Tags: Air Force Museum, George Washington, Military History Buffs, Mount Vernon, National Museum of Naval Aviation, Navy museums, USS Midway museum
Military History Buffs recently scoped out Mt. Vernon on a cold, windy day. We had not visited the site in more than 25 years when we were given a tour of the house on a school field trip. By intention, the house hasn’t changed much and, to their credit, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association convinced the federal government to purchase land across the Potomac from Mt. Vernon in order to preserve the historic view. (Imagine how disconcerting it would be to tour this meticulously preserved 18th century house and then have your historic frame of mind jarred by 21st century, cookie cutter housing developments just across the river from the back yard!) The historic interpreters do a formidable job of telling you what colonial life was like and what kind of plantation owner George Washington was. You learn about how he liked to work at his desk, where he slept, how he treated his slaves and how close he was to Mrs. Washington. And you learn all of this through artifacts. Which is nice. But it tells you little about the leadership trajectory of General Washington, the challenges he faced as the Revolution leader and the legendary accomplishments he achieved in that War and as our nation’s first president.
Then, we walked into the new Visitors Center and were blown away. Not only is the building well integrated into the landscape of the grounds, but it achieves what artifacts and the house never could. We slowly walked through the path of the exhibit (we didn’t want to miss anything!) that guides you through the life of George Washington and, through images, sounds, interactive touch screens, and surround-sound videos, we really became acquainted with the man, the General and the President. We got to know him intimately – at various ages and stages in his life. We experienced George Washington. We look forward to going back in the spring and the summer to explore the distillery, walk the grounds and to go through the exhibit again! And what is amazing to us is that this museum and historic house has been funded by several generations of determined women (the Mount Vernon Ladies Association) who underwrote the entire project with private dollars!
So, why can’t the Navy do this? We’ve been to Pensacola – hats off to that facility and organization that has made the National Museum of Naval Aviation publicly accessible and a true educational experience, taking advantage of the latest in museum technology and best practices. The Air Force has a great museum in Dayton. We can’t say enough about the inspirational and educational new Marine Corps Museum in Quantico. And we hope that the new Army museum will be first rate, although its planned location in Belvoir is problematic. But, what about the Navy? Aside from Pensacola, why can’t the rest of the Navy museums get into the 21st century? They need to have fewer glass exhibit cases, musty uniforms and inoperable cannons. They need to have more exhibits like the ones in Pensacola and the USS Midway museum that give visitors of all ages a taste of the Navy experience – both past and present. Let visitors actually feel what it was like on a submarine with no air conditioning in World War II. Challenge people to explore a swift boat and give them a view of what the Navy crew might have seen along the banks of the Mekong Delta. Give kids a chance to really feel how hard it is to train to be a Navy SEAL. That’s what will give visitors an understanding and an appreciation for the Navy.