Jack El-Hai

Thomas Wiggins: A Nineteenth-Century Piano Savant

by JackEl-Hai April 9, 2014
Thomas Wiggins: A Nineteenth-Century Piano Savant

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor A 19th-century photograph of pianist Thomas Wiggins shows a stout young black man at rest on an overstuffed chair. His eyes are closed, and his hands curl delicately on his lap. He looks distinguished, confident, untroubled — and drowsy. It’s a shock, then, to learn that a reporter […]

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A Plague of Locusts

by JackEl-Hai March 9, 2014
A Plague of Locusts

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor In the second week of June 1873, a southwest wind carried a strange brown cloud over the border from Dakota Territory into Minnesota. Pioneer families initially mistook the cloud for a rain or dust storm. But as it filled the sky, they could see that it contained millions […]

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The FBI investigated John Wilkes Booth — in the twentieth century?

by JackEl-Hai February 9, 2014
The FBI investigated John Wilkes Booth — in the twentieth century?

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor Admit it — if you’re following this blog, you believe that reading something especially intriguing can transport you through an unexpected window of history. I have that experience almost every time I browse FBI files on notable people and events. Over the years, in response to Freedom of […]

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Foreign Accent Syndrome: The History of an Odd Speech Disorder

by JackEl-Hai January 9, 2014
Foreign Accent Syndrome: The History of an Odd Speech Disorder

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor Every few months, the news media report on a strange malady: someone unexpectedly and unintentionally begins speaking in his or her native language with a foreign accent. This disorder occurs all over the globe; for instance, a Canadian acquires a Scottish accent, a Japanese develops a Korean accent, […]

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A History of American Advertising in 19 Headlines

by JackEl-Hai December 9, 2013
A History of American Advertising in 19 Headlines

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor A few weeks ago, while cleaning my office at my wife’s insistence, I came upon an old collection that my uncle, Ben Sussman, had gathered. Ben, who died in 2003 at the age of 82, was the founder of an advertising agency and a columnist for Motor Trend magazine, […]

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LeRoy Buffington’s claim to have invented the skyscraper

by JackEl-Hai November 9, 2013
LeRoy Buffington's claim to have invented the skyscraper

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor Throughout his long career as an architect, LeRoy S. Buffington insisted that he had invented the skyscraper. Forget, Buffington urged, the work of William Le Baron Jenney, the Chicago architect who in 1883 designed the structure most often identified as the first American skyscraper. Buffington, a Cincinnati native […]

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Nine Nazi leaders and the secrets only their psychiatrist knew

by JackEl-Hai October 9, 2013
Nine Nazi leaders and the secrets only their psychiatrist knew

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor My newest book, The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII (PublicAffairs Books), tells the story of a U.S. Army psychiatrist’s quest to make sense of the months he spent in the company of the imprisoned […]

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Five Psychiatrists and Psychologists Who Examined Top Nazis at Nuremberg

by JackEl-Hai September 9, 2013
Five Psychiatrists and Psychologists Who Examined Top Nazis at Nuremberg

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor September 10 marks the official release of my new book The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII (PublicAffairs Books). I’ve worked steadily on this book since 2007, when I found in a private […]

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The “Gnome” of the Wrestling Ring

by JackEl-Hai August 9, 2013
The "Gnome" of the Wrestling Ring

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor Maurice Tillet was a bear of a man: He stood 67 inches, weighed 270 pounds, and had the strength to tug a subway car along its tracks. He seemed a perfect competitor for professional wrestling during the late 1930s and 1940s, except for one startling disability. During his […]

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Decades later, a mysterious archival theft still hurts

by JackEl-Hai July 9, 2013
Decades later, a mysterious archival theft still hurts

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor Like many of my colleagues at Wonders & Marvels, I depend upon publicly accessible archival collections when I research my books and articles. For my forthcoming book The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII, […]

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The Ordeal of Opal Petty

by JackEl-Hai June 9, 2013
The Ordeal of Opal Petty

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor When Opal Petty died at the age of 86, her family buried her with a half-dozen dolls she had treasured during five decades of her life. That was the stretch in which the Texas state hospital system confined her without apparent reason, gave her no treatment for her […]

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The Jeffers Petroglyphs: Historical Treasure in an Unexpected Place

by JackEl-Hai May 9, 2013
The Jeffers Petroglyphs: Historical Treasure in an Unexpected Place

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor The Upper Midwest of the U.S. is not well known for its archaeological treasures, and it’s easy to see why. The region has utterly transformed over the past 200 years through the loss of 99 percent of its tall grass prairie, the felling of most of its original […]

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Charles Dawes: Vice President, Nobel Winner and Musical Hit Maker

by JackEl-Hai April 9, 2013
Charles Dawes: Vice President, Nobel Winner and Musical Hit Maker

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor Barry Manilow, Van Morrison, the Four Tops, Cass Elliot, Isaac Hayes, Bing Crosby and Nat “King” Cole all owe a lot to a now obscure United States vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner named Charles Dawes. Those musical artists, as well as dozens of others, recorded a […]

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The Black Stork: A physician’s cinematic argument for eugenics

by JackEl-Hai March 8, 2013
The Black Stork: A physician’s cinematic argument for eugenics

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor One of the most infamous movies of the silent era, which made a case for allowing disabled infants to die, sparked a national debate between 1917 and the late 1920s before sinking into obscurity. Along the way, The Black Stork rocketed a physician to fame and symbolized America’s […]

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The Man Who Played Hitler

by JackEl-Hai February 8, 2013
The Man Who Played Hitler

by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor As a schoolboy, Bobby Watson sold peanuts amid the laughs and groans in the Olympic Theater in Springfield, Illinois. He soon became a vaudevillian himself, joined a traveling medicine show, and struggled to the stages of Broadway by the time he was 30. There Watson made his mark […]

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