Thursday, October 13, 2011

Washington, D.C. - Part Four - The American History Museum

Finally!  We made to to my favorite museum. Since my first visit to D.C. when I was eleven, I have loved the Smithsonian and especially the American History Museum.  Inside this massive building lives and breathes the momentous artifacts of our country.  From the desk where Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence to Dorothy's ruby slippers, visitors can witness the rise of America.

Since exhaustion precluded my creating a museum scavenger hunt, I stopped by the visitor's information desk to see what they had for kids. Jackpot!  They had ready made knowledge hunts arranged by ages.  I picked up two maps and three hunts and off we went. Since we only had a few hours, we mapped out our must sees and then checked out other items along the way to those.

[Family Field Trip Tip: If a museum has an education department, it will have packets or hunts like the ones we found at the Smithsonian.  Just ask!]

The Star Spangled Banner was our first stop.  This is the actual flag that Francis Scott Key observed during the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore and wrote our national anthem.  Amazing!  There is an interactive flag that you can touch and find out about each section of the flag.  Then, the flag, itself, is hanging in low light for all to see.  The exhibit tells of Key's inspiration during the War of 1812 and how his poem became our national anthem.  It also tells of the never ending effort of preserving this 200 year old battle-worn flag.  Definitely a National Treasure!  No photos were allowed in this exhibit so check out the website to see the flag.

Next, we headed to the First Ladies exhibit.  Greg and Wyatt thought it uninteresting, but the inauguration gowns can really be a window into history reflecting the time period and the lady's personality.  I thought it was interesting to see which of the modern dresses looked better on or off the First Lady.  Example: Hilary Clinton's dressed looked much better off than on her and Laura Bush's and Michelle Obama's gowns looked much better on them than off. (This is just a fashion observation and not politically motivated.)  Anabel's favorite gown was Mary Todd Lincoln's: tiny, simple, elegant.  Three words I would never have used to describe Mrs. Lincoln.

On the third floor were the Presidents and the Pop Culture exhibits.  There are personal objects from all the presidents from George Washington's chair to Lincoln's stove pipe hat to JFK's little black book (just kidding about the book.)  We loved the Pop Culture hall.  It was fun showing the kids artifacts from our childhood and explaining some of the earlier twentieth century articles.   Just a few of the items were:  Archie and Edith's chairs, the Muppets, original drawings of Charlie Brown, Cat Woman's costume, Michael Jackson's hat and a Tony Hawk skateboard exactly like Greg's.

With our information hunt almost complete, we headed for the exhibit I had been dying to see: Julia's Kitchen!  Ever since reading My Life in France and seeing Julie and Julia, I have been fascinated by this Julia Child's life, passions and pursuits.  She has been an inspiration to me while writing my book.  Each time I have gotten stuck or frustrated with writing direction after direction, I would think of Julia and the eight years she spent writing and rewriting her magnum opus - Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I think about how hard it would have been to write all those recipes either by hand or typing with carbons and then editing without a computer.  Wow!  Then, I pray my book will be at least a quarter as successful as her book.  Her kitchen exhibit is her actual kitchen from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she filmed her original PBS television series, The French Chef. She donated her entire kitchen when she moved to California in 2001.  Like Julie Powell (fellow blogger, writer and Julia fan), I felt closer to Julia just being in her kitchen.  Silly, but true.

Once again, the kids sniffed out the hands-on exhibit in the museum: Invention at Play.  Here, Anabel tried a little windsurfing while Wyatt and Emma experimented with the best way to get a ball in a hole using only kitchen utensils.  Both were successful with very different techniques:

With 33 current exhibits, the National Museum of American History is a must see for any trip to Washington, D.C.  I'm so glad we saved the best for last and can't wait to return when we have time for more than just a taste of America.

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