Appalachian Vacation - Smithsonian Museum of American History (Washington, DC)

October 27, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

When we visited Washington, DC this summer, it was the second time in my life I had the privilege to visit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. The first time, as I said in my last post, was on my senior trip in high school. I remembered it being the most incredible of places, a true place of wonder. However, memories, especially when they are allowed to percolate over decades, can be tricky things. People change, interests change, and often when you try to repeat a memory, you find it unrepeatable. Such was my case with the Museum of Natural History. It's still an incredible place, and a magnificent wonder, to be sure. But, my experience this year was not quite the experience I remembered from my youth.

However, when we visited the Smithsonian Museum of American History this summer, which is located just a hop, skip, and jump down the street from the Museum of Natural History, the experience was magical. Two different museums, two experiences separated by decades, but two very similar reactions. One possible reason is that in my adulthood, I've become much more interested in American History. In High School, history was not what you'd call an interest. But then again, high school for me was not really what you'd call an interest. But I digress . . . .

It's probably best to not try and analyze it, but to chalk it up to the fickle nature of memories and experiences, and simply enjoy the experience. Anyway, here are a few of my favorites, to which I'll provide a bit of running commentary along the way where appropriate.

Now, I'm a gun nut. Always have been. It's part of my DNA. There were two rifles of consequence on display at the Museum of American History. The first is pictured at the top of this post. It is an early American flintlock rifle (conspicuously missing the flint). I can only imagine the stories this rifle could tell of where it's been and the things it's seen.

The second rifle that caught my attention is a beautifully preserved M1 Garand. To most gun nuts, the Springfield M1 Garand was (and still is) one of the finest rifles ever made. Officially dubbed the United States Rifle, Caliber .30, M1, it was the first standard-issue semi-automatic rifle. It is the rifle of which General George Patton famously quipped, "In my opinion, the M1 Rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised." Used by our servicemen officially from 1936 until the late 1950s, it is the rifle that helped defeat Hitler and Japan, winning WWII for the allies. Even after being officially replaced by the M14 in 1959, the M1 continued to see widespread use by our troops in large numbers until 1963 and to a lesser degree until 1976. I made the following image of the display model at the museum.

The image below is a chilling reminder of the devastation that took place in New York City on September 11, 2001. It is a steel column assembly from the seventieth floor of the World Trade Center's south tower.

The last two images are of the bow and canon of the USS Philadelphia, used in the Battle of Valcour Island in 1776. Referred to at the time as a gundalow or gondola, the gunboat was part of a fleet under the command of General Benedict Arnold. Arnold's fleet battled a larger Royal Navy fleet on Lake Champlain in the Battle of Valcour Island on October 11, 1776. Many American boats were damaged that day, but the Philadelphia was one of the few boats actually sunk. Discovered in 1935 by an amateur archaeologist who subsequently had it raised, it was donated to the Smithsonian in 1961.

The Museum of American History is one of our country's greatest treasures. If you're a history buff, you absolutely must go and spend the day.

More to come . . . .


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