A trip to Washington DC always leaves you thinking about the variety of historical and interesting things there are to do and the things you want to see but didn’t have time for. While much of our time over three days was spent at meetings, we did set aside some time to take in a couple of places that we had never seen before, as well as revisiting a couple of familiar sights.
Walking up the steps at the Lincoln Memorial (this time after sunset) is always worthwhile. The same can be said about a walk through the Vietnam War Memorial, which seems to happen each time in Washington and is always very compelling. The same can be said about standing under the capitol dome.
New to the multi-faceted collection of Smithsonian museums is the National Museum of African-American Cultural and History, located near the Washington Monument. Due to its huge popularity there are timed admissions to that relatively new museum. Of course, we were none the wiser and found ourselves standing in line for an hour and a half waiting for the 1 p.m. admission. Fortunately, time went by quickly in our shady spot and the conversation with a young couple from Florida provided a nice respite from looking at our watches. Before we knew it we were in the door.
The museum proved to be nearly overwhelming with displays and historical information covering much of the African American experience and its impact on U.S. culture and society. The museum highlights the many triumphs of African Americans in entertainment, music and sports. It also pays close attention to the terrible history of slavery and slave trade from colonial times through the Civil War as well as the work of nineteenth century abolitionists, the Civil War itself, the reconstruction era and the post Civil War racist movements that were aimed at keeping African Americans out of mainstream society. Of course, there were significant displays about the 20th civil rights movement including many of the leaders of that cause and the struggles that ensued leading up to the election of an African American president in 2008.
It was a fascinating and worthwhile visit. The four hours we spent there wasn’t nearly enough to see it all. There’ll have to be another visit.
That was the same feeling we had a couple of days later, further down the mall near the U.S. Capitol when we were leaving the National Museum of the American Indian.
This was another Washington sight that we had never visited and once again found it to be more than could be seen in one visit. There are displays about Native Americans covering the area from Alaska to southern Chile and all points in between.
Of course, the most interesting to us was the information about Dakota/Lakota and Ojibwa culture and history. There is so much more to learn. We’ll have to visit this museum, too.
We also made a short stop next door at the busiest museum in the world, the National Air and Space Museum. This was a re-visit there, something I was eager to do after being in Dayton, Ohio, the hometown of the flying pioneer Wright Brothers a year and a half ago. The Air and Space Museum has a sizable room dedicated to these self-educated aeronautical engineers and their adventures. I had read David McCullough’s book about Wilbur and Orville Wright and their caring sister Katherine but had to again see, first-hand, their original “aero-plane” as well as one of the many bicycles they manufactured and other collections of info about their interesting lives.
That air-conditioned visit took up another two hours one hot and humid Washington afternoon but was worth every minute, despite being there with 1,000 or more school groups and many weary school chaperones.
While it might sound like we spent all of our time in museums while in Washington, we actually did more walking around than anything. Walking and riding the Metro subway system are clearly the best ways to get around in DC. We stayed two blocks from the Foggy Bottom Metro station near George Washington University and its busy Medical School Emergency Hospital. Whether it was ambulances or escorted limousines with diplomats, we got used to the sirens.
The amazing diversity of visitors from all over the world and their fascination with American history and the our country’s story is certainly enough to make us stop and think about our special place in the world.
It seems that no matter when you go to Washington, there are tourists, school groups and other visitors. It’s always busy and when Congress is in session, which is most of the time except around holidays and during August, the city is even busier.
The people-watching and the other sights make it a fun place to go. And we even managed to make some contacts and get some work done while we were there.
There’s so much more to see and do that it may take a few more visits, before we start over.