DUKES FANS: Thanks, John Smithson
People who know me know that among my favorite things in the world are museums. I have written numerous times about things I have seen and experiences I have had at the Philadelphia Art Museum, the African-American Museum on Arch Street, The Barnes Foundation, The National Constitution Center and more. I am a museum guy, and I am proud of it.
This all started with going to public libraries when I was in elementary school. These special looking buildings had pictures and artwork that intrigued me and they all seemed to be able to take me somewhere else. My mom had encyclopedias for us, and they, too took me somewhere else and tugged at my imagination. But the libraries were buildings; they were more intense and real. And then when I was in junior high school and got to go to the Art Museum, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the main branch of the free library, I was hooked. I needed to explore all buildings that looked like that and see what I could find inside. And I have been doing that ever since.
I am thinking about this because I just finished reading the latest issue of the Smithsonian, the monthly publication of the Smithsonian Institution. I have been a subscriber to the magazine since my wife and I started our regular Baltimore-DC weekends sometimes in the 1990’s. We loved the show Homicide: Life on The Street, so we started going down to Baltimore for weekends. We would eat at some of the places where Homicide was filmed and we came to discover and frequent some of our favorite museums: The Reginald Lewis Museum, a museum dedicated to the history and culture of Blacks in Maryland, Great Blacks in Wax, a wax museum dedicated to all aspects of the Black experience, and the Museum of American Visionary Art, a museum dedicated to outsider art. After a few times of doing this we realized we were close to Washington, DC, and that began our regular Spring and Fall Baltimore-DC routine. We would go down to Baltimore on a Friday, see one of the three museums, and then eat at a favorite seafood restaurant. We would then spend all day Saturday in DC, visiting at least one of the many Smithsonian museums and galleries, eat at a DC restaurant, usually in Adams-Morgan, and return to Baltimore Saturday night. We would then stop off at a Baltimore sight and then head back to Philly on Sunday. We did that for years. We especially loved the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of American History, The African Art Museum, the Anacostia Museum and its dedication to urban life, and the Museum of Natural History. (We had planned to visit the Museum of African-American History and Culture in March of 2018, but the wind and rains storms that weekend closed both Maryland and DC)
I love how each of the different Smithsonian museums is laid out. I do not know how they planned or deigned it, but somehow any part of any one of the museums could suddenly transport me to a different time period or to a different location. Or it could give me a new perspective on something with which I was already familiar. Seeing the Greensboro, NC lunch counter where the sit- in movement started in the American History Museum, for example, made it real for me in a way that it quite hadn’t been before. It almost didn’t matter which of the museums we went to; something transformative would almost always happen after spending just a little time inside.
I was curious about how this amazing collection of museums came to be, and I was amazed to find out that the Smithsonian Institution owes it birth to one John Smithson, a wealthy British scientist who left in his will some $500,000 “to found at Washington under the name, Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” No one knows why he did that-he had not visited the US, he had no relatives in the US, and he left no explanation for it in his writings. But when President Polk in 1846 signed the bill into law that authorized a Smithsonian trust and set up a Board of Regents, the groundwork was laid for what would eventually become the world’s largest museum collection and research organization. Not only that, but it was decided early on that the phrase, “diffusion of knowledge” meant that the public would be allowed to see the results of this research. This was not some secretive enterprise-it was public. And as the Institution built building after building, established research teams, it kept expanding its reach and expertise, encompassing and examining more and more different aspects of United States life, science, and culture. It is literally “the gift that keeps on giving,” as the institution continually takes us in new directions and provides new insights into nearly every aspect of our lives. It is quietly miraculous and wonderful/
So after I finished this month’s magazine, and reading about a new look at the reign of Roman Emperor Nero and discovered the life of the South Dakota poet who wrote one of my favorite Ian and Sylvia songs, and looking at how scientists are trying to figure out ways to stop the spotted lanternfly before it gets to the agricultural fields of the West, I said a quiet “Thank you” to John Smithson. His gift to a fledgling country, barely 60 years old at the time, has opened the world not only to me but to millions. It is amazing what a museum can do for us all. Thanks, John, so much!
(Links to museums mentioned above:
Great Blacks in Wax:
American Visionary Arts Museum
Reginald Lewis Museum
The Smithsonian Institution Complex
IMPORTANT CITIZEN STUFF: please take note
The census will be ending September 30, a month earlier than previously scheduled. This is important; if you have not done your census yet, please do it now! The census is hugely important. The information it contains helps the Federal government decide on things such as voting districts, grants for Federal aid, transportation and highway funds, and a hell of a lot more. It is one of the ways our tax dollars get to come back to us in our own areas, and as COVID makes abundantly clear, we need our tax dollars put to work for us. Please go to the website: https://www.census.gov And check to make sure friends, family members, and co-workers have completed the process. Thanks
November 3rd is the date of one of the most important national and state elections in our lifetimes. It is not too extreme to say that the history of at least the next 20-40 years of the United States is at stake here, so everyone should be sure they are registered, they have a plan to vote, and that they are ready to go. If you are voting by mail, order your ballot now and get it turned in as soon as possible to avoid any delays and craziness. And if you are a Pennsylvanian, be aware of the “naked ballot” court decision. Please make sure you are following all of your state’s rules.
There are also a huge need in states for poll workers, so if you can do that please help out. And you can get paid for doing it. Here is a link about it:
THE TWO JOHNS ARE BACK AT THE COSMIC CAFÉ-SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18: NOON UNTIL 3 PM
The Two Johns-Johnny Never, acoustic guitar and vocal and John Colgan-Davis, harmonica-return to one of our favorite places to play and to play safely. The Cosmic Café is a great small café and beverage spot in back of the Art Museum on Boathouse Row. It features great sandwiches and salads, beer and non-alcoholic beverages and a great staff. Masks are required, tables are set apart, and there are nice views of the Schuylkill River.
THE DUKES ARE ON HIATUS!
The recent upticks in local COVID infections means that the Dukes are going to lay low until December at the earliest. Hopefully treatments and/or a COVID vaccine can be developed, tested and distributed by then, but we are not doing any live gigs for now. It is simply too risky. We want to thank all of our fans and friends-playing for you is an absolute joy and the reason we do what we do. We are looking forward to a time when we can safely do it live again. Stay safe, be careful and be well.
Missing Dukes Sounds?
Dukes Live Dukes of Destiny - Chain of Fool's
Change of Address: Hideaway Records, owned by my high school buddy Brian Reisman and one of my favorite record, CD and DVD stores, has moved down the Hill to 8232 Germantown Ave. Look for the top hat on the sign