Smithsonian staff work countless hours in the halls of our museums and research centers, in the field, at the Zoo, in our gardens and facilities. We are privileged to spend time with some of the nation’s most cherished treasures as we go about our duties. Sometimes, these unique experiences find a special place in our own personal stories. Amy Kehs introduces Ashley Hornish and a few of her favorite things.
I was super excited to visit Ashley Hornish, the visual Information specialist in the Exhibit Design Office at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, my old stomping ground. Ashley, a graduate of Ohio Northern University, began her Smithsonian career in October 2009 after an internship at NASM. She admitted that choosing just three of her favorite things was harder than she anticipated.
Two of Ashley’s favorites are in the newly renovated Boeing Milestones of Flight Gallery that she and her colleagues worked on for more than two years before its grand reopening July 1 of last year, the 40th anniversary of the museum’s building on the National Mall.
As a proud Buckeye and longtime space afficianado, it should be no surprise that Ashley’s first pick is Sen. John Glenn’s Mercury Friendship 7 space capsule, on display in the Milestones of Flight Gallery. As Glenn and other early astronauts often joked, “You don’t get in it, you put it on.”
John Glenn donned the Friendship 7 Feb. 20, 1962 and orbited the earth, becoming the first American to do so. Ashley feels a strong connection to Glenn: They are both from Ohio; her grandfather was a Marine, as was Glenn, and she has dreamed of being an astronaut since she was young. Ashley says that one of the amazing things about working at the Smithsonian is that she has actually been able to touch that childhood dream. She and her friend and colleague Ashlee Prevette made that dream more of a reality with a recent visit to Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. This “big kid” version of the popular camp gave Ashley the chance to live her childhood dream as an astronaut.
One challenge Ashley and her colleagues faced when redesigning the Milestones of Flight Gallery was deciding how to display an actual moon rock that visitors are allowed to touch. Previously, the moon rock had been on display in a simple column immediately inside the entrance to the museum. Many people walked right past it, not realizing their missed opportunity to touch a piece of the moon. Ashley and the team wanted to bring this artifact to life and give it more prominence. During their research, they came across a NASA photograph of the actual rock on the moon taken during the Apollo 17 mission! Ashley felt chills when she saw the photo and it was immediately obvious this was how they could make this sliver of rock become real and powerful for visitors. The photograph is now enlarged and set above a new exhibit case. Like Ashley, you’ll get a chill as you reach out to touch this little piece of the moon.
Ashley’s third favorite artifact is on display in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Since she was on the track team in high school and college, she says that all of the Olympic track artifacts on display touch her. But Jesse Owens’ track shoes from the 1936 Olympics inspire her the most. Jesse Owens also grew up in Ohio where he earned the nickname the Buckeye Bullet. Owens ran track at East Technical High School in Cleveland and went to college at Ohio State University, crushing world records along the way. The shoes on display were worn by Owens during the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany, where he won four gold medals, proving to Hitler’s Germany and the rest of the world that excellence is not predetermined by race. Ashley says the shoes symbolize for her Jesse Owens’ toughness and courage. As a runner, she also can’t help noticing how far running shoe technology has come!
Stay tuned for more favorite things from Smithsonian employees. If you have a suggestion or a favorite of your own, please let us know!
Posted: 5 April 2017