Celebrating the Dead in DC

Elaborate memorials to the dead are everywhere in DC. Virtually every building in the downtown core is either a government office or some sort of cenotaph. So when I say today was devoted to death, it wasn’t really as morbid as it sounds. Death is just what this town does best.

We started at Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot in 1865. I expected to just have a look inside the theatre and be on our way, but instead we were shuffled into a very impressive museum containing loads of historical artifacts — including the gun that fired the fatal shot. After half an hour of reading displays about the events leading up to the assassination, we were led into the theatre itself, where we saw the box Lincoln was actually sitting in when he was shot. The whole experience was much cooler than I thought it would be.

After the spy museum yesterday, we thought we’d try the equally highly rated National Crime and Punishment Museum today. It had a crime lab, the filming studio for America’s Most Wanted, and three floors of thematic exhibits on everything from medieval criminals to 20th century gangsters, serial killers and cyber hackers. We loved it, but I can see how it wouldn’t be for everybody. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is Ted Bundy’s car next to a plaque that explains how he used it to subdue his victims. The rest of the place is filled with similarly sordid artifacts and information.

The museum also offered some kick-ass interactive experiences: you could test your skills with a (fake) firearm, stand in a police lineup, evade the cops in a high-speed car chase or tunnel your way out of a prison cell. One whole floor is dedicated to an immersive CSI experience, where you observe a suspect escaping a crime scene, then collect and analyze the evidence to figure out what happened. It was really well done.

After lunch we hopped the metro to Arlington National Cemetery. I mainly wanted to see the Kennedy graves, but we also sought out the memorials to the Challenger and Columbia astronauts, and the tomb of the unknown soldier. So that rounded off our day of death.

With our sightseeing done, we relaxed in a couple different pubs and basically ate and drank continuously for the better part of three hours. Ah, vacation. If we can stay awake we might wander by the White House after dark to see it all lit up, but we have a really early flight tomorrow, so I dunno.

Home sweet home awaits…