Beyond Obama’s oath, what to see and taste in DC

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Where to Learn

The best place for a broad overview of the presidency and American history is probably the Smithsonian museums. The National Museum of American History has major exhibits on the American presidency, the first ladies and the nation’s founding.

Away from the National Mall, the National Portrait Gallery has portraits of the U.S. presidents from Washington to Obama in the building where President Abraham Lincoln held his second inaugural ball.

Since this inauguration comes 150 years after the Civil War, there are a series of special exhibits that reflect on that period. The Smithsonian’s “Changing America” gallery at the American history museum parallels the American society between the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has gathered some of the best artwork from the Civil War era. At the Library of Congress, curators are displaying firsthand accounts of the war through diaries, letters and Lincoln’s first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, which is on display for a limited time.

Many museums will be open for special hours on inauguration day. A few will open early for visitors to keep warm on the National Mall.


Where to Reflect

The newest memorial in Washington is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It’s sure to draw a big crowd as this year’s inauguration falls on the King holiday. The site opened to visitors in 2011 and features a towering statue of the slain civil rights leader, along with quotations from his speeches and sermons. National Park Service officials plan to erase one inscription at the memorial because it wasn’t historically accurate, but they postponed the work until after the inauguration.

The Lincoln and Jefferson memorials are among the most scenic for visitors and are sure to draw huge crowds. The Washington Monument, however, was closed to visitors after it was damaged in a 2011 earthquake. It will likely remain closed until 2014.

Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was assassinated, opened a new education center in 2012 with exhibits on Lincoln’s legacy.


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