Around the Mall & Beyond

On the 26th of April, 1947, Evalyn Walsh McLean, the mining heiress, died at her Georgetown mansion that overlooked Washington, D.C. She was 60 years old.

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There was Richard G. Paine, from the Division of Reptiles, who carried around a boa constrictor in a suitcase and once loaned it to the Ringling Brothers Circus because theirs was sick.

In 1947 Gen. Douglas MacArthur invited Henderson to Japan to appraise some $50 million in gems that the U.S. Army had recovered in Tokyo after World War II. Some were found in the ashes of buildings that had burned to the ground. "We got buckets full of sand and gravel with a lot of diamonds in it. So one of our big problems was getting the dirt and smoke and stuff off. . . . We were working in the Bank of Japan, down in their vaults where they keep all their gold. . . . We were boiling the stones in sodium carbonate solution, and vapor was condensing all over their very fine steel safes."

He felt badly about leaving the storeroom in such a mess, but every morning when he and the Japanese team returned to work, "everything was just all spotless again. They'd clean it up; they had to. Each night they cleaned up the whole place."

After retiring in 1965, Henderson worked on as an honorary research associate until 1988. He died September 12, 1992, but his name lives on at the Smithsonian in the form of a fairly large endowment that he and his wife, Rebecca, created to support the collection of meteorites and for research into the Smithsonian's history. An interesting man. A long life.

And I still had two more boxes to go.

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