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Smithsonian

39 articles
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The Race to Stop Africa’s Elephant Poachers

Hunting people who hunt elephants.

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Rise of the Sea Urchin

From Norwegian waters to European plates.

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The Amazing (If True) Story of the Submarine Mechanic Who Blew Himself Up Then Surfaced as a Secret Agent for Queen Victoria

The life and times of James McClintock, the man behind the famed H.L. Hunley who also may or may not have faked his own death.

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The High Priestess of Fraudulent Finance

Cassie Chadwick pulled her first con in 1870, at the age of 13. Over the next 30 years, she would scam her way to $633,000, about $16.5 million in today’s dollars.

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What Really Happened to Michael Rockefeller

More than 50 years after Nelson Rockefeller's son went missing following a boat accident in New Guinea, the true story emerges. He made it to shore, but didn't make it much farther.

Excerpted from Savage Harvest.

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Everything Was Fake but Her Wealth

Ida Wood, who lived for decades as a recluse in a New York City hotel, would have taken her secrets to the grave—if her sister hadn’t gotten there first.

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Why Oliver Sacks is One of the Great Modern Adventurers

The neurologist explores the mystery of hallucinations.

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Native Intelligence

The true story of the first Thanksgiving.

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The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board

What the popular game says about our subconscious.

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CSI: Italian Renaissance

On paleopathologist Gino Fornaciari and his investigations into murders from centuries past.

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The Octogenarian Who Took on the Shoguns

On Japan’s Hokkaido, an island the size of Ireland, and its rebel leader of lore, Shakushain.

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The Gut-Wrenching Science Behind the World’s Hottest Peppers

A trip to a pepper-eating contest in remote India.

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In the Eye of the Whirlpool

Searching for a mysterious whirpool on an obscure map.

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For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II

In 1936, Karp Lykov whisked his family into the Siberian wilderness to escape Bolshevik persecution. They remained there, alone, until discovered by a helicopter crew in 1978.

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The Unsuccessful Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln

Learning of a plot against the life of the newly elected Lincoln, Alan Pinkerton decamps to Baltimore and infiltrates the conspiracy.

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What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web?

An internet pioneer loses hope in the promise of web culture.

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The Children Who Went Up In Smoke

In 1945, a fire tore through the home of George and Jennie Sodder. Four children escaped; five vanished.

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Cockford's Club

On William Cockford and his 1800s gambling hall in London, where much of the British aristocracy lost its fortune.

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Dr. Nakamats, the Man With 3300 Patents to His Name

A profile of Sir Dr. NakaMats, who claims to have invented over 3,000 things, including the floppy disk and karaoke machine.

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The CIA Burglar Who Went Rogue

A spy takes on his own agency.

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The Great New England Vampire Panic

How a group of farmers came to believe that their relatives were returning from the grave.

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The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus

On the 1,600-year-old text that suggests that Jesus, long believed to be celibate, was a married man.

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Sleeping with Cannibals

For days I've been slogging through a rain-soaked jungle in Indonesian New Guinea, on a quest to visit members of the Korowai tribe, among the last people on earth to practice cannibalism.
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Quite Likely the Worst Job Ever

The sewer hunters, or “toshers,” of 19th century London.

Knowing where to find the most valuable pieces of detritus was vital, and most toshers worked in gangs of three or four, led by a veteran who was frequently somewhere between 60 and 80 years old. These men knew the secret locations of the cracks that lay submerged beneath the surface of the sewer-waters, and it was there that cash frequently lodged.

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The Long History of the Espresso Machine

“Good espresso depends on the fourM’sMacchina, the espresso machine; Macinazione, the proper grinding of a beans; Miscela, the coffee blend and the roast, and Mano is the skilled hand of the barista, because even with the finest beans and the most advanced equipment, the shot depends on the touch and style of the barista.”

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Fire in the Hole

For a half-century fires have burned under Centralia, PA.

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Why the Titanic Still Fascinates Us

How movies, music and literature reproduce the disaster.

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The Mysterious Mr. Zedzed: The Wickedest Man in the World

Few men have acquired so scandalous a reputation as did Basil Zaharoff, alias Count Zacharoff, alias Prince Zacharias Basileus Zacharoff, known to his intimates as “Zedzed.” Born in Anatolia, then part of the Ottoman Empire, perhaps in 1849, Zaharoff was a brothel tout, bigamist and arsonist, a benefactor of great universities and an intimate of royalty who reached his peak of infamy as an international arms dealer -- a “merchant of death,” as his many enemies preferred it.
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The Most Terrible Polar Exploration Ever: Douglas Mawson's Antarctic Journey

A story of endurance in the face of unimaginably brutal conditions.

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The Devastating Costs of the Amazon Gold Rush

How black market mining is destroying the Peruvian rain forest and enslaving child workers.

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What Defines a Meme?

How information replicates, mutates, and evolves.

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Willem de Kooning Still Dazzles

From his arrival in New York as a penniless 22-year-old Dutch stowaway through years of obscurity until emerging as a major artist in his 50s.

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The Body on Somerton Beach

Beyond the fact that he lacked a pulse, little is known about the man found on an Adelaide beach in 1948.

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Future Shocks

On the endless quest to predict earthquakes.

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Fort Sumter: The Civil War Begins

The Civil War started 150 years ago today. A primer on how and why.

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The Man Who Turned off the Taps

Prohibition couldn’t have happened without Wayne B. Wheeler, who foisted temperance on a thirsty nation 90 years ago.