From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: Deep Dive
In Prince George’s County, we’re extremely lucky to be just a short drive or Metro ride away from some of the country’s biggest and most famous museums. It’s easy to spend long afternoons exploring the more than 70 unique museums that Washington, DC has to offer. That’s before even considering the 25 mainstream museums that our specific county is home to. When you start adding in off-the-beaten-path places like the Vanadu Art House, it’s almost too much to think about. It’s an embarrassment of riches and many of them even offer free admission.
That’s why we’ve compiled a, ahem, condensed list of some of our favorite local museums. If you’re in the area, you have to check them out.
- The National Museum of Health and Medicine: 2500 Linden Lane, Silver Spring, MD 20910
Not for the faint of heart, this museum’s origin story lies in the Civil War and the military medicine practices of the time. Although NMHM still strives to preserve the history of military medicine, it also has a broader mission to also include civilian medical history and developments. A colorful character named Major General Daniel E. Sickles famously donated his amputated leg after he lost it to a cannonball injury sustained in the battle of Gettysburg to the museum. He used to visit his limb at the museum on the anniversary of its loss.
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: 1000 Madison Drive NW Washington, D.C. 20560
To recommend this museum runs the risk of eliciting eye rolls at the obviousness of the choice but it is a classic and cannot be omitted from this list. Come for the dinosaur/fossil hall and 14 foot taxidermied elephant on the rotunda floor, stay for the weird minerals and the 9 foot long giant squid specimen. This museum holds so many artifacts and specimens that they have a Museum Support Center out in Suitland to be able to house and care for them all.
- The King Barn Dairy MOOseum: 18028 Central Park Circle, Boyds, Maryland 20841
Controversial because of Ella’s lactose intolerance, we nonetheless had to plug the Montgomery County MOOseum. This dairy heritage museum explores the rich history of the farms, families, and related organizations and businesses of Montgomery County, Maryland. The main collection includes interactive exhibits and educational programs centered around their collection of milk bottles, farm equipment, ribbons, and photographs from well over over 300 commercial dairy farms. Their website even includes a tab titled “Dairy Jokes.”
Q: What games do cows play at parties?
A: MOO-sical chairs
- The O Street Museum Foundation: 2020 O St NW, Washington, DC 20036
With over 100 rooms and 80 secret doors, spanning five interconnected town houses, the O Street Museum Foundation is an experience quite unlike any other. Focusing on the exploration of the creative process, the museum offers a series of tours ranging from 45 minutes to two hours long. Visitors are encouraged to flip through the manuscripts and rare books, listen to the unique music, touch the artwork, and tour through the architecture that make up the expansive collection. There’s something for everyone. Unique tours include enticing titles like “Espionage Hunt”, “Bluegrass Jam & Tour”, “Secret Door Experience”, and more. The entire museum has very Ms. Basil E Frankweiler energy.
- The Folger: 201 E Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003
The Folger Shakespeare Library, or simply The Folger, isn’t technically a museum. Rather, it’s an independent research library that houses the world’s largest collection of the printed works of William Shakespeare. It also holds a variety of rare materials from the early modern period in Britain and Europe. So, why include it? When it’s not being renovated, The Folger offers tours of the constantly changing exhibitions, leading visitors through the Great Hall, the Gail Kern Paster Reading Room, and the Elizabethan Theater.
- The DEA Museum: 700 Army Navy Drive, Arlington, VA 22202
The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) Museum has everything you learned about through D.A.R.E. but, well, on drugs. The museum boasts more than 5,000 objects, 40,000 photographs, and an online video archive, all centered around the history of drug law enforcement. Visitors will see everything from hundred-year-old medicine bottles to the clothing worn by DEA special agents during undercover investigations, a Harley-Davidson seized from the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club to court drawings and confiscated weapons.
- Vanadu Art House: 3810 Nicholson St, Hyattsville, MD 20782
This attraction may not be technically a museum, but it is still worth your time. Former conservator at the Hirshhorn Museum, Clark Bedford decided to transform his Hyattsville, Maryland house (and several cars) into a publicly viewable art installation. Using eclectic objects and repurposed junk he created an unusual and unforgettable sight dubbed “Vanadu”. In an interview with Roadside America, Bedford shared that “if he’s outside he’s open to answering questions” although he “bristles when someone asks him how long it took him to complete one car or part of the house.” If you’re going to visit, definitely avoid asking him that.
- College Park Aviation Museum: 1985 Corporal Frank Scott Dr, College Park, MD 20740
This small but exquisitely curated and mighty museum preserves the history of Prince George’s County aviation and the world’s oldest continuously operating airport, the College Park Airport. Visitors of all ages can immerse themselves in stories of aviation, interact with historic aircraft inside and then step outside to witness airplanes at the College Park Airport take off and land in real time.
- Laurel Historical Museum: 817 Main Street, Laurel, MD 20707
Where to start with the Laurel Historical Museum? First off, they’re located in a mid-nineteenth century mill workers’ home, originally built by Horace Capron and restored by the city of Laurel. Second, their exhibits take up their entire space and are chosen on a yearly basis by a mixture of stakeholders: staff, board members, volunteers, and the public. Specific pieces in their robust and diverse collection, focusing on the history of the city of Laurel, take turns being in the spotlight. Third, they often collaborate with our staff at the Laurel Library. With all that, they’re worth the trek just north of Main Street.
- Riversdale House Museum: 4811 Riverdale Road, Riverdale Park, MD 20737
This historic mansion in Riverdale Park, Maryland was built between 1801 and 1807 and is both a museum for the public and on the National Historic Landmark list for Maryland. Both the interior of the house and the gardens are available for tours and interpretation offered by a mixture of staff and volunteers, or completely self-guided. Visitors are encouraged to immerse themselves in what daily life was like at the time.
- The Patuxent Rural Life Museums: 16000 Croom Airport Road, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
Located on the banks of the Patuxent River, just to the north of Jug Bay, lies the Patuxent Rural Life Museums. The series of buildings, all dedicated to preserving the heritage of southern Prince George’s County, consist of the W. Henry Duvall Tool Museum, a Blacksmith Shop, the Tobacco Farming Museum, the Duckett Log Cabin, the Hunting, Fishing, and Trapping Museum, and more. While the museums are a popular spot for school field trips, they’re fun and educational for the entire family.
- National Museum of Women in the Arts: 1250 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20005
Women have historically been the subject of art, but only in the last few centuries have they truly started emerging from marginalization and been embraced as artists. The National Museum of Women in the Arts honors historical female predecessors while highlighting and advocating for contemporary women artists. Their exhibits are constantly changing and traveling and often feature important moments in women’s history. Past exhibitions include such subjects as girlhood (“Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood”), women’s suffrage (“Marilyn Artus: Her Flag”), and the home (“RECLAMATION: Recipes, Remedies, and Rituals”). MISS CHELOVE, a famous local muralist and the mind behind the Mount Rainier library mural, currently has an exhibit there.
This blog is created by Hannah and Ella in conjunction with the These Books Made Me podcast, a Prince George’s County Memorial Library System production. Check out the corresponding episode, From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you normally listen to podcasts. Or you can simply click on the link to the episode to listen.