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.
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot helps us to herald in the start of summer. Good Humor, the well-known “ice cream on a stick,” was created by candy-maker Harry Burt in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1920.
His first candy invention was the Jolly Boy Sucker, a lollipop on a stick. While working in his ice cream parlor, Burt created his own recipe for a smooth chocolate coating that would be compatible with ice cream. His daughter Ruth performed the first taste test. Although it tasted good, Ruth thought it was too messy to eat. To solve this problem, Burt took the advice of his son, Harry Jr., who suggested freezing wooden sticks used for the Jolly Boy Sucker into the ice cream as handles. He named his new creation the Good Humor bar, capitalizing on the belief that a person’s “humor” or outlook on life was related to the humor of the palate. Burt immediately sent the patent to Washington, D.C.
From the beginning, Good Humor bars were peddled in gleaming white trucks by salesmen in white uniforms. By the mid-1930s, Good Humor bars were sold throughout most of the country. The pictured 1938 Chevrolet truck is believed to have operated in the Boston area.
In honor of Flag Day, the Smithsonian Snapshot brings you some history of a very famous flag. In the summer of 1813, Mary Pickersgill was contracted to sew a 30 x 42–foot garrison flag for Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. That flag later became known as the Star-Spangled Banner, the very flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write what later became the national anthem. The flag remained the private property of the commander of Fort McHenry, Lieutenant Colonel Armistead’s widow, Louisa Armistead, his daughter Georgiana Armistead Appleton and his grandson, New York stockbroker Eben Appleton, for 90 years.
In 1912, Appleton donated the flag to the Smithsonian with the intention to “present the flag to an institution where it could conveniently be seen by the public and where it would be well cared for.” Continue reading →
I love history. And for me, the older the history, the more I love it. There’s something that fascinates me about seeing how the first people of a given culture tried to figure out the concept of civilization. And for the first couple of millenniums of human history the difference between civilized and true barbarism was incredibly fine. But sadly, DC doesn’t have a large selection of museums that cater to ancient history nerds like me. The Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum has an exhibit which hasn’t been updated since I was in elementary school; and Dumbarton Oaks Museum has a nice collection on the Byzantine Empire, but that is more medieval history than ancient. There isn’t much else without going to another city.
Imagine my excitement to find out that the National Geographic Museum was holding exhibit on the ancient Etruscan Civilization! For the non-history buffs out there, the Etruscan Civilization was an Italian peoples which inhabited roughly the area of modern day Tuscany (which is where we get the name). That area is, roughly speaking, bound by the Tiber River (and Rome) to the south, the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west, and the Apennine Mountains to the north and east. The Etruscans were an important culture in Italy from about 750 BC to around 500 BC, and were an significant influence on Roman culture and history. Continue reading →
The parachute wedding dress (120mm ektachrome); photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution
This week, in honor of the 67th anniversary of the D-Day landings AND the onset of wedding season, the Smithsonian Snapshot brings you an interesting artifact that ties both World War II and weddings that is currently not on display. This wedding dress was made from a nylon parachute that saved Maj. Claude Hensinger during the Pacific campaign.
In August 1944, Hensinger, a B-29 pilot and his crew were returning from a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan, when their engine caught fire. The crew was forced to bail out. Suffering from only minor injuries, Hensinger used the parachute as a pillow and blanket as he waited to be rescued. He kept the parachute that had saved his life. He later proposed to his girlfriend Ruth in 1947, offering her the material for a gown.
Ruth wanted to create a dress similar to one in the movie Gone with the Wind. She hired a local seamstress, Hilda Buck, to make the bodice and veil. Ruth made the skirt herself; she pulled up the strings on the parachute so that the dress would be shorter in the front and have a train in the back. The couple married July 19, 1947. The dress was also worn by the their daughter and by their son’s bride before being gifted to the Smithsonian.
About two weeks ago, I got the chance to go on a DC Preservation League tour of Saint Elizabeths West Campus. It was the second time I’d been able to go on the tour, the first time being in December of 2008. I was looking forward to seeing how things had changed in two and a half years.
But first, a note on this post: it’s going to be fairly bare bones on information. That’s because there is literally 150+ years of history in this location! Sorting through it all and writing a truly thorough post would be the length of a small book. There is a huge amount of research on the property because of the Department of Homeland Security moving onto the historic West Campus, and a lot of effort is being made to preserve as much as possible. I encourage you to dig deeper by reading the GSA’s website on the redevelopment, along with a short but detailed history of St. Es, and their extremely detailed Historic Landscape Survey. Also, we’ve talked about St. Es before, and it is worth rereading Tiffany’s article. And, of course, there’s Wikipedia.
We here at We Love DC wish you and yours a happy and safe Memorial Day. If you are in harm’s way in service to the country, we thank you.
To those who paid the highest price, we remember and honor you. No matter the year or details of your passing, in peacetime or conflict, you were one of ours and had devoted yourself to the country in a way most of us never have and will never need to – because you did.
We Shall Keep the Faith
by Moina Michael, November 1918
Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.
We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.
What would you do, what would you go through, to be the first explorers to the South Pole? Would you go through months of trekking through -40F degree cold, on a strict ration of food, constantly freezing and wet, and risking death every day? If that sounds like a great time, the National Geographic has the exhibit for you!
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first men to reach the South Pole, the National Geographic Museum is hosting an exhibition entitled Race to the End of the Earth. It recounts the challenges of two explorers during their race to reach the South Pole. On a 1,800-mile journey through Antarctica in 1911, explorers Roald Amundsen of Norway and Robert Falcon Scott of Britain fought the elements and raced each other to gain the honor. The exhibit is well suited for the National Geographic, because it adds the adventure and exploration elements to a fascinating and not well known historical story.
Reportedly inspired by a pizza with one slice removed, Pac-Man was developed by Tōru Iwatani, a programmer for the Japanese company Namco. His primary motivation was to develop a nonviolent game that would appeal to male and female players alike. Unlike previous hit video games like Pong and Space Invaders, Pac-Man had a recognizable main character that allowed it to be the first video game to also be a licensing success. Pac-Man is considered today to be one of the video game classics and an icon of the 1980s.
Recognized by 94% of American consumers, Pac-Man has the highest brand awareness of any video game character ever. The character itself appears in more than 30 officially licensed game spin-offs and countless unauthorized ones. During the early 1980s, Pac-Man was everywhere. It was the first video game to spawn a marketing phenomenon, including licensed books, clocks, radios, gumball banks, a Saturday-morning cartoon and gadgets like this Pac-Man telephone.
This item is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is not currently on display.
Jacobsen has been busy prepping for her book tour, which kicks off at the Spy Museum, but managed to squeeze off a few answers to WeLoveDC regarding Area 51, its purpose, and what really went on at America’s most well known Top Secret facility.