I spent a few days last week on the Gettysburg College campus lecturing about science communication, YouTube, women in science. I also learned a great deal about the campus’s former natural history collection. This hair ball is one of few surviving specimens from the museum founded in the mid 1800’s, surviving the American Civil War, the building standing during the Battle of Gettysburg. Despite how much we know about the history of the town, the details about the disbanded Linnaean Society of the former Pennsylvania College and its extensive collection have, quite unfortunately, been forgotten over time.
I had the opportunity to comb through some old ledgers with a lovely former student, Sara, who spent her senior year and some time afterwards compiling as much information as possible about the artifacts and specimens, attempting to track down their origins and current statuses. So much has been forgotten over time; a lapse of judgement by a few short-sighted individuals means hundreds of years of natural history gone in as little effort as taking out the trash.
Why was this hairball preserved - and how? Why is it one of the last remaining specimens from this collection of thousands? I really wish we knew.
Curious about Presidential History? Ask a Curator!
Do you have questions about Presidential history and artifacts? Tomorrow, the Presidential Libraries of the National Archives will be answering questions live for #AskaCurator Day on Twitter.
Over 600 museums from 40 countries will be participating, including our very own experts on Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter. You can also ask curators at the National Archives Exhibits in Washington, D.C.
Rocking Chair used by John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office; RCA Radio Microphone used by FDR to deliver some of his Fireside Chats from the White House; HMS Resolute Desk replica at the JFK Library; Portrait by Octavio Ocampo presented to President Carter on the occasion of a state dinner honoring José López Portillo, President of Mexico, February 1979; 1957 Inaugural gown of Mamie Eisenhower; WWII POW Diary at the Truman Library;1952 Eisenhower campaign hat.
Today is Ask A Curator day. We have contemporary art curators, and the foremost scholar of Grace Kelly’s fashion on deck to answer your questions. Tweet your questions using #AskACurator. More about the event here.
Growing up, I was a Lockheed kid. My grandfather, who took a hand in raising me, was a Skunk Works engineer through the golden age of black spy planes and stealth technology. I was born in Marietta, Georgia, just up the road from the historic Lockheed plant. I was not yet five years old when I’d formed the biased opinion that Lockheed’s YF-22 prototypes were the coolest, most fantastic thing in the sky, and the Northrop YF-23 prototypes were lumpy, funny looking attempts at fighter jets, the likes of which could surely never compete with the product of my grandpa’s company. I knew that the two aircraft had battled it out in a prototyping competition flyoff. Lockheed’s YF-22 had won, which was no surprise to me, in my young mind. One morning, my parents informed me that our Lockheed Marietta Plant had won the contract to build the F-22 production model right there in my hometown. We drove by the plant and saw local news media crews enthusiastically broadcasting live, surely proud that so much work was coming to the area. On September 7, 1997, I stood on the flightline with my grandfather at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, and watched the first flight of the first F-22 production model. I was in awe, so proud of my grandpa’s company, and happy that they’d beat Northrop.
Decades later, I’m now able to face the world armed with more equanimity, and I’ve formed a more objective opinion of the Northrop YF-23. Only now, can I understand what an incredible aircraft the YF-23 is, and how close we were to losing that contract. This opinion was reinforced when I finally saw a Northrop YF-23 in person. My first experience with the bird happened on September 9, 2014, at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, California. To see her, I had to be escorted across the Torrance Airport flight line, to an area cordoned off for restoration work, where this bird is half way through with receiving a new coat of paint. When I rounded a corner and I first laid eyes on the her, I was awestruck. The stealthy, triolithic profile of the aircraft was distinctly Northrop, reminiscent of their B-2. The aircraft seemed to change shape as you walked around it.
Photographing up close was thrilling because there were only two ever built, and they were bathed in secrecy for so long. This was the second prototype built, called 87-0801 PAV-II. Many performance aspects of the aircraft are unknown, but we do know that this prototype, with the GE YF120 engine, was the fastest of the four aircraft that competed in the Advanced Tactical Fighter Flyoff. Her top speed is still classified, but it is widely speculated that she could fly faster than Mach two. She was the stealthiest aircraft involved in the prototyping program, but not quite as agile as the YF-22, which may have led to her downfall.
To truly understand the world of aviation, you must look at things objectively. I certainly found a new respect for the YF-23, even with my Lockheed roots. The YF-23 is one of the most incredible flying machines ever conceived.