Chapter 14:23 p.m.
Friday, March 25
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC
Camille Sullivan brushed a long strand of curly red hair from her face and squinted at the elderly gentleman on the far side of the room. Arthur Hamilton Jr.—known to his friends and family simply as Art—stood next to Camille. And though barely a year older at twelve years of age, he towered almost a foot over her—not including the mound of bright red hair that flew off in all directions from the top of her head. However, neither the difference in age nor in height was of any concern to Camille.
“That old guy is staring at us,” Camille insisted. “It’s weird.”
“He’s not staring at us,” Art replied.
“Is he wearing a beret?” Camille asked. “He’s way too old to wear a beret. I’m just saying it’s not a good look for him. It’s like he’s trying to be French or something. Is he French? I guess he could be French, but it’s still not a good look.”
“He’s not French,” Art replied. “He’s actually from the Netherlands—and he’s not too old for a beret. I actually think he looks good in it.”
“And check out that mustache or goatee or whatever is on his face,” Camille continued. “He thinks he is so cool. I’m telling you, it’s just plain weird.”
Art was in no mood to argue with Camille. “Fine,” he said. “He’s staring at us, and the mustache is weird.”
“And what’s he wearing?” Camille whispered. “Look at him—he’s got his collar all flipped up.”
“I don’t know what he’s wearing. Why does it matter?”
“It doesn’t,” Camille said. “I’m just saying he’s way too old to be doing that.”
Art rolled his eyes. “He’s not trying to be cool,” he said. “He’s just sitting there.”
“I like his hair, though,” Camille said.
Art smiled. “I thought you might.”
The dark beret sitting on top of the older man’s head could not contain the curly gray hair that billowed out like clouds from the sides of the man’s head. The man’s hair seemed to have a life of its own—just like Camille’s.
“But I still think he’s staring at us,” Camille insisted once more.
Art waved at his father, who stood on the far side of the room next to the elderly man in the beret. Art was the spitting image of his father—tall, blond, and slender. Arthur Hamilton Sr. motioned them over—an introduction to the older gentleman was apparently in order. And a brief respite from Camille’s commentary was more than welcome.
“I’m nervous,” Camille said as they made their way across the room.
“Why?” Art asked.
“You said he’s worth more than a hundred million dollars,” Camille replied. “That’s a bunch of money.”
Art shrugged. He had been around people like the man in the beret his entire life. He had met some that were worth even more. He was used to it.
“Camille! Art!” Arthur Hamilton Sr. exclaimed as they arrived by his side, a broad smile across his face.
“Hello, Dr. Hamilton,” Camille replied.
“Hey, Dad,” Art said.
“How was school today?” Arthur Hamilton Sr. asked. It was always the first question he asked after school. It was sort of annoying.
“All good,” Art replied. He had learned from experience that the shorter the answer, the better.
“It was okay,” Camille added. “You know—it was school.”
She peeked around Dr. Hamilton at the man in the beret.
“We just wanted to stop by and see how things were going,” Art said. “How’s the patient?”
“Well,” Art’s dad replied as he turned toward the older gentleman, “I’d say he’s doing pretty well for someone who is more than three hundred and fifty years old.”
Arthur Hamilton Sr. stood beside his son and Camille in a large room on the second floor of a massive stone building located between F Street and G Street in downtown Washington, DC. The building, which traced back to 1836, occupied two full city blocks—the massive stone columns of its southern façade faced directly down Eighth Street toward the National Archives. Its thick granite walls had hosted President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball, had provided housing for troops during the Civil War, and had been the home of the United States Patent Office for decades. A large gallery within the building had been—for a brief period of time—the largest enclosed space in the entire United States. But the building eventually fell into disrepair and disuse, its history and contributions to the country seemingly forgotten by the very city it had served for so long. Demolition seemed inevitable—a parking deck had been slated to take its place. Fortunately, the Smithsonian Institution stepped in to save the historic landmark, and on October 7, 1968, the doors of the grand building reopened to a new purpose—the National Portrait Gallery.
The National Portrait Gallery was founded by the United States Congress for the purpose of displaying paintings of Americans who have made significant contributions to the history and culture of the United States. Its galleries were filled with portraits of Americans who defined the country—great artists, musicians, film stars, athletes, politicians, civil rights leaders, socialites, activists, and many others. However, within the west wing of the building was a related and yet very distinct set of operations: the Lunder Conservation Center. The scientists, conservationists, and technicians of the Lunder Center were responsible for caring for the artwork owned by the entire Smithsonian Institution—a collection of virtually unlimited historic, artistic, and economic value. Experts within the center repaired and restored paintings, statues, photographs, drawings, and prints. There was even a frame conservation studio in which historic picture frames were carefully cared for and preserved. It was a weighty responsibility to lead the Lunder Center but a task that well suited Arthur Hamilton Sr. as the recently appointed director of the facility.
Dr. Hamilton’s p...