Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Museum review: National Museum of American History

Yummy and I went to the National Museum of American History, better known as the American History Museum, this weekend. This museum had been closed for about a year and a half for major renovation. I waited awhile to miss the crowds (and because Yummy and I get around so slowly that they'd be trying to close as we got there) and just now got to see the place.

A couple of years ago there was a large room with the massive American flag spread out. That flag is the one being sung about in the song "The Star Spangled Banner". Visitors could look through a large window to see the work being done. A long motorized walkway ran over it while people would lie on the walkway and clean the flag a bit at a time. When the flag was finally cleaned they needed a proper way to display it.

We didn't get to see that display.

The line is still just too long. As is the line into the Hall of First Ladies or whatever it's called [First Ladies at the Smithsonian]. I'm guessing they must have added some of Michelle Obama's stuff. I've been in there and it was dead. You go in there just so you can say you didn't miss anything.

We entered on the Constitution St. entrance and immediately saw dramatic changes. Glass walls line the entry way showing a variety of artifacts from their collections. Some only a few years old while others date back for centuries. Yummy, is a furniture fiend, but her delight with some of the furniture on display was blown away with the C3-PO costume from "Return of the Jedi".

We moved from there to the right when I saw a huge telescope that was used by a female astronomer and her class. This wing seemed largely untouched to me. However, Yummy hadn't been there as recently as I and it had changed radically for her. Julia Child's kitchen is still in place but she hadn't seen it. This area also contains a couple child oriented hands on science areas. There's a nice display about the Manhattan Project, the atomic bomb, a couple of small cyclotrons (with a non-working simulator), a bomb shelter, and a home from the 50s.

We went up to the second floor and didn't like what we saw. It was packed with people either trying to get in to see the Star Spangled Banner or the First Ladies exhibit. Being one of the first nice, sunny days of the year the climate control hadn't adjusted right. Between that and the crowd it was just too warm. We went back downstairs.

We wanted to hit the Air and Space Museum gift shop, but we still had some time to kill. We went through the "Lighting a Revolution" exhibit. This exhibit is interesting if you have a certain amount of engineer buried in you. We looked at models of massive steam engines, several interesting light bulbs, and some great toasters.

Somewhere on the first floor we came across a room dedicated to the DARPA Grand Challenge. They have the winning car on display as well as a fan favorite that didn't do well. It's a great display that we both enjoyed a lot. But there's some supplementary material I think you need first.

I can't test these links because I'm behind the firewall at work. But I know they used to work. This video is NOVA's coverage of the DARPA Grand Challenge from several years ago. It was a competition to try to design the best self-steering car. Hulu.com has it at http://www.hulu.com/watch/23347/nova-the-great-robot-race#x-0,vepisode,1
or at Google Video at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8719876587754396524.
It's a great video on it's own and makes seeing the display that much more exciting. There's a video in the display that expands upon the making of two vehicles in the room with you. The car was able to drive as well in blinding rain as it was in perfect weather. In that circumstance at least it's a better driver than people.

Anyway, if you haven't been to the American History Museum since it reopened then you should go. I'll have to go back just for the second floor.

Also, if you've read this far, the Cherry Blossom Festival starts Saturday and runs for two weeks. We had to hit the Air and Space Museum so we could pick up a kite for the kite festival. More at http://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/cms/index.php?id=390
The Kite Festival is on the first day. Weather permitting, you'll see us down there with Gandolf on a shoulder.


BrianAlt said...

Going down to DC on the 12th. Hopefully we'll still be able to catch some of the cherry blossoms.

Sweetly Single said...

ok dumb question

gandolf on a shoulder?

BrianAlt said...

Must have come to a decision on the cat's name.

Malaise Inc said...

My favorite part of the Museum when I was there 10 years or more ago was Archie Bunker's chair. I also really liked the Air and Space Museum, although for my money, the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson in Dayton is my favorite museum dedicated to flight.

GreenCanary said...

The C3PO costume was awesome! I felt a little bad being so excited about a costume from a movie when we were surrounded by important historical artifacts like steam engines and light bulbs, but... C3-PO! That was definitely my favorite part. Also the DARPA self-steering cars. STANLEY! Very much a fan of Stanley.