On a cold, overcast Tuesday morning in February 1981, something caught the eye of a museum technician as he walked through the “We the People” exhibit on the second floor of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History: The silver pen of President McKinley’s Secretary of State John Hay was missing. The 7 ¼-inch Parker Jointless pen had been used to sign the 1898 Treaty of Paris, ending the Spanish-American War.
But now, to the technician’s horror, its case was empty -- and there were more alarming discoveries to come.
While digging a sewer near the Capitol in 1898, a construction crew makes an incredible discovery- a fossil! Only, when it's brought to the Smithsonian, no one is able to say for certain what kind of dinosaur it might belong to. Could this be a clue to a dinosaur found only in the District? See how generations of paleontologists dispute the identity D.C.'s oldest resident, and how a group of school kids played a factor in solidifying its legacy.
He never traveled to the United States or took an interest in our politics. He wasn’t known for any philanthropic efforts. Though intellectually curious, he didn’t make any groundbreaking or well-known scientific discoveries—and didn’t patronize people who did. Yet, surprisingly, he left his estate to the United States, asking that we use it to promote scientific research and education. Of all people, how did an English scientist's name come to be such a staple of Washington culture?
The Smithsonian museums attract millions of D.C. locals and tourists alike every year, but in the late 1980s, the Institution found its reputation at risk. As Smithsonian spokeswoman Madeline Jacobs described in October of 1989, “The calls and letters” during that period were “like a flood." "Even important topics like our divestment from South Africa didn't get this much attention,” Jacobs told The Washington Post.
What sparked the uproar? In 1989, the Smithsonian reportedly held 35,000 skeletal remains of Indigenous peoples, 18,500 of which were Native American remains.
Washington D.C. has its hidden gems, but none perhaps as hidden as the long-gone and long-forgotten carp ponds of the National Mall, a main attraction in the District for close to three decades. But you’ve probably never heard of them, and the U.S. government is happy about that.
When word came from Paris that Charles Lindbergh successfully completed the first trans-Atlantic flight on May 21, 1927, the world celebrated. Overnight the young pilot became a household name and hero. Cities around the globe prepared to fete him. But to Lindbergh, one greeting stood out in particular, “Paris was marvelous and London and Brussels as well, and I wouldn’t for the world draw any comparisons, but I will say this, the Washington reception was the best handled of all.”
In the 1960s and '70s, renovations in the Smithsonian Institution’s Castle sought to restore the building to its Victorian beginnings. Secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley, didn’t think architecture was quite enough to restore the #aesthetic. No, what the castle really needed was a few live-in barn owls, just like the old days.
The nation’s capital is chock full of statues, memorials, monuments, historic markers, and museums. As the seat of the United States government, Washington has a unique niche as both a repository of history and as a tourist spot. Some monuments are world-famous, some now reside in hidden corners, some are the centers of conspiracy theories (as Dan Brown and National Treasure fans will know), and some have been forgotten altogether. One statue in particular has been all of these things – and more – since it was first created: Horatio Greenough’s George Washington.
Lewis Powell, the would-be assassin of Secretary of State William H. Seward, was prone to goof-ups. You might even say he had the tendency to lose his head.
As you know from our previous post, Powell was one of the co-conspirators in the Lincoln assassination plot. After his bloody rampage in the Seward home, Powell was tried and hanged along with three other conspirators on July 7, 1865. That should have been the end of the story, but it took over one hundred years for Powell's tale to come to an end.
On March 2, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation establishing a zoological park along Rock Creek in Northwest Washington “for the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people.” But, of course, the backstory began years before.
Prior to the creation of the Zoo park, the Smithsonian kept a large collection of animals in pens and cages on the National Mall. Washingtonians flocked to see the motley collection which included a jaguar, grizzly bear, lynx and buffalo.
Buffalo grazing on the National Mall! Can you imagine?