Today in Smithsonian History: August 23, 2011

Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough examines the Smithsonian’s Castle in Washington, D.C. The Castle sustained localized damage in the east wing during the Aug. 23 earthquake. Six chimneys and decorative turrets on the roof were damaged when some of the mortar holding the stones was shaken loose during the earthquake, and some stones shifted in place.  (Photo by John Gibbons)

On August 23, 2011 at 1:51 PM, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook the Washington D.C. region. The quake, whose epicenter was in Mineral, Virginia, was felt up and down the east coast of the North America from the Carolinas to Canada. The Smithsonian Institution buildings were evacuated and staff were allowed to reenter once inspections were done. The museums on the National Mall were shut down and all nonessential staff (across the federal government) were sent home for the remainder of the afternoon. In the aftermath of the earthquake, collections around the Smithsonian were deemed to be intact and secure. However, the Smithsonian Castle and the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland were closed the following day. The Castle, completed in 1855, sustained cracks to its beams and possibly in the foundation. Plaster fell from the ceiling and other minor damages were incurred. All of the other museum buildings and the National Zoo reopened to the public on August 24, 2011.

The Torch spoke with Secretary Clough, our own in-house expert on earthquakes, to get his observations on the quake and its effect on the Smithsonian: After the shock: Secretary Clough gives an earthquake update. Staff shared their experiences in Where were you when the earth moved?

Check out the Washington Post’s retrospective: Remembering the 2011 Virginia earthquake that rocked the Eastern U.S.

Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives

Posted: 23 August 2019
About the Author:

The Torch relies on contributions from the entire Smithsonian community.