December Debuts

Washington Travel Blog

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Capitol Visitor Center under construction
In January, Washington, DC, will greet a new President, a new Administration, and a new Congress. But first, in December, Washington greeted the arrival of two new visitor attractions: the brand-new United States Capitol Visitor Center and the reopening of teh Smithsonian National Museum of American History after two years of renovation. Reviews are in order for these soon-to-be popular attractions!

Coworkers and I paid a call on the US Capitol Visitor Center one afternoon. We were impressed by the spaciousness of the the new facility and the many interactive and historical displays.
Entrance to the Capitol Visitor Center
I liked the series of models showing the development of the Capitol and Capitol Hill over time and the acompanying displays showing the parallel development of Congress and its role in significant historical events. The interactive touch screen displays reminded me of the similar displays at the National Constituion Center in Philadelphia. I think visitors will like the Capitol Visitor Center as a place to gather prior to a tour of the Capitol.

The opening of the Visitor Center has not been without controversy. Critics have called the structure “bunker like” and disparaged that it has caused the Capitol's East Front landscaping, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in 1892, to be torn up. They have also criticized the twin elevator towers for appearing to be guard towers in front of the Capitol and making it appear a less inviting place.

Two weeks later, I found some time to visit the renovated National Museum of American History.
National Museum of American History
I've had mixed feelings about this msueum. It definitely is a museum of the history of the United States and its peoples and culture. That is, the story here begins with the Revolutionary War and the central object on display is the original Star-Spangled Banner. For a look at Colonial history, pre-colonial Native American history, and the early contact between cultures, one must go elsewhere. (Jamestown does an excellent job in presenting those subjects, BTW.)  That said, there is much to discover here. One can't see it all in a single visit. The curators have aimed the presentation to attract a "wide net" of visitors to Washington. There is as much pop culture iconography on display as there is treatment of serious subjects, like the civil rights movement. (History doen't have to be serious all the time!)
I think the renovation with the resulting themed galeries has resulted in a more understandable presentation.
National Mall entrance to the National Museum of American History
There is no longer as much of a jumble of objects on display as there used to be.

I was able to see the copy of the Gettysburg Address written in Abraham Lincoln's handwriting on brief display for the reopening. (This copy is the fourth copy written by Lincoln. It was copied out in 1865, two years after Gettsyburg.) There was a queue to see the document, but it moved quickly. (One boy asked his mother why they had to wait in line to see it--it could easily be viewed on the Inernet!) I was able to pause long enough at the display case to read the entire speech and found it very moving to read the familiar words in Lincoln's own hand.
tvillingmarit says:
As always you have made a nice blog Andrew. Have a great weekend.
Posted on: Jan 16, 2009
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Capitol Visitor Center under const…
Capitol Visitor Center under cons…
Entrance to the Capitol Visitor Ce…
Entrance to the Capitol Visitor C…
National Museum of American History
National Museum of American History
National Mall entrance to the Nati…
National Mall entrance to the Nat…
Infinity sculpture (1967)
Infinity sculpture (1967)
Abstract Flag
Abstract Flag
Poster for the Star-Spangled Banne…
Poster for the Star-Spangled Bann…
Washington Sights & Attractions review
The National Museum of American History Reopens
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has been called “America’s Attic.” The museum on the National Mall definitely exhibits … read entire review
Washington Sights & Attractions review
Visitng the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center
Construction began on the new Visitor Center for the United States Capitol in 2000. The Visitor Center was opened to the public in December 2008 and p… read entire review
photo by: b93sp