Preview: American History Museum

In three days the National Museum of American History reopens to the general public. I was fortunate to tour the renovated building yesterday.

The first thing I notice as I step through the Mall entrance of the American History Museum is how light it is. A skylight brightens the three story atrium and the artifacts, like a home computer circa 1985, that line the walls in 10 ft. cases. A grand staircase constructed of metal and glass connects the first and second floors.

As I walk into the Selin Welcome Center, videos preview some of the events and special exhibits on the four flat screens as helpful volunteers provide maps and membership information.

Armed with a detailed floor map, my first stop was the new state-of-the-art home of the Star Spangled Banner. The line formed quickly, so I can imagine there will be long waits to see the flag. A narrow hall to the right leads to the viewing gallery. Information on the burning of DC by the British in 1814 include a charred remain from the White House and audio reenactments of the city consumed in flames. Signs encourage visitors to touch objects on display. The lights get dimmer and dimmer until the flag comes to view. In the far left corner, there is an interactive board where your hand becomes the computer mouse. Tap on hollow circles to open files of information about the restoration of the Star Spangled Banner. The exit features the history of our national anthem and Francis Scott Key’s inspiration for the lyrics.

Each floor of each wing will feature a landmark object that highlights the theme of the exhibits. These large artifacts include the George Washington’s Statue, the Greensboro lunch counter, a Dumbo ride car from Disneyland, the Vassar telescope, the Clara Barton Red Cross ambulance and the John Bull locomotive. Since the museum is so large and expansive, these objects will come in handy when making plans to meet up people. They’re impossible to miss.

While many of the all-time favorite items will be back on display — like Kermit the Frog, Dorothy’s ruby slippers, and Julia Child’s kitchen — there are plenty of new exhibits. One of my favorites is the hands-on science lab, Spark!Lab.

So don’t miss the Grand Opening events!

November 20: 5 – 10:00 pm Monumental Projection: Illuminating American History
* Photos will be projected onto the four stories of the National Museum of American History. The theme of the images is “twilight’s last gleaming.”  This outdoor photo light show repeats on November 21 – 22.

November 21: 8:30 – 10 am Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
* In additional to musical performances, entertainment will include a 20-minute aerial demonstration by the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team, the firing of an authentic War of 1812 cannon and a reading of the Gettysburg Address.

November 21 – 23 10 am – 7 pm Grand Reopening Festival
* Several stages will feature jazz, blues, Latin, and 19th century string band music. Take your photo with Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz, George Washington, and other historical characters.

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