There’s a mini-Smithsonian in The Castle. It’s a good place to begin any exploration of the 154 million artifacts, specimens, and art works that are spread among the buildings in the National Mall and elsewhere. In a far back room is a fairly permanent display that’s representative of what visitors will see as they tromp through the Natural History Museum (don’t forget to see the narwhals), the American Indian Museum, and so on. The Castle beckons with, “…you’ll see a tantalizing sample of the breadth and depth of the Smithsonian’s vast collections.” This is true.
The Smithsonian was founded in 1846 with a gift. 18th century scientist James Smithson was an Englishman, but he left his fortune to the United States. He never travelled there, which makes his bountiful gift all the more intriguing. His will read, “I then bequeath the whole of my property to the United States of America under the name of the Smithsonian Institution…for the increase and diffusion of knowledge….”
The Castle was the first Smithsonian building. It was completed in 1855 but construction began the year after Smithson’s gift. Made of red sandstone, it also contains an information center and this institution’s administrative offices in addition to the fine mini-museum that contains a Murano bowl, a Wimbledon Trophy, etc. Below are Brian Boitano’s Olympic skates and a wooden African Baga figure. Such carvings were thought to protect a village and bring success should combat become necessary. All four and more are currently on display.
There are many Smithsonian affiliates now. On recent trips we visited a couple of them. We had never been to the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City across the street from Central Park on the East Side. I had been to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport before it was the Udvar-Hazy but Ruth hadn’t. It’s better than ever. I really appreciated seeing the reassembled Enola Gay, which had been disassembled and stored in a Smithsonian warehouse. When they put it back together, less than a dozen bolts could not be placed. That’s Smithsonian precision and expertise for you!