a piece of history
March 19, 2019

A group of German archaeologists found about 400 artifacts from World War II after excavating three rural sites near the towns of Warstein, Suttrop, and Eversberg, LiveScience reported on Tuesday.

While exploring the sites of former Nazi camps, the researchers said that most of the 400 artifacts came from Langenbach Valley near Warstein, where LiveScience says 60 women, 10 men, and a child "were taken into the forest, under the pretense of being moved to a different labor camp, and then shot." The vast array of personal items included everything from prayer books and dictionaries to shoes, harmonicas, and Soviet coins — all believed to have been owned by and buried with the massacre's victims.

Bullet cartridges were also found scattered in the area, which could suggest that some of the Polish and Russian forced laborers tried to escape the firing squad. Nazis killed 208 laborers in the region at the end of the war, and only 14 of the victims have ever been identified by name, due to Nazi efforts to conceal their crimes.

Matthias Löb, the director of the Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe — the group behind the excavation — said in a statement that despite the tragic finds, these discoveries serve as an essential reminder of the atrocities committed during that period. Löb also said Germany has seen an increase in "trivialization" and denial of Nazi crimes, and that the discovery of these artifacts are proof of a part of German history "that we have to face." Read more at LiveScience. Marina Pedrosa

March 13, 2019

Boeing, the world's largest aerospace company, has lost $29 billion in market value since Sunday's crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet, with all 157 people on board killed. Most countries and airlines have grounded their 737 MAX 8 aircraft, U.S. lawmakers and others have called for the FAA to follow suit, and Boeing's fastest-selling aircraft ever now faces uncertain skies.

Boeing has a lot riding on the 737 MAX. But 85 years ago, it bet everything on its Model 299, later called the B-17 — and it nearly lost everything when its "Flying Fortress" crashed during a key test flight. Two highly experienced test pilots died.

In 1934, the U.S. government forced Boeing to spin off United Airlines and United Technologies, and rival "Douglas was really starting to dominate the American aircraft industry," Roger Connor, a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, told NPR's Hidden Brain in February. "Their DC-2 was becoming the hot passenger airliner and was quickly putting Boeing into the background in that industry."

Company founder Bill Boeing resigned in 1934, and Claire Egtvedt took over and essentially "bet the company" on the Model 299, a four-engine next-generation bomber, Boeing in-house historian Mike Lombardi recounted last year to Seattle's KIRO radio. The U.S. Army Air Corps, precursor of the Air Force, announced a head-to-head contest for a major government contract in 1935; Boeing, Douglas, and Martin entered bombers, and Boeing was the clear frontrunner. As Seattle historian Feliks Banel recounts, the Boeing plane crashed on its second flight, on Oct. 30, 1935.

"Everything the company had went into this prototype and there it was, a burning wreck on the field," Lombardi told Banel. "We didn't have an airplane to finish and Douglas won. So that was the end of the Boeing Company." The Army placed a large order for Douglas B-18 Bolo bombers — but using a loophole, it also ordered 13 Boeing B-17s in January 1936. That "relatively small contract literally saved the company," Banel said. The B-17 proved to be the superior aircraft, and more than 12,000 were built during World War II.

The crash of the Model 299 — attributed to human error and technological innovation — also led to the creation of the preflight checklist, Hidden Brain explains below. The Boeing part starts at the 3:40 mark. Peter Weber

October 26, 2017

Thursday is the deadline Congress set 25 years ago for the release of the remaining government files on the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. President Trump, who can withhold some of the documents if he decides they compromise government sources or methods, teased the release again on Wednesday, tweeting: "The long anticipated release of the #JFKFiles will take place tomorrow. So interesting!" The CIA has been urging Trump to withhold some information, while scholars and conspiracy theorists — including longtime adviser Roger Stone — are pushing Trump to release every scrap of information.

"Clearly there are documents, plural, files, plural, being appealed to him," University of Virginia historian Larry Sabato tells The Associated Press, adding that Trump is still being pressured by spy agencies. "I'm told reliably that it continues and that it has intensified." Still, Trump can't withhold documents just because the government finds them embarrassing, and scholars and JFK assassination buffs will be scouring the document dump for information on Lee Harvey Oswald, identified as the lone shooter who was then shot dead by Jack Ruby, including any government coverup and intelligence on what Oswald was doing in Mexico City before the assassination.

Some people will also be looking for any mention of Rafael Cruz, Sen. Ted Cruz's father, who was alleged in a 2016 tabloid article to have been photographed with Oswald before the assassination. That unconfirmed claim was greatly amplified by Cruz's primary rival for the GOP presidential nomination, Donald Trump. Peter Weber

October 21, 2017

President Trump indicated on Twitter Saturday he will most likely release 3,600 top-secret files about the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy this coming week, with the caveat that new information could lead him to change his mind:

The Oct. 26 release deadline was set by a 1992 law. Trump can miss that deadline if he certifies that publishing the papers at that time would cause "an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations [that] outweighs the public interest in disclosure." Members of both houses of Congress from both major parties have sponsored legislation urging Trump to go ahead with publication. Bonnie Kristian

August 20, 2017

The wreckage of the USS Indianapolis, the American warship used to deliver parts for "Little Boy," the atomic bomb later dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, was discovered after 72 years Saturday.

The World War II heavy cruiser was sunk on July 30, 1945 by a Japanese submarine. It went down in just 12 minutes, too quickly to send a distress signal. About 900 of the 1,197 sailors and Marines on board survived the initial sinking, but only 316 were alive to be rescued several days later, when help arrived.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen led the team that found the wreck. "To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling," Allen said of the discovery. "As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence, and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances." Bonnie Kristian

July 3, 2017

Excavations at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello plantation property in Virginia have uncovered the quarters of Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who is believed to have borne six of Jefferson's children.

The room was located next to Jefferson's bedroom. Measuring about 14 feet by 13 feet, it was converted into a men's restroom in 1941 to accommodate growing crowds of tourists. A bathroom renovation in the 1960s maintained that use, but in recent years, historians reviewed a description of Monticello penned by one of Jefferson's grandsons. The document identified the location of Hemings' quarters, and investigations began.

Since ripping out the later construction, archaeologists have found the room's original floors, remnants of a stove and fireplace, and other valuable artifacts. The space will be restored to focus exclusively on Hemings' life and legacy, part of a broader restoration project at Monticello that takes a more honest look at the experiences of the property's enslaved residents than past iterations of the museum have done.

"This discovery gives us a sense of how enslaved people were living. Some of Sally's children may have been born in this room," said Gardiner Hallock, Monticello's director of restoration. "It's important because it shows Sally as a human being — a mother, daughter, and sister — and brings out the relationships in her life." Bonnie Kristian

April 22, 2017

Two Harvard researchers on Friday presented their discovery of a rare parchment manuscript of the Declaration of Independence discovered in a small town in southern England last year. "The Sussex Declaration," as the document has been dubbed, is believed to have been made in America in the 1780s. It is one of only two known parchment copies of the Declaration worldwide.

"I was just looking for copies of the Declaration of Independence in British archives," said researcher Emily Sneff, when she noticed a record office listing mentioned "parchment," suggesting a rare find. "I reached out to them a bit skeptically," Sneff recalled. "The description was a little vague, but once we saw an image and talked to a conservator we started to get excited."

The Sussex Declaration differs from the parchment copy at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., mainly in the order of the signers' names. In the Washington copy, the names are organized by state; in the Sussex copy, they are not. "The list of names was intentionally scrambled," Sneff suggested, "to drive home the point that the signers of the Declaration of Independence signed as individuals, as a community" rather than solely as representatives of states. Bonnie Kristian

December 7, 2016

On Wednesday, the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, radio station WNYC shared its original broadcast aired on Dec. 7, 1941. The station, which was reportedly the first in New York City to report the attack, offered play-by-plays of American retaliation against the Japanese and of the Hawaiian governor's reports to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt over the phone as a "second wave of Japanese planes began flying over Hawaii."

Take a listen below. Becca Stanek

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