This Saturday is the eighth annual National Museum Day. Sponsored by Smithsonian magazine, a fine publication with an outstanding companion website, Museum Day is dedicated to celebrating culture, learning and the dissemination of knowledge in the spirit of the Smithsonian Museums which are free every day. Many museums must rely on ticket sales for operational costs, of course, but on this one day of the year, you can enjoy their offerings for free.
National Museum Day has been getting more popular every year. Last year 350,000 people took advantage of the opportunity to spend a day at the museum free of charge. This year they expect 400,000 visitors to the more than 1,400 museums nationwide opening their doors. There are participating museums in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. To find a venue near you, you can navigate the map on this page, or type in your address in the field above it, or search by state using the dropdown menu beneath the map, or search by keyword on this page.
When you find the museum that sparks your interest, go to this page and fill out the form; you’ll be emailed a ticket that admits two people to the museum of your choice. You can’t just show up to the museum on Saturday and expect to be let in free of charge, nor can you get 10 tickets and spend the day museum-hopping. As awesome as that would be, there’s a limit of one ticket that admits one person plus a guest per household, per email address. Why not team up with a friend and each pick a museum to visit together?
The variety of venues is truly remarkable. They range from the biggest, richest museums in major urban centers to small, highly specialized local museums run by volunteers. It’s not just history museums, either. There’s something for everyone: science museums, interactive children’s museums (Sci-Quest, Hands-on Science Center in Huntsville, Alabama combines both categories), botanical museums (the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas is a top research center as well as a beautiful place to see Texas’ native flora in all their glory), art museums (Colorado’s Aspen Art Museum exhibits the latest in contemporary art and, most unusually, is a non-collecting institution), ethnic museums (who knew there was a Basque Museum in Boise, Idaho?), train museums (Hamlet Depot in North Carolina is set in a gorgeous original Queen Anne train station still in use as an Amtrak station today), toy train museums (the National Toy Train Museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania has the largest toy and model train collection on display in the US), car museums (the Gilmore Car Museum near Kalamazoo, Michigan was named the #1 historic auto site in Michigan by the official state tourism website and that’s saying a lot, because if there’s one state with a buttload of car museums, it’s Michigan), aerospace museums (Aerospace Museum of California has flight simulators you can ride!), presidential museums (the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois would be a highly topical one to visit a week after the 150th anniversary of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation), ornamental metal museums (actually there’s only one of those in the entire country, the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis, and it sounds phenomenal so if you’re anywhere near there on Saturday you should check it out), and many, many more.
Maybe there’s something you have read about on this very blog that you could see in person this Saturday. The incredible restoration of the 1770 “Plan of the City of New York” map by Bernard Ratzer is at the Brooklyn Historical Society. If Manhattan is more your style, swing by the Museum of Chinese in America. It was renovated and expanded a couple of years ago and is really something special.
While you’re up north, go see the colossal Roman statue of Juno at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, or, while you’re in town, the oldest Revere Bell on the Freedom Trail recently installed in the steeple of the Old South Meeting House in Boston.
If you’re south of the Mason-Dixon line, the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond has that .36 caliber Spiller and Burr revolver that was stolen from the museum in 1975 and then found and returned 25 years later. They also have the Civil War smuggling dolls.