Usually, agents in the Department of Energy's elite Transportation Safeguards Division escort nuclear materials such as discarded Russian warheads. But early this year, they guarded a convoy carrying irreplaceable treasure the handpicked cream of the Smithsonian Institution's 140- million-object collection as it headed from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, the first venue for "America's Smithsonian," a traveling show to celebrate the Institution's 150th anniversary. The show will visit a dozen cities across the country during the next two years.
"America's Smithsonian" is the world's largest traveling museum show, and the thought of precious artifacts like Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and the stovepipe hat Abraham Lincoln is said to have worn the night of his assassination being on the road for so long, and getting packed and unpacked again and again, made conservators and curators very nervous. Planning the show and ensuring artifact safety have been gargantuan tasks. Especially for those who might never come to Washington, the show is a unique opportunity. For once, in a reverse pilgrimage, America's most celebrated icons and treasures are coming to visit the American people.