American history museum to close for 2-year face-lift

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For tourists and residents who enjoy lolling among the trinkets and treasures of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, the building's closure next month for a two-year renovation may be a disappointment.

But curators say history buffs still can enjoy objects which range from "the famous to the unexpected" when officials open a temporary exhibit Nov. 17 at the National Air and Space Museum.

"The renovations we're doing is mainly going to cover our central core ... the heart of the museum," said Melinda Machado, a spokeswoman for the American history museum. "We want to make it much more natural for [visitors] to find their way through our building."

The museum will close at 6:30 p.m. on Labor Day for an $85 million federally and privately funded renovation project, which includes the addition of shops, gallery space, 10-foot high "artifact walls" to showcase objects at museum entrances, a glass staircase to connect the first and second floors and skylights to let in natural light, Miss Machado said.

The 42-year-old building's plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling, fire and security systems also will be upgraded or replaced.

It will be the first time the museum has ever closed to the public during renovations. The museum attracts about 3 million visitors annually.

Miss Machado said visitors often do not realize that the museum has three main floors when they enter certain entrances and that the renovations will make the space much easier to navigate.

But officials said they are especially excited about the installation of floor-to-ceiling glass windows which will create a "new home" for the museum's large 30-by-34-foot American flag, located near the main entrance on the second floor.

It is the actual flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the "Star-Spangled Banner" at Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1814, officials said. The flag will serve as the museum's focal point.

"The Star-Spangled Banner is one of our nation's most treasured objects, a symbol of what this country stands for," museum director Brent D. Glass said in a written statement. Its preservation will "revitalize the entire museum to tell the story of America and help future generations experience what it means to be an American."

In the meantime, patrons can view more than 150 unusual objects at the "Treasures of American History" exhibit at the nearby National Air and Space Museum beginning in November, Miss Machado said. The free exhibit does not have a closing date yet.

The artifacts include Thomas Jefferson's Bible, Abraham Lincoln's top hat, Dorothy's ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz," as well as the rarely seen Scarecrow costume worn by actor Ray Bolger in the movie, Miss Machado said.

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