After what felt like a long week of late night study sessions and multiple exams/assessments, Spring Break has finally arrived! With Thursday being called a snow day, Spring break began prematurely throwing off everyone’s countdowns. Nonetheless having spoken to many of my friends who are dispersing all around the country, there is no denying that the excitement for this week off is palpable!
I am heading off to Mexico for a week with 3 other Australian girls – more on that in my next blog once I have finished enjoying what I hope will be a week of sunshine and very warm temperatures!
I decided, however, before leaving for Spring Break I would spend the weekend here in DC and use it as an opportunity to go explore some of the sights I haven’t yet seen, and spend some more time with friends and roommates before we all split for the week. Thanks to this decision, yesterday I had time to go and visit the Smithsonian Museum of National History which archives American culture, politics and transformations. I’d been warned that the museum is big and even though they are currently renovating the entire West Wing, with just the East side to explore, you still needed to allocate hours to the museum – this advice was really true and I would definitely recommend leaving yourself a few hours if you are to visit this museum…which I would also recommend because it is a beautifully organized museum with tons of interaction, and also immerses you into the American culture as it changed throughout history.
After talking to the lovely lady at the information desk and asking her to give me a run down of what was where, I decided to begin my exploration through the museum on the second level where the original star spangled banner is on display. The enormous flag, which was sewn by Mary Pickersgill, a professional flag maker in Baltimore, with assistance from her daughter, nieces and staff, was raised at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry celebrating an important win over British forces in the 1812 war, flew high in September of 1814. The sight prompted Francis Scott Key to compose the lyrics to what is now the American National Anthem. There is something incredibly powerful about the exhibition, American or not, as you feel undeniably moved by the significance of the flag before you as you stand in a dark room with various renditions of the anthem playing in the background – the sounds, the excitement of others around at seeing the flag, etc epitomize, to me, the sounds of patriotism.
From that exhibition I continued on in search of the ‘American Stories’ exhibit which contains some of the most revolutionary and culture changing items, clothing and artifacts from American history. My journey in that direction was halted, however, by a bench with four stools at it that sat in the middle of what is essentially the hallway that lies between two different exhibits. The bench, I recognized quickly, was one at which the fight for the end of segregation was fought. In particular, this was a piece of the counter from the Greenboro Lunch Counter where, in 1960, four African-American students intentionally sat down at the ‘white’s only’ section of the counter in an act of protest. This sparked many ‘counter-top’ protests around the South especially as people fought for their basic civil rights. The enormity of seeing this particular piece on exhibit after the patriotism experienced in the room right next door, proves how well thought out this museum is!
Arriving at the ‘American Stories’ exhibit, I was very excited to find that there was no crowd around the particular item I wanted most to see, although the nice information lady had warned me that there always is. The original ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, lay before me and I got my own time to take photos with them as the museum was pleasantly quiet as it was a Friday. There were many other interesting items in that exhibition, however, the ruby red slippers were certainly a highlight for me!
As you head upstairs, the top of the escalator takes you to the entrance of the military exhibition where America’s involvement in battles are traced from as early as those led by George Washington, right through the Civil War, Wars of Expansion, World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, etc. As well as looking at the militaristic side, the exhibit notes the individuals worldwide responsible for playing large roles in each war, highlights the rise of the role of women as a result of wartime efforts and shows the cultural changes that occurred on the home front following each war. Emphasizing the role that wars played on even those not enlisted in armed forces, there is part of the exhibition devoted to those who served in other ways, for example, those who went to entertain, and those who entertained on the home front. To that end, the piano of legendary theatre maker Irving Berlin is placed on display, and whilst this may seem random and insignificant to many walking through this particular exhibition, I for one was very excited by this – being the theatre nerd that I am and all. The exhibition is meticulously put together and the combination of mediums by which the information is offered certainly makes it an exciting and informative way of tracing an incredibly long and involved military history!
As I ventured off to the president and first lady exhibitions around the bend, I was stopped along the way by a giant wooden ship, placed within its own room, called the Gunboat Philadelphia. It was a very impressive boat and interesting to see. Once at the front of the presidential exhibitions, I made the decision to first go through the section devoted to the first ladies where their crockery and many of their inauguration ball gowns are preserved and on display. As the woman at information had said, it really was a beautiful exhibition and certainly highlighted the fashion changes throughout the various terms of the forty-four presidents. I really loved seeing all the dresses in particular – wow some of them were stunning! In particular, Michelle Obama’s dress, which I remembered thinking was beautiful at the time that it’s picture was plastered all around the globe, I am now completely obsessed with and want very much to wear =)
Within the exhibition on the presidents, obviously a lot is covered! The exhibit is so well put together and showcases some really incredible pieces, for example, the top hat that Lincoln wore to the theatre the day he was assassinated. It also has a podium and screens from which to read off where you can pick one of the inauguration speeches and try to read them off the tele-prompter. There is a lovely section based on the lives of the white house children, and many items that are certainly exciting to see! On the way out of the exhibition I stopped to watch a History Channel documentary where they interviewed many of the past presidents asking them what they thought of the job and how they wanted to be remembered – it was very interesting.
Having finished the upper two levels, I headed for the base level where they currently have a Warner Brothers exhibition in the main lobby showing off some of the original costumes from movies, etc. After looking around at the items on display in the foyer, I went in to have a look at the current exhibition on food and on the ‘story of money’ where they have the 100,000 dollar note on display – needless to say, its no longer in print.
All in all, I really enjoyed my time at the museum and would highly recommend going to see it if you have not been yet – or even if you have, its large enough that I’m sure I could do it again and have a completely different experience!
Saturday morning and the sun was finally showing its face again! Eager to take advantage of the gorgeous weather (I'll point out here that it was still cold and the snow was ankle deep) I headed out for a walk to re-explore the monuments and enjoy the beautiful scenery. GW is in an awesome position - it's literally a 3 minute walk from my dorm building to the national mall! I took in the sights of a snow covered WWII memorial and the Washington monument. I walked around the frozen over lake and over to the Jefferson monument. From there I continued on to the Roosevelt (which I remembered as my favourite one from my visit to DC years ago) and to the MLK Jnr memorials. I walked back along the mall and decided to stop at the Art Museum of the Americas which was filled with modern artworks and interesting designs. I decided to walk up past the buildings surrounding the White House and only then back towards campus. All in all, it was a gorgeous day out!!
What an amazing city DC is!!
Until next time…