Lehman Caves National Monument (Nevada)

… was proclaimed on this date in 1922. It was made part of Great Basin National Park in 1986.

Lehman Caves attracts tens of thousands of visitors to eastern Nevada yearly, a trend that began not long after their discovery in the late 1880s. For over 60 years, Lehman Caves National Monument protected these underground wonders, with their unique geology and ecology. And today, they remain protected as part of Great Basin National Park.

The human history of Lehman Caves is both interesting and insightful. The discovery of such a natural wonder only 130 years ago is thrilling, while the abuse the cave endured during its early years causes many people to cringe. Learning about the early years of Lehman Caves provides context for the cave today. History remains the great teacher.

Great Basin National Park

Gold

… was discovered by James W. Marshall on the property of Johann Sutter near Coloma, California, 169 years ago today (1848). By the end of the year the rush was on and nearly 100,000 people arrived in California in 1849.

But these days, as The Gatlin Brothers sang —

All the gold in California
Is in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills
In somebody else’s name

Aztec Ruins National Monument (New Mexico)

… was proclaimed 94 years ago today (1923).

Aztec Ruins

Around 1100 A.D. ancient peoples embarked on an ambitious building project along the Animas River in northwestern New Mexico. Work gangs excavated, filled, and leveled more than two and a half acres of land. Masons laid out sandstone blocks in intricate patterns to form massive stone walls. Wood-workers cut and carried heavy log beams from mountain forests tens of miles away. In less than three decades they built a monumental “great house” three-stories high, longer than a football field, with perhaps 500-rooms including a ceremonial “great kiva” over 41-feet in diameter.

A short trail winds through this massive site offering a surprisingly intimate experience. Along the way visitors discover roofs built 880 years ago, original plaster walls, a reed mat left by the inhabitants, intriguing “T” shaped doorways, provocative north-facing corner doors, and more. The trail culminates with the reconstructed great kiva, a building that inherently inspires contemplation, wonder, and an ancient sense of sacredness.


Ancestral Puebloans related to those from the Chaco region farther south built an extensive community at this site beginning in the late 1000s A.D. Over the course of two centuries, the people built several multi-story structures called “great houses,” small residential pueblos, tri-wall kivas, great kivas, road segments, middens, and earthworks. The West Ruin, the remains of the largest structure that they built and which has since been partially excavated, had at least 450 interconnected rooms built around an open plaza. Several rooms contain the original wood used to build the roof. After living in the area about 200 years, the people left at about 1300 A.D.

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Eisenhower National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

… was designated 49 years ago today (1967). It is the only home Eisenhower ever owned.

Eisenhower National Historic Site is the home and farm of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Located adjacent to the Gettysburg Battlefield, the farm served the President as a weekend retreat and a meeting place for world leaders. With its peaceful setting and view of South Mountain, it was a much needed respite from Washington and a backdrop for efforts to reduce Cold War tensions.


Eisenhower National Historic Site comprises 690 acres and includes four farms, three of which were used by President Eisenhower for his show herd of black Angus cattle. Today the farm is maintained as it was during the Eisenhower years and the President’s home retains nearly all its original furnishings. You are invited to tour the home and grounds, and take a walk to the cattle barns and skeet range.

Eisenhower National Historic Site

Yes, I Think He Did It Alone

In 1976, the House of Representatives established a Select Committee on Assassinations to investigate the murders of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Among the things the Committee sought was a thorough examination of all photographic evidence in the Kennedy murder. At that time it took a mainframe computer to do what probably could be done on a personal computer today — that is, scan, enhance and thoroughly analyze the images. The image enhancement would be done at the Aerospace Corporation in California. The agreement with the National Archives, which had custody of the Kennedy assassination evidence in Washington, stipulated that the photographic records must be in the custody of the Archives or an Archives employee at all times. For two days I was that employee.

The only copy of the photographs, film, x-rays, etc., was brought by courier to California and put in a safe within a secure area at the National Archives facility in Laguna Niguel, where I worked at the time. The image enhancement was being done in El Segundo near Los Angeles International Airport, some 60 miles away. Each day we opened the safe, verified that each item was present, put the briefcase and “suit” box (think of a four-inch high pizza box) into the trunk of a rented car and I made the commute.

That first day (it was Easter week 1978) I followed the procedure carefully even taking the materials with me to lunch, thinking to myself “if the people around me only knew what I had.” It was fascinating to see the enhancements and hear the analysis of the few experts working on the project and sworn to secrecy (as was I). Late in the afternoon I packed everything back up, put it in the trunk, returned to the office and locked it all in the safe. I remember thinking on the way home, this stuff would be worth a million dollars or more on the black market. Am I being followed? Am I in danger?

The second morning we began the inventory. Everything was there, of course. Except — EXCEPT! — on one x-ray, right in the middle of the damaged part of President Kennedy’s skull, there was a bubble. I didn’t remember any damage to any of the x-rays. Now it looked as if this one x-ray had been too close to heat and the image had been burned. How did this happen? Where had I put the box that this could have happened? Was the computer console in the lab too hot? Was there a problem with the exhaust in the rental car that the trunk floor got excessively hot? My god, somehow I’ve damaged the only copy of a piece of evidence in the most important murder of the 20th century. My boss was visibly shaken. I was hyper-ventilating. My career is over. I’m a footnote in the Kennedy conspiracy books.

There was nothing to do but put the briefcase and box in the car (inside with me this time) and make the drive to El Segundo. It was a lonely 90 minutes. Once there I trudged in and immediately confessed my crime.

“Oh, that. Some doctor got it too close to a lamp years ago.”

The photographic and forensic experts I talked to were convinced the photographic evidence at least was consistent with one shooter — Oswald. As a reward for my participation in this project I later examined the other evidence including Oswald’s clothing (blood stained) and his Mannlicher-Carcano rifle.