The Smithsonian and the Case of the War Hero Pigeon

If you've been following along this week, you know the story of Cher Ami. World War I. Carrier pigeon. Saves the lives of nearly 200 American soldiers. Returns to America a decorated war hero. Dies months later due to battlefield injuries. Autopsy reveals ... this cock is a hen?

According to the famous bird's Wikipedia entry, Cher Ami is still widely believed to be a male, but is really a female. To this day, the Smithsonian insists Cher Ami is a cock. Which one is it? I wondered. The Smithsonian's website posits Cher Ami is a boy. And Cher Ami, taxidermied, is on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. So you'd think they'd know, right?

I needed someone to go to the museum and see if the plaque where Cher Ami stands claims the bird is a male. Because if Cher Ami is really a female, not a male, I wanted to tell the Smithsonian that, and I wanted to tell them to set the record straight. I mean, wouldn't you?

But I wasn't in DC. And I wasn't sure who I knew in DC would want to go to the museum and find out. I figured maybe a young journalist would want to do something like that, if I paid her. And I knew Slate was in DC. So I googled: "Slate intern LinkedIn." And Laura Wagner was the first name to pop up in the results. You can read her work for Slate here and her work for NPR here. I located Laura on Twitter, followed her, and asked her to follow me, so I could DM her.

Here's what I wrote:

Hey Laura. I'm a freelance journalist based in FL. Recently I got interested in the story of Cher Ami, a war pigeon who turned out to be a girl …. I'm interested to know if the permanent exhibit where Cher Ami's stuffed body is on view at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in DC misidentifies her as a boy: …. Any interest in making $100 going down there and taking a look for me, maybe snapping a few pics? I assume it misidentifies her but wanted to confirm. I thought maybe since journalist + DC, you might be interested. Thanks!

Here's what she wrote:

Hey Susannah, cool story! I'm in. I'm leaving for New York early tomorrow morning but I'm free this afternoon so I'll go down and look at the exhibit later today. Just curious, did someone give you my name or?

I wrote:

Terrific! Thanks so much. No one gave me your name, but I thought if perhaps I googled Slate intern linkedin, I might find someone who'd be interested. You were the first result. She should be in "The Price of Freedom: Americans at War" exhibit, and I'm curious to know: if she's on view and if there's some sort of written text that identifies her by gender. If you can snap a few pics of her and any text you find, that'd be great. I'll also add the cost of admission.

And she wrote:

Ah good ol' linkedin! Ok, sounds good. I'll be in touch when I'm back

I responded with this GIF.

Now all I had to do was wait.

Come back tomorrow, and I'll tell you what Laura found at the museum.