Behind the Scenes

Part of me lives at the Smithsonian now…

And my students’ artwork is there too…

Talk about being honored and proud!

2014-05-14 13.04.10

I recently had the honor of visiting the Smithsonian’s American History Museum and taking a “backstage” tour with Jane Rogers, curator of sports.  You may remember that I first met Jane two years ago when she attended the Winter Iditarod Conference for Teachers (LINK).  She was there to learn more about the race and to begin to collect artifacts for a possible exhibit about the sport of dog mushing and the Iditarod.  The race is such an integral part of Alaska’s history and culture; it’s not just a sporting event!

The whole journey started for Jane when someone donated Libby Riddle’s sled to the museum (LINK).  By setting out into a storm that held must mushers up in the checkpoint, Libby became the first woman to win the Iditarod.  She is still a presence at race time… she greeted team after team under the Burled Arch and provides specially made hats for the highest placing female Junior Iditarod mushers.

But one object doesn’t make an exhibit, and the sled needed to be put into context, so Jane set about learning about mushing and gathering other Iditarod items.  This is one of my favorite conversations to have with kids.  What if you needed to create a museum exhibit about the Iditarod but you could only include ten items?  What would you include?  From whom would you collect them?  What part of the Iditarod story would you tell?  It’s fascinating, because from speaking with Jane and visiting the Anchorage Museum with her, I’ve come to realize that the Smithsonian isn’t just about collecting “stuff.”  The stories that the “stuff” tells and represents are the key!  And as you know… the stories are what drew me to the race in the first place!

So, while I was on the trail this year, Jane asked me to help her acquire a few things to represent the race.  I headed down to the Smithsonian to donate the artifacts I had collected for the museum.  Here is the list of items if you want to challenge your kids to think about what part of the Iditarod story these items tell:

  1.  Used Drop Bags from Martin Buser and Jeff King
  2. A No Pebble Mine Flag carried on the trail by Monica Zappa
  3. An unused dog urine sample collecting bottle
  4. A program from the Junior Iditarod Banquet
  5. A program from the Iditarod Finishers’ Banquet
  6. An Iditarider badge

Now… here’s the really amazing part of the list:

  1.  My Iditarod Teacher on the Trail patch designed by three of my students
  2. My Iditarod Teacher on the Trail name badge with the pins I collected

Yes, you read that correctly… the Teacher on the Trail program is represented in the Smithsonian American History Museum!  Jane realized that education is such a huge part of the Iditarod story that it needed to be represented in the collection.  I am so honored to represent all of the amazing teachers who have realized the value of using the race and as you can imagine my kids are over the moon to know their art work is there!

So I took a day off from school and took the train down to DC with my bag of artifacts.  Jane met me in the lobby and took me up to the storage area and opened cabinet after cabinet after cabinet to let me see all of the Smithsonian goodies in storage.  The sports are in the Division of Culture and the Arts, so the storage room I got to poke around I was amazing….  I got to see skateboards and snowboards, Lance Armstrong’s bike, Olympic uniforms, tennis rackets, ice skates, trophies, professional wrestling costumes, sports balls of all sizes, and more.  The cool thing is that not just professional athletes are represented… part of the American sports story is the millions of kids who play sports too! So there are kids’ trophies in cases right next to trophies won by people like Tiger Woods.  This room was also where all of the TV and Movie memorabilia is stored as well!  So I got peeks at Fonzie’s leather coat, Klinger’s dresses, Batman’s masks, Edith Bunker’s chair, the typewriter from Murder She Wrote, Ginger Rogers’ gown, the Muppets, and so much more!  It was really amazing… like exploring America’s attic!

But, of course, I wanted to see the rest of what Jane had been gathering for the Iditarod collection.  What a treasure trove she has…. DeeDee Jonrowe’s Humanitarian Award, her pink parka, and the full set of dog tags from her team…  Lance Mackey donated his parka, hat, boots, and bibs…  Ken Anderson gave dog coats and booties…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And there sits my little patch in the middle of all of it.

Wow….

Tales from the Trail: Neither Rain, Sleet, Nor Snow The Mail Must Go

“Always striving to find ways to get the trail recognized, another idea was hatched at one of the many meetings.  The Iditarod Trail was a mail trail, so why not have each musher carry mail?  An arrangement was made with the U.S. Postal Service to carry cachets, packets of letters, over the Iditarod to Nome.  Joe [Redington, Sr.] asked his artist friend, Bill Divine, if he would design an Iditarod Trail Logo for the envelopes.  These would be postmarked in Anchorage and Nome and used as a fund-raising project.

At a prerace meeting this idea was presented to the mushers.  Surprisingly, it was met with some resistance.  There was already enough to do.  Carrying mail was too much to ask.  Joe did not react, he responded in a good way, and came up with a solution – ‘I’ll carry yours,’ was all he said.

‘He was one of a kind,’ said Norman.  ‘Joe had such a unique, easy way of looking at things.’

His positive attitude turned the whole negative thought around.  To have the U.S. Postal Service support the Iditarod Race added credibility, recognition, and needed funds.  And Devine’s logo became the official Iditarod logo.”

From:  Champion of Alaskan Huskies by: Katie Mangelsdorf

 

This summer I had the opportunity to be a member of the Teach it Forward Program with the Smithsonian American History Museum.  During the program, we learned strategies for teaching with objects as a way to get kids to relate to history.  Our challenge was to choose an object in the museum’s collection and develop a lesson around it.  I was really excited to join this program – and I had visions of getting to see and work with the Libby Riddles sled, and DeeDee Jonrowe’s humanitarian award and coat. I know that these objects are a part of the Smithsonian’s collection, as I had a chance to meet Jane Rogers, the curator of sports, last winter when she came to the Iditarod Conference for Educators to learn about the race and gather objects for an upcoming display.   You can read more about Jane and the upcoming exhibit here:    http://finalistsforteacheronthetrail.wordpress.com/jennifers-journal/monday-evening/

This second link includes an activity that challenges the students to decide what objects they would place in the Smithsonian’s exhibit.  http://finalistsforteacheronthetrail.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/libbys-sled/

But, it turns out the Iditarod objects are still in storage and not ready for display yet. I was disappointed, but in a way, it turned out to be a really cool disappointment because it forced me to get more creative and I discovered something really cool!

It turns out that the Smithsonian has a second sled it its collection, an Alaskan mail sled, which is housed in the National Postal Museum.

My next challenge was to tie that sled in to the Iditarod, which I was able to do.  The Iditarod Trail was originally a mail trail and the modern mushers honor that history by carrying mail cachets down the trail every year.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So I was able to use several objects in the Smithsonian’s collection: a sled, some photographs, and stamps and pair them with some Iditarod Trail Race mail cachets as the basis for an inquiry based lesson.  The lesson allows students to discover the connection between the Iditarod Race and the Iditarod Trail as a historic trail.  They also discover the reason why mail cachets are one of the mandatory items carried down the trail by the racers. It was a fascinating process. I learned a lot!  Special thanks to authors Katie Mangelsdorf and Helen Hegener who graciously allowed me to use portions of their books with this lesson.

Here are all the materials needed for the lesson… Enjoy!

Smithsonian Sled Lesson

Mail Sled Lesson Materials