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Washington, D.C.—history from a fresh perspective

Created date

December 31st, 2008

With its magnificent libraries and archival collections, its Capitol building, White House, its monuments and memorials, great ceremonial avenues, its heroic statues and immortal words writ large in stone, Washington, D.C., insists we remember," said historian David McCullough at the grand re-opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of American history. "It beckons us all to pause and look and learn."

Moving around the nation s capital, it seems that McCullough is right history is everywhere. But just as evident is the city s desire to keep itself fresh and relevant. As our 44th President and his administration move into town, some of the city s most beloved landmarks are re-opening to the public. For the seasoned traveler, there s never been a better time to visit Washington, D.C.

Affectionately called the "Nation s Attic," the Smithsonian National Museum of American History has undergone a multi-million-dollar update, the highlight of which is a new gallery holding one of our most precious treasures, the Star-Spangled Banner. Years of damage caused by pigment-fading light and caustic air, have been rectified and the flag is now displayed in a protective chamber that allows museum goers to see the 30 x34 wool and cotton icon from a new perspective.

It should be noted that the new gallery might be disconcerting for those who have difficulty in the dark. When I visited, there were glow sticks placed strategically near the glass to help people see where the walkway ended. The museum is sure to iron out these kinks in the coming months, but be forewarned, it s going to be dark.

Media buffs and news junkies won t want to miss the new and improved Newseum, a 250,000-square-foot museum of news. Called the world s most interactive museum, visitors will experience first hand the power and responsibility of news-gatherers throughout time.

Two new D.C. attractions shouldn t be missed. First, the long-awaited Capitol Visitor s Center is an underground facility where all tours of the U.S. Capitol will now begin and end. The center s Exhibition Hall features informative displays about the art, architecture, and proceedings of the U.S. Capitol. Second, take a short drive across the Potomac to see the Pentagon Memorial. The simply designed, open-air park honors those who perished at the site on Sept. 11, 2001.

The history lesson doesn t have to end when the museums close. One of the best-kept secrets in town is the charming Martin s Tavern located in the heart of Georgetown. Everything on Martin s menu is good, but the calf s liver is exceptional and the Welsh rarebit is a delicious throwback to another era.

Family-owned and operated since 1933, the restaurant has served every President since Harry Truman. President Nixon favored booth #2, and they say that Senate Majority Leader (and future President) Lyndon Johnson could often be found debating Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn in booth #24. Travelers on a romantic getaway should request booth #3 where a young senator named John F. Kennedy proposed to socialite/reporter Jacqueline Bouvier.

The rest, as they say, is history.

To learn more about Michele Harris s adventures in our nation s capital, read her blog at Click on eChronicles.

Around town in Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History is on the National Mall at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W. (

The Newseum is located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. (

The Capitol Visitors Center is located at First Street and East Capitol Street, N.E. (

Martin s Tavern

is at 1264 Wisconsin Avenue N.W. Tel: 202-333-7370 (

The Pentagon Memorial is located on the west side of the Pentagon. (

Parking is limited in Washington. For information about public transportation, visit