Americans love George Washington’s nose

November 19, 2012

Looked at a lot of statues and busts in the past year.  One of the things that intrigues me is the way people interact with sculpture, particularly the ways and places people touch sculpture.

At Mount Vernon, Americans have a fondness for George Washington’s nose:

06-23-2012 TAH Mt Vernon 094 George's nose, Avard Fairbanks bust, photo copyright by Ed Darrell

Avard Fairbanks‘ very large bust of George Washington invites touching by visitors at the Mount Vernon Visitors Center; people touch his nose.  Photo by Ed Darrell; use allowed with attribution, some rights reserved.

Other copies of the bust exist around the country, by Utah sculptor Avard Fairbanks.  If I’m correct on the provenance, this one was placed at Salt Lake International Airport for the nation’s bicentennial, then was obtained by George Washington University (one of my alma maters, by the way), and was loaned by GWU to the Ladies of Mount Vernon. (No wonder the thing looked so familiar to me . . . it’s been following me around for years.  I wonder when it gets to Texas, or upstate New York.)

A bust of George Washington on the campus of G...

Bust of George Washington on the campus of George Washington University — same one? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Displayed at the main entrance to the visitors center at Mt. Vernon, the bust is at a level that people can touch it, and they do.

It’s fun to watch people who stop to look at the bust.  Almost inevitably they look a bit awed by it.  Then, if they take a minute, they look it up and down, and put out their hand to touch George’s nose.

Almost as if they consider George Washington a good luck charm, and a touch of his nose might rub some luck off onto them.  It’s rubbing the nose shiny, an interesting way Americans pay tribute to our first president.


06-23-2012 TAH Mt Vernon 093 Avard Fairbanks bust, George Washington - photo by Ed Darrell, use with attribution encouraged

The bust is quite imposing; people who pause to study it, however, overcome their reticence, and reach out to touch the First President.

A cure for the ills caused by air pollution: Vitamin D in milk

October 29, 2011

Air pollution texts often made the note, but I’ve not seen it talked about much recently:  Air pollution in the U.S. (and England) was so bad in the first years of the 20th century that it actually shut out the sun, and an epidemic of rickets followed.

FSA photo of child in Jefferson, Texas, with rickets - Library of Congress

Child with rickets, son of relief client near Jefferson, Texas. This child has never talked though he is two years old. He has never received any medical attention. Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer. CREATED/PUBLISHED 1939 Mar. More information about the FSA/OWI Collection is available at; CALL NUMBER LC-USF34- 032719-D REPRODUCTION NUMBER LC-USF34-032719-D DLC (b&w film neg.)

Public health officials, clever devils, discovered a form of vitamin D that prevented rickets.  It turns out that humans manufacture vitamin D from cholesterol, using ultraviolet B from the sun.  So, when the sun was smokily eclipsed, rickets proliferated.

In an era when technical and legal tools were inadequate to clean up the air pollution, physicians, nutritionists and researchers struck on the idea of supplementing food with vitamin D — and that is how we come to have vitamin D-fortified milk today, and a lot less rickets.

I was happy to find a publication at the National Institutes of Health that relates this history, at least in part, “Solar Ultraviolet Radiation and Vitamin D:  A Historical Perspective,” by Kumaravel Rajakumar, MD, Susan L. Greenspan, MD, Stephen B. Thomas, PhD, and Michael F. Holick, MD, PhD, in American Journal of Public Health, October 2007, Vol 97, No. 10.

At the dawn of the 20th century, the expansive industrialization and urban migration in the major cities of western Europe and the northern United States set the stage for the high prevalence of rickets among infants residing in those polluted and “sunless” cities. Overcrowded living conditions in the big-city slums and tenements and the sunlight deprivation precipitated by atmospheric pollution from smoke and smog were responsible for a rickets epidemic.  Increased ozone concentration from industrial pollution and the haze and clouds from atmospheric pollution compromise vitamin D production by absorbing the UV-B photons essential for its synthesis.

*          *          *          *          *

Edwards Park states, “But for rickets vitamin D would not have been discovered. Its discovery was the secret to rickets; its use is essentially the therapy of that disease.” The discovery of vitamin D led to the eradication of the epidemic rickets of the early 20th century. Pioneering advances were made in the understanding of vitamin D and rickets from 1915 to 1935. The discovery of the synthesis of vitamin D by the irradiation of foods was the “jewel in the crown” of vitamin D discoveries. This discovery was a catalyst for the public health triumph against rickets. It became feasible to fortify and enrich milk and other foods with vitamin D to ensure that the general population was likely to consume sufficient vitamin D.

It’s a good article with detailed history of rickets, the search to find what turned out to be vitamin D, and the use of nutritional supplements to eradicate a nasty, crippling disease in children.  Happy to see it online.

Some of our greatest triumphs in science, technology and public health are too little known.  I am working on the history of technology and science, and particularly its wedding with social progressivism in the Progressive Age, part of a project I was fortunate to stumble into in the Dallas Independent School District funded by a Teaching American History Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.  Sadly, Republicans in Congress insisted on cutting those grants to improve teaching with greater emphasis on original sources and original documents.

More Americans, more American school kids, should know about the triumphs of public health and science.  Maybe highlighting some of those advances here can help another teacher somewhere else.


Fun with Lyndon, George and Bill – and Audie

June 18, 2011

Five days on the road and we hoped to make it home Friday night.

Ed Darrell, presidents on weekends

"I've got the Presidential Seal / I'm up on the Presidential Podium. / My Mama loves me, she loves me . . ."* Playing around with the podium and teleprompter at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.

Air conditioning on the bus failed, and then the vacuum system failed and we lost the ability to close the door, and we started to lose brakes.  Fortunately, we were within sight of Dallas when things really came to smash.

So our Teachers Tour of Presidential Libraries came to an interesting end last night.  More good fortune — the bus stalled out in the parking lot of a gas station with a Dickey’s Barbecue attachedRoss Perot is right, at least about this:  Dickey’s food is worth the stop.

Other stops along the way provided nutrition for our minds, and for our classroom preparation.  Education experts at the 13 National Archives-related Presidential Libraries work together, and work separately, to create classroom friendly and classroom ready materials.   Beyond the museums, we were looking for history to use in our classes.  We got a lot of pointers to documents our students can use in class to learn history and how to write it.

This is the second year of this particular Teaching American History grant, from the U.S. Department of Education to the Dallas Independent School District.  It’s important that you know that, because Republicans in Congress propose to cut this program out.  This is one of the few programs I think has value way beyond the dollars spent on it.  TAH may become just one more victim of the conservatives’ War on Education.

I hope to post more about what we learned.

We toured the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, the Audie Murphy and American Cotton Museum in Greenville, Texas, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, and the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.

It was a rowdy group of teachers, of course, and we closed down every bookstore we found along the way.  The bus driver hopes never again to hear a single verse of  “99 Student Essays to Grade on the Desk.”

How’s your summer been so far?


Paul Simon, of course.

Bush I Presidential Library and Museum: Hello, Indiana Jones?

June 14, 2011

It’s not really that big — but what do you think of when you see this photo of the unindexed files at the George H. W. Bush Library and Museum (at Texas A&M at College Station, Texas)?

Unindexed files at the Bush I Library - 6-13-2011 1677-Photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

Hello? Which row has the Arks of the Convenants?

Yeah, we all thought the same.

The big difference:  In College Station, archivists are working through these documents, indexing them for use.

They use Freedom of Information Act requests to set their agenda, which strikes me as bass ackwards, but they’re working on getting it done.

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