Our Nation's Capitol

The Smithsonian(s)

Washington, DC.

October 23, 1999

We stayed outside of Washington in a campground in Stafford, Virginia, called Aquia Pines Camping Resort. Since we had been forewarned about the problems parking in DC (by a delightful young couple of friends, Christina and Stefan Gerwinat) we decided to park at one of the local "parking areas" for the metro (short for Metrorail) and had a very nice ride into town. The metro was very clean and everywhere we went we found employees that were more than willing to help us with directions or anything else we needed. Some of the Metro was above ground but when it got into the heart of Washington it went below ground. Of course, the first thing we saw when we exited the Metro station was the beautiful Capital Building. When we had asked our friends about where "The Smithsonian" was, they chuckled a bit and asked "Which one?" I guess the confusion must have shown in our faces because they proceeded to tell us that Smithsonian (which started out as one building many years ago) is now a complex of 15 museums and/or galleries. The original Smithsonian building is called "The Castle." And that's exactly what it looks like. Needless to say, since we had decided we would spend one day touring the Smithsonian we only got to see a very small portion of what they had to offer. If you would like to take a peek ahead of time and see what is being offered currently (they have a number of traveling exhibits that change periodically) check out their website at Smithsonian Information.

I will list the various museums and galleries, then I will give you a brief overview of what we saw.

There are nine Smithsonian museums and galleries which are located on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. These include: the original "Castle", the American History Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Freer Gallery, the Sackler Gallery, the African Art Museum, the Museum of Arts and Industries, the Hirshhorn Museum, and the Air and Space Museum, in addition to several lovely gardens. A three-level underground complex houses two museums and the S. Dillon Ripley Center, which includes the International Gallery, offices and classrooms. Five other museums and the Zoo are elsewhere in Washington. The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian are located in New York City.

Of these we chose to see the Castle, the Museum of Natural History, the Arts & Industries Building and some of the Gardens. Deciding what to see when you get there, is one of the hardest things, aside from having your walking shoes on to get everywhere. One of the things that was interesting to me was who started the Smithsonian Museum which has since become the repository for so many American treasures. The Smithsonian was established in 1846 with funds bequeathed to the United States by James Smithson, an English scientist, "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." It seems rather ironic, to me, that a foreigner would think more of America's scientific treasures than we did, but fortunately this was the case with the Smithsonian.

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