When you work for a place like the National Museum of Natural History, you begin to realize that the halls are filled with the ghosts of memories—of eccentric staff members, momentous occasions, bizarre and intriguing specimens, along with the tales of how they were found and brought to the Museum. People work here forever, and everyone has a story.
My first project as an exhibits writer here was the 100 Years Centennial exhibition. I had worked for another Smithsonian office for the past six years and worked on a few projects for the Museum during that time. Nothing prepared me for the crash course in the Museum’s history and personality that would be my life for the next eighteen months.
How do you sift through the thousands of stories and photos, like looking through your family album? How do you figure out which are important, which are engaging, and which are only funny to those in the know? How do you balance seven scientific departments, hundreds of exhibitions and educational programs, and the continuous expansion of a building that houses 126 million specimens and artifacts? How do you condense 100 years full of so much passion, love, and life into a 2,500 sq ft hall exhibition?
I’m not sure how it all came together, but luckily, I didn’t have to do it alone. Like every exhibit at the Natural History Museum, I worked with a dedicated team of people who have worked here far longer than I have. Together, we dug through the collections, hounded our colleagues, tracked down elusive photographs and bits of information, and debated the merits of each story endlessly. Together we created an exhibit that meets many interests and needs, one that is representative of our Museum’s rich—and sometimes overwhelming—history and that hooks our visitors into the thrill of scientific discovery and the excitement of working at such a crazy and wonderful institution.
I hope the ghosts are happy.
Angela Roberts Reeder, Writer/Editor, Office of Exhibits