The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Smithsonian History
Does the jovial fellow riding Ambika the elephant look familiar? It's Fred Rogers, leaving his neighborhood for a visit to the National Zoological Park in the spring of 1982. The host of the children's show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood met giraffes, tigers, and lions as well as pachyderms Ambika and Shanthi; Keepers Jim Jones and Barbara Bingham were featured guests.
Despite rainy conditions, everything went smoothly until the elephant ride. According to The Torch:
As soon as Mr. Rogers was perched atop Ambika's back, she decided she wanted a bath and lumbered eagerly towards the pool. While zoo keepers headed her off, "little" (4,000 pound) Shanthi's curiousity was piqued by the cameraman and his fascinating equipment. As she set off to investigate, our fleet-of-foot staffers quickly foiled a farcical finale.
The episode filmed at the zoo was titled Mr. Rogers Talks About Pets, broadcast on June 4, 1982. You can a find a synopsis at The Neighborhood Archive.
Shanthi and Ambika still live at the National Zoological Park, enjoying their new home, the Elephant Trails exhibit. Now Shanthi is up to 9,000 pounds!
- Record Unit 371 - Office of Public Affairs, The Torch, 1955-1960, 1965-1988, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Summertime in Washington, DC usually brings a few things to mind for me: the United States Department of Agriculture farmer's market, tourists, buses, Jazz in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. First started in 1967, this year's festival focuses on the following:
- Hungarian Heritage: Roots to Revival
- One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage
- The Will to Adorn: African American Diversity, Style, and Identity
Running from June 24-26 and July 3-7, the schedule of activities, programs, and performances is incredible. So if you'll be in Washington, DC during this time or live nearby, please come out to learn from and experience the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
I was visiting South Carolina recently, and passed through Beaufort. It turns out this beautiful southern town has a surprising connection to the Smithsonian.
In November 1861, when Union troops occupied Beaufort, one of the principal treasures of the town was its outstanding library - which had been incorporated in 1807 and encompassed several thousand books, many having been brought back from Europe by wealthy Carolinians. With the arrival of the troops, landed Beaufort-area residents had fled and the town was in the hands of those left behind: enslaved people from the Sea Islands plantations.
General Isaac Stevens, the Union commanding officer, ordered that the library, called "the pride of the town," be arranged for the use of the troops. Within a few months, however, a treasury agent appeared, demanding the books be confiscated as war booty. The books were sent to New York, where they were put up for auction.
This caused an immediate outcry. The New York Times editorialized against it; and a letter to the editor urged them to continue the fight (or as the writer wonderfully put it, "ventilate" the subject!). Within a day, Salmon Chase, Lincoln's Treasury Secretary, allegedly declared "the Union does not make war on books," and put a halt to the proceedings. The books were then deposited for safe keeping at the Smithsonian. They were to be returned at the conclusion of the war. (Salmon Chase became a Smithsonian Regent in 1864, after Lincoln successfully nominated him to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and he continued in that role until his death in 1873.)
Saved from auction, the books were placed in the fifth floor of the South Tower of the Smithsonian Building (the Castle - then the Smithsonian's only building). The war dragged on; in 1864, two years after the seizure of the books, newspapers reassured the South that the library remained safe and sound.
Tragically, on January 24, 1865, fire ripped through the Castle building. The Beaufort Library collection was completely destroyed, along with many other collections and papers - including almost all of the relics of the Smithsonian's founder, James Smithson, which were being kept a few floors below in the Regents Room.
Beaufort eventually received some token compensation for their loss. Today the Beaufort County Library is a thriving place. Happily, the book collection lost in the 1865 fire wasn't the last connection between Beaufort and the Smithsonian. The library hosted a Smithsonian traveling exhibition in early 2012.
- Smokin' Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
It is the season of 90 degree days, the Folklife Festival, ice cream trucks, and the sound of the Smithsonian carousel playing its fun house music in the distance. As someone who has to commute to and from work by bicycle through the legions of tourist buses, crowds of umbrellas, and FBI paraphernalia, I try to replace my slight annoyance in being delayed by remembering that many memories are being made right before my eyes. This Flickr Set brings that to life for me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
This post was written with the help of researcher Sakae Kuniyoshi, who teaches at Syrayuri College in Japan. Ms. Kuniyoshi first brought Mori’s relationship with Henry to our attention and provided us with valuable research for the post.
In 1868, the Meiji government came into power in Japan with promises to modernize Japan politically, socially, culturally, technologically, and educationally. One of its efforts to push modernization included the establishment of an international relationship with the United States. Thus, in 1871, at the young age of twenty-five, Mori Arinori (1847-1889) traveled to America as the first Charge d'Affaires from the Meiji government. His trip included a visit to the Smithsonian where he established a close relationship with Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry.
Born in Kagoshima, Japan, in 1847, Mori was the son of a samurai. As a boy, he studied at both the samurai clan school and at Kaiseijo, a western studies school. Later, the clan sent him, along with eleven other students, to Great Britain to study at the University College London. While studying English and western ideologies in London, Mori became acquainted with Laurence Oliphant, a member of parliament who spent time in Japan. Oliphant also belonged to Thomas Lake Harris' utopian religious community and convinced Mori and several of his fellow Japanese students to travel to America to study at Lake's spiritualist commune in Amenia, New York. The students abandoned their studies and traveled to America, where they stayed for about ten months. However, when Mori received news of the Meiji revolution, he returned to Japan to fulfill his obligations to his country. He wrote that he "should be exceedingly glad and fully satisfied if we could be worthy to become even the very smallest prey for the sake of the restoration of the kingdom." (Harris-Oliphant Papers, Butler Library, Columbia University)
Mori rose in the Meiji government, where his ideals of secular education, broader international relations, and religious freedoms were embraced by Meiji Enlightenment thinkers. When he traveled to the United States in 1872, he became the first Japanese diplomat in residence in the country and set out to learn about American institutions to help Japan develop a western-style educational system. While in America, Mori met with government officials, advocates, and businessmen. Traveling to San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Washington, DC, he quickly became engaged in influential circles around the country.
In DC, Mori met such noted figures as Charles Sumner and Dorothea Dix. Through these meetings, Mori met the first Smithsonian Secretary, Joseph Henry, and the two established a close relationship. Through their letters, the two discuss many issues that Mori hoped to work on for Japan. They discuss issues surrounding the implementation of a new educational system in Japan, as well as Mori's desire to promote English as a primary language in Japan. The most important topic the two discussed was the issue of the Japanese Shimonoseki Indemnity. The indemnity, paid by Japan in 1864 for damages done to an American steamer during the military engagements at Shimonoseki, was seen as inflated and unpopular by some Americans. Many believed a portion of the payment should be returned to Japan. Henry thought that the money the United States paid back to the Japanese government could be used to help Mori’s goal to establish an educational institution in Japan. He proposed this to Congress in an 1872 letter. However, the notion was set aside and the money was not repaid until 1883. Mori and Henry continued their relationship over the years, and Henry even proofread a chapter in one of Mori's publications.
In 1873, Mori left the United States and returned to Japan after visiting Europe. Fueled by his experiences abroad, Mori began establishing Japan's first commercial college, Shoho Koshujo (now known as Hitotsubashi University). He continued to serve the Meiji government as an ambassador, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, and eventually an official in the Education Ministry. With the Education Ministry, Mori helped enact changes to the Japanese educational system, including co-educational schooling. However, as with all change, Mori's ideologies were not always popular. Some thought his push for English language education was an attempt to undermine Japanese dialects. Others found his religious ideas to be an assault on Shintoism. Henry warned him about such change "No change of such magnitude as that in which you are engaged however, can ever be accomplished without the exercise of much sagacity, prudence and labor..." Sadly, in 1889, an ultranationalist stabbed Mori, because he felt Mori desecrated a Shrine when he allegedly did not take his shoes off upon entering. Mori succumbed to the stab wound a day after the incident. Although not all of his programs were popular, Mori's work helped usher in modernism to Japan and established lasting ties between that nation and the Smithsonian Institution.
- Record Unit 7001 - Joseph Henry Collection, 1808, 1825-1878, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7081 - William Jones Rhees Collection, circa 1878-1907, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 33 - Office of the Secretary Outgoing Correspondence, 1865-1891, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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