on March 29, 2013
Situated between Constitution and Independence Avenue to the north and south and bordered on the east and west by 14th St and 3rd St is a collection of America’s history and culture scattered among many different museums. The museums are part of the Smithsonian Institution. Of the nineteen museums, nine research centers, and zoo that make up the Smithsonian complex, seven of them are located on the National Mall. Just across 14th St from the Washington Monument is the newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is still under construction. The museum is scheduled to open in 2015. Just to the north of that museum is the National Museum of American History. This museum preserves and displays the social, political, cultural, scientific, and military history of the United States. Visitors can explore three floors of items and exhibits among a wide range of different themes that have important significance in American history. Each wing has a landmark object that highlights the theme in that section such as a Red Cross ambulance, the John Bull locomotive, an 1865 Vassar Telescope, and the Greensboro lunch counter, where there was a massive sit in during the height of the Civil Rights era. But perhaps the most treasured item within the museum is the Star Spangled Banner. The flag, which was flown over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 led to Francis Scott Key writing the country’s national anthem. The flag is preserved in a climate controlled chamber. Directly next door is the Natural Museum of Natural History which has over 126 million specimens of plants, fossils, minerals, rocks, and meteorites. The museum has over 1.5 million square feet with over 325,000 square feet of exhibition space. It is not only a museum but a research center as well that is home to about 185 scientists. The museum tells the story of the dinosaurs, the origin of man, and has exhibits on everything from mammals, insects, and ocean creatures to minerals, stones, and gems. The administrative offices of the Smithsonian Institution are located in the Smithsonian Institution Building which lies just south of the Natural Museum of Natural History. It is more commonly known as the Castle because of its Romanesque and Gothic style architecture and its red Seneca sandstone exterior gives its distinctive look. The Castle was the first Smithsonian building built in 1847. Although it serves an administrative function there is a visitor center. Just inside the main entrance is a crypt that houses the tomb of James Smithson, the founding donor of the Smithsonian Institution. Next to the Castle is the Arts and Industries Building, which is the second oldest of the Smithsonian Museums. It sits just slightly further back off of the Mall so that the view of the Capitol from the Castle is unobstructed. It houses items from the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876, which was its intended use when it was originally built. It is currently closed to the public while it undergoes a renovation which could last a couple of years. Next to the Arts and Industries Building is the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which operates as a contemporary and modern art museum on the National Mall. The building itself could be considered art as it looks as if a spacecraft landed on the Mall. My favorite museum on the mall, the National Air and Space Museum, is located next to the Hirshhorn Museum, just across 7th Street. It holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world with over 161,000 square feet of floor space. Among some of the most significant aircraft under its roof is the 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer, which performed the first heavier than air flight at Kitty Hawk in NC. There is the Spirit of St. Louis, piloted by Charles Lindbergh who made the first nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris, France. There is also a Boeing 747 and many more aircraft throughout the museum as well as an IMAX theater, flight simulators, and a three level museum gift shop. The museum also houses a space exhibit that has the Apollo 11 command module, a V2 ballistic missile, and a Skylab space station that visitors can walk through. A lunar rock is also on display that visitors can touch. There is another related museum with different aircraft and exhibits near Dulles International Airport. The last Smithsonian Museum on the Mall is the National Museum of the American Indian located next to the Air and Space Museum. The five story 250,000 square foot museum is the first in the nation to be dedicated exclusively to the Native Americans. It is one of the few museums that I have yet to visit on the Mall and it will definitely be a stop on my next visit to DC. Just to the north of the American Indian and the Air and Space Museum is the National Gallery of Art Museum. It is not affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. The museum houses art from paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, and decorative art from the Middle Ages to the Present. The National Gallery is comprised of two buildings. The West building has an extensive collection of paintings and sculptures by Europeans from the medieval period through the late 19th century, as well as pre 20th century works by American artists. The East building focuses on modern and contemporary art. The two buildings are linked by an underground tunnel. A museum that lies just outside of the National Mall is the National Archives. It is located on Constitution Ave in between the National Museum of Natural History and the West Wing of the National Gallery. This is one museum that every American should visit. Inside the rotunda of the building, referred to as the Charters of Freedom, are the original documents of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. There are also other documents on display such as the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, the Emancipation Proclamation, and a copy of the Magna Carta from 1297. The great thing about all of these museums is that they are free. The museums are either supported by the government or through private donors or endowments. By not charging an admission, these museums make sure that every American and foreign visitor may experience the history of the US.
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