This mysterious structure on the west side of the Arts and Industries Building in Washington, D.C. has been intriguing visitors for weeks. Is it an art installation? A giant birdhouse? A new museum?
The Torch’s team of top-notch investigative reporters did some digging and solved the mystery. Contractors renovating A&I’s exterior thoughtfully constructed the cozy column around Leonard Baskin’s bronze statue of Spencer Fullerton Baird, second Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, in order to protect it from possible damage.
Baird served as Secretary from 1878 to 1887. Baird was a naturalist, and in 1850, he was named the first curator of the National Museum at the Smithsonian. Baird’s career was dedicated to creating a strong National Museum at the Smithsonian. He donated his personal natural history collection to the Institution and developed a national network of collectors.
He prepared the government exhibits at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 and oversaw construction of the U.S. National Museum, now the Arts and Industries Building, in 1881. During his tenure, the taxidermists began to keep live animals behind the Castle. These soon became a popular attraction for young visitors, and led to the creation of the National Zoological Park. The Bureau of American Ethnology was also created to document vanishing Native American cultures. Baird was an exuberant enthusiast who wanted the Institution to play an important role in the lives of all U.S. citizens, especially through the National Museum.
Posted: 10 December 2009