Linguistic Lair at McPherson Square


McPherson Square is near several other Metro stations, on several different lines. By my calculations on Googlemaps, it is the closest Metro stop to use in order to walk to the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House (one of my early Weekly Museum Visits) and the IDB Cultural Center, as well as the new Planet Word.

I recently visited Planet Word – my first time there, and one of my first museum visits post-vaccination. (I’m not going to say post-covid, especially not with the Delta Variant rearing its ultra-contagious head.) The museum is located in what used to be the Franklin School at DC’s Franklin Square.

Planet Word reminded me of a few other museums in a few different ways. Like the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives (also one of my early Weekly Museum Visits, located not too far away near Farragut Square), the building is an old school designed by Adolf Cluss. The subject was similar to the virtual-for-years-now National Museum of Language (also a Weekly Museum Visit), but in a very different style and presentation. NML was more of a niche, humble university department office suite that welcomed visitors to share in a fascinating topic; Planet Word (which suggests a $15 donation) is larger and higher-tech and more interactive, with all the bells and whistles of a downtown destination-experience.

Secret door with pretty books at Planet Word

It also reminded me of a hobby I picked up while I was at home nearly all the time from mid-March 2020 through mid-April 2021: looking at photos from real estate listings, particularly for old, artsy, or uniquely decorated houses. One would think this newfound interest would lead me to historic house museums upon emergence from “quarantine,” and it will in due time.

But there were also aspects of Planet Word that mirrored some of the things I love finding in real estate photos, like a secret door, and books arranged in aesthetically pleasing color blocks. (I also rearranged my own books like this while holed up inside. Mock me if you want, but I do actually read them.) And of course, the delight in finding the image of a dog or cat – though I have looked around (museums and elsewhere) for all things pet-related long before coronavirus.

In addition to the large “library” of red, yellow, and white books with one shelf serving as a secret door into a small room where visitors can listen to readings of poetry, Planet Word includes a wall of words on which an introductory video is projected, a gallery exploring world (and some invented) languages, a karaoke room that features information about the linguistic aspect of song lyrics, and an exhibit about jokes. There’s also a display about the history of the Franklin School building itself.

McPherson Square is on the Orange, Blue, and Silver Lines.

About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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