It rarely happens in America that a new, man-made attraction becomes so instantly popular among tourists that it proceeds to eclipse all entrance records. That distinction was enjoyed by the Statue of Liberty some 130 years ago; and the same record was made by Disneyland in California some 60 years ago.
And yet it has happened in current times on the Mall in Washington, D.C., with the opening of a new museum in the Smithsonian complex. Its name: the National Museum of African American History and Culture. So many visitors have poured into its several floors since an opening date of September 24, 2016, that the museum was immediately forced to adopt a requirement of limited, timed passes for admission. Yet so many people applied for these tickets (allowing you to enter at specific days and times only) that the museum quickly announced that all such passes had been issued for entrance through the end of April, 2017. Unless you can delay your visit for several months, you are unable to enter this unprecedented national treasure.
Then, to mitigate that harsh outlook, the museum more recently announced that it would issue a small number of same-day timed passes to persons who, on the internet, applied for one starting at 6:30 a.m. on the day they hoped to go. (Very few people have thus far been able to take advantage of that loophole, so great has the demand been for such timed passes.)
You can also, on weekdays only, apply for a same day pass, provided you do so at 1 p.m.
Thus far, in its first four months of operation, the Museum has welcomed nearly a million visitors. And what have they seen? They have encountered a deeply moving array of actual relics and graphic explanations and exhibits of America’s slave past and Jim Crow present. Visitors whom I have met have complained that a full day isn’t sufficient to take in everything; they have also stressed that what is shown will often upend your own understanding of American history.
They refer, in one instance, to a single exhibit, among many others, which reveals with supporting evidence that one out of every ten slave ships coming to America was the scene of a rebellion by its captives. The enslaved Africans fought back with great courage against this deprivation of their liberty. Other exhibits explain how the wealth of America’s nineteenth century economy was squarely based on the institution of slavery, an assertion that few of us have ever encountered before in supporting documents. You will leave this museum, according to many of my informants, a new and different person.
If you apply now, you will probably succeed in obtaining a timed pass to this outstanding structure, for the month of May 2017, and onward.
Copyright © 2017 by Arthur Frommer