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Night at the Museum “pile of loot” installation

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The Smithsonian Castle–prominently featured in the witty 20th Century Fox motion picture, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian–is currently the setting for the display of one of the many spectacular props included in the movie.  The enormous “pile of loot,” supposedly pilfered from the museum’s collections by the film’s arch villain, the evil pharaoh, Kah Mun Rah, is on
view in the Great Hall through September 30, 2009.  The fascinating agglomeration of faux artifacts is made even more impressive by its sheer size: 6′ high x 22′ long x 22′ wide.  Irresistible to examine, the hoard includes gold coins, clocks, furniture, Oriental carpets, picture frames, brass urns, musical instruments, and much, much more.

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The Office of Exhibits Central (OEC) led the installation of the pile of loot in the Castle, with support from across the Smithsonian.  According to Scott Schmidt, head of OEC’s Fabrication Shop, “I pulled in specialists from every corner of the Institution.”  The Transportation Division provided a 55′ tractor-trailer and driver, for example, so that all six pieces of the sculpture could be transported together.  OEC’s Special Exhibitions Department arranged the loan of the prop, organized logistics within the Castle, and managed the installation.  OEC model maker, Carolyn Thome, guided a team of volunteers from the Smithsonian’s Visitor Information and Associates’ Reception Center, who worked with her to re-glue, straighten, and dress the mound of objects prior to its opening to the public, including installing ten additional boxes of loot that was not permanently attached to the main mass.  


Rick Pelasara’s production division at the National Museum of the American Indian fabricated the plexi barriers.  The staff of the Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations, as well as the Castle’s Building Management staff, supplied invaluable help with lifting, carrying, and placing the heavy pieces of the sculpture; each of the six sections required the strength of ten men to move it.  The Castle Collections office was involved in multiple phases of the project, including the assembly, and the National Museum of American History designed and produced an explanatory panel which provided background information on the film. 

The sculpture was transported from the Smithsonian’s storage facility in Landover, Maryland, to the Castle at the beginning of May, where it was off-loaded from the truck and carried, by hand, into the Great Hall.  The pieces were lined up so that the seams between sections were not visible, and the retractable wheels beneath the pieces were adjusted for height.  The additional loot was then positioned, and final alterations made to the giant stack of treasures.  Lastly, the plexi barriers were put in place, as well as the explanatory panel.

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“The great beauty of the installation was the willingness to help that I encountered from all of the offices involved,” Schmidt continued.  “We were concerned with handling the sculpture safely, but were also aware that the building was open to the public, who were especially interested in what we were doing.  We were able to complete the project without having a major impact on the other activities taking place in the building, and we provided a glimpse for the visitors of some of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that goes on at the Smithsonian.”

The comical movie follows the adventures of the film’s characters as they travel from New York City to Washington, D.C., and back, and highlights many of the Smithsonian’s buildings, as well as its exhibits.

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photo credits:

      photos 1, 2, 4, 5: editor–The pile of loot on display in the Great Hall of              the Smithsonian Castle.

      photo 3: Betsy Robinson–Volunteers helping with the installation.