Museum Hopping & Puddle Jumping

Trip Start Dec 26, 2011
Trip End Dec 29, 2011

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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Despite having gone to bed around midnight, the four of us woke up fairly early, got showered and dressed, downed our Venti coffees, ate biscottis and pumpkin bread, and were on the way to the Newseum by half past eight. Along the way, we couldn't help but notice the utter lack of winter - light green and purple cabbage-y plants interspersed with delicate but still-blooming flowers (I noted pansies and roses) seemed the ornamentation of choice for most buildings.

It was only a short walk to the place, and we arrived a few minutes before they opened. This gave us some time to admire the looooooooong display of daily newspaper front pages displayed in cases outside the building (over 800 different papers send them their front page each day). The building itself is quite cool, a mix of glass and a concrete wall bearing the First Amendment. It is also built on the location of the hotel where John Wilkes Booth hid after assassinating Lincoln. We got through security all right and began our tour of the museum that focuses on news and the spread of it. It was a great museum, but there was so much to look at and read that it was very overwhelming. If I could, I would have liked to spend one day on each level - and there are six. I would love to list everything I saw and learned, but I'll focus on my personal highlights:

1.) An eight piece section of the Berlin Wall, complete with a guard tower looming on the East Side.
2.) The gallery of amazing amazing amazing photographs by sports photographer Neil Liefer.
3.) The gallery about the FBI and media - it was both cool and difficult to see the death mask of John Dillinger, the American Express card of Donnie Brasco, the ransom letter for Patti Hearst, the cabin hideaway of the Unabomber, and artifacts from recent terrorists like the shoe bomber.
4.) The sixth level, boasting a balcony walk with views of the Capitol Building and part of the mall (luckily we got out there just before it started raining, around 10) as well as computers holding all 800 daily headlines (we found the one for The Boston Globe).

     5.) The room I wish I had much more time to look at on level five. It was full of famous newspapers that you could see up close (including famous firsts, the "Dewey defeats Truman" headline, and the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" article). There was also a case of famous first edition books - including the Magna Carter, Common Sense, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and (my personal favorite) one page from an original Gutenburg Bible! The same level also had a very difficult exhibit about the journalists of 9/11.
6.) Directly after that we went to lunch. Their cafeteria has delicious food made by Wolfgang Puck. Museum food will always be expensive - might as well make it good, too!
7.) The gallery about our five freedoms was very interesting and well done. It had the anti-Vietnam War armbands that caused the Supreme Court to support freedom of speech in schools.
8.) The memorial to journalists who have died on the job was impressive, and it depressing to see how much room they left to commemorate future victims.
9.)  The map showing the freedom of speech across the globe, updated annually.
10.) The Pulitzer Prize Photography gallery was amazing.  I looked at every photo and read every description, no matter how difficult.  Many I had seen before.  However, it did call into question the line between recording a story and being a good person - like how the photographer who did not help the starving girl he photographed ended up killing himself, or the man who photographed his neighbors as they grieved over their drowned child.

We left around 1:30 - over four hours in one museum, which was very tiring.  And though there was literally no one there but us at first, by the time we left it was packed.  I would recommend skipping the intro video and terrible 4-D video (perhaps fun for small children who don't mind bad acting), and follow the Top Ten list or two-hour tour the museum offers.

We hurried through the now-pouring rain to the Smithsonian American Indian Museum.  (I was very surprised by the prevalent use of the term "Indian" here).  It is a physically amazing building, full of a huge amount of information.  For someone with virtually no background in this topic, it was impossible to absorb anything or differentiate between the many different cultures.  I most enjoyed the exhibit about natives in modern culture, because I could grasp it more.  I loved the architecture, both inside and out - it reminds me of the Guggenheim in New York City, especially how the halls of each level overlook an open atrium.  The museum store was very impressive, with beautiful Indian-made jewlery, baskets, clothing, and stone animals.  We also stopped by the famed Mitsitam Cafe featuring "native foods".  I got something that was basically fried dough with a blue berry sauce; Sam got a yummy chocolate dessert thing.
Next it was off through the rain to the Botanical Garden.  We all really enjoyed this.  There was first an intricate display of trains, with minature houses for critters and fairies - they had names like "Bookworm Bourough", "Fairy Flat", and "Lobster Lair" - in addition to the birthhomes of our presidents - even Lincoln's poor log cabin.  Next were the greenhouses.  After a long day of reading detailed information in low lighting, the bright, natural, warm greenhouse was a wonderful break.  The canopy walk in the steamy Jungle section was awesome.

Still, our feet hurt after all that, so Mom and Sam went back to the hotel while Dad and I went braved the rainy walk to the Air and Space Museum.  It was a semi-failed trip.  We went looking for a Boeing B-29, the plane my grandfather was in during the Korean War, and the space shuttle advertised on their website.  Both of those were in the giant hanger - in Virginia.  We were directed instead to a B-26 fuselage, and nearby Dad found his favorite plane (a Spitfire).  I particularly liked seeing the first commercial vehicle in space and the one that broke the sound barrier.  This was once again swarmed with people, many tired and sluggish like ourselves from a long day, so we didn't stay long.

When Dad and I left the museum around 5:30, the rain had stopped.  The sky was actually clearing, and we could see the sun setting under a line of dark clouds on one side, the Capitol Building under a magical blue sky on the other.  The silhouettes of the Washington Monument and other D.C. buildings was simply dramatic.

Now, we're all resting in the hotel room until dinner.

I have to add, the security in DC has surprised me.  Newseum was the only one that searched my coat; the American Indian was the only one to check every pocket in my camera bag; the Air and Space was the only one to enforce the "no food" rule; water is now allowed everywhere, which is very different from 2004!

Dinner and after will be in the next post =)

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