December 5, 2013
The Smithsonian is here to get you into the swing of the holiday season by way of a free, two-day festival happening this weekend. Come out to the mall for two days of movies, music, book signings and (of course), shopping. For all gifts purchased at the Air and Space, American History and Natural History Museum stores, volunteers will be on hand to wrap your presents from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. And if you need help getting around, the Smithsonian Holiday Shuttle Bus will loop the National Mall every fifteen minutes from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM, stopping at the American History Museum, Smithsonian Castle, Air and Space Museum, American Indian Museum and Natural History Museum. Getting excited? Here’s the rundown of events.
Saturday, December 7
Air and Space Museum
9:30 AM-3:00 PM: Holiday Festival Family Activities for All Ages
Learn about comets and make a decorative comet ornament to take home. Learn how different cultures around the world told different stories about the same groups of stars, discover your Tibetan sun sign and then decorate your Greek sun sign. Design and create a paper Native American star quilt.
11:00 AM-2:00 PM: NASA Star Quilt Activity
Create a star-themed fabric quilt block to add to the block created by astronaut Karen Nyberg aboard the International Space Station. Nyberg has invited the public to create star-themed blocks to be combined into a community quilt for the 2014 International Quilt Festival. This event repeats on December 8 at the same time and venue.
11:00 AM-4:00 PM: Trunk Show: Alpha Industries
Alpha Industries has been making military garments for over 50 years. Come explore our assortment of Alpha flight jackets, including our most popular style, the MA-1, which has a bright orange lining used during rescue missions.
11:00 AM-5:00 PM: Trunk Show: Red Canoe
Red Canoe offers aviation inspired apparel and accessories perfect for the flight enthusiast. Meet Dax Wilkinson, Founder and President of Red Canoe, and shop their line featuring products inspired by Boeing, Cessna, Lockheed Martin and North American Aviation. This event repeats on December 8 at 10:00 AM at the same venue.
11:00 AM: US Air Force Band Holiday Concert: Max Impact
Come listen to Max Impact, the United States Air Force’s six-man rock band as they perform a lively holiday concert. This event repeats today at 12:00 PM, and 1:00 PM, and again on December 8 at 11:00 AM, 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM.
3:00 PM-5:00 PM: Book Signing: Margaret Weitekamp, David DeVorkin and Diane Kidd
Air and Space Museum curators Margaret Weitekamp and David DeVorkin teamed up with illustrator Dianne Kidd to create the children’t book Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery. Meet the authors and illustrator and have your copy of the book signed.
American History Museum
9:30 AM-5:00 PM: Jewelry Trunk Show: Anne Koplik Designs
Anne Koplik’s handmade, vintage-inspired jewelry has studded the fashion scene for the past 30 years and has been featured on television programs such as Dancing With the Stars and America’s Got Talent. A selection of her bangles and baubles will be available for purchase at the museum store. This event repeats on December 8 at the same time and venue.
10:00 AM-5:00 PM: $10 for 10 mins.: Smithsonian Tours by Segway
In the market for alternative modes of transportation? Try the Segway PT for 10 minutes for only $10. If you enjoyed your test run, save your receipt and get $10 off a Smithsonian Segway tour, where you can enjoy a scenic glide along the National Mall. Tickets are required: $10 for the 10-minute Segway experience. This event repeats on December 8 at the same time and venue.
11:00 AM-3:00 PM: The Polar Express 3D
A special, 12-minute 3D adaptation of the Chris Van Allsburg children’s book will be screened at the Warner Brothers Theater. Tickets are $5 and are on sale outside the Warner Brothers Theater. Multiple screenings will occur each hour between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM. This event repeats on December 8 at the same time and venue.
11:00 AM-1:00 PM: Book Signing: David Bruce Smith
Author David Bruce Smith signs copies of his books Three Miles from Providence, a work of historical fiction about a Mexican-American War veteran called to guard Abraham Lincoln, and American Hero, an illustrated biography of founding father and Chief Justice John Marshall.
11:00 AM-1:00 PM: Book Signing: Susan Castriota
Author Susan Castriota signs copies of her children’s book Wilson and the White House Pups, the story of an adopted poodle who travels back in time to meet the dogs who inhabited the White House.
11:00 AM-2:00 PM: U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants
The official chorus of the United States Air Force will fill Flag Hall with the sounds of the holidays. Each performance begins on the hour and lasts approximately 20 minutes.
1:00 PM-3:00 PM: Book Signing: Richard Kurin
The Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture Richard Kurin signs copies of his book The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects, which tells the story of the United States from the pre-Columbian era to the present, all in 101 objects from the Institution’s vast collections.
3:00 PM-5:00 PM: Book Signing: Ann Mah
Food and travel writer Ann Mah signs copies of her book Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris, in which she chronicles her gastronomic adventures in the City of Light.
3:00 PM-5:00 PM: Book Signing: Roland Mesnier
Chef Roland Mesnier, who served sweets to five presidents of the United States, signs copies of his culinary memoir A Sweet World of White House Desserts. You can also satisfy your sweet tooth with a slice of pie made from Brown’s recipes, for sale in the Stars & Stripes Café.
3:00 PM-5:00 PM: Book Signing: Warren Brown
Lawyer-turned-baker Warren Brown, founder of CakeLove bakery, will sign copies of his fourth book Pie Love: Inventive Recipes for Sweet and Savory Pies, Galettes, Pastry Cremes, Tarts, and Turnovers.
3:30 PM-5:00 PM: Puppet Demonstration and Book Signing: the Puppet Co.
Puppet Master Christopher Piper brings to life a Circus Bear, Cinderella’s bossy stepmother, and shows kids how to make a sassy hand puppet with a simple rubber ball. Afterward, Piper is joined by fellow Puppet Masters MayField Piper and Allan Stevens to sign copies of their book of the Puppet Co.’s The Nutcracker, illustrated with color photographs from the production, and celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the show. This event repeats today at 3:30 pm and 4:15 pm.
10:00 AM-4:00 PM: Trunk Show: Kyoto Kimono
Kyoto Kimono offers one-of-a-kind vintage Japanese garments straight from the temple markets and auction houses of Kyoto, Japan. Each vintage kimono is unique, offering its own expression of Japanese life and culture. Come shop our assortment, as well as special trunk show only items, and take home your own piece of wearable art. This event repeats on December 8 at the Natural History Museum.
1:00 PM-4:00 PM: Book Signing: Laura Kelley
Laura Kelley signs copies of her book The Silk Road Gourmet in which she chronicles the cuisine of 30 Asian countries in 1,000 recipes.
Natural History Museum
9:30 AM-5:00 PM: Jewelry Trunk Show: Meridian Jewelry & Design
Inspired by peoples and places from all over the world, designers Lynn and Brad Ölander draw on both old world aesthetics and modern streamlined forms in their collections of handmade jewelry
11:10 AM: Jerusalem 3D
Jerusalem 3D takes you on an inspiring and eye-opening tour of one of the worlds oldest and most enigmatic cities. Destroyed and rebuilt countless times over the past 5,000 years, Jerusalem’s enduring appeal remains a mystery. What made it so important to so many different cultures? How did it become the center of the world for three major religions? Why does it still matter to us? Tickets are required: $9 for adults; $8 for seniors; $7.50 for youth. Tickets may be purchased in advance online or at the Johnson IMAX Theater box office. This event repeats today at 1:50 PM and 3:20 PM and again on December 8 at the same times and venue.
1:00 PM-2:00 PM: Story Time: Dino Tracks with Rhonda Lucas Donald
Author Rhonda Lucas Donald and illustrator Cathy Morrison present their story, Dino Tracks. Come learn which dinosaurs made the tracks and what scientists think they were doing when they made them. American Sign Language interpretation will be provided.
2:00 PM-3:00 PM: Book Signing: Rhonda Lucas Donald
Author Rhonda Lucas Donald signs copies of her children’s books Dino Tracks and Deep in the Desert.
1:00 PM: Holiday Card Workshop
Come to the Postal Museum for this arts and crafts workshop where you can create your own personal, one-of-a-kind holiday greeting cards. Look to the museum’s collection of beautiful holiday stamps to inspire your creations.
11:00 AM-4:00 PM: Jewelry Trunk Show: Cynthia Gale
Cynthia Gale finds inspiration from the collections of American cultural institutions, such as the Kennedy Center and the New York Historical Society, to create her handmade works of sterling silver jewelry.
Sunday, December 8
Air and Space Museum
12:00 PM – 3:00 PM: Book Signing: Tami Lewis Brown
Author Tami Lewis Brown will sign copies of her children’s book Soar, Elinor!, the true story of Elinor Smith who earned her aviator’s license at the tender age of 16 and went on to be hailed as one of the best pilots in America.
American History Museum
11:00 AM-2:00 PM: U.S. Air Force Silver Wings
The premier country band of the United States Air Force will fill Flag Hall with music. Each performance begins on the hour and lasts approximately 20 minutes.
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM: Book Signing: Brian Jay Jones
Author Brian Jay Jones will sign copies of Jim Henson: The Biography, his account of the famous puppeteer and creator of the Muppets.
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Book Signing: John Fricke
Author John Fricke will sign copies of The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated History of the American Classic, his latest book on the beloved 1939 movie.
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Book Signing: Paula Fleming
Author Paula Fleming will sign copies of her book Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell, a book that reprints a series of 19th-century 3D postcards depicting supernatural scenes. Antique stereoscope viewers will be available near the book signing so you can experience first hand the original 3D entertainment.
4:00 PM – 4:30 PM: Walt Whitman High School Chamber Choir
The Walt Whitman High School of Bethesda, Maryland, Chamber Choir is the school’s most advanced choral group. The Chamber Choir has long been considered a flagship of excellence among high school choirs throughout the state of Maryland. The group performs a mix of a cappella pieces from a variety of choral styles, as well as holiday songs. Select jazz octets also perform lighter selections.
2:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Tranquil Tuesdays Tea Tasting Event
Meet Charlene Wang, founder of Tranquil Tuesdays, an online business that showcases China’s finest teas, and sample authentic Chinese tea in this tasting event.
April 17, 2013
On April 16, Smithsonian Institution Secretary G. Wayne Clough testified before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the impending effects of sequestration. Though the Obama administration had sought a $59 million budget increase for the Institution in fiscal 2014, this year Clough has to contend with a $41 million budget reduction due to sequestration. Gallery closings, fewer exhibitions, reduced educational offerings, loss of funding for research and cuts to the planning process of the under-construction National Museum of African American History and Culture were listed among the impacts of the sequestration.
Clough began his testimony: “Each year millions of our fellow citizens come to Washington to visit—for free—our great museums and galleries and the National Zoo, all of which are open every day of the year but one. Our visitors come with high aspirations to learn and be inspired by our exhibitions and programs.”
“It is my hope,” Clough told the committee, “that our spring visitors will not notice the impact of the sequestration.” Perhaps most noticeable would be the gallery closures, which, while they would not close entire museums, would restrict access to certain floors or spaces in the museums, unable to pay for sufficient security. Those changes would begin May 1, according to Clough.
Clough warned, however, that while these short-term measures will save in the near future, they might also entail long-term consequences. Unforeseen costs may arise in the form of diminished maintenance capabilities, for example. “Any delays in revitalization or construction projects will certainly result in higher future operating and repair costs,” Clough said.
This also threatens the Institution’s role as steward of thousands of historic and valuable artifacts–”Morse’s telegraph; Edison’s light bulb; the Salk vaccine; the 1865 telescope designed by Maria Mitchell, America’s first woman astronomer who discovered a comet; the Wright Flyer; Amelia Earhart’s plane; Louis Armstrong’s trumpet; the jacket of labor leader Cesar Chavez,” to name a few.
April 9, 2013
The red sandstone façade of the Smithsonian Castle makes it one of the most striking buildings in Washington, DC. The stone for the building was cut less than 30 miles away at the Seneca Quarry along the Potomac River in Maryland and shipped to the city in the 1850s when the building was first under construction. But the quarry’s story is a complicated one, involving death, floods, bankruptcy and presidential embarrassment. DC author and historian Garrett Peck recently set about telling its tales in his new book, The Smithsonian Castle and the Seneca Quarry, out now via The History Press. We chatted with Peck via e-mail about the Castle’s construction, the importance of preserving the stone’s history and the quarry’s “boom-bust ride” of fortune and ruin.
What makes Seneca redstone so special?
Seneca redstone is unique for its color and durability. It is a rusty red color, caused by iron oxide that leached into the sandstone (yes, it literally rusted the stone). The stone was easy to carve from the cliffs near Seneca Creek, Maryland, but it hardened over the course of a year, making it a durable building material. Thus you see Seneca redstone in hundreds of 19th-century buildings around Washington, especially around the basement levels. The stone was considered waterproof.
Why was Seneca redstone chosen for the Castle?
Fifteen quarries from across the Mid-Atlantic bid on the Smithsonian Castle project in 1846, and the Castle could have ended up any number of different colors: granite, marble, white or yellow sandstone—or redstone. The Seneca quarry owner, John P.C. Peter, underbid the competition by such a staggering amount that it drew the attention of the Castle’s Building Committee. It was almost too good to be true, so they dispatched architect James Renwick and geologist David Dale Owen to investigate. They returned with good news: there was more than enough stone to build the Castle. Renwick wrote the Building Committee: “The stone is of excellent quality, of even color, being of a warm gray, a lilac tint resembling that known as ashes of rose, and can, from all indications, be found in sufficient quantities to supply all the face work for the Institution.”
What was the Seneca Quarry like at the height of its production?
The Seneca quarry must have been a bustling and noisy place to work, what with the constant hammering away at the cliffside, the din of workers carving and polishing the stone, and the braying of mules who pulled the C&O Canal boats to Washington. We don’t know how much redstone was removed, but it was extensive: there were about a dozen quarries stretching along the one-mile stretch of the Potomac River west of Seneca Creek. The workforce included many immigrants from England, Ireland and Wales, as well as African Americans. Slaves most likely worked at the quarry before the Civil War—and freedmen certainly worked there until the quarry closed in 1901.
Your book says the quarry’s history was a “boom-bust ride.” What was some of the drama surrounding the quarry and the Castle’s construction?
The Seneca quarry had four different owners: the Peter family, who owned it from 1781 to 1866, then sold it after their fortunes declined because of the Civil War. Three different companies then owned the quarry until it closed—two of them going bankrupt. The Seneca Sandstone Company (1866-1876) was horribly managed financially. It was involved in a national scandal that embarrassed the Ulysses S. Grant presidency and helped bring down the Freedman’s Bank. The quarry’s last owner shut down operations in 1901 once it became clear that redstone was no longer in fashion. It had had a good five decade run while Victorian architecture reigned.
What is the Seneca quarry like today?
The Seneca quarry sits right along the C&O Canal about 20 miles upriver from Washington, DC in Montgomery County, Maryland. But it’s so overgrown with trees and brush that most people have no idea that it exists—even though hundreds of people bike or walk right past it everyday along the canal towpath. Luckily the land is entirely protected in parkland, so it can never be developed. I have a dream that we can create a visitor park in the quarry so people can explore its history year-round.
We so rarely ever make the connection between our building materials and the places where we live and work. Yet every brick, sheetrock, splotch of paint and wooden doorway came from somewhere, didn’t it? The Seneca quarry is one of those forgotten places—but fortunately it isn’t lost to us.
What is your personal connection to the story of Seneca Quarry?
I discovered the Seneca quarry while researching my previous book, The Potomac River: A History and Guide. It was the one major historical site that I found along the Potomac that no one knows about—there isn’t so much as a sign to indicate that it’s there. It is such a fascinating site, like discovering something lost from ancient Rome (even though it only closed in 1901). There has never been a book about the quarry’s history written before, and I also soon discovered that there were no quarry records. It was a story that I had to piece together by searching through archives. Happily I found a treasure trove of historic photos showing the Seneca quarry in action—many populated with the African American workers who worked there.
March 6, 2013
Looking for something to do today, while the snowy weather conditions persist? The Smithsonian museums will be open for business today. But the National Zoo will be closed Wednesday, March 6, 2013.
Plan your visit, using our convenient Tours app, a free download is available here.
January 16, 2013
The votes have been cast and counted, the campaign offices have been packed up. But things are just getting started in D.C. as the city prepares for a rush of excitement for Barack Obama’s second inauguration, January 21. More than a million people sought a spot near the Capitol to witness his first inauguration in 2009. For his second, Obama is sure to bring out the crowds again and all of D.C. is gearing up for inauguration day, from hotels to restaurants, including Ben’s Chili, which expects to serve 1,000 gallons of its famous chili the week of Obama’s swearing in, according to NBC.
You might not be running for office any time soon, but you can still win big this weekend with the help of our editors.
Conveniently situated around the Mall, the Smithsonian offers a wealth of presidential pomp and history to help get you up to speed for the big day, from Bill Clinton’s saxophone to Thomas Jefferson’s desk. Since this is the land of the free after all, we’ll be offering our custom inauguration-themed app for most smartphones for free with step-by-step tours to the best of the collections and exhibits. The tour includes stately highlights at the American History Museum, Natural History Museum, American Indian Museum, National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum. From the gowns of inaugural balls past to the hall of presidential portraits, the tour will get you geared up for the festivities.
On Jan. 21, all Smithsonian museums will operate on their normal schedules, with the following exceptions:
• The Renwick will be closed.
• The National Museum of the American Indian will be closed because of its proximity to the swearing-in ceremony.
• The Castle will open at 7:30 a.m.
• The Hirshhorn, the Ripley Center, the National Museum of African Art, and the Freer and Sackler Galleries will open at 8 a.m.
The museums on the south side of the National Mall will be accessible from Independence Avenue only. The museums on the north side of the National Mall will be accessible from both Madison Drive and Constitution Avenue.
More good news, the bathrooms will be available. And if you’re feeling peckish, you can get food at the Air and Space Museum (McDonald’s McCafe, Boston Market and Donato’s Pizza), Natural History Museum (Atrium Cafe, Cafe Natural and Fossil Cafe), American History (Stars and Stripes Cafe and Constitution Cafe) and the Smithsonian Castle’s Cafe and Coffee Bar.
For more information on the when, where and how to get there, view our inauguration at the Smithsonian page.
And if the inauguration tour leaves you curious about what else the Smithsonian has to offer, upgrade to our full visitors guide for just 99 cents. The app includes interactive postcards (starring you wearing the Hope Diamond or Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, or other fun items from the collections) as well as custom tours for history buffs, art lovers and even a three-hour tour for the brave of heart and swift of feet. One of our own former interns tried to conquer the tall task: