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» Sunday, November 05, 2006We Were Never There, Part II
I discovered last night that the American History Museum is closed for remodeling until summer of 2008. I'm really disappointed. Frankly, had I known this I may have chosen somewhere different for vacation. (Damn, and I wanted to go back to that bookstore downstairs...)
Anyway, this is pertinent because James had never been in the original Smithsonian main building, known to everyone as "The Castle." The first time I came to DC (1973) the Wright Flyer and the Spirit of St. Louis were suspended in the Castle halls. It is now the Smithsonian information center and the gallery hosts travelling exhibits, including one about coins that is part of the History Museum display. Most of the coins on exhibit, of course, were from the U.S., including Confederate bills and Continental dollars (they even had a Pine Tree shilling from Massachusetts), but they had a Greek coin from 400 B.C. as well. Too cool. The rear of the gallery shows highlights from each of the different museums, so they have Chuck Yeager's helmet and African art and animal artifacts and Native American moccasins, etc.
From the Castle we walked across the mall through the Butterfly Garden on the way to the National Archives building. All the plants are labeled and its shown which butterflies they benefit.
They have re-done the National Archives so that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are more accessible to the disabled and no longer up on a pedestal. First you have to go through the metal detectors, then you wait to go into the rotunda area. The guard tells you that the documents are in order by papers that led to the Declaration, then papers following the formation of the U.S. and you can look at any of them in any order, but everyone queued up anyway.
The Declaration, as we saw on a PBS special some months ago, is now so badly faded that you can barely make out some of the words and some of the signatures have simply "disappeared," including those of all three Georgia delegates. Stephen Hopkins and Ellery Channing of Rhode Island are like ghosts upon the page.
Afterwards we wandered back into the Public Vaults, just a sample of some of the papers owned by the Archives. There will be a photo and documents from a person accompanying a plaque that tells you about that person. They had a photo and a typed facsimile of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Dakota-to-Missouri diary, documents from a John Boston who was a freed slave, Rose Kennedy's report of visiting Windsor Castle in the 1930s, wax disks that transcribed a speech by Theodore Roosevelt, photos and memorabilia of the Presidents as children, and more. One particularly affecting letter was from a U.S. serviceman who wrote home to his parents about arriving at Dachau. He was very blunt about what was found.
We hadn't planned to stay there so long, but going from person's to person's commentary about the world around him was simply too addictive. That would be my dream job, being a researcher who had to look through all those wonderful old documents to find out facts about various events, people, and places!
On the way out we visited the Gift Shop. It's a State Law. :-)
We then walked up 9th Street past the Navy memorial (masts and yardarms fluttering with flags) and had lunch at the Spy City Cafe. Very 60s "moderne" theme, mostly hot dogs and a couple of other menu choices, plus pre-wrapped sandwiches and lots of fancy bottled drinks like Snapple and Nantucket Nectar. We both had meat loaf, which was good, but came drowned in ketchup.
Once we'd finished, we went through the International Spy Museum. This is a real blast. You go through blue gates into a weirdly-lighted elevator to the beginning of the exhibit. There you are free to pick a spy identity and take on a "mission." You are supposed to remember it and see if you can get past the "guard" (via computer) on the way out. I remembered everything except what I was supposed to get from my contact!
Meanwhile, you see exhibits about aspects of spying like bugging and lock-picking and different equipment, which leads into galleries of the history of espionage, going back to Machiavelli, Queen Elizabeth I's agents, and Casanova (I never knew Casanova was a spy, nor Daniel Defoe). This led into the bulk of material about spying during World Wars I I and II (a big display about Bletchley Park and another about propaganda; I didn't know Josephine Baker had done spy work, nor Julia ChildI went looking for Sidney Reilly, of course, and found him tucked into a room devoted to the founding of the "Cheka" in revolutionary Russia, which eventually turned into the KGB) and then into the Cold War. There were some unique exhibits about underground tunnels (with "sandbags" and all), an area that attempted to recreate the atmosphere of East Berlin at the time of the Wall (and the ingenious ways people smuggled themselves across via car), a showcase full of children's spy toys from the 1930s and 1940s, and even a small gallery with a loop of spies in the media, including John Drake, James West and Artemus Gordon, Maxwell Smart (I think the scene they showed is from "Dr. Yes"), and, of course, James Bond. (Speaking of spies in the media, while looking at all the bugging devices, explosives, and other gadgets, I was amused to discover how many of those "crazy" gadgets in Get Smart were actually taken from real life.)
And when we got done we visited the Gift Shop. It's a State Law.
I liked a book called Spy Television, but it was hideously expensive. I settled on a cute-looking kids' book called The 7 Professors of the Far North by John Fardell, which looks Encyclopedia Brown-ish (with touches of John Verney). James bought me something; I guess I'll have to wait until Friday (our anniversary) to find out.
It was after 5:30 and already dark when we emerged. We walked west to 10th Street and took a photo of the outside of Ford's Theatre (everything, of course, by now being closed), and then strolled over to a gift shop that had a Ben & Jerry's franchise and had dessertone small cone of chocolate therapy ice cream. We then made a squiggle walking pattern to the Metro Station on 12th Street.
I noticed that, although it was Sunday and downtown was not really crowded, there were many groups of people and even single people wandering around from building to building and to places open like ESPN Zone and Hard Rock Cafe (the latter which is next to Ford's Theatre, which I find a very amusing juxtaposition), so nothing was very deserted. The city was quite quiet as well.
There was a Big Game today and we had shared the Metro going out with a bunch of Washington Redskins fans. Well, when we hopped back on the Metro there were all the Redskins fans coming back. Apparently they played the Cowboys today (the Redskins won) and it was a bit of a contended competition. I don't understand why anyone would get het up over a football game, but then people don't understand why I get het up over museums, either. Whatever.
So we came back to the hotel to find the animals okay. Let Pidgie out to play with his toys and fly around the room, scolding, and Willow got to go out and have her dinner and a cookie and snuggle with her Daddy. "Treehouse of Horror" was...okay. The Blob sequence was the best. Sorry to see that the "War of the Worlds" spoof ended up as political commentary; the 1938 setting was cool.