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Historical Perspectives (206)

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 josephine sarah marcus earp

Yet the connecting thread between Earp and the two men from whom he later parted ways has not been discussed much in scholarship on Earp: a Jewish woman from New York named Josephine Marcus. Like Wyatt Earp, fact and fiction are difficult to separate when it comes to understanding the life of the woman who would become his wife. On both counts, this largely is due to Josephine’s attempts to guard the Earps’ legacy. What follows is a brief sketch of her life based on verifiable facts.

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It’s widely acknowledged that Napoleon was the first modern leader to make substantial and systemic use of propaganda that is recognizable to a modern audience. The massive portraits depicting Napoleon as emperor, ancient warrior, and Christ-like healer remain timeless testaments to Napoleon’s authorship of his own image. It comes as no surprise that Napoleon also controlled the press and censored the performing arts and literary publications in order to maintain the narrative that he wished his citizens-subjects to retain. Of all of Napoleon’s disinformation campaigns, the most brazen continues to dazzle today: his Egyptian campaign.

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The 60th Anniversary of the Assassination of John F. Kennedy

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 22, 2023
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This was a low point, even for Napoleon. The trauma of the defeat at Acre was exacerbated by ego in a confrontation that started at Toulon. Napoleon’s pride and spat with Smith magnified the cruelty of which Napoleon was capable.

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Jimmy Carter, 39th US President

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | February 27, 2023
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Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: The Union Army by Adam D. Mendelsohn (NYU Press—November 15th, 2022) asks, what was it like to be a Jew in Lincoln’s armies? The Union army was as diverse as the embattled nation it sought to preserve, a unique mixture of ethnicities, religions, and identities. Almost one Union soldier in four was born abroad, and natives and newcomers fought side-by-side, sometimes uneasily. Yet though scholars have parsed the trials and triumphs of Irish, Germans, African Americans, and others in the Union ranks, they have remained largely silent on the everyday experiences of the largest non-Christian minority to have served.

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Visiting Jewish cemeteries is a fruitful, and more adventurous way the research team can identify new Jewish soldiers to add to the Shapell Roster. Many military men have their service proudly displayed on their tombstones, making new additions a walk in the park for our researchers. But even markers without such obvious information can yield new discoveries.

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Primary Sources: Meaning, Reliability & Where To Find Them

Primary sources are vital to historical research. Researchers, both professional and amateur, use them to reconstruct the past.

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Arthur surprised everyone. In an America torn by Garfield’s assassination and party politics, he immediately set to work proving he was above partisan squabbles.

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Napoleon in the Holy Land

December 2, 2020

Napoleon’s attempt to take the Holy Land, and the later Egyptian occupation of Palestine (1831-1840), also opened up the floodgates for modern diplomacy and travel to the Holy Land.

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With the Help of New Women Voters, Harding Wins in a Landslide – But Still Sees the Presidency as a Prison Term

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Abraham Lincoln and the Jews

October 18, 2020
LEVEL: 11th grade U.S. History
LESSON LENGTH: One 90-minute period or two 45-minute periods.

COMPELLING QUESTION: What were Abraham Lincoln’s attitudes toward religious minorities such as Jews and Catholics and how did it differ from others at the time?

Description: Students will work in groups to plan a temporary exhibit intended for visitors to a historic site or museum related to Abraham Lincoln. The exhibit will concern Abraham Lincoln’s attitude toward religious minorities. Students will analyze primary sources and select three they would like to include in their exhibit. From analyzing their sources, students will develop a “thesis” or argument that the exhibit will convey to their audience.

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John F. Kennedy and Service

October 18, 2020
LEVEL: 8th grade Civics or 7th Grade U.S. History (1865 to Present)
LESSON LENGTH: One 90 minute period or two 45 minute periods

COMPELLING QUESTION: What does it mean to live a life of service? Why is Kennedy’s emphasis on service to the greater community and world important today?

Description: Students will work in groups to better understand the reasoning behind President John F. Kennedy’s emphasis on service in creating government programs such as the Peace Corps. Students will research different kinds of service in the world today: service in their community, government service, military service, etc. and create a short “Ask Not” video making the case for the value of a particular kind of service. 

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American Tourists in the Holy Land, 1865-1900

October 18, 2020
LEVEL: 11th grade U.S History
LESSON LENGTH: One 90-minute period or two 45-minute periods.

COMPELLING QUESTIONS: How were Americans able to visit the “Holy Land” in increasing numbers in the 1865-1900 period? What reasons did they have for going?

Description: Students take on the role of running a travel business in the United States in the 1880s. Their business will advertise travel itineraries to the “Holy Land,” (then called Ottoman Palestine, present-day Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory). Using primary sources and secondary sources as their “guide” students will develop a reason for traveling, the route and transportation, and where they will visit. Students will work in groups to create a brochure or other advertisement complete with travel posters, tickets, and maps that will communicate the travelers’ motivation for taking the trip (alternatively, teachers may have students create a digital brochure or advertisement or a tour using Google Earth).

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Theodore Roosevelt and the 1912 Election: What Happened & Why Did Roosevelt Run?

October 5, 2020
LEVEL: 11th Grade U.S. History or 12th grade U.S. Government
LESSON LENGTH: One 90-minute period or two 45-minute periods.

COMPELLING QUESTION: What qualities did Teddy Roosevelt possess that made his third party campaign appealing to voters

Description: It’s October of 1912 and Theodore Roosevelt is in the hospital after being shot while giving a campaign speech. Students will play the role of campaign advisors and work in groups to better understand Roosevelt and the election by analyzing primary sources. Then each group will create a campaign poster promoting Roosevelt’s candidacy. Students will consider what the key issues are in the election and how their poster will attract voters to Roosevelt’s campaign.

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Religion in the Civil War: The Jewish High Holidays

By Sara Willen and Ben Shapell | September 15, 2020
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Detail: US map of 1856 shows free and slave states and populations. Reynolds's Political Map of the United States

The manuscripts gathered here follow the course of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, from being ratified by President Franklin Pierce to Pierce defending it after his presidency. We also look back to Pierce’s presidential predecessor, Millard Fillmore, ruminating over an impending race war after reading Harriet Beecher-Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Also present in this collection is the reaction of Abraham Lincoln to the bill when he was still an Illinois circuit attorney.

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The 50th Anniversary of the Shootings at Kent State

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 4, 2020
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©Shapell Manuscript Foundation. All Rights Reserved. For more information, please contact us at shapell.org.

From deep within the stress and tension of the violent Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sought an unusual military appointment: “I believe we have not yet appointed a Hebrew,” Lincoln wrote, and requested that the son of a well-known Orthodox rabbi from New York receive a position. In an era rife with both casual and state-sanctioned anti-Semitism, Lincoln’s notice and support of Jewish citizens was bold and noteworthy.

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The misfortune of losing a child while serving in the country’s highest office is one shared by a surprising number of U.S. Presidents.

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The French Impressionists were a tight-knit group of artists centered in Paris in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Though there were other factors which contributed to their parting of ways, the Dreyfus Affair seemed to signal a point of no return for this once-intimate group of painters.

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The 20th Anniversary of the Transfer of the Panama Canal

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 30, 2019

It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century when the United States, led by the intrepid Theodore Roosevelt – ever mindful of naval power – decided that it was not only a vital matter of American lives, time and money, but national principle, to create an American-controlled waterway across the Panamanian isthmus.

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Map of Mark Twain’s “Great Pleasure Excursion” itinerary to Europe and the Holy Land.

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Mark Twain and the Holy Land

December 11, 2019
October 25, 2019 - February 2, 2020

Of all the topics that might have engaged young Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ imagination in 1867, none was less likely or less promising than Palestine, the Holy Land. Known for his biting satire and humorous short pieces on California and the West, Clemens (1835–1910) found the subject that would propel him to national acclaim almost by accident. His serendipitous discovery of a “pleasure cruise” to Europe and the Near East, his success at inveigling his way onto the journey, and reactions to his fellow passengers and to the people and places he visited came to happy fruition in The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress. No book of his ever sold more copies in his lifetime.

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Mark Twain and the Adams Colony

By Karen Chernik | November 12, 2019

American colonists followed preacher George J. Adams from New England to Ottoman-ruled Palestine on a messianic mission to prepare the Holy Land for the return of the Jews. “We are going to become practical benefactors of the land and the people,” Adams stated, “to take the lead in developing its great resources.” A year after arriving, some of these impoverished colonists wanted a ticket home. It was at that moment that author Mark Twain came to town while on a five-month pleasure trip through Europe and the Middle East.

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The Bicentennial of Herman Melville’s Birth

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 1, 2019

It wasn’t until he visited the Holy Land and wrote the longest poem in American literature about it, though, that he  gave up the idea of ever publishing again. He was finished: Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land did him in.

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Just three months into his presidency, Kennedy pledged, in his address to Congress on May 25th, 1961, ”that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” To which he added “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

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Father’s Day: Mark Twain to Daughter, Jean

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 16, 2019
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Jerusalem Day: The Reunification of Jerusalem

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 30, 2019
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Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday: JFK on Jefferson

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 13, 2019

President Kennedy laments he hasn’t time to write about Thomas Jefferson, and then carefully does so.

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The 75th Commemoration of the Death of Orde Wingate

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | March 24, 2019
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Presidents’ Day: Newly Retired George Washington’s Daily Routine

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | February 17, 2019

Writing just two months after handing the presidency off to John Adams, Washington was a changed man. Having returned to Mount Vernon, and at last under the shadow of his own vine and fig-tree, he was, in fact, exuberant, wry – and surprisingly, funny.

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The 100th Commemoration of the Death of Theodore Roosevelt

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 13, 2019

Theodore Roosevelt, having wanted his whole life to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral, finally got at least half of his wish when, on January 8, 1919, he was buried, quietly, in his parish church in Oyster Bay. Reporters watching as President Wilson read the message that Roosevelt had died, swore he broke into a wide transcendent smile. Why, is the story told here, in one of the very last letters Roosevelt ever wrote…

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And This Too Shall Pass Away

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 16, 2018

At an even more fraught and divisive moment in our past, Abraham Lincoln lost an epic contest – and so 160 years ago wrote this letter, whose final words, echoing King Solomon, are once more worth heeding. “‘And this too shall pass away.’ Never fear.”

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Map of Richmond, VA

August 23, 2018
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Map of Illinois, 1845

August 23, 2018
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The Assassination & Funeral of Robert F. Kennedy

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 5, 2018
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Truman Recognizes Israel: The Anniversary of Israel’s Founding

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 13, 2018

5 days before recognizing Israel, Truman writes to Clark Clifford, mentioning the pressure of Palestine.

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The Anniversary of the Founding of the State of Israel

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 17, 2018

Palestine, says President Truman in February 1948, is a “matter of considerable disturbance” to be determined by the U.N.

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December 2010 - March 2013
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One hundred years separate the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington. Yet, these two events are profoundly linked together in a larger story of liberty and the American experience.

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February 2011 - August 2011, Beverly Hills Public Library.

This exhibition features letters, manuscripts and signed photos that celebrate various aspects of the remarkable life and character of Ronald Reagan, the 40th U.S. President. There are examples of his optimism and his pessimism; letters about his fierce presumption of racial equality, and manuscripts decrying riots, lawlessness, and a coercive state.

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Picture of President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination. Also in the presidential limousine are Jackie Kennedy, Texas Governor John Connally, and his wife, Nellie. Photographer: Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News.

The Mortal Presidency Exhibition

January 15, 2018
May 10, 2010 - February 28, 2011
Beverly Hills Public Library, Beverly Hills, CA

The most dangerous job in America is not, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced, fishing. Nor is it logging, flying, or steel manufacturing. The job with the worst mortality rate is the hardest one to get: President of the United States.

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2 Years 1 Month: Lincoln’s Legacy

January 15, 2018
April 2014 - October 2014
April 2014 - October 2014, Oregon Historical Society

An in-depth look at Lincoln’s monumental presidency between two historic points: the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Congressional passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Through rare documents and artifacts, look at Lincoln’s legacy through the lens of slavery and the end of the Civil War.

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The Idea of Lincoln: Man and Memory

January 1, 2018
May 2008 - December 2009; April 2012 - October 2012

This exhibition features letters in Lincoln’s hand, some of which testify to the mythic idea of him – his kindness, honesty, and mercy; and some reflecting the gritty reality of his life – law cases about hogs, choosing pragmatism over principle, crafting an image.

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Lincoln Speaks: Words That Transformed a Nation

January 1, 2018
January 23, 2015 - June 7, 2015

Abraham Lincoln, despite only one year of formal education, achieved a literary command that would help him win the presidency and, once there, define in memorable prose the purposes that shaped the nation and its future. This exhibition shows Lincoln’s growth, progression and perseverance as a writer, from the early age of 16, and culminating in his exceptional ability to pen words that inspired, comforted, and healed a nation in a time of unprecedented crisis.

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With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial

December 14, 2017
February 2009 - April 2011
Library of Congress, February 2009 - April 2011

The exhibition reveals Lincoln the man, whose thoughts, words, and actions were deeply affected by personal experiences and pivotal historic events. This virtual exhibit includes some select items on display at the traveling exhibition.

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With Firmness in the Right – Lincoln and the Jews

December 13, 2017
March 2015 - November 2015
March 2015 - June 2015, New-York Historical Society. August 2015 - November 2015, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

In 1858, when Abraham Lincoln emerged onto the national stage, Jews made up less than one-half of one percent of the American population. Many Americans of that time did not know Jews personally, yet Lincoln did, and these relationships stood out amid the stereotyping and anti-Semitism of mid-19th-century America. The bonds Lincoln formed with Jewish individuals during his lifetime, and the interventions he made as president on behalf of all Jews, reflected his deepest values and helped promote Jewish equality in the United States.

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The Holocaust

December 7, 2017

Manuscripts exploring the mounting dangers before the Holocaust, the devastation it wrought, and the way the Jewish people both resisted in the face of the Holocaust, and re-established their homeland in the wake of it.

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Albert Einstein on arrival at SS Rotterdam in New York. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Albert Einstein: Original Letters in Aid of his Brethren

December 6, 2017
November 2008 - February 2009
Beverly Hills Public Library. November 2008 - February 2009.

Albert Einstein saved his energy, and the use of his fame, for two things: Understanding the laws of nature was one, and aiding his Jewish brethren – who so needed a homeland and a refuge from the horrors of Hitler – was the other. These letters – some handwritten, some typed and signed – reflect his passionate commitment to the survival of the Jewish people. Most remarkable, perhaps, is that in this work, running what he called his own kind of “immigration office,” Einstein personally saved hundreds of Jewish lives from Hitler’s persecution and death camps. He was also concerned with the creation of a homeland for his people and in building a University in Jerusalem. This virtual exhibit includes some select items that were displayed at the original exhibition.

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The Fading Light of Camelot

December 4, 2017
Novermber 15, 2013 - February 17, 2014
Oregon Historical Society.

It might have been the very instant that the newly sworn-in President declared “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” that the legend was born. For an electrifying 1000 days, the administration of John F. Kennedy would try to confront new challenges and right old wrongs – and with such verve and vigor, that it gave the country, indeed the world, a lift. But as no light burns forever, so in turn the shining moment that was Camelot, began to fade. War abroad, unrest at home, even privately, the death of an infant son – darkness edged in, until noon, in Dallas, on November 22, 1963, when it all turned black.

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President Harry Truman stands by the 1947 creation of a Jewish homeland.

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John_F._Kennedy,_White_House_photo_portrait,_looking_up._White House_Press Office_February_20_1961

High Hopes: The Journey of John F. Kennedy

November 28, 2017
March 25, 2017 - November 12, 2017
March 25, 2017 - November 12, 2017. Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oregon

John F. Kennedy powered into the White House on the energy of a country seeking change. Stuck in a recession and dismayed by perceived political stagnation, voters embraced the vibrancy and wit of Kennedy and his young family, emboldening the president to edge toward a new frontier, both on the homefront and internationally – and even to outer space. The fervent hope that Kennedy brought to the White House and to the United States was quickly confronted by broad geopolitical threats, as well as by personal challenges.

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The Anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | October 31, 2017

General Edmund Allenby enters Jerusalem.

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Mark Twain in Jerusalem and the Holy Land

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | September 26, 2017

American literature, travel writing, and international tourism would never be the same.

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Abraham Lincoln by Gardner, February 1865. Source: Library of Congress.

Lincoln’s Last Days

August 31, 2017

A country divided, battered, exhausted – limping towards the end of the bloodiest war in American history. Abraham Lincoln, as often was the case during his presidency, is under threat. John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor and Confederate sympathizer is planning an attack with other conspirators that will change the course of the nation.

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General View of Jerusalem ca.1890-1900. Source: Library of Congress.

The vision of the Holy Land in 19th-century America was shaped by religious and cultural sentiment, and influenced by the experiences of those groups who traveled there: missionaries, pilgrims and tourists, explorers, settlers, and consular officers, all of whom had different motives for their journey and reports.

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Theodor Herzl at the first or second Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897-1898. Wikimedia Commons, Governmental Office of Press, Israel.

The Anniversary of the First Zionist Congress

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 29, 2017
The 120th Anniversary of the First Zionist Congress

Herzl, Envisioning the First Zionist Congress, Vows the Return of the Jews to Palestine.

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The Mortal Presidency

August 23, 2017

He is head of state, Commander-in-chief, and the country’s top legislator. The President of the United States has arguably the toughest job in America, and it turns out, the most deadly.

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Panoramic view of encampment of Army of Potomac at Cumberland Landing on Pamunkey River May 1862. Library of Congress.

Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War

August 21, 2017
March 2013 - February 2014
March 2013 - February 2014

A crucible for American Jews, the Civil War laid the groundwork for their integration and Americanization on a large scale. It enabled the full participation of Jews in American life – militarily, politically, economically and socially – and set the stage for massive Jewish immigration decades later.

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Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore during initial landings at Leyte, Philippine Islands. October 1944. U.S. Army Signal Corps officer Gaetano Faillace. National Archives (NARA.)

World War II

August 20, 2017

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The Civil War was a time when soldiers would be executed for desertion, in order to prevent further desertion. Even immigrants, whose understanding of English and the conditions of service was limited, were executed in the American Civil War. Watch the story of five Union soldiers at Beverly Ford, VA, who perhaps unjustly were denied a stay of execution from President Lincoln.

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Calvin Coolidge Jr.’s Death

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 6, 2017

A heart-broken president mourns his teenage son.

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The Anniversary of the Six-Day War

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 5, 2017

Ben-Gurion, writing as the Six-Day War begins, predicts victory.

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The John F. Kennedy Centenary

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 23, 2017

Kennedy’s Most Famous Words: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”

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A New Presidency: The First 100 Days

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 29, 2017

Truman on Kennedy: inexperienced and hopeful.

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The Jewish Doctor at Lincoln’s Deathbed

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 14, 2017

A recently acquired letter offers new revelations.

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Theodore Roosevelt, circa 1911. Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-36665.

The United States Enters First World War

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 6, 2017
Theodore Roosevelt Lambastes President Wilson for Refusing to Let Him Lead a Division in World War I

Theodore Roosevelt was dying to serve in World War I. He was, he reminded all who could hear, an ex-Commander in Chief of the United States Army, and ready to once again lead “his” First United States Volunteer Cavalry – the “Rough Riders” – into the fray. But President Wilson, whom Roosevelt detested, refused the appointment

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The Anniversary of the Funeral of the Apollo I Astronauts

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 31, 2017

President Lyndon B. Johnson writes to the parents of astronauts killed in the Apollo I disaster.

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The Road to the Inauguration: 1905

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 12, 2017

Theodore Roosevelt has a suit made, and re-made, for his 1905 inauguration.

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The Nuremberg Trial Executions

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | October 16, 2016

The execution of ten Nazi war criminals.

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1880 Republican National Convention

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 17, 2016

James A. Garfield didn’t want the job, and his arguments from the convention floor to that effect were so eloquent and moving, he was nominated forthwith.

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The_Custer_Fight_Charles_Marion_Russell_1903_Library_of_Congress

Custer’s Last Stand – June 25, 1876

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 23, 2016
Custer's Last Stand - The Anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Days Before Leaving to Drive Out the “Indians” from the Bighorn Country, Custer Predicts Mining Fortunes To Be Made There

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Father’s Day

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 19, 2016

However much Tad vexed others, Lincoln was entirely at his service, day or night.

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The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 17, 2016
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The Death and Funeral of Nancy Reagan

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | March 6, 2016

“Nancy sends her love,” – Ronald Reagan, miraculously surviving an assassination attempt, is optimistic about his recovery.

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The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 26, 2016

Schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe Writes About Her Excitement Going into Space on the Ill-Fated Challenger.
On January 28, 1986, the NASA Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11:38 EST and, 73 seconds into its flight, exploded nine miles above the Atlantic Ocean. All seven crew members were killed, including 37 year-old McAuliffe, who had been selected from 11,000 applicants to be a “Teacher in Space.” Largely because of her presence, some 17% of Americans watched the live coverage of the launch.

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“The Union is Dissolved!”

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 20, 2015

The Charleston Mercury had already given warning. If the “Black Republican” party succeeded in the upcoming presidential election, it declared in the summer of 1860, “loyalty to the Union will be treason to the South.”

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The Birth of Humorist Mark Twain, Née Samuel L. Clemens

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 30, 2015

Young Mark Twain, in Maui, on horseback, arranges to meet shipboard friends.

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Mark Twain Eulogizes General Grant, Whose Memoirs He Would Publish

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 11, 2015

Twain on the heroic writing, and fantastic success, of Grant’s memoirs – Grant’s fame, he predicts, will last two-thousand years.

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Mary Surratt’s daughter petitions Andrew Johnson for the return of her mother’s remains.

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Wilson wanted to ascertain all the facts; he wanted to reach a determination; he wanted, then and only then, to write the Imperial German government, a sharp letter. He was still gathering information when, on May 7th, another German U-Boat torpedoed and sank the British luxury ocean liner RMS Luisitania, killing 1,198 people, including 128 Americans. This time Wilson did voice a protest – but that was all. “Americans must have a consciousness different from the consciousness of every other nation in the world,” he declared. “There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right.” Roosevelt was apoplectic.

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Abraham Lincoln Poem “My Childhood Home I See Again”

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 25, 2015
"My Childhood Home I See Again"

An exceptionally rare Lincoln autobiographical letter – mentioning the death of his mother and sister, and his elegiac poem “My Childhood Home I See Again, And Sadden With the View.”

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Victory in Europe Day

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 7, 2015

Nazi Germany surrenders.
“The other day I visited a German internment camp. I never dreamed that such cruelty, bestiality, and savagery could really exist in this world!” – General Eisenhower.

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The Anniversary of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 14, 2015
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“We Have Not Yet Appointed a Hebrew”

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | March 17, 2015
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Booth Plans Ahead

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | February 22, 2015

Rare and suspicious John Wilkes Booth letter, written just two months before Lincoln’s assassination.

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(C) Shapell Manuscript Foundation. All Rights Reserved. For more information, please contact us at shapell.org.

Winter Holidays

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 1, 2014
Winter Holidays

When young bride Jacqueline Kennedy bought her husband a paint set for Christmas 1953, all the Kennedys descended on it, competing to see who could produce the most paintings in the shortest amount of time. Jacqueline was appalled: her idea had been to allow Jack to emulate his great hero, Winston Churchill, who found in painting a serene distraction from political pressure.

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Lincoln in Indiana: A Rare Mention of His Childhood There

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 7, 2014

It was his harsh life in the wilderness of Spencer County, Indiana, that shaped Lincoln’s character and beliefs.

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Herbert Hoover, the 31st President, Dies at Age 90

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | September 20, 2014

Hoover had longer than most presidents to give vent to a sentiment a great many of them felt: out-of-office, he says he is “…once of Washington D.C. – now fortunately elsewhere.”

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Robert Todd Lincoln, Witness to Presidential Assassinations

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | September 14, 2014

If in the annals of American history, there was ever an expert witness on Presidential assassinations, that person would be Robert Lincoln.

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Back to School

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 24, 2014

Life’s lessons: John F. Kennedy advises a college student what classes to take for a life in politics.

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Nixon on Watergate: He Took One for the Team

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 9, 2014

When the House Judiciary Committee passed Articles of Impeachment, and a tape recording revealed him ordering a cover-up, Nixon had to go – and so left, speaking vaguely of “wrong judgments” but never, his role in Watergate itself.

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The dog days of summer are here: so warmed up, and slowed down, that even Congress has stopped doing nothing…

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Warren G. Harding, by Harris & Ewing. Circa 1920. Library of Congress.

President Harding tries to get a job for his alleged mistress, Nan Britton: excessively rare documentation of their relationship.

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The public’s right to know versus a President’s responsibility to protect. Just when, exactly, is secrecy warranted?

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The Death of Ronald Reagan

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 5, 2014
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The Death of Nathaniel Hawthorne

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 19, 2014

Franklin Pierce on the death of his dearest friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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America’s First Ladies

April 12, 2014
April 2014 - October 2014

Through over two hundred years of social upheaval, First Ladies have responded to the evolving burdens and challenges of this unofficial “office.” Some of these women became famous, but most have been forgotten. Yet we should not overlook the importance of these extraordinary women.

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The First Presidential Typed Letter

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 4, 2014

Benjamin Harrison: the earliest known example of a typewritten presidential letter.

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President John F. Kennedy greets spectators as he travels in his motorcade in Patrick Street, Cork, Ireland. 28 June 1963.  Robert Knudsen.

President Kennedy’s trip to Ireland was notable, publicly, in that it marked the first visit of an Irish-American President, the first of a Catholic President, and the first of a sitting President. It was notable, privately, in that no one traveling with him – including all his staff of Irish descent, two of his sisters, and his sister-in-law – had ever seen him happier.

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George Washington’s Birthday

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | February 22, 2014
Washington, Dreading The Presidency, Feels As If He's Being Led To His Execution.

The very man who defined the American presidency was probably the only man to occupy the office who did not want the job.

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Frances Folsom Cleveland, circa 1886. Library of Congress.

President Cleveland Love Letter to his Young Bride-to-Be

By Bejamin Shapell, Sara Willen | February 14, 2014
Valentine's Day: President Cleveland Writes a Love Letter to his Young Bride-to-Be

Of course it was a huge secret: everyone remembers it. The girl was 21, the President 49; almost no one in the White House had an inkling. In Washington, no one knew a thing – but enough suspected, sooner or later, it was always a possibility: women hadn’t exactly been scarce in his background. In fact, running for president, the first time, there was an absolute media riot about his intimacy with a woman to whom he was not wed. Anyone who lived through it, would never forget. But not all presidential intrigues end in scandal, for as this letter from President Cleveland to his half-his-age secret fiancée attests, his led to the altar

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California Earthquakes: “The Spirit of Humanity” and Mark Twain

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 17, 2014

The shock of the earthquake which struck San Francisco on the morning of April 18, 1906 – leveling countless buildings, starting a fire that lasted three days, and taking hundreds of lives – was felt all across the country.

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Holiday Merry Making in the White House

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 30, 2013

The Hayes’ White House, famously, was a bastion of Temperance – earning Mrs. Hayes the sobriquet “Lemonade Lucy” – although it was rumored that the disapproving staff served oranges infused with a rum-based Roman Punch.

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Lincoln Swears to Uphold the Emancipation Proclamation

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 20, 2013

Abraham Lincoln swears he shall not modify the Emancipation Proclamation, nor return to slavery any person freed by it.

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The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 22, 2013

If it had rained that morning; if Jacqueline Kennedy had not been with him; if the crowds to greet them hadn’t been so deep…

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Kristallnacht

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 9, 2013

An Assistant Secretary of the Interior tries to stop the annihilation of German Jews.

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March on Washington, August 28, 1963. U.S. National Archives.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 28, 2013

In 1864, Governor Michael Hahn pushed through a provision authorizing the legislature to enfranchise non-whites on the basis that Lincoln suggested: military service and intellectual fitness. This was a crucial development: voting rights for Blacks were now – incrementally – possible…

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The Korean War Armistice

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 27, 2013

A war that ended in deadlock, starting something that would last for thirty-five years: the Cold War.

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President Gerald R. Ford’s Birthday

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 14, 2013

President Gerald Ford, never elected to the office – nor, uniquely, to that of the Vice President – wanted to be remembered, he said, as a dedicated, hardworking, honest person who served constructively.

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The Battle of Gettysburg

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 1, 2013

170,000 men fought for three days, often hand-to-hand, in encounters so epic they are known by name.

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Presidential Enmity and Amity

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 25, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt hated William Howard Taft; Taft hated Roosevelt; Roosevelt hated Woodrow Wilson. Wilson hated…

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Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 8, 2013

Ben-Gurion painfully acknowledges that if the Jewish state had been founded in 1937, millions of Jews would not have died in the Holocaust.

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March 2013 - March 2016

This exhibition deals with the relationship that developed between the United States of America and the Holy Land, starting in 1844.

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Portrait of President Harry S. Truman. Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. Accession Number: 58-766-09.

No one has ever taken history, or algebra, or Latin, and not at some point asked, querulously, “when am I ever going to need to use this?”  The answer, according to Harry S. Truman, is when you are struck by lightning one day and wake up to find yourself president of the United States.

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Casts_of_Abraham_Lincoln's_hands,_taken_by_Leonard_Volk_on_May_20,_1860._National_Museum_of_American_History.

“In Our Hands”: A Look at Lincoln’s Use of a Phrase

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | February 12, 2013

“In Our Hands” – Two letters by Lincoln at hard-won, and long-sought moments.

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President for a Day

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | January 21, 2013

Who is in charge, when the presidential term ends on noon on the Sunday, but the Oath isn’t taken, until Monday?

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The Wright Brothers: Inventing the First Successful Airplane

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 17, 2012
The Wright Brothers: Inventing the First Successful Airplane

An Extraordinary Orville Wright Letter: How Watching Birds Led to Manned Flight at Kitty Hawk.

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The UN General Assembly Adopts the Partition Plan

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | November 27, 2012

Truman’s aide battled the entire State Department to ensure Truman’s support for the Jewish State

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Lincoln may have been hailed, during the Civil War, as the Father of the Nation, but at home, with his eldest son Robert, Lincoln was mostly the President of the United States.

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The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | October 31, 2012

The most famous gunfight in Western history; three men had been killed, and someone, the law said, had to answer.

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The Death of President Franklin Pierce

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | October 8, 2012

Former President Pierce defends himself against treason charges.

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The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | October 3, 2012

Lincoln, in a prelude to the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, shadows Douglas around the Illinois.

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The Death of McKinley and the Presidency of Roosevelt

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | September 14, 2012

On the day he suddenly becomes president, Roosevelt writes of his heavy and painful task.

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Election Poster fod President Wm. McKinley, Vice President Theo. Roosevelt, c.1900. Source: Library of Congress.

The McKinley Assassination

By Sara Willen, Resident Historian | September 6, 2012

The afternoon that President McKinley was shot point-blank, his Vice President was on an island, xxxxx miles away. VP Theodore Roosevelt wired for news – and predicted a recovery for McKinley who would succumb to his wounds xxxxx days later.

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Polk, surprised to be nominated, says that the presidency is too important an office to be sought or declined.

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Samuel Clemens – Mark Twain – Arrives in Nevada

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 12, 2012

Arriving in Nevada Territory, Mark Twain began one of the greatest careers in the history of literature.

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John Tyler Becomes the First Vice President to Assume the Presidency

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | August 11, 2012

Tyler, the first vice president to inherit the presidency, jokes about his being “an accident”

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Assassination of William McKinley, Sept. 6th, 1901. c.1905. Library of Congress.

The McKinley Assassination Plot

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 30, 2012

Assassin Czolgosz, calling himself “Fred Nobody,” writes of Buffalo – the place he will murder McKinley in 5 weeks time.

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In 1956, Israel’s Prime Minister looks to George Washington’s army for inspiration.

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The Garfield Assassination

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | July 2, 2012
The Ultimate Irony: Assassination Is Like Lightning, Garfield Says, And Cannot Be Guarded Against

The assassin Charles Guiteau fired, twice, into his back. “My God!” the President cried, “What is this?”

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The Battle of the Little Bighorn

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 25, 2012

The Custers, of whom there were five in the 7th Cavalry, lived as a clan, fought as a clique, and died in their matching white buckskins at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on the same afternoon.

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Theodore Roosevelt in ’12

June 15, 2012
June 2012 - November 2012
June 2012 - November 2012

The Presidential election of 1912 featured old friends publicly transformed into bitter enemies; the creation of a new political party which out-polled the incumbent president; and an assassination attempt on a former president-turned-candidate, running for an unprecedented third term.

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Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” Speech

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | June 12, 2012

The Cold War may have began the day the Second World War ended, but its greatest battle did not start until the morning of August 13, 1961, when Berliners from both the Western and Soviet sectors awoke to find their city divided by a barbed wire barrier – soon to become a concrete wall 16 feet high and some 96 miles long – which, for the next 28 years would virtually imprison those unlucky enough to be on the Eastern side of the divide.

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Theodore Roosevelt: the First President to Ride in an Automobile

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 27, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt, horseman, disparages the motor car.

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The Beginning of the Peace Corps

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | May 27, 2012

When President Kennedy famously challenged Americans “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”, thousands of young Americans responded by signing up for the Peace Corps – established just six weeks into his presidency, on March 1, 1961, by executive order.

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“All that I am or hope ever to be,” Abraham Lincoln famously said, “I get from my mother – God bless her.”

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©Shapell Manuscript Foundation. All Rights Reserved. For more information, please contact us at shapell.org.

The Sinking of the RMS Titanic

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | April 15, 2012

President William Howard Taft, heartbroken at the loss on the Titanic of his military aide, writes an emotional eulogy.

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Running for President, Grant tries to lose the antisemite label engendered by his infamous “Jew Order” during the Civil War.

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Mark Twain, 1907. A.F. Bradley. Library of Congress.

It’s noble to teach oneself, Mark Twain once remarked, but still nobler to teach others – and less trouble.

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Abraham Lincoln Photograph, platinum print from wet plate collodion glass negative. 1860. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Lincoln was fifty-one years old, and in his own eyes, a common man, running for president against those infinitely more likely, and better favored, than himself. Lincoln’s identification of himself as unexceptional in any way reflected his intrinsic egalitarianism .

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The conundrum of the President who is at once both the most common and the rarest in manuscript material, is solved.

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The Alfred Dreyfus Degradation Ceremony – Paris, France

By Sara Willen, Resident Historian | January 5, 2012

The Dreyfus Affair was “one of the great commotions of history. ” It began in 1894 against a backdrop of espionage and antisemitism, when Jewish French Army captain, Alfred Dreyfus, was wrongly convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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The Electric Light Bulb is Invented

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | October 22, 2011

Thomas Edison: “I am busily engaged on the electric light.”

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April 2011 - July 2011

Although Tsar Alexander II and President Abraham Lincoln came from very different backgrounds, they led eerily parallel lives. The United States President proclaimed the emancipation of slaves in the territories of the Confederation in 1863. The Russian emperor signed the liberation of the serfs in 1861. Freedom, however, came at a cost. Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 and Alexander II assassinated on March 13, 1881.

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What Education Teaches

January 31, 2011
April 2007 - August 2007

“What Education Teaches” is an exhibit of the original letters of famous people discussing, explicitly or implicitly, what they’ve learned, why they’ve learned it, and how that knowledge has informed their actions. The exhibit featured the autograph material of Mark Twain, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, and others.

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