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A Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History

Tim Grove

Publication Year: 2014

For more than twenty years, Tim Grove has worked at the most popular history museums in the United States, helping millions of people get acquainted with the past. This book translates that experience into an insider’s tour of some of the most interesting moments in American history. Grove’s stories are populated with well-known historical figures such as John Brown, Charles Lindbergh, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Sacagawea—as well as the not-so-famous. Have you heard of Mary Pickersgill, seamstress of the Star-Spangled Banner flag? Grove also has something to say about a few of our cherished myths, for instance, the lore surrounding Betsy Ross and Eli Whitney.

Grove takes readers to historic sites such as Harpers Ferry, Fort McHenry, the Ulm Pishkun buffalo jump, and the Lemhi Pass on the Lewis and Clark Trail and traverses time and space from eighteenth-century Williamsburg to the twenty-first-century Kennedy Space Center. En route from Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic to Cape Disappointment on the Pacific, we learn about planting a cotton patch on the National Mall, riding a high wheel bicycle, flying the transcontinental airmail route, and harnessing a mule. Is history relevant? This book answers with a resounding yes and, in the most entertaining fashion, shows us why.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xiv

My friend Siobhan says history is gossip on a grand scale. John F. Kennedy wrote that “for the true student of history—history is an end in itself. It fulfills a deep human need for understanding; the satisfaction it provides requires no further justification.” I’ve found that people either proclaim they love history or hate it. History enthusiasts...

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1. Why History?

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pp. 1-10

One typically hot summer day in Williamsburg, Virginia, I noticed a crowd of people gathering on the lawn of the Governor’s Palace. Their darting glances and excited chatter hinted at something great about to happen. Eavesdropping on various conversations, I quickly learned that His Excellency Governor Thomas Jefferson was scheduled...

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2. Stepping Back in Time, Almost

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pp. 11-22

When people find out I worked at Colonial Williamsburg, their first question is usually “Did you dress up?” At some point early in the foundation’s history, the management decided to populate the restored town with staff dressed in eighteenth-century clothing—and today a visitor to Williamsburg can encounter hundreds of costumed...

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3. Challenging History

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pp. 23-38

Not every person employed in a history profession gets to work in a grand or fascinating historic building. Though I’ve rarely had a window in my offices, I have been fortunate to go to work every day in beautiful buildings with interesting histories. In Williamsburg I worked from a restored eighteenth-century house on the Duke...

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4. The Everest of Museums

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pp. 39-48

Stand with me on the rooftop patio of the National Museum of American History. To our west, the Washington Monument rises into the sky, beckoning us to reach out a hand and touch it. Turn around, and the spotty green of the National Mall sweeps our eyes to the Capitol Building situated majestically beyond the reflecting...

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5. Conquering the High Wheeler

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pp. 49-60

People have died riding these things, but I was determined to make the attempt. I stood clumsily gripping a four-foot-two-inch high wheel bicycle, ready to fling my body up onto the seat. There on the National Mall facing the Washington Monument, Smithsonian Castle rising on my left, I was prepared to risk making a fool of...

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6. Does This Make Cotton or Gin?

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pp. 61-72

Growing up a Yankee in Pennsylvania I saw fields of tobacco, corn, and alfalfa, but never cotton. On a late fall visit to southeastern Virginia, I remember standing captivated by my first sight of a mature cotton field, white fiber dripping from dried bolls. Little did I know that in the future I would raise my own cotton patch on the National...

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7. Mary, Not Betsy

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pp. 73-88

The saying that all politics is local could easily be applied to history. Having worked at three national museums, I understand that America’s story is really many smaller stories. History is a collection of stories like the quilt squares on a colorful and intricately patterned bed covering. Each square represents the people and events...

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8. That Strange Creature the Mule

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pp. 89-102

Historical threads firmly tie present to the past. Historical traditions find myriad ways to flourish in our modern world. History can also intersect with one’s present in the most unexpected ways. I never imagined that a job in Washington DC would lead me to a deeper understanding of the culture of my rural Pennsylvania childhood. But in...

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9. When Houses Talk

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pp. 103-116

I am not a person who frequents open houses on Sundays and I rarely go on spring garden and holiday home tours. But when visiting a city with an interesting past, it doesn’t take me long to track down the historic district and walk its streets and peer into its buildings. My favorite place to house gawk is Charleston, South Carolina. Its...

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10. Water Battle on the Missouri

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pp. 117-128

Years ago a man was deciding whether or not to leave his government job in Washington DC to travel to the Western Country . . . to unknown lands. It would be a journey through Native tribes that he assured his mother would be perfectly friendly. As he told her: “The charge of the expedition is honorable to myself, as it is important to...

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11. You Can’t Write My History

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pp. 129-142

“You cannot write our story. You have no right.” An irate Indian woman had backed me into a corner. She was not yelling, but she was passionate. We were standing in a classroom on the University of Montana campus in Missoula. Our group consisted of teachers, Indian and non-Indian, from reservation schools in seven Western...

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12. A Grizzly in the Mail

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pp. 143-158

One summer day in St. Louis a large box arrived at the Missouri Historical Society addressed to me. I was gathering a collection of fur samples to include in the exhibition. We wanted to feature animals that Lewis and Clark saw for the first time, and we had managed to secure samples of sea otter, antelope, and coyote. The final hide...

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13. Tracking the Buff alo

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pp. 159-172

The bison, like the bald eagle, holds an iconic place in the American psyche and its story is one of near extinction and rebirth. The American bison, commonly called the buffalo though unrelated to both the African and Asian buffalo, once roamed large areas of the North American continent but gradually came to represent one region: the...

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14. The Cathedral and the Cemetery

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pp. 173-184

Looking back on that colorless December day, I wonder what it was that pulled me to Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis. The Lewis and Clark exhibition was moving on, and so was I. My three-year job had ended and my search for a new position had begun in earnest. The East Coast beckoned me to return to the familiar. I had traveled...

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15. We’re Flying over Hell Stretch?

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pp. 185-198

Everyone’s road through life has unexpected curves. Like most people, I didn’t plot a specific career course, and as a result my journey has taken at least two rather surprising turns. One was St. Louis. I never expected to live in the Midwest and work on a Lewis and Clark exhibition. The other was a job at the National Air and Space...

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16. How Lucky Was Lindy?

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pp. 199-212

When I moved to St. Louis, I quickly became aware that several events in the past continue to hold deep roots in the sentimental consciousness of the residents. The Lewis and Clark expedition, the focus of my stay in Missouri, is one. Another is the 1904 World’s Fair held one hundred years after Lewis and Clark passed through...

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17. Passionate Pretenders

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pp. 213-226

If you could gather seven presidents from American history together for an evening of conversation, whom would you select? One day I sat around a table with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Calvin Coolidge, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. Oh, and James Madison showed up at some point. Talk about...

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pp. 227-230

This was not your normal elevator ride. Crammed in with seven of my Air and Space Museum colleagues and two others, we rose to 195 feet. The doors opened to warm sunshine, a slight breeze, and a wide panorama of the Atlantic Ocean, waves crashing on the long, narrow stretch of Cape Canaveral beach below. Directly...

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pp. 231-234

I would like to thank the following people, who all contributed to this book in some way.
No one deserves my gratitude more than my parents, Orie and Kathryn Grove, who took me to visit many historical sites in my childhood and supported my budding interest in history in numerous ways. They encouraged me to pursue my...


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pp. 235-242

E-ISBN-13: 9780803254046
E-ISBN-10: 0803254040
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803249721

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2014