Monday, November 10, 2014

A Visit to Three D.C. Museums

There is no end to what can be experienced in Washington D.C.  On Friday we visited the Spy Museum.  I thought that I would be bored and out of there in a short time.  As with most museums, I enjoyed it very much and after two hours we had not seen it all.  According to the museum, spying is the second oldest profession.  It goes back to Bible times, and in the 21st century there is the new intelligence battlefield of cyberspace.  That brings me to the movie which John and I, as well as Dan and Amanda, saw Friday evening, CITIZENFOUR.   It is a real life espionage story which unfolds as it happens.  The movie follows Edward Snowden as he, over 8 days, unveils his knowledge of how the United States spies on its citizens.   What we had learned during the day at the spy museum just seemed to naturally spill over into our evening experience of watching that movie.  It was certain a full day of stories of suspense and intrigue!
The second museum we just happened to walk by on our way to church in downtown D.C.  What caught my attention was the banded sculpture of soldiers and naval men above one of the building's doors.   After attending church at First Trinity we stepped into the large brick building and I immediately said "wow".
We joined a group to tour the building and later learned that the columns are 75 feet high, each built of 70,000 bricks.  They were painted in 1895 to resemble marble.  The building was built in 1882-87 by Montgomery Meigs, a Quartermaster General during the Civil War.  Meigs had taken architectural courses at West Point and was the right man for the task.  The building is now the National Building Museum,  it was formerly known as the Pension Building.  The plan for the building was for it not to only have office space, but to also provide a grand area for social events.  Eighteen inaugural balls have taken place here from 1885 to 2009.  Most fortunate for us we had an architect as our tour guide who pointed out many of the unique features of the building.  The tour took up most of our afternoon, we could not even consider looking at the special exhibits which are in the building- all relating to achievements in architecture in the buildings in which we live and work.  We had one more museum to see, and it had a connection with the Pension Building.
In 1885, after the Civil War, families needed to find out what happened to their father/husband before receiving survivor benefits at the Pension Building.  Many people turned to Clara Barton in that regard, so she took up residence in D.C.  In 1997 in the attic of an older building (which was due for demolition) was found many documents and artifacts pertaining to her work for missing soldiers.  The painted tin sign pictured above was one of those artifacts.  This museum just opened this year, Barton's third floor office and living space has been restored.  The building had a retail store, offices, and on the third floor were boarding rooms.  Barton tore out a wall, made her living space smaller, and erected a wall using wagon covers.  The later is still in place, it feels quite soft for a wall.  She thus created a large reception room where she received callers and where her clerks could work at their desks.  In this office she was able to identify 22,000 missing soldiers.  Copies of the letters which she wrote to families are on display.   A brief movie about the restoration of the building noted that the third floor was fairly easy to restore because no plumbing had ever been installed in that area of the building.  It was a very worthwhile stop in our busy day!

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