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 Haleema Shah 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.
Glittering treasures, gleaming coins, and eye-catching jewelry…gold can be all of these things, but in some parts of the world it's also an enduring link to the past. Gus Casely-Hayford, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, takes us on a journey through West Africa to learn how gold was the foundation for massive empires—and his own family—and how it continues shining brightly in West African culture today.
We all know Abraham Lincoln, right? Well, we know one side of him—the grave-faced leader of a troubled country—but behind the face on the penny lies an unlikely jokester. This week, Sidedoor reveals the rascally side of our 16th president, and does it with a brand-new sound.
In 1960, investigators found dark bits of feather stuck inside a crashed airplane's engines. They needed someone to figure out what bird they belonged to—and how that bird took down a 110,000-pound plane. Enter Roxie Laybourne, a Smithsonian bird expert who not only answered that question, but also invented the science of using feathers to solve bird-related mysteries. This time on Sidedoor, we revisit some of Roxie's greatest cases and learn how she and her team helped keep the friendly skies f...more
Gladys Bentley loved women, wore men's clothing, and sang bawdy songs that would make sailors blush...and did it openly in the 1920s and 1930s. This was long before the gay rights or the civil rights movements, yet Bentley became a darling of the Harlem Renaissance alongside icons like Langston Hughes and Josephine Baker. While her provocative performances kept her from becoming as well-known as her peers, they are exactly why she is being rediscovered—and admired—today. In celebration of Women'...more
In the mid-1990s, investigators identified a mysterious and seemingly unstoppable killer. Its name? Chytrid. Its prey? Frogs. Since then, the disease has ravaged frog populations worldwide, and despite decades of research there’s still no cure. So, like modern-day Noahs, a group of Smithsonian researchers have resorted to a time-honored plan: building an ark…for amphibians. This time on Sidedoor, we travel to the Panamanian jungle to see how it's helping some endangered frogs avoid extinction.
In the 1970s and ’80s, Cheech Marin was famous for being half of the stoner comedy duo "Cheech and Chong." Today, he’s a passionate advocate for Chicano art and is raising awareness around a uniquely Mexican American aesthetic: rasquachismo. In this episode of Sidedoor, Cheech Marin is our guide to the wildly creative and ingenious world of rasquachismo—the Chicano art of working with what you've got.
Happy New Year! We’re busy working on a new batch of Sidedoor episodes and while you wait, we wanted to re-share a story we like from the fall, just in case you missed it the first time around. From 6,000-year-old cave paintings to silver screen stars in movies like Free Willy, whales have long captured the human imagination. And it makes sense—they're among the largest and most intelligent creatures to ever live on our planet. This time on Sidedoor, we’ll explore our surprising relationship wit...more
You know Amelia Earhart, but did you know she was just one of a daring group of women aviators who defied both expectations and gravity in the 1920s? They called themselves the Ninety-Nines, and they’re still flying today as an organization dedicated to the advancement of women pilots. This time on Sidedoor, we time-travel to the Roaring ‘20s to experience America's first official all-female air race, and then meet a modern-day Ninety-Nine who is ensuring that the legacy of Earhart and her fello...more
Meet Eadweard Muybridge, a pioneering and eccentric photographer from the 1800s whose work changed how people understood movement, and paved the way for the invention of motion pictures. But this inventor, artist, and showman also made a name for himself for something much less savory: murder. This time on Sidedoor, come for the ingenuity and stay for the scandal as we find out how a near-death experience, a handsome horse, and a rumored $25,000 bet helped Eadweard Muybridge change the course of...more
Artist Frank Holliday's social circle in the 1980s was a who's who of New York City cool: Andy Warhol, Cyndi Lauper, RuPaul, Keith Haring, and even Madonna. But Frank's odyssey through the art world also placed him at the center of an epidemic that would shake the entire country. In honor of World AIDS Day, Sidedoor takes a look at America's early HIV/AIDS Crisis through the eyes of an artist whose life and work were changed by it forever. This episode features recordings from the "Visual Ar...more
In 1621, a group of Pilgrims and Native Americans came together for a meal that many Americans call "The First Thanksgiving." But get this—it wasn't the first, and the meal itself wasn't so special either. The event was actually all but forgotten for hundreds of years…until it was dusted off to bolster the significance of a national holiday. This time on Sidedoor, we talk to Paul Chaat Smith, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, to explore how much of what you t...more
Inside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural history is the skeleton of Grover Krantz—an accomplished anthropologist, tenured professor…and diehard Bigfoot believer? As the first serious scientist to study the legendary creature, Krantz risked his career and reputation on a subject that many consider a joke. And while the museum remembers him as a man who loved science so much that he donated his body to it, another community remembers Krantz as a pioneer in the study of Sasquatch.
What if you found out that your grandmother’s house was going on display at a museum? The. Whole. House. That’s what happened to the Meggett sisters, who grew up visiting, eating, and playing at their grandma’s tiny cabin in South Carolina, unaware that it was originally built to house enslaved people. This time on Sidedoor, we explore the house's unique journey from slave cabin to family home to its latest incarnation as a centerpiece at the National Museum of African American History and Cultu...more
From 6,000-year-old cave paintings to silver screen stars in movies like Free Willy, whales have long captured the human imagination. And it makes sense—they're among the largest and most intelligent creatures to ever live on our planet. This time on Sidedoor, we’ll explore our surprising relationship with whales through the lens of one species: the gray whale. Once aggressively hunted and thought to be nearly extinct, they've rebounded to become one of the North Pacific’s most abundant whale sp...more
Our dear host Tony Cohn is leaving *Sidedoor *to travel the world, so we want to take a minute to introduce you to the new voice of the show, Haleema Shah.
In Washington, D.C., the neighborhood of Anacostia was once dismissed as the wrong side of the river. Now, it is turning into a housing hotspot as the city sees an influx of newer, wealthier residents. It’s called gentrification, and the process has become a flashpoint from Houston to Harlem and beyond. We’ll explore this longtime fight for housing through an innovative community museum that empowers local residents—kids and adults—to tell the stories of these changing neighborhoods.
The world’s deadliest animal isn’t the tiger, the snake, or even the alligator—it’s the mosquito. These tiny insects spread diseases that kill over 700,000 people each year. But what can we do to stop them? In search of solutions, host Tony Cohn travels around Panama with some well-equipped Smithsonian experts on the trail of this bloodthirsty, buzzing beast.
It begins a bit like a *Scooby Doo *episode: archaeologists digging at a place called “Witch Hill” discover mysterious human remains in an ancient trash heap. Who was this person? How’d they get there? Astonishingly, it would take 40 years to find out, and the story is way more surprising — and groundbreaking — than anyone could’ve ever imagined. So, grab your Scooby Snacks and join Sidedoor as we journey to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama to see these unusual bones firstha...more
The Hope Diamond is one of the most iconic items in the Smithsonian's collections, but this glittering gem is rumored to have a dark side. French monarchs, an heiress, and at least one unlucky postman have met misfortune after possessing it—though does that really constitute a curse? This time on Sidedoor, we track the lore of this notorious gem through the centuries, from southern India, through the French Revolution, and across the Atlantic Ocean to its current home at the National Museum of N...more
Tony sneaks away from the mosquitoes and frogs of Panama to make a special announcement: Sidedoor season three launches on Wednesday, August 8! Get ready for even more amazing stories from every corner of the Smithsonian. Pro tip: subscribe today to receive new episodes before anyone else, including our upcoming season premiere, "The Curse of the Hope Diamond."
How much do you know about the history of American home brewing? In this episode of Sidedoor you'll meet the Smithsonian's first brewing historian, Theresa McCulla, and learn about the role of women, enslaved people, and immigrants in the country's complex—and often surprising—relationship with beer. You'll also meet a new wave of brewers who are working to craft some flavorful history of their own. (Originally broadcast date: July 4th, 2017)
Sidedoor host Tony Cohn gets the opportunity of a lifetime: fly to Armenia and crawl into a deep, dark cave in search of long-lost wine. But we’re not talking just any ol’ cabernet or sauvignon blanc: these 6,000-year-old wine remnants are evidence of the world's oldest winery. In this episode we ask, what can this ancient winery tell us about the earliest days of civilization, and could a thirst for wine be the reason why some ancient humans left behind their nomadic ways and settled down? (Ori...more
Big Bird in space. Saving a multi-million-dollar painting. Smokey the *real* Bear. These are some of the stories we've been itching toshare, but didn’t have room for… until now. To close out Season 2, we’re serving up a few of our favorite Smithsonian “shorties,”plus we’ll check in with our most talked about characters from this past year. We’ll be back forSeason 3in August 2018!
Extinct species don’t usually get a do-over…but don’t tell that to the scimitar-horned oryx. Erased from the wild for three decades, these desert antelope are back in the Central African country of Chad with a thriving herd of over a hundred individuals. But how did this happen? We visit the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and a remote animal reserve in the United Arab Emirates to reveal the twists and turns of this amazing comeback story.
Talking animals? A bag of fire ants? Secret dancing superpowers? In this episode, Robert Lewis, an acclaimed Cherokee storyteller, spins stories about a legendary troublemaker: Jistu the Rabbit. Along the way, we visit the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, exploring the power stories hold to keep people connected to their culture across time and geographic distance. Experience the transformative power of a good tale.
The day that Amy Sherald heard that she had been chosen to paint the official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama, she called her mom to tell her the news, and then she told her dog. But soon after, the nerves set in. How was she going to create a portrait of one of the most iconic women in the world? In this episode of Sidedoor, we journey to Amy's studio to hear exactly how she captured the spirit of Michelle Obama in paint on canvas, and what she thinks of the reactions to her work.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been hard at work on a batch of stories you’re going to love. So this week, we're sharing one of our favorite eps from the fall. Heiress, divorcée … mother of forensic science? Frances Glessner Lee was not your average 19th century woman. Using the skills that high-society ladies were expected to have -- like sewing, crafting, and knitting -- Frances revolutionized the male-dominated world of crime scene investigation. Her most celebrated contribution: 19 intricate...more
Chris Crowe, an animal keeper for the Smithsonian, has an unlikely bond with Walnut, a female white-naped crane. Despite their obvious differences, she chose him as her mate. For Crowe, their relationship has high stakes: it impacts the future of an entire species. Venture with Sidedoor to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute to meet this unconventional couple, and find out how their connection could be key to white-naped crane survival.
Sidedoor host Tony Cohn gets the opportunity of a lifetime: fly to Armenia and crawl into a deep, dark cave in search of lost wine. But we’re not talking just any ol’ cabernet or sauvignon blanc, these 6000-year-old remains are evidence of the world's oldest winery. In this episode, we ask: What can this ancient winery tell us about the earliest days of civilization, and could a thirst for wine be the reason why some ancient humans decided to settle down and stop being nomadic?
In the 1800s, the American diet was mostly made up of meats, potatoes, cheese, and perhaps the occasional green bean. Fruits and other veggies? Not so much. But that all changed thanks to a group of 19th century food spies – globe-trotting scientists and explorers who sought exotic crops to enhance America’s diet and help grow the economy. A pioneer among them was David Fairchild, who nabbed avocados from Chile, kale from Croatia, mangoes from India, and much more. In this episode, we learn abou...more
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. Special thanks to our sponsor, Empty Frames. Search and subscribe to Empty Frames today on Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening destination.
Today, the US population is about 1% Muslim, but in the late 1700s that number was likely closer to 5%. Who were these early Muslim-Americans, where did they go, and why didn’t we all learn about them in school? In this episode, we search for American history's missing Muslims, and explore their experience though the words of Omar ibn Said, an enslaved Muslim man in North Carolina whose one-of-a-kind autobiography still resonates today.
Join Sidedoor in welcoming AirSpace, a new gravity-defying podcast from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Hosts Emily Martin and Matt Schindell join Tony to share a few upcoming stories, including what’s on the menu in space, how Earth’s oceans teach us about exploring the cosmos, and what it takes to be an astronaut. We’ll also give you a peek into AirSpace’s maiden voyage, where the team looks at what happens when a bunch of scientists attempt to live like Martians. If you’ve ev...more
While we’re hard at work on some exciting new things, we wanted to start the new year off with one of our favorites from 2017: If These Bones Could Talk. Explorer, scholar and 19th Century Smithsonian darling Robert Kennicott seemed destined to lead a full and adventurous life. Then, at the age of 30, on an expedition to Russian Alaska in 1866, Kennicott was mysteriously discovered dead by a riverside. Rumors of all colors circulated about the cause of his death, although, it wasn’t until 135 ...more
120 years ago, Owney was a global celebrity. He was also a dog. And no, he didn’t juggle plates or dance on two legs, Owney was famous for simply riding trains with the US mail. So, climb aboard the Sidedoor Express and join us as we revisit different chapters of Owney’s story – his rise to fame, his disastrous fall, and his remarkable return to the spotlight at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. It’ll be a doggone good time.
Even if you’ve never heard his name, you’ve probably heard his sound. J Dilla was a prolific hip-hop artist who collaborated with many hip-hop greats – from Questlove to Erykah Badu to Eminem. In this episode, we’re telling the story of J Dilla’s life and legacy through those that knew him best – his mother (aka Ma Dukes), James Poyser, and Frank Nitt – and some surprising objects on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Does your ham sandwich have something to say? Quite possibly. Food can be a powerful storytelling tool. Many chefs, like authors, carefully craft meals or menus to transform a dining experience into a cultural, historical, or educational adventure. This week on Sidedoor, chef Jerome Grant from the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Maricel Presilla, who was the first female Latin American guest chef at the White House, discuss the story-rich menus that put...more
A hippo, an orangutan, and a scientist walk into a milk bar... or so our story goes. In January 2017, a baby hippo was born at the Cincinnati Zoo six weeks premature and some 30 pounds underweight. Her name was Fiona, and getting her to put on pounds was a life or death matter. Unfortunately, nursing wasn't an option and the only hippo formula recipe on file was old and out of date. To devise a new one, team Fiona turned to the scientists at the world's largest exotic milk repository at the Smit...more
Heiress, divorcée … mother of forensic science? Frances Glessner Lee was not your average 19th century woman. Using the skills that high-society ladies were expected to have -- like sewing, crafting, and knitting -- Frances revolutionized the male-dominated world of crime scene investigation. Her most celebrated contribution: 19 intricate dioramas depicting violent murder scenes. In this episode of Sidedoor, we'll explore Frances's morbid obsession, and discover why the Smithsonian's Renwick Gal...more
In 1921, a riot destroyed almost 40 blocks of a wealthy black neighborhood in North Tulsa, Oklahoma. No one knows exactly how many people died, no one was ever convicted, and no one really talked about it until nearly a century later. In this episode, Sidedoor explores the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre and why it's important that you know it. Episode originally released Nov. 9, 2016.
Haunted by her not-so-nice grandmother, a young woman finds herself turning into a ghost. Writer Anelise Chen reads her essay “Who Haunts,” and discusses the ways in which our families shape our personal and cultural identities, for better or worse. Chen was recently featured at the Smithsonian's first-ever Asian American Literature Festival in Washington, D.C. Original score by Nico Porcaro.
In the late 1800s, Paul Cinquevalli was one of the most famous and thrilling entertainers in the world. Tales of his juggling and balancing exploits spanned continents. But by the mid 20th century, his name was all but forgotten. In this episode, Sidedoor explores Cinquevalli’s epic rise and fall, and brings you inside the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s circus tents for a one-of-a-kind Cinquevalli-inspired juggling revival.
An artist steps in front of a camera and drops a priceless 2000-year-old vase onto the floor, smashing it into a million pieces. This is Ai Weiwei, and the resulting photographs are one of his most well-known works of art. Many were inspired; others were enraged. And around the world it got people talking. In this episode, we explore Ai Weiwei’s controversial career, and how he uses art to rally against political and social injustice.
Catty gossip that led to a presidential scandal, the earliest mavericks of American cinema, and the risque Roman origins of a favorite Disney character. This week, we bring you tales of small things that snowballed and had outsized impacts on history, art and culture. Presented live at the 2017 NYC Podfest.
In the early 1980s, a scientist invented a machine that could naturally filter out pollution from rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. So, why isn't it everywhere today? In this episode, we explore the secret behind this powerful green technology (spoiler alert: it's algae!) and track its journey from a coral reef in the Caribbean to the basement of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and finally a port in Baltimore, where it is now being used to clean up one of the ...more
In this episode, we look at artists whose work has helped reveal the human side of war. You’ll hear about a famous artist who got his start sketching Civil War soldiers and landscapes, and how he was never the same again. Also featured are two contemporary artists: a painter whose work depicts war's psychological impact on his best friend, and a female combat photographer who repeatedly risked her own life to document her fellow soldiers’ experiences on the battlefield.
In this mini-episode, Sidedoor host Tony Cohn interviews Sam Kass, former Obama White House chef and one of the people responsible for the first beer ever known to be brewed at the White House.
How much do you know about the history of American home-brewing? In this episode of Sidedoor you'll meet the Smithsonian's first brewing historian, Theresa McCulla, and learn about the role of women, enslaved people, and immigrants in the country's complex — and often surprising — relationship with beer. You'll also meet a new wave of brewers who are working to craft some flavorful history of their own.
Explorer, scholar and 19th Century Smithsonian darling Robert Kennicott seemed destined to lead a full and adventurous life. Then, at the age of 30, on an expedition to Russian Alaska in 1866, Kennicott was mysteriously discovered dead by a riverside. Rumors of all colors circulated about the cause of his death, although, it wasn’t until 135 years later, in 2001, that two Smithsonian forensic scientists cracked the case.
Sidedoor is back-- tell a friend! New season begins on Wednesday, June 21st.
Tony shares a special thanks and an exciting update for our upcoming season. Share your thoughts by emailing email@example.com or leave a message at 202-633-4120.
Transforming things we take for granted: An astronomer who has turned the night sky into a symphony; an architecture firm that has radically rethought police stations; and an audiophile who built a successful record company on underappreciated sounds.
Identity in a complex world: A look at the many roles each person plays in daily life; a group of lesbian feminists create an entirely new culture, religion and society in the 1970s; and Iraqi archaeologists work to preserve their cultural heritage after years of war.
Bending the rules: People sending their children through the U.S. Postal Service; a Sikh man in the early 1900s tries to use the Supreme Court's racist rulings to his benefit; and the little-known story behind the iconic folk song "Rock Island Line."
Squabbles big and small: A dining room turns two besties into lifelong enemies; a researcher embraces the panda craze; and why some dinosaur skulls were built to take a beating.
A quick update from Tony about the show.
Tales of deception and trickery: A sneaky orchid seeks sexually frustrated pollinator; a battle fought by decoys; and a gender-bending zombie invasion of the Chesapeake Bay.
A 1921 riot destroyed almost 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 until a decade ago. This is the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre and why it's important that you know it.
Technology's grip on us: The 4-1-1 on what's behind your selfie; an artist's computer simulation shows humans aren't as unique as we think; and how the invention of standardized time made America tick.
The payoff is all in the delivery: Sending mail via cruise missile; preparing a strong-willed orangutan for primate parenthood; and failing to land a joke from the "gag file" of Phyllis Diller.
Sidedoor, a new podcast from the Smithsonian, is launching October 26th, 2016. Start subscribing now on iTunes!