Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wraps Come Off of Museum, Flag This Friday

I've literally been counting the days leading up to the reopening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Back in 2006, I was saddened when the original building closed and doubted a Smithsonian claim that it would reopen by July 4, 2008. But they weren't that far off! It looks like the time off was well spent. The new iteration is set to open this Friday, November 21, 2008. The renovations totaled $85 million, including a whopping $39 million coming from the private sector.

Originally opened as the Museum of History and Technology in 1964, it's well traveled corridors, gift shops, restrooms, galleries, and eateries needed updating and refreshing. Travel guides and books often cite the Air & Space Museum as the Mall's most popular, but I prefer American History with its breadth of exhibits highlighting many facets of the American experience through the years. The Museum has given life to the Civil Rights Movement, the eradication of polio, emergence of the internet age, every American war from Revolutionary to Iraq/Afghanistan, our love affair with transportation, musical traditions, the Wizard of Oz, Julia Child's kitchen, science and American ingenuity and so many others. Along with the National Archives, the Newseum and the Capitol Visitor's center, the National Museum of American History is a must-visit for history and civic students, young and old.

One of the main attractions will be, if it wasn't before, the Star-Spangled Banner, the very old, very fragile and very large flag that inspired the National Anthem. It flew over Baltimore during the War of 1812, so it's been around a few years, and the Smithsonian has been working to preserve and study it for more than 100 years. The flag now has it's own sterile environment inside a $2.5 million specially designed room within the Museum. It will lie at a near flat 10 degree angle so visitors can get a glimpse. This flag is definitely not fit to be flown anymore, but I'm sure it will get the VIP treatment at the Museum and top billing on news and promotional items.

Festivities start Friday at 8:30AM with remarks and ribbon cutting at 10:00AM. The first 1,814 (as in 1814, year of the Battle of Baltimore) guests will receive a free Museum related gift. Festivities will continue throughout the weekend and I suspect it'll be busy, although November is typically a slow tourist month. However, if teachers all over the country have been waiting for this Museum to reopen with as much enthusiasm as I have, expect crowds. After this Friday (open until 7:30PM) the Museum will be open daily from 10:00AM-5:30PM. Its located at 14th Street and Constitution Ave NW, close to Fed Triangle and Smithsonian Metro stations.