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Passions

Nuts about history and bonkers for baseball

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"My fascination for the sea coupled with two other passions—history and archaeology—made chasing the story of the retrieval of the USS Monitor’s turret [see "Pieces of History"] more fun than I should legally be allowed," says author Wendy M. Clarke, who ventured 240 feet beneath the sea in a 23-foot research sub to visit the ironclad on the ocean bottom. "The Monitor has magic, that’s the only way I can describe it," Clarke continues. "Once people have seen it, they can’t stay away. Navy divers are suddenly eating and sleeping with history books. Archaeologists paper their office walls with drawings diagramming every part of it. Hundreds of people showed up to see the turret come up the James River—many in Civil War costume, including women in mourning clothes. What happened to the Monitor and 16 of its men was tragic. But through some sort of magnetism, mystery, magic—call it what you will—the Monitor is as alive now as it ever was."

It was clear to peter hellman, who wrote about the second Harlem renaissance ( "Coming Up Harlem"), that Bill Clinton revels in his status as the neighborhood’s Tenant in Chief. It was equally clear that the 42nd president got impatient posing for a photographer on an unseasonably warm day. "Hey, it’s hot here in the sun," he said playfully to Jeffrey Scales, "aren’t you done?" (Scales ignored the former leader of the free world until he got his picture, an homage to Art Kane’s famous 1958 photograph of 57 jazz musicians in front of a brownstone on East 126th Street) Clinton still keeps a tight schedule, and Hellman interviewed him in the presidential SUV as it sped along 126th Street. Then, at his office, Clinton played host at a pizza party for the Harlem youngsters whose team reached the U.S. semifinal of the Little League World Series. Turns out Clinton knows a thing or two about hardball of the nine-inning variety. He held forth on why playing for the San Francisco Giants dampens Barry Bonds’ stats. "If Bonds had a normal number of walks," said Clinton, "he’d have 80 homers. But every time Bonds comes up, the World Series could be at stake. In a bizarre way, he’d hit more home runs if he were on a worse team." Says Hellman: "Clinton is spirited talking about economic reform, but he’s just plain bonkers about baseball." Hellman, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, did most of his reporting by bicycle. "It’s the best way to appreciate the rich fabric of life there," he says.

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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