Back when I was mulling my art gallery choices – the modern art gallery or the portrait gallery – the hotel concierge had confirmed my inkling that the modern art gallery charged admission, but entrance to the National Portrait Gallery was free, as it was a portion of the Smithsonian. Or, I had already paid for it, he clarified, by being an American.
Well, if tax dollars are going to support part of the Smithsonian, they must’ve paid for some high-end museum planners, because the exhibits were enthralling.
Of course, I went in and saw The Flag – you know, the one that flew over Fort McHenry as the British bombarded it, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the ballad that would become our national anthem. At least, I like to think of it as a ballad. It tells a story, if you’d only learn the rest of the verses.
I also saw a Stradivarius violin and Abraham Lincoln’s pocketwatch. And Howdy Doody.
And here’s where I began to think that historical narratives would be so much more interesting if kids could hear them for the first time in a place like this, surrounded not by six-inch-square pictures of objects, but the objects themselves in all their 3-D glory, that so-and-so used or that permitted such-and-such to come about. A reenactment is about as good as it gets outside the Beltway, unless you’re lucky enough to live near a quality local museum. (The Ohio Historical Society was good, and so was a museum in, I think, Canton, Ohio – where I remember strolling down a recreated Main Street in awe.)
The transportation exhibit in the American History Museum was my favorite, by the way. There’s just something about trains, cars, planes and the like that fascinates me.
Just before leaving that museum, I ventured down into the “Stars and Stripes Café” for a late lunch. Yeah, it was overpriced, but so is everything in the touristy part of town (unless you’re lucky enough to find a Subway). But the food I got was pretty decent, and not something I’d make at home: a tamale, a Mexican food wrapped in plantain leaves and stuffed with starch and chicken. It’s traditional to eat them at Christmastime.