Posted tagged ‘Smithsonian Institution’

Two Early Photographs Showing Aftermath of 1865 Smithsonian Fire

April 11, 2014

I decided to end the week with something on the lighter side. Here are two carte de visite photographs that date to  shortly after March 7, 1865, and which show the aftermath of the fire that ravaged the Smithsonian Castle. The photographer for both photos was George D. Wakely.

According to the Smithsonian Institution Archives, on the afternoon of January 24, 1865, “a large fire erupted in the Smithsonian Institution Building … destroying multiple sections of the building and their collections.” The Smithsonian’s first Secretary, Joseph Henry “had chosen to keep costs down during the Castle’s initial construction from 1847–1855 by only fire-proofing some areas.” But to reduce the risk of fire he enforced some precautions to prevent them: “he prohibited smoking and the carrying of exposed flames, maintained a night watch, and stationed buckets of water around the building. Despite these safeguards, a fire started between the ceiling and roof of the main hall when workmen in the second floor Picture Gallery accidentally inserted a stove pipe into the brick lining of the building instead of into a flue.” You can read Mary Henry’s (daughter of Joseph) account of the fire here.

Smithsonian 1865(The Smithsonian Castle after the January 1865 fire. View from the northwest. Notice missing roof. Photograph from authors collection.)

Below is a view of the castle after the fire from the southwest. It actually provides a better idea  of the extent of the damage.

Smithsonian 1865(Photograph from authors collection.)

An online exhibition of Stereoviews depicting the Smithsonian Castle, one of which is this view, again provides a great description of what is shown in this image. The view again shows that the “main building is roofless and portions of the temporary roof inserted above the window ledges are visible protruding from the window openings. The octagonal tower is windowless, as are the two north towers, the south tower, and the connecting section between the south tower and the main building. The upper third of the south tower is missing (it was pulled down immediately after the fire) and is covered by a temporary wooden roof. A pile of bricks and a temporary work shed are seen at the base of the south tower.”

Reconstruction of the a new, permanent roof began in the spring of 1867, this time built from fire-proof materials.


Photos from The Smithsonian’s Hall of Extinct Monsters (ca. 1915)

March 6, 2014
Triceratops skill. Photo ca. 1915, from author's collection.

Triceratops skill. Photo ca. 1915, from author’s collection.

I’ve long had an affinity for the National Museum of Natural History’s Dinosaur Hall. My love of the hall and its collection only deepened after I learned that the museum’s original “Dinosaur Hunter”, Charles Whitney Gilmore, lived here in Park View at 451 Park Road. Soon, on April 28th, the hall will be closing for a $48 million makeover that is long overdue. It won’t be completed until 2019, meaning the collections will be off view for the next five years.

So, in addition to giving folks the heads up to head down to the mall and view the Dinosaur Hall one last time before it closes for a while, I’m sharing the following photos taken ca. 1915 of the Hall of Extinct Monsters, taken a few short years after the National Museum of Natural History first opened the hall to the public on October 15, 1911.

Please note the photograph of the Triceratops skeleton which is particularly important to Gilmore’s story and his start at the museum. It was in 1903 Gilmore first received a contract to prepare one of the Marsh collection skulls of the horned dinosaur Triceratops for the museum and then was hired as a full-time preparatory in 1904. By 1905, with the help of  preparator Norman H. Boss (who had just arrived that year and previously had also worked at the Carnegie Museum), Gilmore had mounted the skeleton of the Triceratops, the first skeleton of this dinosaur ever mounted for display.

Enjoy the photos.

Triceratops(Triceratops skeleton mounted by Gilmore and Boss in 1905. Photo ca. 1915 from collection of the author.)

Mastodon(Photo of Mastodon. Photo ca. 1915 from collection of the author.)

Stegosaurus stenops(Stegosaurus stenops – Marsh 1887. The type specimen is exhibited as it was found in the field and has unfortunately gained the nickname of “the roadkill”. Until the 1990s, it was the most complete stegosaur ever found, and formed the basis of most of the reconstructions of this dinosaur. Photo ca. 1915 from collection of the author.)

Basilosaurus(Basilosaurus, now in the Sant Ocean Hall. Photo ca. 1915 from collection of author.)

Pareiasaurus baini(Pareiasaurus baini. Photo ca. 1915 from collection of the author.)

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