A few weekends ago, my husband and I spent a gorgeous Sunday on the National Mall in Washington, DC. I’ve been all over the United States and the National Mall is, for me, the very best of America. The Mall houses the Smithsonian museums, the National Gallery of Art (the only museum not part of the Smithsonian), the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Reflecting Pool and many other memorials and gardens. It’s visited by 24 million people a year and hosts rallies, presidential inaugurations, festivals, parades and performances. Over the course of my life, I’ve probably spent a full month of days visiting the mall and I am always excited to go back. Why do I love it so much? Well, for many reasons, but here are the most salient.
For starters, all the museums are free. Free! In America, this is increasingly not the norm. And who knows what those whacky kids in Washington will do next? But for now, every single museum and monument is free to enter. I love that all that the Mall and its museums have to offer is available to everyone equally. Rich or poor—anyone can walk into the Museum of Natural History and see the fabled Hope Diamond or the fabulous new Ocean Hall. Art that previously graced the walls of America’s most wealthy now hangs in the National Gallery of Art for all to admire. The wealth of treasures housed in the Smithsonian museums—currently there are eleven with a twelfth slated to be begun in 2012—is nothing short of astonishing and it’s proffered to anyone and everyone to see.