A weekend of cemeteries

It was actually more cheerful than it sounds for the most part. Work last week went quickly. Having Monday off helped a lot. I scanned for three days and was out at Fullerton again on Friday where I finished the collection I had started the week before so that was good. I also finally got a chance to meet with my supervisor for a bit and got a lot of questions cleared up I had lingering from the appraisal I had tagged along to plus some questions I had about the scanning project I was working on. Friday night I stayed over at Mackenzie’s since we planned on leaving at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning.

Actually, it wasn’t even dawn yet. We left DC at 4:30 AM and arrived in Gettysburg a little before 6 AM. We headed up to Little Round Top to have a view of the battlefields before the sun rose. I have to admit, seeing the misty fields and the sky lighten purply red was beautiful. I lived there for four years and didn’t see it. Funny the things you never get around to doing just because you assume you have all the time in the world to do them in. We continued on down into the park afterwards, watching the sun come up before we had breakfast at LD’s after a brief side trip onto campus to get to the ATM. Campus is a bit torn up at the moment. They’re building the new athletic center but the new child care center they opened last year looks beautiful even if it was weird to see a building where Stone Lot used to be. After breakfast, we walked the National Cemetery all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial Wall at the back with the Gettysburg Address engraved next to a bust of Lincoln. We then drove up to the Peace Light and did a lot of the Auto Tour. We also climbed to the top of Big Round Top – not that you can tell from the pictures – not much a view through all the trees up there.

We stopped at the new Visitor’s Center on the way out of Gettysburg and it is HUGE! I think the new store is bigger than the entire old building. I didn’t like that the old buildings were just sitting there crumbling though – they need to tear them down or find a use for them – they look awful. The new center is beautiful though and huge and fits the needs of the area much better so kudos to the designer. We headed over to Lancaster next and explored Amish Country. We just drove around, picking a few side roads to explore down, to see off the “real” Amish, not the tourist displays. Their farms are simply beautiful – so big and in perfect condition. A lot of farms were bringing in their hay so they had these beautiful Belgian work teams out in the fields. It was different to see work horses actually “working” instead of the hitch classes I loved watching at the state fair. I have a lot of respect for their way of life but I don’t think I’m signing up for it any time soon. I wouldn’t last long anyway. What would they do with a girl who can’t sew or cook to save her life? I might not be such a hopeless case with baking…hmmm….something to think about. Maybe I could do a vacation to Amish Country and stay on a farm for a week. I think that would be enough time for me to miss my computer and air conditioning sufficiently enough.

We made one more stop in PA – Harrisburg. We visited the Capital building which is very ornate and decorated within an inch of its life. It also looked very rich – something tells me Albany would not be this impressive. One of these days I should visit my home state’s capital though…add that to my list. We got back to DC around 6 PM and I had a quiet night after that.

I didn’t start as early the next morning as I had wanted to so it was already blazing when I got to Arlington National Cemetery. Visiting a place with little shade in a Code Red Heat Advisory is a bad idea – I advise against it. I especially advise against climbing hills and stairs to visit graves in this heat. Just some friendly advise. However, I liked seeing the Kennedy graves again – they are beautifully presented on the hill overlooking DC. I then walked up to Arlington House and saw the house (not much there currently) and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers from the Civil War. I started the trek then to the Tomb of the Unknowns. Made it there in time to see the Changing of the Guard which was great – such ceremony to a little thing. Must be the British left in us. I felt bad for those guys though in full outfit under than sun. It must have been 100 by then.

After the Changing, I walked over to the Challenger memorial. I was pleased to see a memorial had been added for the Columbia crew as well. Not a tear shed yet which was impressive as I’d even listened to John Denver’s tribute to the Challenger crew (They Were Flying For Me) before I came (I swear my iPod is psychic – what song does she most not want to hear on the way to Arlington?) which never fails to tear me up on its own. Lastly, I walked up to the mast of the USS Maine, the ship sunk off the coast of Cuba during the Spanish-American War. After that, I had to hike all the way back to the start of the cemetery. At that point, the $15 tour bus looked like money well spent but I stuck it out. Luckily, all of Kathy’s reminders of sun screen and water had been remembered before I left the house so I didn’t melt.

Once back on the Metro, I had some time to kill so I found a bookstore off Metro Center and succeeded in only spending $10 – this is impressive people, look impressed – before I headed over to Chinatown to see Mamma Mia! In not spoiling the movie for anyone, I was pleasantly surprised by the film. They stayed very close to the musical’s original plot – always keeps me happy – and even kept a lot of the fun dances I remember from the stage show. My one gripe is that, I am sorry, but Pierce Brosnan cannot sing. It was painful at times. This is why James Bond does not sing people and he shouldn’t have too. Even Meryl Streep, a woman who I didn’t think had a musical bone in her body, sounded better than him. In fact, I was very surprised by Meryl’s performance. She had me won over by the end (although, I would have staged The Winner Takes It All a bit different but that’s just me). Other than that, it gets three stars from me.

This week is looking fairly standard. I have another report due on Friday so I need to come up with a topic for it here soon. I also am hoping to go see The Phillips Collection on Thursday night and then I think my museum/gallery list is complete – I may have a few stragglers to finish up. I’m actually not down here for much longer which is blowing my mind – I’m not quite sure where the summer went to be honest. However, I have a full couple of weeks left so I’m making the most of it.

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Family Times

When family comes to visit, I have time for nothing else. Last week was fairly quiet at work. I finished another box on Thursday and was out at Fullerton in Virginia all day on Friday. My parents and Ally got here on Saturday afternoon. I went with them to their hotel over in Georgetown. It was a very nice hotel – I was impressed. After they settled in, we walked down to Foggy Bottom to get them metro cards for the next two days. We’d made plans to meet Kathy and Scott on the waterfront from dinner so we were going to head to Georgetown. We took the bus over to Kennedy Center and walked down past Watergate and the waterfront into downtown Georgetown and the shopping district. I got a a great deal in H&M and we wondered the Shops at Georgetown (a mall) before we headed back to the waterfront. We ate at Tony and Joe’s, a seafood restaurant right on the docks – it was a beautiful night.

The next day we did the Smithsonian Zoo in the morning. Mom got to see her pandas. Her and Daddy went early so Mom actually got to see them moving. All I saw them doing was sleep – lol. The sea lions were the best to watch though and they had tons of a personal favorite, the golden lion tamerin. It got pretty crowded by the beginning of the afternoon so we headed out. We had planned to do the monuments this night but it started to pour just after we got off the metro at L’Enfant. So we headed back to Union Station so Dad could take pictures somewhere. 🙂

The next morning, Ally and I did the Holocaust Memorial Museum while Mom and Dad did the Air & Space Museum. It was my third time doing the Holocaust Museum and I got through it this time without crying once – I am making progress. After we met up with Mom and Dad, we went and ate at the Natural History Museum and then went and visited the new Jim Henson exhibit at the International Gallery. I am in love with this exhibit – it has some of Henson’s earliest artwork along with lots of video footage throughout. Not too mention, puppets of Kermit, the Fraggles, Bert and Ernie, Rowlf and more. I am totally going back several times. Its open until October so anyone coming down – you must go!

After that, we went back to the hotel for a bit before driving back down to eat dinner. We ate at an Italian restaurant at the Ronald Reagan building – I had this fabulous Primavera dish. Afterwards, we walked over to see the White House so Ally could see it before she left again. From there, we drove over to the Capitol building and Dad took pictures forever. Thankfully, there was a band playing on the Capitol Steps so I did some swing dancing on the lawn of the Capitol to entertain myself. We did a family picture too – our first since Ally could talk. It’s been awhile…Next was the Lincoln Memorial and we got to meet up with Aunt Michele, Uncle Joe and Joey here so that was great. We then walked down to the World War II memorial. This is very close to my favorite one – it was beautiful to see at night with all the lights in the water.

The next morning, the family took off for Atlantic City, Ally shoved into the backseat (luckily, I managed to get my stuff on the route home – not much leg room because of it though – sorry!). I got to meet Aunt Michele, Uncle Joe and Joey for lunch yesterday luckily. I had them meet me at the food court at the NMAI – the best food court of the Smithsonian which they loved so I was glad we got to eat together then 🙂

The rest of this week is shaping up. I’m back at Fullerton on Friday. The new Batman movie comes out this weekend and I’m off to Gettysburg of all places on Sunday. First time back since I graduated so it’s going to be weird but good. I’m excited for some Rita’s and dinner at LD’s again though 🙂

DC Adventures

So, update on my life. I have been walking a lot around the Capitol Hill and Mall area since our weather finally broke and it’s bearable to be outside and one doesn’t feel like dying. I love the area I live in – it’s so walkable and beautiful to explore. This past week/weekend I finished going through both the NMNH and NGA. I have decided I don’t particularly like the NMNH – I like the gemstones and the dinosaur bones but all the stuffed animals were too eerie – give me a zoo any day. The NGA however, is my kind of museum. I love to look at artwork and really take my time to look at the brush strokes and the way an artist may have gone about the work. The areas I hadn’t gotten to yet included the museum’s Rembrandts as well as the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the United States. It looked a lot like the Mona Lisa to be honest and it was even smaller. Yet another painting to go, “huh” and walk along.

After I finished the NGA, I walked home via the Capitol (after walking through the festival happening on Pennsylvania Avenue – very interesting group of people). I have decided I really love the Capitol Building. It is absolutely beautiful. I just wish the steps were open more so I could get a view of the city from the top. I imagine it’s breath-taking. I then walked around the building to the actual front of the Capitol where inauguration takes place in January. It’s a big mess right now as they are constructing a new underground visitors center. Walking around, I found the Library of Congress (which I’m visiting this weekend – so excited!!) and the Supreme Court building. Turning up towards home, I found the Sewall-Belmont House near Stanton Park which I was more excited about than anyone else probably would be. It was a house where Alice Paul lived so I now need to add that to my list of things to visit. I might try to get it in this coming weekend.

This week I haven’t done too much. With the weather being so nice, I have walked home from work and watched the Representatives queue up for taxis at the end of the day at their office buildings. Yesterday, walking back from the Botanical Gardens where I ate lunch, I go caught up in a motorcade. It was unmarked but with the amount of firepower in the SUVs around it, I figured it was the president which it was, I found out later. The whole city gets put on hold, all the traffic stopped – cars pulled over etc. I didn’t take pictures though. I thought reaching into my purse to dig out my camera might be misconstrued by the military contingent surrounding his car.

Work continues to go well. I was appraising in the NMNH today in the paleobiology department – it was like a dungeon in there and the office was everything you would expect – furniture that was ancient, piles of paper everywhere, more bones, shells and unidentified “dirt” then I think I’ve ever seen (including the Paris catacombs which is saying something). After we finished taking what we wanted, I worked on a collection of correspondence to and from Julia Anna Gardner, a geologist with the museum and the USGS from the 1920s until her death in 1961. It’s amazing how many people spend their lives identifying fossilized mollusks – but some of the letters are fun. They were so formal – “thank you for the specimen you sent. It was beautifully packaged and arrived unharmed” and etc. Tomorrow it is back to scanning.

Dirt and Discovery

(my first report for my class this summer)

My first impression of this work is that I cannot be afraid to get down and dirty, to put it bluntly. In the classroom, when we discussed appraisal or re-housing collections for preservation purposes, we never discussed the dirt. I have been at my internship at the Smithsonian Institute Archives (SIA) for two weeks now and I have ruined a pristine pair of white gloves, covered a t-shirt (not to mention my hands, face, and hair) in red rot and found some interesting newsprint stains on a pair of jeans. In theory, and in the classroom, this job did not seem quite so…undignified. However, I find the practice is much more to my liking than the theory. In class, it was always hard to picture “well, I would do this in this situation…” Now, being in the actual situation, I find I work better in the grime.

The pair of white gloves is my companion for my main project this summer – a digitization and re-housing of a collection of photos in the Science Service collection. These file folders contain photos, newspaper clippings, press releases and various other materials from the 1920s to about the end of the 1960s. The Science Service aimed at popularizing science – Think of it as the AP for science enthusiasts. These folders tend to be disorganized, grimy, and filled with bits of paper and rot. My gloves did not stand a chance. However, I love looking through these files. The actual project itself is very repetitive. I find a photo, place it under acid-free paper, add it to the database, scan it and move onto the next. If the folders themselves were not fascinating, I would be a robot by 10 AM. As it is, I have already scanned in over 450 photos in two weeks. Something has to keep me involved in the work and I found quickly with these files the element of dirt goes well with discovery. I am looking at files that have not been used much, if at all, since the 1960s. There are newspaper clippings about the dropping of the atomic bomb, pictures chronicling women in the lab before women were suppose to be there, and press releases about new discoveries I took for granted in high school chemistry class. It is the artifacts themselves that I have come to enjoy and because of that, I enjoy the work. I often wonder who will find these photos useful – what will them do with them? What I can add to the database entry that will help them?

Another aspect of my internship involves helping with a moving project at a warehouse in Virginia at Fullerton. SIA has to be out of this space by the end of the summer but they are using this opportunity to take stock of these collections and to do preservation and re-housing on most collections before removing them either to the Capital Gallery collections ( the building in DC where I work most days) or sending them out to Iron Mountain for storage. It is clear that this move needs to be made. I could see the list from introduction to Archives and Record Management about a good location for archives and Fullerton meets very few of them. It is also just plain dirty. A lot of the collections have not been touched in decades. I re-housed two collections out at Fullerton to date and both left me with dust and dirt everywhere. I especially enjoyed a collection of 19th century ledger books that left me with “red rot” all over my hands, face and t-shirt. Strangely though, that made me feel I accomplished something. I put that collection into a better environment so when a researcher needs to know how much the Smithsonian paid the zookeeper in 1888, that ledger will be preserved and ready for him/her.

So, my first impression of the work is that it is not easy – it is hot, dirty, tiring work some days. However, it is also very rewarding. I like the feeling that I am preserving that picture or that letter for someone down the road who will appreciate it more than I ever could. It was a feeling I knew I should get from my classes but practice is a much better way from me to understand what my professors were saying to me

Hello from DC!

OK – this is a bit late (only a week late but late none the less) but be happy you’re getting it 😉 I arrived in DC last Sunday for my summer internship at the Smithsonian Institute Archives. I am lucky enough to be staying with family in the beautiful Capitol Hill neighborhood.

First off, I am loving this city. Minus the extreme heat that makes me feel like I am hitting a wall when I step outside the door, it is an absolutely beautiful place to live. One of my new loves is the Metro system. Seriously, why doesn’t every city have one of these?? It is so easy and fast to get anywhere. It works great for me, car-less as ever, especially. Plus, I am in a city with a million museums – what is a girl like me not to love?

I’ve visited two of the Smithsonian Museums so far and I need to go back to both to finish them. I ran out of time at the Museum of Natural History (NMNH) as I went after work one night and couldn’t get everything done before it closed. My main highlight there was the Gemstones and Minerals. I think I looked at rocks for a good hour and half. I didn’t even drool at the Hope Diamond that long either. I did sigh longingly over some of the emeralds and sapphires though. Sadly, my gem of choice isn’t even a gem according to the Smithsonian. I was quite put out to find my amethyst classified as quartz and stuck in with all the minerals. I guess I have cheap tastes then!

The other museum I’ve been to is the National Gallery of Art (NGA) which I was very excited to see. My only other foray at the Mall was in 8th grade, before I developed my love of art museums. This museum was fabulous and I’m looking forward to going back. I went with my fellow interns and we skipped a wing in favor of modern art. However, I dreamed my way through another collection of the Impressionists. I do so adore them. If only I could see the world like that. NGA’s Van Gogh collection was slim but they had some fabulous Renoirs and Monets so I forgive them for now. It is a massive museum though – we spent all day there and skipped a wing so I definitely will take another morning or afternoon to finish my visit there. (FYI – I did buy two books at this museum but let’s face it – the only other place I might by a book at is the National Archives so I feel entirely justified in my purchases). After we did the museum, we walked for a bit in the fabulous 100 degree heat. We found the Navy Memorial that way and made our way along East and Pennsylvania for a bit. However, I was seriously gross when I got back to the house. I am not accustomed to heat – I am from CNY people!

So, I suppose I should discuss my job a little? I have to keep a blog and write reports for my class on my internship so I’ll probably post those on this blog as well for my family to read (it will be riveting, have no fear!). The Smithsonian Institute Archives (SIA) is in Capital Gallery, a block south from the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). The facility is superb and the staff so nice and friendly. My supervisor, Tammy, has been great. I have spent the majority of my time so far on my major summer project, digitizing photos from the Science Service morgue files. The files have been interesting to go through. The Science Services was like AP for scientists and the files I’m working with are from the 1920s to the late 1960s. Some of the cool things I’ve found deal with atomic energy and weaponry research so far as well as the occasional woman scientist who existed in the early years of the files. I have been surprised how long it takes me to entirely process a folder to be honest but I think I have found the best system for me so I just keep plugging away at them.

Last week, on Friday, they did let me out of my windowless scanning room. I worked on accessioning and arranging the papers of Donald Lopaz, the former deputy director of NASM. He seemed like a very cool guy – he was a fighter pilot with the Flying Tigers in China during WWII and worked with NASA on the Saturn rocket design. His papers weren’t bad to go through at all which is always a good thing. Organization was not his strong point however – I pulled a stack of papers from a box inside another box…ugh. I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to finish his papers. I had a bunch of electronic records to get through yet. However, I have scanning tomorrow, I’m out at the Fullerton warehouse on Wednesday, more scanning on Thursday (I’m assuming, we have a calendar but it changes frequently so one never knows…) and then Friday I’m at the NMNH with Tammy to look through four filing cabinets in Paleobiology. Fun times ahead for me 🙂

I am enjoying it though, a lot. I was wary of coming to be honest. I’m not much of a city person but I have found if I can find my cute little neighborhood, residential pocket in a city, I seem to do just fine. Good thing to know for down the road.