By Maggie Lile
As a senior nearing the end of my high school experience, I finally got to check the senior trip to Washington, D.C. off of my bucket list a few weeks ago. While I have always known about the contents of this trip, pictures and stories from other students and teachers have never done it justice; it was one hundred times better than I imagined it to be when I got to experience it all first-hand. One of the most fascinating, and somewhat eye-opening places we got to see were some of the Smithsonian Institutions. I had always been aware of the distinctive nature of the Smithsonian, but until I was walking through the halls I had never realized the extensive depth of knowledge, history, culture and overall beauty that was held within them.
The Smithsonian Institution is the largest museum complex in the world. With establishments concentrated in D.C., as well as one in Chantilly, Va., and one in New York City, there are a total of 21 museums. Included in these multitude of museums, there are interests for everyone; art galleries, air and space museums, American, as well as African American and American Indian history, archives, gardens, a national zoo, and even a castle. The existence of the Smithsonian Institution is credited to the exceptionally accomplished European scientist, James Smithson. Smithson, an Oxford graduate and the youngest Royal Society member of all time, dedicated his life to the pursuit of knowledge. His passion for discovery eventually exceeded his own personal desires, which pushed him to give the privilege of knowledge to others. As a result, Smithson, in awe of the young United State’s dedication to freedom and Democracy, used his will to devote his wealth “to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.” Thanks to Smithson’s generosity, people everywhere, including me, have an opportunity to learn about the world around them.
One of the museums I was lucky enough to visit was the Natural History Museum. This museum is home to over 147 million objects, divided into many different collections. Anthropology, Botany, Mineral Sciences, and Paleobiology are just a few of those many interesting collections. The exhibits are just as engaging, too; Bone Hall is home to 30,000 skeletons from creatures all across the globe. The skeletons are set up next to each other so their similarities and differences can be spotted with ease. Similar to Bone Hall, the Hall of Fossils showcases not only dinosaur bones, but also ancient ecosystems and geological events. If there is one thing I took away from exploring the Natural History Museum, it is that I really am small compared to the world around me.
Another Smithsonian Institute I got to explore was the National Gallery of Art. Over 150,000 pieces are kept there, including paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photos, and much more. There are two buildings; a west gallery, and an east gallery. The west gallery is home to most of the older works of art, such as European sculptures and paintings anywhere between the 13th and 16th centuries. The east gallery is where modern and contemporary art is displayed, spread out throughout five different floor levels. Da Vinci, Monet, Raphael, Picasso, and Matisse are just a few of the many gifted artists featured in the National Gallery of Art, and it amazes me to think that I was inches away from some of their masterpieces.
As I reflect on the trip, I can say it is definitely one of my favorite memories from highschool. While there were a lot of new and exciting things to see, the Smithsonian Institution was my favorite overall. The museums were so fascinating that it pushed me to learn more about them after the trip, and I discovered that there is a lot more interesting history behind and within the Smithsonians than I originally thought.
Maggie Lile is a student at Spring Grove High School. She is one of 17 area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 24th year.