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You’ve been given a key that can open one building, room, locker, or box to which you don’t normally have access. How do you use it, and why?

Some many possibilities! I’d like to go, with a curator, into the “basement” of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. I’m sure I could wander around for a day and not get bored look at various items not on public view.

I really have no idea what they own that’s not on display — but it seems I’ve heard there’s more in storage than there is on exhibit. This museum has everything from Dorothy’s red shoes from the Wizard of Oz to a full size locomotive engine.

For those who don’t know it, all of the Smithsonian museums are free — what an incredible national resource! The National Museum of American history collects any and everything relating to every aspect of the history of the American society and history. Transportation, entertainment, music, TV, broadcasting, clothing, advertising, agriculture, money, furniture, energy, power, family and society, food, politics and campaigning — and more. Obviously there are special exhibits are designed from time to time, and objects in the continuing exhibits have objects changed out for other in the much larger collection.

Not only is there storage on site, but the museum uses three off-site storage facilities for all the items it has collected. Many collections are now featured online so that they can be seen and used by the public, even though they are not on view in the museum. And people doing research, can view the stored collections. The value of the online material is that it’s often tied to materials at other museum and in other collections, so that a wider view of the topic can be accessed.

Gettysburg Address

A section of Abraham Lincoln’s handwritten Gettysburg Address

The museum is like candy: you can only eat a few pieces at a time. When we go, we usually preselect a few exhibits we want to see. “Doing” the museum in a day is just not possible to adequately appreciate the coordination of the exhibits, let alone read the little signs at each exhibit!