The Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum opening to the public in 2002 as a place “the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage and the only one in the world to provide a global perspective on an all-but-invisible profession that has shaped history”. The museum is small, but if you like a lot of reading, it contains a lot of fun facts and information. The Spy Museum is full of tidbits about international spying and the equipment used throughout history to spy on our neighbors and them to spy on us. The museum offer’s many interactive screens to get you involved and also a large vent, big enough to crawl through, so individuals can do a bit of spying on their family observing the displays below! My favorite exhibit is the Bond car, including a model of the decked out car! And the most interesting thing I learned, would have been that Washington, DC is home to more spies than any other city in the world. Gives you something to think about!

If you are in DC, and aren’t too tired out of museums, consider stopping by. However, I do want to mention that unlike our Smithsonian’s, The Spy Museum isn’t free. So make sure this is a subject you are into, before making the commitment. The Spy Museum also offers lectures & seminars and is available for hosting events… these options, I would highly consider taking advantage of!

The quote about is from their website. All though I was visiting as a guest of the museum, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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The International Spy Museum

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The Newseum

Newseum Sign

Continuing my adventures locally, I decided it’s time to start hitting up some of the museums I have been meaning to get to over time. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Newseum, not knowing much about it other than everyone who has been there speaks highly of it. I loved it! Great exhibits of major news events, and about the history of news, from around the world. What a wonderful way to show off the history of life then through the eyes of the media!

Newseum Building

The museum itself stands proudly on Pennsylvania Avenue, although the building looks massive, it’s exhibits are well laid out in small sections surrounding a massive 6 story entrance hall fully equipped with a news helicopter! The museum also offers an introductory video, 4D theatre, and supporting videos throughout most of the exhibits, along with a lot of interactive touch screens and a mock news studio section where visitors can show off their talents and take pictures! Come with me as I take you on a brief walk through of my favorite highlights…

Newseum entrance hall with helicopter

We decided to start at the bottom and work our way to the top. The first exhibit, on the ground floor after the introduction video, is the graffiti covered Berlin Wall, fully equipped with a Death Tower. This particular Death Tower, which stands three-stories tall, was used to house armed guards with search lights on top, stood at Stallschreiberstrasse. This tower was gifted from the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in Berlin in 1994.

Berlin Wall at the Newseum

Berlin Wall Death Tower at the Newseum

On our way to the Photo of the Year exhibit, housing amazing and some very tragic and heart wrenching photographs was a satellite news truck, locate next to the cafeteria, surprisingly, with good fresh food. The photo exhibit leads into the FBI exhibit. Home to the ever hot topic in the news, terrorism. On display is everything from the Unabomber’s cabin, airplane engines from 9-11, cells phones from the 9-11 wreckage, a sneaker bomb, and hand written letters from the Waco disaster. A really interesting section.

Newseum FBI Exhibit

Newseum FBI Exhibit Unabomber Cabin

Newseum FBI Exhibit Waco Display

One of the more off the cuff exhibits that I wasn’t expecting was an exhibit on The Anchor Man movie. The most interesting part I found of this exhibit was “The Real Story” signage that went along with it discussing topics such as the format of news and women anchors. Without putting much thought into the history of television news. Heading upwards, there is an exhibit with a massive three wall timeline of “Internet, TV, and Radio”. It’s truly amazing how modern technology has changed the face of news, including the most recent trends of social media. My favorite part of this exhibit was the display case housing an original professional digital camera that was produced by Kodak and Nikon produced in 1994. It’s big, and knowing how heavy my professional camera is, I cannot imagine how heavy the one in the case is! Working our way up to the next floor we found ourself in front of what I feel is probably the most important in the history of the way the news has developed in our country, the First Amendment Gallery. If it wasn’t for so many of our First Amendment rights in this country, especially Freedom of the Press, our news could not possibly be what it is. This section although brief, is very valuable. On the Freedom of Press display,they even discuss Garrett Graff, the first White House Blogger. My favorite, and if anyone was following my tweets from this day, is the big poster of Bart Simpson writing on the chalkboard “The first amendment does not cover burping”!

Newseum First Amendment Exhibit, Freedom of the Press Display

Further down the hall is the “Inside Tim Russert’s Office. Tim Russert (1950-2008) well-known for NBC’s Meet the Press, had a special exhibit, including a recreation his messy office space along with a diagram of what was on his desk.

Newseum, Tim Russert's Exhibit

Around the corner is located an exhibit on a modern news story that effected so many people and their lives. The 9-11’s exhibit. This two-story exhibit houses an antenna from the top of one of the World Trade Center’s buildings. Along with a two-story wall covered with front page newspapers from the attack. Although this section does contain other items such as items found in the wreckage and a limestone cornice piece from the pentagon, the antenna and wall of newspapers is pretty overwhelming and was the majority of my focus in this exhibit.

Newseum, 9-11 Exhibit, World Trade Center Tower Antenna

Probably the most important section of the whole museum is the room full of newspapers from important events from around the world across time. Off to the left of this exhibit were some really old books, including the Magna Carta from 1215. But the room full of newspaper draws is filled with fun and heroic and terrifying stories from throughout history. From war, to peace, to Jesse James assassination, women’s right to vote, to the man on the moon.

Newseum, Manga Carta

Newseum, Tray's of Newspapers

Newseum, Tray's of Newspapers

Although I didn’t discuss all the exhibits, I really enjoyed myself. Be prepared for a long day out. Even if you don’t read all the signs you walk past and stop to watch the videos, the museum has so much to offer. We spent 5 hours including lunch and we figured we could have spent another 2 hours easily. And make sure and take in the 4D movie, it was worth the watch!

Although I the Newseum was happy to sponsor my visit, all of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Newseum

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The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Disclaimer: The George Washington Masonic National Memorial will be referred to generically as the Masonic Temple throughout this article, as that is what the locals call it.

Masonic Temple

What does the Masonic Temple (Alexandria, Virginia) and the Empire State Building (New York, New York) have in common? They are both iconic buildings and locals rarely visit them! Being a relatively new homeowner my travel budget has shrunk, a lot! So I have been investing my time in local travel, as I like to call it. This time around I toured the Masonic Temple.

Masonic Temple

Growing up within a mile of Mount Vernon Estate, I feel as though I grew up in the shadow of George Washington. A lot is dedicated to his memory in the DC Metro area. To name a few, there is a monument downtown; there is a parkway in his name; an airport with his name; and a masonic temple. I never realized that the temple was a memorial to George Washington, mostly because never took time to think about it. Although masonry has been around a long time, a lot of people know little about it. The freemasons (aka masons) have been glorified by writers like Dan Brown (evidently the masons have very little that is secretive), and a lot of great American historical figures have been freemasons. However, the tour of the masonic temple has a lot less to do with masonry and a lot more to do with the memory of George Washington.

Masonic Temple

In 1910, the Grand Master of Virginia invited every Grand Master in The US to gather together for the purpose of “forming an association to plan and build a suitable Memorial”*. The building took decades to complete, largely due to not wanting to take out loans for the building. The construction began in 1922 with the interior being finalized in 1970. Today it proudly stands as the iconic landmark on Shutter’s Hill in Alexandria, Virginia fashioned after the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt.

Masonic Temple

Although the building stands tall and proud, it is not huge on the inside, and the elevators actually ascend and descend at an angle to compensate for the smaller space on the 9th floor, the observation floor, and the large bottom floor where meeting rooms and the mason museum is located. The tour starts in the great entrance hall at the top of the stairs and through the massive doors. The two-story rectangle room adorned with columns and portraits of important masons, also houses an amazing statute of good old G’Dub (the original)!

George Washington Statue

Off to the side of the great hall is a mock lodge room full of historical pieces, all items belonging to Washington’s lodge, used throughout time, including all of the chairs that line the walls, and the artifacts found in the display cases around the room. Most importantly, there is a chair that belonged to Washington and was gifted to the lodge from his home. In order to keep the chair from a fatefully end, it lives under a clear box where people and see it and not use it. Once a year the box is removed and the Grand Master takes his place briefly, long enough for a photograph.

Masonic Temple Lodge Room

As a non-mason, entry is only allowed to a few floors. Heading upstairs from the main floor takes us into a two-story museum filled with natural light and dedicated to the life and achievements of Washington. The walls are lined with stories of him as a mason, a landowner, and the president. It’s a wonderful piece of history. The tour then leads guests to the top floor to grasp the amazing view of the surrounding area. On a clear day, one can even see Mount Vernon, Washington’s home, located just south of Alexandria City.

Alexandria, Virginia. View from the masonic temple

The base of the tower holds a masonic museum. In this area the different degree’s and organizations of masonry are explained along with a display of costumes and tools of the trade. A degree is a level of membership. Although ultimately, only men become freemasons, there are female organizations, Eastern Star, as well as youth organizations for boys and girls. Two lodges currently use the Masonic Temple for their meetings, as well as some of the other masonic organizations. To become a mason, one must also believe in a higher power (God); although, they can be of any religion. The idea of a freemason, is that each person has a responsibility to make things better in the world. To help make life a little easier, they contribute a lot to their local area and sponsor charities and causes.

George Washington Statue

And one even cooler thing about this building–just to add that person twist–it’s the view I see every time I leave and arrive back home!

Masonic Temple

All of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Interesting Links

*The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Visit Alexandria

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Friendship Firehouse and a bit of local firefighting history

I know little about the early days of firefighting. I grew up in an area where our firefighters were full-time employees and responded within 3-5 minutes of any call. Arriving fully equipped with red fire engines and modern equipment! After the Great Fire of London in 1666, insurance companies formed fire brigades to help protect the properties they insured. If they didn’t insure a building, the fire brigade wouldn’t assist in fighting the fire. In the US although some of this existed by the 18th and 19th centuries, volunteer fire companies were more common; made up by citizens of the community they were helping to protect.

Friendship Firehouse Museum

The Friendship Fire Company was established in 1774 and fought fires actively through the phases of the early days of firefighting; from leather buckets the earliest hand-operated engines. They were one of many volunteer fire companies in the area. In those days, the idea was to keep the fire from spreading, rather than putting the fire out. The Civil War brought on new technology in fire fighting, the steam engine! In 1867 Friendship purchased an engine, but unhappy with the performance and unable to keep up payments they returned it. In 1871 Alexandria City acquired a steamer and instead of playing favorites between the different companies they did their best to convince the companies to merge into one company named Columbia Steam Engine Company.

Friendship Firehouse Museum
This is Friendship’s original hose carriage, it was built-in Alexandria City and drawn to the fire by the men.

Friendship Firehouse Museum
Friendship purchased this engine in 1851. It took 16-20 operators, men pumped the arms creating suction pressure in the domed condenser case which pushed the water out through the hose. Men took 2-3 minute turns and similar to the hose carriage, it was drawn to the fire by the men.

Friendship Fire Company discussed this topic long and hard. In the end it was decided their name was too important to them and they eventually stopped fighting fires in the 1880’s. As new technology became available and more expensive a lot of these volunteer organizations in general died out and was replaced my municipally run departments. Friendship has survived to this day as a Fraternal Organization. They are involved in the Alexandria City local community and assist the city’s fire department when there is a death and reach out to those families.

Friendship Firehouse Museum

The Friendship Firehouse Museum, is quietly located a half of block of the business of life. The building although not original from 1774, was built in 1885, remodeled in 1871 and a new edition was added in 1972. The museum is small, but contains original equipment, and is full of history. It’s only open a few days a week for a few hours at a time, but I think it’s a neat place for some local history!

Friendship Firehouse Museum

All of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Interesting Links

Friendship Firehouse Museum

Visit Alexandria

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