Carved in relief on an old stone wall is a plaintive female figure, arms outreached, eyes skyward, who can be clearly seen. Less visible are the much shallower reliefs, the carvings of people, mostly men with mustaches, who seem to hover around her.
Carved in relief on an old stone wall is a plaintive female figure, arms outreached, eyes skyward, who can be clearly seen. Less visible are the much shallower reliefs, the carvings of people, mostly men with mustaches, who seem to hover around her.
Monument aux victimes des Révolutions, by Paul Moreau-Vauthier, from Wikimedia Commons.

PARIS, 1871 — In the aftermath of the Prussian invasion of France, and the collapse of the Second Empire, two rival governments arise.

One of them is the Paris Commune. Its headquarters: the city streets, the blazing foundry of radical democracy. The defense of the Paris Commune will depend on its citizens, the soliders of the National Guard.

The other government is based in Versailles. Its headquarters: the old seat of royal power, that infamous abode of aristocrats. Its leadership is dominated by monarchists and reactionaries, openly collaborating with occupying Prussian forces.

In early spring, civil war erupts. What triggers…


A close up view of the head and arms of a large statue. The statue’s face is tranquil, and the lines are drawn as in Ancient Egyptian statues. With one arm the figure reaches up to touch her hair, which unfurls in a way which suggests the surface of the sea.
A close up view of the head and arms of a large statue. The statue’s face is tranquil, and the lines are drawn as in Ancient Egyptian statues. With one arm the figure reaches up to touch her hair, which unfurls in a way which suggests the surface of the sea.
Los Pescadores, by Francisco Zúñiga, from Wikimedia Commons.

Francisco Zúñiga’s father was a sculptor, the creator of hundreds of religious sculptures. Like many of his siblings, Zúñiga took classes in drawing, and around the age of sixteen, he began training as a sculptor in his father’s workshop.

Zúñiga grew up in San José, Costa Rica. As he got older, like many other artists of his generation, he was drawn to Mexico City’s vibrant, internationally famous art scene. Zúñiga moved to Mexico City, and began studying art at the Escuela de Talla Directa in 1936.


Statue of Jimmy Carter by Frederick Hart. Atlanta, Georgia. From Wikimedia Commons.

On December 12, 1952, disaster struck Chalk River Laboratories in Canada. A problem with the experimental NRX reactor caused a partial meltdown. The reactor had been seriously damaged by a hydrogen explosion, and thousands upon thousands of gallons of radioactive water were flooding into the reactor building’s basement. A major nuclear disaster loomed, and the only chance of stopping it depended on a team of trained specialists descending into the flooded basement, and shutting down the reactor. To assist the Canadians in this mission, the U.S. Navy dispatched a young officer and nuclear scientist named Jimmy Carter.

Shutting down the…


“Fire-eater and attendant.” Gouache painting by an unknown Chinese artist, c. 1850, from the Wellcome Collection.

“Fire has always been and, seemingly, will always remain, the most terrible of the elements,” in the estimation of the daredevil illusionist, Harry Houdini.

In his book, Miracle Mongers and Their Methods: A Complete Exposé of the Modus Operandi of Fire Eaters, Heat Resisters, Poison Eaters, Venomous Reptile Defiers, Sword Swallowers, Human Ostriches, Strong Men, etc., Houdini speculates on the origins of fire tricks: “Some of the secrets of heat resistance as practiced by the dime-museum and sideshow performers of our time, secrets grouped under the general title of ‘Fire-eating,’ must have been known in very early times.”

For instance…


Toussaint, gazing seriously and dreamily upward, dressed in French military uniform, as depicted in a bronze bust, set in front of light green leafy trees.
Toussaint, gazing seriously and dreamily upward, dressed in French military uniform, as depicted in a bronze bust, set in front of light green leafy trees.
Bust of Toussaint Louverture, by Ludovic Booz, donated to the city of Bordeaux, France, in 2004, by the Republic of Haiti, from Wikimedia Commons.

Slave rebellions had taken place before. This time, the rebels became revolutionaries.

At the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution, the enslaved people of Haiti rose up and fought for their freedom. Together, they demanded full equality for all people, regardless of race. They defeated the forces of the world’s mightiest colonial empires. And then, on April 7, 1803, the leader of the Haitian Revolution was murdered by medical neglect in Fort de Joux, France.

“Toussaint L’Ouverture was a coachman in Hayti until he was well over forty. About 1790, when about fifty years of age, he joined the Haytian army…


Illustration from Thank You Dr. Salk, from Macmillan.

When the first major outbreak of polio occurred in the United States, parents were terrified. It was 1916, and no one understood how the disease worked, only that children were the most frequently affected. The New York Times reported on the plight of one parent, and his attempt to seek treatment for his child: “Unable to obtain a physician, he put the boy into an automobile and drove to the Smith Infirmary, but the child died on the way and the doctors at the hospital would not receive the body…. …


Individual frames from newsreel footage of the 1961 civl rights march to the South Carolina State House, with students under arrest in the courtroom at the jail in the final frames.
Individual frames from newsreel footage of the 1961 civl rights march to the South Carolina State House, with students under arrest in the courtroom at the jail in the final frames.
Reverend I. DeQuincey Newman, Frederick Hart, and others arrested for participating in a civil rights march at the South Carolina State House, Columbia, South Carolina, March 2, 1961, from University of South Carolina Civil Rights Films, Moving Image Research Collections.

March 2, 1961. At noon, almost two hundred African-American students gather for a rally at Zion Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina. About half of them are female, about half male. For the most part, they are students from the two main African-American colleges in Columbia: Allen University and Benedict College. Today, these students will participate in one of the largest demonstrations against racial segregation so far. Today, they will stand up to the governor of South Carolina, march to the South Carolina State House, and help shape the future of the Civil Rights Movement.

Seven years earlier, in Brown…


Gargoyles at the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter (Cologne Cathedral) in Cologne, Germany, from Wikimedia Commons.

Why do gargoyles look the way they do? Why are they depicted as fierce creatures, with bat wings and fangs? The answer may lie in the legend of the Gargouille.

A French legend, which sprang up around the town of Rouen in the seventh century AD, describes a fearsome battle between an intrepid local bishop, St. Romanus, and a terrible dragon, known as the Gargouille. A creature with bat-like wings, a long neck, and the ability to breathe fire from its mouth, the Gargouille was said to have descended upon the city of Rouen, and laid waste to the surrounding…


From left: NASA Administrator James Webb, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, NASA Launch Center Director Kurt Heinrich Debus, President John F. Kennedy, and others at Cape Canaveral, 11 September, 1962. (NASA image)

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy named James Webb as Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Only the second administrator of NASA, Webb would assume leadership of a relatively new government agency with what was then an uncertain future.

Webb was unintimidated. Back in 1930, he had joined the U. S. Marine Corps, and served as a pilot, when flying was strictly for daredevils, a matter of operating temperamental propeller-driven aircraft, performing death-defying experimental aerial maneuvers and landing precariously on wobbly wooden aircraft-carrier decks. Webb had left the Marine Corps to take a senior position at Sperry Gyroscope…


Anna Hyatt Huntington works on an equestrian statue of José Martí (circa 1959). Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when many women were prevented from seeking careers as artists, Anna Hyatt Huntington became one of America’s most famous sculptors. The daughter of a professor of paleontology and zoology, Anna was born in 1876, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Anna’s father encouraged her to explore the natural world, while pursuing her artistic ambitions. Horses and big cats became objects of admiration, and feature in Anna’s most celebrated works.

In her early twenties, Anna studied animal anatomy. She created dozens of models of jaguars, leopards, lions, and tigers. In 1902, after settling in New York, Anna headed to the Bronx…

Lain Hart

Lain Hart Gallery | Leopardi Writing Conference

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