I recently got back from a family vacation to Virginia’s “Historic Triangle,” where we visited Colonial Williamsburg, the Jamestown settlement, and the Yorktown battlefield. We had a great time immersing ourselves in colonial and early American history.
There was a wonderful moment in Colonial Williamsburg when actors portraying turncoat Benedict Arnold and his British troops swept in to occupy the town. My four-year-old son’s eyes got big as they cleared the streets, and my daughters yelled “The British are coming! The British are coming!” Perhaps they were getting just a taste of what it felt like for the townspeople in 1781. (We were too busy running from the British to snap a good photo - the picture shown here is of the local militia.)
The mission of a history museum is a little different than these outdoor historical sites, but we share a common goal: to make history come alive for visitors. We strive to do this through compelling exhibit design, descriptive written labels, engaging programs and tours—and especially, authentic and important historical artifacts. Where else can you inspect a Revolutionary-era gunboat, surround yourself with the remnants of a Civil War battlefield, ponder the moment of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral, re-live the golden era of railroading, witness the first controlled nuclear chain reaction, experience a World War II U.S.O. show, ride a post-war Chicago streetcar, and put yourself in Julia Child’s kitchen, all in one building?
I love to bring my kids to the museum to show them some “real stuff” related to the history they learn in school. We’ve had to take a break from that for a while, but we look forward to resuming our family visits come November. I hope we’ll see you here!
Matthew MacArthur is the museum's Director of New Media. He is determined that his children WILL grow up to love history.