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Smithson's Legacy

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Fade in: James Smithson drafting his will. He bequeaths the sum total of his estate, a half a million dollars, to the United States of America.

Smithson v.o. "…to found in Washington…under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge…"

Each episode of Smithson's Legacy is a one-hour collection of stories, each story centered on an object selected from the Smithsonian Institution’s treasure trove. Each object is a key to the past — to unlocking a story rich in drama, mystery and inspiration.

There are 139 million catalogued objects in the Smithsonian. One may take you back to Neolithic times; another might put you in the driver’s seat of a 20th century robbery.

A story works like this: An item is selected from the museum’s vast resources. Let’s say it is President Lincoln’s top hat — the hat he wore the day he was assassinated. From the moment President Lincoln puts that hat on we are immersed in the events of that fateful day.

Another story: A famous and lonely teddy bear lives in seclusion in the Smithsonian. The little bear’s residence is a wooden storage drawer in the Division of Political History at the National Historical Museum of History and Technology. He is the original "teddy bear" and belonged to the man for whom all such bears are named, Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy bears came about because Teddy Roosevelt saved a cub during a hunting trip and newspapers reported the story. A Russian immigrant, Morris Michcton and his wife owned a candy store in Brooklyn. When they saw the picture of Teddy Roosevelt and his cub in the newspaper. They designed, cut, and sewed by hand a plush fur bear, with a ribbon tied around its neck, and sent it off to Roosevelt, who loved the gesture, which made the press. Hence, ever after, the teddy bear is a potent image of childhood. After that, Michcton sold thousands of teddy bears and went on to found the Ideal Toy Company.

More stories:

The disappearance of a rare gold coin engages us in a Secret Service mystery. In 1933 Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order ending gold coinage in the United State and this particular, one-of-a-kind coin disappeared that day. The mystery is finally solved decades later by Secret Service sleuths.

FDR’s lap robe engages us in politics and war and the truth about FDR’s disability.

A 1969 Ford LTD low-rider, "Dave’s Dream", takes us into the heart of a Hispanic family’s effort to pursue the American dream.

>A Whistler painting introduces us to those who owned the famous painting, lived with it, traded it, squabble over it, leveraged it. And finally sold it.

A carved tortoise-shell comb puts us in the midst of an inheritance dispute.

The Apollo 14 Command module transports us into space.

The Hope Diamond is a story that gleams with wicked memories.

Flying machine stories include Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis, as well as the Enola Gay.

Two objects are central to a nation-building story: the flag and the brave men that survived to see dawn’s early light over Baltimore’s harbor and Francis Scott Key’s handwritten music and lyrics that became our national anthem.

In another story, a piece of rare Chinese jade puts us at the heart of an adventure that takes us around the world.

A Rodin bronze places us in a Paris studio where love, lust and artistic expression ignite creative passions.

Duke Ellington’s saxophone is our ticket to the jazz scene.

A valuable stamp tells a story of greed and revenge.

Al Jolson’s contract with the Shuberts in 1911 tells of fame and big money.

An invitation to Shirley Temple’s birthday part puts us shoulder to shoulder with the stars and buzz of that day.

Jacqueline Kennedy’s inaugural dress is a ticket to Camelot.

Caesar Chavez’s jacket put us in the midst of the violence and tension of a strike in California’s grape fields.

The Star of Bombay sapphire makes us privy to the most intimate secrets and romance between Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

A Steichen photo of George Marshall puts us at the negotiating table as the Marshall Plan is being hatched.

The possibilities for telling fascinating stories — stories filled with adventure, discovery and wonder are simply endless.


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