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West Virginia, West Virginia
July 26, 2010
From journal Smithsonian 101
July 31, 2004
It might seem odd that a company dedicated to exterminating insects does so much to help us understand them, but as the displays point out, the overwhelming majority of insects are innocuous or even beneficial. By viewing diverse habitats and live exhibits, visitors get a sense of the astonishing diversity of insect life. If some estimates are true, then there may be as many as 29 million undiscovered species of insects. They’re the most dominant life-forms on Earth, yet we know comparatively little about them. This is what excites me about insects: they represent the unknown and yet they’re omnipresent.
The Insect Zoo provides an opportunity to watch Smithsonian entomologists at work in a large glassed-in area where they raise and study insects. They’re hard at work behind the partition, but they periodically bring insects out to ‘interact’ with the public.
On one visit, a grandmotherly-looking woman was passing around Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Although cockroaches inspire only disgust in most people, soon she had a gaggle of fascinated kids (and a few stalwart adults) clustered around her taking turns gently holding the sleek 4-inch-long insects. When my turn came, I was surprised to feel how warm the cockroach was. I’d expected it to be cold and clammy.
"It’s warmer than me!" I exclaimed.
On another visit, silkworms and their cocoons were on display. I picked up a cocoon, marveling at its soft density. I learned a lot about silkworms that day talking with the curator with his box full of fat, mulberry-leaf-munching silkworms.
My personal favorites, though, are the jewel-like beetles. Though not alive, they are among the most vibrant things in the exhibit, with shimmering iridescent colors matched only by ‘blue morpho’ butterflies. Coleoptera (beetles) are by far my favorite order of insects.
The Insect Zoo can be crowded, especially in the afternoon, so come early or be resigned to moving at stroller gridlock pace. I always round out my visit with a look at ancient arthropods downstairs in the fossil displays -- reminders that while humans have been around some 100,000 years, insects, in their myriad forms, have existed for over 350,000,000 years.
Insider Tip: If looking at all the creepy-crawlies hasn’t made you lose your appetite, the Fossil Café, located behind the dinosaur and ancient sea life exhibits, is a relatively quiet corner of the museum. There you’ll find toothsome desserts as well as a range of snacks, coffees, teas, and juices.
From journal Entomological Excursions
July 29, 2002
Tucked off in a small corner of the immense Smithsonian National Museum of American History is a quiet, dimly lit room. Few of the thousands of visitors streaming through the museum daily pause to consider the exhibit within, "An Odyssey in Print: Adventures in the Smithsonian Library." Most are too intent in their search for Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves or Dorothy's ruby slippers to give the small exhibit a second glance. Alas, they're missing perhaps their sole opportunity to glimpse what lies at heart of this vast institution: the Smithsonian's twenty-two research libraries.
The Smithsonian is sometimes fondly referred to as "America's Attic," with over 142 million objects in its collection. While only (only?) 1.5 million of these objects are books, the libraries' holdings are equalled in their breadth and depth by their historical importance. The collections are particularly well-developed in the traditional strengths of the Smithsonian: natural history, the history of science and technology, anthropology, art, and decorative arts. Nothing is added to the collection without carefully considering its merits.
While physical access to the various Smithsonian libraries is restricted to museum staff and pre-approved researchers, a great deal of the collection is available through an ambitious online library. Still, the uncredentialed bibliophile longs to cast eyes on the real books, not content with those pale imitations rendered in pixels. Happily, the Smithsonian showcases some of the libraries' gems, displaying them in rotation in a small exhibit space just outside the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology.
The "Odyssey in Print" exhibit takes as its theme the journey all scientists, inventors, and artists undertake as they embark on personal odysseys of discovery. Arrayed throughout the room are glass cases containing books, manuscripts, and ephemera divided into three broad themes: Journeys over Land and Sea, Journeys of the Mind, and Journeys of the Imagination. Felicitous juxtapositions abound in the display. A spaceman aiming a ray-gun at insect-like space aliens in a Buck Rogers in the 25th Century pop-up book from the 1930's lies beside a copy of First on the Moon signed by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. Pasteur's microsope and a first edition of Darwin's On the Origin of the Species keep company. Ptolemy, the Wright Brothers, Jules Verne, Linnaeus, Kepler, Newton, Goddard, Lindhberg… whispers from such illustrious mental voyagers seem to float through the room, as if escaping their glass sarcophagi to mingle in a gentle susurration of thought.
The "Odyssey" exhibit runs through December 2003 and consists of a rotating "three-part expedition." The items currently on display illustrate how the world has been imagined and perceived as Europeans and Americans pushed the boundaries of what is imagined into the realm of what is known, producing books that shook the foundations of science and launched humankind on trajectories of wonder.
From journal Paper Chase
heber ctity, Utah
July 11, 2007
I found the Museum of Natural History to be the best of the Smithsonian Museums. Enter from the Mall into the Rotunda, where one of the largest known elephants is on display. The top sights include Dinosaur Hall; the Hope Diamond (the world’s largest diamond) and other spectacular jewels; the world’s first living coral reef in an aquarium, and, what with global warming killing all the coral in Nature, soon to be the only place to see a coral reef; and the Blue Whale (in the room behind the coral reef display), a life sized model of the largest animal ever. Dinosaur Hall has a monster Brontosaurus, but you will be amazed by the size of the Blue Whale in comparison.Arrive at the Hope Diamond by the Hall of Minerals, as interesting collection of minerals of the world, and leave by the other entrance to the room where the jewels are to see the world’s largest intact meteorite. The museum also has a number of dioramas depicting scenes of wildlife from around the world. These are pretty good. The collection of stuffed birds is a mind boggling display of the variety of nature– who knew there so many birds? The mounted display of Butterflies is remarkable, especially the ones with psychedelic wings. There are several galleries of native New World culture– dioramas, totem poles, Aztec calendars, Indian handicrafts, etc. Parents can dump, er, leave their kids at the insect petting zoo while they explore the museum, but the zoo is worth a quick look for everyone. Opposite the Rotunda entrance is a flight of stair and an escalator going down to the Constitution Ave. Entrance. At the bottom of the stairs is an impressive stuffed Tiger mounted in a leaping position. The lower level entrance lobby features rotating displays that are almost always of interest. The best display the Smithsonian ever had was a large room in the Natural History Museum called "Splendors of Nature". After decades on display, they replaced it, the biggest mistake the Federal government ever made. A small part of "Splendors of Nature" remains on display in this lobby.
The Smithsonian Members’ Dining Room is also on this floor. If you subscribe to the Smithsonian Magazine, you are a member. Bring your membership card(or the address label from a copy of The Smithsonian Magazine) for admission to the Member’s Dining room for lunch(from the Constitution Ave. entrance, bear right past the escalator to the Auditorium lobby, and right again the Dining Room). This is some of the best food available on the Mall, and the only buffet all-you-can-eat lunch. It is especially crowded on Sundays. It’s not immediately apparent, but there are two identical serving lines on the long counter, one starting at each end and meeting in the middle.
From journal Insider's Washington, D.C.
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
October 8, 2006
From journal Washington -- Smithsonian
by scorn mediocrity
Houghton, New York
July 15, 2005
Of course, I visited the Hope Diamond, although I didn't try and push through the huge crowd to see it up close, but there's not a whole lot to study about a big blue rock. I went to see the dinos and the other big exhibits, but it felt to me that the majority of the museum was simply filler for a few popular items. Of course, there was quite a bit of construction going on, but most of the galleries were open. I guess everything really does seem a lot bigger when you're a kid. Perhaps I had simply visited too many other natural history museums with other approaches. At least I can say that I learned the average height of an Egyptian woman in 500 BC.
From journal Day Trip to D.C.
Charlotte, North Carolina
January 13, 2005
One of the first things you will see, in the center of the rotunda, is a very HUGE African elephant, displayed much like you would find in the wild. There you will find various presentations on elephants in the wild.
One of the most popular exhibits with both big and little kids is the dinosaur exhibit, also known as the Kenneth K. Berhring Family Hall of Mammals. This 25,000-square-foot exhibit displays over 274 mammals. You never get too big to be amazed by the bones of these once-magnificent creatures. Give yourselves plenty of time here; this exhibit takes up two floors, so there is plenty to see. And since it is one of the most popular exhibits, there are plenty of people to get in your way! You can take pictures, but for those who don’t want visitors in their pictures--it ain’t likely to happen!
Many people also head up to the second floor to see the geology, gems, and minerals room. When I was here, they had a diamond exhibit going on. You can even look into a crystal ball! Most visitors, though, come for one thing--the reported cursed hope diamond. This 45.52-carat diamond draws its share of "oohs" and "aahs". Quite frankly, I thought the thing was so huge, it looked fake and gaudy. But I myself am not much on diamonds (and you can bet my husband is very glad of that fact!).
There is also a beautiful display of our Native American cultures, complete with some very beautiful and intricately carved totem poles. My husband is part Native American, so this was his favorite. It was also a thrill for a little boy who was at the exhibit at the time to see "a real Indian"!
There are also exhibits on birds, meteorites, and Asian cultures. The little tykes will enjoy the insect zoo. There is also an IMAX theater on-site. If you want to see an IMAX film, make sure to pick your tickets up first (there is a charge for IMAX films) and then plan your visit around it. And finally, if you get hungry on your visit, make sure to stop on the lower level at one of the two restaurants for a quick bite.
From journal Summer fun in D.C.
, Virginia, Turkey
March 31, 2004
We started our tour at the newly opened Kenneth E. Benning Family Hall of Mammals. This exhibit was very cool as there were many different species on exhibit (most of them were stuffed, but that is another topic). My favorites were the cats as I am a cat lover. A leopard that carried an impala to a tree to eat, a tiger at attacking position, a mountain lion standing up on its two feets to catch prey... There was a short film on mammals and how the mammals evolved and how we benefited from the extinction of the dinosaurs.
After the Hall of Mammals we went to the second floor and visited the exhibit on South America. This exhibit was not as crowded as the other exhibits and the artifacts were interesting and the setting informed us of what were some of the important civilizations in South America, and how the indigenous people live.
Next to this exhibit was the exhibit on Geology, Gems, and Minerals. This was one of my favorite exhibits. All the colorful mineral, crystals and gems took me to a fairy land. I would never have guessed that there were so many brilliantly colored minerals in this planet of ours. There were even metals from space (samples from moon and the meteorites). Although there were lots of information on meteorites, all that information was over my head. I simply admired the different geometric shapes they all had when cut in the middle.
And finally we saw the Hope Diamond. Now I am changing the name of Hope Diamond to the "Diamond of Abdulhamit the Second," one of the last emperors of the Ottoman Empire as he had this diamond on his belt. In 1911 it was sold in auction. I was jealous that this big, blue perfect diamond did not belong to the Topkapi Museum. It would look so nice next to the Kasikci Diamond. Well, I guess we can't always have what we want.
We ended our visit at the Ancient Seas, which hosted giant fossilized squids, and the Dinosaurs. My husband was especially interested in the T-Rex and other dinosaurs. As I wasn't raised with the names of the dinosaurs seeing the fossils of this giant animals did not thrill me as a 4 year old who could count all 40 names for them. The IMAX film on T-Rex informed me a little bit...but I guess I am too old...I've already forgotten the names.
The IMAX film is titled "T-REX: Back to the Cretaceous" and it is in 3D (3 dimension). I guess I don't have to tell you that my husband loved the film...
From journal Spring in Washington DC
June 14, 2002
Wrong. The newly-renovated display in the Rotunda gives credit to another. I felt saddened by my disillusionment.
However, there are numerous birds and mammals bagged by Roosevelt in the Smithsonian, which houses the world’s largest collection of mammals and the third-largest ornithological collection.
Back in his boyhood, T.R. had his own small natural history museum, with birds and animals he skinned and prepared himself after learning taxidermy from the man who once worked for Audubon. Young Roosevelt was above all things an enthusiastic naturalist; at one point he contemplated going into some branch of the natural sciences. Of course, he took quite a different path, but the boyish naturalist was never far below the veneer of the politician.
In 1909, having seen his designated successor, Taft, follow him as president, Roosevelt set out on a collecting trip in East Africa sponsored by the Smithsonian. He and his son Kermit between them shot 512 specimens, most of which went to the Smithsonian.
The truth of the matter, however, is that Roosevelt was not the best of shots. Myopic from birth, he later concealed the fact that he’d lost sight completely in his left eye during a boxing accident at the White House. But he was an undisputed authority on big game, and he more than compensated for his poor vision by his courage and cunning as a hunter. His tales of hunting grizzlies out west and stalking lions in Africa make thrilling reading.
Unfortunately, on my most recent trip to the Smithsonian, the Mammal Hall had been closed for much-needed renovation, so I was foiled in my search for possible Roosevelt specimens. I made do by visiting the African ethnographic exhibit, the Orkin Bug Museum (a personal favorite), and a stroll through the revamped Gem and Mineral Hall, all the while recalling that Roosevelt had been a pan-enthusiast: bugs, minerals, fossils, you name it – if it had to do with natural phenomena, he collected it.
Roosevelt once wrote, "Life is a great adventure…accept it in such spirit." It was his willingness to accept one last great adventure that proved his undoing, however. In 1913, he joined an expedition to Brazil, on a 900-mile journey through the jungle and up the uncharted "River of Doubt" (later renamed Rio Roosevelt in his honor). He nearly died en route. His health shattered, he suffered recurring bouts of malaria until his premature death six years later.
His family and friends had pleaded with him not to go. He had to, he replied. "It is my last chance to be a boy again."
That quality of being a boy never left him. "The thing you have to remember about the President," said his good friend Cecil Spring Rice, "is that he’s about six."
And yet surely, in a way, that was a compliment.
From journal Big Game Hunting in Washington, D.C.
December 15, 2001
Covering 16 acres with 300,000 square feet of exhibition space, this is one of the most inclusive museums anywhere. Considering its scale, you could never see -- let alone comprehend -- it all. Like the other museums of the Smithsonian
Institution, this one also requires a plan of attack. Choose what you want to see and head for it immediately. Only after you've seen your own particular choices should you allow yourself to be distracted by its many other
Visiting the Museum
Starting from the rotunda, which you can't miss considering the gigantic African elephant at its center, you can easily find your way to the exhibition halls. You have the bewildering choice of the following:
Ground (1st) Floor
Marine Eco-systems - with a life-size model of a blue whale and a living coral reef
Cultural Regions Exhibits - includes Native Cultures of the Americans and Asian & Pacific Cultures
Ice Age Mammals - see fossilized mammoth skeletons or example
Dinosaurs - watch out for the suspended pterosaur with its 40 foot wingspan
Mining Gallery - a preplicated mine shaft with exposed veins of minerals
Plate tectonics - excellent!
Moon, meteorites and solar system
The Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals
Perhaps the single most spectacular exhibit in the entire museum, the astonishing collection of gems within the Hall of Minerals would be an admirable crown jewel collection if the country were an empire or a kingdom. Many of the high points of the exhibit, which by the way were donated to the museum by Janet Annenberg Hooper, are as follows:
The Hope Diamond
This is the showpiece of the collection. This flawless 45.5 carat stone, the largest blue diamond in the world, is surrounded by a ring of round brilliant-cut white stones on a diamond studded chain. This stone has a checkered history and has been considered cursed for centuries. It was given to the Smithsonian by New York jeweler, Harry Winston, in the 1960s.
The Star of Asia Sapphire
Found in Sri Lanka, this flawless sapphire weighs a phenomenal 330 carats.
The Hooker Emerald
This spectacular stone weighs in at 75 carats and is set in a brooch containing 138 diamonds.
These photos were hand-held with an Olympus D-460Z digital, which is remarkable in low-light. No filtration or flash but
some mild color temperature adjustment and cropping in Photoshop 6.0.
From journal Washington, D.C., an American Anomaly