The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Cities/Places
Does the jovial fellow riding Ambika the elephant look familiar? It's Fred Rogers, leaving his neighborhood for a visit to the National Zoological Park in the spring of 1982. The host of the children's show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood met giraffes, tigers, and lions as well as pachyderms Ambika and Shanthi; Keepers Jim Jones and Barbara Bingham were featured guests.
Despite rainy conditions, everything went smoothly until the elephant ride. According to The Torch:
As soon as Mr. Rogers was perched atop Ambika's back, she decided she wanted a bath and lumbered eagerly towards the pool. While zoo keepers headed her off, "little" (4,000 pound) Shanthi's curiousity was piqued by the cameraman and his fascinating equipment. As she set off to investigate, our fleet-of-foot staffers quickly foiled a farcical finale.
The episode filmed at the zoo was titled Mr. Rogers Talks About Pets, broadcast on June 4, 1982. You can a find a synopsis at The Neighborhood Archive.
Shanthi and Ambika still live at the National Zoological Park, enjoying their new home, the Elephant Trails exhibit. Now Shanthi is up to 9,000 pounds!
- Record Unit 371 - Office of Public Affairs, The Torch, 1955-1960, 1965-1988, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Summertime in Washington, DC usually brings a few things to mind for me: the United States Department of Agriculture farmer's market, tourists, buses, Jazz in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. First started in 1967, this year's festival focuses on the following:
- Hungarian Heritage: Roots to Revival
- One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage
- The Will to Adorn: African American Diversity, Style, and Identity
Running from June 24-26 and July 3-7, the schedule of activities, programs, and performances is incredible. So if you'll be in Washington, DC during this time or live nearby, please come out to learn from and experience the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
I was visiting South Carolina recently, and passed through Beaufort. It turns out this beautiful southern town has a surprising connection to the Smithsonian.
In November 1861, when Union troops occupied Beaufort, one of the principal treasures of the town was its outstanding library - which had been incorporated in 1807 and encompassed several thousand books, many having been brought back from Europe by wealthy Carolinians. With the arrival of the troops, landed Beaufort-area residents had fled and the town was in the hands of those left behind: enslaved people from the Sea Islands plantations.
General Isaac Stevens, the Union commanding officer, ordered that the library, called "the pride of the town," be arranged for the use of the troops. Within a few months, however, a treasury agent appeared, demanding the books be confiscated as war booty. The books were sent to New York, where they were put up for auction.
This caused an immediate outcry. The New York Times editorialized against it; and a letter to the editor urged them to continue the fight (or as the writer wonderfully put it, "ventilate" the subject!). Within a day, Salmon Chase, Lincoln's Treasury Secretary, allegedly declared "the Union does not make war on books," and put a halt to the proceedings. The books were then deposited for safe keeping at the Smithsonian. They were to be returned at the conclusion of the war. (Salmon Chase became a Smithsonian Regent in 1864, after Lincoln successfully nominated him to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and he continued in that role until his death in 1873.)
Saved from auction, the books were placed in the fifth floor of the South Tower of the Smithsonian Building (the Castle - then the Smithsonian's only building). The war dragged on; in 1864, two years after the seizure of the books, newspapers reassured the South that the library remained safe and sound.
Tragically, on January 24, 1865, fire ripped through the Castle building. The Beaufort Library collection was completely destroyed, along with many other collections and papers - including almost all of the relics of the Smithsonian's founder, James Smithson, which were being kept a few floors below in the Regents Room.
Beaufort eventually received some token compensation for their loss. Today the Beaufort County Library is a thriving place. Happily, the book collection lost in the 1865 fire wasn't the last connection between Beaufort and the Smithsonian. The library hosted a Smithsonian traveling exhibition in early 2012.
- Smokin' Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Reference team gets more than 5000 – yes, thousand – inquiries per year. They come from all over the world and cover everything from soup to nuts. I’ll save the nuts for another post, and focus on the soup or, more specifically, tea and how refreshments are vital to a successful volunteer effort.
One of our perennial topics of interest is, Operation Moonwatch. Moonwatch was initiated in 1958 by Dr. Fred Whipple at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory during the International Geophysical Year (IGY).
Operation Moonwatch created an international network of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteer sky-watchers of both genders (women made up about a third of all observers) and from every walk-of-life. These citizen-scientists joined professional astronomers to track and report on satellites travelling through the night sky. Often we hear from old "Moonwatchers" or, increasingly, genealogists that have learned through family lore or old paperwork about a relative's participation in the project and are eager to learn more.
Recently I received an email from Greg Roberts of Johannesburg, South Africa, a former Moonwatcher who had been corresponding with some of his fellow observers. Greg wanted to track down details on several South African observation teams operating out of Johannesburg and Blomenfontein. Luckily we have great records documenting the Moonwatch program in Record Unit 255 where I could find what he was looking for.
The report from the Blomenfontein observation station, on Naval Hill near the old Lamont-Hussey Observatory, was detailed and complete. It also included photographs of the observational set-up and drawings diagramming the layout of the entire observation station. What I enjoyed best, though, were the detailed organizational lists. These provided names of volunteers, their occupations, tasks and responsibilities and descriptions of nightly activities.
As I read through the report's detailed description of the locality and how well-suited it was to the task, it became clear that the proximity of the telescopes to the canteen – and its' "pepping-up" the volunteers – made the whole arrangement "most satisfactory" for all involved.
That made me smile, but I don't think you'd see that sort of personal touch in reports covering a partnership like Moonwatch today. And that's too bad. I mean, what a great recruiting tool – a night out, under the stars with others who share a common interest and cake, too. Heck, I'm all over that!
For more information about Operation Moonwatch, check out, Keep Watching the Skies: The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age by Patrick McCray. Dr. McCray made extensive use of Record Unit 255 for this book.
- Record Unit 255 - Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Moonwatch Division, Records, 1956-1975, Smithsonian Institution Archives
On this day in 1987, the Enid A. Haupt Garden, named for the American philanthropist and publisher, officially opened to the public. The Haupt garden, which is located adjacent to the Smithsonian Institution Building, sits above a three-story underground complex, known as the Quad, that includes the National Museum of African Art, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and the S. Dillon Ripley Center. A few times a year, the colorful flowers displayed in the garden are changed to reflect the foliage currently in bloom.
Click through the slideshow for photos of construction of the Quad and the Enid A. Haupt Garden!
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