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The American Experience
The Film & More
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Hello, I'm David McCullough. Welcome to The American Experience.

The generation of Americans who fought in the Civil War went on to do a great variety of extraordinary things. They built railroads and cities and in some cases, immense personal fortunes. Several became president of the United States. Washington Roebling built the Brooklyn Bridge. Dr. Samuel David Gross of Philadelphia helped transform the practice of surgery. Winslow Homer, an artist-correspondent in the war, went on to paint the American scene as no one ever had.

Our story is about one of the most remarkable men of all that generation and one of the great adventure stories of the American West: John Wesley Powell and the exploration of Colorado River... John Wesley Powell, who had lost an arm in the battle of Shiloh, but who never let that, or much of anything, deter him on his path through life.

A classic American biography is Walace Stegner's book about Powell, "Beyond the Hundredth Meridian," in which he writes of Powell..."Losing one's right arm is a misfortune; to some it would be a disaster, to others and excuse. It affected Wes Powell's life about as much as a stone fallen into a swift stream affects the course of a river. With a velocity like his, he simple foamed over it."

If you've ever been down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, you know what an overwhelming experience it is. It's not just a journey into a totally different place, but into an immensity of time no easier to fathom than the sheer walls of rock rising overhead. But imagine what it was like in the year 1869 when Powell and his party pushed off down river into the Canyon, when it was all unknown.

Lost in the Grand Canyon, by producer Mark Davis.

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