The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Smithsonian History
My son and I recently spent a sick day watching "Sesame Street" reruns. One of the episodes was "National Try a New Food Day!" in which each segment involved one of the characters trying a new food or one prepared in a new way. This special day appears to be fictional, but I decided to use examples from the show to convince my toddler to try mashed potatoes (it didn't work).
The National Zoo Park restaurant used to have its own version of "Try a New Food Day" in the form of the Anteaters Association.
The Anteaters Association was an informal group established in 1944. A search of the press reveals many conflicting accounts of the origin of the group and its name. During an oral history interview (Record Unit 9513), Lucile Quarry Mann recalls that it was the result of a fireside chat between William M. Mann, Director of the National Zoological Park, and L. Gordon Leech, Manager of the independently-operated National Zoo Park Restaurant. It was autumn and Leech was concerned about business now that zoo attendance had dropped. The two men discussed serving special luncheons featuring wild game to bring diners to the restaurant during the colder months. Mrs. Mann recounts a story in which she told her husband and Leech, "Oh, you’re just a bunch of anteaters!" in response to the idea, thereby inspiring the group’s name (she also notes that she doesn't actually remember saying this, but both her husband and Leech insisted this is what happened). Listen to Lucile talk about the origins of the Anteaters Associations below.
. Lucile Quarry Mann discusses the origins of the Anteaters Association, Record Unit 9513, Interview 5 by Pamela Henson, Oral History Interviews with Lucile Quarry Mann, 1977, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
The Anteaters Association grew from an occasional luncheon to a multi-day event open to members and invited guests only. It became popular among Smithsonian and National Geographic administrators as well as local bankers, government officials, and anyone else who had the time for a leisurely weekday lunch. Featured meats ranged from the relatively tame pheasant to elephant steak, kangaroo, and whale blubber. Mrs. Mann noted that they had iguana tail once (the only edible part of the iguana), but it wasn’t very popular. "It looked all right on the plate, but anybody who’d seen it in the kitchen, I think, kind of lost their appetite."
Dick West, a United Press International columnist, was invited to a luncheon in November 1960. He says of the invitation, " . . . when I opened it my stomach began flip-flopping like a troupe of Russian gymnasts . . . I have followed its activities for yerrs [sic] with a fascination bordering on nausea." The luncheon featured barbecued elk tidbits and roasted buffalo. His research assistant, Dr. Zhivago, apparently ate the meal with relish, but West declared that he was now a vegetarian.
Raymond J. Crowley, an Associated Press columnist, also had some trepidation prior to attending his first Anteaters Association luncheon in November 1964. He purchased a cheese sandwich to take with him so that he wouldn't starve if he couldn't stomach the hippopotamus. Crowley, however, was more adventurous than West. He notes, "It looked like dark colored roast beef, rather tough. So your correspondent put his cheese sandwich back in his pocket and ate hippo. It tasted just the way it looked.”
Sometime in the mid 1960s, Leech was outbid on the zoo restaurant contract (it was put out to bid every 3 years) and he opened a restaurant called “The Explorer” in Rockville, Maryland. The Anteaters Association continued at the new location, but the restaurant was never a financial success.
- Throwback Thursday: Anteaters Open Season with Roast Elephant, DC Public Library
- Accession 01-157 – Marion P. McCrane Papers, 1962-1989, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 9513 – Oral History Interviews with Lucile Quarry Mann, 1977, Smithsonian Institution Archives
At the Archives there are very few three-dimensional objects in our collections. One that we do have is an architectural model of the Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History) dated July 12, 1956. It is labeled "Scheme D." Also included are two smaller models, that were probably used to show the massing of the building on the site.
- Accession 99-005 - National Museum of History and Technology, Architectural Records, 1946, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Since I will be going with my son and his class on a field trip to the National Zoological Park tomorrow, I can't help but be reminded of the animals that used to be at the Zoo that are no longer there for him to see.
The National Zoological Park was orginally conceived by its founder, William Temple Hornaday (Chief Taxidermist for the United States National Museum), as a place to house endangered species and conduct research. It was established by an act of Congress in 1889. In 1890, Congress passed another act which placed the zoo under the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian to administer the zoo and to receive and care for the animals "for the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people." The first animals at the zoo were some 185 animals under the care Hornaday, who became Curator of Living Animals for the United States National Museum. Today there are roughly 2,000 animals from 400 different species that reside at the National Zoo.
However, among the animals that once called the zoo home are:
What do you do when you're trapped in a legislative logjam? That was the dilemma that proponents of creating a Smithsonian faced in the spring of 1846. The United States had been notified by officials in England of James Smithson's unusual bequest in 1835. In 1836, the US Congress voted to pursue the bequest in the English Court of Chancery, and his estate was awarded to the US in 1838. But after that, momentum to create the Institution faded. President Martin Van Buren solicited ideas from educational leaders, but Congress was not in a terribly productive mode – indeed the first filibuster was held in 1841 from February 18 until March 11. Bills were introduced to create a Smithsonian as a national university, mechanics' institute, ladies seminary, teachers' training institute, botanic garden, astronomical observatory, national library, scientific research institute, and even a museum! Charlatans who were eager to get their hands on the $500,000 offered many other ideas. Former President John Quincy Adams, then a representative in Congress, focused on protecting "as from a rattlesnake's fang, the fund and its income, forever from being wasted and dilapidated in bounties to feed the hunger or fatten the leaden idleness of mountebank projectors and shallow worthless pretenders to science."
Sometimes it is good to have a fresh perspective, and in 1845, William Jervis Hough (1795 –1869) was elected to the US Congress to represent the 23rd district of New York. He served only one term in Congress, but forever altered the history of the United States through his interest in James Smithson's peculiar bequest. He reviewed the lack of progress thus far and offered an amendment to House Resolution 5, to found a Smithsonian Institution. To gain support for his amended bill, he put in a little something for the different advocates: a library, a museum, an observatory, and a scientific research laboratory. The only thing that was left out was the first idea – a national university. The bill futher stated that the trust organization created would be governed by a board of regents with both public officials and private citizens. All three branches of government – the executive, legislative and judiciary would be represented on the board. On August 10, 1846, the bill finally passed both houses of Congress with a vote of 85 to 76 and was signed into law by President James K. Polk the same day.
Hough served on the first Board of Regents, as did John Quincy Adams, ensuring that the fledgling institution got off to a good start. Hough also served on the building committee for the Smithsonian Castle. But his congressional career was short-lived. In 1846, the State of New York passed a new constitution setting aside all previous election results, and after the electoral melee of 1847, Hough returned to private law practice until his death in 1869. Hough's Smithsonian bill contained everything but the kitchen sink – a classic American political compromise – but it did the trick!
- Legal History of the Smithsonian, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- From Smithson to Smithsonian: The Birth of an Institution, online exhibition, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
- Record Unit 7061 - William Jervis Hough Papers, 1846-1847, 1896-1901, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Tomorrow, on Friday, May 16th, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) will celebrate its 50th anniversary with the opening of two exhibits; “Making a Modern Museum: Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the National Museum of American History” and “Continuity and Change: Fifty Years of Museum History.” “Making a Modern Museum: Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the National Museum of American History” will examine NMAH and its evolution since its inception in 1964. “Continuity and Change: Fifty Years of Museum History” will look at “the transformation of the museum from one of history and technology into a museum devoted to American history.”
To celebrate the launch of these new exhibits, here's a look back at a few of NMAH's exhibits from its opening until today.
- The History of the National Museum of American History
- Happy 50th Anniversary, NMAH!, Pam Henson, The Bigger Picture
- Record Unit 285 - National Museum of History and Technology, Office of the Director, Photographs, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives