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The Beatles in National Geographic Magazine

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Introductory comments.
1932 February
1965 April
1970 April
1975 August
1975 September
1985 November


Another installment of "The Beatles In..." Here are some Beatles references I stumbled on in National Geographic magazine. I've made no effort whatsoever to do a thorough search over any time period.

Of course, a magazine like National Geographic is one of the last places you would search for information about the Beatles. Still, it can be surprising what you do find when you least expect it. For instance, I have a very large collection of books about the Beatles, but I had never seen the inside of a record manufacturing plant - and one actually in the process of stamping out Beatles records - until I saw the April 1970 National Geographic.

But mainly, Beatle mentions in a magazine such as National Geographic simply serve as data points documenting the group's enormous impact on society and history.

You know by now you're going to get a slightly cranky suggestion at this point about how Beatle fans should get off their collective b-ms and start putting that unchannelled energy to some good use - like creating a database of everything written and said about the Beatles. Wouldn't that be fun? and useful?

The pictures supplied here are reduced in size and quality, but you have a local library. From here on, everything not clearly marked as my comment is directly quoted from the magazine.

Nooks and Bays of Storied England

National Geographic: page 181.
Comment: This one predates Beatlemania by a little. Hmmm . . . none of 'em were even born yet! Nonetheless, a great picture shows Wapping Pier Head, one of the sites of the Beatles' "Mad Day" photo shoot, Jul 28 1968. Think of Paul draped with heavy chains.

Wapping pier head.

When the water is high the steps are covered almost all the way to the top. The parapet at the left is part of Wapping Wall, built in the 16th century to reclaim this part of the shore. Sailing ships used to anchor in midstream off the Wall, and many a sailor bound for a four-year cruise bade farewell to his sweetheart from these steps.

1965 APRIL
The Fair Reopens

National Geographic: page 525.
Comment: Picture shows an array of labeled items on a table: pyrex dish, graphite from first nuclear reactor, transistor radio, Calder Hall film, 50,000 pages micro filmed, electric toothbrush, sequoia wood, Beatles record, "all" detergent, blue and white checked bikini bathing suit, pure zirconium metal, Kent filter cigarettes, Echo II satellite material, super conducting wire, credit cards, computer memory unit, tranquilizer, heat shield from Aurora 7 space craft, Vanguard satellite radio transmitter, film history of USS Nautilus, antibiotic drug, rechargeable flashlight, synthetic fibers, irradiated seeds, fuel cells, electronic watch, carbon 14, ball point pen, freeze-dried food, fiber-reinforced metal, ceramic magnet, Holy Bible, plastic heart valve, desalted Pacific ocean water, contact lenses, ruby laser rod, pocket radiation monitor, film badge, molecular block, tektite of possible lunar origin.
        The Beatles record is a 45 rpm record with a Capitol orange and yellow swirl label. The print on the label is illegible, but shows a long song title requiring two lines. The layout doesn't seem to conform to "I Want To Hold Your Hand" or "I Saw Her Standing There". Perhaps it's "I Should Have Known Better", which was the flip side of "A Hard Day's Night"?

Beatle record at 1964 World's Fair.
Legacy: A.D. 6939

Varied as the myriad products of today's technology, the contents of the Westinghouse Time Capsule will tell our descendants five millenniums hence of changes that have occurred in the fateful 25 years since the original Time Capsule was buried at the close of the 1939 World's Fair.

Dr. Leonard Carmichael, [the National Geographic] Society's Vice President for Research and Exploration, chaired a committee of distinguished scientists, artists, and scholars who selected the capsule's historic freight. The Bible, a piece of heat shield from a space craft, a National Geographic Atlas of the World on microfilm, freeze-dried food, a bikini bathing suit, and a popular record by the Beatles comprise a portion of the material that also includes microfilmed writings totaling 20,000,000 words of text.

The gleaming torpedo-shaped 1964 capsule will rest under a granite marker only a few yards away from its 1939 predecessor. An inscription enjoins finders to leave the capsule undisturbed until the full lapse of 5,000 years.

1970 APRIL
Shenandoah, I Long To Hear You

National Geographic: page 568-569.
Comment: In the original photo, the label on the top record of the nearest stack can be recognized as the sliced apple used on the flip side of Apple LPs.

Abbey Road album being stamped at Capitol Records Plant.

Music maid at the Capitol Records plant in Winchester [Virginia] oversees a battery of automatic stamping machines; each presses 100 discs an hour, here the Beatles' album, "Abbey Road." Employing around-the-clock shifts recruited from a large and willing force of skilled labor, the newly opened factory joins a fast-growing roster of nationally known industries in the [Shenandoah] valley, including Du Pont, Westinghouse, General Motors, General Electric, and the 3M Company.

"Ice Bird" Ends Her Lonely Odyssey

National Geographic: text page 219; picture page 233.
Writer, photographer: David Lewis

The refit [restoration of the damaged 32-foot sloop, Ice Bird], which would have daunted a first-class yacht yard, had been completed in only 63 days by dint of the entire Palmer Station [Antarctica] crew's sacrificing every minute of their scant leisure time - and in about the bleakest environment on earth.

Two drums of yellow bichromate paint completed Ice Bird's transformation from a near wreck into a vessel fit to venture where no single-hander had ever gone before [around Antarctica].

"Please don't call her the 'Yellow Submarine'," I begged. "I have had quite enough of being under water." Actually the yacht looked very smart, her paintwork being topped off by her name in bold letters and a big penguin on either bow.

Ice Bird, NOT Yellow Submarine!
Friendly breezes brought the wounded Ice Bird into Cape Town's Table Bay, its jury rig a masterpiece of make-do.

Greenland Feels the Winds of Change

National Geographic: page 386.
Writer: John J. Putnam

Seeking a Racial Meeting Place

Wherever I traveled, I was drawn back to the questions first raised at Ikerasak: two races [Eskimo-descended and white], two cultures [Greenlandic and Danish], tied together and journeying toward a destination that seemed often with each gain to slip farther away. [...]

A youth center was decorated with posters of rock-music groups: Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper. A Beatles record blasted from loudspeakers. The kids drank soft drinks and smoked. One girl said she wanted to be a teacher; eight others said they did not know what they wanted to do.

"You know that we wish to be free," a young man told me, "but you know too that we aren't clever enough to govern our land. Therefore we must have the Dane. But the day will come when the Greenland people will say, 'We are free.' "

The Search for Our Ancestors

National Geographic: page 585.
Writer: Kenneth F. Weaver.
Comment: For more mentions and pictures of Lucy, see page 564 and 592-3 in the same article; and also February 1997, pages 78 and 80. The 1997 article presents arguments that "Lucy" was really a "Lucifer".

Just as the finding of the Taung child astounded the scientific world 6 decades ago, so did the discovery of an even more ancient African fossil in November 1974. During an international expedition to Hadar, in north-central Ethiopia, anthropologist Donald C. Johanson and his graduate student... were exploring the parched gullies of the Afar badlands. They were searching for hominid fossils. [...]

Johanson spotted a piece of bone on the eroded slope above them. Long hidden by layers of sediment and volcanic ash, the fossil had been laid bare by flash floods that occasionally slice through these gullies.

It was a hominid, a bit of an arm. Hardly had Johanson made the identification when they spied another bone, part of a skull. Suddenly the slope seemed to sprout fossils - here a bit of thighbone, there a couple of vertebrae and some ribs, farther on a part of a pelvis and a couple pieces of jaw.

But the end was not yet. Three weeks of intensive exploration of the gully uncovered several hundred more pieces of bone. When they were pieced together, they proved to be part of a single individual - an adult female 1.1 meters tall weighing perhaps 30 kilograms.

To laymen the individual quickly became known as Lucy, a name taken from a Beatles song popular in the camp. But for scientists, Johanson and his colleagues coined another name: Australopithecus afarensis. Thus Lucy was of the same genus as the Taung child, but in the eyes of her discoverers she represented a new species.

Lucy created intense excitement on several counts. She was the most complete and - except for a few questionable fragments found elsewhere - the oldest hominid known up to that time, dated by radiometric potassium-argon method at about 3 million years ago. Although much of the skull was missing, roughly 40 percent of the skeleton was recovered. Such a find was extraordinarily valuable, since at that point in hominid evolution fossil remains consist largely of teeth and fragments of the jaws, the most indestructible parts of the body. Moreover, the pelvis established without question that Lucy walked with an erect bipedal stride a million years or more before the Taung child.


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