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wonders never cease Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 11th, 2010Happy Birthday, Smithsonian!

Smithsonian Yesterday was the 164th birthday of the Smithsonian, one of the crown jewels of our fair city. President James Polk signed into law a bill establishing the Smithsonian Institution on August 10th, 1846, nearly a decade after President Andrew Jackson announced the unusual bequest from James Smithson. Despite the fact that Smithson had never set foot on American soil and didn't really even know any Americans, his will stipulated that his fortune should be assigned to the United States in the event that his sole heir, his nephew, died childless. Thankfully for us, he did, and the Smithsonian was born. Here are 10 songs to honor 10 of our favorite attractions in the world’s largest museum & research complex.

1. Smithsonian Institute Blues - Captain Beefheart
The Castle Building
The least visited of the larger museums on the National Mall, the Gothic-Revival style Castle Building was the first of the Smithsonian buildings to be erected and was completed in 1855. It also houses the crypt for James Smithson, whose remains were greeted with a hero's reception from the country to which he had so generously bequeathed his substantial fortune.

2. Walk the Dinosaur - Was Not Was
National Museum of Natural History
Home of the Hope Diamond, a live butterfly chamber, and more than 126 million other natural science specimens and cultural artifacts, the NMNH celebrated its centennial on March 17th of this year.

3. Modern Art - Art Brut
The Hirshhorn Gallery
An Act of Congress established the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden in 1966, after much work by Lady Bird Johnson convinced noted collector Joseph Hirshhorn to bequeath his comprehensive modern art holdings to The Smithsonian Institution. In the 15 years that followed, Hirshhorn continued to vigorously collect art until his death in 1981, and his subsequent bequest to the museum nearly doubled its collection.

4. Pablo Picasso - Burning Sensations
The Sculpture Garden
While technically part of the Hirshhorn, The Sculpture Garden, we felt, deserved its own song. Since we are in charge of this play list, we went ahead and gave it one.

5. Space Oddity - David Bowie
The National Air and Space Museum
Opening in the month of our National Bicentennial (July, 1976), the Air and Space Museum has been the most-visited museum facility in the world, attracting on average more than nine million people annually.

6. The Shot Heard 'Round the World - School House Rock
American History Museum
Recently reopened after a two-year renovation, this building houses an immense variety of national treasures, from the original Star-Spangled Banner and Abe Lincoln's top hat to Dorothy's ruby slippers, Fonzie's leather jacket, Archie Bunker's chair, and Kermit the Frog.

7. At the Zoo - Simon and Garfunkel
The National Zoological Park
While most of the 2 million annual visitors to our National Zoo may not realize they are visiting a wing of the national museum complex, the zoo is one of the Smithsonian's most popular attractions. It's set on a 163-acre swath of Rock Creek Park and is home to more than 2,000 animals of nearly 400 different species.

8. The District Sleeps Alone Tonight - The Postal Service
The Postal Museum
The postal museum, next to Union Station, is devoted to the history of the postal service and philately, the hobby of stamp collecting. While we could have chosen a song about the mail or postmen (or our own amazing mail carrier, Arnold), we decided on this locally-inspired song from the indie band named after the USPS, in part because today is frontman Ben Gibbard's birthday.

9. Mona Lisa - Nat King Cole
National Portrait Gallery
While not the home of the famed Mona Lisa, this collection of remarkable Americans' portraits celebrates leaders such as George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr., artists such as Mary Cassatt and George Gershwin, activists such as Sequoyah and Rosa Parks, and icons of pop culture such as Babe Ruth and Marilyn Monroe.

10. Amazing Grace (in Cherokee) - Walela
The National Museum of the American Indian
An evolving collection housed in an building that stresses its ties to the earth, with a distinctive curvilinear form meant to evoke a wind-sculpted rock formation. Any visit should accommodate a stop by the terrific Mitsitam Cafe, featuring a wide variety of authentic Native foods from throughout the Western Hemisphere.

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