An afternoon at the museum may not sound like the most fun family activity ever, but when the museum is the Smithsonian, you know that even the most persnickety of your family members is going to have fun exploring for hours among the expansive collections of this multi-building museum. The Smithsonian is so much more than a museum. It is truly an experience. There are literally hundreds of thousands of things to see, so much so that it would be impossible to see everything even if you spent a week wandering the galleries. You can expect to see dioramas and displays of classic history, science and culture. Some of the artifacts that you may stumble upon, however, could come as a bit more of a surprise. Here are ten of the strangest things that you will see on an adventure to the Smithsonian.
10. Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers
The books may have spoken of silver shoes, but everybody knows the sparkling red footwear that made sure Dorothy got where she needed to go. These fabulous examples of pilfered Oz fashion worn by Judy Garland can be seen with other pop culture memorabilia and are one of the most sought-after exhibits in the whole museum. Look closely and you can see the evidence of the wear and tear these shoes underwent as they danced and clicked their way down the yellow brick road and beyond.
9. Teddy Roosevelt’s Teddy Bear
The origin of every child’s favorite nighttime cuddly friend is one of our nation’s most beloved tales. We all know the story of avid hunter President Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting expedition proclaiming that an injured bear and her nearby cub were not to be killed, inspiring the creation of the teddy bear. Amid the Smithsonian’s collections you can see the original teddy bear, the snuggly toy that was presented to the president as a token of his compassion and gentleness.
8. President Harry Truman’s Bowling Alley
Presidents are supposed to make themselves at home in the White House, but some take this a bit further than others. President Harry Truman took one room in his term-long home and converted it into a bowling alley. This two-lane alley became a favorite hangout for the president and his posse, even becoming headquarters for the official White House Bowling League. After Truman had left the building, the next president took away the bowling alley and made the room into a mimeograph facility. Some of the official White House bowling pins and other memorabilia made their way into the Smithsonian to show the lighter side of the presidency.
7. Crystal Skull
[Insert dramatic Indiana Jones music here] The crystal skull is an artifact that is so cloaked in mystery that no one actually knows its real origin. There are theories as to why these pieces were created, but the debate still exists as to the real reason behind their development and the meaning behind who owns them and where they end up. The near-perfect crystal skull that now resides in the Smithsonian came from an anonymous donor in the early 90s and sits proudly in the Museum of Natural History. Made of solid quartz, there is even question as to how the skull was made so perfectly without evidence of tool marks. It may just take the coolest librarian ever to find out.
6. Politically Correct Elephant
Anyone who has ever entered the Natural History gallery of the Smithsonian has seen the enormous pachyderm that greets visitors atop a recreated chunk of his natural habitat. What they may not have noticed is what they didn’t see. The elephant that stands in the lobby of the museum is an impressive example of masculinity—but some people automatically assume, despite the tremendous tusks, that this elephant is a female. This is because after much controversy and complaint the elephant was modified as to not be “offensive” to more delicate viewers. It makes you wonder what else about history has been prettied up to make it a bit more palatable.