Tag: Mid-Atlantic

Embassy Tours – A Cultural Tourism Annual Event

Embassy Tours – A Cultural Tourism Annual Event

Foreign Embassy Tours

Every year at the beginning of May, Cultural Tourism DC hosts an event called “The Around the World Embassy Tour.”  I have been lucky enough to go in the past, and I went again this year.  I think it is probably one of the coolest free events I’ve ever been to, with the possible exception of the Ceremony of the Keys in London.

On May 6 of this year, 43 embassies representing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America opened their doors and invited the general public in to learn more about their culture and heritage.  The European Union embassies will follow suit and host an open house on May 13.

To give you a better idea of what it’s like, I took a lot of pictures.  Our first stop was the Embassy of Peru.

Peru

Inside, we got to see beautiful Peruvian hand crafted items, sample some Peruvian chocolate, and we got to see the ambassador’s office and conference room.  Peruvian food was available for purchase both inside and outside the embassy, including Pisco sours, empanadas, and Alfajores cookies.

embassy tours peru
Some of the handicrafts in the Peruvian embassy.

Then, outside the embassy, we experienced music and Latin dancing.

embassy tours peru dancers
The dancers outside the Peruvian embassy.

From there we walked up Massachusetts Avenue, aka Embassy Row, and marveled at the beautiful buildings now serving as embassies. The Colombian embassy was ROCKING. Loud party music and bright colorfully-clad dancers attracted everyone’s attention. It also had a line of people that went down the street and around the corner. Having already gotten a late start, we decided to visit the embassies that seemed to have little to no wait to enter. Otherwise, we would have probably only seen two!

The first one we happened upon was Indonesia.

Indonesia

I am not exaggerating when I say it’s the most beautiful house I have seen on this side of the Atlantic. When we walked in, the first thing we saw was the grand entrance.

embassy tours indonesia
The foyer of the Indonesian embassy

(I don’t know about you, but every time I see a place like this, I imagine myself in an evening gown and lots of diamonds, slowly gliding down the stairs to the tune of dramatic-yet-elegant music.  No?  I’m the only one?)

As it turns out, the building is also known as the Walsh Mansion, and it Dates to 1903. At that time, it was the most expensive residence in the city, with a construction cost of $835,000.  The original owner, a Thomas J Walsh, came to this county from Ireland without a penny to his name in 1869. Over the next 25 years, he built up a small fortune through his business pursuits, then lost nearly everything in the Panic of 1893.  In 1896, he took his family to Colorado, and purchased a mine that most thought was of no value. However, it wasn’t long before mine workers struck a massive vein of gold and silver, making Walsh a multi-millionaire.

Walsh’s daughter Evalyn married into the McLean family, which owned The Washington Post.  In 1910, her husband bought the Hope Diamond for her at a cost of $180,000 (that’s $4.6 million in today’s economy).  Over time, rumors developed that the Hope Diamond had a curse on it.  Evalyn Walsh McLean’s first son died in a car accident. Her husband ran off with another woman and eventually died in a sanitarium. The Washington Post went bankrupt, and eventually her daughter died of an overdose, and one of her grandsons died in the Vietnam war. Evalyn never believed the curse had anything to do with her misfortunes.

In 1952 the government of Indonesia purchased the mansion for use as an embassy. Thankfully, they have preserved the beauty of the historic home, including this very large and ornate organ:

embassy tours indonesia
Upper part of the massive pipe organ in the Indonesian embassy.

The pipe organ’s wind system and some of its pipes were located in the basement, making this a two-story pipe organ.  I don’t know what it sounds like, but based solely on its appearance, it is impressive!

The painted ceilings and crystal chandeliers are probably very much like they were before it became the Indonesian embassy.

Embassy tours Indonesia
A doll on the mantle in the Indonesian embassy

A small glassed in walkway connected the residence portion of the house with the offices, which were more modern.  As you enter the office area, you pass by a huge gold bird, the heraldic symbol of Indonesia.

embassy tours indonesia

Our next stop was going to be the Chilean embassy, but the line was incredibly long, so we wandered up the street a little farther and found a performer outside the Korean embassy.

Korea

Just above the heads of the people gathered around to watch, we could see a man walking a tightrope while making jokes via an interpreter. There was also this little statue:

embassy tours korea

This is a Dol Hareubang, which means Stone Grandfather.  They are from Jeju, a small volcanic island off the southern coast of Korea.  Dol Hareubang is a guardian deity, and the people of Jeju erect these statues to ward off danger and harm.

Right next door to Korea was the Kyrgyz Republic, or Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan

I’ll be honest.  I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan, other than that it’s a relatively new country.  It was a very enlightening visit.  First, I learned that Kyrgyzstan shares a border with China. As we made our way through the embassy and looked at the displays, I learned that many people of Kyrgyzstan live in yurts.  We saw scarves and slippers and multiple other woolen items, beautifully made. But their talents do not end there. I thought this painting was just adorable:

Embassy tours Kyrgyzstan

They were also offering shots of a cognac from their country. Nearby, these lovely ladies in traditional native costumes greeted and posed for everyone.

Embassy tours Kyrgyzstan

Haiti

The Haitian embassy was all about art.  Every room we entered had beautiful, brightly colored paintings done by Haitian artists. The one hanging over the fireplace was especially striking.

Embassy tours haiti

And in the back of the house, just before we stepped outside, we saw a beautiful collection of bottles covered in sequins.  Then we exited the house and stepped out onto a gorgeous patio. The biggest wall had an arrangement of metal decorations that was pretty incredible.

Embassy tours Haiti patio

There were tin lanterns hanging all over the place, with designs of dragonflies, and other small animals.

By this time the event was coming to a close, so we started walking back toward the Metro station.  On the way, we passed a stunning display outside the Guatemalan embassy.

Embassy tours Guatemala

 

The white parts were rice, and we guessed that the colored bits were dyed sawdust.  From a distance, it looked like a rug.

After that, we followed the sound of music until we happened upon the embassy of the Dominican Republic.  There were people everywhere – some were in line for food but quite a few were dancing.  It was such an awesome display of living in the moment, anyone watching couldn’t help but smile.

I cannot recommend the Around the World Embassy Tour enough. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about other cultures and see some magnificent art and architecture.  If you’re ever in D.C. on a Saturday in early May, check it out!

The Enchanted Forest Reborn

The Enchanted Forest Reborn

I will never forget the times that my parents took me to The Enchanted Forest, an awesome fairy tale theme park near Baltimore. The park was full of amazing scenes from fairy tales and other stories brought to life. It was my Disney World.

Sadly, The Enchanted Forest closed in 1989. But thanks to some wonderful people with fond childhood memories and a lot of land, you and your children can kinda-sorta visit The Enchanted Forest today.

Clark’s Elioak Farm has lovingly restored many of the original items from The Enchanted Forest and put them on display for this generation of children to enjoy. The restoration continues on, so there are plenty of new attractions not covered in this post.

From the moment you arrive, the magic begins. Rapunzel leans out of her castle tower to greet you.

enchanted forest rapunzel
You can see such beloved characters as Mother Goose (which is also a toddler size sliding board):

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Mother Goose
Take a peek inside the Three Little Pigs house. You can’t see it in this photo, but there is a wolf-skin rug on the floor.

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm 3 Little Pigs
Disney immortalized Sleeping Beauty in the film of the same name, but I find this version just as enchanting. Who wouldn’t want to sleep under a golden blanket?

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Sleeping Beauty.jpg

Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub:

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Three Men in a Tub

You can catch Goldilocks in the Three Bears’ house:

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Goldilocks

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe (another sliding board):

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Old Woman in Shoe.jpg

Hey diddle diddle, the cat & the fiddle, the dish ran away with the spoon.

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Hey Diddle Diddle.jpg

And finally, Jack & the Beanstalk:

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Jack and Beanstalk.jpg
These are just some of the attractions, and as mentioned above, the proprietors are adding more every year. The site also features farm animals that children can see up close, pony rides, and a pumpkin patch in the fall. If you have young children and are near Clark’s Elioak Farm, treat them to a day there… they will love it and so will you!

Clark’s Elioak Farm is located at 10500 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, MD 21042. Telephone 410-730-4049. Hours vary by day and season, so check the web site or call when planning your visit.

Trivia: The Statue of Liberty, NY

Trivia: The Statue of Liberty, NY

The Statue of Liberty has graced New York Harbor since 1886.  Most people know that it was a gift to the United States from the people of France.  Some (those who have seen National Treasure: Book of Secrets, for instance) know that there is a smaller version of the same statue in France.  Some may know that the date July 4, 1776 is inscribed on the tablet she holds.  But here are some things that most people might not know at all:

rsz_statue-of-liberty-in-new-york.jpg

  1. The statue’s full name is Liberty Enlightening the World.
  2. The female figure is Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom.
  3. To climb up into the crown on her head, you must ascend 354 stairs.
  4. Once there, you can look out at the harbor through 25 windows.
  5. Approximately 4 million people visit the statue each year.
  6. Gustave Eiffel, the man who designed the Eiffel Tower, also designed Liberty’s ‘spine’ – four iron columns supporting a metal framework.
  7. Three hundred different types of hammers were used to create the sculpture.  Not 300 hammers, mind you, but 300 types of hammers.
  8. Although you cannot see Lady Liberty’s feet clearly, she is in fact standing among a broken shackle and chains, with her right foot raised.  This is to depict forward movement away from oppression and slavery.
  9. The statue has been destroyed on the big screen in at least three movies – The Planet of the Apes, Independence Day, and The Day After Tomorrow.
  10. Since 1984, the statue has been a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  11. In high winds (50 mph), the statue can sway up to three inches.  Her upraised arm can sway up to five inches.
  12. Several people have attempted suicide by jumping off the statue.  Two were successful.
  13. In 1944 the lights in the crown flashed “dot-dot-dot-dash” which in the Morse code means V, for Victory in Europe.
  14. In 1982, it was discovered that the head had been installed two feet off center.
  15. From the time it was installed until 1902, the statue also served as a lighthouse, with visibility up to 24 miles away.

The Statue of Liberty National Monument is located on Liberty Island near New York City. Telephone 212-363-3200.  Liberty Island is open every day from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM, except December 25 (closed). Hours change seasonally.  To assist you in planning your visit, there is a free app for the Statue of Liberty & the nearby Ellis Island Museum of Immigration.

The Baltimore Museum of Art

The Baltimore Museum of Art

A lot of people might wonder, “Why bother going to an art museum in Baltimore when the Smithsonian has so many superb art museums just a little over an hour away?”  Those people would probably be surprised to learn that the Baltimore Museum of Art has quite a lot to offer.

The museum has an internationally renowned collection of over 90,000 pieces of art that spans centuries; from early Byzantine to current Contemporary.  That’s a far cry from its founding in 1914 when it had only one painting – Mischief by William-Sergeant Kendall. Part of those 90,000 items is the largest holding of works by Henri Matisse in the world.

When I visited, I was quite taken with the Antioch Mosaics. In the 1930s, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) joined the Musées Nationaux de France, Worcester Art Museum, and Princeton University during the excavations of the ancient city of Antioch (now known as Antakya in southeastern Turkey). During these excavations, 300 mosaic pavements dating from the 2nd to 6th centuries were found. The BMA received 34 of the finest mosaics from the excavation, most of which are on display.

Baltimore Museum of Art Mosaics 1.jpg

Baltimore Museum of Art Mosaics 3.jpg

Baltimore Museum of Art Mosaics 4.jpg

Baltimore Museum of Art Mosaics 5.jpg

But as I stated above, the museum’s collections span many centuries.  There was also Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, which I loved:

Baltimore Museum of Art Little Dancer Aged 14 by Edgar Degas.jpg

And, for the fan of modern art, you will enjoy the collection of work by Andy Warhol, including the massive Hearts:

Baltimore Museum of Art Hearts by Andy Warhol.jpg

The Baltimore Museum of Art is located at 10 Art Museum Dr, Baltimore, MD 21218. Telephone 443-573-1700.  Admission is free.  The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Hours vary by day for the remainder of the week, so check the website or call when planning your visit.

First Class Art.png

Cape May Lighthouse, NJ

Cape May Lighthouse, NJ

The Cape May Lighthouse was built in 1859, but it was actually the third lighthouse to serve Cape May.  The previous two were the victims of an eroding shoreline and are now underwater.

This lighthouse became automated in 1946 and is still operational today.  It is over 157 feet tall, and has 199 steps that you must climb to reach the top.

rsz_cape_may_lighthouse_1.jpg

The lighthouse has two separate walls. The outside wall is cone-shaped, and is 3 feet 10 inches thick at the bottom, and 1 foot 6 inches thick at the top. The inside wall is a cylinder with 8.5-inch-thick  walls which support the spiral staircase. The walls were designed to withstand winds several times above hurricane force.

There weren’t many photo opportunities inside that staircase, but I did snap this picture as we got to the top… I think this is looking up into the area where the light is located, above the observation deck and off-limits to visitors.

rsz_cape_may_lighthouse_3.jpg

Once you climb those 199 steps and catch your breath, you might find that you are breathless once again, but this time for a much better reason.  The views from the top of the lighthouse are stunning, even on an overcast day like we had when I was there.

rsz_cape_may_lighthouse_view

The Cape May Lighthouse is located at 215 Lighthouse Avenue in Cape May, NJ, inside Cape May Point State Park.  Telephone 609-224-6066.  

cape-may-1

The Concrete Ship

The Concrete Ship

During and after the first World War, the Liberty Ship Company of Brunswick, Georgia, produced 12 ships made of concrete.  The second one was the SS Atlantus.

The Atlantus had a short but successful run of about two years, during which it  was used to transport American troops back home from Europe and also to transport coal in New England.  In 1920, it was retired to a salvage yard in Virginia.

Six years later, the Atlantus was purchased by Colonel Jesse Rosenfeld for use in the creation of a ferry dock out of her and two of her sister ships.  The plan was to dig a channel to the shore where the Atlantus would be placed, and the other two ships would be placed in a Y formation, creating a slip for a ferry to dock.

However, those plans didn’t last very long.  In June 1926, about three months after the Atlantus had been towed to Cape May NJ, a storm came up that caused the ship to break free of her moorings and run aground 150 feet off the coast.  And she’s been sitting there every since.

Digital StillCamera

However, time has not been kind to her.  there is very little still visible, so if you want to see a real life shipwreck and in you’re in the Cape May area, go check it out.

rsz_concrete_ship_nj_1.jpg

rsz_concrete_ship_nj_2.jpg

The SS Atlantus  is located off of Sunset Beach, Sunset Blvd, Cape May, NJ 08204.

The National Zoo

The National Zoo

The National Zoo is a little panda-intensive.  And with good reason, as there are only four zoos in the United States where you can see pandas.  The National Zoo has four, including Bei Bei, who was just born in August of 2015.  My luck at being able to see the pandas over the years has been hit or miss. The last time I went, I was successful in getting one photo of the cuddly creatures:

National Zoo Panda

He was a little shy.  If you aren’t lucky enough to see the pandas in person, you can take advantage of the zoo’s Panda Cam which allows you to see them real time.

My favorites at the zoo (any zoo) are the big cats.  This was a particularly good trip for catching them alert.  Sometimes I haven’t been so lucky.  Here are the photos I snapped:National Zoo Cheetah

National Zoo Lion

National Zoo Tiger

I think we were there towards the end of the day — somewhere between 3 and 5 pm.  That seems to be a good time for catching the animals when they are alert as it’s probably getting closer to their feeding time.

Exhibits at the zoo include the following:

  • Giant Panda Habitat
  • Elephant Trail
  • Asia Trail
  • Lemur Island
  • Small Mammal House
  • Great Ape House
  • Think  Tank (education)
  • Gibbon Ridge
  • Cheetah Conservation Station
  • American Trail
  • Invertebrate Exhibit
  • Amazonia
  • Great Cats
  • Reptile Discovery Center
  • The Bird House
  • Kids’ Farm
  • American Bison Exhibit

Insider Tip:  If you take the Metro (Washington DC’s subway system), there are two stops you can use to get to the zoo.  The Woodley Park-Zoo stop (which most people use because of the name) is an uphill walk to the zoo.  The Cleveland Park stop is the same distance, but is a flat walk.  If you choose to drive to the zoo, there is limited parking available but there is a hefty charge (as of this writing, $22).

App It: The National Zoo has an app that includes interactive maps, schedules, animal information, and more.

The National Zoo is located at  3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008. Telephone  202-633-4888.  The zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas.  Hours vary by season, so call or check the website when planning your visit.

national-zoo

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Hands down, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is my favorite art museum in the world.  It houses more than 227,000 objects spanning 2000 years of world history.  There are amazing things to see in this museum.  Works by Monet, van Gogh, Picasso, Botticelli, Magritte, and so many other famous artists.

But my favorite aspect of the museum is how it re-creates entire rooms from different times and locations.  Instead of standing on the outside looking in, you are standing on the inside and looking around.  It is a phenomenal way to experience art, an the closest thing to time travel I’ve ever experienced.

There is a Venetian bedroom from the 15th century, a drawing room from New York City in the Roaring Twenties, a drawing room from an 18th century English home, etc.  My favorite is the 13th century French Cloister.  Here, you can listen to the gurgle of water in the stone fountain, gaze up at the dusk-colored ceiling, and look at the patterns of the tiled roof.  I could easily spend an hour or more there, just soaking up the atmosphere.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Medieval Cloisters

The museum also has a phenomenal collection of arms & armor, which Hubs and I both love because so much of it is from our favorite time period of the Renaissance.  Here are a few of the things we saw:

Philadelphia Museum of Art Swords

rsz_knight_on_horse

There are ancient religious relics, too.  Pre-Renaissance, most art was done for churches.  One of my favorite pieces is a wood statue from 1500-1525 called Christ Mocked and Presented to the People, artist unknown. There was one point when I was in a room on the opposite side of the museum wing, and I looked through the doorway of the room I was in, and this statue was framed within the doorway of its room. It was breathtaking.

rsz_jesus_statue_through_doorway

One of my favorite things, though, was Gallery 161, exhibiting paintings by some of the world’s most favorite artists.  There were Monet and Manet, Renoir and van Gogh.  I got to stand right in front of them all, and it was awesome.

rsz_vangogh_sunflowers

Point of Trivia:  The 72 steps leading up to the museum entrance are known as “The Rocky Steps” because Sylvester Stallone runs up the steps in the Rocky movies.  You can even see a statue of Rocky at the base of the steps.

Climb up those steps, and you’ll be rewarded with a pretty amazing view of the City of Brotherly Love:

View from Philadelphia Museum of Art.jpg

BARGAIN ALERT:  On the first Sunday of the month and Wednesday evenings (5:00-8:45 pm), the admission is “Pay What You Wish.”  There is no set fee for admission.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located at 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130.  Telephone 215-763-8100.  Closed Mondays.  Opens at 10:00 am Tuesday-Sunday.  Closing times vary by day; check the web site or call when planning your trip.

Bushkill Falls, PA

Bushkill Falls, PA

While visiting friends in the Poconos, we had a small excursion to Bushkill Falls, which prides itself on being the “Niagara of Pennsylvania.” Frankly, I think the nickname does it an injustice. Bushkill Falls, while smaller than Niagara, offers a lot more to the sightseer.

Upon exiting the visitor’s center, a cryptic sign read “CAUTION: You are beginning a mountainside nature trail. All paths and walkways have been left in their natural state to enhance your viewing pleasure. Please use caution! Those visitors with health or heart conditions are recommended to use the main falls trail only. Please refer to your trail map at all times.”

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you that a more accurate sign would have read something like this: “CAUTION! The pathways you are about to tread upon are uneven, steep and/or narrow. Hold onto the hand rail – which may be loose – for dear life. If you are overweight, old, or just plain out of shape, take the shortest route possible.”

hahahaha.

So, without benefit of my alternate truth-in-advertising style sign, we headed on down the trail to see what we could see. But first we had to consult the map and decide which trail to take.

There are four trails – marked on the map in blue, red, yellow and a very hard-to-see green. The red trail, as you can see from the above, is the largest. It promises views of eight different waterfalls and is supposed to take 2.5 hours to complete. The yellow trail is the “popular trail” because it only takes 45 minutes but still offers views of the major waterfalls. The two trails overlap for a large section of their routes – seen there in the middle of the map.

After a brief discussion, we decided that we would all travel the yellow/red trail until the point where they split, then the ambitious, nature-loving men would continue on the red trail while the women and kids would complete the yellow trail and head back to the house.

We heard the waterfall long before we saw it, of course, and when we did get to see it it was nothing short of breathtaking:

We stopped to ooh and aah and take pictures, then headed on down the trail toward the lower gorge falls. At one point we came to a bridge that had a sign reading “LIMIT 6 PEOPLE.” I almost didn’t go on it because, frankly, I just don’t trust other people to be very meticulous about following rules like that. And lest you think I’m paranoid, look what I turned around and saw right after we passed by the bridge:

And let me tell you, my friends, it was a loooooong way down!

So, moving on… we realized that somehow, the yellow/red trail we were on had become the red trail. This left us with the unappealing choice of either traveling back up the way we had just been (a long, mostly uphill hike with scenery we’d already passed) or continuing on the red trail (a longer, somewhat less uphill hike with scenery we had not already passed). We opted for the latter.

Moving on down to the lower gorge area, the water was calmer but no less scenic:

bushkill falls mossy rocks

So beautiful. So calm. The red trail will be fun after all, I thought. But then my newfound serenity was shattered when I saw this sign:

bushkill falls sign

Oh, have mercy! “For hikers only?!?!?!” Never in a million years would I describe myself as a hiker. In fact, look what I was wearing…

And yes, that is the so-called “trail” that my foot is on. We meandered along, carefully watching our step as we went up to the Bridal Veil Falls, which was smaller but just as pretty as the main waterfall. People were so enthralled with the smaller falls – and, I’m sure, the notion that they were on a more secluded trail – that they were wading into the waters at any opportunity.

After viewing this fall, we went up, up, up. Finally at the top, we were on flat land. I have never been so happy to be walking on flat land in my life! We were treated to an extraordinary view of the valley below, but I didn’t bother photographing it because in my limited experience depth is something that is really hard to capture in a photograph. Also, I didn’t want anything to slow down my progress toward reaching the end of the trail.  🙂

We stumbled off of the red trail some three hours or so after we had started. It was quite an accomplishment, and the scenery made it worth every ache and pain.  I highly recommend this scenic spot… as long as you wear sensible shoes.

Bushkill Falls is located on Bushkill Falls Road in Bushkill, PA. Telephone 570-588-6682. The falls are open for visitors March thru November. Hours vary by season, so check the website or call when planning your visit.

Diamonds and Bling, They’re Totally My Thing

Diamonds and Bling, They’re Totally My Thing

I cannot adequately express how much I love the Gems & Minerals section of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. I’ve been fascinated with it since I first saw in on an elementary school field trip.  My inner princess still squeals with delight as we approach the room with the Hope Diamond. Every time, without fail.

The Hope Diamond is one of the most infamous pieces of jewelry in history. Its ownership has been documented 400 years back. What makes the gem so special? Well, it is a startling blue color, which is rare among diamonds. Officially, the color is called “fancy deep grayish blue.”

Also, it is big. The diamond weighs over 45 carats, and it was cut from an even larger stone, believed to have been 112 carats in weight.

Its history is impressive as well, from its origins in India to the royal court of King Louis XIV of France, who had it cut down from 112 to 69 carats. It was later stolen and resurfaced in Britain after an absence of 20 years, but it had again been cut down to the current 45 carat size. In England, it became the property of King George IV, then was sold many times until it ended up in the hands of Pierre Cartier. Cartier sold it to a Washington socialite, who enjoyed it for over thirty years. Upon her death, it was sold to Harry Winston, another famous jeweler. Winston was persuaded to donate the diamond to the Smithsonian and in 1958, he mailed it to them – in a brown paper envelope!

Even more intriguing than the list of its rich and powerful owners is the legend that the diamond may be cursed. According to the legend, two former owners of the diamond committed suicide and countless others met with a gruesome death, such as being torn apart by wild dogs, hanged by a mob, and being thrown off a cliff. Many others’ lives ended in ruin and disgrace.

There are plenty of other dazzling pieces of jewelry in the Smithsonian’s collection besides the Hope Diamond. Take, for instance, the Cullinan Blue Diamond Necklace:

Cullinan Blue Diamond Necklace

This light blue diamond (although it appears clear in my photo –  sorry) was presented by Thomas Cullinan, then chairman of the Premier Mine in South Africa, to his wife Annie, around 1910. The gift was to commemorate the largest rough diamond ever mined – the 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond, discovered in 1905. Nine major pieces were cut from the original Cullinan rough; the two largest stones are in the British Crown Jewels, and the other seven stones are in the private collection of Queen Elizabeth II.

The necklace is set with 243 round colorless diamonds and nine blue diamonds. It is believed that the nine blue diamonds represented the nine pieces that were cut from the original Cullinan rough. The blue diamonds highlight the bow and pendant section and have a total weight of 5.57 carats. The Cullinan Blue Diamond is the largest blue diamond in the necklace, a 2.6 carat oval brilliant that is the centerpiece of the pendant.

Then there’s the Hall Sapphire Necklace:

Smithsonian Jewels 5

It was designed by Harry Winston, Inc. and features 36 sapphires from Sri Lanka, totaling 195 carats, set in platinum. There are also 435 pear-shaped and round brilliant-cut diamonds, totaling 83.75 carats.

Next, we have the Hooker Emerald:

Hooker Emerald.jpg

This 75 carat Colombian emerald was once the property of Abdul Hamid II, a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who according to legend, wore it in his belt buckle. Tiffany & Co. purchased the emerald at auction in 1911 and initially set it into a tiara. In 1950, it was mounted in its current brooch setting and was featured on the first page of the Tiffany Christmas catalog. In its platinum setting, the Hooker Emerald is surrounded by 109 round brilliant and 20 baguette cut diamonds, totaling approximately 13 carats.

The Marie Louise Diadem has always been one of my favorites:

Marie Louise Diadem.jpg

Napoleon gave the Diadem to his second wife, the Empress Marie-Louise, on the occasion of their marriage. Originally the diadem, commissioned in 1810, was set with emeralds, which were replaced in the mid-1950s with turquoise. (Why?!?!?)  The diadem has an elaborate design and contains 79 Persian turquoise stones (totaling 540 carats) and 1,006 old mine cut diamonds (totaling 700 carats) set in silver and gold.

Point of trivia:  A crown encircles the head in a complete circle and can be worn by men and women; a diadem is not a complete circle (usually ¾ way around), it has an opening in the back and can also be worn by men and women; a tiara (semi-circular high crown) is a smaller headpiece worn at the front of the head, by women only.

Another item on display that belonged to Empress Marie-Louise is the Napoleon Diamond Necklace. It’s stunning.

Napoleon Diamond Necklace.jpg

Like the diadem above, it was a gift from Napoleon to Marie-Louise, on the occasion of the birth of their son, Napoleon II in 1811. It has 234 diamonds.

So, if you also like shiny things that sparkle, check out the gem & mineral collection at the Smithsonian. In addition to these fantastic pieces of jewelry, you can also see a fascinating and very thorough collection of minerals in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors.

The National Museum of Natural History is located at 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560.  Telephone 202-633-1000. Admission is free. The museum is open every day of the year except Christmas, from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.