History and Hijinks

Thursday, April 05, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

On the History Highway, Day 22

WASHINGTON, DC— No history road trip would be complete without a visit to the Smithsonian American History Museum, and that was our target for today.  Timing our arrival near the end of the lunch hour, we were pleased to find a reasonable number of visitors and thought maybe the spring breakers had decided to go elsewhere.

Smithsonian Castle Information Center
Our smug self-congratulations lasted only until the multitude of families in town for spring break had the opportunity to finish lunch and find their way to the museum.  By the time we bailed a couple of hours later, the crowds were so thick, you had to be careful where you stepped to ensure you didn't traumatize some tiny tot's toes.

Even in our relatively short visit, some highlights stood out in the current exhibits:

The 15-star/15-stripe flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner.   In this special exhibit, visitors can examine the dramatically back-lit 30 x 42–foot garrison flag whose presence thrilled Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry by British Royal Navy ships in the War of 1812.

photo from Smithsonian Museum of American History
Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello.   This thought-provoking collaboration between curators of two arms of the Smithsonian presents visitors with the conundrum that was Thomas Jefferson— a revolutionary thinker steeped in the ideals of human rights and liberty who was the owner of more than 600 slaves.  The exhibit opens with a statue of Jefferson before a panel listing the names of those who were enslaved at Jefferson's beloved estate, Monticello. The conditions of slavery there are examined and the history of several slave families is traced to modern times.


Within These Walls.  In 1963, the Smithsonian was contacted by a Massachusetts conservationist in search of assistance in preserving a 200-year old house that was facing the wrecking ball.  Convinced to assist, the museum purchased the house and subsequently dismantled it and carefully moved it to Washington.  In the museum, the house was reassembled for this exhibit, focusing on the lifestyles of five families who occupied the dwelling over the course of its history.  Cutaways reveal construction methods from various periods as the house was expanded and improved.


When the museum crowd became overwhelming, we left in search of some letterboxes.  After locating one in Foggy Bottom, we walked over to the Kennedy Center for a second, arriving just before the 5 p.m. performance of Shear Madness was to begin.  Scoring some half-price, last-minute tickets, we took our seats only seconds before dialog began.


Having previously attended Boston and Atlanta productions of this popular play which incorporates humor based on local events and personalities, we were quite entertained with the performance of tonight's Washington cast.  Come August, the Kennedy Center production will celebrate its 25th anniversary.  While some high-brow critics pan the comedy, its long-running success in many cities proves that audiences are often swayed by their own opinions, regardless of the critics' recommendations.