Day 4, Saturday, November 11, 2017
After seeing part of the National Mall, I was getting really hungry, and tired of walking, so I headed over to the Museum of Natural History for lunch. My short time in D.C. meant that I only had time for one Smithsonian museum – I wanted to go to several, but that just means I will need to make another trip. I had lunch in the museum café, which was pretty good; I had a pulled pork sandwich, tomato salad and a beer.
Then I went upstairs to see the exhibits. The museum has a lot of cool artifacts. I saw a tyrannosaurus rex skull, several other dinosaur skeletons including another nearly complete tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, a whole exhibit on different kinds of rocks, minerals and precious and semi-precious gems. The museum is home to the Hope Diamond. Let me just tell you, the Hope Diamond has a pretty fascinating history, even if you don’t believe in the curse that it supposedly has. You can read all about it!
I also saw a great wildlife photography exhibit, a seemingly random collection of jewelry, taxidermied animals and African tribal artifacts. Did you know the Egyptians used to mummify cats? And lots of other animals too, including ibis, bulls, and snakes. However, they also wrapped linens to look like mummies, even though the inside was empty. Egyptian trickery! The museum has a large collection of mummies and other Egyptian artifacts.
They also have early hominoid fossils. Taung Child is there, a fossilized skull of an Australopithecus africanus, one of the precursors to homosapiens. The child is thought at around 3-4 years old, and may have been killed by an eagle, based on damage to the skull. Another interesting reading foray!
I finished off my visit with a viewing of the marine exhibit, including a whole section on Narwhals! I loved Narwhals as a child, even though I have still never seen one, except on TV. The exhibit had a couple of Narwhal skulls, so you can see where the tooth erupts from their skull. It is actually a tooth and not a horn or bone.
In Inuit legend, the tusk was created after a woman was dragged into the ocean with a harpoon rope tied around her waist after the harpoon had struck a large narwhal. When she was transformed into a narwhal; her hair, became the spiral tusk. Fun facts: only 1 in 500 male narwhals grow two tusks, and only 15% of females even have one tusk. One female narwhal with two tusks is known; its skull was found in the 1600s.
Last but not least is the African Elephant on display in the rotunda. This elephant has an interesting history too!
What a fantastic museum!
After having my fill, I briefed checked out the original Smithsonian building and a small exhibit on Smithson; the man who donated money for the creation of the museum. He had never even traveled to the United States! Smithson was an born illegitimately in France, and later naturalized as a British citizen; he went to university and became a scientist. He led a nomadic lifestyle, and never married or had children. When he died, he left his wealth to a nephew, with the stipulation that if the nephew didn’t died without heirs, the money would go to the United States to create “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” Through some strange circumstances, Smithson’s body was moved to the Smithsonian Castle in the early 1900s; it is still there under the floor.
By this time it was about 5:30, and I was tired of standing and walking. My subway ride home was uneventful, and after resting up a bit at the hotel, I ventured out again and had a fantastic pasta dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy. It had been years since I had a meal there and it was delicious. It certainly wrapped up a wonderful day.