By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
One of the most famous Smithsonian museums is back in business. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History closed its doors for six months due to the coronavirus pandemic, but reopened Friday with new exhibits. It hosts more than 1.7 million objects from American history.
In the United States, post-COVID society is reopening, although due to state and local mandates, it’s happening at an uneven pace around the nation. Residents of Washington, DC, recently passed one major milestone: two Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo reopened Friday.
The National Museum of American History and the National Museum of the American Indian are the latest buildings to open their doors, with advance tickets available. The American History museum even features two new exhibits: a painting by beloved artist Bob Ross and a gown from the smash hit film Crazy Rich Asians.
In his video series The Great Tours: Washington DC, Dr. Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, said the National Museum of American History offers a rich tapestry of the nation dating back 250 years.
Broad Stripes and Bright Stars
“[The National Museum of American History] houses about 1.8 million objects relating to the history of the United States, from before the Revolution to the present day,” Dr. Kurin said. “It originally opened in 1964, and the building has been undergoing a complete overhaul, section by section, since 2006. Renovations to the core of the building were completed in 2008 and included a new home for one of the most important and beloved objects in the entire Smithsonian collection: the ‘Star-Spangled Banner.'”
According to Dr. Kurin, the actual flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 is on display at the museum. Francis Scott Key saw it while being held captive on a British Navy vessel in Baltimore Harbor. Seeing that it still stood after a night of bombardment inspired him to write the poem that became the famous song, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“Although the flag survived the battle, now, more than 200 years later, the fabric is incredibly fragile,” Dr. Kurin said. “So, in 1998, the Smithsonian undertook a project to preserve what remained of the flag and installed it in a new, state-of-the-art, climate-controlled gallery.
“As you go through the darkened exhibition, you come around a corner into the simulated ‘dawn’s early light’ to see the 40-foot-flag displayed on an angled gantry; it is an incredibly inspiring object, an icon of our nation’s harsh birth and its survival.”
First Ladies Exhibit and More
Dr. Kurin said that another huge draw at the American History museum is the First Ladies exhibit.
“The main attraction here are the more than two dozen gowns worn by America’s first ladies,” he said. “The oldest belongs to Martha Washington; the newest ones to Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump. But the exhibit contains more than just clothing; it contains objects recounting the first ladies’ personal lives, like letters and photographs, as well as objects related to their diplomatic duties as White House hostess, such as the china used for state occasions.”
Dr. Kurin pointed out that the First Ladies exhibit reflects not only the changing tastes and fashions throughout the country’s history, but also the “unique and ever-changing role” that the presidents’ spouses have played since the time of Martha Washington.
The museum also features items from other famous figures, such as Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from the film The Wizard of Oz and one of Prince’s guitars. Among them, the Bob Ross painting and the dress from Crazy Rich Asians should look right at home.