Readers Respond to the October Issue

A limiting factor in growing huge pumpkins is the breakdown of the fruit’s wall [“The Great Pumpkin”]. I suggest placing early, potentially prized pumpkins on a waterbed.
Jay G. Selle
Cornelius, North Carolina

At a time when more than 14 percent of U.S. households are food insecure and the country is beginning to face water shortages, I fail to see why we should celebrate farmers who grow giant pumpkins that, according to your article, are “not very tasty,” “often inedible” and “rarely found on supermarket shelves.” Pumpkins are a source of food; that is the main purpose behind their cultivation. Think of how many people could be fed if the water, fertilizer and space were used to grow plants that we could eat rather than those 1,500-plus-pound imitations of food.
Rebecca Brotman
Greensburg, Pennsylvania

Curie’s Legacy
Julie Des Jardins’ article “The Passion of Madame Curie” was excellent and shed new light on the important accomplishments of this great woman. The $100,000 donated to Curie to purchase a gram of radium to continue her research was supplied by the American Association of University Women. This effort initiated a fund-raising campaign that continues to this day through the association’s support and funding for women to pursue scientific research.
Shirley Breeze
St. Louis County, Missouri

Jefferson a Unitarian?
Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough writes in his column “Jefferson’s Bible” that the president’s views on religion were “complex.” It is true that Jefferson did not like to express his religious beliefs publicly, but I think it is proper to identify him as a Unitarian. In 1825, a year and a half before his death, Jefferson wrote to smallpox-vaccination pioneer Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse: “The population of my neighborhood is too slender, and is too much divided into other sects to maintain any one preacher well. I must therefore be content to be a Unitarian by myself.” Jefferson’s personal “Bible” was a book he created from the basic teachings and moral lessons of Jesus, but like Unitarianism, without the concept of the Trinity and associated dogma, which Jefferson also rejected.
Dwight Cramer
North Bethesda, Maryland

Forgotten Fire
I enjoyed the This Month in History item about the Great Chicago Fire. Another related event, however, was ignored. On October 8, 1871, the very night of the Chicago conflagration, fire devastated Peshtigo, a small mill town about 250 miles away in northern Wisconsin. Peshtigo’s fire-fighting equipment was limited to a single horse-drawn steam pumper. By the time the fire went out, the town had burned to the ground and more than 1,200 people in Peshtigo and nearby villages had lost their lives. By comparison, the Chicago fire killed 300 people. The Peshtigo fire was the worst recorded forest fire in North American history—more than a million acres of forest were destroyed— yet it remains, for the most part, overshadowed by the Chicago fire.
Patrick Kniskern
Peshtigo, Wisconsin

Experiencing Jim Crow
A footnote should be added to Bruce Watson’s excellent article on the life of John Howard Griffin, author of Black Like Me [Presence of Mind, “Crossing the Color Line”]. In 1948, a decade before Griffin darkened his skin to pass as black, Ray Sprigle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, wrote a 21-part series for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describing his experiences traveling through the South disguised as a black man. Sprigle was accompanied on his journey by NAACP activist John Wesley Dobbs. The series, titled “I was a Negro in the South for 30 Days,” is now available online and was published as a book, In the Land of Jim Crow, in 1949. More recently the chronicle was turned into a play called All Blues, by Robert Earl Price, which premièred in Atlanta this fall.
Al Merrill
Atlanta, Georgia

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