National Geographic : 1988 Sep
Exploring the world then and now FOR A MOMENT during the 1890 expedition to Alaska's Mount St. Elias -the first ever sponsored by the Society Israel C. Russell was startled by the vision of "a vast city, with battlements, towers, minarets, and domes of fantastic architec ture, rising where we knew that only the berg-covered waters extended." This phantom city, he later wrote, was as eerie a mirage as any ever witnessed in faraway deserts. In this month's issue we re visit an era when the world seemed full of such marvels. The edge of the unknown was as close as Alaska, and myste rious cultures beckoned from distant lands. To search out these mysteries, to stretch the imagination - these were the goals of the Society's early explorers, as they remain our goals today. This search has carried us a long way during the past hundred years. Yet I find it reassuring to discover in the many things we do today threads that lead back to where we began. Our lecture program, for ex ample, was launched on Febru ary 17, 1888 -eight months before the debut of the maga zine. The first lecture was given by Maj. John Wesley Powell, a Society founder who'd made his name as a daring explorer of the Colorado River. Since then we've hosted some 2,300 MAJ. JOHNWESLEYPOWELLTALKSWITHTAU-GU,A PAIUTE, DURING POWELL'S1871 EXPEDITIONDOWNTHE COLORADORIVER. PHOTOGRAPHAT JOHNK. HILLERS,COURTESYSMITHSONIANINSTITUTION. lectures, each captivating audi ences with tales of exploration, adventure, and travel. These lectures, by the way, eventually inspired our award winning Television Specials. As early as 1913 speakers at these events were showing motion pictures, among the first of which was "The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, " a docu mentary about an expedition to Alaska's volcanic Katmai region. The success of the lecture film Bones of the Bounty, which was broadcast on television in 1958, convinced my father, Mel ville Bell Grosvenor, that we should produce our own TV shows. Today our Specials still head the list of the most popular programs ever shown on public television.