Wearing my red director’s badge, I have plunged back into the throngs of visitors in the first month since we reopened to gauge how they are responding to the transformed museum. I have personally met hundreds of people from around the world and they all have strong reactions to what they are seeing. One woman from Hong Kong cried when she saw the Star-Spangled Banner, “even though I am not an American.” On the other hand, some visitors who loved our previous displays are dismayed when they fail to find one of their old favorites. We can’t always address their concerns, but I do pay attention and I will make changes whenever possible.
The biggest surprise for me has been the terrific reception for living history programs that take place throughout the museum. The holiday music program was a spectacular success and I loved it when visitors sang along with the performers. The sit-in experience at the Greensboro Lunch Counter has been especially engaging for visitors of all ages. I am amazed and pleased at how many children are staying after the performance and asking questions of our very patient actor. He is so effective in his role as an organizer of non-violent protest that the museum’s security detail tried to escort him from the building on his first day (we had failed to inform them that we would have this piece of theatre on a regular basis).
For me, the display of the Gettysburg Address remains a highlight of the first six weeks since our reopening. I cannot think of a single speech that better expresses what it means to be an American or represents the hopes and aspirations of the American Dream. The fact that thousands of visitors can see this document for themselves has given me great personal and professional satisfaction.
Brent D. Glass is Director of the National Museum of American History.