To serve the public

This 2007 photo gives a bird's-eye view of the National Mall and most of the Smithsonian. The museums lie along the corridor between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. Public domain photo by the Architect of the Capitol's Office, via Wikimedia Commons

This 2007 photo gives a bird’s-eye view of the National Mall and most of the Smithsonian.
The museums lie along the corridor between the Capitol and the Washington Monument.
Public domain photo by the Architect of the Capitol’s Office, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Smithsonian is a great museum that annually attracts more than 20 million visitors, every single one of whom was there when we arrived…my suggestion for the Smithsonian is: If you really want to serve the public, you should put in an exhibit called: A Big Dark Room Filled With Mattresses.” Dave Barry

Even if you love the Smithsonian as much as I do, you probably smiled when you read Dave Barry’s quote.  Perhaps it’s no accident that Mr. Smithson himself never saw the museum he established, nor even visited the country where he had it built.

Seriously, the Smithsonian– actually not just one museum, but a whole collection of them– is enormous and amazing, with something for everyone.  But good luck finding it.  And be prepared to do a lot of walking.

I’ve often thought that one of the best things about living near DC is the chance to visit the Smithsonian for two or three hours at a time.  More than that, and my brain goes on overload. Plus, it’s good to be able to visit alone sometimes.  I’m the type of person who wants to stop and read all the signs and take pictures of almost everything, which drives some people crazy. (I’m not naming names here, but yours is likely one of them.)

If you live too far away to make short visits, I do recommend that you allocate at least one day to explore these museums, most of which are spread along a pedestrian-only expanse called the National Mall, conveniently located near all the most famous monuments.  “Near” being a relative term, since they too require a lot of walking.   Cars are obviously discouraged; the National Mall has no (that’s right, ZERO) parking facilities.

Luckily, although the Mattress exhibit is not yet open (nor even planned) there are a lot of lovely gardens and park benches for resting and taking in the beautiful spring weather.  So even if you only want to see the Moon Rock, or the Hope Diamond, or Dorothy’s ruby slippers, or Seinfeld’s puffy shirt, you can still have a good time.  Just wear comfortable shoes.

Today’s post is dedicated to all DC visitors, in anticipation of next week’s long-planned arrival of FOUR fellow bloggers, one of whom is coming all the way from New Zealand!  Stay tuned…


  1. Rene

    How fun for you! And for the record, I am a stop & read every sign-type visitor. Even if it’s something I don’t really admire, I find myself wanting to know why the heck someone thought it should be in a museum. Interestingly, a Jeopardy champion won one of her games by remembering something she had read on a museum sign long before.

    • Rene, you need to come see me so we can go to the Smithsonian together. It’s a blessing and a curse in my life that almost EVERYTHING interests me, often to the point of fascination. It causes me to be too easily distracted (I would probably have been called ADD if the term existed when I was a child) but it certainly does make every single day an adventure. I am never bored. Museums are, like libraries, like playgrounds for people who have this quirk trait.

  2. Julia,
    The Smithsonian is a great visit. I’ve been there in my youth and distinctly remember being awed by the air exhibits, and especially the “Spirit Of Saint Louis,” that Lindberg flew across the Atlantic. Such a small and delicate craft to stand up to the very rigorous flight. Tells you something about the man who flew it.

    • Alan, I need to go back to the Air and Space Museum. I haven’t spent much time there in years, and I have NEVER been to the newer branch of it out at Dulles Airport. Until I read Winston Groome’s book The Aviators, I never realized what a remarkable plane the Spirit of St. Louis is. It was designed by Lindbergh specifically to make an Atlantic crossing possible. The fuel tank was huge and in front, so that there was no windshield. He could only see out the side windows and with a periscope built into the roof. This is from Wikipedia:

      “At Lindbergh’s request, the large main and forward fuel tanks were placed in the forward section of the fuselage, in front of the pilot, with the oil tank acting as a firewall. This arrangement improved the center of gravity and reduced the risk of the pilot being crushed to death between the main tank and the engine in the event of a crash. This design decision meant that there could be no front windshield, and that forward visibility would be limited to the side windows. This didn’t concern Lindbergh as he was used to flying in the rear cockpit of mail planes with mail bags in the front. When he wanted to see forward, he would slightly yaw the aircraft and look out the side. To provide some forward vision as a precaution against hitting ship masts, trees, or structures while flying at low altitude a Ryan employee who had served in the submarine service installed a periscope….The instrument panel housed fuel pressure, oil pressure and temperature gauges, a clock, altimeter, tachometer, airspeed indicator, bank and turn indicator, and liquid magnetic compass. Lindbergh also installed a newly developed Earth Inductor Compass made by the Pioneer Instrument Company which allowed him to more accurately navigate while taking account of the magnetic declination of the earth.” (end of quote)

      Lindbergh was a remarkable man by any standard, and his wife was every bit his equal in that respect. His inventive nature led him to devise, along with a cardiologist, the prototype of the heart-lung bypass machine that eventually saved thousands of lives, including Matt’s. His wife’s sister had died with a cardiac ailment because she was unable to have surgery, and he asked why a bypass machine could not be built to make open heart surgery possible. Though his design was never used, he was the first, or one of the first, to imagine it.

      • Julia,
        Thanks for the amazing added info on Lindbergh. I didn’t know the whys of the plane design, nor of his inventiveness in the medical field.

        • Thanks to the meticulous diaries kept by Anne and Charles Lindbergh (methodically written in carbon copies according to one of his many directives) we know a great deal about their lives. Of course, he became world famous at such a young age that historians and journalists pretty much watched every move he made. His fame was mostly unwanted, and brought great adversity and heartache to them, as you probably know. Anne, by far the better writer of the two, has several published books that consist of her diaries written over the span of her life.

      • Anon E. Moose

        Re: “the moon rock” – Carla is my witness: not including reporters and guards, it was Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Armstrong, and Carla and Eric Hedden standing in front of the immediately-placed moon rock – late summer 1969. Dr. Ridley had sent a special security guard to escort your siblings to this unveiling. This was perhaps the last time I felt like a privileged citizen of a great country. BTW you have often spoken of holding onto newspaper clippings – one of my treasures is one of Charles Lindbergh and Neil Armstrong sitting at dinner together.

        • Eric, I remember that trip very well. In fact, here’s a photo of Carla you took that September day in 1969. Note the square “126 instamatic” format, the old car passing by, and that trendy John Romain purse! There’s another slide you took, that I didn’t digitize, where you can see Michael Collins surrounded by reporters, and yet another of Carla standing beside the Winnie Mae. The photo at this link will look familiar to you, I’m sure. Isn’t it cool to think about the fact that Lindbergh knew both Orville Wright and Neil Armstrong?

  3. Amy

    I thought this might be for your friends. I too love to go alone although I have never actually done that. I had planned all that after the wedding and once Aaron was off to college but life and the Lord had other plans for me. It is still a promise I have made myself to one day go into the city ALONE and go where I want at a pace I want. Hope all is well with you and the boys. Please give them my love.

    • Amy, why don’t you and I just ride the Metro in one day and split up and meet back at the end of the day (or someplace for a cuppa every few hours). That way, we can chat on the way up and back. Let’s do plan on this sometime. Living near a city gets in the way of seeing it as much as one should, because daily life takes over and we have the illusion that there is unlimited time for that sort of thing later. I can’t believe we’ve been here nearly 5 years and I’ve spent so much less time in DC than I did in SFO when we lived in NorCal and I knew the clock was ticking. We are all doing OK. Love right back to you!!! ❤

      • Amy

        Yes, let’s plan to do that.

  4. Julia…good evening. The Smithsonian is on my to do list…even if traveling is now limited for me. Who knows…I just might get to visit it! 🙂

    • Well Merry, if you decide to come, you know where you can stay. We have a guest room in the walkout basement of our town home and you are welcome any time. The stairs might be a problem but if so you can always sleep in the living room. 😀

  5. Sheila

    Good Saturday morning, my friend. I’ve always wanted to take my grandchildren to the Washinton, DC area. One of those things that never happened. I’m glad you live close enough to be able to share with Grady. Does Matt enjoy going there? We are at Willow Tree, although the masses were headed TO Myrtle Beach area we noticed. 🚓🚙🚗🚕 Have a great weekend! 😍

    • Sheila, it’s not too late! You are a fairly easy drive from us (easy to say if I’m not driving 🙂 ) so you really should think about coming up. Have you ever been to DC? Matt likes it well enough, although the demands of walking such distances do tend to tire him out. I hope your weather at Willow Tree was warmer than ours was here. BRRRR! I wore spring colors to church today, though I did choose long sleeves and a jacket.

  6. raynard

    Julia, back to DC is on my bucketlist. We were down there in 2007. Only got to go to Vietnam Memorial, and 3 other places.Oh Next month or May is my target date to come back to Virginia Beach when the weather gets warm.Getting the van tuned up and shocks replaced. She is still going strong after 202, 000 miles. The last 4 years going to NJ almost every week put alot of wear and tear on her. Wife has a little used car now so the van can rest some. My reguards to you, Jeff and Matt. If you have” Rita’s Water ice down your way, it’s a good place to visit” after lunch or dinner’..( My favorite is mago water ice with vanilla custard.. lol Be blessed

    • Raynard if you didn’t see the WW II monument or the Korean War monument, those alone would be worth a trip back. Now that the MLK monument is open that would add to the reasons to come. May is probably a good date to plan for Virginia Beach, as it would be far too cold right now. Sounds as if you drive your cars about as long as we drive ours, though to date we have never crossed the 200,000 mile line. Drew has our old Camry that is getting close to that amount, but it’s in need of expensive repairs, so he will probably be getting rid of it. Hey I think we do have a Rita’s someplace (maybe in Va Beach?) because I seem to remember seeing one. I’ll have to look for it. I love frozen treats in the summer…assuming summer will ever get here this year!! Hope you have a wonderful week.

  7. I’m delighted to be among those bloggers listed at the end, Julia. What an exciting time lies ahead. I know surprising little about D.C. but look forward to changing all that by the end of this week into next. Like you, I can only take museums in small doses. They require a lot of concentration as there is so much to see. I enjoyed museums all over Europe by myself. Loved every one of them.

    • Alys, I hope you will get to see a few museums along with lots of other fun things. Just do what I do when there is too much fun and too little time…keep saying “I’ll see this more on my next trip here.” 😀 K made it in last night but it was an eventful day for both of us — eventful being a positive term for it! But I ended up getting to the airport in time, and she ended up here safe and sound, albeit later than she had planned, so all’s well that ends well. We’ll be off soon to do some strolling in the district!

  8. Arriving at this post, post holidays…gads I’m so far behind I’ll never catch up. Well now, I shall thank you both for the dedication of your post and our visit to the American History Smithsonian. What fun days we had Julia. I can’t even begin to thank you enough, I only wish we had a couple more days to get around so we could have gone at a leisurely pace. HA, I still picture you running thru the rain with a plastic bad on your head for shelter….skipping hand in hand for the gate guard and wearing a tiara with your guest robe….omgosh, I love you dearly xoxox

    • I just wish we had a video of that gate guard’s face with us skipping away. I bet he says that to a lot of folks but we are probably the first ones ever to take him up on it! It’s just too bad he wasn’t there past 5 pm! Speaking of the tiara, watch for it to appear in a blog post Thursday — don’t worry, I didn’t include any of the silliest photos, but if you look closely you’ll spot it. My time with you all passed in such a blur, it seemed to be over before it started, but hopefully you got enough of a taste of DC to make it worth your while. Jeff and I went into the city to catch the cherry blossoms at peak on Sunday afternoon, and I’m going to post some photos to FB soon, I hope. It was a glorious day, about 70 F and sunny and everyone happy and more people than I’ve ever seen there. If Alys wants to see the museums you will just have to come back with her and keep Alyster busy with photo ops while we read the signs. Love you too! Sending big hugs.

      • I’m so glad you and Jeff were able to get to the Cherry Trees. How romantic 😉 and such a beautiful day. We went in the chilly weather, but were very happy to be able to see them at all. Gorgeous!
        Oh that tiara was a laugh, I’ll watch for that post on Thursday. I should get you one 😀 For those ho-hum days you just feel like being a princess, LOL.
        I absolutely got a great tour of DC, even though time went too fast. We accomplished a ton. Is Matt happy to be back home? How’d his room and the painting turn out? Oh man, I miss you and our late late night chats. xoxxoxo K

        • Our blossoms just started to blow away a couple of days ago. They were falling so fast it looked like pink snow. But it still takes awhile before they are all gone. Now comes the messy part – it is almost impossible not to track them indoors even if we sweep constantly, and the cars get covered in them. They are so clingy that they have to be brushed off or they will dry and have to be scraped off windows, trim, etc. But it’s so pretty it’s worth the mess. I wonder why they don’t turn really pink until just before they fall? Even when Jeff and I were in DC Sunday afternoon for peak bloom, they were still mostly white. I’m SO glad you got to see them near peak bloom!

          Matt seems happy to be back and his room turned out lovely, although it was a bit too blue for us at first. It’s very light, but we were thinking it would be more gray than blue. It’s so pretty though, it’s hard to be disappointed. I’ll try to send some pics. Here I am, another late night “chat” with you, this one virtual…aren’t computers great? I’m even wearing a virtual tiara! 😀

          • LOL, a virtual tiara. Mine doesn’t go on until tomorrow night. Friday night is dinner out night where I get to choose where to eat (because I’m picky)…hehe. Tonight has been a plethora of household chores after getting home from work late.
            I wondered about the bloom colour and thought they must touch up all those postcards. They were pretty in white too. I got a few nice photo’s while we were out but omgosh is was really chilly for poor Alys and Pauline was too I think. Seems like we timed it near perfect.
            I’m in my Jammies and Blossum is snoozing beside me, Jim went off to bed a while ago after sleeping thru the news. I’m not far behind because it was so so busy at Urban today and I’m back to work for 10am. Lot’s of great new stuff though. I got my parcel today with all my Holiday treasure from you girls. I thought I’d open it on the weekend and it’ll be like Christmas again 😀 I can’t wait to use the material we got at Joannes. xoK

            • Hi K, I’m late getting to these comments since I just got back from visiting my parents in Atlanta (not to mention Grady and his parents too 😀 ). I hope you enjoyed opening up your box and seeing everything all over again. Now that the cherry blossoms are gone there are some other trees blooming, some sort of ornamental fruit tree with lovely double flowers that are much more pink than the cherry blossoms. Even these seem to get pinker after they have been blooming for awhile so maybe there is some sort of horticultural explanation for it. The cherry blossom petals that fell are still lining the curbs and even after they fall they continue to get darker pink, I guess from drying out. It’s nice to be back home even after only 3 days away, so I can imagine how happy you must have been after two weeks!

              • I’m later than late getting to everything. Half written blogs, half done work projects, half finished laundry….holy cow….it’s been a busy week. I was at Urban Tues Thurs Fri and Sun. All fun and full days. Then everything else that I start but don’t finish…gads !
                I’m so happy to hear you had a visit to your folks and family. I’m sure Grady was the star of the show, he’s just too cute. I wish I had picked up some of those blossoms to dry and save in an envelope. They might even look pretty on a mixed media project….next time 😀 xox PS, yes a dream come true to visit but I’m a homebody through and through ❤

                • Wow, I feel so much better knowing I’m not the only one with so many unfinished projects. If I worked at a scrapbook store as you do, I would be even worse than I am because I would want to bring it all home with me every day. I think it’s fairly addictive. Hey, I wish I had saved you some of the cherry blossoms! I just swept most of the last of them off the walkways and porch yesterday. They make quite a mess, but it’s worth it. I totally understand about being a home body; the older I get, the more so it is. That’s really saying something for me since I have loved to travel for as long as I can remember. But now there’s nothing I love better than cozy, quiet time at home. All the more reason I’m grateful to you all for making the trip! Pauline amazes me — I can’t even imagine a 12 hour time change — what a trooper!

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