Echoes of Sir Walter Raleigh in Mojave Desert crash

“Long before last Friday’s crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo in the Mojave Desert, the economist Brent Lane had been thinking about failed missions and Sir Richard Branson, Virgin’s adventurous founder.

“Lane, a professor of heritage economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the director of the school’s Carolina Center for Competitive Economies, isn’t an expert on space travel — far from it. He is, instead, a scholar of the explorer Sir Walter Raleigh and of entrepreneurial finance, and, for several months before Friday’s crash, which claimed the life of a test pilot, Lane had been pondering parallels between Raleigh’s sixteenth-century sea voyages and twenty-first-century space exploration….”

— From “Sir Walter Raleigh and the Uncertain Future of Space Travel” by Theo Emery in The New Yorker (Nov. 6)


Why, that North Carolina map looks just like ours!

“[Forbes Smiley] became increasingly brazen in the maps he stole, including some of enormous size….A map of North Carolina by John Collet was printed on two sheets without folds. Smiley must have had to create folds for himself, then iron them out later for mounting and sale. The [New York Public Library’s] staff never suspected such large materials were missing.

“Smiley sold the Collet map to a dealer, who resold it to San Diego map dealer Barry Ruderman. At the Miami map fair that year, Ruderman displayed it framed in his booth, and Smiley and Alice Hudson [the library’s chief of maps] stood admiring it together. Ruderman listened in as the two discussed how it was one of the rarest and most important maps of the region, done just before the Revolutionary War. ‘We have an excellent copy of that in our collection,’ Hudson said, as Smiley nodded.”

— From The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps” by Michael Blanding (2014)

Smiley was eventually apprehended and served three years in prison. His crucial mistake: leaving an X-Acto blade in the Beinecke Library at Yale.