Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I Spy a Change of Plans: International Spy Museum

We awoke to a morning of steady and heavy rain fall. Today our plans were to join in on the 150th Anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Gettysburg, walking Pickett's Charge, although not as re-enactors, at the exact time of day as the original. Then, as the Confederate side met the Union lines, Taps would be played. Good plan, memorable, touching -- and a once-in-a-lifetime experience: all the successful ingredients of a day trip. But the fun quotient was evaporating as quickly as the rain was falling. I made the tactical decision to change plans.

My youngest son suggested going to the International Spy Museum instead. Hmmm. Nearby. Easy to get to. Indoors. Not muddy. "Okay!" I relented.

Besides, all the stuff about Edward Snowden in the news lately seemed to make the choice appropriate.

The highlight of the International Spy Museum's exhibits was the 50 Years of Bond displays, which ran intermittently throughout the entire museum. Throughout the 50 Years of Bond exhibit, we met the various evil villains of the 007 movies, including the various incarnations of Bond himself. One of the more interesting tidbits was Ian Fleming's background and how James Bond came to be named James Bond. Short story: Fleming read an orthinography book by one James Bond, and considered the name to be the most boring and bland possible, and therefore, the perfect moniker for his uber spy. Particularly interesting as well was the comparison of aspects in the films, for example, the laser-fire satellite, with the real-world story (it doesn't exist).

The museum focuses on on mostly CIA-ish spy history -- the cloak and dagger aspects that the Bond films celebrate. Very little focused on other intelligence gathering aspects, although at the end there was a scary exhibit about the cyber battlefield space that my youngest found riveting. Edward Snowden, although not yet a part of the museum's narrative, very much came to mind during the exhibit on the Manhattan Project and how difficult it was for the us to keep our own secrets to ourselves. Insider threat is the most threatening, it seems.

In every museum I have my list of favorite artifacts, and the International Spy Museum is no different. My top  six are:

  • the Bulgarian umbrella gun
  • the bugged U.S. embassy medallion
  • the lipstick pistol
  • the Bond car
  • the pidgeon camera and the photo shot from such a camera, in which the pidgeon's wings are clearly visible
        • high-heeled switch-blade shoes (truly a killer pair of pumps)

I reserve the right to return to the plan of walking the Gettysburg battlefields at a future date, and I informed my offspring of that. "We look forward to it," my eldest informed me. Hmmm. They've learned sarcasm too well. 

Getting there: The International Spy Museum is located in downtown Washington, DC within the Pennsylvania Quarter neighborhood and stretches the entire city block between 9th and 8th Streets at 800 F Street, NW—one block from the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail Station and the Verizon Center. If you drive it, there's plenty of parking garages nearby, but you'll pay dearly for the privilege of parking.

Hours: 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. most days through 1 September, then 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Dogs: Of course not!

Eats: both fast food and nice restaurants in the immediate vicinity

Website: www.spymuseum.org

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