Welcome Secretary Skorton!

Yesterday we here at the Smithsonian celebrated the installation of our thirteenth Secretary, David J. Skorton.  Festivities were lively as staff, volunteers, fellows, and interns gathered in the Arts & Industries Building to see members of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents, including U.S. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, induct the Smithsonian’s 13th Secretary, Dr. David Skorton, with the mace and key to the Castle.  

The ceremonial key received by Secretary Skorton.The key is one of the original keys to the Smithsonian Institution Building and is presented to the incoming Secretary as a symbol of knowledge and guardianship.  The Smithsonian mace was commissioned by Secretary Ripley in anticipation of the bicentennial of James Smithson’s birth.  Traditionally a symbol of authority, the Smithsonian mace symbolizes knowledge, freedom, and progress: a reminder of the Smithsonian’s role in research and education. 

Along with an academic procession, these symbols of office and authority gave the ceremony a serious tone that was balanced by a joyful performance by Wynton Marsalis and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.  Marsalis performed a musical interlude on a trumpet owned and used by Louis Armstrong. Engraved with Armstrong’s name, this trumpet was made for him in Paris in 1946 by Henri Selmer.  Adding to the moment, Secretary Skorton talked about the magic that the Smithsonian can inspire, made possible by a love of learning and sense of wonder. 

A collage of images from Secretary Skorton's installation.

These festivities were the result of many people’s hard work.  Here at the archives, we were called on for information about past installation ceremonies and Smithsonian traditions.  Event planners wanted to know about previous installation ceremonies.  We went through old photos and files from the Secretary’s Office to get an idea of what installation ceremonies looked like.

Burger Hands Adams Castle Key at Installation

Leonard Carmichael, our seventh Secretary, was the first to have a formal installation ceremony as he took office. He was also the first secretary to come from outside the Institution.  The tradition of the Chief Justice transferring the key to the Castle to the incoming Secretary began with the installation of the eight Secretary, S. Dillion Ripley. He had a public ceremony held in the Great Hall of the Castle where all Smithsonian employees were invited to come and celebrate his installation.  Though today’s ceremony will be held inside the Arts & Industries building, Secretaries Adams, Heyman, and Small held their installation ceremonies outside in front of the Statue of Joseph Henry and the Castle.  Details like these held in the Archives were critical for the Special Events staff planning yesterday’s event.

Outside Castle at Adams Installation

We also watched yesterday’s ceremony with interest, collecting information about it for our research files so that we are ready next time someone asks about installation ceremonies.  We are saving things like the invitation email that went out to staff, a copy of the program handed out at the ceremony, and any news articles that are written about it.  We took note of things like the order of ceremonies, who presided, and where the ceremony was held.  While the materials we collect won’t be accessioned into the collection, they will serve as reference materials we can use the next time we are asked about the installation of Smithsonian Secretaries.  


Related Resources

Office of the Secretary, Records 1964-1971 Record Unit 99, Smithsonian Institution Archvies

The Torch, November 1994, Accession No. 01-081Smithsonian Institution Archvies

The Torch, February 2000, Accession No. 05-298Smithsonian Institution Archvies

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