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Send in the Marines

The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation dedicates its National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia, on November 10. The museum opens to the public on November 13.

The first stop in the museum is the Boot Camp Gallery, designed to give visitors a taste of what it’s like to be a Marine recruit. Interactive exhibits include an encounter with a drill instructor, physical fitness tests and marksmanship training with a laser-simulated M-16 rifle.

Subsequent era galleries are devoted to the Marine experience in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and were chosen to honor living veterans of those conflicts. The World War II Era Gallery includes an “immersive experience” on the Battle of Iwo Jima. Visitors board a Marine landing craft that is lined with base shakers in the walls and floors to simulate the feel of ocean waves and artillery concussions while actual combat footage from the battle is shown on several movie screens. A similar treatment is given to the amphibious landing at Inchon exhibit in the Korean War Era Gallery, and the Hill 881 South exhibit in the Vietnam Era Gallery. Temporary exhibits are devoted to the Global War on Terrorism and the Marine Corps Combat Art Program.

The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization that supports the Corps’ historical programs. “The foundation preserves and shares the history and traditions of the United States Marine Corps in order to educate and inspire current and future generations of Americans about our Corps’ legacy of sacrifice and contribution,” said Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors. The museum will provide a central repository for the Corps’ collection of some 60,000 artifacts, including archival documents, combat art and film footage.

History to Go

History is now as close as your iPod or cell phone. Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello and the Richmond National Battlefield Park all offer podcasts—audio programs that can be downloaded to portable music players anywhere in the world. Cell phone users can dial up Talking Street Tours for prerecorded guided walking tours of Boston; the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; and Lower Manhattan, the Lower East Side and the Staten Island Ferry in New York. “History may be old,” said Robyn Eoff, Colonial Williamsburg’s Internet director, “but its presentation doesn’t have to be.”

Martyrs or Terrorists?

When white abolitionist John Brown plotted a slave uprising in 1859, many considered him to be a dangerous radical. Today he is honored as a “heroic martyr.” The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) recently presented a plaque commemorating Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, W.Va., to Storer College. The plaque originally had been presented in 1932, but the college refused to accept it.

In Charleston, S.C., efforts to commemorate another proponent of slave rebellion have fared quite differently. Fundraising for a monument to Denmark Vesey—a free black man who was hanged in 1822 for allegedly proposing an uprising and the mass murder of whites—has fallen far short of the $200,000 goal, despite support from public officials and evidence that claims of a murderous rampage may have been trumped up by the courts. Historians believe that Vesey planned an armed insurrection similar to the one Brown would attempt 37 years later. (Brown himself cited Vesey as an inspiration.) While Vesey, like Brown, would have killed anyone who stood in his way, historians say that no direct evidence suggests a plot for mass murder. The public and the press were barred from the courtroom during Vesey’s trial, and he did not testify.

The Vesey affair led to the creation of The Citadel military college as a defense against future rebellion. Harsher slave codes were enacted throughout the South, and South Carolina prohibited free blacks from entering the state.

Basilica Bicentennial

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Baltimore Basilica, celebrates its 200th anniversary on November 4, with the completion of a two-year restoration project. Considered one of the finest examples of neoclassical architecture in the world, the basilica was designed by John Carroll, America’s first bishop, and Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol. The most distinctive feature of the National Historic Landmark is the grand dome with its 24 skylights.

Sanitized for Your Protection

War is a dirty business, but the language used to describe it shouldn’t be. At least that’s how broadcasters are interpreting the Federal Communications Commission’s rulings on indecency. In order to comply with the FCC, filmmaker Ken Burns’ World War II documentary, The War, slated to air on PBS in September 2007, is coming under scrutiny. Following the FCC’s rulings, PBS adopted strict policies regarding profanity, including digitally masking the on-camera speaker’s mouth as well as bleeping offensive words.

At least one PBS station, KCSM in San Mateo, Calif., was fined $15,000 in March for airing obscenities in Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed documentary The Blues. Legislation passed in June increased fines for broadcasters to $325,000 for each occurrence.

PBS is appealing to the FCC to reconsider its policies with regard to documentaries. Burns told The New York Times that his film contained “very graphic violence,” but only two obscenities, both read off-camera.

Black Magic Woman

A Virginia woman who was found guilty of practicing witchcraft has been exonerated—300 years after her alleged crimes were committed. Governor Tim Kaine pardoned Grace Sherwood, the “Witch of Pungo,” in June.

Sherwood was accused of causing a neighbor’s miscarriage and was forced to undergo trial by water. On July 10, 1706, the 46-year-old Sherwood, whose hands and feet were bound, was tossed into the Lynnhaven River—and floated. This was taken as a sign that she was guilty, the water having rejected her evil spirit. She was imprisoned until 1713, but records show that she later reclaimed the property she had lost as a result of her conviction. Sherwood was the only person in Virginia history to be convicted as a witch in a trial by water.

Return of the King

Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize– winning tale of a political dynamo in the Depression-era South comes to the big screen once again. A remake of All the King’s Men, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1949, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Warren’s novel was inspired by Huey Long, Louisiana’s larger-than-life governor and U.S. senator, whose populist ideals were overshadowed by charges of graft and corruption. Long was assassinated on the steps of the state capitol in Baton Rouge in 1935.


Originally published in the December 2006 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.