with Dr. Richard Kurin, Smithsonian Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador-at-Large and Daniel Piazza, Chief Curator, National Postal Museum
Secrets of the Smithsonian and the NPM
Join National Postal Museum director Elliot Gruber and chief curator Daniel Piazza as they host Dr. Richard Kurin, author of “The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects,” for an enlightening evening lecture highlighting the hidden secrets of the Smithsonian Institution. Learn how the Smithsonian is actively involved in today’s most critical issues ranging from virus research in China, to cultural heritage recovery missions at disaster sites, to racial sensitivity training for the nation’s law enforcement. The Smithsonian’s secrets expand far beyond Earth’s atmosphere—you’ll also hear how your Smithsonian explores the stars, as well as discover which objects from the National Postal Museum have been to space!
Webinar, Tuesday, September 1, 2020
>> ALLI MATLESKY: Good evening everyone, and thank you for joining the Smithsonian National Postal Museum's lecture with Dr. Richard Kurin. My name is Alli Matlesky and I am part of the advancement team at the National Postal Museum. I am pleased to introduce Elliot Gruber, Director of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Elliot joined the Smithsonian in September 2017 and has embarked on a campaign to increase the reach and impact of the Postal Museum's exhibitions, public programs, and research. Elliot has more than 30 years of service in the nonprofit community including museum positions at the Gettysburg Foundation in Pennsylvania and the Mariner Museum in Newport News Virginia. He is also a leadership position of the National Parks Conservation Association the Civil War trust and the Ocean Conservancy. We are incredibly grateful that is brought his talents and vision to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s. Elliott, the floor is yours.
>> ELLIOT GRUBER: Thank you Alli, and welcome to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum webinar featuring Dr. Richard Kurin and Dan Piazza. When I was first hired as Director of the National Postal Museum, Secretary Skorton said he needed help. He went on to say that when most people think of the Smithsonian, they think of the National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, Natural History, the zoo, and now the national Museum of African American History and Culture. But he said we have more than a dozen other museums, including the National Postal Museum. He asked me to help turn the National Postal Museum from a hidden gem into a gem and hidden no longer. And with the help of leadership and our staff and our two councils we have been doing just that. From our Hamilton exhibit to our upcoming baseball exhibit, America’s Home Run, to our increase in visitation both online and on-site we have begun making a more significant impact.
We have two special guests tonight with us to talk about the diversity of the incredible collections that the Smithsonian has. Smithsonian distinguished scholar Richard Kurin will provide you with a fascinating journey through some of the more unusual objects at the Smithsonian, and Postal Museum chief curator Dan Piazza will highlight some surprising and interesting links between these objects and the Postal Museum's collection. The National Postal Museum has the second largest collection of any Smithsonian museum. And while we have the definitive collection of American postal history and US philately, the majority of our collection is international. Indeed, if you think about it, the National Postal Museum, maybe along with the National Zoo, has the most diverse international holdings of any Smithsonian museum. We have many special guests joining us this evening. Chris Hazy, the chair of the Board of Regents Advancement Committee, and a regional councilmember, and a great champion of all things Smithsonian including the National Postal Museum and of course the national Air and Space Museum’s Udvar Hazy Center. Thank you for joining us Chris. We also have Smithsonian national board members, members of regional councils, and alumni along with supporters of many Smithsonian museums. And I would like to say a special thank you to the Postal Museum advisory council members and supporters who are also attending this webinar. I am also grateful to have our friends from the Museo de Filatelia and Oaxaca Mexico, one of our longtime partners joining us, and thank you also to the Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants, partners with us in our baseball exhibition for being here as well. And thank you all for spending some time with us this evening, and for your assistance throughout the entire year. And now on with our program.
Dr. Richard Kurin is the Smithsonian Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador-at-Large. As a member of the Institution’s senior leadership team, Richard focuses on strategic direction, partnerships, public representation, philanthropic support, and special initiatives including saving endangered cultural heritage. Richard served as a Smithsonian Under Secretary for more than a decade and as a director or acting director of several museums and programs during his four decades at the Smithsonian. An anthropologist with a PhD from the University of Chicago, Richard taught at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International studies and has authored several books including Reflections of a Culture Broker: A View from the Smithsonian, Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem, and the best-selling Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects.
He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Atlantic Council. Richard consults closely with the United States government and international agencies and serves on several Museum foundation and university boards. Richard, it’s an honor and a privilege to have you joining us here this evening.
>> RICHARD KURIN: Thank you.
The museums have certainly enabled and enhanced the reputation of what Smithson could hardly even imagine. The newest museum of course is our African American Museum that opened several years ago that has had great attendance. And I think at that time it really represented an act of national will. I include this slide here because John Lewis, who really labored over a period of 17 years to make that museum a reality, was really a major, major force for the museum and loved it.
As you know the exhibits of the Smithsonian, the exhibitions really attract visitors, teach and inform, and if you have stood by the Star-Spangled Banner in the American History Museum, as I saw to people that really is the Star-Spangled Banner. That is the one we sing about and it is tremendously inspirational, and so too is the moon lander test vehicle at the Air and Space, and the Sant Ocean Hall, and the Portrait Gallery with not only our icons of history but current icons of the American experience.
And exhibits like the American Enterprise at the National Museum of American History, really are informing so many. The root of the Smithsonian's work is really in its collections. The Smithsonian has an unparalleled collection. It really is the largest collection of any Museum anywhere, and just runs the gamut from here depicted items from the Civil War era including that famous Lincoln cracked portrait, to what became postcards depicting the horrors of slavery.
As Elliott mentioned, stamps. The Postal Museum has the second largest collection at the Smithsonian, and the rarest of the rarest of stamps. Artwork from around the world. And airplanes and spaceships, these are out at the Udvar Hazy center.
This is what it looks like backstage, if you have ever been backstage at some of the museums, and this is at Natural History. This is what 3 million birds look like, have to be taken care of, of course. This is what I affectionately call our wet collections that we keep in storage out at the Udvar Hazy center and if you read Dan Brown's novel, I'm trying to remember what the name of it was, He handles us affectionately at the beginning of that novel. Taking care of this is a big job of course and we increasingly take out of it, and when we first started collecting birds It was because of Audubon and his influence on the Secretary of the Smithsonian Spencer Baird, we were collecting birds but little did we realize at the time we didn’t know about DNA. And now we realize that our collections of organic material are actually a library and archives of life on the planet. And so, we have invested heavily in cryo storage because we realized that we need to preserve that DNA for the future because there may be many things unlocked as a result of it.
Around the world, and this is something that people don't realize so much about the Smithsonian, is the breadth of our research. We do a tremendous amount about sustaining the planet. We have a whole unit of 600 people in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, we have scientists at our Conservation Biology Center, the Zoo, and so on, and we do a lot of work in understanding the planet, the ecology and environmental change in species. Indeed, we have a worldwide project, we corroborate with scores and scores of institutions to understand climate change around the planet. Every year we are measuring millions and millions of trees to see the effect of carbon dioxide on the planet. This has led us, and in fact in the midst of Covid, back in April we ended up doing, we had planned an Earth Optimism Summit to bring people from around the planet, scientists and others, working on solutions to issues of climate change. We ended up having to do that virtually, but the Smithsonian really has emerged is one of the leading organizations working with others to really understand how to deal with this issue, and we call the earth optimism because we are looking for solutions and not just problems.
We have done a lot in the preservation of species and in bringing back species, and I am fond of that Golden lion tamarin at the top of the screen, a very cute creature. We helped bring back the Arabian oryx as well and of course made tremendous efforts with the pandas and we just had a birth which was successful, and it was really scientists at the Smithsonian, Joe Gail Howard, pictured in the photograph of Smithsonian veterinarians and scientists who pioneered the technique of getting pandas pregnant and viable.
Because of the Smithsonian efforts with our Chinese colleagues we have actually gotten the panda off the endangered list but doing much better and we learned a lot from that.
Here is something that people don't realize we are doing. Because of our research with environments and species and so on, to understand the relationship between wildlife, domestic animals, and human beings. And we understand how diseases move, and if you are talking about zoonotic diseases you are talking about things like avian flu, HIV, West Nile, Zika, and so on.
With zika, we just happened to have at the museum a national mosquito collection. Whoever thought there was such a thing, 25,000 mosquitoes from over a century ago that gives us a clue into mutations of disease and understanding it. We worked very heavily in Panama at our Tropical Research Institute to figure out how to make mosquitoes infertile so they would not produce, so they could not carry the Zika disease. And indeed, this is something we worked with our scientists, our scientists worked with others and in April a Smithsonian scientist discovered six new coronaviruses in bats. If that doesn't scare you, it should.
And currently the Smithsonian with other partners is tracking about 1200 different viruses. These are viral vectors that go from wildlife to domestic life to human beings and the idea is to understand those roots of transmission and the vectors of the viruses in order to prevent them from doing us harm in the future. So here we are in the midst of the coronavirus and Smithsonian scientists are working on it. And we train the next generation so hopefully they will be better prepared and better informed and better able than we are to handle such things.
We are also exploring the universe. This scene is Hawaii, is not a beach in Hawaii or a tropical paradise, but this is on top of a mountain in Hawaii and we run land-based telescopes all over the planet. In Chile, Greenland, and Arizona. And we also operate several space missions for NASA, the Smithsonian gets over $100 million a year from NASA to run various space missions, experimentation, engineering, and science, and the idea is to understand Black holes, dark matter, exoplanets, and so on.
And this is the first ever picture taken of a Black hole.
This effort came about as the result of a Smithsonian led project organizing literally thousands of people around the planet to make the observations and put this together, and I expect that Shep Dolman and the team that did this will end up winning a Nobel Prize for their efforts.
This is a current project that the Smithsonian astrophysical Observatory with the consortium is up to, trying to build this telescope, the giant Magellan telescope on top of a mountain in the Atacama Desert. If you are looking for a trip to Chile, it's a great trip to go up there. The land has been cleared, three of the mirrors have been fabricated, we have started construction, and this will hopefully be ready in a few years and the idea of this telescope is to find evidence of life in the universe. To give you an idea of the telescope at how big it is, you see that arrow pointing and that is the size of a human being. So, this is a huge telescope for a huge mission.
And the Smithsonian not only relying on its own scientists and scholars and collaborating folks from other institutions, engages a lot of citizen volunteers in this effort to understand the universe. I think as all Americans look to understanding our country, particularly when times are unsettling and challenging, all citizens and all people in the United States want to better understand the American experience and the Smithsonian has played a major role in doing it through a number of its museums, the Postal Museum included. The American history, the portrait gallery, and so on, to really understand the American experience.
This year we are particularly concentrating on doing research and collection activities with regard to women in history because we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of women suffrage. We also had a very generous donation to start a Latino gallery and that is in the planning for the American history Museum because again we understand the need for expanding that story, telling everybody's story and doing it well, and not just telling the story but hoping that people benefit from it and a peoples neighbors and fellow citizens benefit from it.
Indeed, one of the things that has wrecked all of us is issues of law enforcement and some of the events that have happened recently and the strain in the national fabric that has caused. In the National Museum of African American History and Culture, after the events at Ferguson a few years ago, started advising and working with police departments around the country, around the country to advise them on race relations, the history of race, and so on in our country so that police departments should be better prepared, and while the museum was open we would get many, many visits from police departments again from around the country sending trainers and officers and recruits who were coming into policing to come to the African American Museum and better understand what they and their ancestors and their fellow citizens and so on have gone through. And you can only imagine how many calls and contacts we are having these days in the last weeks and months about this issue and trying to help out as we can.
We are also doing work around the world. We try to find the first humans and figure out what made us human and how human evolution took place. We work around the world in cultures, whether it be the Tibetan plateau or the Inca road in the Andes in South America, or on Egyptian mummies. And our studies vary from culture to archaeology and hence frolic there the guy looking at mummies to see their arterial sclerosis and whether they had some of the same problems that we have today. And if they did what were some of the sources in their diet that because that back then because they did not have the kind of synthetic foods and heavy sugar diet that we have today, so we are trying to find those clues.
We do a lot of work on human migration, adaptation, climate change and how it is affecting native peoples around the world, people who are on the edge of environments where environmental change has tremendous and quick effects and impacts on their lives.
Something that we got into, I got into first after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 was our effort to save cultures around the planet that were challenged by either natural disasters or human conflicts. And we have been working very hard in Iraq, and in Syria as well, although not so much lately, but certainly in Iraq to try to help people protect their treasures in light of ISIS and in light of Assad's barrel bombs and so forth. In the upper quadrant you see ISIS people destroying the Mosul Museum and we are working now in the Mosul Museum with our colleagues to help restore that Museum and bring back a lot of the civic life in Mosul that was devastated by ISIS. You see in the top left of your screen, that is not the moon, those are looting pits at Dura Europos, a famous site, and it represents what ISIS was doing in terms of looting and the Smithsonian actually works very closely, and that may be a surprise to some, with the FBI, Interpol, and other law enforcement to try to stem such looting and so on and protect items. Right now, in the lower part you see some of our folks with Iraqis working at the site of Nimrud blown up by ISIS. When US and allied forces invaded Mosul and Raqqa they turned to the Smithsonian because of our work with them and we produced these guides, these pocket guides that go in the pockets of uniforms, people in camouflage outfits, and they had what not to destroy in Mosul. And then again in the invasion of Raqqa, so we produce that with the military and the DOD and with NATO. And some of our work with again Homeland Security, FBI, DOD, DIA, the State Department has really led us to -- I think I look pretty good over there, although I have not worn a tie in a few months, with General Cogan who is now the head -- we signed an agreement for the Smithsonian to train the next generation of monuments men and women, and many, many people signed up and we are starting to do that actually next week via zoom. But we save heritage in Haiti, in Nepal, and other places and right now we are starting to help people in Yemen and we are advising people in Beirut as a result of the explosion, and that effort overseas also has led us to help out domestically in New York for super storm Sandy, in South Carolina with flooding, Texas and Houston as a result of their hurricanes, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after Maria. So, we do a lot of work in this area to save culture and take care of things, not only in museums but outside of the museums.
And we continue to work on Nazi looted art and in fact thanks to the Hurets who are on this call, they and others helped us out recently. Of the monuments men diaries came up for auction earlier this summer and it was George Stout, the guy played by George Clooney in the movie monuments men, that came up for auction and a number of Smithsonian folks helped us out and we are really appreciative of getting that addition to our collection.
We continue to write books and inform people everywhere; we continue to loan objects. This past year because of the anniversary of Apollo 11, that was traveling around, but the shot at the museum is the 9/11 Museum and a lot of the objects there came from those collected by the Smithsonian and on loan to that Museum.
We continue our work with the Smithsonian channel and our view is to try to reach 1 billion people a year around the planet, not just the 30 million people that will visit the museum when we reopen. The idea is use the channel and other methods to reach people. With Covid we faced an interesting issue because we had to reach people when our museums weren't open so we put a lot of material out digitally, I did this, this was offered for free through the great courses and I was really struck by the fact that all those millions of students who come to the Smithsonian during the spring for their trip, and for many it is a once in a lifetime experience, didn't get that chance. And so we did this great tours of Washington DC, it is 24 lectures and I got some people like Colin Powell and José Andres and Yo-Yo Ma and Lonnie Bunch the secretary, David Rubenstein and others to join me on that tour of Washington so instead of people coming to Washington and experiencing the nation's capital, we can bring it to students and teachers around the country. And many of the museum to the same thing in terms of bringing their collections.
We are continuing to do our stuff online, through the web, through social media, and it's a lot of good work by a lot of good people, about 6500 staff, 12,000 volunteers, members of partner institutions, support from Congress, regents, boards, all of you, and the American people that makes us every possible.
To end on a note in regard to the Postal Museum I wanted to point out the Postal Museum in my own work, I have a book about the hope diamond from about 15 years ago in the opening of the book begins with the delivery of the hope diamond in this package, and that package is indeed in the Postal Museum. And I went to the Postal Museum and when I saw it I learned that the first paragraph of my book was wrong because the annotations of that package in the Postal Museum collection, I had to change my book or at least the first page of my book because of the notations on there that pointed out an error I had made. But I want to say that my wife, who is teaching today, a teacher in Fairfax County, doing it digitally and her favorite museum is the Postal Museum. She is dealing with a lot of immigrant kids, kids new to the country, and she finds the use of stamps is a great way of getting at a very tangible and very topical and she uses visits to the Postal Museum as a vehicle for teaching her second and third and fourth graders and she can't wait to get back.
And finally as an homage to Cheryl Ganz so I think is on the line, who was our chief curator for many years at the Postal Museum, given the discussion in our country about voting and the use of the mail in the Postal Service and everything, whoever thought that in 2020 the National Postal Museum might be the most important museum in the country for understanding our democracy? So it's a great place, I am grateful for Elliott and his crew over at the Postal Museum for having me, and I'm also grateful to you all. I have been doing this from my home and sometimes I have been -- I think if Chris Hazy is online and Gordon Eubanks on the line, I have actually lectured in your homes and so now you are coming to mine. But I'm very grateful for your work and all of your support. Thank you so much, and now over to Dan Piazza, chief curator at the Postal Museum.
>> ELLIOT GRUBER: I am going to jump in here Richard is a really thank you very, very much. I always learn so much every time I hear you speak, and I did as well today. I also would like to remind everyone on the call that if you have any questions please look at the bottom of your screen for the Q&A function and to submit those questions via that and then we will come to the question shortly.
But first also it is my pleasure to introduce Dan Piazza who is the chief curator at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Dan collects and writes about the stamps and the postal history of the United States during the Bureau period from 1894 to 1978 as well as the Italian Peninsula he sits on the board of governors of the Vatican philatelic Society and edits its journal, Vatican notes. He has also received the society's Veritas and President award for scholarship and service respectively. His other national memberships include the American philatelic Society, the American philatelic research library, the American first day cover society and writers Union number 30. Locally who serves as literature chairman for the NAPEX exhibition and belongs to both the Washington stamp collectors club and the philatelic Baltimore philatelic society. In addition to his philatelic activities Dan is an academic historian specializing in US history to 1760. He has degrees from Wagner College and Syracuse university and has completed coursework for his PhD, and now Dan, thank you for joining us.
>> DANIEL PIAZZA: Thank you for that introduction Elliott, and you also Richard for that illuminating talk. I am going to attempt to pick up a little bit where you left off with that question of who would have thunk it that the Postal Museum would be so important to understanding democracy in the year 2020, and I want to suggest that I think at least one answer for potential answer to that question is that the founders of the Republic would not be terribly surprised, I think, to learn that the postal system is playing such a central role in democracy and elections and voting this year. I'm going to talk very briefly about some objects in our collection that are related to that.
The first object is kind of hard to see on the screen, it's a large broadside sheet, but this is actually the signed copy of The Postal Act of 1792 which established the post office department as a permanent executive agency of the United States government. And the post office existed before 1792, but doesn't it go back to 1775 and the year before the Declaration of Independence? An answer to that is yes it does, the Continental Congress established the post office in 1775, but for the first nearly 20 years of its existence the post office was on annual appropriations. It was not a permanent agency of the government and the reason for that is there were very sharp disagreements over what the nature and role of the Postal Service in social and political life should be in the new country. And this was because the founders came from an experience where the Royal Postal Service in many occasions had been used to spy on their activities and their political organizing in the years leading up to the American Revolution, so they were very wary of making the post office department a permanent and very powerful agency in the government.
In the end two arguments really sort of won them over to making the post office a permanent agency, and here by the way is an example of a letter from 1775, and you can see the notation perhaps in the lower right-hand corner of the letter, constitutional post. The founders were so concerned about their mail being opened and read by mail officials that they set up their own shadow postal system, and you have heard also of the committees of correspondence which were another shadow postal system that operated alongside the Royal postal office in the years leading up to the revolution. Two arguments convinced the founders of the need for a Postal Service, though, and here is one of them. The money. This is Benjamin Franklin's ledger as postmaster general in 1770 and 1771 and you can see the balance in the post office accounts was £5800, that was a lot of money in 1770. And the federal government had very few mechanisms at its disposal in the early years for raising revenue. All they had really were customs and import duties, excise taxes on things like alcohol, and postal revenues. So the federal government desperately needed a source of revenue, but also they felt that the establishment of a post office and encouraging communication among the new states in the new nation would lead to greater political literacy and political knowledge among the citizens, and would foster democracy.
So right from the beginning, we hear a lot in the media and in commentary today about the Postal Service is a business. No. The Postal Service has a social mission and is a public service. Well, it is both really, and that is the nub of the issue, it is both and has been from the beginning. It is expected to have the social mission of promoting democracy and enabling political organization while also turning a profit in making money for the federal government. So, this argument that we are having today would have, I think much of it would have resonated very deeply with the founding generation.
What they had in mind was political activity like this piece which is from 1848. It actually has the first US postage stamp on it, a five cents stamp featuring Benjamin Franklin. This is a circular laying out the party platform for the Free Soil Party in the 1848 presidential election. The Free Soil Party was an offshoot of the Whig party and what would become the Republican party led by the former President Martin Van Buren. This is the type of political activity that was envisioned early on. That pamphlets and letters and circulars expressing political opinions and the exchange of ideas that a functioning and healthy postal system would facilitate.
We don't really get voting by mail in the sense that we are talking about it today until the American Civil War. In the American Civil War, 1861 to 1865, particularly in the 1864 presidential election is the first time you have large numbers of ballots being cast by mail, and this is from soldiers in the field. And in the Civil War most of these units and regiments were raised state-by-state, so it was very easy in a sense among all of the regiments from a particular state to appoint various officers to accept the ballots and tally them up, and this is a copy of the letter back to the Highland County Court in the state of Ohio and you see it says tally sheet from the field hospital in the American Civil War, the second division. So in this case it is not actually ballots being sent back but someone, likely an officer in the unit or the officer in command, was appointed to tabulate, tally, and report probably a voice vote of all of the soldiers and take that tally and the record of what the votes were and mail them back to the clerk in the home county.
And then as now there was a lot of discussion and talk around whether allowing people to vote by mail, in this case soldiers in the field, would affect the outcome of the election. In the 1864 presidential election, Abraham Lincoln was running for reelection with a new vice-presidential candidate, Andrew Johnson. And this was a risky proposition in 1864. No president had been reelected to a second term since Andrew Jackson and opening up voting by mail to soldiers in the field introduced a kind of unknown element into the electoral politics of 1864. No one knew where the Army would come out in this contest because the candidate on the other side, on the Democratic ticket, was General McClellan who Lincoln had famously demoted early on in the war, and although he had not been drummed out of the Army, he was still a serving officer, he was running for president as a major general in the United States Army. So which way with the Army break? Would they go for Lincoln who had been their commander-in-chief are going on for years, or would they go for McClellan it was a veteran Army officer and too many felt and treated badly in the early days of the war.
This was a big unknown, so anytime you introduce these new policies and procedures into something as important as an election, I think it is only natural for there to be a certain amount of trepidation and nervousness about whether it is going to affect the outcome of the election. And there is an illustrated cover from the same period picturing Major General McClellan and the District of Columbia.
The next time we really get massive numbers of votes cast by mail is in the Second World War, and here you can see the procedure has changed somewhat. This is not an officer tallying a unit's whole vote count and sending it in, but these are individual soldiers, men and women in the auxiliary forces as well, who are casting their ballots. First applying for a ballot by mail, and this is a postcard and you can see here having to state you are in the Armed Forces, the year of your birth, where you resided before you enlisted, and where you want to vote to receive your ballot and your signature having to be witnessed by an officer.
This is another one from Alabama in the same period. And then the soldier would be sent an official war ballot, postage-paid, postage free, that they would have to fill out and sign an oath on the back of the envelope, sign across the seal of the envelope, and also get someone, usually an officer in the unit, to witness their signature before mailing it back.
Millions of votes were cast by mail in the Second World War and we are probably on track this year to have more people voting by mail in this year than at any time really since the Second World War. In the last presidential election I believe it was about one quarter of the votes were cast by mail nationwide, it differs from state to state, but I believe we are on track this year to have the largest vote by mail since the Second World War.
So that is some material from our collection I think it relates to this, and what we are doing -- it's a particularly frustrating time in some ways for the museum to be closed because this is something of a postal moment, and everybody is thinking about and interested in and excited to an extent about postal policy an organization and leadership, and we are closed. So what we are doing in the meantime is giving presentations like this, doing a lot of media interviews, and there has been a lot of interest from radio and television and print media over the last few days, giving talks, and writing articles and blog posts to place online and trying to give you as much access to our content and the background and history of the Postal Service as we can at a time when many people are thinking and talking about it.
So that is a little foray into current events which is always a nerve-racking proposition for a historian, but there it is.
>> Great, thank you so much Dan. We will now move to our Q&A section. The first question we have is for Richard, wondering if you could elaborate a bit more on the change you had to make at the beginning of your book about the Hope diamond based on your findings at the Postal Museum.
>> RICHARD KURIN: So, the first line of the book says, I think, it was 11:30 and the postman was late. And that was referring to the date in November when the Hope diamond was actually being delivered by a postal carrier from the central post office in Washington DC which is the same building as the Postal Museum is in. The guy drove down about a mile or so down to the Natural History Museum and delivered that package. Well, I was wrong about the postal carrier. It was orchestrated. That is, the ceremony with the postmaster general, the Secretary of the Smithsonian and all of these dignitaries was scheduled for 11:30.
And here it was, it was getting late, it was 11:45 and the package wasn't delivered, and everybody was getting antsy. Well, that was actually planned stagecraft. And I realized when I looked at the package at the Postal Museum it was written very clearly there, do not deliver until 11:45. So the postal carrier was given instructions, he was not aware of the greater dramatic plot, but he did exactly what he was told, and I didn't know that. So I had to change the book in the second edition to not accuse him of being late.
>> That's great, thank you. And we have a question for Dan. How did you get these amazing historical materials for the Postal Museum?
>> DANIEL PIAZZA: The material comes to us in a number of ways. We do have some small acquisition funds, we do occasionally buy things at auction, although I don't think any of the particular pieces I showed today, I don't recall any of them coming to us through purchase or auction. These were all donations from individual donors over the years who have given them to us. This is material that has come into our collection, most of it I would say between the 1980s and today, all of this material has been collected both on the colonial post office and the Civil War period.
>> Great, thank you. And our next question is for Richard, and it's actually about your surroundings. This comes from Pat Puente, one of our regional Council members. She was wondering if you could talk about that picture behind you.
>> RICHARD KURIN: Okay, thank you, and hi Pat, it's good to hear your question. The picture behind me is Haitian artwork. After the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Haitian artists painted the quake. It was a way of processing their experience. Children also did that to process the experience of tremendous loss of friends and family. It ended up being kind of therapeutic, but this painting depicts the national cathedral in Haiti, Notre Dame. It was destroyed in the earthquake; it had been the center of national life. Sorry about that. And it shows people, Haitians fleeing to the nearby port to escape the devastation, the falling buildings in the city. And the port waters look red and bloody to represent the literally over 200,000 people who were killed in Haiti.
I bought this painting; it is done by a famous Haitian artist. My colleague Johnetta Cole who was the director of the African Art Museum bought the other paintings in the series, she but the second one and I am trying to locate the person who bought the third one. It has been a feature of Haitian life certainly since going back to their independence and the abolition of slavery back in 1804 when they defeated Napoleon, but all the more so really since the 1950s, that style of taking your everyday experience and turning it into art. And it's a lovely thing that people do in order to survive. I call it the artist survival.
>> That's really incredible, thank you. It's a beautiful painting. And on another note, Dan, we know that some of the early stamps featured founding fathers and others. When did the first stamps with African Americans up here and who was featured, if you know that the top of your head?
>> DANIEL PIAZZA: Yes, the first postal stamp featuring an African American was issued in 1940 as part of a series called the famous American series. It shows Booker T. Washington as an educator, and then the second stamp featuring an African American was actually later on of the same series featuring George Washington Carver as a scientist. And that was in the 1940s.
>> That's wonderful. And we did have a request, we know that the Postal Museum is opening up our baseball exhibit soon. Could you give a very brief description of that?
>> DANIEL PIAZZA: Yes, the baseball exhibit will open hopefully next year. We are keeping an eye on everything in the schedule, everything is fluid right now, but this is a project I actually have been working on for a number of years now so no one would like to see it opened more dearly perhaps than the people on this call. But this will take a very sweeping and broad ranging look at the game from its Mesoamerican origins all the way through the 1950s and 1960s.But you view it entirely through the lens of stamps and mail. So what parts of the game at this history have been commemorated through stamps, what parts of the game at this history have been perhaps obscured because they are not commemorated on stamps, and how at different moments and different athletes in the game have been chosen to be commemorated, and how people use the mail to communicate with players and with team ownership and with the league and make their opinions and their feelings about the game known. When Babe Ruth was suspended from the game in 1921, letters poured into the Commissioner, are you trying to kill the game, are you trying to ruin baseball. Again in the 1940s when they were having conversations around desegregating the game and allowing African American players in the major leagues for the first time, again the public expressed themselves in letters to the Commissioner of baseball, and we will have examples of those in the exhibit, as well as stamps from around the world.
>> Incredible, and I know we are all very, very excited for that to open once it is safe to be back in the museums. All right, and so one of our last questions for the evening is for Richard. Who will be your monuments men students and when and where will they be deployed?
>> RICHARD KURIN: A good question. Basically the first class of 25 monuments men and women coming from the service, I think there is a few reserves, a small amount of reserves, but basically there was a great demand to be admitted to this first class of monuments men and women. They come from all units, from the Army, from around the country, and General Cogan and I will open it I think on September 14 or something. As to where they are deployed, you know, it depends on where we have troops. We have obligations under the Hague Convention particularly with regard to the armed services and the protection of cultural property. So, they will go where our troops are and where that is an issue.
I should say by way of background we have this program at the Smithsonian because in addition to hiring Elliot Gruber, a very good decision, another good decision was hiring Cori Wegener years ago after the Haiti issue, and Cori had been a monuments woman, a civil affairs officer who served in Iraq. She was a curator of decorative arts at the Minneapolis Museum of Art but was deployed as a reserve officer to the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad and helped to save that museum and now she works with the Smithsonian. So these things have a tremendous way of coming around and it has been interesting to me to see the care and the commitment of the Army, and I see it with the FBI and with Homeland Security and others in terms of really protecting cultural treasures in the same way -- well maybe not the same way, but with the same commitment that we do at the Smithsonian.
>> DANIEL PIAZZA: Richard, we had a researcher at the national Postal Museum last year who was doing some work on this topic specifically. She was looking at depictions on postage stamps of the Buddhas in Afghanistan that were destroyed by the Taliban, and part of the research she was doing and what she concluded was that unfortunately actually for some of these cultural heritage sites and world treasures, them being pictured on postage stamps actually was making them targets.
>> RICHARD KURIN: Well, it doesn't surprise me. We are very careful, and we have people in Iraq many times and I have been there many times and we had to take training to avoid being a hostage, we have security and we are very careful about it. But we to try not to advertise that we are saving stuff here, i.e. here is a flag hanging over the place we are doing it because it may only incentivize people to destroyed thinking that we think it is important. So, it's a good point you make, Dan.
>> ELLIOT GRUBER: I would like to thank Richard for your time and for sharing your thoughts, your stories, and your wisdom. And for Dan on the part of the Postal Museum for doing the same thing and highlighting some of the objects from our collection. And also, most importantly I would like to thank each and every one of you for your time, your interest, and for your continued support of the Smithsonian. And hopefully we will talk soon again, and until then to be safe and be careful.
>> Thank you. We do invite you to visit our website, Postal Museum dot SI dot EDU for the latest updates. And you can email us at RSVP NPM at SI dot EDU and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have. We will be sending out a recording of this webinar We invite you to share this with your friends and family. And that concludes our webinar, thank you very much.