Tom Rall, from Arlington, Virginia, is an avid collector of vintage photos, daguerreotypes and glass lantern slides. When he mentioned to his old friend Paula Richardson Fleming, a retired Smithsonian photo archivist, that he had among his collection a glass slide that might depict the Smithsonian Institution Building, she at first didn’t think much about it. After all, the Smithsonian “Castle” is an iconic building that has always been a favorite subject for photographers. It wasn’t until she got a close look at the undated glass plate at the annual D.C. Antique Photo and Postcard Show this past spring that she realized Rall might have something very special - a photo of the Smithsonian Castle taken while it was still under construction. They took the plate to Richard Stamm, curator of the Smithsonian Castle Collection.
“I was able to pin-point the year the photo was taken based on the progress of the building’s construction as reported yearly by the Building Committee in our early SI Annual Reports,” said Stamm. He and Fleming conducted more research at the Library of Congress and through other sources and were able to confirm the picture was taken in June or July of 1850 - the earliest known photograph of the Smithsonian Castle.
Sounds like big things are planned for Andrew Carnegie's old home.
Perhaps The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer is right to tout that “The Museum of the Future Is Here” in the form of the new Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City. Don’t let the old-fashioned façade of the Andrew Carnegie Mansion (shown above), home to the Cooper-Hewitt, fool you. Beneath that façade beats a new, digital heart. Each visitor receives a “pen” with which they can access digital information on the works they see and “collect” them digitally to enjoy at home. Read the whole article to discover the multiple ways (including hopes of becoming a link “hub” a la Wikipedia, but for the arts) the Cooper-Hewitt has reached out to the digital world while retaining its physical tradition, but the money quote from Meyer is this: “The Cooper Hewitt has transformed into an organization not unlike Wikipedia, Pinterest, or, for that matter, The Atlantic: Somewhere between a media and a tech firm; it is a Thing That Puts Stuff on the Internet. Or, more precisely, A Thing That Puts Things on the Internet.” Maybe you can have your “stuff,” and be digital, too.
I made only a few trips to the Cooper-Hewitt—once during a raging snowstorm—and I really enjoyed working with the staff there, visiting the old (original, I think) storage facility for the Museum of the American Indian in the Bronx, and the chance to visit with a member of the St Louis Cardinals—my host at the museum was his uncle—during a Mets doubleheader. I think it's great that the museum is taking these steps, but I hope that Carnegie's imprint on the building remains.