Sunday, October 2, 2011

Washington, DC: Museum, Monument and Memorial Marathon

I'm in Washington, DC for a conference (actually across the Potomac in National Harbor, MD), and I only have one day to see the sights of the city. Let's do this!!


My first stop is the International Spy Museum, a place I've been wanting to visit since a friend encouraged me to apply for a visitor services job there more than 10 years ago. After an overview to the world of spying, you select a personae that you will maintain throughout the visit. You are then questioned twice as if you are that person, so be sure to pay attention to the details. My character was Carol Liu, an architect from Santa Monica, CA. Since I had a delicious "Art Vandelay" burrito from the Moe's Southwest Grill during a stopover at the Atlanta airport, Carol seemed like a natural extension of that joke. But it gets better! At the second checkpoint, I learned that Carol had to deliver a microdot of coded information planted into - what else - a visitor services guide for the museum. Perfect!! Along the way, I was surprised by great displays like a miniature gun masquerading as a lipstick tube, and the dog doo hiding a tracking device. The takeaway is to pay attention to everything around us. Note that photos are not allowed inside so this cool logo will have to serve as the tease.

Click here to go to the Spy Museum's Web site.


Just a mile walk away was the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Even though I worked for the LA Natural History Museum (AKA the Natch) for eight years and had been exposed to most of the things on display, I still could've spent eight or more days in these galleries! Here you see a giant jellyfish model soaring overhead in the Ocean Hall. Some other cool galleries were the Mammal and Dino Halls, and the display on Human Origins. In that space, there was a camera that converted your face to what you would have looked like as a early human! Scary and fun! My favorite gallery was the one simply called Bones, with skeletons of a wide range of animals. It was strictly old-school Museum exhibition-style and I loved it! Orange and avocado graphics with gold raised type behind the bones. You know what I'm talking about! Instead of boring benches, there was a classic round donuty thing with seating indentations for six. That photo almost displaced the jellyfish!

Click here for the Smithsonian NHMH's Web site.


After a quick lunch in the NHM cafe, the next stop was the Smithsonian National Museum of American History next door. I had been advised about the trifecta there: Julia Child's kitchen, Dorothy's ruby slippers, and the Star Spangled Banner flag. Americana wow! The Star Spangled Banner was the biggest surprise, mainly because it is HUGE! It is displayed in a darkened room, which I'm sure the conservators love, but it also gives a chance to get into Francis Scott Key's head to imagine what it was like that crazy night. Dorothy's shoes were fun to see, and Julia's kitchen was quite a hoot. She had traced the proper placement of each pot on her peg board. I didn't know she was all OCD. (As a bonus, I had already seen Julia's photo at the Spy Museum, providing some insight into her earlier career choices!) It was also amusing to see the First Ladies' inaugural dresses, including Michelle Obama's, all gathered together. Otherwise, it was time to move on. I'll have to further explore America's attic on the next visit!

Click here to go to the Smithsonian NMAH's Web site.


Museuming is now done and it is time to see some monuments and memorials.

The Washington Monument is first in line on the eastern end of the National Mall and happens to be the oldest structure there (1885). It is still the tallest building in DC, the tallest obelisk ever constructed and the tallest stone structure in the world. You may be able to see the ropes dangling down the sides for the engineers checking out the damage from the August 23 earthquake. The monument is still closed, with no real timeline of when it will reopen. (Like Julia Child, George Washington was another icon exposed at the Spy Museum. Apparently, he used multiple spy-worthy tricks while winning the Revolutionary War for us!)

Click here for the Washington Monument's Web site.


While walking west, I saw the White House and Jefferson Memorial from afar and stopped by the World War II Memorial, where I was a little disappointed to see the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool is under construction. Bucking up, I kept moving. The next major site was the new Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. The Memorial was supposed to be dedicated on August 28 (the 48th anniversary of his "I Have A Dream" speech), but Hurricane Irene changed that. The dedication is moved up to October 16. If you haven't seen images of the full display, there are three stones: two mountains of despair and the stone of hope. You enter by walking between two stone mountains before seeing the quote "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope" on the side of the stone with Dr. King's likeness. Walls with powerful King quotes surround the Memorial and capture his greatness.

Click here to go to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial's Web site.


The next stop walking around the Tidal Basin is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Roosevelt served an incredible 12 years as President, during some incredibly difficult times. He got us through the Great Depression (something current leaders should be studying!), and initiated the Works Progress Administration that put Americans back to work. (By the way, WPA artwork is among my favorite styles.) Although he died before we won WWII, victory was clearly in sight. His Memorial is divided into four "rooms," one for each of his terms. I selected these "I Hate War" stones, especially after seeing the WW II, Korean and Vietnam War Memorials on this walk through history.

Click here to go to Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial's Web site.


As my final stop, the Lincoln Memorial was the one I really wanted to experience. As I've shared here, I've always been fond of Abe, as a man and as the Great Emancipator.

Unfortunately, my Aquarius brain was bouncing between the greatness of Lincoln and the beauty of this Memorial, then remembering the Tim Burton directed (another Burton-Lincoln connection!) "Planet of the Apes" ending where Mark Wahlberg lands his ship at the Lincoln Memorial and General Thade's head is there instead of Abe's! I hope I'm not spoiling it for anyone, but the movie is 10 years old.

Still, it was awesome to finally see the Memorial and read the excerpts from the Gettysburg Address and his second Inaugural Speech on the walls. There's also a little exhibit inside, showing pictures of historic events at the Memorial, such as Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech. To see those pictures in the context of being there was incredible!

Click here to go to Lincoln Memorial's Web site.

Eight hours later, and my mission is accomplished! Whirlwind tour of DC is complete, and I am inspired and feeling patriotic. Go, America!!

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