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unconventional vacation location 8 Feb 03

First, a brief history lesson.

Back in the early 1500′s, (a decade or so after Columbus’ first voyage) a guy name of Waldseemüller, a mapmaker by trade, and a couple of buddies decided to draw up a new map of the world. He wanted to tie together the old traditional information about the known world with the new discoveries the Portuguese and others were making. He made a book to go with it, and the map itself was about 4 × 8 feet. Not a pocket map. So far all is well and good. in 1507 it was done, and he had a thousand copies made. They quickly became the standard decoration for the walls of geography classrooms. Everybody loved the new, up-to-the-minute map.

Well, discoveries didn’t stop, and before long the map was out of date, and it was replaced with more current teaching tools. Eventually all the copies of the map disappeared.

Several centuries later, we have the United States, Canada, Mexico, and all of Central and South America. Scholars and historians started looking for copies. They had the book, which mentioned the map, but no map. Some began to doubt that the map had ever existed. After all, a thousand copies—one ought to be lying around Europe somewhere…

Why the fuss? Because Waldseemüller and company ran into a letter by an Italian named Amerigo Vespucci, and they were so impressed they decided to label the land he claimed to have discovered after him. America. Whether Amerigo was a con artist or not is for the historians to fight about. The point is that the name caught on, and pretty soon everyone was calling the new world America. So scholars wanted to lay hands on a copy of the first document to name us America.

Then in 1901, a German Jesuit geography teacher, whose summer vacation hobby was to go around to old castles and poke through their libraries, found a copy! It was offered for sale, but no takers. The asking price, equivalent to $8 million now, was too high. Enter WWI and WWII, things got pretty busy. Finally, in 2003, the Library of Congress bought it for a cool $10 million, apparently the highest price ever paid for an antiquarian document.

You can see the New World on the left edge, but the real map is better to look at

Here’s todays trip suggestion: You can see this map. The LOC has it on display. The address is Independence Avenue and 1st Street, SE, Washington DC. Hours are 10 Am to 5:30 PM Monday – Saturday, except Federal holidays. Admission is free.

Go look.

And come back to tell us when you do.

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