Editor's Letter is an introduction to the contents and themes of each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage by the editor.

The cover of this edition of Pennsylvania Heritage is graced with the famous 1822 painting titled The Artist in His Museum, in which Charles Willson Peale portrayed himself at age 81 in the museum he established in Philadelphia, located at the time in the Long Gallery on the second floor of the Pennsylvania State House (now called Independence Hall). In the painting, Peale lifts a curtain, revealing the museum’s gallery, in which visitors view his portraits of America’s Founding Fathers and marvel over exhibits of natural history specimens that he and his sons collected through the years. In the background, to Peale’s right, partially concealed by the rising curtain, he depicted one of the mastodon skeletons he reconstructed from bones unearthed in 1801 in New York’s Hudson Valley. Peale’s endeavors to acquire, piece together and exhibit the remains of what was then a mysterious animal unfold in this issue’s cover story, “Monster Bones.” Noted historian of early Pennsylvania history Lorett Treese describes Peale’s venture into paleontology, recounting its compelling moments, from excavations with son Rembrandt and a crew to uncover additional bones with an enormous machine he invented, to the Peales’ reconstruction of the skeletons using elephant anatomy and conjecture, and their subsequent American and European exhibitions of the massive remains of these extinct creatures that would have a profound impact on the world’s under-standing of its prehistoric past.

Another Pennsylvanian whose actions opened doors to the expansion of knowledge and cultural enrichment for the future was Harriet Lane Johnston, the niece and ward of Pennsylvania’s only U.S. president, James Buchanan. Journalist Jack Brubaker, known for his long-running Lancaster Newspapers history column, The Scribbler, follows this remarkable woman through the triumph and tragedy of her life in a feature [Harriet Lane Johnston: The Legacy of a White House Hostess] that takes us from her birth in Mercersburg, Franklin County, after which she was soon orphaned, to her life with Buchanan and her four years as his popular and fashionable White House hostess during the turbulent 1857–61 administration that ended at the dawn of the American Civil War. She later suffered the untimely deaths of her husband and young sons, but as Brubaker stresses, her loss would be the inspiration for her most enduring legacy — her role in sponsoring significant institutions of medicine, art and education, all of which would grow and continue to thrive to this day.

World War I was a moment in history when new technological advances such as chemical weaponry, tanks, machine guns and automatic rifles changed the face of battle. In “Pennsylvanians at Meuse-Argonne,” an article to commemorate the war’s centennial this year, Pennsylvania Military Museum administrator Tyler O. Gum examines the last and most devastating operation of the conflict of the Allies against the Germans in France that began in late September 1918. Focusing on the U.S. Army’s three divisions in which most Pennsylvanians were organized — the 28th, the 79th and the 80th — he emphasizes how these soldiers confronted and used the new combat technology and overcame great odds through trenches and rugged terrain, often without proper food or rest, to defeat their adversaries in the offensive that led to the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

Nearly 200 years have passed since Peale painted himself in his museum, presenting his collection to the world, but the motivation to uncover, preserve, interpret and present the past remains vital. Pennsylvania Heritage continues this tradition, with the intention of bringing you history and natural history that is relevant today and that leads to a better understanding of ourselves and the environment in which we live.

Kyle R. Weaver,
Editor