From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

A Citizen's Visit to the Smithsonian

Country folk in the nation's capital


Dennis and me. If this were a video, you'd see
us shivering and hear our teeth chattering!

I've been looking through some photos tonight of a trip we really enjoyed. In 2007, Dennis, Isaac, and I went to Washington D.C. during Isaac's Easter break from school. Via the internet, I found a reasonably-priced hotel located just a block from the Iwo Jima monument in Arlington National Cemetery and just across the river from many famous monuments and buildings.

The Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery

The Virginia Suites worked out great for us. Our studio apartment was spacious and clean. It had a small, completely furnished kitchen and dining area, so I brought a few easy-to-cook things with us, and we ate in the room at night.  We enjoyed the generous continental breakfast that was served downstairs each morning, and then we walked a few blocks to the subway and rode a short distance to the Mall area. We carried snacks to eat at lunchtime. ("Poor folks have poor ways," my mother-in-law often said, in praise of frugality.)

Early April gave us a little surprise. Snow fell during our first night in DC. The next morning, the grass and all the parked cars had a crusty, white coat.

And speaking of coats -- we wished we had brought heavier ones! The wind blew hard, and the temperatures were in the 40s most of the time we were there. We wore extra layers of clothing but we still shivered in the wind chill. The cherry trees were blooming, but the combination of the late freeze, the snow, and the gusty winds frazzled them a little. The tourists looked frazzled too, huddled inside their coats as the wind hurried them along. I'm sure we looked much the same.

When we planned the trip, we decided that our main objective was visiting the Smithsonian museums. We also decided that when we went into a museum, each of us would wander through it as curiosity and interests led, rather than trying to stay together. This worked well. We designated a meeting spot and time, and we kept in touch with our cell phones.

Spirit of St. Louis, flown by Charles Lindbergh
The highlight for Dennis was definitely the National Air and Space Museum. (It actually has two locations -- we went to the one on the National Mall.) Among the historic airplanes and spacecraft and memorabilia, it had a 11-foot scale model of the U.S.S. Enterprise, one of the aircraft carriers on which Dennis served in the Navy. When I passed by, he and another Navy vet were taking questions from a crowd of tourists. (That sight alone made the whole trip worthwhile!)

The flight deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise model

Sadly, the Museum of American History was closed for renovation, but they had set up a small exhibit of "100 Treasures of American History" in another museum. There, I saw a military uniform that belonged to George Washington, the lap desk on which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, General Custer's fringed buckskin coat, the robots R2D2 and C3PO from Star Wars, Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe hat, Dorothy's ruby slippers, the gown and cape that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to the inaugural ball, and 93 other amazing items.


1790s uniform of G. Washington

General Custer's buckskin coat

The road sign from M.A.S.H.

The crowd around the Hope Diamond
One thing that did not impress me was the Hope Diamond at the National Museum of Natural History. Perhaps that's because I didn't get a good look at it. A mob of tourists was crowded around it, and they were speaking so many languages that it sounded like the Tower of Babel. I just didn't care enough about that diamond to fight my way to a good viewpoint. I had much less competition at most of the other exhibits of spectacular gemstones and minerals.

Amazing slabs of topaz!

Modern materials,
traditional patterns
At the National Museum of the American Indian, I especially enjoyed an exhibit of clothing made by Native American women. I know enough about crafts and hand-sewing to respect the skills of these garment makers and the many hours of work (with handmade tools, in many of the pieces).

Two-hide dress

Beautiful handiwork

A corner on Constitution Ave.

Just four days, and so many things to see! We raced through the museums, and keeping our original goal in mind, we didn't visit many other sights of the city. 

In that whirlwind trip, I learned that Washington D.C. is a beautiful city. (Please don't tell me about the slums -- every city has them.) I am talking about the heart of the city where my nation's government is centered. I'm proud of our Federal buildings and national monuments, our Capitol, the White House, the Smithsonian buildings, the National Cathedral, and Arlington Cemetery. I'd love to visit there again, and who knows? Maybe we will!

View from Arlington Cemetery

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.