I dunno, I’m on a DC Museum thing lately.
Yesterday we went to the National Museum of American History. We took Wee One down this time, thinking that it would be all kinds of fun (Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz) and educational (nearly everything else) for her. One of the things that we were able to do is download a page of things for her to find throughout the museum. A treasure hunt! Too cool!
Here’s where I get to whine. I’m so good at it.
I have two suggestions: first, put the stuff in a reasonable order. The list is written specifically for kids aged 6 through 9 (there’s another one for 10-13 year olds); their heads explode, or at least start cracking at the sides, if they don’t find Item #1 first. And they don’t, because (here’s my second complaint) Item #1 is nowhere to be found. We even took the time to ask a passing docent where the thing was, and they didn’t even know. So, Feh. Pfui.
The Smithsonian has a bazillion items in its collection; so many that they have no choice but to rotate stuff in and out. Which is fine, but update the fricken list from time to time.
There are a few sections that everyone enjoys, such as the Pop Culture section, which is (in my opinion) woefully small. There are two cases that never seem to change. In there you see the chairs used by Archie and Edith Bunker on All in the Family, you see Howdy Doody and Charlie McCarthy, there’s Fonzie’s jacket and Mister Rogers’ sweater (I totally miss Fred Rogers), and a few other odds and ends from television.
Across from that, in what could be described as a large alcove, there are a few other cases whose contents change from time to time. The ruby slippers are there (they don’t ever change), plus nowadays there’s a uniform and sneakers from Rebecca Lobo (go look her up if you don’t know who she is), Kermit the Frog is in one case, and there are some sports memorabilia, such as Stan Musial’s bat. Missing this time around (but there on a recent visit) were a uniform and assorted props from Star Trek and some other stuff from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
One of the things I noticed about this stuff is that the overall quality of TV props has increased dramatically over the years. The Star Trek props and uniform insignia look pretty poor when you see them in the case, even though they look good on the screen. In one case you can see the blazer worn by Ted Knight on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and there’s barely enough detail for the camera to pick up the channel number and call letters. In another section of the museum there’s a windbreaker worn by Martin Sheen on The West Wing and the detail on the Presidential Seal is impressive. Why the improvement? I have to guess that it’s the advent of High-Definition TV. If it looks crappy in real life, it’s going to look crappy on the screen as well. You can’t count on the camera to disguise much in HDTV.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. They have a metric boatload of pop culture stuff. Hey, they took Julia Child’s entire kitchen out of Boston and moved it to DC. I totally want that kitchen, by the way. Extra-high counters and workspace everywhere. They’ve got a small exhibition dedicated to the first 50 years of Disneyland. They have a section dedicated to the President of the United States as a fictional character. There’s a 12×12-foot area dedicated to Ella Fitzgerald. It seems that it might actually be time to dedicate an entire building to popular culture, or at least a wing of another building. But that, like so much other stuff here, is my lame-ass opinion.
Other stuff that I liked that didn’t fit into the section above:
A GREAT exhibit about Brown v. Board of Education. Brown was the Supreme Court case that originated in Topeka, Kansas that determined that separate does not mean "equal". It overturned Plessey v. Ferguson from 1896. (Yeah, someone’s been doing the readings in class.)
"Whatever Happened to Polio?" This was a pretty cool exhibit about what it is and how it affected people in the early part of the last century. The only argument I’d have is that it didn’t really convey the absolute fear that even the concept of polio struck into people’s hearts.
"Engines of Change" is an exhibit about the Industrial Revolution. Cool stuff there.
There’s also a pretty neat exhibit about the Information Age, but part of it is blocked off for renovation. Ditto the Musical Instruments exhibit.
"On Time" is about our concepts of time and time-keeping devices. And, best of all (I don’t know why it’s in this section but what the hell), they have the 1927 cartoon Steamboat Willie (the first appearance of Mickey Mouse) running all the way in the back. The cool thing about this is that they’re running it with the synchronized audio. You can go to Walt Disney World and see Steamboat Willie, but it’s without audio. It’s hard to explain why, so just accept it.
Ooh! I almost forgot. This museum also holds the original Star-Spangled Banner. The flag that flew over Fort McHenry, surviving a fierce battle, and inspired Francis Scott Key to write "This Land is Your Land". Or whatever. But the flag itself, which dates back to 1814 and was in pretty poor condition, has finally been restored. It’s still visible in the restoration lab, behind glass, while they’re getting a display zone ready. They used to hang the flag in the main atrium but that’s not considered a good idea anymore (it’d fall apart if you hung it like that now). So in that same place they’re now hanging the Pentagon Flag, the one that hung from that building shortly after September 11, 2001’s events. Go see the Star-Spangled Banner and see if you don’t get a swell of patriotism inside.