That’s Smithson . . . as in Smithsonian

Smithson cryptWho’s the man in the bathtub?

Wow, what am I going to do with you guys? That’s the remains of James Smithson as in the man that founded museums that bear his name.

So what’s he doing in a bathtub?

It’s not a bathtub, you cretin. It’s a sarcophagus.

Let’s start from the beginning. James Louis Macie Smithson was an illegitimate son of Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, and Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie. Born in secrecy around 1765 in Paris, he would become a chemist and live well off his mother’s estate. He wrote papers on varied subjects from snake venom to human tears.

SmithsonSmithson died in 1938 in Genoa, Italy and left his fortune to a nephew, who died in 1835 without heirs. Smithson’s will then stipulated the money should be donated to the U.S. that he never visited to create Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Smithson’s donation was $508,318.46 in gold plus $54,165.38 in funds along with a 213-book collection still with the Smithsonian.

Buried in Genoa, his grave was going to be relocated in 1905 when Smithsonian regent and investor Alexander Graham Bell asked that it moved to the Smithsonian Castle. It arrived in 1904, escorted through the city by the U.S. Cavalry. Officials were going to create a crypt, but the remains are in a former children’s museum just inside the left doorway when entering from the National Mall side.

About Rick

Rick Snider is a native Washingtonian, long-time journalist and licensed tour guide since 2010.
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