Archives for category: History

Mona Lisa at Madrid's Museo del Prado. Photo Credit Javier Soriano/Getty Images

Leonardo da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa might be one of the most copied pieces of art in history, and certainly one of the best known. But recently, curators at  Madrid’s Museo del Prado are claiming to a certified, genuine copy of Mona – a copy that had Leonardo’s seal of approval.

While comparing these two paintings (using infrared technology), one can see that various layers and steps the artists completed – both paintings have almost identical layers and both artists appear to have made the exact same changes at the same time.

“The changes mirrored the changes which Leonardo made on the original,” Martin Bailey, correspondent with The Art Newspaper in London, tells NPR’s Melissa Block. “[Conservators] concluded that the two pictures had been done side by side in the studio, and it was probably on easels which were two or three yards away from each other.”

Bailey went on to suggest that the artist who painted Mona Lisa‘s twin is likely to have been one of Leonardo’s main assistants: Melzi or Salai (who was rumored to have been da Vinci’s lover). Scandalous!!

The Original Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci at the Musee du Louvre in Paris. Image Credit Jean-Pierre Muller/Getty Images

While the two paintings are very similar, the newly discovered copy is noticeably brighter and much more colorful. Layers of varnish that has darkened and cracked over the decades, obscures the face of the original Mona Lisa. The copy brings a whole new life to Mona, and more vibrant detail to a world famous painting.

What do you think of the copy?

Do you think it’ll ever be as popular at The Louvre’s original copy of The Mona Lisa?

– Ann Erling Gofus


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Hilarious… and a little offensive. Ha.

Postcard: Leap year, 1908 Description: Cartoon on theme of women proposing in leap years. Caption: "Maidens are eagerly awaiting ..."

One extra day in February means one extra history lesson for 2012. Because who doesn’t want to learn about Lead Year?

According to Wikipedia, “A leap year (or intercalary or bissextile year) is a year containing one additional day (or, in the case of lunisolar calendars, a month) in order to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year.”
Blah blah blah, this is NOT the interesting part. What’s interesting are the fascinating traditions that come along with a Leap Year.

One folk tradition states that women can only propose during a Leap Year or on Leap Day. Supposedly, this tradition started with either St. Patrick or St. Brigid in 5th century Ireland.According to tradition, a 1288 law by Queen Margaret of Scotland (then age five and living in Norway), required that fines be levied if a marriage proposal was refused by the man. The fine differed from country to country – some places it was fabric for a new dress, a kiss, money, or a pair in gloves.

Now, note the postcard (pasted above):

Maidens eagerly waiting Leap Year (1908) for their chances to propose to a man. I love how these women are armed with guns, axes and a telescope. I’m also loving how their bear trap is baited with a bag of money.

I promote women proposing to their prospective mates whether or not it’s a Leap Year, but if you need an excuse (and a little extra courage) what better day than TODAY! (Leap Day!) to pop the question??

Postcard: Leap Year, 1908 Description: "In 1908 / 'Be Careful, Clara, that's a fine Specimen!'"


– Ann Erling Gofus

Have you seen the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC?

The quote was carved into the side of the statue — "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness" — was truncated to accommodate space limitations.

The quote was carved into the side of the statue — "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness" — was truncated to accommodate space limitations. Image Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

In October 2011 the MLK Memorial was unveiled alongside the Tidal Basin and just blocks from the National Mall. DC was buzzing with excitement over the dedication of the newest memorial to grace the National Mall – but the buzz quickly changed from excited to dubious.

Since its unveiling, the MLK Memorial has received some harsh criticism. The most criticized aspect of the memorial is an abridged quote chiseled into the side of MLK’s likeness. The quote reads: “”I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness”. The quote was pulled from a sermon that King gave at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1968.

During this sermon, King said, “There is deep down within all of us an instinct.”. He continued, “It’s a kind of drum major instinct — a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first.”

Towards the end of the sermon King explained how he’d like to be remembered: “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

While it sounds perfectly appropriate in its entirety, not too many people were happy with the abbreviated quote.

In August, The Washington Post ran a piece arguing that the paraphrased quote made King sound boastful, and Maya Angelou said the abbreviated quote made King sound like “an arrogant twit.”

Visitors at the new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in August 2011. Image Credit Amy Ta/NPR

After a lot of opinions were heard,  and the King family agreed the quote should be changed, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently instructed the National Park Service to fix the quote.

And now the question of the hour: HOW does one fix something literally set in stone?

Andy Uhl, a stone carver at the National Cathedral, “I think their options are: To reduce the surface back and recarve, or maybe take out the whole section and install it with matching material and then carve that installed panel.” (via

Keep in mind – this was a multi-million dollar project which was years in the making. You’d think a quote set to be chiseled into stone (more permanent than a tattoo, it would seem) would be checked and double checked BEFORE putting chisel to stone.

What do you think about the quote?
Have you seen the MLK memorial?

– Ann Erling Gofus

A sketch of the bunker which was once home for nuclear missiles and military personal during the Cold War 1950s. Image Credit: Sotheby's International Realty.

Yesssssss! Green architecture! I love to see interesting buildings retro-fitted and re-purposed for living. Especially when it’s a Cold War era missile silo. Yes, a silo. You know, where missiles used to live. I WOULD TOTALLY LIVE IN A SILO.

Two entrepreneurial cousins, Bruce Francisco and Gregory Gibbons, retro-fitted one of these silos located in beautiful Adirondack State Park near Lake Placid. This $2.3 million luxury home has its own private airport… so you can fly home… of course. Thinking $2.3 million is a lot? Consider that this silo cost $18 million to build in the 1960s.

Interior of silo home. Image Credit: Sotherby's International Realty.

“The missile silo home sits on 105 acres of manicured grounds, forest and trails.  Above ground, it features a hangar and spacious open living room and fireplace with wrap around porch.  Below ground, and accessible via stairs from above ground home in what was once the launch control center, now is a two level, 3 bedroom 2-1/2 bath with open living area and kitchen adjoined by a spiral staircase.  Huge doors open to a large tunnel that accesses the silo with an additional 20,000 square feet of usable space with unlimited possibilities.” (via

In the two lower-levels “windows” stream simulated daylight (that looks pretty real). The lower levels also include a 2000 pound door that leads to a 185-foot-deep missile storage room. And the best part? The entire steel structure hangs from gigantic spring suspension system designed to absorb the shock of a direct nuclear hit.

The renovated circular control room which was filled with water a for 30 years after it was abandoned. Image Credit: Sotherby's International Realty.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is my dream home.

Historical, green, totally re-purposed, safe, interesting and totally nuclear bomb proof. Not to mention, safe from the zombie hordes which may (or may not) follow the nuclear attack.

– Ann Erling Gofus

The National Museum of African American History and Culture. Image Credit:

On Wednesday (22 February) ground was broken on the National Mall in Washington, DC  for The National Museum of African American History and Culture – the newest addition to the Smithsonian museum family.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture will explore the richness and diversity of the African American experience. The museum has been collecting artifacts and documents since 2005, and expects to open in 2015. Museum director Lonnie Bunch was quoted in an NPR piece saying that most major moments in this nation’s history have been shaped by race issues. The African-American experience is central to the American experience, he said, so the stories the museum will tell are for everyone, or every race (via

President Obama, who spoke at the ground breaking, said on Wednesday that the museum was a long time coming – I totally agree. The last Smithsonian museum to be built in DC was the National Museum of the American Indian in 2004. African American history plays such a large role in America’s story, it’s about time there was a museum in our nation’s capital exploring this history and culture.

Now all we need to do is wait 3 years until it opens.

– Ann Erling Gofus

The Hutmacher Farmstead in Dunn County, North Dakota. Photo Credit Ann Erling Gofus.

Green is the new black as more and more people adjust their lifestyles in the hopes of throwing global warming off its track. From fuel efficient cars to buying organic, being environmentally aware has become one of the nation’s hottest trends. And who would have guessed that tucked away in a western county of a plains state a German Russian family would be making Al Gore proud decades before his activist streak?
In 1911, Frank Hutmacher and his family emigrated from Russia and settled in Dunn County, North Dakota, where the construction of an environment friendly stone-slab home began. Using only what the prairie had to offer, Frank Hutmacher set about building a home of sandstone slabs that features a roof of branches, brush, straw, and clay. Presented with limited resources, Frank did what he could to provide shelter for his immigrant family while also blending into the area’s natural surroundings.
Environmentally safe building hasn’t changed much since then. Modern green architecture still puts to use sustainable building materials, and building techniques that are environmentally friendly and energy efficient. Although, examples of modern green buildings are slightly less obvious than the earthy Hutmacher farmsite; modern green homes can be built from recycled or all natural materials, such as cardboard or clay bricks.
The currently standing Hutmacher home was constructed mostly in 1928 and 1930, but prior construction had begun when the family immigrated in 1911. As the years passed, various additions were built, and as time wore into the 50s and the 60s, the Hutmachers continued to live in and maintain their earthen home. Although difficult to fathom now, the Hutmacher family lived without electricity until 1961, when the house was wired to run electric appliances. This stone-slab home was comfortably lived in for almost 70 years until it was finally abandoned in 1979.

North Dakota State University students working to preserve the Hutmacher Farmstead in Dunn County, North Dakota. Photo Credit Ann Erling Gofus.

The Hutmacher home is earthen, energy efficient and environment friendly; three aspects of going green that are often difficult to accomplish in modern green architecture. The building materials were gathered directly outside the Hutmachers’ front door, making annual repairs to damaged walls and roof simple. But best of all, the various buildings on the Hutmacher farmsite blend almost seamlessly into the prairie setting.

Dunn Country, North Dakota. Photo Credit Ann Erling Gofus.

This simple perfection can be appreciated by even the most hardened city dweller as one sets sight upon the Hutmacher farmstead. Eyes flow easily from the prairie grass, to the stone walls, to the earthen roof, and finally to the sky. Beautiful, natural and environmentally safe, the Hutmacher farmsite is a historical example of what it means to go green.
– I wrote this back in 12 March 2008 when I was still Ann E. Erling, sans the Gofus. I wrote it for some North Dakota publication. Not sure if it ever got published, but here it is. In the almost 4 years since I wrote this story, The Hutmacher Farmstead’s preservation. I’m planning on following up with the Hutmacher Farmstead’s people and writing us all an update.
When Ryan and I first started dating we went on a weekend trip to Paris. Oh, I know, oh la la is right. Ryan had never been to Paris before, so we hit up all the typical Parisian sites, but I insisted on one stop: I wanted to see Oscar Wilde’s tomb at the Père Lachaise cemetery.

Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, France. Photo Credit Ann Erling Gofus

Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, France. Photo Credit Ann Erling Gofus

The place is huge: winding paths, soooo many graves and although it’s a cemetery, it was really interesting to wander through. I gave Ryan the map to navigate. In the 3 years since meeting, I have learned that Ryan has a terrible sense of direction. Looking back, I realize now how hard he was trying to find the place – and after an hour of searching, we found it.

Ryan looking at a map in front of Wilde's tomb in Paris. Photo Credit Ann Erling Gofus

Wilde’s tomb stone was designed by Jacob Epstein – it depicts an angel who appears to be in flight, his wings trailing behind him. The angel originally had male genitalia, but has since been vandalized. I think it looks a bit Art Deco-esque, and Wikipedia informs me that Epstein’s style was considered avant-garde at the time.

Oscar Wilde's tomb stone in Paris, France. Photo Credit Ann Erling Gofus.

Since the ‘90s, it’s been a bit of a… tradition…? to kiss Wilde’s grave marker, leaving behind a lipstick mark. Wilde’s tomb is covered with kisses of all different colors and sizes. A sweet, cult tradition? A strange tourist attraction? A form of affection? Either way, the kisses are starting to damage the stone.

Kisses on Wilde's tomb in Paris, France. Photo Credit Ann Erling Gofus

Merlin Holland, Wilde’s grandson, said the lipstick had become a “serious problem” because the grease sinks into the stone. “Every cleaning was causing a bit more stone to wear away,” he said.

After its most recent cleaning, the tomb will reopen with a glass barrier protecting it from greasy lips. I’m sure people will continue to kiss the glass, but will it ever be the same?

As a pro-historic-preservationist, I totally support the glass barrier. It’s someone’s grave, for goodness sakes! Show some respect!

What do you think?
And while we’re answering questions, what other bizarre, cultish and awesome “tourist traditions” can you think of? We’re talking Old Wive’s Tales/Myths/Ritualistic things that we read about in travel books. Like, kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland for the gift of eloquence. Or throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain to return to Rome someday.

Any ideas?

Unknown Aussie soldier, WWI, from the Australian War Memorial collection.

One of my favorite blogs,

Historically attractive men.
There is something so appealing about daguerreotype photographs.
And something so appealing about attractive late 19th century, early 20th century men.

Check it out!

Yes, I know, I’ve blogged about the World Memory Project before, but this is what I do full-time (survey for the World Memory Project), so it’s a bit hard to get off the mind. ALSO I love to share the great stories being done on the project.

1. NPR just did a story yesterday on the World Memory Project. The story NPR did discusses Sol Finkelstein’s story, which is INCREDIBLY moving.  The video below is one made by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and includes an interview with Sol and his son Joseph.

2. CNN also did a story recently on the World Memory Project. In this story WMP Director Lisa Yavnai says, “The Nazis gave them numbers and we’re giving them back their names.”

Powerful stuff.

Aaaaaaand two of my co-workers make appearances on CNN!? That’s where Anderson Cooper lives!

Check out both stories and then head over to to get involved!