It would be easy to spend all day wandering the 300,000 square feet of exhibition space at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, but if you're short on time here are our can't miss picks.
The advent of rail service forever changed the nation, connecting the South and other regions to the rest of the country―meaning Yankees were finally able to try important things like grits. This 1926 green giant―at 188 tons and 92 feet long, the heaviest item in the museum―put that regional expansion to use, hauling passenger trains as part of Southern Railway’s Charlotte Division for 25 years.
In 1960, four African American students protested Jim Crow laws at this original section of the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter―the era’s first passive sit-in. Actors lead visitors through a re-creation of 1960s training for non-violent protests, including how to behave, what to say or not say, and how to react if you’re harassed. EXTRA TIP: Next month, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum will open in Greensboro, North Carolina, on the original Woolworth site.
You can practically hear Julia Child warbling about how to truss a chicken in this kitchen, with every pot in its pegboard place and marble countertops raised to suit her 6’2” stature. If you need help conjuring an image, check out the “Julia Child’s Kitchen Wisdom” video that plays continuously in the gallery.
Here, the almost 200-year-old flag that flew over Fort McHenry near Baltimore and motivated Francis Scott Key to pen the lyrics that became our national anthem, sprawls 30 x 34 feet in dramatic low lighting, akin to the atmosphere of “dawn’s early light” that Key experienced on the morning of September 14, 1814.