American History Museum
The good news is the Smithsonian American History Museum located at 1300 Constitution Ave, NW, and more or less directly across the National Mall from the Smithsonian Castle, will re-open with free timed-entry tickets on May 21, 2021. Tickets are available at the Smithsonian American History Museum website as of May 14, 2021. Though it is a museum it is also one of the top fun places in Washington DC both for kids and adults. 202-633-1000.
The collections at the American History Museum continue to grow relentlessly. You could easily spend weeks here but in two hours you can see the main exhibits. Upon arrival go directly to the information desk where the staff can help you navigate. This building is straightforward but vast. The information desk can plan a route through the American History Museum displays that will be perfect for your group.
You’ll need to strategize each visit here based on your own or your families’ interests and the time you have for your adventure. The museum is three floors divided into east and west wings plus display areas in the center of each floor. There is a landmark object on display at every gallery – easy to see from each floor’s bank of elevators. For instance, a car from Disneyland’s Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride is the signature element for the west third floor where entertainment, sports and music are the focus.
Here are some of the most iconic displays at The American History Museum: (remember to check with the information desk to make sure all these treasures are still displayed at the locations they were shown before the Covid shutdown)
• The original Star-Spangled Banner – this is the actual flag that Francis Scott Key spotted in the dawn’s early light flying above the harbor where a perilous fight with the British had taken place on September 13, 1814. By early morning on September 14, the flag was still there. The newly renovated display area for the Star-Spangled Banner is on the second-floor center – it will be directly in front of you if you enter through the National Mall doorways. (There is another entrance to first-floor level on Constitution Ave, NW)
• The entire Greensboro lunch counter where four freshmen from North Carolina A&T State University held the first sit-in against segregation is on display as the signature artifact on the second floor east. This Greensboro, NC civil rights protest was held in 1960. The sit-in movement soon spread to college towns across the country.
• First Ladies of America display on third-floor center contains (among other artifacts) the dresses of our First Ladies – many of them Inaugural Ball gowns. The dresses are rotated throughout the year – so you’ll have to keep coming back to see all of them but there is always an excellent historic fashion show whenever you visit this gallery.
• George Washington’s Uniform custom made in 1789 – after the Revolutionary War. None of the uniforms he wore during the war have survived. Washington was 6 feet 2 inches tall and wore this uniform for military occasions and portraits until his death in 1799. It is located in the extensive Price of Freedom – Americans at War exhibit, third floor east.
• Lincoln’s Top Hat – the one he wore to Ford’s Theater the night he was assassinated is on display in the American Presidency exhibit on the third-floor center. Lincoln stood 6 feet 4 inches and with the top hat, he was close to 7 feet tall- an imposing political presence.
• The Ruby Red Slippers that sixteen-year-old Judy Garland wore in 1939 as the star of the Wizard of Oz are on display on the third floor along with a temporary exhibit of Scarecrow’s hat. There is a small gift kiosk near the Ruby Red Slippers display.
• The original Kermit the Frog as well as Cookie Monster and Elmo plus Howdy Doody and Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit from Captain Kangaroo are all on the first-floor east wing in the American Stories gallery.
• On the first floor you’ll also find Julia Child’s Kitchen plus displays that range from prepackaged foods to microwaves AND a very large transportation exhibit, America on the Move including railroad cars, buses and automobiles of the past.
The museum is temporarily closed to support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The closest Metro is the Smithsonian Station / Mall Exit. That is on the Orange, Silver and Blue Lines.