Tag Archives: International Spy Museum

Away from the Smithsonian

4 May

I spent some time in Washington, DC last week and had the first opportunity to visit three museums that are not affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

We arrived after lunch and realized that tickets may be better obtained online, in advance. We had a three hour wait before we could go upstairs and see the permanent exhibition. In the meantime, we enjoyed two temporary exhibitions downstairs. State of Deception – the Power of Nazi Propaganda is a fascinating and excellent exhibit of Nazi posters, books, games, and other propaganda tools that were used to come to power, demonize non-Aryans, and fight the war. A 10-foot-long timeline of German history that was pinned to classroom walls showed what the Nazis perceived to be the ups and downs of the Germans was fascinating, as was a poster that graphically depicted the Nuremburg racial laws. What was so striking wasn’t just how obviously effective the propaganda was, but how modern it looked even now, 70 years later. The exhibit could easily have demonized the German people for turning their backs on anti-Semitism, but it doesn’t. Instead, it explains that Nazi propaganda helped foster an atmosphere of apathy towards the plight of the Jews, rather than outright hostility. And apathy was all the Nazis needed.

When it’s your turn to see the permanent exhibit, you select an “identity card” that identifies a random Holocaust victim and tells you about his or her life. You take an elevator to begin the exhibit, which then snakes back down to the lobby. It’s a very emotionally difficult and overwhelming exhibit, but one that everyone really ought to see. It’s one thing to read about the Holocaust, or to watch films, but this exhibit shows you things that you never saw before – many of them unspeakable. Some of the artifacts on display will melt your heart and inflame your anger. There is no neutral observation here.

International Spy Museum

This place is cute, especially geared I think towards pre-teens. The materials on display are amazing, but most of them are already very antiquated. The how-to on living your cover is interesting, but generally the place is somewhat Disneyesque in the way it displays some information, but I think the kids will like it. Spying, after all, is all over popular culture and something they’d find fascinating. Disguise, deception, and gadgetry is all on display. One thing I know my kids will like is an extra you can buy where they have to act like spies to “save the city”. They’re sent out with a handheld GPS device that leads them to clues to clandestinely solve a mystery. Next time.


The Newseum is the best Smithsonian Institution museum that isn’t affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. It is not just as good as anything on the Mall, it’s far better. Everything is interactive for kids to do – from a long hall displaying 500 years’ worth of actual newspapers, to the “be a news reporter” display where kids get on camera and read from a TelePrompTer in front of a green screen and “report” the news. They can buy the DVD of their reportage for $5. There are interactive games and quizzes for kids to try, but also many more for adults on such topics as journalistic ethics.

While there are Berlin Wall and 9/11 items on display, other highlights include the set of ABC’s This Week, an exhibit involving journalists who were killed in the line of duty, including a busted-up vehicle Time Magazine used in Bosnia, and Daniel Pearl’s passport and laptop. The reporting of news, and the evolution of news through many media is fascinating and well-executed. The 4D movie was kitschy and poorly acted, FWIW. I spent a half-day at the Newseum, and that was about half the time I should have devoted to it.

The other thing I’ll mention is that we did a lot of walking around Washington, which was made easier by the fact that there were things to do and see whilst walking. “Window shopping” is an activity that has been long dead in Buffalo and its environs, but is alive and well in many other places. Washington is a city that is alive and teeming with people all the time – tourists and locals alike. It is a place filled with money, power, culture, and above all things to do and see – many of them unique.

Next time you’re in DC, I’ll pass along the recommendation that Jeremy from Buffalo Chow gave me – try the fried dates with bacon, the white sangria, and the trout at Jaleo. Also, be sure to make the trek out to Arlington for Ray’s Hell-Burger. It could quite possibly be the best burger on the planet of Earth.