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Exploring: National Museum of American History

2013 February 28
by Becky

Thought I’d fit just a couple more “Exploring DC” posts in before we head back to the Midwest…it’s coming up OH so soon.



I reached out on Facebook the other day, looking for DC Must-See suggestions and my Old Town mommy-friend Shannon mentioned the American History museum—one I haven’t been to in about 2.5 years. Stu and I wandered through while in DC for a quick vacation (tacked on to a work trip for Stu) while I was about 13 weeks pregnant, AKA super bloated and disgusting-feeling. Good thing it was 104 degrees that weekend! We did a lot of museum walking



Anyway, I didn’t think Ethan would much appreciate this museum as I remember seeing it…plus it’s just so easy to veer into Natural History (right next door) where I know Little Man will go nuts over dinosaur bones and taxidermied versions of every mammal on the planet (we’ve been half a dozen times in the last year).

This time we gave American History a shot. I’m SO glad we did.

It’s worth the trip just for the Star-Spangled Banner exhibit, where the actual flag that Francis Scott Key saw flying above Baltimore’s Ft. McHenry  (inspiring him to write the Star Spangled Banner) is displayed in this SUPER cool pitch black room.




The above is an “illegal” (no photography allowed) picture but I couldn’t help it…I was BLOWN away by the thing. It’s 30 x 40 feet and looks completely fake…you can’t believe you are looking at a real flag. We walked in the viewing space and it was so dark I was afraid I’d lose Ethan, but it makes for an awe-inspiring look at this beautiful American artifact. Very cool.

Another totally-worth-the-trip exhibit is “America On the Move” all about transportation in America from 1876 to today. Ships, trains, cars, buses, trolley—if it moves, it’s talked about. Ethan was in heaven.





Pictures can’t really do it justice…the exhibit just goes on and on. TONS of information is shared in so many interesting and interactive ways. Videos, audio, photographs, boxes, models, and the list goes on. You could spend hours in this place. I especially loved the trains, hands down the biggest toddler draw. We couldn’t get over how BIG they were! And the train whistles, conductor shouts, and engine noises all made for a very real experience.




My other favorite part was the subway train. An open door invited you to have a seat and take a ride, actually feeling like you were on a real train! Vibrations and flickering lights, shadowy images flying by outside the frosted windows, and regular “stops” called out (after which the vibrations paused) were as close to the real thing as you can get without actually moving!

Ethan could have ridden all day.




When he saw the train he ran right in and climbed on a seat like he did this every day. Just sitting there, enjoying the ride.

Me: “Ethan, where are you going?”
Ethan: “Going to St. Louis”

He didn’t even pause to think about it. I took this as a good sign he is beginning to understand what this “move” is all about.





Course we had to stop by Julia’s kitchen for a glimpse into her world. The exhibit surround this space has been greatly improved since we visited in 2010. It’s easier to see, there is more information, and the lighting seems to be better too.

Makes me want some mint cabinets. Maybe in the new house…



Our last stop was to watch this gorgeous and dynamic woman talk about equality and why it’s important. She stood in front of a 60’s style diner and engaged a HUGE crowd of people, all ages, in a discussion about WHY it was wrong to be “separate but equal”. Everyone loved the group of 3-4 year olds that kept trying to answer questions…they came up with some great stuff. I would have liked to stay but Ethan got too squirmy so we made a stop at the gift shop (I can’t help myself…he gets to pick one thing) and headed home.

I love that we can park RIGHT outside the front door on a weekday morning. And as always, the museum is FREE. Since we arrived a little before 10am, we had time to run around the mall in the brief period of sunniness. Ethan was a bundle of energy and shouted out everything he saw:


The list of super cool toddler stuff never seems to end in this place.



We have been SO lucky to spend the last 18 months here. If you haven’t been to DC, or the last time you were here was in 8th gradeyou need to come again. Even after just 2.5 years so many things have changed. New monuments and museums are popping up all the time, exhibits change, heck the whole freaking Mall has been dug up and replaced!!

PS: when I visited DC in 8th grade (GO Bearcats!) we had another place in mind when our teachers said we’d be visiting the Mall. I really can’t say I learned much of anything on that trip. 



2 Responses
  1. March 1, 2013

    Yeah! I remember the Carousel! The last time I was in D.C. was in 1996 — so I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like now. I used to love that place — and the Museum of American History so much more than the Museum of Natural History, ;-).

    So long,
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  2. March 1, 2013

    Love DC! So glad we were there 4 times in 18 months!

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