Thursday, August 30, 2012


With the Republican National Convention wrapping up, and the Democratic National Convention starting up next week, politics -- for better or worse -- are in the air. 

We live in a time of an undeniably heated political atmosphere, true. But this is hardly the first century when campaigns and elections have taken some weird turns:

-- The election of 1800, between John Adams of the Federalists and Thomas Jefferson of the Republicans, did not only prove to be a milestone in American history. It also changed forever the deep friendship that had once existed between these two Founding Fathers. From threats of civil war to a secretive deal that gave Jefferson the presidency, this election was a truly historical -- and epic -- moment. (Read more about it in Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800.)

-- The very first presidential convention was held in 1831, by the Anti-Masonic Party. (That particular political party can be best remembered for trying to enlist Henry Clay to their cause -- even though Clay was actually a Freemason.)

-- Chicago bar proprietor William Sianis placed a sign in his Billy Goat Tavern reading, "No Republications Allowed" -- just in time for the 1944 Republican National Convention. Republicans came to the bar in droves ... and Sianis turned a tidy profit.

-- The last time a political convention actually seemed to have something at stake?  1976, when Ronald Reagan battled Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in the country's last political floor fight to date. 

Read some more fun facts about past (and present) Presidential Conventions here. Then check out some important links below -- and please, remember to vote this fall!

Voting in Pennsylvania

- Pennsylvania Voter Registration Application -- Not registered to vote?  Print out the form and mail it in today!  (Deadline to register to vote in the upcoming general election is October 9th.)

- Votes PA -- A state website devoted to meeting the voting needs of Pennsylvania residents. Find your local poling place, check what you need to bring on Election Day, and even find out how to register to vote. Check it out!

- Pennsylvania Voter ID Law -- What you need to know.

Be Prepared for November 6th -- PA's voting laws have changed. Follow this easy checklist to find out exactly what you need to bring. (Don't have a photo ID?  This link will tell you how to get a FREE photo ID through PennDOT!)

MPL Hot Topic: Voter ID Laws -- Should voters be required to show photo ID before marking their ballots?  Check out the facts and opinions in our Hot Topic.

Maps of the 2008 US Presidential Election Results -- Traditional maps can result in skewed perceptions of real statistics. So check out these "cartograms," maps rescaled to reflect population over land area. 

-- Post by Ms. B

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Celebrating America's Natural Beauty

The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage.

When my husband and I go on vacation, we almost always try to incorporate a National Park into the trip, if possible. Between the two of us, we've been to Yosemite, Yellowstone, Mammoth Cave, Shenandoah and many more. The National Park Service (NPS) is the agency legislated to administer and maintain these parks and many other parks, monuments and historic sites. This past weekend the NPS celebrated it's 96th birthday.

The National Park Service Act was signed into law on August 25, 1916. While there already were National Parks in the United States before the law, there was no one agency responsible for them all. The NPS had a difficult beginning, but with the vision and determination of two men, Stephen Tyng Mather and Horace Marden Albright, it has become one of the most popular government agencies in this country.

There are almost 400 National Parks and Historic Sites in every state and several territories. Initially many of the parks were only in the western states. This was mostly due to the land being easily available and not inhabited. By the mid 20th century many National Parks were established in the east after many prominent families donated land to the NPS. The donation of land by the Rockefeller family led to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachian Trail.

Another aspect of the National Park Service is the National Historic sites which include places like Gettysburg National Military Park, Ford's Theatre National Historic Site and Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. These parks were established to preserve the places that are important to the country's history.

Yosemite Valley

My favorite park is Yosemite National Park in California (followed closely by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore). While on a trip to San Francisco several years ago, my husband and I realized how close we were to the park so we decided to rent a car and drive there for the day. Of course, if the drive would have been on a straight road we would have made it there in about an hour. But since it is mostly windy roads, it took us a bit longer than we had planned. But, it was worth it. The Yosemite Valley is one of the most beautiful places I have every seen.

So take my advice, if you have the chance please visit a National Park or Historic Site. You won't regret it!

NPS Info:

Official National Park Service Site - learn all about the many different parks and historic sites you can visit.

NPS Facebook page - keep up with current events going on at the parks

National Park Foundation - the only national charitable nonprofit whose sole mission is to directly support the National Park Service.

NPS @ your Library:

Books about the history of the National Park Service

Documentaries about National Parks

National Park mysteries: Nevada Barr, a former National Park Ranger, has written a series of mysteries that take place in several different National Parks. The crimes are investigated by Anna Pigeon, herself a National Park Ranger. Read all 17!

Books by Ansel Adams: The photographs by Adams is what lead to my desire to go to Yosemite. Check out some of these books of photographs or read his autobiography to learn more about our national treasures and the man who made them famous.

-- Post by Tracy

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Gates of Graceland

Back in the late 80s, humorist Dave Barry wrote a surprisingly serious article entitled "Hearts That Are True," which would go on to appear in his book Dave Barry is Not Making This Up. He wrote the piece trying to uncover the mystery of exactly why Elvis was and is arguably the most popular performing artist of all time. He never really cracked the mystery -- but what Barry had to say about Elvis fans was no less interesting because of it.

Born in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis's first record, That's All Right Mama, was released in 1954 -- a year after he had made his first amateur recording. He'd been a movie theater usher in high school and found work as a delivery truck driver before being "discovered" -- and his twenty-three year career would include 22 hit singles and and 33 film appearances. At one estimate, over a billion Elvis records have been sold, making Elvis the best-selling single recording artist of all time. (Estimates of the Beatles' records also put their sales over a billion, but when it comes to single acts, Elvis stands supreme.)

But if there's one thing that puts Elvis into the number-one slot, it is -- at least according to Barry -- his truly incomparable fans.

Barry interviewed a number of Elvis devotees for his article -- including those he called the "gate people," referring to the fans who had gathered around the front gates of Graceland during the 60s and 70s. Some of the gate fans were visitors to Memphis, but many of them were regulars, coming to the gates night after night after night, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Elvis or get his autograph.

The gate people were an entirely new class of fan, one that maybe hadn't existed before Elvis Presley mania. It was a devotion to the man and the music that, as Barry put it, seemed to mirror those figures who are "the focal point of a major religion."

August 16th marked the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. (Fans paid tribute at Graceland by holding candlelight vigils.) But despite the years, Elvis's fan base seems none the smaller. To find out more about the life of Elvis -- and his fans -- check out these links and references.

Elvis Fans:

Thousands of Elvis Fans Flock Graceland Vigil (Yahoo) -- More about the candlelight vigil held at Graceland.

Elvis Fans Greeted at Graceland by Pricilla, Lisa Marie (CBS) -- A surprise greeting for fans gathered at Graceland to mark the 35th anniversary.

Fan Relations -- Find a local fan club chapter through the Official Website of Elvis Presley.

Elvis Online:

Elvis Presley: Official Website of the King of Rock 'N' Roll -- Everything Elvis. Biography, news archives, videos, music downloads, wallpaper, an online membership club, extras, and more.

Graceland (From the Official Site) -- Find out more about Elvis's Graceland mansion. You can even take a 360 degree virtual tour!

Tupelo, Mississippi: The Birthplace of Elvis -- The town still celebrates their status as the birthplace of music's biggest celebrity. There's a driving tour, a yearly festival, and the Birthplace itself -- the two-room house where Elvis spent his early childhood.

Elvis @ Your Library:

Elvis music albums from the collection

Elvis films and concerts on DVD and Blu-ray from the collection

Elvis biographies -- All about the life of Elvis Presley. Includes some DVD documentaries and audiobooks.

Elvis novels -- The legend of Elvis lives on in these stories featuring the King of Rock 'N' Roll.

Dave Barry is Not Making This Up -- Read Barry's original article on Elvis fans, "Hearts That Are True."

Elvis's second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show

-- Post by Ms. B

Thursday, August 23, 2012

More Gene Kelly!

UPDATE: If yesterday's post wasn't enough Gene Kelly for you, I've got some more! Check out the links below for more news and interesting facts coming out in celebration of Gene Kelly's 100th birthday.

Gene Kelly's 100th Birthday: Patricia W. Kelly Considers Her Husband's Legacy (

American Masters - Gene Kelly: Career Time Line (PBS)

The Marlon Brando of Screen Dance, 100 Years On (NPR)

Gene Kelly Knew What the Camera Could Do for Dance (The Telegraph)

And this birthday celebration would not be complete without seeing Mr. Kelly singin' in the rain!

-- Post by Tracy

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Forever Singin'

Thursday, August 23rd marks the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Gene Kelly. In honor of his enduring legacy to dance -- and to the city of Pittsburgh -- check out the links below to biographies, books, films, and news about Eugene Curran Kelly.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

I Want To Believe!

Back in the fall of 1993, I was home on a Friday night (which, unfortunately, was not that uncommon for me). I'd just finished watching this new show that Fox was all excited about (The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.), when another new show started. I knew nothing about it but decided to check it out. It starts out with a teenage girl, in her nightgown, running through the woods of Oregon. She soon finds herself in a small ravine where a young man is standing over her. Suddenly, there is a bright light, the leaves start swirling around them, and then they are gone. The next morning, the young woman's body is found with puncture marks on her back. The police have seen this before. Fade to black and then an eery, but catchy, theme song starts. By the time that pilot episode of The X-Files was over, I was hooked. I had never seen a show like it. And while some shows have come close (i.e. Fringe), nothing will ever take the place of The X-Files as my favorite show.

While I was already very interested in science fiction, either in books or on screen, The X Files dealt with stories and ideas I hadn't really thought a lot about. The main theme of the show is whether there is a government conspiracy to cover up the fact that we are not alone. Special Agent Fox Mulder, played by David Duchovny, believes that his sister was abducted as a child and that the government knows what happened to her and where she is. Special Agent Dana Scully, played by Gillian Anderson, has been brought in by the FBI to keep an eye on Mulder. This leads to investigations of all things strange and unusual, including the search for Mulder's sister and the truth.

So, in honor of the birthdays of the two stars (Duchovny: August 7 and Anderson: August 9) and the recent landing of The Curiosity on Mars, I'm going to take a look at the idea of whether there is life on other planets and, if there is, if there is a government conspiracy to cover it up.

The Very Large Array (VLA), New Mexico

People have been wondering, probably since the beginning of time, whether there was life on other planets and if there were other universes. Of course, for thousands of years, people who asked these questions either didn't have the technology to find out or were considered heretics. By the early 20th century, humans finally were developing methods of communication that could reach beyond our world, not just to your neighbor across the street. Radio signals, and eventually television signals, began going out into the cosmos whether we wanted them to or not.

By the mid 20th century, formal attempts to reach other intelligent life began when Frank Drake began searching for signals using an 85 foot antennae at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, WV. Thus began the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). By the 1970s, the United States Government was supporting this search at a variety of facilities, including the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. From this location, the Arecibo Interstellar Message was sent on November 16, 1974. The message consisted of information about our planet, our people, and how the message was transmitted. Messages have also been sent on interstellar craft, starting with Pioneer 10 (1972), Pioneer 11 (1973) and Voyager 1 and 2 (both launched in 1977).

Major Jesse Marcel with pieces of a "weather balloon"

Of course, there are many that believe that we have already been visited by "little green men." The most well-known case is that of the alleged UFO crash near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. In July of that year, debris was found on a farm where Mac Brazel worked. He reported his findings to the sheriff, who then contacted the local airbase. On July 8, the Roswell Army Air Field press officer issued a statement saying that they had recovered a "flying disk" in the dessert. The next day it was reported that  Commanding General Ramey had actually reported that a radar-tracking balloon was recovered, not a flying disc. The following day a photo op was given with Major Jesse Marcel posing with the pieces of what has become known as a "weather balloon".

This seemed to be the end of it for about 30 years, until Stanton Friedman, physicist and ufologist,  interviewed Jesse Marcel and found that Marcel believed that the military had covered up the recovery of an alien spacecraft. This story eventually was published in the National Enquirer in 1980. Eventually more witnesses started coming forward, with stories of debris being found at a variety of locations and that there had also been autopsies performed on alien beings. By the mid 1990s, the General Accounting Office conducted an inquiry into these reports. Their findings were that the debris was most likely part of a top secret project and the reports of alien bodies being found were just confused memories of air force personnel injured in training exercises.  These reports, of course, just increased the belief in a government cover up.

Warning Sign near Area 51, Nevada

Which leads us to another topic of government coverup -- Area 51. This is a government site in southern Nevada where many people believe some of the aliens recovered in Roswell were taken. There are also some who believe that the moon landing, in 1969, was actually filmed at Area 51. What drives people's suspicions is that Area 51 does not appear on any map, and what goes on there is very top secret. For some, that's more than enough to come up with conspiracy theories.

While I'm not always sure whether we are alone in the universe or not, the subject has fascinated me for years and probably will continue to do so until an alien race contacts us -- or I leave this earth for a better place! And it all started with a television show.

To read more about Area 51, click here -- and for more about Roswell, click here.

And to find out more about attempts to find life on other planets, click here.

-- Post by Tracy

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On a Magic Carpet Ride

An artist's depiction of the Curiosity rover touching down on Mars. 

The Olympics might be the biggest news story on the planet right now -- but offworld, things are proving to be just as interesting. The new NASA rover, the Curiosity, touched down on Mars early Monday morning, to the cheers of NASA technicians and scientists.

It's not the first time a rover has been sent to Mars. Opportunity, originally sent to Mars in 2004 for a planned three months of operational time, has been working ever since. Another rover sent in 2004, Spirit, only ceased working in 2010. 

What sets the Curiosity apart from its fellow rovers is, in part, its mission goal. Curiosity is equipped with scientific tools designed to explore the surface of Mars for clues as to whether or not the planet was ever capable of sustaining microscopic organisms of life. 

With a successful landing down pat, Curiosity is poised to pull NASA into a new era of discovery. Check out the links below to find out more about this amazing mission -- and about other journeys we've taken into the stars.

From the Apollo 11 moon landing.

A Look at Another World:

-- "Greeley Panorama" from Opportunity's Fifth Martian Winter: Moving Panorama -- 817 images were taken by the panoramic camera on NASA's Mars rover Opportunity, and then artificially colored. The images were then converted by artist Hans Nyberg into a moving panorama of the surface of Mars that must be seen to be believed. If you click on one link, make it this one! (You can see the original NASA photograph here.)

The Curiosity:

-- NASA Spacecraft, Curiosity Rover, Land Safely on Mars -- from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Curiosity cost $2.5 billion, took eight months to complete a 352-million mile journey ... and it all came down to the landing. Read the details here.

-- Mars Science Laboratory -- from NASA. This trip isn't just about the photos. Stay up-to-date on NASA's findings by following this link!  (You can also use this link to check out the latest photos coming back from the Curiosity, too -- including ones in color.)

-- Mars Rover Landing "Miracle of Engineering," Scientists Say -- from Reuters. Check out the first photos to be returned by the Curiosity!

-- An Inside Look at the Mars Curiosity Rover -- from Time Magazine. All about the making of the Curiosity, complete with photos of the rover "in progress."

Other space-links:

-- Voyager 1 Zooming Ever Closer to Edge of Our Solar System -- from NBC News. Curiosity isn't the only man-made spacecraft currently exploring the stars. Voyager 1 and 2, launched in 1977, are still going strong ... and Voyager 1 seems to be on the verge of leaving our solar system entirely.

-- The Great Moon Hoax -- from NASA. Some still claim that the 1969 moon landing was all a hoax, designed to ensure that the USA would appear to beat Russia in the space race. Here, NASA uses the evidence to dispute that theory.

Two Travelers:

-- Sally Ride -- NASA's biography about the first American woman in space.

-- Neil Armstrong -- Currently in the news for recovering from bypass surgery (soon after his 82nd birthday on August 5), Neil Armstrong is the first person to ever stand on the Moon. Watch the historical footage here:

-- Post by Ms. B

Friday, August 3, 2012

Does Whatever a Spider Can

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man first making his comic book debut. Invented by writer Stan Lee and writer/artist Steve Ditko, Spider-Man was meant to be an entirely new sort of superhero in the comic book world. Whereas superheroes like Superman and Batman were larger-than-life adult heroes that readers were meant to admire, Lee and Ditko wanted to create a character that their teenage readers could more easily relate to. So they came up with Peter Parker -- a geeky high school student who is, by most standards, just a normal kid. At least, he is until a spider bite from a radioactive arachnid grants him superpowers -- turning geeky high schooler Peter Parker into Spider-Man.

Even after gaining superpowers, though, Peter was still Peter beneath the Spider-Man mask -- and that's precisely what's made his character endure for fifty years. Peter was still just an ordinary kid trying to do the right thing, and it was because his character wasn't larger than life that fans could relate. It's also made him one of the most popular and recognizable characters in comic book history, and -- as the nearly $250 million box office returns for The Amazing Spider-Man will attest -- his popularity doesn't soon look to be fading.

So to celebrate Spidey's Golden anniversary, let's take a look at five of the most pivotal, noteworthy, and occasionally controversial storylines to come out of this fifty-year history:

Spider-Man: The Clone Saga - writers, Terry Kavanagh, Howard Mackie.

A 1975 storyline led Spider-Man to square off against his own clone. It was an idea that was revisited in the 1990s with the Clone Saga, which features Peter Parker discovering that his former clone is still alive -- and isn't his only clone!  Originally intended to be a story that would take less than a dozen issues to resolve, the book proved popular enough with fans that the storyline was stretched out over several years. It remains one of the most popular Spidey sagas to date.

MPL's just ordered the complete graphic novel saga -- be sure to keep an eye on our catalog to check out the upcoming titles!

The Death of Gwen Stacy - writer, Gerry Conway; artist, Gil Kane.

Movie-goers have just been introduced to Gwen Stacy thanks to this summer's blockbuster The Amazing Spider-Man. What remains to be seen is whether or not the movie sequels will follow Gwen's harrowing character arc from the original comics. Gwen and Peter have fallen in love and are on the verge of engagement -- when the Green Goblin attacks, and Gwen is caught in the crossfire.

The repercussions of losing Gwen Stacy had a profound effect on Peter, and her death is still referenced in new issues coming out to this day. The storyline was applauded at the time for daring to give a character an unhappy ending -- and fans remain appreciative that the storyline was handled with real emotion and lasting effects.

Civil War: The Amazing Spider-Man - writer, J. Michael Straczynski; artist, Ron Garney.
Civil War: Peter Parker, Spider-Man - writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Clayton Crain.

The Marvel "Civil War" remains one of the biggest comic book sagas of all time, as well as one of the most popular. The larger story concerns a "Superhero Registration Act," wherein all specially-powered people will be required to register their status with the government, for their own safety as well as for the safety of others and of the country itself. Used as a metaphor for issues of privacy and safety-vs.-freedom, this crossover epic was of particular noteworthiness because it resulted in Peter Parker announcing his secret identity as Spider-Man to the world. A pretty big departure from the normal superhero story -- although, as we're about to see, it was one with perhaps shorter-lasting consequences ...

Spider-Man: One More Day - writers, J. Michael Straczynski with Joe Quesada; artist, Joe Quesada.

Don't mention this one to a diehard Spidey fans; it probably won't go over well. Peter's Aunt May is dying -- and to save her, Peter has to make a deal with the devil. Literally, in fact: he makes a bargain with the demon Mephisto to save his aunt's life. But Peter and Mary Jane have to pay a price: Mephisto will wipe their marriage out of existence.

The behind-the-scenes story to this unusual plotline might be the true epic, however. Rumors spiraled that editors were getting tired of having a married Peter Parker and wanted to return the character to his formerly single status, as well as to find a way to make Peter Parker's secret identity a secret again. The fallout of this storyline allowed the writers to do both, making Peter Parker a single man again and having the world once again be ignorant of Spidey's real identity. The comic was poorly received by fans, but, for better or worse, the storyline did allow writers to return the characters closer to their original versions.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man - writer, Brian Michael Bendis; artist, Mark Bagley.

Launched in 2000, the "Ultimate Comics" line is an "alternate universe" of books, with stories that take place away from the mainstream continuity of the regular storylines. The Ultimate books allow Marvel to tell reimagined, updated, character-altering stories with established characters that they may not, for whatever reason, want to tell in their "main" universe of events. It gave writers and readers alike a chance to go back to the beginning of characters' appearances and see a new version of the story.

The reason for such a line becomes apparent with a book like this one -- which features the death of Spider-Man himself, Peter Parker, at the hands of the Green Goblin. Outside of the ordinary continuity, writer Bendis was able to craft a poignant and memorable story that gave Peter Parker's story a fitting ending.

(But don't worry, it's all in fun -- the 50th-anniversary Spider-Man is still alive and kicking it in the comic books.)

See all our Spider-Man books in the catalog here!

-- Post by Ms. B