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Sidedoor

Smithsonian Institution

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More than 154 million treasures fill the Smithsonian’s vaults. But where the public’s view ends, Sidedoor begins. With the help of biologists, artists, historians, archaeologists, zookeepers and astrophysicists, host Lizzie Peabody sneaks listeners through the Smithsonian’s side door, telling stories that can’t be heard anywhere else. Check out si.edu/sidedoor and follow @SidedoorPod for more info.
 
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A skill for brewing beer and $100 reward for her capture. Those were the clues in an old newspaper ad that got Smithsonian brewing historian Theresa McCulla hooked on the story of Patsy Young, an enslaved African American woman who fled to freedom in 1808 and made a life for herself brewing beer. In this episode of Sidedoor, we follow McCulla as sh…
 
In 1890, Americans were delighted when they heard the news that Thomas Edison was using his phonograph technology to give voice to porcelain dolls. But their delight soon turned to horror. In this episode of Sidedoor, we’ll hear a short story that imagines what happens when two little girls receive one of Edison’s talking dolls as a holiday gift. A…
 
When Chiura Obata painted “Moonlight Over Topaz, Utah,” he was a prisoner at the camp: one of 120,000 Japanese Americans to be incarcerated during World War II. The painting shows a dreamy moonlit desert, with just a few dark lines to hint at the barbed wire fences and guard towers that held him and his family captive. As a painter, Obata turned ag…
 
When LOL just isn't enough to respond to a friend's killer joke, emoji are there for you. But for many people, there isn't an emoji to represent them or the things they want to say. This has pushed activists, designers, and straight up regular folks to create their own emoji. It's not as easy an undertaking as you might think, but every now and the…
 
There’s a new sculpture at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: a giant torch that’s strikingly familiar – and entirely unique. Artist Abigail DeVille has reimagined the Statue of Liberty’s torch to shine a light on historical contradictions of American freedom. Through her work, DeVille asks us to re-examine the stories we’ve i…
 
It’s a wild herb that countless cultures have used for centuries as a wonder drug to cure any ailment. It's so rare and valuable that it’s been dug to extinction nearly everywhere, except a small area of the United States. This time on Sidedoor, we go searching for the elusive wild American ginseng — and find that scientists, conservationists, and …
 
Leeches don’t get a lot of love. They’re slimy, wriggly, and, well, they suck — blood that is. But there’s a lot to learn about the lowly leech. Led by a troupe of Smithsonian experts, we’ll discover how these toothy hangers-on wormed their way into medical practices, performance art, and EVERY human cavity. Yes, even that one. It's a journey of di…
 
The endangered Asian Elephant may be a conservation success story as its rapid decline appears to be stabilizing. But this has created a new set of problems. With little remaining habitat, these elephants have nowhere left to go but into roads, farms, and cities. This time on Sidedoor, we look at what happens when wild elephants go urban.…
 
A new season of Sidedoor is just two weeks away! In the meantime, we’re sharing a special guest episode from Wonder Media Network’s podcast, “Encyclopedia Womannica.” In this episode, you’ll hear about the life of Patsy Mink, the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress and run for U.S. President. She was also the first woman of color electe…
 
The “Men of Progress” painting, from 1862, shows the first Secretary of the Smithsonian surrounded by a group of scientists and inventors credited with “altering the course of contemporary civilization.” But what may be most remarkable about this tableau is who’s not there. To mark the 175th anniversary of the Smithsonian’s founding, the National P…
 
This summer – for the first time ever - skateboarding will be an Olympic sport. In honor of its Olympic debut, we’re revisiting one of our favorite episodes: the story of how the best women skateboarders stood toe-to-toe with the most powerful people in the industry to demand equal pay. One of those women is none other than Mimi Knoop, who is coach…
 
100 years ago, in the hills of West Virginia, Black, white and European immigrant coal miners banded together to demand better pay and safer working conditions and were met with machine guns. While the story made headlines in 1921, it didn't make it into the history books. In our final episode of the season, we unearth this buried history to help m…
 
Every 17 years, the notorious Brood X cicadas crawl out of the earth by the billions to deafen Washington D.C. After nearly two decades underground, they spend their few short weeks in the sun singing, mating, and dying so the next generation can start anew. The cicadas' distinctive sound and strange life cycle have captivated our human ancestors f…
 
When Diosa Costello took the stage in the 1939 production of “Too Many Girls,” she became the first Puerto Rican performer to tread the boards on Broadway. She was fearless, funny, and brimming with talent. She never considered herself a trailblazer, but her legacy – and the gowns she left at the Smithsonian – tell a different story…
 
LeRoy Neiman was a colorful man, both figuratively and literally. His handlebar mustache, long cigar, and sketchpad were fixtures at the sidelines of American pop culture: from boxing matches to jazz clubs and political conventions. His paintings, sketches, and prints papered the second half of the 20th century, highlighting American icons in his c…
 
One hundred years ago this week, from May 31 and June 1, 1921, a mob targeted and destroyed nearly 40 blocks of a wealthy black neighborhood in North Tulsa, Oklahoma. No one knows how many people died, no one was ever convicted, and no one really talked about it nearly a century later. This is the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre and why it's impor…
 
We carry portraits around all the time: pocket-sized history lessons in the form of dollars and cents. The recent decision to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill has us thinking about who’s on our money, and how they got there. This episode of the “Portraits” podcast, from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, takes a whirlwind tour of money …
 
In 1918, a flu pandemic killed more than 50 million people worldwide. Forty years later, it nearly happened again. This week on Sidedoor we go back to a time when the viruses were winning, and we remember one man, Dr. Maurice Hilleman, whose vaccine virtuosity helped turn the tide in the war against infectious diseases. We’ve updated this episode w…
 
Henrietta the river herring is not a particularly glamorous fish. But she’s got grit. Every summer, she swims out to the Atlantic ocean, and every spring, she makes the 500 mile journey back to Maryland’s Patapsco River, where she was born—a habitat that’s been only partially accessible to herring like her for more than a century. But this year wil…
 
Every spring, for as long as records have been kept, a crowd of hundreds of black crowned night herons descend on the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, mating, eating and generally causing a ruckus. Many of the keepers at the zoo enjoy them, but they can be a tough bird to love. Every fall, peace is restored when the herons decamp and fly off to… where? …
 
When Lena Richard cooked her first chicken on television, she beat Julia Child to the screen by over a decade. At a time when most African American women cooks worked behind swinging kitchen doors, Richard claimed her place as a culinary authority, broadcasting in the living rooms of New Orleans’s elite white families. She was an entrepreneur, educ…
 
American newspaper publisher and all-around eccentric, Charles Francis Hall, was an unlikely candidate to become an Arctic explorer. Nevertheless, he made three trips to the frozen north, until he died there under suspicious circumstances. Sharpen your powers of deduction and join us on Sidedoor for an epic frozen whodunit, featuring shipwreck, rom…
 
As Americans approach a full year of pandemic life, there’s an overwhelming sense of anticipation: when can we get vaccinated? What will life look like in six months? When will life return to normal? Maybe because looking outward feels so daunting, a lot of people are looking inward, through mindfulness and meditation. In this episode of Sidedoor, …
 
If you’ve heard the phrase, “full blooded,” you’re already familiar with the concept of blood quantum. But Native Americans are the only peoples in the United States whose identity is defined by it. Through the photography of Tailyr Irvine, displayed at the National Museum of the American Indian, we take a look at the colonial origin story of blood…
 
As an up-and-coming young blues singer in the 1950s, Barbara Dane faced a choice: fame and fortune, or her principles. She left the mainstream music industry and became a revolutionary music producer – literally. Spurred by Fidel Castro’s international gathering of protest singers, Dane created a record label that published the sounds of social cha…
 
Wonder Woman is the best known female superhero of all time, but she’s been through a lot. The brainchild of a psychologist, Wonder Woman hit the comic pages in the 1940s as an antidote to the “bloodcurdling masculinity” of male superheroes. But by the early ‘70s, Wonder Woman was having a midlife crisis. She’d given up her bullet-blocking bracelet…
 
In 1890, Americans were delighted when they heard the news that Thomas Edison was using his phonograph technology to give voice to porcelain dolls. But their delight turned to horror when they got their hands on his dolls. In this episode of Sidedoor, we’ll hear a short story that imagines what happens when two little girls receive one of Edison’s …
 
This week, we have an episode from the NHPR podcast “Outside/In” about passenger pigeons. The passenger pigeon is one of the world’s most symbolic extinction stories. It’s a cautionary tale of how in just a few short generations, one of the wonders of the world could be completely eradicated. But when that narrative was questioned in a popular book…
 
This week, we’re sharing an episode of ‘Detours,’ a new podcast from our friends at GBH and PRX. The podcast shares surprising stories that unfold behind the scenes at the PBS classic TV show “Antiques Roadshow.” In this episode: a rare daguerreotype, Edgar Alan Poe, and…the FBI. You can find ‘Detours’ wherever you listen to podcasts.…
 
When a highly-contagious mystery illness spread through the world’s mountain gorilla population, biologists feared the entire species could be lost. Gorillas don’t wear masks or social distance, so there wasn’t much time for the scientists to identify the illness and find a cure for humanity’s hirsute cousins. What they found in 1988 reminds us in …
 
When Abigail Washburn and Wu Fei first jammed together, “it was magic.” Fei was shocked to meet an American banjo player so curious about China’s culture; and Abigail Washburn met a classically trained composer whose talents on the guzheng, a 2500 year old 21-string Chinese harp, perfectly complimented her banjo pickin’. Today, they collaborate to …
 
To look at them, you might think, “Monarch butterflies aren’t going anywhere fast.” But each year, these beauties complete one of the most remarkable migrations in the animal kingdom, soaring more than a mile high to gather on a few mountaintops in Mexico they’ve never seen before, yet somehow they all know where to find. We unlock the secret lives…
 
Bonus Episode | This week, we wanted to share “And Nothing Less,” the new short series from our colleagues at the National Park Service and PRX. It gives a much-needed closer look at the twisty history of the 19th Amendment - and its lesser-known heroes. It’s hosted by two fabulous women: Rosario Dawson and Retta. We’ll play the first episode right…
 
Fred Tutman is the voice of the river. Specifically, Maryland’s Patuxent River. As the Riverkeeper, his job is to protect and preserve all 110 miles of that waterway – a role that takes him both to the courtroom and to the riverbank. But Fred is also the only African American Riverkeeper in the United States, a fact he sees as an indicator of an en…
 
100 years ago this month, the 19th Amendment was ratified into the American Constitution. It’s widely remembered as the moment American women gained the right to vote, but history tells a more complex story. For millions of Indigenous Americans living in far-flung territories, the 19th Amendment afforded some rights – but fell well short of what wa…
 
On November 14, 1969, just four months after Apollo 11’s “giant leap for mankind,” the Apollo 12 Saturn V rocket took off for the moon. Seconds later, a burst of static plunged the three-man crew into complete darkness while speeding toward space in a nearly dead spacecraft. For the 50th anniversary, we tell the often-overlooked story of Apollo 12,…
 
Baseball fan or not, you know this song…or at least, you think you do. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is one of the top three most recognizable songs in the country, next to the “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Happy Birthday.” But long-forgotten lyrics reveal a feminist message buried amid the peanuts and cracker jack.…
 
When Mimi Knoop entered her first skateboarding competition at 24 years old, she never anticipated leaving her mark on the sport forever. But in the early 2000s, she formed an alliance with pioneering skateboarder Cara-Beth Burnside to make a simple request: that the X Games – and the rest of the skateboarding industry – treat female skateboarders …
 
When Lena Richard cooked her first chicken on television, she beat Julia Child to the screen by over a decade. At a time when most African American women cooks worked behind swinging kitchen doors, Richard claimed her place as a culinary authority, broadcasting in the living rooms of New Orleans’s elite white families. She was an entrepreneur, educ…
 
In 2017, a photograph of Harriet Tubman surfaced that had been lost to history for more than a century. In a feature of the National Portrait Gallery’s Portraits podcast, we hear the story behind this picture, and how its discovery changes the way we see Tubman – not just an icon of freedom and human dignity, but a courageous young woman.…
 
To look at them, you might think, “Monarch butterflies aren’t going anywhere fast.” But each year, these beauties complete one of the most remarkable migrations in the animal kingdom, soaring more than a mile high to gather on a few mountaintops in Mexico they’ve never seen before, yet somehow they all know where to find. We unlock the secrets live…
 
A perplexing tattoo. Ancient erotica. Killer bees on the loose. This episode is full of short stories we’ve been eager to tell, but couldn’t… until now. It’s Sidedoor’s second-ever “Best of the Rest!” Learn more about the Freer & Sackler’s collection of shunga, the National Museum of American History’s Great Historic Clock of America on si.edu.…
 
Alexander von Humboldt might not be a name you know, but you can bet you know his ideas. Back when the United States were a wee collection of colonies huddled on the eastern seaboard, colonists found the wilderness surrounding them *scary. *It took a zealous Prussian explorer with a thing for barometers to show the colonists what they couldn’t see:…
 
In the Venn diagram of life, it’s hard to imagine what spacecraft and women’s underwear might have in common. And that’s probably what NASA engineers thought back in 1962 when they asked a handful of companies to design a spacesuit that would keep a man alive and mobile on the moon. Nobody counted on the International Latex Corporation, whose comme…
 
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