History Museum Gets Air and Space Digs During Closure
By Bravetta Hassell
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History closes next month for almost two years of renovations, but some of the museum's most beloved artifacts -- Dorothy's ruby slippers, Kermit the Frog, "Star Wars" droids -- will reappear in the fall.
Beginning Nov. 17, 150 objects from the shuttered museum will be part of the "Treasures of American History" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.
American History Museum Director Brent D. Glass said yesterday during an exhibition preview that the show will include recent acquisitions that have never been displayed before. The idea, he said, is to remind people that "the museum's work in collecting continues" during the renovation.
In addition to seeing Dorothy's sparkly slippers, "Wizard of Oz" fans will also get a chance to view the Scarecrow costume worn in the movie but rarely seen since. The original script from the 1939 film and the historic Technicolor camera that brought Dorothy out of two-tone Kansas and into full-color Oz will be there, too.
The exhibit will have four themes: creativity and innovation, American biography, national challenges and American identity.
Glass said that the national challenges section would include the Woolworth's lunch counter from Greensboro, N.C., where four black students staged the first sit-in during the civil rights movement, and the NBC microphone President Franklin D. Roosevelt used to deliver his "fireside chats" during the Great Depression and World War II.
The American History Museum, which attracts about 3 million visitors each year, owns about 3 million objects. "It was so difficult to choose," Glass said.
Recent acquisitions will be in a display case near the exhibition entrance. First up: artifacts from the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The acquisitions display will change every two months.
Elsewhere, visitors will see the red Everlast boxing gloves Muhammad Ali wore defending his title as world heavyweight champion in the 1970s, a yellowed page of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" score and "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," the bible Thomas Jefferson created in the early 19th century to reflect his deistic beliefs.
At yesterday's preview, conservator Beth Richwine, wearing white gloves, gingerly opened the cylindrical bodice of R2-D2, revealing that, yes, "there were people in here" during the filming of "Star Wars." C-3PO, also from the 1977 movie, will be in the exhibit, too.
Many things in the "Treasures" show haven't made an appearance in years, such as the silver-tipped baton John Philip Sousa used to lead the "President's Own" U.S. Marine Band.
"In my mind this is one of the unique opportunities we have had to bring together these iconic treasures in a way that has never been seen before," Glass said.
Officials announced in April that the history museum would undergo "major architectural transformations" ending sometime in summer 2008. In preparation for the work, which includes construction of a state-of-the-art gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner and enhancements to the building's interior, the museum will close its doors to the public on Sept. 5.
"Treasures of American History" will occupy 5,000 square feet on the east side of the Air and Space Museum's second floor.