The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Archive: 2010 - Page 3
Alright, I admit it. I often write about the Walcott family and why not? They are the best documented family of a Smithsonian Secretary in our collection—there are family letters to and from his children (Charles Doolittle, Jr., Sidney Stevens, Helen Breese, and Benjamin Stuart), formal and informal family photographs and, best of all, small, red leather-bound diaries kept Charles D. Walcott (fourth Secretary of the Smithsonian) that document his daily life as a scientist, administrator, father, and husband.
Pat Breen, a beloved volunteer with the Archives, brought these diaries and many other treasures to my attention years ago when she was helping to rehouse and preserve Walcott’s papers (read more about them here: Record Unit 7004). When she got to the diaries, she scanned through them to see what was entered on important dates—when he married, when his children were born, and on special holidays.
Entries on Christmas Eves, for example, suggest that the Walcotts decorated their tree, hung stockings, and set out packages the night before Christmas and not sooner. And then on the 25th….
Sun., Dec. 25, 1892 Christmas at 7 a.m. Helena (wife), Chas.Jr., Sidney—Mother and Josie (sister) all met in the sitting room and opened the Christmas pkgs.
Christmas 1894 A happy day at home with our children. At dinner—Mother Walcott, Josie, Helena, Chas. Jr. 5 yr 7 mos, Sidney 2 yr 2 mos, Helen Breese 4 mos 5 days. All happy and well.
Wed., Dec. 25, 1895 A happy Christmas Day. The Children enjoyed the tree & gifts. At 2 p.m. we dined. Mother, sister Josie, Charles, Sidney and Helen all well. Took a walk with Helena 4 to 5 & spent the evening quietly at home.
Christmas 1898 Stockings at 6 a.m., Tree 9 a.m., Church 11 a.m., Dinner 2 p.m. Telegram notifying us of the death of Helena’s father. She left with Mrs. Stevens at 7:20 for “Scaradoa” (illegible). Returned home from R.R. station tired and sleepy.
And this entry answers the question posed by the above photo of the family on Christmas Day, “where’s Charlie?” It is annotated on the back as “1907 or 1908?”:
Christmas 1907 Wish Charlie was here instead of Chicago. Stockings at 7:30 a.m. Christmas tree 10 a.m. Breese and Ethel Stevens & Ella came in… With Stuart called on several friends at eggnog party of Judge Maury.
Interestingly, after reading many entries a trend emerged indicating that as the children grew older the time for stockings and packages got later. One, and only one, entry records, “Boys up at 5” Later ones mark 7:30 and 9. Sound familiar?
Thank you, Pat Breen for telling me about the diaries. I had a jolly time reading them.
You have probably heard of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen. Even Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen. And I know you have heard of Rudolph. But do you recall the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s most famous reindeers of all? “Operation Reindeer” was the most publicized event of 1958. Fourteen reindeer and one caribou made their way, sans the open sleigh, to Washington, D.C., for the National “Pageant of Peace” and then to the National Zoo. You bet your jingle bells “Operation Reindeer” took planning and precision. Santa’s friends were a gift from Alaska in anticipation of their admittance to the United States as its 49th State on January 3, 1959. The Greater Washington Board of Trade jumped at the opportunity to provide Santa with his favorite traveling companions for the National “Pageant of Peace” parade. Since the reindeer were not flying much those days, transporting them to D.C. posed a large problem. However, the Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, and several transportation companies joined forces to make sure the plan would get off the ground. In November of 1958, J. Lear Grimmer, Associate Director, and Charles Thomas, Senior Keeper, of the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park embarked on a trip to Kotzebue, Alaska, on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Once in Kotzebue, Grimmer and Thomas walked into a winter wonderland known as the tundra where temperatures can reach 50 below zero in the winter. With the help of the local Inuit community, despite tough conditions, they trapped a lively herd. Grimmer and Thomas did not always win the reindeer games and quickly learned reindeer are a frisky breed—enroute one reindeer kicked the door open of the plane, 2,000 feet above Alaska. It took Grimmer and Thomas all of their might to get the door shut again. Grimmer later said that, “reindeer hate everybody and each other (I guess that is why they laughed and called Rudolph names). Given a chance they will impale you on their antlers like martini olives on a toothpick.” The caravan flew 650 miles to Anchorage, Alaska, on an Alaska Air Command plane. The trek then continued via Alaska Railroad to Seward, Alaska, where they met up with the Alaska Steamship Company’s Iliamna. The group then sailed 1,400 miles to Seattle, Washington. Finally, under the watchful eye of Thomas and Grimmer, the animals were loaded onto a specially equipped, 40-foot aluminum livestock trailer from Consolidated Freightways. The overland journey began on December 5th. The group went dashing through the snow for 3,100 miles. Two teams of two veteran Consolidated Freightways drivers split the journey in half. The first team, who drove the Seattle to Billings run, included Allen C. Lund and Douglas McCall. Once in Billings, the team of Norman B. Haglund and Allen C. Sagerhorn took the reins and finished the run to Washington, D.C. To make the trip a little more merry and bright, each animal was settled into the truck in its own plywood, custom-made, stall where they could sit or stand. Since their normal plant of choice, lichen moss, was hard to come by in D.C., Thomas gradually integrated alfalfa hay into their feed. Along the way the herd made several stops including a trip to at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, where the animals enjoyed a rest and television appearance. On December 11th, D.C. residents may have heard bells in the snow as the animals safely arrived, with no incidents of running over grandma. After Zoo staff gave the animals a clean bill of health, eight reindeer took up temporary residence on the National Mall, where they entertained visitors for the holiday season. On December 23rd, the herd of eight led Santa’s sleigh in the “Pageant of Peace” parade, and were on hand to watch President Eisenhower light the National Tree. On New Year’s Day the eight reindeer reunited with their pals and took up permanent residence at the National Zoo. The reindeer did so well at the Zoo that within the year, the herd had seven new reindeer calves.