Right Now in Stuff You Missed in History Class

In my opinion, there's no pup more precious than a Jack Russell terrier, but pictures of Bo Obama frolicking on the White House lawn with Malia and Sasha are enough to make me melt. The Portuguese water dog joined the first family this week, and The New York Times is already wondering if the fame has gone to his head. Opinions on the matter are mixed. A psychology professor says there's no way a dog can understand fame or vamp for the camera; a veteran dog show competitor says that a canine definitely knows when the world is watching...and he'll step a little lighter and smile a little brighter. All this press coverage of the first dog got me thinking about other presidential pets. Our recent presidents have had pretty traditional pets. There's been Millie (H.W.) Bush (springer spaniel), Socks (cat) and Buddy (chocolate Labrador retriever) Clinton, and Barney and Miss Beazley (Scottish terriers) Bush. The Bushes also had a black cat, Willie, which I'm pleased to brag I petted once! But if you look back in the annals of presidential pet history, these four-legged friends are a real snooze compared to the critters that formerly were permitted to roam the White House.

Yesterday, the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt released a statement saying that they will begin excavating three recently discovered sites that could feature the tombs of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, reports the AP. Radar helped archaeologists discover these sites just last month while they were surveying the temple of Taposiris, which dates back to the third century B.C. and is located near Alexandria. Apparently, they found a few shafts in the temple that could be the burial sites of the infamous Cleopatra and Mark Antony. This excitement comes on the heels of some other recent discoveries related to Cleopatra. Just last year, the same teams unearthed the head of an alabaster statue of Cleopatra in addition to 22 coins featuring her face. This head and these coins aren't the first of their kind that have been discovered, but have recently dredged up the question about whether Cleopatra was the beauty many assumed her to be.

A New Addition to Monticello

It's opening day at the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center at Monticello! This facility is "the 21st-century gateway to Jefferson's timeless Monticello," a modern complement to the famous historical home of our nation's third president. It was designed to reflect the aesthetic and sustainable principles that govern Monticello -- natural sunlight illuminates the interior and the lush, surrounding landscape envelops the structure made from "environmentally sensitive elements" and crowned with "green" roofs.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the Nazis confiscated thousands of works of modern art they considered "degenerate" and put them on display to show the German people. But the Nazis didn't just steal the art they didn't like -- they looted works they admired, too. Author Michael J Bayzler says they stole 600,000 works in all, mostly from Jewish collectors. Although the Allies were able to return much of this stolen art to the rightful owners after the war, many works remain displaced and bitter disputes linger. It's a complicated matter to unravel especially because many of the Jewish collectors that the Nazis stole from were killed in the Holocaust. Now their descendants are fighting to get others, including many museums, to relinquish these works. So why would Sir Norman Rosenthal, a prominent art connoisseur and curator, want to see an end to restitution?

During a Harvard commencement speech, Secretary of State George Marshall outlined a plan to assist Europe after World War II. Listen in and learn how this 12 minute speech changed the future of Europe in this HowStuffWorks.com podcast.

I heard about Jesus Malverde from Carl, a loyal SYMHC listener. Malverde is known in Sinaloa as the Angel of the Poor, the Generous Bandit and the "Mexican Robin Hood," to quote Frontline's Sam Quinones. The media's dubbed Malverde the Narco Saint because drug smugglers pray to him for safety transporting their contraband. Malverde may just be a legend. He's believed to have lived during the business boom of the Porfiriato, which lasted from 1877 to 1911. Industry was expanding industry, but most Mexicans didn't reap any profits. Eventually, these conditions would culminate in the Mexican Revolution. But in the meantime, anarchists like Malverde sought social justice by "robb[ing] from the rich and g[iving] to the poor." Historians are inclined to think that Malverde was a product of the Sinaloans' collective imagination. According to lore, he began his lifelong crime spree after his parents died.

Today marks the 144th anniversary of the assassination of President Lincoln at Ford's Theater. On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was watching a performance at the theater when John Wilkes Booth, a pro-slavery supporter of the South, snuck in and shot him in the back of the head. You may know the story of how Booth jumped from the balcony onto the stage and temporarily escaped capture, but did you know that Lincoln wasn't immediately killed? They carried Lincoln's body, which was hanging onto life by a thread, across the street to the home of a tailor, William Petersen, and laid him in a bed. Interestingly, Booth had been in the same bed before. Peterson often took in boarders, and actors (like Booth) frequently stayed there because of its proximity to the theater. While Lincoln lie dying on the bed, his head bled on the pillow. Now, some want to examine this blood-stained pillow.

SYMHC listener Bob wrote to us about the origins of the United States' national anthem. Specifically, he wanted to know whether it's really set to the tune of an English pub song. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was one of many broadside ballads that originated in early America. The University of Virginia library explains that "battles, political events, notorious crimes and natural disasters" were set to the tunes of well-known English songs. As you may have learned (or missed) in history class, the poet Francis Scott Key scrawled the first lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the Battle of Baltimore at Fort McHenry on Sept. 14, 1814. In its original incarnation, the song was called "In Defense of Fort McHenry." According to the Smithsonian, Key was so moved by the unfolding events that he went on to complete four verses that were popularized as a broadside and circulated in 17 cities. "Anacreon in Heaven" provided the melody for Key's patriotic anthem. The song had been borrowed before for other broadsides, notably Robert Treat Paine's "Adams and Liberty." This song is attributed to the Anacreontic Society, a London gentlemen's club named for Anacreon, the Greek poet who wrote in Ionic dialect about erotica and wine.

Archimedes' death ray is one of history's most fabled legendary weapons -- but what was it? Was it even real? Listen in as Candace and Jane sift through the legends and find the facts behind the ancient death ray in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

Out with the old, in with the new! My entries on Friday now will pertain to our most recently published podcasts; Jane and I will address listener questions on Monday. So if you have thoughts or points to make about our podcasts, use the comments section below. (I ask that you kindly refrain from taking jabs at my manner of speaking. Fran Drescher and I need to have cocktails to commiserate.) This week, Jane and I podcasted about the El Cazador shipwreck -- the shipwreck that effectively doubled the size of the United States. This story tells like the best of the best of historical narratives: It's about royal intrigue, revolution, constitutional interpretation and manifest destiny. In a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon kind of way, it begins with the seemingly unconnected story of Spain trying to boost the economy of its Louisiana colony. And it ends with the successful negotiation of the Louisiana Purchase. What's your favorite example of weird historical coincidences?

What on earth does a large, anthropomorphic rabbit have do with the resurrection of Christ? And, while we're at it, why would the bunny, who is a mammal, bring eggs of all things? Podcast listener Lee asks us to investigate the history and origins of the Easter Bunny. First, lets talk about the importance of the egg, which actually does have some appropriate Christian history and symbolism attached to it. I found several speculations, including the idea that Christians used to abstain from eggs during Lent, and so eating them on Easter became common. However, we know that ancient pagan cultures recognized the egg as representing "renewal and rebirth," according to Cindy Dell Clark. Historians say Christians just adopted this idea, along with the tradition of painting eggs, which was also a preexisting custom. However, the Christians used red paint to symbolize the blood of Christ. The egg carries over well, as the shell can represent Christ's tomb, from which Christians believe life springs.

It's Passover -- and a pretty significant one at that. This year, the holiday coincided with a solar-spiritual phenomenon that occurs every 28 years. The sun completed the machzor gadol (long cycle), returning to the place scripture says it was when the Earth was created. When this occurs, Jews recite the Birkat HaChama to bless the sun. What's unique about this Birkat Hachama is that it occurred the day before Passover, and this occurrence has happened only once before in the course of six centuries. And while you could argue that every Passover is historical (it's based on a historical event, after all), there's one in particular that stands out to a history-lover like me. In 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on the fifth day of Passover. Celebration turned to mourning for the president who'd reversed Grant's General Order No. 11, driving out all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Many Jewish soldiers who fought in the Civil War tried to keep up religious traditions on the battlefield -- including the Seder.

Today, we think of philosophy as something reserved for higher education, if then. It has a reputation for being intimidating -- or even useless in the "real world." But, over in the UK at least, there's a growing trend to teach philosophy to kids as young as five. A story from the Daily Mail relates the debate going on about whether teaching such deep issues to impressionable children is a good idea. Critics say that the school system is struggling enough, and philosophy shouldn't take time away from the much more important skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. However, supporters of introducing philosophy to young children say that it only aids a student's progress in these other areas. For instance, a 2007 psychological study found that 10-year-olds who had studied philosophy did better in verbal, numerical and spatial ability tests. The idea is that teachers use the Socratic method, asking the children questions such as whether it's always wrong to lie.

Randy Cohen has a new blog called Moral of the Story. In it, the renowned ethicist deconstructs the morals behind the news. Monday, Cohen blogged about Madonna's failed attempt to adopt another Malawian child. If you've not been keeping up with your hard-hitting celebrity news, a judge refused Madonna's application to adopt Chifundo James (known as "Mercy"). Malawi's adoption laws require prospective parents to take up residence in the country for 18 months prior to adoption; the law exists to curtail the crime of child trafficking. (On a side note, I've seen this judge's name spelled at least four different ways. Cohen says Esmie Chondo, but I've also read Esme Chombo, Esimie Chondo and Esme Chondo. Anyone have the definitive spelling?)

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the day explorers recorded reaching the North Pole. And yet, after a century, the issues about who reached the spot first remains a point of contention. Arctic explorer Robert Peary is usually credited with having reached the elusive spot on April 6, 1909. When he got there, he was accompanied by his long-time associate/partner, Matthew Henson, an African-American from Maryland. The accomplishment met controversy from the beginning. When the team got back, they found that another explorer, Frederick Cook had already claimed the credit. However, since then, Cook's story has been discredited. Nevertheless, other questions persist. An article published this week at The Root discusses how some evidence suggests that Henson, and not Peary, was technically the first to arrive at the pole. The two were traveling in separate dog sleds during their pursuit and taking turns forging ahead.

Originally, Spanish silver was meant to stabilize the Louisiana territory -- but the ship carrying the necessary funds sank in the Gulf of Mexico. Find out more about the El Cazador shipwreck in this podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.

With Mother's Day around the corner (May 10 -- buy your cards and order your flowers now, before you forget), the media is all abuzz about Mrs. Robinson's room at the White House. Reporters were excited back in January, when Marian Robinson indicated she might give up her beloved Chicago bungalow for the stately Washington mansion. And, they're excited now that she's given "her first major interview since moving into the White House." Who got the much-coveted press time? Angela Burt-Murray, editor-in-chief of Essence magazine. The interview took place in February and will run in the May issue.

Candace and I talked about the Knights Templar and their controversial end in our podcast "How Knights Work," but a recent discovery has revealed how the Medieval religious order secretly hid the Shroud of Turin for more than a century. For a quick refresher -- the Templar order was originally established to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land in the First Crusade, but was later accused of corruptions by its debtor, the king of France. After a trial, the pope agreed to have them forcibly disbanded, and many were burned at the stake in the 14th century. According to a story in the Times Online, a recently discovered document from the Vatican's secret archives has revealed that the knights hid and venerated the Shroud of Turin. The shroud is a linen cloth that displays the image of a man -- many believe this is the cloth Jesus was buried in, and that it is an image of him.

You've had the whole weekend now to mull it over. Was it or was it not appropriate for first lady Michelle Obama to hug Queen Elizabeth? Synopses of The Touch read almost like a 13-year-old girl's diary entry for a Friday night group movie date. "He put his hand on my back for a second, so I put mine on his. Before I knew it, we were hugging!!! And then he pulled his arm away but I didn't wanna stop, so I sorta rubbed his shoulder. Then it was over, but I guess it was OK with him because we kept talking like nothing happened." Doubt me? Read Mail Online's version of The Touch, complete with play-by-play photographs. Taking things more lightly is The Christian Science Monitor, which compares it to a scene from "Tommy Boy." No matter your stance on The Touch, it was a breach of protocol -- generations-old protocol that clearly mandates no one is to touch the queen.

Christopher Columbus was far from perfect, but he was no anthrax-spreader, says a new study. It was previously thought that European explorers inadvertently introduced the anthrax disease to American Indians. However, National Geographic News writes that a new study published in the journal PloS One comes to a different conclusion. Based on the examination of DNA evidence, the authors of the study believe the disease was present in America long before Columbus and spread from north to south, not vice versa as was assumed in the original theory. Specifically, they now think that the disease (which has its origins in Africa and the Middle East) was brought over with the very first Americans from Asia and over the Bering land bridge 13,000 years ago. These ancients probably found and ate the carcasses of animals who had died from the disease. Columbus' reputation is tainted enough without the Anthrax claim, however.