In the Event of War

How the Smithsonian protected its "strange animals, curious creatures" and more

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The evacuated treasures weighed more than 60 tons and were shipped to Virginia at a cost of $2,266 each way (more than $28,500 in today's dollars). They were placed under 24-hour guard until the war's end. The guards protected the collections against possible sabotage, theft, fire—and damage caused by a couple of errant pigeons who had made a home inside the warehouse.

By late 1944, the bombing of Eastern Seaboard cities appeared unlikely, and the National Park Service began the extended process of returning treasures to their original venues. But plans for safeguarding the Institution's irreplaceable objects didn't cease with the conclusion of World War II. The Smithsonian still has such policies in effect today, says National Collections Coordinator William Tompkins. Since the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001, for example, the Institution has been moving specimens preserved in alcohol—often referred to as "wet" collections—off the Mall and into a state-of-the-art storage facility in Maryland. This move ensures that these rare specimens will continue to be available to researchers and scientists.

The Star-Spangled Banner, Lincoln's top hat, the Wright Military Flyer, and the millions of other icons in the collections will continue to be safeguarded, for, as Assistant Secretary Wetmore first wrote in 1942, "If any part of these collections should be lost then something would be gone from this nation that could not be replaced... ."


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