A large part of Washington’s history will soon be on the move. The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. will close its doors in the Carnegie Library on July 7 and plans to reopen in the early fall in a temporary home in the Newseum.
Also set to move is the D.C. Public Library’s Washingtoniana collection of historic District material. It’s been in the Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square while its home — the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library — gets a facelift.
The historical society, its Kiplinger Research Library and the Washingtoniana collection have to move from the Carnegie Library while the historic 1903 building is transformed into an Apple emporium.
John Suau, executive director of the historical society, said he expects the collections will be at the Newseum for a year.
“It’s a little bit of short-term pain for an amazing long-term gain,” John said.
The material — comprising photographs, city directories, newspaper clippings, restaurant menus, oral histories and other assorted ephemera — is used by historians, researchers and genealogists. John said the society hopes to make the material accessible in the Newseum in mid-September.
John said that the hours for researchers will be similar at the Newseum to what they’ve been at the Carnegie Library: Tuesday through Friday 10 to 4, plus one Saturday a month.
Some items will not be accessible to the public — a dress that belonged to Clover Adams, for example, and the bullet that killed President James Garfield — and will be moved to offsite storage.
“We’re moving the parts of the collection that are most readily needed for research,” John said.
It seems at times as if the city’s historic research materials have been crashing at a procession of friends’ houses. In September 2016 the historical society had to shut its doors when mold was discovered in the Carnegie Library. When it reopened months later it had to make room for elements of the Washingtoniana collection from the MLK Library, which is undergoing a three-year renovation three blocks away. And now both are moving.
“It’s unfortunate that we now have a second interruption in the service, and it’s a lengthy one, albeit in the summer,” said Bill Rice, a District resident who heads an ad hoc group formed last year to advocate for full collection access during MLK’s renovation.
John said that the historical society will continue to work with other local institutions — including the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection at George Washington University and the National Building Museum — to mount exhibitions during the restoration of the Carnegie Library.
John is hopeful that some of the eventual glow from Apple’s presence in the Carnegie Library will shine on the historical society. The restoration work will upgrade the historic society’s space, he said, and potentially bring it a new audience.
“We’ve been working with Apple for a year,” John said. “The project is definitely to the point where we’re very comfortable and quite enthusiastic about what the society’s presence will be and the amount of exposure we’ll be receiving as a result of the partnership.”
Does this bell ring a bell?
“It just sort of defies belief that a 2,000-pound Liberty Bell would vanish,” said Josh Gibson. But vanish the big bell did and Josh would like to find it.
Josh is the director of communications for the D.C. Council and a lover of local history. He wants to find out what became of a replica Liberty Bell that once stood in front of the Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
The bell was dedicated on July 20, 1950, in recognition of the city surpassing U.S. savings bond sales goals. It originally rested on the steps of what was then called the District Building but was eventually moved to a tiny park across the street. It was in that location as late as 1979, but disappeared when the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp. rejiggered the avenue and created what we today call Freedom Plaza.
A Washington Post story on July 30, 1981, noted that city workers didn’t know what had become of it. It apparently wasn’t at the Blue Plains water treatment facility, where a lot of other sculptures once did time, including that of “Boss” Shepherd. (That statue was returned in 2005.)
It’s not as if we’re wanting for ersatz Liberty Bells in the District. There’s one in front of Union Station and another in front of the Treasury Building. This one isn’t either of those.
People of Washington, take out your metal detectors. Said Josh, “I think everyone loves a quest.”