The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
A beard that measures 17 ½ ft. in length, if it does not contain wisdom, surely generates curiosity. Pictured above are J. Lawrence Angel (Curator of Physical Anthropology, 1962-1986,) T. Dale Stewart (Curator of Physical Anthropology, 1931-1997, Director of the National Museum of Natural History, 1962-1965), and Lucile St. Hoyme, who is “wearing” the beard of Hans Langseth. The beard, which was donated to the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in 1967 by Russell Langseth, continues to hold a world record for its extraordinary length and is available for viewing by appointment at the museum’s Department of Anthropology.
Naturally, the beard in this image immediately draws your attention. Thus, I had to learn more not only about it, but also about the playful looking woman with the cat glasses, Lucile St. Hoyme. Lucile St. Hoyme began her 40 year career at the Smithsonian in 1942 as a clerk and stenographer to Aleš Hrdlička, the first Curator of Physical Anthropology at the United States National Museum (now the National Museum of National History.) Ms. St. Hoyme, through her devoted work ethic and unquenchable appetite for knowledge, quickly became an asset to the Division of Physical Anthropology. She participated in her first Smithsonian archaeological dig in 1947-1948 near Valley City, ND as a student at George Washington University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Zoology in 1950, and a Master’s of Science in Biology degree in 1953. Ms. St. Hoyme was promoted to Museum Aid in 1955, and again in 1956 to Museum Anthropological Aid. In 1957, Lucile received a National Science Foundation research grant for study at Oxford University, where, in 1963, she was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology degree. Lucille returned to Washington in 1960 and resumed her responsibilities in the Department of Anthropology, which included becoming the department’s first radiographer. She was promoted again in 1961 to Museum Specialist and in 1963, with her PH. D. in hand, was elevated to Associate Curator of Physical Anthropology. Although she formally retired from the Smithsonian in 1982, she received emeritus status and continued her relationship with the Department of Anthropology as a scientific contributor until her passing in 2001. Anthropology may have been her chosen profession; however, education was her passion. Dr. St. Hoyme taught anthropology courses at American University and George Washington University, and was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and Howard University from 1964–2001. She also collaborated with J. Lawrence Angel, aka “Sherlock Bones,” on several forensic investigative cases for the FBI. I have only scratched the surface of the extensive career of this remarkable scientist. Lucille St. Hoyme participated in several archaeological expeditions and studies, and there are numerous publications which bear her name. I hope this brief account of her life has sparked your curiosity, and encourage you to consider a more detailed biography of St. Hoyme by David R. Hunt, Richard T. Koritzer, and Mary Lucas Powell available here.
Walking into the rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History one immediately comes face to face with the Fénykövi Elephant (also affectionately known as Henry). Taken at a glance, the African elephant is impressive and imposing, standing over guests to a tune of 13 feet and 2 inches when measured at the shoulder. The Fénykövi Elephant, along with the nearly 137 million objects that make up the Smithsonian’s collections, have a story of how they came to call the Smithsonian home. Their stories are contained in the archival and registrarial records that document the Smithsonian’s collections.
Record Unit 305 contains records which constitute the official documentation of the national collections and include correspondence with donors, specimen lists, and subsequent correspondence documenting the history of the collections. The accession folder for the Fénykövi Elephant contains detailed documentation of the elephant and how it made its way to the Smithsonian.
The elephant takes its name from Josef J. Fénykövi, a Hungarian-born engineer and big-game hunter. Fénykövi first discovered the tracks of the extraordinary elephant while hunting rhinoceros in Africa in 1954 in the largely unexplored Cuíto River region of southeastern Angola.
The following year he organized a special expedition and on November 13, 1955 tracked the elephant and shot it. The skin alone weighed more than two tons and required a truckload of salt to preserve it as it traveled by truck through hundreds of miles of wilderness to the nearest railroad at Silva Porta. When the skin finally arrived at the Smithsonian in 1956, Smithsonian taxidermists, William L. Brown and Norman N. Deaton, spent the next 16 months preparing the specimen for display, eventually using more than 11000 pounds of clay for the full scale model (see more information in Accession 00-082).
Although the massiveness of the Fénykövi Elephant seems to be its defining characteristic, Smithsonian Secretary Leonard Carmichael made it a point to keep a metal slug found in the muscle of the left leg of the elephant. He found that the slug was from a flintlock muzzle-loading gun of the sort used by slave traders in Africa in the late 19th century which placed the age of the elephant to be nearly 100 years old.
Huge and old or small and new, the Smithsonian cares for a plethora of objects, artworks, scientific specimens, and archival materials. The diversity that defines the Smithsonian’s collections is documented in the registrars’ offices of Smithsonian museums and in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution Archives. These records provide the context within which to understand the importance of a particular museum object and why it was selected to become part of the Smithsonian’s collections.
For more information about the National Museum of Natural History please visit their website. Additionally, the museum is celebrating its 100th Anniversary with the exhibition, "Celebrating 100 Years at the National Museum of Natural History", for more information click here.