Reader responses to our October and November issues

From the Editors In our October issue, the travel writer Paul Theroux’s journey along America’s southern frontier stirred readers’ emotions. John Wolff Jr. praised the piece for capturing a sense of the U.S.-Mexico border “that is not always accurately described by the media and the politicians.” But Bobbie Bookhout lamented its failure to convey “the difficulty the mass migration has caused.” Our November issue on Secrets of American History generated fierce debate over Mark Silk’s revelatory column on Thomas Jefferson’s affair with Sally Hemings. “I suspect he’d have married her after Martha’s death if it had been legal,” wrote Scott Friedman. Other readers found the story less than romantic. “She was his slave, and power dynamics meant she probably didn’t have much choice in the matter,” wrote Matthew McArdle.

Labor of Love

The Abraham Lincoln at Mount Rushmore (“Monumental Ambition,” October) was [my grandfather] Gutzon Borglum’s last portrait of Lincoln, not a sudden conversion. He created a marble bust of Lincoln in 1908 that is in the Capitol Rotunda today, and a bronze bust of Lincoln, with replicas in the White House, the Chicago Historical Society and the Lincoln Tomb in Illinois. In 1912 he named his only son Lincoln. His library must have every book written on Lincoln up to 1941.

Robin Borglum (Carter) Kennedy via email

Rabbit Remembered

I spent 20 years as a biologist in the Florida Keys (“A Plague of House Cats,” October). I also grew up there. My study animal, the Lower Keys rabbit, was going extinct as it was being described. Sylvilagus palustris hefneri was named for Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who helped fund the study. Habitat loss due to rapid development, which also brought feral house cats, has nearly finished them off. My last survey found no viable colony where they were common in my youth. I am 75 years old.

Stephen E. Howe, Starke, Florida

Western Saints

“Brava” to Hannah Nordhaus for her wonderful piece on Sister Blandina (“The Fastest Nun in the West,” November). Her story is actually part of a much larger one: the positive influence of Italian priests and nuns in the American West. In addition to Sister Blandina, Mother Frances Cabrini spent time in Colorado, Father Anthony Ravalli in Montana, Father Paul Ponziglione in Kansas and Oklahoma, and Father Joseph Cataldo founded Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. In a time when so much fear and even disdain is aimed at immigrants, the examples set by Sister Blandina and other Italian religious immigrants continue to inspire.

Bill Dal Cerro, Chicago, Illinois

Long Lost Mail

Thank you Smithsonian for sharing this remarkable piece of American history (“Special Delivery,” November), and a special thanks to Lori Boes for taking responsibility in seeing that this young man’s story found its rightful place in history.

Jen Marshall-Riley, Facebook

Beyond Curious George

I was drawn to the article on H. A. and Margret Rey’s escape from Hitler’s Europe, but not because of Curious George (“Escape Artist,” November).  Mr. Rey also wrote a book that has had a great effect on me: The Stars. Because of that book, which I first checked out of my elementary school library 50 years ago, I am able to go out on any clear night, look up at the sky and identify every visible constellation and planet. I’ve had my own copy for 35 years, and it has a treasured place in my library. I have taken it with me to Costa Rica, Panama and the Galápagos to identify constellations not visible from my home. I still have the four southernmost constellations to go!

Michael Adkins, Tucson, Arizona

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