THE NATION’S AT­TIC

Our trea­sure hunt re­veals some of the Smith­so­nian’s coolest hid­den se­crets

The Washington Post Sunday - - KIDS POST - — Mar­garet Webb Pressler kid­spost@wash­post.com

Well-trav­eled suit­cases. Scraped-up ice skates. Old fam­ily pho­to­graphs. Boxes filled with Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions. These are the kinds of things that many fam­i­lies have tucked away in an at­tic. You also prob­a­bly know that some­times these se­cret stashes are fun to root around in to see what trea­sures you might find.

Well, it turns out, the Smith­so­nian has a se­cret stash, too — only it has more than a hun­dred mil­lion items in it!

The Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion, which was founded more than 150 years ago as an or­ga­ni­za­tion to ex­pand and spread knowl­edge, is of­ten called the nation’s at­tic. Its mu­se­ums and re­search cen­ters have been col­lect­ing, dis­play­ing, restor­ing, pro­tect­ing and study­ing items from all over the world for gen­er­a­tions.

The re­sult is that the Smith­so­nian’s col­lec­tion has bal­looned to 137 mil­lion ar­ti­facts, works of art and sci­en­tific spec­i­mens. No mat­ter how you

or­ga­nize it, that’s a lot of stuff!

The Smith­so­nian has so much stuff now, in fact, that less than 2 per­cent of its col­lec­tion is on dis­play at any given time. The rest of it usu­ally goes un­seen and un­known to the pub­lic, a shame, be­cause many of the things in the at­tic of the nation’s at­tic are just as cool as the things you’d find in any glass case.

Kid­sPost has cho­sen a few of these amaz­ing “se­cret” finds to high­light here. If you want to see more, ask your folks if you can go to www.news­desk. and click on “Smith­so­nian Snap­shot.” There, the Smith­so­nian posts each week the story of a fas­ci­nat­ing, his­toric or amaz­ing item. Most of these trea­sures are not on pub­lic view.

“It’s just those cool, un­told sto­ries that are in our col­lec­tion,” said Jes­sica Porter, who is one of the em­ploy­ees run­ning the project. “Peo­ple love the be­hind-the-scenes sto­ries.”

1 Hope Di­a­mond mail wrap­per,

post­marked Nov. 8, 1958: The Hope Di­a­mond, a 45-carat blue di­a­mond that is one of the world’s most fa­mous gems, is one of the Smith­so­nian’s most pop­u­lar items. But the valu­able gem wasn’t de­liv­ered to the mu­seum un­der guard; in­stead, when jew­eler Harry Win­ston do­nated it, he sent it in this en­ve­lope by reg­u­lar first-class mail. Win­ston paid $2.44 for postage, but he in­sured the di­a­mond for $1 mil­lion. That cost an ex­tra $142.85! The orig­i­nal en­ve­lope is not on dis­play, but a reproduction can be seen at the Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional PostalMu­seum.

2 “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein­deer” book, 1939: To­day, kids know the fa­mous Rudolph through the Christ­mas song and TV spe­cial. But the char­ac­ter was ac­tu­ally dreamed up by Robert L. May, who was an ad­ver­tis­ing writer for the now-closed depart­ment store chain Mont­gomeryWard. The Rudolph story was made as a col­or­ing book to give away to kids; 2.4 mil­lion copies were dis­trib­uted. May’s brother-in-law, the song­writer Johnny Marks, wrote the song that en­sured Rudolph would go down in his-to-ry.

3 Soap­man, 1800s: Have you ever heard of an ac­ci­den­tal mummy? Work­ers dig­ging the foun­da­tion for a train sta­tion in Philadel­phia in 1875, pos­si­bly on the site of an old ceme­tery, found this body, be­lieved to be from about 1800, oddly pre­served. It turned out that wa­ter and soil had seeped into the cas­ket. But the soil had spe­cial min­eral qual­i­ties that cre­ated a strange chem­i­cal re­ac­tion, turn­ing the fat in the body into soap. Don’t plan on us­ing soap­man to scrub your hands, though: The mummy is stored for re­search in the Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory’s dry en­vi­ron­ment room.

4 Snowflake study, 1890: It’s hard to take a per­fect pic­ture of a snowflake even to­day, but 120 years ago it was un­heard of un­til Wil­son A. Bent­ley did it. Bent­ley be­came the first per­son to pho­to­graph a sin­gle snowflake, by at­tach­ing a huge bel­lows cam­era (the old-fash­ioned kind that has an ac­cor­dion-like back) to a mi­cro­scope. In 1903, he sent his first 500 pic­tures to the Smith­so­nian, which now keeps them in its archives. Bent­ley’s 1931 book of snowflake pic­tures helped prove the the­ory that no two snowflakes are alike.

5 Inuit parka, around 1925: To stay warm in the harsh Arc­tic cli­mate, Inuit cul­tures have long used lay­ers of cloth­ing made from an­i­mal skins, topped with a warm parka of an­i­mal skin and fur. Moth­ers of new ba­bies also wore spe­cial in­ner parkas, called tu­il­lis, which had a pouch to hold the new­born on the mother’s back. This or­nate ver­sion, on dis­play at the Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian in New York, is dec­o­rated with al­most 160,000 col­or­ful glass beads, which be­came avail­able when the Inuit be­gan trad­ing with Euro­pean ex­plor­ers and set­tlers in the 1800s.

6 Wooden door knocker, late 1800s: Be­fore there were mail slots or mail­boxes, how was mail de­liv­ered? Let­ter car­ri­ers used to have to knock on ev­ery door and hand over the mail in per­son. But that was hard on the knuck­les, so they car­ried these handy knock­ers to pound on doors, pain-free. This well-worn item is on dis­play at the Na­tional Postal Mu­seum.

7 Fos­silized dung of the gi­ant ground sloth: You can see the skele­ton of the gi­ant ground sloth, which stood 20 feet tall and lived dur­ing the Pleis­tocene epoch, at the Smith­so­nian’s Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory. But you won’t be able to see the an­i­mal’s fos­silized poop; it is not on dis­play. It may be gross, but it’s im­por­tant: It was by study­ing these spec­i­mens that sci­en­tists de­ter­mined that the gi­ant sloth, with its foot-long claws, ate leaves, bark and twigs. And by the way, the sci­en­tific term for fos­silized dung is co­pro­lite.

LORENZO PETRANTONI FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

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PHO­TOS FROM 1: NA­TIONAL POSTAL MU­SEUM; 2: NA­TIONAL MU­SEUM OF AMER­I­CAN HIS­TORY 3: DAVE HUNT/SMITH­SO­NIAN IN­STI­TU­TION; 4: WIL­SON A. BENT­LEY/SMITH­SO­NIAN ARCHIVES; 5: WAL­TER LARRIMORE/NA­TIONAL MU­SEUM OF THE AMER­I­CAN IN­DIAN;

6: NA­TIONAL POSTAL MU­SEUM; 7: CHIP CLARK/SMITH­SO­NIAN IN­STI­TU­TION

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