10 years: New Orleans and the decade since Hurricane Katrina

SUNDAY, AUGUST 23: Ten years ago, in a season of record-breaking storms, dangerous weather over the Bahamas created a tropical cyclone or hurricane. Days later, Katrina headed toward Florida and strengthened immensely, hitting southeast Louisiana on August 29 and destroying coastlines through Texas.

In just a few days, the vast tropical storm had killed more than 1,800 people in seven states, destroyed $108 billion of property and left entire cities displaced. Now, a decade later, photographers are capturing remnants of the storm so unparalleled that its destruction still has left some neighborhoods, roads and community systems devastated in the region. The hurricane exceeded the National Weather Services’ annual budget and permanently retired the meteorological use of the name “Katrina” is still being examined by scientists, journalists, civil engineers and government officials.

One of those research projects was covered in The New York Times on Sunday—a study of the exceptional resilience of the Vietnamese-American community on the eastern edge of New Orleans. In the 2010 ReadTheSpirit American Journey series, Editor David Crumm reported from that same community in New Orleans that was rebuilding from Katrina even at that 5-year anniversary. In the Sunday NYTimes, scholar Mark VanLandingham reported on research into the cultural strengths of this community, which was one of the first of the poorer neighborhoods to rebuild after the disaster.


The death toll of Katrina was spread across seven U.S. states, but in Louisiana alone 1,577 perished as a result of the hurricane. When the levee system calamitously failed, thousands were left vulnerable, and an estimated 80 percent of New Orleans flooded.

Did you know? Hurricane Katrina formed on August 23 and dissipated on August 31, 2005.

Beyond the $108 billion in property damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast’s highway infrastructure and 30 oil platforms were destroyed. (NPR examines further.) Hundreds of thousands were left unemployed, and approximately 1.3 million acres of forest land were ravaged. Extensive beach erosion, the overrun of local marshes and oil spills were just a few of the environmental damages caused by Katrina. (Wikipedia has details.) Upward of 70 countries pledged monetary donations or other assistance after the hurricane, and several charitable organizations—such as the American Red Cross, Feeding America, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—provided assistance to storm victims.

In photographs: Stairs that lead to nowhere—Photographer Seph Lawless and photographer David G. Spielman are two of the artists capturing the 10-year aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with photos that document the crumbling and rotting homes, restaurants, factories and schools of New Orleans. (View Speilman’s black-and-white photos, courtesy of The Guardian, here.) Lawless noted that the “stairs that lead to nowhere” are among the “saddest” images in his collection, left as the only testimony to many homes that once were. (Weather.com has a slideshow of photos.)


Following Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Legislature turned over the majority of the Orleans Parish public schools to the state Recovery School District. The result is evident in New Orleans today with multiple governing entities and 92 percent of students in charter schools. During the past decade, public education in New Orleans has seen unprecedented growth in student achievement, increasing enrollment and improving standardized test scores. (Learn more here.)

On Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. in the streets of Old Towne Slidell, in New Orleans, “Plus 10—A Decade of Resiliency” will mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and celebrate the strength and spirit of the city’s residents.


Since Hurricane Katrina, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports that there has been development of a prototype storm surge watch and warning system through collaborative efforts. In addition, NHC forecasts have been extended from three to five days; watches and warnings have extended from 12 hours to 48 and 36 hours. (This article from Forbes reports on what has been learned since Hurricane Katrina.) Experts also are working to inform city leaders of approaching storms in a way that would prevent denial and promote action.

Anniversary: A nation mourns the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s assassination

“Now he belongs to the ages.”
Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, upon the death of President Lincoln

TUESDAY, APRIL 14: This date in April was Good Friday in 1865, and despite the general solemnity of the Christian holiday, President Abraham Lincoln was in a joyful mood: “The Friday, I never saw him so supremely cheerful,” Mary Lincoln later wrote. The American Civil War had ended days earlier, yet the 16th President told his wife that he felt this was the day the war had come to a close. His eldest son, Robert, had returned home, and Lincoln had urged his wife that they should both be more cheerful from that day forward. Despite dreams of his impending assassination—which had continued for three nights in a row—Abraham Lincoln took his wife, Mary, to Ford’s Theatre on the evening of April 14, 1865. The show would be his last.

While seated in a private box in attendance of “Our American Cousin,” Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot in the back of the head at approximately 10:15 p.m., by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. The muffled noise of the gunshot caused confusion in the Ford’s Theatre audience, but after Booth jumped to the stage, the First Lady screamed. Booth ran from the theater to escape from Washington on horseback.

Slumped in his chair and struggling to breathe, soldiers carried the President to a house across the street. In a bed too small for his 6-foot, 4-inch stature, the President was laid diagonally. When the surgeon general arrived at the house, he told those who had gathered that Lincoln would, inevitably, die during the night. Vice President Andrew Johnson, members of Lincolns’ cabinet and several of his friends stood by his bedside through the night, until the President was pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m.

Did you know? Lincoln was the first U.S. President to be assassinated.

A temporary coffin carried Lincoln’s body to the White House, where an autopsy was performed. By the end of the day, news of the President’s death had spread across the country, and flags were flown at half-mast while businesses closed their doors. (Learn more from Wikipedia and History.com.) On April 21, Lincoln’s body was boarded onto a train headed for Springfield, Illinois, where he would be buried. Tens of thousands of Americans paid their respects along the railroad route.

Meanwhile, a frantic search for John Wilkes Booth had thousands of soldiers, detectives and citizens on his trail. A $100,000 reward was offered for anyone who located Booth. Twelve days following the assassination, soldiers found Booth hiding on a farmstead; Booth was killed, and four of his convicted accomplices were later hanged. Booth’s last words were, “Useless, useless.”


As the American Civil War entered its final stages, the Confederacy was becoming desperate: John Wilkes Booth and several associates created a plot to kidnap the President and take him to Richmond, the Confederate capital. When the planned kidnapping fell through, however, Booth hatched a plot to kill Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward—with the intention of throwing the U.S. government into chaos. Last-minute changes in plans prevented this plot from being carried out successfully, although Lincoln suffered a tragic end that, many believe, he had long felt was inescapable.


From the bullet that killed him to the top hat he was wearing to the chair he sat in on that fateful night, museums across the country will be showcasing exhibits dedicated to Abraham Lincoln for the sesquicentennial of his assassination.

In Dearborn, Mich., visitors to The Henry Ford will have a rare chance to view the chair that Lincoln was assassinated in outside of its usual enclosure, as part of the museum’s observance of the sesquicentennial. In New York, “Abraham Lincoln and Civil War New York” will lead visitors on a walking tour of sites significant to Lincoln and the Civil War in New York. The National Park Service will launch Lincoln’s Journey Home April 18-May 3, with commemorations in many of the major cities that held a service for Lincoln. Ford’s Theatre will host events on April 14 and through to the following morning, with events culminating in a wreath-laying ceremony accompanied by church bells at 7:22 a.m. on April 15. The cottage of President Lincoln in Washington, D.C., will be draped in black.

Even those unable to visit an historic site for the sesquicentennial can tour Ford’s Theatre online, through an interactive field trip available for viewing April 13-14, at www.fords.org. Also on the digital front, a massive archive—containing more than 100,000 documents related to Lincoln, and entitled, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln—is growing rapidly as a project of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. (Read the full story here.) Public access to the digitized documents is currently available through a temporary website, and a more in-depth website is planned for when the project is closer to completion.

Looking for more coverage of the sesquicentennial? Forbes, CNN, the Washington Post, Smithsonian and the Chicago Tribune all covered this important milestone.



Anniversary: America marks sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War

THURSDAY, APRIL 9: The Civil War sesquicentennial has been garnering national attention since 2011, and on April 9, 2015, a major milestone is reached: the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War. On this date in 1865—Palm Sunday, that year—General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses Grant. The final cannon had been fired; the “might scourge,” as Lincoln called it, had come to an end.

Did you know? General George Armstrong Custer received the flag of truce at the Appomattox Court House. The original Truce Flag is exhibited at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. (From NPS.gov.)

Since 2011, several states and major historical organizations have been reporting coverage and composing stories for the Civil War’s sesquicentennial. From the state of Ohio to the Smithsonian to History.com, innumerable resources, interactive tools, apps and more have brought the significant milestone to the national spotlight. (The Washington Post has been publishing a series of chapters, complete with photos and videos, to cover the Sesquicentennial.) To preserve significant sites of the Civil War for generations to come, History is collecting donations for Give 150, which directly benefits the Civil War Trust and the National Park Foundation.


Preserved in Boston today is the famed Appomattox Court House—the site where Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert Lincoln and approximately 15 Union soldiers gathered for the official surrender of the Confederates. (The Boston Globe reported on this site and milestone.) On this date 150 years ago, the soldiers, generals and people of America, all exhausted from war, experienced the end of a fight that had torn the nation in two. With the presentation of terms of surrender, at the Appomattox Court House, the Civil War ended.

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day: Americans recall events of 1941

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7: It was the day that would “live in infamy”: On this date in 1941, just before 8 a.m., Japanese planes attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The raid lasted two hours. By the end, many American naval vessels had been destroyed, more than 2,400 American soldiers, sailors and civilians had died, and upward of 1,000 more were wounded. (View historic photos from the National Archives and more, here.)

The Japanese force had succeeded in demolishing eight massive battleships and hundreds of American airplanes. On December 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. Soon after, America joined in World War II.

The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred in 1941, but it wasn’t until decades later—in 1994—that National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day was designated for Dec. 7 of each year. (Wikipedia has details.) Traditionally, the American Flag is flown at half-staff until sunset, to honor those whose lives were lost. Many Americans plan visits to memorials that were erected in Pearl Harbor and across the United States.


This year, National Park Service and the U.S. Navy have announced “a joint memorial ceremony commemorating the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 2014 on the main lawn of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, looking directly out to the USS Arizona Memorial, at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.”

More than 2,500 guests are expected to attend, including Pearl Harbor survivors and WWII veterans. The event will be broadcast live via webcast so that those who cannot travel to Hawaii can still participate. The webcast will include a special behind the scenes look at the ceremony and will feature live interviews with Pearl Harbor Survivors. However, online registration to view the event is required.

The ceremony will include music by the Navy’s U.S. Pacific Fleet Band, morning colors, a Hawaiian blessing, a cannon salute by members of the U.S. Army, wreath presentations, echo taps. A moment of silence will be observed at 7:55 a.m., the exact moment the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began. A U.S. Navy ship will render honors to the USS Arizona, and a flyover will be conducted above Pearl Harbor.

Kristallnacht: On 76th anniversary, world recalls Night of Broken Glass

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 9: The sound of broken glass still echoes around the world on November 9, as communities around the world remember the tragic events that took place in 1938 known as Kristallnacht.

Literally “Crystal Night” and often translated as “The Night of Broken Glass,” Kristallnacht marked a public turning point in the Nazi regime. These attacks on Jewish neighbors, businesses and houses of worship shocked the world. The Nazi regime’s intentions could no longer be denied. The 1,400 synagogues attacked on Kristallnacht, the 90 Jews murdered that night, and the 30,000 Jews detained for concentration camps foretold of the tragedies to come.

Contrary to some myths about the Holocaust, journalists for major newspapers around the world did report on Kristallnacht. The truth is well documented now in Holocaust histories and major Holocaust museums: news reporting did alert readers worldwide to the danger Nazi campaigns posed to the huge Jewish communities in Europe.

During the 1920s, German Jews had enjoyed rights equal to any other citizen: the right to own a business, to obtain a license and to receive an education. In 1933, however, things began to change with the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. The pre-planned pogrom now known as Kristallnacht was carried out in Nazi Germany and in Austria, Nov. 9-10, in 1938.

Care to read more?

ReadTheSpirit author and columnist Suzy Farbman writes about her commitment to a new play opening in New York this week about the life of famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.

And, recently ReadTheSpirit magazine published an in-depth interview with biographer Charles Marsh whose new book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains why this courageous young pastor began protesting Nazi antisemitism in the early 1930s.

Can you hear me now? Transcontinental telephone service marks 100 years

TUESDAY, JULY 29: Paper-thin telephones, sleek tablets, high-tech smartphones and e-readers now circle the globe. But it was only 100 years ago, on this day, that the first test call was made on a transcontinental telephone line. Commercial service for the technology, however, was not possible until January 25 of the following year.


Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone way back in 1876. Appropriately, he was invited to complete the celebrated “first” telephone call on a transcontinental line in 1915. In truth, that was an official demonstration scheduled to coincide with a huge world’s fair in San Francisco.

The first actual voice transmission on the transcontinental line is the subject of today’s anniversary, connecting Theodore Vail, the president of AT&T, with a few of his workers. Wikipedia has details. Vail was a fascinating figure in American life, even though he is almost entirely forgotten today. He began working in railroads and with mail delivery in the American West, then he switched to the new telephone technology.

Perhaps because of his vast experience, Vail was quite a visionary. At the height of his career, he argued that major corporations, especially communication companies, should have public service as their first and foremost goal, even more important than the financial profits earned. He also foreshadowed the 21st-century debates on privacy by writing—a century ago—”If we don’t tell the truth about ourselves, someone else will.”

The highly debated question of who invented the telephone remains a burning controversy, but Bell patented his version, and went down in history as his patents were successfully defended for a time.


On a basic level, every telephone converts sound into electronic signals that are suitable for transmission—via cables, radio or other transmission media—and the signals are replayed into the receiver’s telephone, where they are converted back into audible form. From the Greek tele (“far”) and phone (“voice”), telephone means, quite literally, “distant voice.”

Did you know? A January 2014 Pew study found that 90 percent of American adults have a cell phone, and 42 percent own a tablet; 58 percent own a smartphone, and 32 percent have an e-reader.

The earliest mobile phones evolved from two-way radios and transportables. Cellular technology took off in the 1960s, and 1973 brought the first cellular phone call. (Read more from Wikipedia.) Today, most mobile devices can send and receive text messages; take and display photographs; access Internet sites and play music and video. Smartphones combine mobile communication and computing needs.


American consumers will soon be able to legally unlock their phones for wireless networks, reported the Huffington Post, after a bill was passed that allows phone users more choices when choosing a phone carrier. The bill, “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act,” allows consumers and third parties to unlock phones that were received through a carrier.

The lithium-ion batteries of today may be too large for future electric devices, and a startup business in California is responding to that need with paper-thin batteries. Imprint Energy has been experimenting with chemistry that was, previously, regarded as incompatible with batteries. (Read more in the Christian Science Monitor.)

Joe Hill: Sing a new song on the centennial of a labor union activist

FRIDAY, JULY 18: One hundred years after the conviction of Joe Hill—the presence of the famed union activist, songwriter and miner is as strong as ever. It was said of Hill, “it takes more than guns to kill a man.” Though he was executed at a youthful 36, the legend of Joe Hill lives far beyond his years—in movements reflecting Hill’s sense of justice.

Often portrayed as a political martyr, Joe Hill secured his place in history when he gave his life in the name of his cause. Yet any true follower of Hill would starkly recognize the request left before his execution: “Don’t waste time mourning—organize.” In other words—remember him best by putting into action what he fought for. (Interest in Hill’s story was renewed in 2011, with a new biography—read reviews from the New York Times and Newcity.)

Hill’s immortal words have since been shortened into the union catchphrase, “Don’t Mourn, Organize.”


A Swedish immigrant, Joel Hagglund came to America with high hopes, changing his name to Joseph Hillstrom and, later, Joe Hill.

He had high hopes, but the reality of American life soon hit: Hill had trouble finding work and wound up in the lower working class in New York, then later found himself living in a hobo jungle. Hill moved with the immigrant masses, bouncing from job to job. For that reason, few details exist about the majority of Hill’s life. Only when Hill became a Wobbly—a member of the Industrial Workers of the World—did he become renowned for the music and revolutionary spirit that inspired thousands of laborers. (Wikipedia has details.)

Hill’s labor tunes urged workers to quit thinking of themselves as a dispirited crowd of immigrants—and, instead, to take heart and show confidence through singing and organized efforts to improve their lot in life. As one writer commented, during a strike, “There was in it a peculiar, intense, vital spirit, a religious spirit if you will—that I never felt before in any strike.” Nationalities and differing languages came together to sing Hill’s tunes in unison. Even if jailed for their protests, the workers would sing piercingly until their release.

Brought up in the Lutheran Church, Hill borrowed the tunes for many of his labor songs from popular hymns.


In January of 1914, during a labor action involving Hill, a Salt Lake City shopkeeper and his son were killed in their store. There was no clear evidence of a connection, but Hill was suspected in the crime because he had suffered a gunshot wound the same night. Though evidence has since come forth that Hill had been engaged in conflict elsewhere, in a fight over his love, the Utah jury found him guilty of the murders in the store. Uproar from around the world erupted, with President Woodrow Wilson writing twice to Utah’s governor—and unions as distant as Australia protesting his conviction. Yet Hill refused to give an alibi or release the name of his sweetheart, and he was executed by a firing squad on November 19, 1915.

Interested in memorializing the mission of Joe Hill? Check out the Facebook page dedicated to Joe Hill’s Centennial Celebration, on September 5, 2015.