While a lot of the big ticket items will be closed, there's still plenty to do and see in DC. Frankly, some of these less visited venues are more interesting that the high-draw options, and you could plan a perfectly good trip around them alone. So let's take a look at a few:
Entries in National Building Museum (6)
A monthly series by E. David Luria, Founder & Director of the Washington Photo Safari
National Building Museum
The National Building Museum holds a very special place in the heart of the Washington Photo Safari as it celebrates architecture and the built environment which is how I made my foray into professional photography. Originally known as the Pension Building when it was constructed in the 1880's to provide ample office space for clerks writing out pension checks to Civil War veterans, it is now known as the National Building Museum. It’s certainly a hidden treasure off the beaten path of the National Mall but nevertheless situated conveniently near the city center at Judiciary Square metro. What looks like a bunch of columns and archways gives way to an interactive exploration of how we design, build, use, are inspired by and interact with our concrete brethren.
There comes a time every spring in DC when even the most jaded local looks about and goes, "hey, there sure are a lot of cops around! Even more than normal. Am I really fighting for space at Irish Times on Tuesday night? Did a Mountie just walk by? What the hell is going on around here?". That's right folks, it's Cop Week again in DC.
For those of you not in the know, every spring the nation honors the service and sacrifice of law enforcement officers, with a special focus on those who have died in the line of duty in the previous year. Formally known as National Police Week, Cop Week was founded by President Kennedy and Congress in 1962. While it is a nation-wide celebration, special focus occurs in Washington, DC with ceremonies held throughout the city, most notably at the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Judiciary Square.
Unlike the Memorials on the Mall, the Law Enforcement Memorial sees relatively little traffic, which is more the fault of its location in the urban desert of Judiciary Square than due to any defect in its design. Fittingly enough, the surrounding blocks hosts the Metropolitan Police Department's Headquarters (DC's Police force), the FBI's Washington Field Office, and (as the the name implies) numerous Federal and DC courthouses. So if you have a particular affinity to law enforcement, or happen to be at the National Building Museum across the street, plan on spending a few minutes checking out the Memorial. But if you're in town this week, be ready. Many events will be held here, including a Candlelight Vigil this Thursday, May 13th. Expect large numbers of people to turn out for it.
The Memorial features the names of over 18,983 officers who have died in the line of duty, with more tragically added every year. If you are fortunate enough not to know any names on the Memorial personally, let me suggest a few to look up:
- New York City Deputy Sheriff Issac Smith (30-E: 21) - The first American law enforcement Officer to be killed in the line of duty.
- Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit (63-E: 9) - Killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, shortly after he killed President Kennedy (or whatever kooky theory you wish to pursue).
- DC Sergeant Henry Joseph Daly (3-E: 19), FBI Special Agent Martha Dixon Martinez (26-E: 19), and Special Agent Michael John Miller (50-E:19) - Killed by some jackass just a few hundred feet away at MPD Headquarters at 300 Indiana Avenue in 1994.
- US Capitol Police Officer Jacob Chestnut (39-W: 21) and Detective John Gibson (36-W: 21) - Two Capitol Police Officers killed by a deranged gunman in 1998.
- Lincoln County, NM Sheriff William Brady (13-W: 3) - One of six law enforcement officers killed by Billy the Kid.
If there's a fault to be found with the Memorial, it's that too little context is provided for what you're seeing, a fault to be remedied when the accompanying museum opens in a few years. Thematically, it most reminds me of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, with a similar roll call of names. However, while the Vietnam Wall forces you down into a an increasingly towering wall of names that build above your head as you move further into it, the Law Enforcement Memorial is relatively spread out, with large areas left blank at the bottom of each panel. And, in fact, it's often the blank space that focuses my attention. While Vietnam is largely a closed chapter in American history, with names added at a trickle, this Memorial is built for the long haul, with space left for the grim certainty of future losses. The Memorial anticipates filling up space by 2050, while I certainly hope they are wrong.
Alright, for locals this is kind of like asking who's buried in Grant's Tomb, but it's a legitimate question, or at least one I'm asked fairly often. And in all fairness, those of us who live and work here should think hard about snickering at others. After all, just a few weeks ago, a friend of mine (and fellow tour guide), who we shall call "Mike", visited a large Midwestern city, perhaps Chicago, and was taken aback that their museums charged admission. In fairness to Mike, I too have an initial burst of surprise when I visit a museum outside the Beltway and have to reach for my wallet.
The short answer, of course, is that the Smithsonian is free, unless you count it's museum of design, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York, which will set you back fifteen bucks. Oh, and the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum out near Dulles International Airport will charge you fifteen bucks for parking, so that is a de facto admission charge as it almost, but not quite, impossible to get there any other way.
But for all the Smithsonian Museums in DC, and specifically on the National Mall, the cost is nothing. That's right, they're free. And not just them, the National Gallery of Art (also on the Mall), the Building Museum, and the Holocaust Memorial Museum, among others, also charge no admission
Now, I'm sure all you Heinlein fans out there are crying TANSTAAFL, and you're right. The truth is, you've already paid your admission to these Museums, whether you choose to read every exhibit placard or sit at home eating Cheetos, assuming, unlike some of our City officials, you actually pay your taxes. The Smithsonian is operated as a trust by Act of Congress and acts, more or less, as a Federal entity. Something like 70% of it's operating budget comes from the US Treasury, with the rest made up of gifts, contributions, and other proceeds such as that eight dollar hamburger you bought.
So what does this all mean? It means that you're being shortchanged if you don't visit. This may be the most direct return you get on your tax return, so take advantage of it.
I do want to notify people that the Peak Bloom Date has shifted again, to April 1-4. As I have lost interest in discussing the Cherry Blossom festival, I will not update you if it changes anymore (Hint: just bookmark the Park Service's page). But it should remain somewhat stable. It's hard for those wily cherry blossoms to sneak off as we get closer.
The Festival will officially open this weekend at the Building Museum, with a family day from 10:00 to 3:30 pm on the 28th. It looks like a lot of fun, especially the chance to build your own mini tea house. Sadly, I will be working and unable to attend, but if anyone makes it, be sure to let me know how it went.
The Smithsonian Kite Festival, perhaps my favorite spring event, will also be this Saturday. I hope to be there for at least part of it, hopefully the climatic final battle of the Rokkaku challange. Maybe this year, evil will finally triumph over good! If you wish to, as they say, go fly a kite, the Air and Space Museum has an excellent selection. Naturally, when I visited yesterday, my daughter skipped all of the dragon themed war kites and proud banners and instead picked an insipid unicorn kite, named, of course, Jinx. It's like I'm not even here!
Now if you'll pardon me, I must see if I can't figure out a way to attach razor blades to Jinx the Unicorn kite.