As Washington, D.C. prepares for Inauguration Day, museums, galleries, and historical attractions are putting presidential history — from the first campaign speeches to everyday life after the White House — front and center.
Lincoln fans, or should I say, Lincoln fans, will be especially charmed. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and guess what? Visitors can check out the final signed version, and even the very first draft Honest Abe penned at his summer home.
Headed to Washington, D.C. for this historic event? Make your visit count with these ten must-do activities around town:
1. Address the nation from the White House press podium. So presidential, but so very unlikely, right? Well, yeah, so get to Madame Tussauds to make your remarks from a look-alike podium instead. Meet and greet all 43 U.S. Presidents (made of wax, of course), conduct official business from the replica Oval Office, dress up like Abe Lincoln, and test your knowledge of presidential history at touch-screen quiz kiosks.
2. Review Lincoln’s first take on the Emancipation Proclamation. Through February 18, the Library of Congress will have on display the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, handwritten by President Lincoln himself (the final version can be seen at the National Archives). Take a free, one-hour walking tour and ask about family-focused itineraries, which are offered during peak times.
3. Get to know America’s “First Dogs.” The popular Newseum has the scoop on presidential pooches, including Bo, President Obama’s Portuguese Water Dog. Get to know the nation’s leaders through the eyes of their beloved best friends, then check out artifacts from the campaign trail at the “Every Four Years: Presidential Campaigns and the Press” exhibit (now through January 27).
4. Stand where Lincoln was assassinated. No trip to D.C. is complete without a visit to Ford’s Theatre, particularly now that the fateful event has been dramatized anew in Lincoln. If you rent an Acoustiguide (they have versions for both kids and adults) for your self-guided tour, you’ll get the added benefit of character voices and sound effects.
5. Read the Charters of Freedom. The Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights — collectively known as the Charters of Freedom — are on display year-round at the National Archives. Kids can even go online, choose a pen, and add their names to the Declaration of Independence alongside those of the Founding Fathers.
6. Visit Lincoln’s summer home. Head north from the White House to President Lincoln’s Cottage to see where Lincoln was living when he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. Take a basic guided tour, or sign up for specialty tours, like the Emancipation Tour and the Running for Re-election Tour, for an even deeper look at the man who ended slavery in the United States.
7. Learn which indian chiefs attended Roosevelt’s inauguration. The National Museum of the American Indian will feature a photo exhibition (now through February 25) focusing on President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade, including the six indian chiefs who rode in the parade to represent the needs of their people.
8. Visit the only presidential library in D.C. Head to the Woodrow Wilson House in the heart of Embassy Row for a video presentation followed by a walk through our 28th president’s office, kitchen, and chef’s pantry. Few rooms are roped off, so feel free to play the piano or even billiards on your way to see the paintings, tapestries, and statues given as gifts by dignitaries worldwide.
9. Take the Oath of Office. Presidential hopefuls can visit George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, just a half-hour drive outside the city to place their hand on a replica of the bible America’s first president used to take his oath of office (once you lift your hand, the crowd cheers). Kids, enjoy the George Washington Presidential Scavenger Hunt as you poke around the estate looking for clues.
10. Get a good look at every U.S. president. Only at the National Portrait Gallery (and the White House) can you see a portrait of very single U.S. president. Be prepared to do more than walk from painting to painting, too. There are loads of engaging family programs, including Portrait Story Days, designed to educate visitors about the presidents in a fun, kid-friendly way.
If you’re planning to be in town on Monday, January 21, the day of the public swearing-in ceremony and parades, remember that only the National Museums of American History and Natural History will be open.