By Riley Fink
Today I visited the Smithsonian museums. While I would have loved to experience all of them, the one I focused on was the National Museum of American History. Walking around outside on the National Mall, you can see several of the Smithsonian’s buildings from one spot. My favorite from a purely visual standpoint is the Smithsonian Institution Building, also called The Castle. Located behind the National Museum of African Art, the Gothic architecture really stands out among the more modern and composed structures in the immediate vicinity. Our class was able to see this beautiful sight earlier on our trip as part of a D.C.-wide scavenger hunt.Even on its own, attempting to see all of the National Museum of American History is a massive undertaking. I can’t even imagine how long it would take to see all the exhibits in every building. I figured a single museum would be enough of an undertaking for one day. One interesting exhibit that happened to be showcased was the “Puppets & Muppets” display. It presented various puppets amassed as part of the museum’s collection. I’ve always been a fan of Jim Henson, so seeing examples of his creations in person was of particular interest to me. Seeing Muppets like Elmo, and even early an early version of Kermit the Frog, was a very cool experience. Watching them on TV is one thing, but viewing how their full bodies are meant look and move in reality was quite the difference.
Additionally, while our class was not able to gain admission to the newly-opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is only offering timed-ticket entry, there was an exhibit at the National Museum of American History celebrating its opening. While it was a somewhat small showcase of photos meant to show the diversity of the African American experience, it was still nonetheless powerful. Events like weddings, gatherings of nurses, and everyday situations were shown throughout history, focusing on the unique and wide-ranging lives of African Americans. To demonstrate how difficult getting into the actual African American history museum currently is, Judy, our monuments tour guide from Monday, applied for a ticket in September and didn’t gain admission until the very day she was meant to give us a tour. Thus, tragically, she couldn’t attend it.One more fascinating arrangement was one chronicling the lives and roles of First Ladies of the United States. A constant theme stressed that the position of First Lady is unofficial, but a highly important duty. One section was entitled “Changing Times, Changing First Ladies,” and featured the ways in which individuals like Mary Todd Lincoln and Lady Bird Johnson left their own indelible mark on the office of the First Lady. Looking around this exhibit made me wonder how incoming First Lady Melania Trump will shape the position. It has been suggested that President-elect Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, will essentially act as First Lady instead. Plans for Ivanka to have an office in the White House seem to corroborate this idea. The fact that Trump also intends to rename the Office of the First Lady to “Office of the First Family” further suggests that Melania Trump’s role as First Lady will be widely different compared to her predecessors, with her step daughter filling the post. Overall, the National Museum of American History provided a lot of great sights and history to wade through. Even though I have visited the Smithsonian museums in the past during an eighth grade class trip, I barely scratched the surface during my two visits. I would love to see more of it and the other Smithsonian institutions someday.