Category Archives: Play

A Little Free Time in DC

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A recent meeting took me to DC for a few days, and because I took the train down the night before, I had a little free time to spend.  Thus I found at least one answer to the question of what a former Fellow does when returning to her Capital roots.

Even the trip down to Washington felt like a return to my fellowship year since I took Amtrak. It was a delight to arrive at the station a mere 15 minutes before my scheduled departure, park for free, and not deal with security, taking off shoes, checking a bag, or any of the hassles of flying.  I simply hopped on the train, plugged in my laptop and settled in for a long comfortable uninterrupted time for getting caught up on work.

The best way to travel

The best way to travel

I arrived in Union Station around 10 PM.  As a former DC native, I knew that it was actually much faster to take the Metro to my hotel than to wait in line for a taxi.  Having a pre-charged metro pass made the process even easier.  I chuckled at the nostalgia I experienced on the way as I passed the familiar stations:  “Judiciary Square- where the National Building Museum is.  Gallery Place/Chinatown where the National Portrait Gallery is.  Metro Center for shopping and shows.”  When I left back in August, I had expanded my bucket list multiple times, and there weren’t many if any experiences I felt I had missed.  I realized upon my return, however,  that I’m ready to do them all over again.  As one of my fellow Bennet fellows told some new folks who were complaining that they were bored, “There are 1000 things to do around here, and Laura Pence did them all!”

One of the challenges of my recent visit was that I wasn’t going to be available for any evenings to meet up with people.  I was reluctant to ask anyone to get up too early, but I should have remembered sooner that Fellow Maggie has always been up for anything.  We got together at 6:45 AM and walked the Mall through the morning fog.  We started by coming down behind the White House, and then headed off for the Lincoln Memorial.  We even found something new to do and found another early bird to take our picture with the statue of Albert Einstein.  We asked our photographer what kind of nerd he was, and he said, “I’m a pretty extreme nerd.  I’m a librarian.”  Maggie and I agreed later that we weren’t sure that a librarian really stacks up as an extreme nerd against a chemist and a chemical engineer, but we weren’t about to burst his bubble.

By the time we had walked from the Lincoln Memorial all the way up to the Capitol, we were somewhat caught up with each other’s latest adventures, and Maggie had to go to work.  I went into the Russell Senate Office Building, where I used to work, and managed to navigate security at the entrance for non-Senate staff.  The visitors who don’t go through security daily almost all needed two tries to get through the metal detector.  I remained patient, and I was rewarded by getting a quick hug from the security guard after I got through (without setting off the metal detector, of course!)  After a little shopping in the Senate Gift Shop, I spent some brief time with my former co-workers.  It was a real pleasure to see them, and I do miss all the action of that office.

One of the main things I miss most about no longer being a Fellow is my Senate ID badge.  While I was on staff, I made a point of wandering through the Capitol as often as I could, and I no longer have that privilege.  My fellow Bennet Fellow helped me work around that limitation, and she corralled one of the interns to escort me through the tunnels to the Capitol.  I was pleased that the Senate train was there to pick us up since I still enjoy the nostalgia of catching that ride.

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Once in the Capitol, I easily navigated myself over to the Library of Congress where I used my Reader Card to gain access to the Main Reading Room.  When I had told my upperclassmen that I was cancelling class for a meeting in DC, they were very impressed with my importance.  I figured it would be appropriate to add luster to that reputation by grading inorganic problem sets in the Library of Congress.  I did actually grade for a little while, but then I just looked around and soaked up the atmosphere and joy of being in such a beautiful space that not only has lovely architecture, but is also full of books!

I missed the peak of the cherry blossoms by only a few days, and it seemed that all of the flowering trees came into full bloom just over the course of a single day.  I took a few pictures so that my friends and family from the chilly north would be assured that spring really is on the way.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court

My morning walk made sitting in a meeting all day easier to take, so the following morning, I decided to squeeze in another expedition to the Mall.  In contrast with the fog from the day before, it was clear skies, and it was a treat to watch the sun rise over the monuments.  The scaffolding is finally down from the Washington Monument, and since it has been closed since the 2011 earthquake, I’m wondering if it will be possible to go up again soon.  It looks like I’ve restarted my DC bucket list after all.

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The best way to travel!

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Maurice Sendak Exhibit at the New Britain Museum of Art

My sister, Heather, visited me recently, and as part of a weekend to combat the wintertime blues, we decided to go to the New Britain Museum of Art and see the Maurice Sendak exhibit that is showing until early February.  Generations of children will associate Sendak most strongly with Where the Wild Things Are, but I was enchanted to discover that he had illustrated a number of other books I loved when I was young.

The exhibit informed us that prior to Where the Wild Things Are, children’s books were always happy and safe, the way adults wished childhood to be.  Sendak, who was both Polish and Jewish, had been strongly affected by the deaths of so many people including members of his extended family in the Holocaust as well as the untimely death of a friend during his childhood, and Where the Wild Things Are was the first to bring a darker tone to children’s books, in part because he knew that children could handle it.

The original title of the book was, Where the Wild Horses Are, but it rapidly became apparent that Sendak couldn’t draw horses.  He eventually settled on “things,” which were actually all loosely based on his relatives who all gathered upon the death of a family member.  Once I knew that, I could absolutely see that each “thing” was indeed a child’s interpretation of the various quirks of his family.

Sendak was a reluctant student in his youth.  He and his 10th grade teacher came up with a deal that he wouldn’t have to produce the same kind of reports that his peers did as long as he drew his reports instead.  Thus the exhibit included ten intricately drawn panels that comprised his report on Macbeth.  I gave a lot of credit to his teacher who was willing to accept this unusual work product from a student long before such variations in learning were commonly accepted.  It was apparent even from those early drawings that Sendak was a gifted artist.

One of my favorite parts of the exhibition was a wall displaying a chronology of the many books he had written or illustrated over many decades.  Heather immediately noticed the Little Bear series, which had been one of her favorites.  Having been steeped in his drawing style throughout the exhibit, I had suspected that Sendak had illustrated two of my favorite childhood books, “What Do You Do, Dear?” and “What Do You Say, Dear?”  Both books featured vignettes of the main characters being placed in outrageous situations such as reading a book in a library and being lassoed by a cowboy.  The response to “What do you do, dear?” was always dictated by good manners, in this case leaving the library quietly.

Throughout his life, Sendak would try to reply to the many children who wrote to him, and often he would sketch one of the characters from Where the Wild Things Are.  Heather told me a story, that we subsequently found retold on one of the panels that Sendak’s favorite letter came from a mother who wrote that her son liked Sendak’s reply so much that he ate it.  That was the highest compliment that Sendak could imagine; rather than selling the sketch for a profit, the young boy saw it, liked it, and ate it.

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Best Stories of the Fellowship Year

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There have been a number of stories that didn’t find a home in my various blog posts but that were too good not to share, so I’ve been collecting them.  It’s apparent that I’ve been influenced by a lifetime of reading Reader’s Digest because I do find that this post reads like a collection of those stories.  Enjoy!

 

Introductions.  Two Fellows learned the importance of being well-introduced to a Senator back in October when they started on their assignments.  The Senator, given no clue other than the Fellows names cheerfully welcomed them, “So are you both interns?”  One fellow calmly but assertively set the record straight, holding out her hand and saying, “Hello Senator.  My name is …, I’m one of your new AAAS fellows, and I have a Ph.D. from MIT.”  Have I mentioned that the Fellows are generally not a shy lot?

 

Forest Fires.  My favorite fire story from the Incident Commander’s Blog of the Royal Gorge Fire in July:

Well, the predicted wind blew and the fire held. And as I promised we raised the containment to 50%. Remember this morning I said that Brenda, our Fire Behavior Specialist said, “today will be a good day to be a fire”. At the end of the day Craig Beckner, Operations Section Chief said, “it might have been a good day to be a fire, but we were better.”

 

Too Much Information? Our scheduler was having a conversation with one of the other fellows and apparently questions whether or not Walgreens had a presence in DC.  Three of us immediately responded, “There’s one in Cleveland Park,” “There’s one by my house,” and “There’s one by my metro stop.”  She just looked at us and announced that being in our office was like being in the middle of Google.

 

Terminology.  One morning, the staff in the DC office of one of the Fellows were uncertain if the staff in the state office would be able to call in to the regularly scheduled staff meeting teleconference.  The Chief of Staff explained that there was a protest going on at the state office.  When he asked about the subject of the protest, he was informed the people were pro-immigration.  The saavy DC staffers informed their boss that when you have a pro-issue protest, it’s called a rally.

 

Only in DC.  One of the LA’s in my office reported being in the midst of a crowd recently and from one side, he heard a voice call out, “Marco!”  There was promptly a reply volunteered from the other side of the group, “Rubio!”  When I told this story to my fellow Fellows, they all went for that response as well.

 

Never underestimate a Fellow! One of my fellow Fellows had a run in with a staffer in another Senator’s office, who was rather rude to her.  She mentioned the incident to her supervisor, who then mentioned it to the Senator.  The Senator, who is very close to his staff, felt that this behavior was unacceptable, so he made a point of having a conversation with his Senate colleague when they were on the Floor for a vote and explaining that he felt this behavior was unacceptable.  The offending staffer called the Fellow and said, “My boss and your boss seem to think that I hung up on you.”  The Fellow replied, “That’s because you did!”

 

Elevators, round 1. As an ultra-cool Senate Fellow, I grew accustomed to seeing Senators regularly in the hallway.  I was, however, challenged when I encountered them on elevators.  In the middle of a vote, some of the elevators become Senators-only service, and I was strongly warned about getting on to those elevators during those times.  At one point, I was ready to follow Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas onto an elevator, and at the last moment I realized that it was Senators only service.  I stopped short, and I’m sure that my eyes were like dinner plates as I looked guilty for what I had almost done.  Senator Moran was very kind, smiled, and gestured me to join him on the elevator, and I was most grateful.

 

Elevators, round 2. My complete failure at being an ultra-cool Senate Fellow happened when I was on an elevator, and it stopped to let on Senator McCain.  I have no idea why I got so flustered, but in my effort to try to keep my cool Fellow persona, I got confused, decided this must be my door, and I got off.  Of course, in the absence of Senator McCain, I realized I had gotten off a floor too early.  So I jogged down the steps to the next floor, only to meet Senator McCain getting off the elevator!  Complete fail on coolness for that day!

 

When Worlds Collide.  I will emphasize that the following story came to me at least third-hand, so I vouch only for its entertainment value, not for its veracity.  It seems that Jennifer Lopez (also known as J. Lo) decided that she wanted to talk to Senator Reid about immigration.  She proceeded to keep the Senate Majority Leader waiting for 30 minutes, which is rather beyond the pale in the Senate.  Meanwhile, I’m told that Senator Schumer was very interested in meeting the diva and he lurked in Senator Reid’s outer office until the star showed up.  Unfortunately, it became obvious that Senator Schumer was under the impression that he was meeting Beyonce rather than J. Lo and the error was apparent to the observers.  As the balancing side of “when worlds collide,” Ms. Lopez spied a photograph of former Majority Leader Tom Daschle and asked, “Why do you have a picture of Dick Clark in your office?

 

Interns.  If you choose to ask your Senator or Member of Congress for a tour of the Capitol instead of going through the Capitol Visitors Center, there are advantages and disadvantages.  On the bright side, you don’t end up on a tour with 74 of your closest friends and all of you wearing headsets so you can hear your guide.  On the other hand, your tour is given by interns from the office, and some are definitely better than others.  Here are a few intern gems from other offices that I’ve heard about:

“The mural around the Rotunda was painted by a guy named Constantidi.”  (The correct answer is Constantino Brumidi.)

“This white marble star set into the floor of the Crypt marks the center of DC and divides the city into quadrants.  I think there are four or five of them.”

How many quadrants?

How many quadrants?

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National Zoo

Everyone should have a zoo in the neighborhood!

Everyone should have a zoo in the neighborhood!

When I was in college in central Pennsylvania, I remember being slightly startled to learn that my friends who lived near Valley Forge National Park viewed that area more as an excellent picnic spot than as an important historic site, which it certainly is as well.  Over the years, I’ve collected these examples of locals having a different relationship than tourists with historic sites.  My Beloved Husband’s English family taught me that the New Forest, (so designated by William the Conqueror in 1079) has numerous excellent picnic spots, and when I visited Versailles with my parents and sister, I observed quite a few games of Frisbee on the grounds.  I had previously thought that playing softball on the Boston Common was the ultimate in cool until I encountered multiple games of kickball on the National Mall.  Yoga at the base of the Washington Monument also looked particularly appealing.  For the past year, the National Zoo has been part of my neighborhood at a mere ten minute walk away, and I’ve noticed that like all of these other examples, living in close proximity to this resource has given me a very different perspective on the facility.

I have visited the National Zoo a number of times over the years, most often with the Darling Daughters since the animals were always a surefire hit.  Those experiences as a visitor taught me two very important lessons.  The first is that the Zoo is built on a rather steep hill, and somehow uphill is always the desirable direction.  That first condition leads in part to the second lesson; by 3:00 in the afternoon at the Zoo, most children are hot and tired and tend to have fits of uncontrolled crying.  When my friend brought her own five-year-old daughter to visit me, as a veteran mother, she was frankly skeptical of my ability to time meltdowns.  The three of us set off for an afternoon at the Zoo, and when I heard the first child crying, I looked at my watch, looked at my friend and said, “3:10.”  Moments later, a second child joined in, and I said, “3:12.”  My friend accepted that she was beat, or perhaps she just accepted that she was visiting with a scientist who was planning to collect data to match her theory.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings in the summer, the mix of pedestrians at my Metro stop strongly favors families on their way to the Zoo.  I always figure that the families who come to my stop at Cleveland Park are the smart families.  The next Metro stop down is officially named “Woodley Park-Zoo” but if you come all the way out to Cleveland Park, then the walk to the Zoo is downhill, and it’s still about the same distance.

During my early time in Cleveland Park, my favorite time to go to the Zoo was about 5:00 in the afternoon.  That time was carefully chosen because meltdowns had thinned the crowds substantially, and with the buildings about to close, there were few people remaining.  I simply like to walk in the Zoo, to stroll the paths, and to fill my soul with trees and quiet.  On lucky days I would catch site of a few animals, especially one tiger who posed for my camera obligingly.

A tiger mugging for my camera

A tiger mugging for my camera

I had been vaguely aware of the reproductive issues with giant pandas for some time.  Female pandas only ovulate once per year and therefore are fertile for just a matter of days.  According to the Zoo’s website, because cubs stay with their mothers for up to three years, at best a female might produce offspring every other year.  (I couldn’t help wondering if this was a question of “not in front of the children?”)  Thus it was to great fanfare that the Zoo’s female panda, Mei Xiang, had a baby last fall.  About the size of a stick of butter, the infant seemed to be doing OK until suddenly it stopped moving and responding and died.  The zookeeper who had been checking in on the webcam of mother and baby seemed as traumatized as Mei Xiang, although my recollection is that the autopsy revealed that the death was from natural causes.

I hadn’t given much thought to zoo babies beyond the giant pandas, but living in the immediate vicinity of the Zoo for a year has also made me more aware of news stories in connection to the facility.  Like all the other Smithsonian institutions, there is a vast amount of activity that occurs behind the exhibits, thus the National Zoo is about far more than just displaying exotic animals.  In conjunction with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, the Zoo has a strong focus on trying to preserve species that have been identified as critically endangered, endangered, or threatened.  In addition to carrying out research on animal care, conservation ecology, and genetics, the Zoo has an extremely active breeding program for most of its animals.  I’ve been living next to a maternity ward!

The first young I heard about were in April and were two maned wolf cubs, who at their first check-up were doing quite well.  They have been named “Bold” and “Shy” for their contrasting personalities.  According to the press release, they represent 40 percent of the maned wolf cubs born in the US this year.  I can do the math.  That means they are only two of five cubs, which makes their birth and survival all the more impressive.

More recently, two Sumatran Tiger cubs were born at the zoo, which was a major endangered species triumph.  Thus far the keepers haven’t gotten a close look at the cubs since they first work very slowly to get the protective mother comfortable with having someone else around, but there are webcams in her den so they can keep an eye on the family.  From the webcam pictures, the babies look adorable.

Mother and babies are doing fine

Mother and babies are doing fine

Even back in giant panda world, Mei Xiang has been showing signs of pregnancy, although there is always an uncertainty whether it is a true pregnancy or just a pseudo pregnancy.  I have no doubt that the panda keepers go through this annual round of hope and possibilities, and they’ll just have to see whether this is the year of a baby who survives.  For the moment, the Panda House is closed to visitors, although the inhabitants can be viewed through a webcam on the Zoo’s website.

Rusty, a.k.a. Houdini

Rusty, a.k.a. Houdini

Aside from all the babies this summer, there was some additional excitement when a young red panda (no relation to the giant pandas) named Rusty disappeared from his enclosure at the end of June.  Rusty obviously decided that since he had moved to DC, he needed to see the sights. He was eventually spotted by a family in an adjacent neighborhood who quickly realized that this was not a fox, so the teen-aged daughter snapped a picture, sent it to the zoo, and the keepers arrived to collect their truant.  The keepers finally figured out that there had been a considerable amount of rain the night of the escape, which bent the tree limbs of the enclosure thus creating a temporary bridge between the trees and the bamboo for a clever young panda to go on walkabout.  Rusty was kept in the animal hospital for a week or so, given a tetanus shot, and returned to his enclosure after the trees were given a significant haircut.

Outside the Elephant Community Center

Outside the Elephant Community Center

In a nostalgic mood recently, I took a last stroll through the zoo as a resident neighbor.  I made a point of stopping in the renovated Elephant House, which is now known as the Elephant Community Center.  In addition to offering the elephants much more space to move about, the new facility is heated and cooled using geothermal energy as part of the Zoo’s sustainability plan.  I also snapped a few photos of the zebras.  I’m not quite sure why, but zebras in person strike me as one of the strangest animals ever.  I have no problem with striped tigers or spotted leopards, but striped zebras always look vaguely unnatural to me, if extremely chic in their black and white.

Chic but odd

Chic but odd

I have thoroughly enjoyed living near the Zoo this year, and learning so many of the stories about the animals has given me a much better appreciation for the Zoo’s role in trying to preserve endangered species through breeding.  I also have my fingers crossed for good news about Mei Xiang, but even if this isn’t the year for a new baby giant panda, I know that by next summer, there will be another pack, herd, or flock of baby animals to celebrate.

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Corpse Flower

The message lit up the Fellows’ email: a corpse flower was expected to bloom at the Botanical Garden.  This news indicated an unprecedented opportunity to nerd out, and we were up to the challenge!

I first became aware of the Titan arum, or more specifically, the Amorphophallus titanum, when one bloomed a few years back at the University of Connecticut.  Judging by the amount of press the plant received, it was obviously a horticultural rock star, but since I wasn’t willing to make the 45 minute drive to see it, I remained unmoved.  The United States Botanical Garden, however, is at the foot of Capital Hill, which put me in much closer proximity to the event.  The unbounded enthusiasm for all things nerdy shared by my fellow Fellows added to my incentive to go visit.

The first reason that the blooming of a Titan arum is a major event is that it is not an annual occurrence. The timing is rather unpredictable and can range from a few years to a few decades.  Cultivating these natives of Sumatra is also not trivial since they require high humidity, stable temperatures, and quite a bit of space. Thus they are usually only found in large botanical gardening facilities.  The U.S. Botanical Garden has fourteen accessions of the titan arum, which I assume means they’ve got 14 plants.

When the plant gets ready to bloom, it starts shooting up from its underground stem called a corm, and it can grow six inches a day.  In technical terms, the Titan arum has the “largest known unbranched inflorescence in the plant kingdom,” which when translated means, “That’s one big honking flower!”  The whole structure is probably over six feet tall, so it’s a very striking plant.

I’m sure you’ve read this far to find out about the corpse reference of the flower.  After it blooms, it does indeed smell of rotting flesh, although the smell is the strongest at night and is almost nonexistent during the day.  I read that the night that our titan arum bloomed, one of the horticulture staff members working during that time said that the smell was so pungent and affected him so much that he wasn’t able to eat dinner until hours after he got home.

Obviously this novel biological event pinged the nerd radars of all the Fellows, even though our group is sorely lacking in biologists.  Our first notice arrived when the Architect of the Capitol, who oversees the Botanical Garden, sent out an email to the folks on that listserve that the titan arum was ready to bloom.  Timing is critical because the flower only lasts about 48 hours and then the whole structure collapses.  There followed considerable email chatter among the fellows about sending forth an expedition to gather data for the group.  A party composed of a veterinarian, a toxicologist, and a fluvial geomorphologist made the pilgrimage over at lunch and brought back the word that although the stalk was shooting up, it was not yet blooming.  Several days passed, and we continued to send Fellows over to scout the progress. Alas the reports all came back the same; it was not yet time.  As the Washington Post and NPR picked up the story, the crowds started increasing as well.  There was a webcam set up that we could watch, but it was not the same as viewing the plant in person.

Finally our agronomist Fellow sent back word that although the plant was not yet blooming, it was displaying a significant baby bump.  Indeed as the world eagerly anticipated the arrival of the new British prince in London, the residents of DC and especially the Fellows equally eagerly anticipated the blooming of our own bright blossom.  The two events coincided almost exactly.

The full bloom-picture from the Botanical Garden's website

The full bloom-picture from the Botanical Garden’s website

I learned the hard way that visiting the new arrival after work was not a good strategy.  By the time I arrived about 6:30 on the peak bloom day, the line wrapped around the block, and I was not willing to stand in line for more than an hour.  Happily, the next day I joined an excursion party of the four Fellows in my building, (a chemist, a toxicologist, a nutritionist, and yet another veterinarian) and we expertly navigated under the Capitol and through the House office buildings to minimize our time in the humidity outside.

She's a beauty

She’s a beauty

Pictures don’t do justice to the size of the plant; I hadn’t realized just how impressive a six or seven foot plant could be. The bloom had closed by the time we arrived, but it had not yet begun to collapse.  I was also just as happy that there was no corpsified smell when we visited.  I was fine with looking at the gigantic flower, but I didn’t feel the need to embrace the experience with all of my senses.  Overall, the flower was really interesting, but I was also enchanted to watch how any scientific event could capture the imagination of my fellow Fellows.  Turning loose the collective curiosity, creativity, and strategic energies of the group was highly entertaining and almost more impressive than the actual titan arum.

 

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National Archives: Behind the Scenes

At some point in the not-too-distant past, the staff at the National Archives became aware that Congress, the entity who provides the money to fund the Archives, had absolutely no idea what the Archives did.  Thus began a program to educate the Members of Congress and their staffs.  I was fortunate recently to go to a staff tour as the guest of a fellow Fellow who has been on several tours I’ve arranged, thus demonstrating that one good turn deserves another.

The National Archives was created by law in 1934 as the official record keepers of the government.  They hold records for both the legislative and executive branches, including committees.  They have long enjoyed a rivalry with their older sibling, the Library of Congress, which developed more of a copyright function rather than archives.  The Library of Congress no longer accepts the personal papers of Members of Congress with only a few exceptions, the most recent being Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.  The Archives holds both paper and electronic records. There are half a billion paper items and electronic records currently occupy about 77 terrabytes of space.  As an illustration, there were 20 million emails archived from the Clinton White House years.  From the George W. Bush years, that number grew to 200 million.

We started our tour before the tourists were allowed to enter the building, so we got a little time to view the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights without a crowd.  The Declaration is faded so much that it is all but unreadable, and we learned that it was a result of 70 years of being hung in a window in the State Department before being transferred to the Library of Congress and eventually to the Archives. The Constitution, which was stored at Fort Knox, fared much better.  We were told that other than fire, light is the worst enemy of old documents.  Even papers that have been through a flood may be freeze-dried and salvaged more easily than those damaged by light.

As it came time for the Archives to open to the public, we were taken to an upper floor to the Legislative Archives Vault.  We all sat around a table, and our two hosts took turns showing us documents and telling us stories.  Each document was contained in a plastic sleeve that was then stored in a sturdy folder.  We were not allowed to touch anything, but the proximity was still inspiring.

We started with the document signed by George Washington nominating the first Supreme Court justices as well as a number of other justices.  All of the nominees were confirmed except for one, who was the subject of a long term grudge by one of the senators.  Washington himself came to the Senate to find out what the problem was, and the senator who had the issue announced something like, “I’ll be damned if I’ll let him be confirmed.”  Thus began the tradition of senatorial courtesy whereby the President runs the nominees by the Senate before it is all made official.

Next we saw the legislative mark-up of the Bill of Rights.  A formal typewritten copy of the language that was passed by the House was sent forward to the Senate, and that document shows the inked changes made when the bill passed the upper chamber, often involving the deletion or rearrangement of amendments.  For example, there was one amendment that stated that there would be one House member for every 50,000 residents.  If that had not been deleted, the House of Representatives would currently have over 6,000 members.   It was fascinating to see how the final document was shaped through the process of moving through Congress.

Bill of Rights Mark-up

Bill of Rights Mark-up

We next saw the 1804 Presidential proclamation to Congress in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand of the Louisiana Purchase.  Someone apparently challenged Jefferson’s authority to purchase that much land in his role as President and said that it was unconstitutional.  Jefferson calmly replied that no, it was extra-constitutional, or outside of the Constitution.  As a related document, we saw a petition from Daniel Boone who held land in Missouri as a grant from the Spanish crown.  With the Louisiana Purchase, Boone lost title to his land, so he petitioned to have it restored.  Boone was apparently one of many people who were hedging their bets by playing both sides of the land sovereignty issue, but Boone was indeed allowed to keep his land.

As you may recall, in 1814, the British arrived in Washington and burned both the White House and the Capitol.  Dolly Madison gets great credit for saving so many of the records from the White House as well as the portrait of George Washington.  Over on Capitol Hill, the Senate got a bit of a jump on the situation, gathered some wagons, and they were able to move many of their documents out of the Capitol before the British arrived.  The House waited a little too long, were unable to find many wagons, and thus they lost more records in the fire.

Because I was with a group of committee staff, we were shown the 1816 resolution creating a set of standing committees for the Senate.  The government had been functioning for long enough that it was becoming clear what committees were important for ongoing business.  In addition to the Committee on Public Lands, now the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, there were also committees on Military Affairs and on Post Roads.  A Committee on Ways and Means was also created in this resolution, but it was quickly renamed the Finance Committee to distinguish it from the House committee.

A larger box contained a giant rolled petition that was about 12” in diameter.  It was kept rolled with a ribbon that had long-since faded to pink, but it was the original governmental red tape; one had to cut through it to get to the actual information.

On stationery from the Executive Mansion (it wasn’t called the White House until much later), we saw the note from President Lincoln appointing Ulysses S. Grant to be Lieutenant General of the Union Army.  Apparently this was a somewhat controversial appointment since Grant was considered to be a bit of a drunk.  When this complaint was aired to President Lincoln, he suggested, “Buy a case of whatever Grant drinks and give it to the rest of my generals!”

The impeachment resolution of President Andrew Johnson for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” (also known as, “we’ll figure out what to charge you with later”) was hand-written on a half sheet of paper.  The Congressman who offered the resolution apparently kept the paper in his pocket for some time just waiting for the President to provide an opportunity for the resolution’s use.

Impeachment resolution for Andrew Johnson

Impeachment resolution for Andrew Johnson

Two documents about women’s suffrage offered an interesting contrast.  The first was from the National Women’s Suffrage Association and was signed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, advocating giving women the vote.  A second document, also signed entirely by women, was from the National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage.  Among their other objections to the concept was that this path forward would serve as “an official endorsement of nagging as a national policy.”

D-Day was a theme that linked two completely different documents.  The first document was a de-classified map made as Americans were just starting to experiment with the newly developed radar technology.  Two young servicemen on one of the Hawaiian Islands turned on their machine around 7 AM on December 7th, 1941.  They got a huge blip on their map, so they turned off the machine, recalibrated it, and turned it back on.  The blip remained.  They called the base on Oahu, although it took a while to get anyone on the phone.  They were assured that their blip was the American bombers out of San Francisco who were expected to arrive any day, and they were told that they didn’t need to continue the radar tracking.  The two chose to use the blip as a training exercise, and they tracked what turned out to be the Japanese planes until they were lost in the mountains of Oahu en route to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The next document was the speech that President Roosevelt gave to Congress the following day announcing the “Day that will live in infamy,” and requesting that Congress declare war on Japan.  As an interesting piece of trivia, John Dingell was on the floor that day as a page for his father, who was a Member of Congress.  We were reminded that this was the last time that Congress has declared war; all other military engagements have lacked this important part of the process.

"A day that will live in infamy"

“A day that will live in infamy”

The radar map brought up interesting questions of handling information that is sealed for a specified period of time as well as information that is classified.  The computer systems at the Archives have no network access, and electronic documents are transferred via hard drive and sneaker-net rather than electronically.  Archivists are challenged by hardware compatibility and the sheer volume of information.  They also are always concerned about how to store electronic records safely and securely.  As the staff say wistfully, “We’ll always have paper.”  I shared their sense of wonder to see a piece of paper handled by Washington or written by Jefferson.  It was a wonderful experience, and I would certainly be happy to support their budget.

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Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum

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The Apollo program was a major factor in the transformation of a long term friendship into a romance and my eventual marriage to my Beloved Husband.  My now-BH introduced me to the space program, and we started to buy and exchange books.  I learned that visiting him in person was the best way to get my books back, those visits led to a relationship, and we just celebrated seven years of marriage.  Thus it was particularly appropriate that on the day before our anniversary this year, the two of us made a pilgrimage out to Chantilly, VA to the Stephen F Udvar-Hazy Center, also known as the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum where the Big Stuff is stored.

This place is huge!

This place is huge!

I have never been in an airplane hangar before, but I would guess that the two enormous hangers of the museum are large even by normal standards.  All of the exhibits are inside, and there is a dazzling array of planes hung at various levels.  I remember that at the Air and Space Museum on the Mall that there are doors on only one end of the building, but the Udvar-Hazy center is so gargantuan that there are doors at both ends.  Like the Mall installation, there are planes hanging overhead as well as sitting on the floor, and I remember that the general strategy is to try to move things around as infrequently as possible because it is such a challenge.  I admired the map-maker who had to make a two-dimensional rendering of the three dimensional display; the problem was solved by representing the planes on the floor in white outlines and then planes above at increasingly darker shades of gray the higher they were hung.  On the outsides of the open space, there are walkways at various levels so that visitors can see the suspended airplanes, hang gliders, and hot air balloon gondolas up close.  The sheer size of it all means that it never felt crowded, even on a summer Sunday afternoon.

Discovery

Discovery

For me, the biggest draw was seeing one of the three retired space shuttles.  Shuttle Discovery is special even among the remaining three orbiters because it was the shuttle that flew immediately after the Challenger and Columbia accidents.  Discovery is credited with getting the program back on track each time.  I was particularly struck that the shuttles were designed to be re-usable, so different parts aged differently and were replaced at different times.  The tiles on the exterior that look so white in pictures are actually different shades of white and gray as new tiles were changed out over time.  Seeing the shuttle in person also makes it much more apparent that the bulk of the space on the shuttle is storage and the crew cabin is almost all in the nose.  Maximizing the cargo hold makes sense since this is the shuttle that took the Hubble Space Telescope into space and also helped with the assembly of the International Space Station, but it took seeing the dimensions in person to understand that the living space on a shuttle is a very small proportion of the volume.

My BH is recommending satellites as the new Christmas decorations

My BH is recommending satellites as the new Christmas decorations

An entire hanger was devoted to space paraphernalia including missiles and rockets.  By one door was a Redstone rocket, which would have been impressive if we hadn’t seen a Saturn V rocket at the Kennedy Space Center.  We overheard two people suggesting that the Redstone rockets might have been used to put satellites into space, and my BH generously and kindly informed them that the Redstones were particularly used to launch the Mercury capsules at the start of the US space program.  My BH and I grinned at each other realizing just how much we had learned from exchanging all those books on the space program.

Mars Sojourner rover

Mars Sojourner rover

The huge Saturn V rocket is the one that has enough power to throw an Apollo capsule far enough to escape Earth’s gravity and go to the moon, and the one at the Kennedy Space Center is so large that it lies on its side rather than standing up.  When the Apollo program was halted early, there were a number of Saturn V rockets in various stages of construction, so those parts ended up being repurposed for other uses. I have become highly attuned to those components and I have developed the ability to recognize cylinders with the characteristic radius.  A number of the components of the rocket were incorporated into the Skylab program, one of which was on display behind the Shuttle.  Even as we were wandering around the space hanger at the Udvar-Hazy center, I recognized a huge ring that was being used as a decoration but that was obviously a Saturn V component.  When my BH and I were discussing it later, he had made the same connection.

How to float an Apollo capsule

How to float an Apollo capsule

In contrast with the Air and Space Museum on the Mall, the Udvar-Hazy center seems almost casual about the amazing objects in their collection.  Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules are all displayed together in a clump, along with a mobile isolation trailer that the astronauts were requires to stay in after their return from the Moon lest they contaminate the Earth with germs from outer space.  My BH was entranced by the kite-like structure that was briefly contemplated as a means of bringing the Gemini capsules back to the ground safely.  The idea was not pursued extensively, but it did eventually give rise to the sport of hang-gliding.  Adjacent to the large kite, I learned that an Apollo capsule floating in the water has two stable configurations, nose up and nose down.  After landing, the Apollo 11 capsule stabilized nose down in the ocean, so the astronauts inflated several balloons to flip the capsule back over and reduce the chance that a seal would fail and seawater would sink the capsule and the astronauts inside.

Blackbird stealth jet

Blackbird stealth jet

This visit reinforced that my BH had attended many air shows on the south coast of England as a lad.  Thus he recognized the sleek evil-looking spy plane as a Blackbird (which I tended to call a blackwing or Blackhawk, in part because I didn’t know the name and in part to see if I can exasperate my BH).  It looked quite capable of flying very high and very fast, and it made the neighboring aircraft look rather cumbersome.

Enola Gay

Enola Gay

In addition to the entire space exhibit, my BH and I shared other similar frames of reference.  Thus there was one silver plane that we spotted together that drew both of us up short.  Neither one of us needed any background to identify that the Enola Gay was the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, but we both had very similar physical reactions to encountering the plane unexpectedly.  On a happier note, both of us also recognized an Air France Concorde, the supersonic jet that no longer flies across the Atlantic.  Getting a photograph of the whole plane was a bit of a challenge.

Pearl Harbor Veteran

Pearl Harbor Veteran

Until I saw the large Restoration Hanger, it hadn’t really penetrated that all the planes we saw were in excellent condition.  There are two very large bays as part of the museum where planes can be dismantled and conserved before going on display.  One of the current projects was a Sikorsky JRS-1 Flying Boat which searched for the Japanese fleet after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

The project designers took advantage of the installation’s immediate proximity to Dulles Airport, and there is an observation tower that allows visitors to watch the action at both of the major runways.  There was also an excellent exhibit about air traffic control including the working screen of a controller monitoring approaching planes.  With the plot from the screen, it was easy to watch the planes descending in a queue along a pre-set pathway as they approached the runway.  My BH and I agreed that in the future when we see or ride on planes, we will both always have the mental picture of the air traffic control plot superimposed on what our eyes see.

My BH and I agreed that it was worth the 45 minute drive out to the museum, and we highly recommend it, especially to those who have an interest in space or airplanes.

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