- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2004

From Nancy Drew to “Inch High Private Eye” to “Spy Kids 3-D,” children always have been fascinated by espionage, which is why a trip to the International Spy Museum should be on the list of any family visiting the District.

There is no shortage of James Bond-like buttons, miniature gadgets, listening devices and disguise secrets to see, touch and uncover.

The International Spy Museum has been open for 18 months and recently hosted its millionth visitor, says museum spokeswoman Susan Klein. Over the recent holiday break, when the museum was sold-out daily, it was filled with families.

“Spying is a secretive thing, and kids love secrets,” Ms. Klein says when asked about the museum’s appeal to young people. “They love the idea of spying on someone and the intrigue that comes with it. Spying to us is a serious thing, but children see the mystery of it.”

The museum puts espionage and intelligence in a historical perspective, covering famous spies from Mata Hari to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to Aldrich Ames. There are displays explaining what makes a good spy and how choosing to work in intelligence involves great risk and a commitment to life in the shadows.

Information such as that might appeal to older visitors, but the hot draws for the younger crowd include an air shaft to crawl through for secret reconnaissance and a replica of a car with secret compartments that explains how people were smuggled past checkpoints during the Cold War.

Upon entering the museum, visitors are whisked by elevator to a room where the importance of assumed identities is explained. Visitors then are shown a short film explaining what it takes to be a spy.

From there, visitors are free to roam at their own pace. The first rooms have the most appeal for young visitors, as they hold the tools of the trade. Here is where the gadgets, including tiny tie-clip cameras, microdots with embedded information and listening devices secretly embedded in shoes, are found. The gadgets come from various sources and eras. There are CIA escape tools circa the 1960s that are tiny enough to fit into a human body orifice. There is a glove pistol used by the U.S. Navy in World War II.

Visitors also can test their spying skills in these rooms. At various interactive displays, they can learn about and use their powers of observation, surveillance and disguise.

The next rooms are devoted to spies in history. Younger visitors will particularly enjoy the ninja spies display that honors the 12th-century Japanese spies who were trained to enter anyplace undetected. The replica of the Trojan horse is also a draw for younger visitors. One room is titled A Sisterhood of Spies, and it honors famous women who, either reluctantly or enthusiastically, assumed the role.

A good deal of space honors spies in pop culture. On display are kitschy games, posters and other memorabilia from the past, featuring “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “I Spy” and Alfred Hitchcock movies. A small theater, lined with mystery movie posters, shows old newsreel clips featuring spy stories.

On the lower level, younger visitors may enjoy the walk-through “Tunnel Rats” display, which gives an account of how American and British agents dug a 500-yard tunnel beneath Berlin to spy on the Soviets. Also popular at this point of the tour are computers where visitors can sit at a mock submarine panel to understand how sonar works; work on an interactive program that explains what the World War II code breakers did; and stop at a mapping station to observe aerial shots of various cities and landmarks.

The International Spy Museum has several upcoming programs for school-age children. The museum will host Operation Secret Slumber Feb. 28. Children ages 9 to 15, accompanied by an adult, can spend the night at the museum, taking part in a special mission.

“The kids will learn about life in the shadow world,” Ms. Klein says. “They will learn about the role of espionage in society, learn how to perfect an alias and use their secret cover ID.”

The museum also will host a screening of the movie “Spy Kids 3-D” March 21. At this program, for children ages 8 and older, visitors will have a chance to meet museum Executive Director Peter Earnest and ask questions about his CIA experience.


LOCATION: The International Spy Museum is located at 800 F St. NW, Washington

Directions: The museum is down the street from the MCI Center in downtown Washington.

Hours: The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April through October, and is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s days.

Admission: $13 for adults; $12 for seniors, active military and members of the intelligence community; $10 for children ages 5 to 18; children younger than 5 admitted free. Memberships are available.

Parking: Limited on-street metered parking is available, and pay lots are nearby. The museum is a block from the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop on Metro’s Red, Yellow and Green lines.

Notes: Tickets are date- and time-specific. Visitors can buy tickets for immediate entry or for later that day at the lobby ticket counter. Advance tickets also can be purchased through Ticketmaster or at the museum ticket office inside the Ninth Street entrance.

The museum has an excellent museum store featuring hundreds of spy-themed movies, gadgets and books. It also has two restaurants: Spy City Cafe, a quick-service spot, and Zola, a critically acclaimed fine-dining restaurant.

More information: 202/393-7798 or www.spymuseum.org.

Upcoming special events:

• Feb 2, 6:30 p.m. — Spies on Screen: 50 Years of Spy TV. Join Wesley Britton, author of the new book “Spy Television,” will discuss how fictional spy characters shaped popular culture and were reflections of the political and social climate of their time. Tickets: $15 ($12 for members). Advance registration required.

• Feb. 28, 6:30 p.m. — Operation Secret Slumber. This sleepover for children ages 9 to 15 and an adult will include spy games, perfecting cover, making and breaking secret codes and other special skills. The program fee includes an evening spy snack, light breakfast, goody bag and admission to the museum. Bring a sleeping bag, air mattress and pillow. Tickets: $115 per person ($105 for members). Advance registration required.

• March 21, 1 p.m. — Spies on Screen. Enjoy a screening of the movie “Spy Kids 3-D” and hear museum Executive Director Peter Earnest discuss his CIA experience. The program is for ages 8 and older; one adult is required for every two children. Tickets: $11 per person ($9 for members). Advance registration required.

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