In Old Town Alexandria, VA, a parade celebrated the birthday of George Washington, and several museums had announced they would be open for free for the day. I brought the Culture Club, a Meetup group of which I am an assistant organizer.
We began our day at the Lyceum, where we “met” Woodrow Wilson (played by Brian Hilton). In this hour-long piece of museum theater, we learned about Wilson’s growing up with dyslexia, teaching at my alma mater (Wesleyan University), instituting reforms at Princeton, and of course, presidency. With the hindsight that Wilson would have been afforded were he alive today, the character of Wilson admitted he’d been wrong to support racial segregation. Hilton interacted with the audience and took questions at the end. He held our attention and packed in a good deal of information; had he thoughtfully incorporated objects, this would have further added to the effectiveness of his performance.
After the performance, we viewed the Lyceum’s exhibits, which included children’s activities directly related to the objects on display. The “Patriotic and Public Spirited”: Commemorative Wares in George Washington’s Hometown exhibit shows ceramic wares that honored events or places. At a child-sized table, kids can decorate a drawing of a pitcher and write what they are commemorating.
After lunch at a local sandwich place and watching the parade for what felt like a long time because it was so cold, we decided to warm up by visiting another museum. We walked to Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, which was such a popular destination that we would have had to wait half an hour, so we kept going. We did see the Ice Well.
We tried Carlyle House, which had been advertised as being open for free for the day, but there was no sign of life. Along with other would-be visitors, we wandered around the gardens. We were still cold, so we moved on to Christ Church, where we were given a very brief tour by a docent who seemed eager to talk to us but overwhelmed by how many people were interested in visiting the church. I am unsure whether to count Christ Church as a museum. On the one hand, it is a historic site with docents; on the other hand, I did not see any exhibits, as I did in the other house-of-worship-museums I’ve visited. Many churches are old, and I’m unconvinced that this automatically makes them museums. I welcome others’ thoughts on this.
We ended our day with a visit to the Friendship Firehouse Museum. On the lower level are large fire-fighting apparatuses, and upstairs are smaller objects that further tell the story of the days when fire-fighting was the business of private insurance companies.
I’ll end this post with a list of ideas for firehouse mottoes, should anyone be in need of one: