F. Scott Fitzgerald is buried in Rockville, MD. You heard that right. Francis Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise and one of the seminal American writers of the 20th century, is not buried in Paris, or New York, or Los Angeles, or even Princeton, but rests next to his wife, Zelda, and his daughter, Scottie, in a small, forgotten graveyard nestled between a thoroughfare and a train track in Rockville, MD.
The story of how he wound up there goes like this. Fitzgerald’s family had a long-standing history in the area. His father, Edward, grew up in Montgomery County, and F. Scott would often visit his Aunt, who lived near Rockville, as a child. He was named after Maryland’s own Francis Scott Key, composer of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a direct relative of his somewhere along the cousin spectrum. His father was buried in the family plot at St. Mary’s Church in Rockville, and by all accounts, that’s where F. Scott always planned to be buried. Yet, his connection to the city, and the state of Maryland, was significantly more ancestral than biographical. The only place Fitzgerald actually lived in Maryland was Towson, 50 miles from Rockville, where he rented a house to be by his wife’s side as she underwent psychiatric treatment, presumably for schizophrenia, at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the early 30′s. Continue reading →
If you doubt, head over to the National Geographic Museum between now and September 2; the Jolly Roger flag hanging from the flagpole should convince you. If you need more persuasive evidence, head inside and wander through the museum’s latest exhibitReal Pirates.
From fore to aft, this exhibit rolls up the past, present, and future of the pirate vessel Whydah. Originally designed and used as a slave ship along the American-African slave routes, the Whydah was captured by pirate captain Sam Bellamy and used in his fleet to pillage more than fifty prizes across the Carribean. On a course for a New England harbor, the Whydah, her captain, and her crew ran into a violent nor’easter near Cape Cod and sank beneath the waves. With it went a hold full of pirate treasure and most of the men on board.
National Geographic chose to feature the Whydah exhibit for a number of reasons. According to Richard McWalters, Director of Museum Operations, the story of the Whydah crosses three seafaring trades: slavery, piracy, and recovery. Through the shipwreck’s history, visitors are exposed to the realities of the slave trade and its vessels, the life of a pirate crew during the eighteenth century, and the technology, dedication, and innovation of today’s salvage explorers. Continue reading →
By now, local Washington media has covered the internetwith their summaries of a timely – yet still largely ignored – issue involving a particular football team located in this area. While Racial Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports spoke to the broader issues regarding Native American culture and peoples and their use as sports logos and traditions, make no mistake: the local NFL team’s moniker was a lynchpin in the discussion. The topic was subject of one-third of the day’s symposium, and itself is well-covered elsewhere. (You can watch the recording online in its entirety.)
I couldn’t attend in person, so I settled for the live webcast. And I’ve spent time re-watching the panels as well, because there was so much information and passion involved I couldn’t catch all of it the first time around. I could probably write several blog posts about the topic, and may yet in the future.
But what I wanted to really comment here and now, since other outlets are more focused on the local team aspect, is some key comments made by Director Kevin Gover at the start of the day. Thanks to NMAI, I received a full copy of his remarks; they provide a context that is important to the background of the overall discussion. While I won’t simply copy them all here – you can listen to Dr. Gover online for that – I did want to point out some relevant comments. Continue reading →
Courtesy Sarah McNair-Landry and National Geographic
On December 6, an adventurous brother-sister team visits the National Geographic Museum to share about their experience kite skiing over two thousand miles through Canada’s arctic archipelago. Eric and Sarah McNair-Landry grew up with the Arctic Ocean and sled dogs in their backyard and have trekked across the polar regions since they were teenagers. Their journey saw them fend off polar bears and coping with extreme weather conditions along the way.
Their expedition traces the 1906 Roald Amundsen route through the Northwest Passage. That was the first time that it was actually successfully navigated by anyone following centuries of explorers hoping to discover a way through from the Atlantic to the Pacific north of Canada. The journey began in Tuktoyaktuk, located in Canada’s Northwest Territories and traveled east through Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, and Arctic Bay, before finally reaching the finish line at Pond Inlet on Baffin Island.
Author and Former CIA Agent Antonio Mendez (Photo courtesy Joanna Mendez)
On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the American embassy in Tehran and captured dozens of American hostages, sparking a 444-day ordeal and a quake in global politics that still reverberates today. But there’s a little-known drama connected to the crisis: six Americans escaped from the embassy only to remain trapped in the city, facing torture or death if the militants discovered their whereabouts. With time running out, CIA officer, Antonio Mendez devised an ingenious yet incredibly risky plan to rescue them.
Disguising himself as a Hollywood producer, and supported by a cast of expert forgers, deep-cover CIA operatives, foreign agents, and Hollywood special effects artists, Mendez traveled to Tehran under the guise of scouting locations for a fake science fiction film called Argo. While pretending to find the perfect film backdrops, Mendez and a colleague succeeded in contacting the escapees and smuggling them out of Iran right under the noses of their pursuers.
In February 12, 2010, the CIA declassified substantial information surrounding one of its more secret Cold War projects, Project AZORIAN. The code name referred to the Agency’s ambitious plan to raise a sunken Soviet submarine from the floor of the Pacific Ocean in order to retrieve its secrets.
This Thursday at 10:15 am, the International Spy Museum, in cooperation with the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program, is hosting a special discussion on Project AZORIAN and the Hughes Glomar Explorer. The guest speaker is David Sharp, a former CIA employee who was part of the critical success of the Explorer’s mission.
The story of Project AZORIAN began on March 1, 1968, when a Soviet Golf-II submarine, the K-129 sailed from the naval base at Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula to take up its peacetime patrol station northeast of Hawaii. Something went terribly wrong in mid-March 1968 as the submarine suffered a catastrophic accident and sank 1,560 miles northwest of Hawaii with the loss of its entire crew. Interestingly, the CIA history is silent on the cause of the accident, mentioning neither how the agency came to learn of the sub’s demise nor the exact location of its resting place 16,500 feet below the surface of Pacific. Continue reading →
The McMillan Park and Sand Filtration Site is a fascinating piece of DC history. In fact, to call the site fascinating really doesn’t do it justice; there’s nothing else like it in the area. Completed in 1905, it was part of the McMillan Plan to develop and beautify Washington. The site was used until 1985 to filter drinking water for the city. When the site was completed it was a state of the art water filtration system, using sand to filter water from the Washington Aqueduct (if you’re really interested, it used a slow sand filter system).
As I said, fascinating site: above ground are ivy covered water towers and open grass fields; below ground, twenty catacomb chambers, where the sand filtered water. As you can imagine, the only light that comes into the chambers is either from open man-mole covers in the chamber’s roof or the access doors at the front of the chambers. Photographically, it creates a fascinating play of light and shadows. And to break the monotony, there is even some damage from the 2011 earthquake (picture below), where part of the ceiling caved in. The site is similar to St. Elizabeths, with neglect and decay making some remarkable sights.
As great as the site is, it was recently closed to future tours. I was lucky enough to go on the open houses, which the local ANC held, twice; once last October and another in April. The site is slated for development, but I’m not convinced it will happen anytime soon. Hopefully something can be worked out and the site can be reopened for tours. It truly is an amazing site and something every DC resident should see. It is a great part of the city’s history.
The park is located west of Catholic University, with by North Capitol Street on it’s east side, Channing Street NW to the south, 1st Street NW to the west, and Michigan Avenue NW on the north. Continue reading →
As you might know by now, we’re big fans of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild’s annual Repeal Day Ball, which celebrates the national repeal of Prohibition. What you might not know is that DC’s local prohibition law remained on the books for a few more months after the national repeal.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian opened its doors this past weekend to a new exhibition, “A Song for the Horse Nation.” The exhibition, nestled on the third floor of the museum, tells the epic tale of the how the return of the horse to the Americas changed Native culture, from lifestyle to war to art and beyond. “For some Native peoples, the horse still is an essential part of daily life,” said exhibit curator Emil Her Many Horses (Ogala Lakota). “For others, the horse will always remain an element of our identity and our history. The Horse Nation continues to inspire, and Native artists continue to celebrate the horse in our songs, our stories, and our works of art.”
To walk the exhibit’s path is to walk side by side with the conjoined path of Native and horse. Though horses were introduced to the Native Americans relatively late in North American history—the early 1700s saw the initial widespread explosion of the horse from captured Spanish mounts in the southwest—the image of Indians astride these graceful animals is one that is common to modern Americans. The “Horse Nation” quickly entwined themselves with Native communities, forever altering tribal culture and the Indian way of life.
The Smithsonian’s exhibit seeks to give us a view into that not-so-distant past. But it’s more than just a simply history lesson: subtly but surely, “A Song for the Horse Nation” reveals how interwoven both horse and man became among 38 tribal communities from the Plains and Western United States. The horse was more than a beast of burden or a tool; the animal became a part of Native culture that still resonates among the people today. Continue reading →
out of the earth / I sing for them
A Horse nation / I sing for them
out of the earth / I sing for them,
the animals / I sing for them.
~a song by the Teton Sioux
Emil Her Many Horses is, by first appearance, a quiet, unassuming gentleman. A museum specialist in the office of Museum Programs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), he is responsible for the facility’s latest exhibition “A Song for the Horse Nation.” A member of the Ogala Lakota nation of South Dakota, his expertise on the Northern and Southern Plains cultures is well served and seen in the exhibit that opens to the public tomorrow.
NMAI’s latest offering is a touching and brilliant display of how the horse has deeply impacted and affected Native cultures since their introduction to the Americas in the 17th century. “The exhibit tells the history of the horse; that they were here once before, migrated to Europe, and returned as the horse we know today,” explained Her Many Horses. “They changed Native culture. The horse had a major impact on hunting, warfare, travel, spirituality. These were big changes.” Changes that extend beyond the European vision of the animal.
Seen as a beast of burden, a tool, a weapon, the horse was brought and used by European explorers and colonists early in America’s “New World” history. And their introduction, according to many Natives, was probably one of the biggest positive changes brought about by the white man.
With Republican debates underway and the growth of both Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Occupy Wall Street, it appears most of America is angry, frustrated, or confused. And we’re all pretty much broke.
What better time, then, to look back on the legacy of a president who saw the country through its most traumatic era?
This month, Ford’s Theatre launches the Lincoln Legacy Project, a 5-year effort to create dialogue around the issues of tolerance, equality, and acceptance.
You read that right: it’s a 5-year project. And yes, they know that 5 years in DC time is about 2.5 generations of staffers moving in and out. By the time they’re finished, we’ll be entering primary debates again.
Pneumatic Mail Container; photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution and the National Postal Musem
Today’s Smithsonian Snapshot looks at another method of mail delivery that dominated the early 20th century metropolitan landscape: the pneumatic mail container.
In the late 1890s, networks of pneumatic tube systems were installed under city streets to move the mail. Each pneumatic tube canister could hold up to 500 letters. The canisters, also known as carriers, were air compressed through the system, traveling in a spinning motion at an average of 35 miles per hour. At its peak productivity, 6 million pieces of mail traveled through the system daily at a rate of five carriers per minute.
In 1893, the first pneumatic tubes were introduced in Philadelphia; in 1897, the service started in New York City. Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis also eventually incorporated the system. By 1915, six cities (including Brooklyn) had more than 56 miles of pneumatic tubes pulsing under the streets.
During World War I, the Post Office Department suspended the service to conserve funding for the war effort. After the war service was restored in New York and Boston. By the 1950s, it became clear that the end of pneumatic tubes was in sight as increasing mail volumes and changing urban landscapes made it impractical. While post offices and businesses moved with relative ease, the underground pneumatic system did not.
Skyhook container; photo courtesy National Postal Museum
In the 1930s, U.S. postal officials tried different ways of moving the mail. One technique was called “skyhooking,” which brought the mail to rural towns that had no adequate railway or highway mail routes. Unfortunately, the towns which needed this type of service usually did not have adequate landing fields for planes.
Although a low-flying airplane could simply drop a sack of mail onto the ground, the tricky part was getting ground mail into the moving plane. The Railway Mail Service’s successful on-the-fly mail exchange system provided the inspiration for an aviation experiment. Mail would be “caught” by a plane flying overhead and reeled up into the plane. Of course, catching the mail was not going to be easy. Continue reading →
Lunch Box collection; Image courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Beginning in the 1950s, television transformed the lunch box from an ordinary food conveyor into a storyteller. The screen-like sides of the lunch box offered kids a new form of self-expression. Since then, the lunch containers carted to and from offices and school classrooms have reflected American culture. Certainly, no meal received more cultural “attention” than lunch.
Box makers paid for the right to use TV shows to promote lunch box sales. The studios used boxes to gain market exposure. And children acquired a new statement of their power and influence in the emerging world of mass-marketed consumer goods.
This selection of boxes and their drink containers from the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History explores that colorful heritage. And to spice up what may be a loooong day at the office, share with us what your favorite lunch box was while growing up!
Bison on the Mall; Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives | Photographer unknown
Today in 1846, the U.S. Senate passed the act organizing the Smithsonian Institution by a vote of 26 to 13. The act was then signed into law by President James K. Polk. Among its provisions the Organic Act specifies a Board of Regents, Chancellor and Secretary and a suitable building with rooms for the reception and arrangement of objects of natural history including: a chemical laboratory, a library, a gallery of art, and lecture rooms. The Act also provided the transfer to the Institution of all objects of art, natural history, etc., belonging to the United States to Washington and the deposit in the Smithsonian of one copy of all publications copyrighted under the acts of Congress. Once established, the Smithsonian became part of the process of developing an American national identity—an identity rooted in exploration, innovation, and a unique American style.
To celebrate the Smithsonian’s 165th anniversary, the Institution is sharing the historic Smithsonian photograph above. It shows two American bison, also known as the American buffalo, in a paddock in the South Yard behind the Smithsonian Institution Building, now known as the Smithsonian Castle. The animals were acquired by the Department of Living Animals in 1887, which then became the National Zoological Park in 1890. This photograph was taken between 1887 and 1889.
Tomorrow, one of the National Postal Museum’s most interesting objects is being commemorated with a U.S. postage stamp. During his lifetime, a scruffy mutt named Owney was the nation’s most famous canine. From 1888 until his death in 1897, Owney rode with Railway Mail Service clerks and mailbags all across the nation.
The Railway Mail Service clerks adopted Owney as their unofficial mascot, marking his travels by placing medals and tags from his stops on his collar. By the early 1890s, the traveling postal dog was a regular feature in newspapers across the country as Owney visited town after town. Owney’s unusual life and wide-spread travels have inspired several children’s books. Elementary schools across the United States continue to use the story of Owney as a way to connect their students with those in other states by sending stuffed toy dogs from school to school through the mail accompanied by messages from students to one another.
When he died in 1897, the postal clerks refused to bury their beloved mascot. Clerks across the country asked that the dog receive the honor they considered he was due by being preserved and presented to the Post Office Department’s headquarters. Owney was kept on display there and then sent to the Smithsonian Institution in 1911.
Apollo 11 Command Module "Columbia"; photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution
Forty-two years ago today, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Earth’s moon. Today’s Smithsonian Snapshot takes a look at the Columbia, the lunar command module for the first manned lunar landing mission. (The first Space Shuttle was named after this module.)
On July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins were launched from Cape Kennedy atop a Saturn V rocket. The Columbia was the living quarters for the three-person crew during most of the mission in July 1969. This Command Module, no. 107, manufactured by North American Rockwell, was one of three parts of the complete Apollo spacecraft. The other two parts were the Service Module and the Lunar Module, nicknamed “Eagle.” The Service Module contained the main spacecraft propulsion system and consumables while the Lunar Module was the two-person craft used by Armstrong and Aldrin to descend to the Moon’s surface on July 20.
The Columbia is the only portion of the spacecraft to return to Earth. It was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1970 following a NASA-sponsored tour of American cities and can be found as one of the primary exhibits at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
Dumbo Flying Elephant Car; Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
On July 17, 1955, Disneyland, the first Disney theme park and the only one created under the direction of Walt Disney, was opened to the public in Anaheim, Calif. The Dumbo car, pictured above, was donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History on June 9, 2005, on the occasion of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary.
The Dumbo Flying Elephant ride is an original Disneyland attraction and one of the most popular rides in the park. It features music and exciting aerial views, as well as fiberglass “elephant” cars as seen in this picture. The cars include an interactive lever that allows riders to control how high they fly. Remodeled in the 1980s, the ride was inspired by Disney’s 1941 movie, Dumbo.
The storyline of the film Dumbo is based on a 1939 children’s book written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Perl. Animated by Bill Tytla, the movie follows the young elephant as he is separated from his mother at the circus, only to be taunted by the other animals.
Interesting little factoid: When former President Truman visited Disneyland in 1957, he chose not to ride the Dumbo Flying Elephants, as the elephant is a symbol for the Republican party.
Society6, an organization that connects artists with unique opportunities and empowers them to make their artwork available for sale without giving up control of their rights, recently completed an innovative project titled “50 And 50.” The idea behind this endeavor was to recruit 50 designers, one per each state, and have them illustrate their state motto using the same color-scheme. The results are modern, yet historical grounded, designs that would make any wall fit for oversized art proud.
Fortunately for us, although not part of 50 states, DC was included in the project and represented by Oliver Munday, whose illustrations and designs have graced bookcovers, TIME, The New York Times, Wired, etc. And for those of us completely naive to DC’s “state” motto, it’s “Justice For All” or as the Romans prefer “Justia Omnibus.” Continue reading →
On June 28, 1911, the Nakhla meteorite fell to Earth at approximately 9 a.m. in the Nakhla region of Alexandria, Egypt. Many people witnessed its explosion in the upper atmosphere before the meteorite dropped in about 40 pieces totaling 22 pounds; the fragments were buried in the ground up to a meter deep.
In August 1911, the Smithsonian received two samples of Nakhla; in 1962, it received the 480-gram piece of the meteorite shown in this photograph. By the 1970s, the Smithsonian had acquired a total of 650 grams of Nakhla’s fragments.
Nakhlites, Martian meteorites named for Nakhla, are igneous rocks that are rich in augite and were formed from basaltic magma about 1.3 billion years ago. Their crystallization ages, compared to a crater-count chronology of different regions on Mars, suggest the Nakhlites formed on the large volcanic regions of Tharsis, Elysium or Syrtis Major Planum.
It has been shown that the Nakhlites were suffused with liquid water around 620 million years ago and that they were ejected from Mars around 10.75 million years ago by an asteroid impact. They fell to Earth within the past 10,000 years.
This item is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is on display at the National Museum of Natural History.