National Building Museum
We started our day by taking the Metro over to Judiciary Square. At first we considered just getting off at Chinatown and walking to the National Building Museum rather than exchanging trains but we decided to wait the ten minutes for the next train. When we came out of the station at JS, we realized what a good decision this had been since the red brick building stood right in front of us. Inside we stood in the central Great Hall and looked around in awe. The ceiling stretched up about five stories, four massive columns on each side of the center fountain supporting a ceiling surrounded by windows and skylights. More columns and arches divided the balconies of the different levels. I noticed busts in little niches near the ceiling; I also saw a bird or two swooping around.
We visited two of the three main exhibits: Cityscapes (highlight: seeing the architectural toys) and Washington: Symbol and City (highlight: looking at models of the city around 1904 of what it looked like and what they were planning). I also slipped into Detour: Architecture and Design along 18 National Tourist Routes in Norway.
From here we traveled by Metro again to Federal Triangle. We walked past the Ronald Reagan building and the home of the EPA before entering the National Museum of American History from the back entrance. This entrance is lower than the main lobby up above but is still lined with cases displaying a totally random set of artifacts (ex--C3P0, Mouseketeer ears, set of drums). We had not really visited this museum since its re-opening only a few months ago so we were eager to explore the redesigned spaces.
first cross-country car trip
We started with the America on the Move exhibit. We easily got absorbed into the journey of movement across the continent: the trains, the boats, the personal vehicles. Some signs posed questions; to find the answer visitors pulled plaques up or down or maybe spun a wheel. A few electronic kiosks made the experience even more interactive. I liked seeing the old camping van, the first car to travel cross country, and a much older HOnda than my own Civic. Unfortunately, we soon realized that if we kept reading everything, we wouldn't be able to see half of what we wanted to. Next up was the First Ladies exhibit with their dresses and other personal items (purses, high heels, fans, mirrors). I always enjoy looking at this display.
It is amazing to consider how old and well-preserved some of the dresses are (Martha Washington's is over two centuries old now!). I think that Mamie Eisenhower's red dress, Dolly Madison's gown, and Rosalyn's Carter's blue dress were my favorite outfits. Besides showing off the dresses, the exhibit also briefly
touches on the contributions of the First Lady. We then stood in line for Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life. This exhibit, in honor of Lincoln's 200th anniversary, follows the sixteenth president's life from birth to death. We had seen some of the artifacts before and with Lincoln being one of my dad's favorite presidents, I already knew several of the presented facts. However, it was still worth the time.
What I found most striking about this exhibit was a series of photographs at the very end. They traced Lincoln from his thirties to the end of his life. He aged so much the last two years; the pressures of war were so unkind to him. I found myself wondering what it might've been like if Booth had not assasinated him. Then we joined the slightly shorter line for Thanks for the Memories. This exhibit shows off a very small portion of the Smithsonian's pop culture collection (many more items are in storage). The memorabilia are from sports, film, TV, and music. We saw Roberto Clemente's baseball uniform, boxing gloves from Rocky II, a movie poster from Bathing Beauty, Seinfeld's ruffled shirt, Kermit the frog, Oscar the Grouch, Carol Chaning's Tony award, and a pair of ruby red slippers to name a few.
We finished our visit at this museum with a quick glance at Picturing Words, an exhibit that looked at illustrations in written works.
It was only a short walk over to the National Museum of Natural History. Mom wanted to see the new Sant Ocean Hall to get a picture of the large right whale to show the kids at the elementary school. We took a few shots of Phoenix from ground level and also the overlook windows on the second level. Overall, I found the design of the hall soothing (but busy due to the crowd). On the second floor we passed through a special exhibit gallery featuring amazing photography of wildlife, landscape, and people. We wandered around the Western Cultures rooms which trace human history from cave times to the emergence of city states.
on the mall
We also peeked at the end of the Written in Bone exhibit (which my parents teasingly called the NCIS lab, one of their new favorite TV shows). After cutting through Dig It! The Secrets of Soil, we viewed the Hope Diamond. I always forget that it is blue. Although it draws a large crowd, people are usually fairly patient here.
To finish our day we headed towards the Smithsonian Metro stop but decided to detour into the Castle for a walk around the sampling of treasures in this old red building. The West wing really does have a hodge podge of items: antique furniture, scrimshaw work, stuffed animals, space models, handmade crafts. In an alcove off the entrance from the Mall is a small crypt. Here rest the remains of an Englishman: Smithson, whose money made these museums possible.