Smithsonian Museums

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Wasatch on July 8, 2007

The Smithsonian, begun with a gift from Englishman James Smithson whose tomb is in the lobby of “the Castle”, is almost beyond the grasp of the mind. Operating 19 museums with 24 million visitors a year and a collection of more than 135,000,000 objects, no one ever has or ever will see it all. We lived in Washington for 25 years, and never managed to see it all, even though we spent more than 300 days there. This poses a problem for the visitor– you do not “see” the Smithsonian. You see some of it, a very small some of it. Visiting the Smithsonian is always a question of picking and choosing.

The main museums line the Mall between the US Capitol and the Washington Monument. They share the Mall with the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Gallery which are technically not part of the Smithsonian, but everyone thinks of them as belonging because of their location. The Smithsonian’s Mall museums are Arts & Industries; Freer Gallery of Oriental Art, Air & Space, African Art, American History and Technology, American Indian, Natural History, and “the Castle”, the original museum.

Elsewhere in the Washington DC area are Anacostia Community Museum, Renwick Gallery, the National Zoo, Postal Museum, and the American Art and Portrait Gallery. There are branches of the Air & Space Museum at Dulles Airport, where you can see a Concord supersonic jet, and the remarkable SR-71“Blackbird”, a spy plane created 40 years ago that is still the world’s fastest production airplane. For reasons I no longer remember, fuel leaks out all over the wings until it reaches a speed where air pressure tightens up the fuel tanks. Most of the Air & Space collection is located near Andrews AFB in Suitland, MD, in monster complex of hangers where restoration work is also done. Although closed to the public, the complex is occasionally opened, generally on a weekend in September, and it is well worth a visit if you are in town. The entire history of flight is stored away here. This is where we first saw the Enola Gay during years of restoration work that proceeded its appearance at the museum on the Mall, but on the
Mall, only about 40% of the plane is displayed. We saw the entire airplane.

For an overview of the highlights of the Mall museums, see my review, “The Smithsonian in One Day.”
Smithsonian Institution
900 Jefferson Dr
Washington, D.C., United States, 20013
(202) 633-8700

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