by Donna Manz
Washington, DC is not only the capitol of the United States, it’s also the museum capitol of North America. Many of its museums, such as the Smithsonian complex, are federally funded and free to visit.
But there are also several good Washington museums that are not federally funded. Although some charge admission (and can be relatively costly), they are quite interesting and well worth a visit.
To help you separate the cream of the cultural crop from the chaff we’ve put together a list of non-government funded D.C. museums that are so interesting to visit, even locals pay a premium to see them.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Unlike most tourist spots, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is not the place to go for a joyful excursion but rather a place to reflect on the evil that man perpetrates on man. The museum’s mission is research and education and its chronology of the Holocaust is a piercing view into the darkest period in 20th century-Europe. Personal references to the victims and the use of their names gives life to the atrocities of Nazi Germany. The single time I visited the memorial museum I left feeling as if I had merely glossed over the resources and displays there.
Admission: admission is free, although from March through August a free pass is required to enter the Permanent Exhibition.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: 14th Street and Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, Washington, DC 20024. Tel: (202) 488-0400 http://www.ushmm.org/
The International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum, an easy walk from the White House, is just about my favorite D.C. museum … probably because I remember some of the events depicted here, including the Robert Hansen spy case. Hansen lived about two miles from my house and it was an odd feeling looking at photos of Hansen’s “drop” point knowing I passed it frequently. There are all kinds of spy devices here, even an area dedicated to the pigeon spies of World War II. (Okay, the pigeons didn’t know they were spies but they did intelligence work carrying tiny cameras in World War I). There’s also a special James Bond exhibit honoring 50 years of Bond movies, interactive spy games and even Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone. The museum is laid out in a clandestine manner and is one of those experiences best appreciated over several visits.
Admission: timed tickets are $14.95 for children (7-11 years); $19.95 for adults (12-64 years); 65 years+, law enforcement and military $15.95.
The International Spy Museum: 800 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004. Tel: (202) 393-7798 www.spymuseum.org
The Crime Museum
The Crime Museum, formerly the National Museum of Crime & Punishment, maintains a permanent collection and offers monthly events as well as special exhibitions, such as the current dog-fighting exhibition that runs throughout 2013. Its forensics workshops, appealing to the NCIS set, sell out quickly and the CSI Summer Camp is particularly popular. The museum features many interactive exhibits, from a virtual shooting range to a forensics lab. You’ll also find Ted Bundy’s car here as well as several items from Ted Kaczynski, aka the “Unabomber.”
Admission: prices range from $15 to $28 (children under five are free); labs and workshops are additional. Tickets are both date and time-specific and can be purchased online at a savings of about $5 each.
The Crime Museum: 575 7th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20004. Tel: (202) 393-1099 www.crimemuseum.org
The Newseum is unique among cultural institutions in that it focuses its exhibits and interactive resources on the roles that media played in history, from the Berlin Wall and JFK’s assassination, to the Unabomber and hundreds of other newsworthy incidents. “G-Men and Journalists” – media accounts of the FBI tracking down famous gangsters – is probably one of its most popular collections. Inside the Newseum are five theatres showing films highlighting major events, re-broadcasts of news reports and sporting events. It’s a fun, informative place that kids enjoy as much as adults.
Admission: youth (7-18) $12.95; adults $21.95; 65 years+, military and students $17.95; children (6 and younger) are free. All tickets are non-inclusive of tax and valid for two consecutive days. A family four-pack, valid for one day only, is $59.95 plus tax.
Newseum: 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001. Tel: (202) 292-6100www.newseum.org
Although it’s technically not in Washington, D.C., Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate in Virginia, deserves to be included in any summary of capitol attractions since it draws a lot of visitors who come to the District of Columbia. And, after all, the nation’s capitol is named for him. Washington and his wife Martha lived at Mount Vernon for more than 40 years and the estate, on the banks of the Potomac River just 16 miles from the White House, has been restored and preserved. I love visiting Mount Vernon in the spring when the trees and flowers are blossoming and in mid-fall when warm colors take over the grounds.
Admission: $8 for children (6 – 11 years); $17 for adults (12 – 61 years); $16 for 62 years+. Children five and under are free.
Mount Vernon: 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA 22309. Tel: (703) 780-2000 http://www.mountvernon.org/