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Small exhibit to keep museum in public eye during renovation

WASHINGTON—The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History announced Tuesday that it has winnowed its vast collection of objects down to 150 greatest hits for display at the nearby Air and Space Museum while the history museum shuts down until 2008 for an extensive renovation.

Among items making the cut are composer and musician Duke Ellington's score for "Mood Indigo," Muhammad Ali's bright red Everlast boxing gloves, an 1851 Singer sewing machine and the original Kodak camera.

Also on display will be Ray Bolger's scarecrow costume from the movie "Wizard of Oz."

It's "very rarely seen," museum director Brent Glass said of the costume. "In fact, I don't think it's ever been on display because it's fragile."

The exhibit, called "Treasures of American History," includes one of Mary Todd Lincoln's velvet evening dresses. Elizabeth Keckley, a seamstress and former slave, made it.

One of country singer Patsy Cline's traveling outfits also is on display. So are the "Star Wars" robots, R2D2 (this one from 1983's "Return of the Jedi") and his counterpart, C-3PO.

Thomas Jefferson's personally edited version of the Gospels is there, too. He called the book, which omits references to miracles, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth."

"I really wanted to come up with about a dozen objects that represent the treasures of American history, and I put that challenge to the staff," Glass explained. "They came up with about 250 objects ... and we settled on about 150."

The history museum will close for renovations Sept. 4. When it reopens, it'll provide a special display for the Star Spangled Banner flag, more restrooms and updated air conditioning. In the meantime, the exhibit "will give us a presence on the National Mall," said Glass.

He said it was essential for the museum to continue to display some items from U.S. history in the capital. "Something that's authentic and real really does resonate with kids," said Glass. "They understand the difference between a reproduction, a replica, a facsimile and something that's real.

"Often, physical evidence—whether it's archeological evidence or material culture or architecture—is overlooked as a gateway to the past."

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