The trouble with the Smithsonian Institution is that it simply has way too much stuff on display. Every time I visit Washington, DC I head over to one or more of its museums and galleries to take in as much as I can. And every time the Smithsonian gleefully kicks me in the butt! And yet I always go back for more. I think if I ever retire I’ll need to move to DC just so I can take time to explore every inch of its exhibit space. And then I’ll do it all again. And the best part? It’s all free!
Every now and again you come across a memorial where you feel that it should offer something more than it actually does. Such a place is Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Springfield, MA. This place looks like it should really be worth visiting, and yet it’s not nearly as interesting as it ought to be. If the park service’s goal was to make guns seem boring, they’ve succeeded.
If you’re from Milwaukee, WI, or you’ve visited the city in recent years, you’ll probably know about the “Bronze Fonz.” It’s a good example of a recent trend in public art and commemoration. It’s also weirdly cool, like the Fonz himself. But how long will it remain relevant in the eyes of Milwaukeeans?
What do we mean by “public culture”? Most culture is public in some way, in that it involves a set of shared values and communicative symbols that most of us will recognize. But what does that mean? And how does it relate to the way we commemorate history in the United States?
I wanted to say something about Appomattox Court House, but that also brings up the strange tale of Wilmer McLean. One of the most amazing things I learned when, as a new American, I started investigating the history of the Civil War was the story of Mr. McLean. He supposedly often told people that the American Civil War started in his front yard and ended in his front parlor. And in a sense, he was right.
Mount Vernon is a pretty popular name in America. Depending on which source you look up, you’ll find between 20 and 24 towns and municipalities called Mount Vernon all over the States. And there are hundreds of streets named Mount Vernon—including the one I live on. The popularity of this name isn’t hard to figure out: It comes from the fact that Mount Vernon was, and remains, the name of George Washington’s plantation home. It’s where he lived. And it’s still around today.
The Newseum is American journalism’s self-congratulatory homage to itself. It’s a huge new building that celebrates the First Amendment and its role in creating a vibrant news media in the United States. And this shiny new building was completed at a time when that news media’s future seemed to be more in doubt than it had been for more than a century and a half.