News Flash: They aren’t your grandparents’ museums any more

Marvin Bond

The word museum used to bring to mind dusty artifacts and dark paintings, and it still seems to evoke a love-it-or-hate-it reaction. Much like the Colgate vs. Crest toothpaste allegiance, there are those who find great pleasure in visiting museums, and others who tend to avoid them like the plague.

We in the Mid-Atlantic have lots of world-class museums, such as the Smithsonian’s edifices along the National Mall. But there are numerous others in that category as well.

These days, that dusty collection of paintings and artifacts is more likely to be an award-winning, interactive children’s museum, such as Amazement Square in Lynchburg, Va. Or, it could be the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa., which combines an environmental conservancy with a celebration of the centennial of American artist Andrew Wyeth. Or, it can be The Valentine History Center in Richmond, Va., which captures the spirit of the city in its exhibits, but also offers walking and bus tours of fascinating neighborhoods and historic sites, including Hollywood Cemetery.

There are museums large and small telling local, regional, and national stories throughout the Mid-Atlantic and the nation. You can meet the author at a book talk at the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, search for fossils on the beach at the Calvert Marine Museum, ride a trolley at Pennsylvania’s Rockhill Trolley Museum, and enjoy the beauty of a Maryland tradition at the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum.

Most any vacation destination, from the beach at Ocean City, Md., to the mountains around Roanoke, Va., has museums to explore. For the eighth summer, the Blue Star Museums program is offering free admission to military families. Some 2,000 museums across the country are participating from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Last year, more than 900,000 military members and their families took advantage of the free admission offer and visited science museums, nature centers, children’s museums, and fine art museums.

The list of participating museums is available at

Whether you’re in the military or not, taking in a museum, whether it’s an experience like Colonial Williamsburg or a special interest museum or natural attraction, creates memories and will de-bunk the old dusty image you may still be carrying in your mind.

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