This Is Your History … on Drugs: DEA Museum

Good Medicine, Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America – an interactive DEA Musuem exhibit delving into prescription drug abuse (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Good Medicine, Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America – an interactive DEA Museum exhibit delving into prescription drug abuse (Photo By: heydayjoe)

“By 1900, when 1 in 200 Americans was addicted, the typical addict was a white, middle-class female hooked through medical treatment. But there was also a rapidly growing new group of young, urban pleasure users.”

And it is these users who will likely enjoy the DEA Museum the most.

Located just one block north of the Pentagon City stop on DC Metro’s Yellow Line, the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum & Visitors Center greets you with the friendly checkpoint security you’ve come to expect at DC’s museums, i.e., empty your pockets and step through the metal detector. (Note to stoners: We know that subtlety is not your forte, but that was your hint on what not to bring on your visit to the DEA Museum.)

The DEA Museum literally showcases its successes in the brief history of drug enforcement in the United States while inadvertently highlighting its many failures in the futile war on drugs. The combination makes for a delightful cocktail of fear and yearning.

From opium smoking in China, whence “began the modern drug pleasure culture,” to pill-popping pharm parties with the kids in suburbia, the DEA Museum has it all. The illicit drug-use story begins with the Opium Wars of 1840 and 1860, which Britain won, thereby forcing China to make opium legal. (Kudos to the Western World for once again starting something that it would spend endless years and dollars to stop.)

Yes, Bayer promoted heroin for children. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Yes, Bayer promoted heroin for children. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The narco narrative then moves to the U.S., with an array of plexiglass displays that hint at a nostalgia for the good ol’ days, when Americans used Schedule 1 and 2 drugs to alleviate every ailment known to man, woman and child – from the morphine-laced Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for teething children to Bayer Heroin, a seductive sedative for that nasty cough.

The all-ages party begins to wind down in 1914 with the Harrison Narcotic Act, a law that dictated the orderly marketing of drugs in small quantities and the physician’s right to prescribe in larger quantities. Johnny Law took this to mean that a doc could not prescribe dope to an addict to maintain his addiction. Drug addicts took this to mean no more over-the-counter highs. Lines were drawn, and the honorable tradition of federal drug law enforcement was born. In a nod to the true motive behind this governmental oversight, the first enforcement agency was the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the precursor to the IRS. It was the U.S. Treasury that would enforce the Harrison Act, and it intended to make its presence on the streets known. Every narcotics agent was issued a badge, a Thompson machine gun and a pair of hand grenades. The war on drugs had begun.**

You didn’t see no kids selling or using drugs. If a kid came around … they’d chase him away. They’d say, ‘What do you want? Get out of here! You want a lollipop or something? The kids definitely were not involved [in drugs] in the Thirties and Forties.” – New York addict, 1970s

This campaign to make our children safer against heroin tablets and cocaine toothache drops was more than just taking candy away from a baby; it was taking away baby’s narcotics. Decades would pass before kids again had such easy access to drugs.

The Drug Enforcement Administration didn’t appear until nearly 60 years after the Harrison Act, when it was created in 1973 as part of the Department of Justice. Although it was a direct offshoot of the DOJ’s Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (1968-73), its ancestors include numerous agencies created in the first half of the 20th century: Treasury’s Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Bureau of Prohibition, the Bureau of Narcotics and the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Diamonds are a druglord's best friend, next to drugs. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Diamonds are a druglord’s best friend, next to drugs. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Each of these drug enforcement predecessors had a touch of seizure fever. Although they were all opposed to people taking drugs, none had any qualms about forcefully taking away people’s drugs – and anything else they found next to or in the same house or in the general vicinity of those drugs. Confiscated treasures on display at the DEA Museum range from a homemade honey bear bong to a full-size marijuana vending machine to the diamond-encrusted Colt .45 of drug kingpin Rafael Caro-Quintero

The DEA has even managed to obtain for display a box of twisted steel and concrete chunks from the World Trade Center. What’s the connection to drugs? Here’s your answer: Poppies grow in Afghanistan; poppies are used to make heroin; heroin production fuels terrorism; and terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. Seems straightforward, right? (NOTE: None of the 9-11 terrorists were Afghani nationals, and opium production has been on the rise in Afghanistan since the U.S. occupation began in 2001.)

The original title of this 1956 mass market paperback was "Second Ending." (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The original title of this 1956 mass market paperback was “Second Ending.” (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Growing drugs isn’t always a profession of choice, but taking them usually is. Many have tried to enhance their personalities by devouring dope, but drug use typically doesn’t enhance your career – unless you’re an athlete, or a former DEA agent, or a musician. The intertwined story of drugs and music is much like the chicken or the egg causality dilemma: Although we don’t know which came first, there’s a long history of taking drugs to make music to take drugs to. The DEA Museum graciously provides some pleasant side effects of that medicinal medley. Here are some of the high notes:

  • “Marijuana enthusiasts of the 1920s called themselves ‘Vipers.’ Jazz music with lyrics about marijuana, known as viper music, was often played in basement clubs known as ‘tea pads.’ To listen to the Rosetta Howard & the Harlem Hamfats version of “If You’re a Viper,” click here.
  • Milton ‘Mezz’ Mezzrow was the jazz musician who introduced marijuana to Harlem in 1929 when the drug was still legal.” He became so well known for selling weed to the jazz cats that “mezz” became slang for marijuana, a reference that is used in “If You’re a Viper.” He was also known as the “Muggles King” – “muggles” being another slang term for marijuana.
  • Kurt Cobain makes an appearance in heavy eyeliner, included in the gallery because he “shot and killed himself while high on heroin.”
  • Perhaps the greatest song featured in the museum is one created by the Partnership for a Drug Free America. Check out the video below.

Don’t forget to the visit the DEA Museum gift shop before you leave!

**According to the DEA, the “war on drugs” began during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, with increased penalties for even first-time drug offenders and expanded DEA powers. By the 1990s, more than half of federal prisoners were incarcerated for federal drug violations.

T. Rex Finds New Home in DC – Rent-Free!

    DC's resident T. rex arrives at the loading dock of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the wee hours of April 15, 2014. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

DC’s resident T. rex arrives at the loading dock of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the wee hours of April 15, 2014. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

You know that colossal T. rex skeleton that towers over you as you enter the dinosaur hall in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History? It’s a fake – but not for long. This morning at 5:30 a.m., a FedEx 18-wheeler pulled into the parking lot with the real skeletal remains of a genuine T. rex.

Federal Express – When your dinosaur absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.

For the first time since the dinosaur hall opened in 1911, the Museum of Natural History will have a bona fide Tyrannosaurus rex gracing its space. This 38-foot long, 7-ton T. rex is on loan to the Smithsonian Institution for 50 years, and we owe its discovery to a Montana woman out camping with her family.

The first bones of DC’s new T. rex were discovered in 1988 by Kathy Wankel, a rancher who found the dinosaur’s arm bones near the Fort Peck Reservoir in northeast Montana, on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Christened the Wankel T. rex, the dinosaur was kept by the Corps at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman for nearly 20 years until it was packed up and shipped to DC.

Shipping a T. rex isn’t as hard as it may sound. In some ways, it’s like sending a care package to college. Wrap it up, put it in a box and toss the box onto a truck. Only this care package nixed the bubble wrap in favor of custom-molded plaster cradles. And it came in 16 crates in a customized FedEx truck driven by a husband and wife team. The couple left Bozeman in a 53-foot-long semi on April 11 for the more than 2,000-mile trip – and arrived on time.

Time to unload the dinosaur (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Time to unpack the dinosaur (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Back in 1997, the Museum of Natural History was on the verge of getting a real T. rex — a dino named Sue. Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered, was to be auctioned by Sotheby’s to the highest bidder. The Smithsonian thought it belonged in its dinosaur collection. To bring Sue home to DC, the world’s most-visited natural history museum was prepared to spend $2.5 million. It wasn’t nearly enough. The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago drastically outbid the Smithsonian, spending $8.3 million to bring Sue home to Chicago, where the 67-million-year-old remains the star attraction, drawing more than 6.5 million visitors.

Some assembly required -- eat your heart out, Ikea. Yes, this T. rex would eat your heart out, Ikea. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED — just like Ikea! (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Since that fated auction, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has been looking for an alternative T. rex to complete its collection – until now. To make room for the big guy, the dinosaur hall will close on April 28 for a five-year renovation. When the hall reopens in 2019, the Wankel T. rex is set to be the centerpiece of a new paleontology exhibit that will showcase the giant carnivore like never before.

Now that will be something you can sink your teeth into…

[DINOSAUR BONUS: The Ohio State University marching band does a great T. rex impression. To see the beast in action, scroll to the 1:30 mark in the video below.]

The Street of the Righteous Gentile

(Image By: heydayjoe)

(Image By: heydayjoe)

Renamed by an Act of Congress in 1985, Raoul Wallenberg Place SW is the stretch of 15th Street SW on which the Holocaust Museum is located.

While serving as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest from July to December 1944, Raoul Wallenberg successfully rescued tens of thousands of people from certain death by issuing protective passports and sheltering Hungarian Jews in buildings that he rented and designated as official Swedish territory. He was later arrested by Soviet authorities on suspicion of espionage and died at the hands of the KGB in 1947.

One of the thousands saved by Wallenberg was U.S. House Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif., in office 1981-2008), the only Holocaust survivor to have served in the U.S. Congress.

Other streets named after Wallenberg include Raoul Wallenberg Street in Jerusalem, Place Raoul Wallenberg in Montreal, Raoul Wallenberg Boulevard in Charleston, S.C., and Raoul Wallenberg Avenue in Trenton, N.J.

It’s not surprising that many countries want to claim this heroic guy as their own: Wallenberg is an honorary citizen of the United States (the second, after Winston Churchill), Israel, Hungary, Australia and Canada (the first honorary citizen of Canada).