Sunday, June 7, 2009

i <3 DC

I just got back from a trip to my favorite US city so I thought I'd share a little bit about why I love Washington DC. The first thing I loved about being in DC was being with my old friend, Barbara, and her husband, but I got home without any pictures proving we spent any time together at all. We totally did, though. Really good times.

My brain hurts
After a couple of hours walking the city and perusing museums, one thing is clear. Your feet hurt. I love the walking. The weather was gorgeous and as you walk down the streets you just kind of wonder who else might have walked there yesterday or a hundred years ago. You look one way and there's the White House and another way and there's the Capitol building and all sorts of other important places. People are busy, probably not even noticing how much history is happening right on their doorstep. So the walking is something you have to do when you're in DC.

What I didn't expect as much was how much my brain would hurt from taking in so much information. I really love the American History museum. Right now there is a lot of focus on Abraham Lincoln all over DC because it's the 200th anniversary of his birth. So there's this whole exhibit about him, including the politics of the time and who he was and what he did for this country. They have some posters with clips from his inaugural addresses, which are pretty incredible.

I learned a lot I never knew about the Civil War and our 16th president. Between that and the Price of Freedom exhibit chronicling all of the American wars, I must admit I started feeling a little overloaded with information. Not enough to quit the museum, just enough to need a dose of the frivolity also offered by this museum, including a display housing Archie Bunker's chair, Dorothy's ruby slippers, Muhammad Ali's robe, and these fun characters:

Of course the serious displays have their moments of giving your brain a break, too. Like this little tidbit from World War II about how they made mittens with trigger fingers for the freezing soldiers in Eastern Europe in the winter:

Two other notable displays in this museum: The house built in the 1700s that was taken from Ippswich, Massachusetts in the 90s because it was about to be demolished and the townspeople thought Smithsonian might want it, so they moved the house and placed it in the museum to tell the stories of the 15 families that lived there, including colonial settlers, abolitionists, and the family of a World War II soldier. It's a pretty cool display because it's not about anybody who has gone down in history--just normal people living their lives and trying to do something good for the world. The other is of course the Star Spangled Banner. They have a new display for the flag that was left waving after the Battle of Baltimore in the war of 1812 and inspired the words for our national anthem. It's pretty moving.

I bet you never knew...
There are so many bits of information in DC that you probably never knew you were missing. Many such morsels can be found in the ever-popular Postal Museum. Okay, I lied about it being popular. To be honest, I didn't actually see anyone else in the museum the whole time I was there, but that was a welcome change from the mobs of youngsters in matching t-shirts at the Museum of Natural History. I guess most people aren't that interested in mail, but I find it fascinating. And I bet you never knew that the postal system is single-handedly responsible for the revolution, the democratic system as we know it, and the economic growth of this country. Oh, and also the postal system has protected the American people from countless terrorist attacks. It's true. Just ask them. Seriously, though, there are a lot of cool things to learn about the postal system. Like how Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General, which created quite a coup because the guy who actually came up with the idea for an American system (William Goddard) was overlooked for the position. This was one of the things that the American colonists did to assert their independence from Britain, even before the Declaration of Independence. The British government was all about reading the mail and controlling the information that people received and the goal in America was to give people real information (at this point the newspapers were also delivered by mail, so Britain wouldn't be able to control the news either) and help them communicate with each other. Now you know why they are responsible for our freedom. :) Anyway, I'm sure this information is far more interesting to me than anyone else (as evidenced by the volume of visitors to the museum), but there was also a lot of information about how the routes developed over time. I will spare the details, but one interesting bit was on this little placard:

I just thought it was interesting to note the crossover between American history and the history of the Mormon Saints. Their establishments and the subsequent railroad that followed their path actually helped the settlement of Americans across the west. Of course, not all information about the Mormons is entirely of my favorites was this label underneath a picture of Brigham Young hanging in the National Portrait Gallery:

In case you can't read that from my awesome cell phone camera, it says "Brigham Young: The Mormon Pope." I bet you never knew that, either.

I bet you never knew that Norman Rockwell did a portrait of Richard Nixon.

Or maybe you did. But I bet you never knew that the viral and t-shirt famous picture of Obama that we have all seen over and over:

is actually painted on a paper mache canvas of newpapers. It's really quite striking to see, especially since this guy wasn't commissioned to paint it or anything. This picture shows the detail a little bit:

You might wish you didn't know
The National Archives are also incredibly cool. To see those documents (The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights) is really something special.

But the whole point of the National Archives is to tell you just how much information is archived. I mean, it's great to realize on the one hand that pretty much everything that ever happens in this country is documented and filed somewhere, and just a little creepy on the other hand. There is a room there that is seriously fascinating, because it houses all of these letters from random people to the presidents of the United States. There is one from a 12-year-old Fidel Castro to Roosevelt, and many serious diplomatic letters, but the best ones are the ones from kids with great requests, like this one about Elvis Presley's sideburns:

Or this one from a 7th grader requesting national funds for his room declared by his mother to be a "national disaster area"

And this one from a "disgusted" physical education student

From the history of the birth control pill to the invention of Kevlar (bet you didn't know a woman did that!), from an exhibit to all we can learn from human bones to a walk through a butterfly garden, you seriously can't be disappointed by this city. Dusk at the World War II memorial after seeing "Night at the Museum" inside the Smithsonian, a Tom Stoppard Play at the Folger Shakespeare theater and spontaneous "concerts" on the way into the Metro. If you haven't been, you must go. When you do, take me with you! I love DC!


Greg and Tammy said...

WOW! Sounds like an incredible trip! We need to get out there soon... glad you had a wonderful time! You made my brain hurt just reading about all the cool places.

Bek said...

in regards to your washington monument picture: that's what she said.

in regards to richard m. nixon: my hometown was his hometown.

in reference to the shepard ferry prints of obama: i want to marry both the artist and the subject.

lastly, in regards to your dc trip: i'm so glad you're vacationing!

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