Actual Smithsonian Questions


The Smithsonian Museum's phone answerers usually get questions like "How do you get there?" "When are you open?" Etc. More detailed questions get shunted to departments such as Anthropology. But every so often, you get funny ones. Here are some Cordelia Benedict of the Smithsonian's telephone information services and Marilyn London of the anthropology outreach and public information office have gotten over the years:

  • There's a mastadon in my back yard. Can you send some scientists to dig it up? "There was literally a mastodon buried on her ranch," Benedict says. "She was right. We referred her to the vertebrate department, I think."
  • Do you have the Original Bible? You know, 10 Commands, tablets, Moses, etc?
  • What's the name of the guy who invented the wheel? ("How do you know it was a man?" London replied.)
  • Where do you keep the flying saucers you've captured?
  • Can a small plane land on the Mall? The caller was sure it could since "all those planes in the Air and Space Museum had to get there somehow."
  • Is Fawn Hall's underwear on display? This from "two men in a Texas bar who obviously had a lot to drink," says Benedict.
  • Where is the Ark of the Covenant? (Try Indiana Jones movies.)
  • Does the Smithsonian display Civil War planes?
  • Is the Smithsonian interested in buying the carcass of Bigfoot?
  • Will the Smithsonian sell the starship Enterprise, used for the popular "Star Trek" television show? "She only wanted it if the transporter was in working condition," Benedict says. (The only life-size Enterprise at the Smithsonian is the space shuttle of the same name).
  • Can the Smithsonian set up a caller with a hula teacher? "Actually, I tracked one down for her," remembers London. "We have a curator involved in South Pacific and Hawaiian culture, so she knew one."
  • How do you say "I'm thinking of you" in Apache?
  • Can you send "all the information you have on human evolution, even the secret stuff?" from a grade school letter writer.
  • How about the coin George Washington tossed across the Delaware River?
  • Could the Smithsonian take a "petrified whale" off a caller's hands? He was referred to paleontology. "I told him that means `very old biology,' and he said, `good because this is a very old whale,'" Benedict recalls.
  • And one of Benedict's favorites: an offer to donate a collection of potato chips resembling "famous people and animals."
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