The Museum Post

The Museum Post

A pre-Washington Center anecdote: Last September, I was in D.C. for the weekend visiting Justin and my cousins in Vienna. That Sunday, Justin and I decided to do some sight-seeing before we left. We ran through a list of Smithsonians off the top of our heads and decided on Air and Space, and then tacked the Lincoln Memorial onto our adventure because, well, we were in D.C. From my cousins' house in Vienna, we plugged "Air and Space Museum" into the GPS. 16 miles away? No problem!

 

The museum was cool, but strange--lots of giant historical planes in an even bigger hanger, but none of that educational-aspect that I'd hoped for (how airplanes stay up, complete with colorful diagrams and cool machines that let you push the button to make the air flow slower and faster). And what was with the location? We'd driven through the middle of nowhere just to end up in the middle of a field? At the end of our visit, we plugged the Lincoln Memorial into the GPS and saw that it was almost 30 miles away. Justin and I looked at each other. "Aren't the Smithsonians supposed to be on the National Mall? ...Isn't the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall?"

 

We realized our mistake after carefully consulting a D.C. guidebook that Justin's mother had given to him: there are two Air and Space Museums, one on the National Mall with all the cool diagrams and fun buttons, and its companion, the Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazey Center, which rests near Dulles Airport in Chantilly, VA and hosts all the giant planes and general air and space artifacts that are just too big to fit in the center on the National Mall. Oh.

 

One of my goals for this semester, then, was to visit the D.C. Air and Space Museum and to re-learn how air planes fly high in the sky (12th grade physics was a long time ago by now). Now, with two weeks left of my stay in Washington, I can happily report that I have made it to the "real" Air and Space Museum, know how air planes stay up, and also saw some fascinating exhibits on the history of mapping the heavens (I like learning about the history of sciences and tend to retain the information much better than modern-day theories and discoveries--mainly because the historical ones are more simplistic, albeit wrong). I've also made it to several other museums this semester. Here are some of the highlights:

 

  • Holocaust Museum: This was the first museum that I visited here this semester. In January, I was in Israel for ten days, and I went to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Both of these museums have the same general facts, but I found their messages really different. Yad Vashem tells the story of the Holocaust as a Jewish genocide and one which the Jews eventually overcame; you go through the museum and end the tour looking out at a spectacular view of modern-day Jerusalem. The D.C. museum, on the other hand, ultimately has a wider perspective on the event and a humanitarian aspect. The end of the tour connects the Holocaust to other more recent world genocides to encourage visitors to take action and never allow this kind of event to happen again. Despite their differences, both museums were very powerful and meaningful, and I encourage everyone to pay a visit to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. before they leave.
  • Ford's Theater: I went here with my supervisor and the two other interns at work as part of our field trip. I hadn't realized beforehand that Ford's Theater is still operational--AKA you can see Hello, Dolly! there this August--but during your tour you do still get to sit in the theater and see Lincoln's presidential box. There's also a really thorough exhibit on Lincoln and his effect on and legacy with the American people.
  • Frederick Douglass House: Part 2 of my work fieldtrip. Emily, Tessa, and I absolutely loved this stop. It was a neat contrast to learning about Lincoln; although the two men lived during the same time period and had a close relationship, they still led very different lives. Our guide was really knowledgeable and showed us around the house, the grounds, and talked to us about his career path and how he came to be a Curator. He showed us photographs that were taken of the house during the 19th century and pointed out how hard they've tried to maintain the exact position of all of Douglass' belongings.
  • National Museum of Natural History: Always a good time because you get to see dinosaur skeletons, learn about terrifying pre-historic water dwellers, and see just how big a giant squid is (thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis big--well, actually, a lot bigger). There's also a short video about monkeys and the primate family tree, so it's an all-around awesome experience.
  • National Museum of American History: Right now, they have a really interesting exhibit on the history food in America (including an entire section on Julia Child), all of which I found fascinating. In the American Stories exhibit, you can see an original Kermit the Frog puppet and Dorothy's ruby slippers, along with dozens of other artifacts from American history and culture. I was so interested in everything I saw that I couldn't make it to the last floor (the building is enormous!) so I'm hoping to make one last stop there before I leave next week...I have to see the exhibit on America's First Ladies!
  • Newseum: I went here on a fieldtrip with my class in March. I think this was my favorite museum I've been to in D.C...although recollecting everything just now as I've been writing this post has made it hard to choose. The Newseum has several state-of-the-art interactive exhibits on social media and how it helps inform the public on current events. There's also a display of hundreds of newspaper headlines from the day after 9/11 and a 4D video on the history of news in America. Unlike the Smithsonians, there's an admission fee (about $20), although I had a discount because I went with my class. Still, if you divide that $20 by the other 8 museums I've been to this year, it's only $2.50 per museum...so I think the price is definitely worth it!

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