I used my staff pass to line jump the queue for the Star-Spangled Banner gallery, expecting to grab a quick look and duck out so I could get back to all the work I have to do this weekend as part of the opening. When I rounded the corner to the flag chamber, I was so startled that I stopped in my tracks. I made my way to the bench at the rear of the gallery and sank down, sitting for minutes longer than I had planned. The display is breathtaking, almost magical, and utterly captivating. The artist’s renderings of what the flag would look like in its new home failed to prepare me for the wonder of seeing it laid out on a giant table tilted gently towards the viewer, subtly illuminated so that the fabric seems to glow. It is a truly wonderful experience, and I can’t urge enough that anyone who can come to see this marvel do so as soon as possible.
I don’t want to get too sentimental here, but this whole weekend has been full of such moments. Having the museum open again is like coming home. Everything just feels more right with children and families thronging the halls as American history returns to the National Mall. I truly believe that this museum is one of the most treasured in our country, and it is curiously gratifying to see the pleasure on the faces of our visitors as they experience the treasures that have been shut away for two years during our renovation. The new atrium is a stunning centerpiece to a revitalized museum, and the risen energy level of the building itself has seemed to infect every visitor over the past days. I knew people would be happy to see the museum, but I guess I didn’t truly understand the level of excitement that would be on display this weekend. I walk through the halls taking photos and talking to visitors and there’s constantly a small smile on my face. This place just feels better when it’s full of people.
Our reopening has been, in my view, an unmitigated success. I say this not in the interests of propaganda, but rather as a heartfelt commendation of my coworkers, the long-term employees of the museum who have devoted years to this project. I’m just an intern, and this weekend is the end of my time here, but I have come to feel a part of this large undertaking and I admire and respect so much the men and women who have poured their hearts into creating the fantastic display that will welcome the public from now on. It is a more fitting home for the history of our nation, and I believe it will continue to inspire and fulfill a love of history in everyone who walks through its doors.
Harry Kashdan is an intern in the New Media department at the National Museum of American History. He will miss working at the museum!