Treasures Trove

America’s most singular sensations are at the National Air and Space Museum

These sequined shoes were worn by 16-year-old Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. One of several pairs used during filming, these size-five, felt-soled shoes are well-worn, suggesting they were Garland's primary pair for dancing scenes. (National Museum of American History)
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The reason that this chapter of American history was omitted was the demands of space constraints and more importantly the question of what the historical significance of September 11 really means. The terrorist attacks that resulted in the destruction of the World Trade towers, a portion of the Pentagon, and four jetliners were a despicable. Yet as egregious as they were the long lasting effect is not clear. Is this an opening chapter in a world war? Would the acts of September 11 be followed by similar attacks? Was September 11 justification for the invasion of sovereign nations? None of the answers is clear. The Smithsonian is committed to a balanced and fair representation of history yet how to characterize September 11 is difficult. In 20 years the topic will probably be well researched and considered by dispassionate historians but today September 11 is still part of current events — a topic that we have all lived through and with which we are personally invested.

How do you research an item? For example, how do you know the light bulb you have is Thomas Edison's from his first public demonstration.

Authenticity is always a major issue when collecting artifacts. Knowing whether something is truly what it is alleged to be is a major challenge for curators. Of course physical examination can be very revealing. Is an object technically what it appears to be? With the New Year's Eve 1879 Edison demonstration bulb the object appears to be technical correct. Of course a fake is always possible. The accession records however document the provenance explaining exactly how the donor Frank A. Wardlaw, Jr. and his father Frank A. Wardlaw of New York, New York donated the bulb in 1933. The elder Wardlaw had worked for Edison and at the time of the donation and was the secretary of the Edison Pioneers.

What new acquisitions have you gotten since the exhibit started?

Even while closed for renovation the National Museum of American History continues to add objects to the national collections. A few of the recent acquisitions are featured in the Treasures of American History New Acquisition case. Items displayed so far include artifacts documenting Hurricane Katrina, a group of objects donated by Sylvester Stallone from the early Rocky motion pictures, a typewriter and Dictaphone from civil rights lawyer Charles Houston, medical scrubs from pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and an artificial heart from Robert Jarvick.

About Lawrence M. Small
Lawrence M. Small

Lawrence M. Small was the eleventh secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, serving from 2000 to 2007.

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