glenn's answer at 4:15. He was asked what the toughest part of the testing was. Sample quote: "We had some pretty good tests... If you figure how many openings there are on the human body and how far you can go into any one of 'em.... Now you answer which one would be the toughest for you, and [shrugs]."

Original image
Courtesy of Freeman's
arrow
History
For Sale: More Than 150 Items of Victorian Mourning Art, Clothing, and Jewelry
Original image
Courtesy of Freeman's

Funeral fashion hasn't always been reserved for memorial services, judging from a massive memento mori auction that's being billed as perhaps the largest collection of mourning art ever offered for sale. Spotted by Atlas Obscura and sponsored by Philadelphia-based Freeman’s auction house, the online sale—which kicks off on Wednesday, November 15—features more than 150 works from a renowned private collection, ranging from clothing and jewelry to artworks.

During the Victorian era, people paid tribute to their loved ones by wearing black mourning garb and symbolic accessories. (The latter often featured jet or real locks of hair, according to a 2008 article published in the academic journal Omega.) They also commissioned death-themed artworks and objects, including paintings, as exhibited by Angus Trumble's 2007 book Love & Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria.

These items have long since fallen out of fashion, but some historic preservationists amassed their own macabre private collections. Anita Schorsch, who’s arguably the most famous collector of memento mori, used her historic treasures to launch the Museum of Mourning Art back in 1990. Located in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, the museum is—as its name suggests—the only institution in the nation devoted exclusively to mourning art. The museum has been closed since Schorsch's death in 2015, and the items featured in Freeman's auction are from her collection.

Check out some of its memento mori below, or view the online catalogue here.

Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Courtesy OF Freeman's


Hairwork shroud pin, 19th century, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's


18th century iron and brass cemetery padlock from London, England, part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

Original image
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
arrow
History
Abraham Lincoln Letter About Slavery Could Fetch $700,000 at Auction
Original image
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, in which future president Abraham Lincoln spent seven debates discussing the issue of slavery with incumbent U.S. senator Stephen Douglas, paved the way for Lincoln’s eventual ascent to the presidency. Now part of that history can be yours, as the AP reports.

A signed letter from Lincoln to his friend Henry Asbury dated July 31, 1858 explores the “Freeport Question” he would later pose to Douglas during the debates, forcing the senator to publicly choose between two contrasting views related to slavery’s expansion in U.S. territories: whether it should be up to the people or the courts to decide where slavery was legal. (Douglas supported the popular choice argument, but that position was directly counter to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.)

The first page of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Asbury
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

In the letter, Lincoln was responding to advice Asbury had sent him on preparing for his next debate with Douglas. Asbury essentially framed the Freeport Question for the politician. In his reply, Lincoln wrote that it was a great question, but would be difficult to get Douglas to answer:

"You shall have hard work to get him directly to the point whether a territorial Legislature has or has not the power to exclude slavery. But if you succeed in bringing him to it, though he will be compelled to say it possesses no such power; he will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation."

Asbury's influence didn't end with the debates. A founder of Illinois's Republican Party, he was the first to suggest that Lincoln should run for president in 1860, and secured him the support of the local party.

The letter, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, is up for sale as part of a books and manuscripts auction that Christie’s will hold on December 5.

[h/t Associated Press]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios