panda, GW

The Smithsonian Institution wanted a summer showdown, and a showdown it got.

A bracket-style competition to pick the institution’s most iconic item sparked so much trash talk that even The New York Times took note, pointing out the “competitive and sassy streak in the normally sober-minded specialists.”

The contest pitted 24 objects and events from the realms of culture, science, history and art against one another. To win the hearts and minds of the voting public, some of the artifacts’ handlers took to Twitter to out-clever one another with brainy bragging and witty comebacks.

Meet the last items standing before voting ends at midnight, and be the judge of the trash-talking for yourself. Expect more fighting words at noon, when the final four take to Twitter for a “town hall debate.”

Bao Bao (National Zoo)
The beloved bear, whose name means “precious” or “treasure,” used her wily cuteness to come out on top of the science category. Besting the Nation’s T. rex, the Giant Magellan Telescope and several others is an early birthday present for the cub, who turns 1 on Saturday.


Star-Spangled Banner, National Museum of American History) The 200-year-old flag, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics to the national anthem after the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814, topped the history bracket. It beat out James Smithson’s will and a segregation-era railway car, among others.


“This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie (Smithsonian Folkways, the institution’s record label)

A 1944 recording of the patriotic protest song, which was written in response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” won the culture war. The folk anthem edged out Wile E. Coyote, Wonder Woman and the Korean Taco in the culture category.


George Washington, Lansdowne portrait (National Portrait Gallery)

Gilbert Stuart’s 205-year-old oil painting of our first president, which measures 8 feet, 5 inches, took the art category. The portrait, a gift from Sen. William Bingham to the Marquis of Lansdowne, was the winner of the art bracket (beating the Hirshhorn Museum building and the Freer Gallery’s Peacock Room, among others).


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