An “inside” look at the National Museum of Health and Medicine
Every once in a while, our adventures around the DC-Metro don’t go so well. An exhibit disappoints, a show can’t hold the preschooler attention span, a meltdown occurs. Recently, one was just a total fail — and I only have my poor judgement to blame.
For the most part, discovering new places and trying different activities with my kids goes rather swimmingly. Like me, they enjoy getting out of the house and are open to new experiences… and they tend to bring a positive perspective, focusing on what appeals to them instead of finding things to complain about (I like to think I’m like this, anyway, but it’s possible I’m just completely self-delusional).
This is especially true for Owen. He is an extremely curious and adventurous kid, and he just eats up information faster than we can feed it to him. He loves to read about science and nature and often prefers to watch wildlife documentaries and “Mysteries at the Museum” over cartoons. He’s fascinated by historic events, geography, the human body. And he’s a cool kid. Of course, I think he’s awesome, but what I mean is that he’s pretty composed for a first grader. Owen is the one who always volunteers (and strangely often gets picked) to perform in front of large crowds — he’s won a dance contest, been part of a knife juggling act, assisted with science experiments, all with audiences’ eyes on him. (That, he does not get from me.) And, generally, he’s not easily freaked out by the realities of science and nature, but instead views them curiously and pragmatically.
The museum, originally established as the Army Medical Museum, houses collections of medical specimens for research in military medicine and surgery. I’ve been aware of it and eager to go for awhile now, as I find medicine, anatomy, and pathology incredibly fascinating. (Just ask my husband how easily I get sucked into episodes of “Medical Mysteries” and “Untold Stories of the ER”). Given Owen’s penchant for science and the like, I thought he’d make an excellent companion on a trip there.
The museum from the outside
We finally decided to go a couple of weeks ago when he had a day off from school and Sasha did not. I told him about the museum, and he was intrigued by the idea of seeing “insides” of the body as well as the Abraham Lincoln exhibit which includes objects associated with his last hours of life — bone fragments from his skull, the bullet that killed him, and more.
The visit started out well enough. We found the museum easily, parked with no problem, and were greeted by friendly staff upon our entrance. They explained that all of the exhibits were located on one floor in three main areas and showed us where to get a map of the space.
A skeleton greeted us in the lobby
Right in the lobby is a real human skeleton, which Owen spent a good few minutes checking out. Then we made our way to the “The Human Body Anatomy and Pathology” area, a room full of all kinds of specimens from the body. There is a case of human skeletons, from a four-month fetus to a five-year-old, to demonstrate bone growth. Another display taking up an entire wall contains numerous splices from organs, muscles, and other body parts. A real human brain and spine is the centerpiece of a display about the brain and quite compelling to view up close.
Displays all about the human body
We probably spent a good 20-30 minutes in that room before moving on to “The Collection That Teaches.” There are several parts to this area, including artifacts from military medicine like early medical instruments, the Lincoln exhibit, and specimens and photos of diseased body parts. It started off okay as we viewed old scalpels and saws used to operate and amputate during the Civil War. We saw a giant hairball and an elephantiasis leg. It was all quite fascinating.
Medical artifacts from wars
Then things went quickly downhill. In one of the cases in that room are three jars containing deformed fetuses and babies, including one with Siamese twins. It didn’t bother me so much because of the museum context; I viewed it as part of a scientific exhibit. Owen, however, had a much different reaction. He asked a couple of questions, then quickly said in a shaky voice, “I don’t like this.”
I immediately suggested we head over to the Lincoln exhibit, which he had been excited to see. Once there, I started to point out some of the things we had read about, and he said he just wanted to go. So, I steered us to the “Military Medicine: Challenges and Innovations” room, thinking we just needed to leave the area. But with a graphic display about facial reconstruction in the third room, it didn’t get any better. My poor boy was clearly done and wanted to leave the place. So, we did.
Needless to say, I felt awful. Granted, I didn’t know every detail of what we’d encounter there, but even if I had known what to expect, I probably wouldn’t have anticipated that reaction. It was a good reminder that, no matter how much my baby is growing up and learning and amazing me with all that he comprehends, he’s still a sensitive little boy, not ready to absorb all of the realities of life just yet.
Luckily, his spirits lifted quickly when we got back in the car and his favorite Kidz Bop CD started playing. And by the time we arrived at the nearby Parkway Deli (a fave from my Discovery days), he’d moved on altogether.
All of this said, I do recommend this museum — for the right museum-goer. It is incredibly fascinating for those who are interested in the subject matter it covers. Like many of my blog posts about our adventures around DC, this is just our experience, and yours might be very different. If I had to make the call, I would say that this one is probably most appropriate for older kids, tweens and up. But it really depends on the individual child and their interests and maturity.
The National Museum of Health and Medicine is located at 2500 Linden Lane in Silver Spring. Hours are 10am – 5:30pm daily. Admission is free. (Update: The museum currently open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am – 5:30pm.)
Owen and his friend, Amelia, ham it up at last year's Hilloween
Why wait until the actual day to celebrate one of the best — no, the best in my book — holidays of the year? Besides the bonuses of getting more mileage out of costumes and having extra excuses to indulge in sweets, Halloween festivities are a treat any day. If you agree, there are loads of ways to get into the spooky spirit during the days leading up to the grand event. From skeletons at the museum to creepy train rides through the woods to costume concerts and dance parties to jack-o-lanterns on the farm, these local events will have Halloween-goers screaming for more.
Boo at the Zoo Where: National Zoo When: October 21-23, 5:30-8:30pm Admission: $20/members, $30/non-members (note: Saturday is sold out)
This annual event is the wildest trick-or-treat in town. Kids ages 2 – 12 can get costumed up for after-hours Halloween fun at the Zoo. Get ready for tasty candy, delicious snack foods, and other goodies from more than 40 treat stations. Plus, animal encounters, keeper talks, and festive decorations are yours to enjoy. And this year Boo guests get to take home a complimentary reusable treat bag. Boo at the Zoo takes place rain or shine.
Halloween at the Medical Museum: Serious Fun with Skulls Where: National Museum of Health and Medicine When: October 22, 10:30am – 12:30pm Admission: FREE
The National Museum of Health and Medicine invites little ghouls and their families to get into the Halloween spirit by learning about skulls. The theme of the program is Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a holiday that celebrates the human cycle of life and death. Learn about the traditions associated with Día de los Muertos by decorating your own sugar skull (for 1st graders and up); participate in story time with books about Day of the Dead and skeletons; make your own skull mask; and more. Halloween costumes are welcome! The National Museum of Health and Medicine is now located at 2500 Linden Lane in Silver Spring, just outside of the Fort Detrick-Forest Glen Annex. A designated visitor parking lot is located off Linden Lane in front of the Museum (do not enter the Annex gates). Adult visitors will need to present photo ID upon entry to the Museum.
“Eye Spy” Halloween Train Where: Cabin John Regional Park When: October 20-23, October 27-30 (see schedule for times) Admission: $6/person, $5 with canned food donation, free for kids 2 and under
Hop on board the Halloween! Cabin John’s “Eye Spy” features just enough “boo” power for kids age 8 and under. Along the ride through the woods on the train, kids can try to find Halloween friends hiding along the way and mark them off their “Eye Spy” game cards that they receive with admission. Guests can also enjoy Halloween movies every night, face painting on Saturdays and Sundays, and light refreshments for sale.
Haunted Train & Creepy Carousel Where: Wheaton Regional Park When: October 20-23, October 27-30 (see schedule for times) Admission: $6/person, $5 with canned food donation
Wheaton Regional Park’s Haunted Train and Creepy Carousel are back and scarier than ever! This annual Halloween attraction is designed for people 8 years old and above, because they do their best to make it VERY SCARY (and this is the website description, so take their word for it). Admission includes one ride each on the train and carousel, plus entrance to the Hall of Jack o’ Lanterns movie theater presenting scary films every night.
BooStravaganza and Hardly Haunted Hayrides Where: Frying Pan Farm Park When: October 28, 5:30-8:30pm & October 29, 12-6:30pm Admission: $8/child on 10/28, $5/child on 10/29
Make reservations for BooStravaganza on Friday, where children ages 2-8 can dress in their favorite costumes and enjoy fun, games, and a wagon ride. They’ll finish the evening with treats and a small pumpkin. On Saturday, kids of all ages can take Hardly Haunted Hayrides along with other farm fun. Reservation are recommended.
BB2 BOO – Boogie Babes Halloween Happy Hour Where: Atlas Performing Arts Center When: October 26, 5:15-6:30pm doors open at 5pm Admission: $10/family
The Boogie Babes are growing up with BB2, musical get-togethers that are cool for older kids, too. They’re kicking off the fun with a Halloween dance party. Kid and parents are invited to come in costume for entertainment, light snacks, and photos taken by Maya’s Eye Photography. Adult beverages will also be available for purchase. An RSVP is appreciated, though not required: email email@example.com.
Halloween Harvest Family Special Where: Discovery Theater When: October 27-28 10:15am & 11:30am, October 29, 11am & 1pm Admission: $12/adults, $10/ages 2 and up, $3/children under 2, $10/resident members
Dress up in a costume and join Oran (“Chef FONZ” and “Professor Wingnut Wants to Fly”) Sandel at the Discovery Theater pumpkin patch for songs, games, and more. He’ll spin an American Indian harvest story; guests will look inside Mr. Jack O’ Lantern (what really makes him tick?) and create a pumpkin face for Discovery Theater. Bring in YOUR design, and they’ll post it on their Facebook page. On Saturday, 10/29, be sure to stop by the Ripley concourse for Discovery Theater’s First Annual Harvest Halloween Festival from 11am-2pm, where families will find lots of fabulous fall fun together.
Halloween Monster Jump Where: Pump It Up in Lanham, Md When: October 28-31, various times (See below) Admission: $13/child, $5/adult
Halloween is simply spook-tacular when you’re at a bouncing, laughing, sliding, howling, so don a costume and jump on over to Pump It Up for freaky fun and frightening food. There will be a prize for best costume and a chance to win a free birthday party. For guest safety, costumes may not include: masks, jewelry, capes or other hanging items, or heavy make-up , and 100% polyester is strictly prohibited. Must include socks. Halloween Monster Jumps will take place at the following times: 10/28 6-8pm & 8-10pm, 10/29 8:30pm-10:30pm,,10/30 is TBD, 10/31 6-8pm & 7:45pm-9:45pm. The admission fee includes 2 slices of pizza and a drink, plus goodies for everyone.
Glow Night – A Magical Evening on the Farm Where: Great Country Farms When: October 28-29, 6-9pm Admission: $10/child, $12/adult, free for ages 2 and under
See a spectacular display of over 2000 lighted jack-o-lanterns carved by local school children. The magical moment when they cut the lights (7pm) will take your breath away. Bring your carved Jack-o-lantern to enter in a carving competitions — Jack-o-lanterns are judged for Best in Glow, Scariest and Funniest. Along with the light show, warm yourself by the bonfire, roast some marshmallows, and enjoy apple cider.
Haunted Halloween Pop-Ups Where: National Building Museum When: October 29, 10am-12pm Admission: $10/members, $15/non-members, adults are free
Celebrate the spirit of Halloween as you design your very own pop-up haunted house. Learn the pop-up architecture technique from guest artist Carol Barton. Decorate a spooky haunted house scene to take place on your window sill. Fun for the whole family, the festivities include crafts, treats, and ghosts stories (more silly than spooky!) about the Museum. Recommended for ages 6 and up. Prepaid registration required. All children must be accompanied by an adult.
Trick or Treat with the Boutiques Where: Old Town Boutique District in Alexandria When: October 29 during store hours Admission: FREE
Bring your ghosts and goblins for a day of trick or treat in the Old Town Boutique District. The OTBD’s annual Trick or Treat with the Boutiques event is a great way for families to enjoy a safe and fun Halloween day in Old Town Alexandria. All of the participating OTBD stores will offer treats. Some may also offer family friendly tricks. Halloween costumes are encouraged. Tricks and treats will be available during the day and during store hours.
Halloween Fun with the Jimmies Where: National Geographic When: October 29, 1pm Admission: $16/adults, $12/kids 12 and under, $40/family four-pack
“Gimme Jimmies” is the rallying cry of this NYC-based kindie rock band, a Parents’ Choice award winner whose clever, creative music gets kids rocking. The heavy guitar groove hooks in parents as well. Dress in your Halloween costume—maybe a lion, leopard, or tiger, to support NG’s Big Cats Initiative—and get ready to rock-and-roll.
Halloween Festivities in Penn Quarter Where: MLK, Jr Memorial Library, 8th Street NW, & Calvary Baptist Church When: October 29, 2-6pm Admission: FREE
Save the date for an afternoon of fun Halloween festivities for families of boooys and ghouls living in Penn Quarter and the surrounding DC area. From 2-4pm, costumed children can enjoy Halloween story time, light refreshments, and trick-or-treating throughout the Library. After that, join a costume Parade for a Playground as kids make their way to Calvary Baptist Church for a Creepy Crawly Fun Filled Halloween Party from 4-6pm, where there will be crafts, treats, a costume contest with prizes, a creepy guessing game, a dance party, and a moon bounce.
Flight Fest Where: College Park Aviation Museum When: October 29, 12-4pm Admission: $4/adults, $3/seniors, $2/ages 2-18, free for under 2
Wear your costume and enjoy the fun, fall-themed activities. There will be a costume contest and pumpkin bowling. Arts, crafts, hayrides, and spooky fun are waiting for kids and families.
Air and Scare Where: Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air & Space Museum When: October 29, 2-8pm Admission: Free, but parking is $15 until 7pm
Discover the spooky side of air and space at the Udvar-Hazy Center’s 7th Annual Air & Scare! Arrive in costume for safe indoor trick-or-treating. Participate in creepy crafts, spooky science experiments, and other Halloween-themed activities. Bring the tiniest visitors by the Tot Zone to play dress-up and hear a story. Don’t forget to stop by the face painting station or pose for a photo with your favorite Star Wars character!
Crime Museum Halloween Kids & Candy Where: National Museum of Crime & Punishment When: October 30, 1-6pm Admission: $10/costumes child, $10/adults accompanying children
Batman, Wonder Woman, police officers, and all other costumed characters can enjoy a day of Halloween fun at this Penn Quarter museum. Festivities include a regular museum tour, Police Academy Jr. Activity Sheet, McGruff the Crime Dog appearances, finger print identification cards, candy, and more.
Kidsfest Where: George Washington University When: October 30, 11am – 3pm Admission: Free
GWU is hosting this event for families to celebrate Halloween in a safe environment. The festival will include activity booths, where kids can play games and complete arts and crafts projects; a trick-or-treating route through a Residence Hall; and a Witch’s Kitchen. Costumes are encouraged, but not required. Kidsfest will take place in the Hippodrome on the 5th floor of the Marvin Center located at 800 21st NW.
Where: 7th Street SE in front of Eastern Market
When: October 31, 5:30-7:30pm
Capitol Hill’s annual event is legendary for little ones. The block of 7th Street SE next to Eastern Market will be closed to traffic for one of the best community Halloween celebrations in the city. Hayrides, moon bounces, goody giveaways, and even a mini carousel will add to the excitement. The best part is seeing the masses of jubilant kids in all kinds of costumes indulging in the neighborhood extravaganza.
Operation Disguise Where: International Spy Museum When: October 1-31 Admission: Take $5 off these fees with a disguise – $18/ages 12 and up, $15/ages 5-11
Celebrate Halloween at the Spy Museum all month long. When you wear the right disguise, you get $5 off the regular admission price. Go covert October 17-23 with a pair of glasses, and don a moustache from October 23-31. And if you’re looking for help with a Halloween costume, there will also be a disguise/makeup event in the Spy Museum Store on Saturday, October 29th, from 12-7pm.