Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Smithsonian Institute

Summertime means travel time. I've been lucky when it comes to travel. I've seen many of the world's landmarks up close and personal. Places like the Eiffel Tower, The Acropolis, Vatican City, Ayres Rock, Franz Josep Glacier, Norte Dame and Big Ben. For the next few postings I want to share some lesson plans I use for my students as I present some of America's outstanding landmarks and places of interest. So get your luggage packed and gas-up your mental car because we're off. Let's go to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D. C.:

The Smithsonian Institution was founded by a bequest to the U.S. by the British scientist James Smithson (1765–1829), who had never visited the United States himself. In Smithson's will, he stated that should his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, die without heirs, the Smithson estate would go to the government of the United States for creating an "Establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men".

After the nephew died without heirs in 1835, President Andrew Jackson told Congress of the bequest, which amounted to $500,000 (which would be $9,235,277 today after inflation). Eight years later, Congress passed an act establishing the Smithsonian Institute, a hybird public and private partnership, and it was signed into law on August 10, 1846 by President James Polk.

The building that houses the Institute on the National Mall in Washington D.C. has been nicknamed "The Castle". It was built by architect James Renwick Jr. and finished in 1855. The Institute includes 19 museums, a zoo, and eight research centers in New York City, Virginia, Panama, and elsewhere. It has over 142 million items in its collections.

Though the Smithsonian's first secretary, Joseph Henry, wanted the Institution to be a center for scientific research, before long it became a home for various Washington and U.S. government collections.

The voyage of the U.S. Navy circumnavigated the globe between 1838 and 1842 and the explorations gathered thousands of animal specimens, an herbarium of 50,000 examples, shells and minerals, tropical birds, jars of seawater and ethnographic specimens from the South Pacific. These specimens and artifacts became part of the Smithsonian collections, as did those collected by the military and civilian surveys in the American West, such as the Mexican Boundary Survey and Pacific Railroad Surveys, which assembled many Native American artifacts as well as natural history specimens. The National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian National Zoological Park are all part of the Institute. Find out more about this American institution at:

Research info gathered at:

Now here's one of my poems full of museum ghosts:

Harry Houdini On Holiday

In the poem version about the untied military boots
war breaks out in a virtual car chase allowing
vandals a bumper-sticker of green lights for miles
before the night is lit-up by artillery fire.
Two sacred mounds of prickly hats are blindfolded
then forced to stand before the hangman's noose
where scat looks like a lavish Hollywood movie where
identity theft grows up to be urban blight's stage prop.
The blindfolds don't care. Neither does bird flu. It brings
a twig to the empty c-cup then brides porcupine quills
to boycott any notice of amnesty, so long as those little
metal weighs are still sown in buttons of window drapes.

Poem first published at:
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Poem copyright 2008 by Maurice Oliver. All Rights Reserved.


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