Museums: Modernizing the Attic

"A poor, mildewed old fossil," Mark Twain called the Smithsonian Institution. He was wrong: in 1869, when the great author let fly at it, the Smithsonian, founded 23 years before, only seemed old. But the museum doggedly proceeded to fossilize itself with quaint, dutiful and embarrassing exhibits. Into its red brick neo-Romanesque castle on the edge of the Mall in Washington, D.C., went the Lord's Prayer, engraved in the space of a needle's eye, a necklace made of human fingers, and a pair of Thomas Jefferson's leather britches. Civil War General Phil...

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