6:00am came early this morning, but we had a nice breakfast at 6:45am, and the kids in our group did a great job of getting everything packed up and out of their room. Today our little group changed a bit as we had one of our girls to a different bus because of being on a different flight home. This meant that Emma joined us for the day. All of the busses pulled out around 8:00am with a goal of going to Arlington National Cemetery.
Unfortunately due to traffic, and the massive crowds at Arlington, we had to leave shortly after arrival in the parking lot in order to make it to our scheduled time for the Holocaust Museum.
We headed back to DC and took a short walk over to show the group the front of the White House.
While there, we were able to get another photo of the whole group.
Our next stop was the Holocaust Museum, which is great but really, really heavy to process the magnitude of the evil that occurred. I vividly remember visiting here four years ago with Kate, and am glad that Sara is also able to visit, even though it is difficult to absorb. Laura and I took our four girls through the main exhibit which walks through the history of the Holocaust beginning with an overview of the Jewish people in Europe in 1933 and continuing through the various war trials after World War II. I talked to the girls a few times about how it was OK if they found certain things difficult to see or read, and that they did not need to feel obligated to take everything in if it was overwhelming.
I will not attempt to recount everything that we saw, but some of the things that really stood out included the following:
An overview of the book burning that took place in early Nazi Germany, when they were desperately trying to silence all views that were contrary to the Nazi ideals. I told Sara about having visited Berlin and saw the place where these burnings were conducted.
Hitler’s obsession with producing a superior or “Aryan” race. They have the locks of hair in different colors, eye charts, and various tools for measuring head and facial features in order to identify individuals with these superior genetic traits. This part of the exhibit discussed how Hitler began a mass sterilization effort to weed out those races that were deemed inferior. It was also presented that the Jewish race was the most detested of all races.
We saw a bed that was used to euthanize those with various disabilities. Doctors and nurses who had previously been healers were forced into becoming executioners.
There were charts that showed the massive expansion of Nazi Germany’s control as World War II progressed.
Another section focused on the ghettos that were established for containing Jewish people. By 1942, there were over 400 ghettos with 2 million Jews.
The beginning of mobile killing squads in the Soviet Union in 1941, which ultimately led to the “final solution” of establishing concentration camps for the systematically killing of Jews. There is a large model of the gas chamber at Auschwitz, which is hard to look at as it depicts thousands of Jews being led to their death every day under the guise of taking a shower. That this level of evil can exist is almost unfathomable. These mass executions ultimately led to the killing of six million Jews.
A display of shoes from those who were executed in concentration camps. To know that every two of these represents a person who was killed in a German gas chamber is very heavy.
There is a white wall with the names of many who rescued Jews from execution including Oskar Schindler, which is the basis of the movie Schindler’s List.
Rescuers with Oskar Schindler
After going through this, we had a few minutes to decompress in the lobby before heading out to our next spot. The entire group was led to the Washington Mall where everyone would divide us to visit the Smithsonian for the remainder of our trip. Laura’s daughter Ari really wanted to visit the Natural History Museum first and the other three girls preferred American History. We decided to split up and Laura took Ari and I took Emma, Evy, and Sara.
Before leaving, I took a quick picture of the four in front of the Washington Monument.
At the American History Museum, I asked the girls what their priorities were, and they all said they wanted to go to the Entertainment and First Ladies exhibits. I told them that we would make those two areas a priority, but that there were three additional things I really wanted them to see before we left (more on this below).
The first of my requested items was to see the flag that was flying over Ft. McHenry on September 14, 1814 when Francis Scott Key wrote the Spangled Banner. I saw this on my first visit to DC when I was about their age, and I really wanted them to see it as well. It is now is an awesome exhibit where it can be displayed at all times after years of preparation. The flag is massive and originally contained 15 stars and 15 stripes. One of the stars was cut out as a memento along with a number strips from the end of the flag. The picture above is from the official website as they don’t allow photography here. I’m glad that I have now been able to see it with both of my daughters, and I think that all three girls today were really glad they got to see it. One additional thing here I had not noticed before is a charred piece of the White House from when it was burned during the War of 1812.
Next we went up to the third floor and the Entertainment Exhibit. This is relatively new (was not here four years ago), and was AWESOME! All three girls (and me) said it was their favorite thing today. Some of my highlights included:
C-3PO and R2D2 costumes from Return of the Jedi
Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of Oz (these had just been acquired when we were here four years ago)
The original Kermit the Frog that Jim Henson made from a pair of his mom’s jeans
Paul Simon’s guitar that he used during his concert in Central Park
Mr. Rogers sweater and shoes
Sandy Koufax’s Glove
Prince’s “cloud” guitar from 1983
Rocky’s robes from the first film with “Shamrock Meats” on the back. Sara immediately recognized these, which was a proud dad moment
Captain America’s shield from The Winter Soldier
After finishing with this exhibit, we went to the First Ladies area to see their dresses. It was fun to hear the three girls discuss when one was their favorite. Sara’s favorite was a red dress worn by Mamie Eisenhower.
I also thought it was neat that they had the dress of Mary Todd Lincoln.
After this we headed downstairs to lunch, and then back up to the third floor for the US Presidents exhibit. My second requested item for them to see was the top hat worn by President Lincoln when he was assassinated in Ford’s Theater. This was one of my absolute favorite things to see four years ago, and was cool to see again. Some of the other highlights in here for me were:
General Eisenhower’s military uniform
President Clinton’s saxophone that he played on the Arsenio Hall Show.
A chess set owned by John Quincy Adams
Finally, my last requested item was George Washington’s dress uniform, which is located in the Price of Freedom exhibit. Before going here, I had shown the girls a picture of it on my phone and Evy got really excited. Emma looked at her and said “it’s not what you think it is,” and Evy responded with something like, “you mean it’s the real thing”, and appeared to be disappointed. I figured out that Evy had originally thought it was a costume from Hamilton and was disappointed to find out it was instead the actual uniform of George Washington. I thought this was great, and we all gave her a hard time for the rest of the day. Anyway, we walked through the exhibit and got to see the uniform, which is awesome!
While in there I also made a point of taking them over to see the desk and chairs from Appomattox Court House that were used by Lee and Grant as they negotiated the terms of the South’s surrender at the end of the Civil War.
After all this, it was 2:45pm, and we didn’t have to be back at the bus until 4:30pm. We decided to head over to the Natural History Museum. Right when we walked in I stopped them and dramatically said I had something really important to share with them. I then pointed at the massive statue of an African Elephant in the lobby and said “that is an elephant!” They all laughed, and later Sara insisted I get a picture of them in front of it.
The priority for all the girls was to see the Gems including the Hope Diamond. We first went to see the Hope Diamond, and while I had heard of it, knew very little about it. When we got in there I initially didn’t realize it was on a rotating pedestal so that people from all directions could see it. All I saw was a necklace hanging down in a loop, and thought “this is all it is it??” Then when the pedestal turned around toward me, I went “OH! Wow! Now I get it!”
While in there we also got to see diamond earrings worn by Marie Antoinette…
Tiara and necklace that Napoleon gave to his second wife Mary…
A beautiful red topaz, that seemed to be the favorite of all the girls.
In addition to these, there were also thousands and thousands of gems. It was so fun in this exhibit to see how much the girls enjoyed seeing everything.
Our next stop was the fossil gallery where we went quickly just to snap a few photos. From there we made very short visits to the night sky and ocean exhibits before heading back to the bus. Visiting these two Smithsonian museums was a BLAST with these three girls, and the made it really easy on me as a chaperone.
After everyone was back on the bus, we headed to Reagan airport for our flight home. Everything at the airport again went very smoothly, and we were able to grab a quick bite for dinner. While waiting for the plane, the four girls sang together, which was quite beautiful.
The flight itself was uneventful, and we got back right around 8:00pm where everyone was able to meet back up with their families. We were all exhausted, but it was a GREAT trip, and one that I’m glad I got to share with Sara.
As I close this last post, I want to give a shout-out to my friend, and partner in crime, Laura…
We’ve chaperoned several trips together over the years, and she is always great to hang out with. It is really neat that we both have two girls, right around four years apart, who are close friends.