In the last years of her life, Martha began to lose her feathers. Sol Stephan, General Manager of the Cincinnati Zoo, where Martha spent most of her years, began collecting the feathers in a cigar box without much idea of what he would do with them. Martha lived a sedentary life at the zoo. Her cage was 18 feet by 20 feet — she had never known what it was to fly free. When Martha’s last friend George (who was also named for a Washington) died in 1910, Martha became a celebrity. She watched the people passing by, alone in her enclosure, and they watched her. Martha ate her cooked liver and eggs, and her cracked corn, and sat. On the outside of her cage, Stephan placed a sign announcing Martha as the Last of the Passenger Pigeons. Visitors couldn’t believe that Martha really was the last. They would throw… More…

The United States of America has a short history compared to other nations. This does not stop it from having more historical societies than seems possible. Most American historical societies were founded between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, to preserve records and artifacts of a rapidly dissolving local way of life. Today, there are roughly 10,000, all across the nation. 

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

What we learned about Europe after World War I — the war to end all wars that didn’t — is that everything was stable until everything fell apart. War caught Europeans by surprise, ripped its roots from the soil. Power in Europe had been balanced by a complicated and tangled system of alliances that worked nicely when it wasn’t looked at too closely. Of course, there was always a battle going on someplace — it was Europe, after all — but daily life for most people had a continuity, experienced at a pace that had been more or less the same for a century. The Great War came and severed the 19th century from the 20th, created a Europe that was driven by speed, information, technology and nationalism. Walter Benjamin’s observations in The Storyteller have become a continent’s epitaph: “A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now… More…

The idea for The Ugly Duckling, writes Paul Binding in his newly published Hans Christian Andersen: European Witness, came to Andersen on a walk. Andersen was already famous by then. He was staying as a guest at an estate on the island of Sjælland. Andersen always got himself invited to places like this — grand homes in faraway places belonging to people who would have otherwise ignored someone of Andersen’s class. Being an artist was like a special pass. With it, you could go anywhere and be anything.

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She… More…

There’s one thing certain about the Dubliners: They’re looking to escape. They’re playing hooky from school to watch the ships along the riverside, or sneaking out of work to tip an elbow at the public house, or sitting in class dreaming about the Saturday evening bazaar. Mr. Duffy thinks that, in “certain circumstances” he could rob a bank, but the circumstances never arise. Lenehan thinks that, if only he could find a corner and some good simpleminded girl, he could live happily. No doubt about it, thinks Little Chandler, if you want to succeed you have to go away. Farrington’s boy, seeing no escape from his father, falls upon his knees. There is, for the Dubliners, an incompleteness in everyday life. There is a train always passing them by. If only the poetry book on the shelf, the girl, the drink, the confessional, the faraway place, the foreign sailor —… More…

In the Egyptian section of the Penn Museum stands a man. He is next to a 12-ton sphinx and is wearing a multicolored dreamcoat. His beret shimmers; a red cape hangs about his shoulders. “Planet Earth can’t even be sufficient without the rain, it doesn’t produce rain, you know,” he tells the camera. “Sunshine…it doesn’t produce the sun. The wind, it doesn’t produce the wind. All planet Earth produces is the dead bodies of humanity. That’s its only creation.” The man pauses and slides his hand across the sphinx. “Everything else comes from outer space. From unknown regions. Humanity’s life depends on the unknown. Knowledge is laughable when attributed to a human being.”

The birth of Herman Poole Blount on May 22, 1914 was, for him, the least significant of all his births. Blount begat Bhlount and Bhlount begat Ra and Herman begat Sonny and Sonny begat… More…

Nearly 20 years after the suicide of Kurt Cobain, I found myself watching this performance once again, Nirvana’s rendition of Lead Belly’s rendition of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” The television played this MTV Unplugged in New York performance on a loop as I sat on the floor at a friends’ apartment in the East Village the night Cobain was found dead at 27. They played “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” over and over again. The memory is so strong that I know it must be false.

 

“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” was the last in the Unplugged set, the last song on what would be Nirvana’s final album. The fragile and surprising live performance of this song is Kurt Cobain’s defining moment. In a 1993 interview, not long before his death, Cobain told a reporter that he had been introduced to Lead Belly from reading William S. Burroughs…. More…

The curious career of Maximilian Schell ended last month when he died at the age of 83. Maximilian Schell was most famous for playing Nazis. But he spent the other half of his career playing Jews. After the Second World War, there was no shortage of film and television roles for German-speaking actors. An actor could play, for instance, the classic psychopathic wartime Nazi; the quiet concealed postwar Nazi; the subversive Nazi; the sympathetic confused Nazi; the hilarious bumbling Nazi. The world could not satisfy its hunger for watching Nazis onscreen. We wanted to see them cross-examined, punished, caught in the act. We wanted to bear witness to them, see them doing anything at all — shine their shoes, perform the most unexceptional tasks. We wanted to see the Jews too — brave, downtrodden and then, in later years, compromised, lost. Maximilian Schell had everything the roles required — he… More…

“If you cannot bear the silence and the darkness,” Loren Eiseley warned, “do not go there; if you dislike black night and yawning chasms, never make them your profession. If you fear the sound of water hurrying through crevices toward unknown and mysterious destinations, do not consider it. Seek out the sunshine. It is a simple prescription. Avoid the darkness.”

“It is a simple prescription,” Eiseley said to us, “but you will not follow it. You will turn immediately to the darkness. You will be drawn to it by cords of fear and longing. You will imagine that you are tired of the sunlight; the waters that unnerve you will tug in the ancient recesses of your mind; the midnight will seem restful – you will end by going down.”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She… More…

Among the displays of assault rifles at the Mikhail Kalashnikov Museum in Izhevsk is a small lawnmower Kalashnikov designed to push about the grounds of his summer cottage. It is said that Mikhail Kalashnikov loved to care for his grass. Kalashnikov gave the lawnmower the same sensible qualities he gave the gun that bears his name. The lawnmower is light, simple, cheap to construct and easy to hold — something a child could use.

Kalashnikov didn’t regret inventing the Kalashnikov rifle. “I invented it for the protection of the Motherland,” he said.  Still, he once mused that he would like to have been known as a man who helped farmers and gardeners. “I wanted to invent an engine that could run forever,” Kalashnikov once said. “I could have developed a new train, had I stayed in the railway.” But this was not to be.