Sunday, January 12, 2014

Souvenir Nation: Relics, Keepsakes, and Curios

Where: Smithsonian Castle

When: through August 17, 2014

It's not very often that I get to see an exhibit at the Castle, as they have very little in the way of space, so it's always a treat to wander through.  Of course, it's frustrating as well, as there's so much of the building that's closed to visitors.  To increase my sense of being denied a treat, there were photographs of the views from the tower on display in the hallway you pass through to get to Schermer Hall.  Seems a bit mean to show us the lovely vistas, but not allow us to see them for ourselves.  Oh well, maybe one day...

But enough of what you can't see at the Castle - let's talk about what is on display.  This exhibit is small, but chock full of wild and weird things.  It's composed of stuff people have collected that are connected with events in American (or other countries') history.  Many of the items would be discarded as trash, except for the descriptions that accompany them.  The items were donated to the Smithsonian by those who collected them, and they're an interesting assortment.  They are part of the collection of the American History Museum, which made me wonder why this wasn't on display there?  Perhaps it's because of the renovations going on?  Perhaps they just didn't have a good space for this?  Whatever the reason, it's in the Castle.

There's a fragment of Plymouth Rock; apparently at one time, people were given hammers when they visited in order to pick off a piece for themselves.  Since 1880, it's been fenced off, so that most of it remains.  Souvenirs from other countries include Napoleon's napkin, a beam from Newgate Prison and a stone from Joan of Arc's dungeon.  Next to that is a fragment of the Washington Monument cornerstone, a model of the Statue of Liberty, a fence rail split by none other than Abraham Lincoln and, my personal favorite, a collection of locks of Presidential hair (Washington - Pierce) amassed by John Varden, who set up a museum in his own home.  Eventually, he worked for the Smithsonian.

Verdict: Where else will you see a collection of the hair of early U.S. Presidents?  Stop by for a look on your way to another show nearby.

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