National Museum of American History
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Constitution Ave. at 12th St. NW
HOURS: Labor Day-Memorial Day daily 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.;
Memorial Day-Labor Day daily 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m.;
closed Christmas Day;
highlight tours daily 10:15 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The National Museum of American History has rightly earned the nickname “The Nation’s Attic,” owning more than 3 million artifacts with roughly 2 percent on display at any one time.
A renovation in 2008 greatly improved the museum’s space, infusing it with light and creating special galleries for precious objects like the Star-spangled Banner, the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in the War of 1812, inspiring poet Francis Scott Key to pen what’s now the national anthem.
Despite the museum’s redesign, however, its collection remains somewhat of a hodgepodge, with some of its best relics getting lost in clutter.
Case in point: George Washington’s uniform, held in a darkened glass case to protect the fabric and often overlooked precisely because it is not well-lit or widely announced. “Is this it?” a recent visitor asked, somewhat confused as she looked at her map and then the uniform. I’ve visited this exhibit space on military wars many times, and no matter how crowded it is, few passersby seem to take notice of this artifact, a splendid habit that shows how trim and tall the first president was.
Another fantastic but often overlooked item is the original Woolworth’s lunch counter where four brave African American college students staged a sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960. It sits in a hallway, decorating a space near escalators.
The museum’s pop culture and entertainment sections draw large crowds, as does the exhibit on the first ladies’ ball dresses. Pop artifacts here include Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and Jim Henson’s Kermit the Frog puppet. The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden is a can’t-miss look at the country’s 44 leaders.
© Patricia Nevins Kime from Moon Washington DC, 1st Edition