A ‘Moving’ Tribute to Transportation

‘America on the Move’ Opens Saturday

Posted November 19, 2003 at 2:38pm

The only “shh” sound you’ll hear at the new “America on the Move” exhibit won’t come from an irate curator, but from 12 speakers surrounding a 199-ton, 92-foot-long green monstrosity — called the “1401” locomotive — as it lets out steam.

With 178 speakers strategically placed in 26,000 square feet of exhibition space, the new permanent exhibit at the National Museum of American History is a unique museum experience with its clicks and clacks, sounds of stalled traffic and calls of “all aboard!”

“A lot of what [the exhibit] is, is subliminal,” said Janet Davidson, co-curator of the exhibit and co-author of the 320-page companion book, “On the Move: Transportation and the American Story.”

“America on the Move” opens Saturday with a free family festival taking place from noon to 4 p.m. on the first floor of the museum.

The exhibit is one of two new displays in the General Motors Hall of Transportation and features 340 artifacts, 21 miles of electronic cable, 73 cast figures (including three horses, two dogs, one cat and a mouse), and, we can’t forget, one kitchen sink. It is the largest exhibit in the museum.

“The Transportation Hall is actually one of the original halls for our buildings,” said Melinda Machado, director of public affairs. “The museum will be 40 next year [and we thought] it was really time to update the hall [by] putting the objects — our cars, locomotives, motorcycles, bicycles — we wanted to put those objects in the context of American life.”

The hall’s second exhibit, “On the Water: Stories of Maritime America,” has not yet been scheduled to open, but the original exhibit is available to the public.

The five-year project of planning, funding and constructing the new exhibit began in 1997 with the initial funding of $3 million from the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century. It was made possible through more than $31 million in-kind and cash donations, including a $10 million donation from General Motors. The exhibit construction cost $22 million.

Items donated to the exhibit include a “double deep orange” school bus from Martinsburg, Ind.; a 1934 Trav-L Coach; and the original doggie goggles worn by Bud the bulldog. Bud, who made the first cross-country automobile trip in a 1903 red Winton touring car with H. Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker, would refuse to ride in the car until his goggles were securely fastened to his head.

Seventy-three cast figures in “America on the Move” are based on real Americans who have donated items to the exhibit. Visitors have the opportunity to eavesdrop on conversations between characters and learn about America and transportation.

Other items included are the 1903 Winton touring car, 40 feet of Route 66, a 1926 Ford Model T, an 1898 electric streetcar from Washington, D.C., (with a mural depicting the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street Northwest at the time), and a Chicago Transit Authority train car that has been wired with a rear projection screen, lights and sound scheme to imitate a 1959 commute around the Chicago Loop.

The exhibit also features 19 interactive stations with audio and visual options in four different languages — the only exhibit in the American History Museum to have them — and several mounted televisions showing custom-made movies by the History Channel, two sit-down movie stations and other interactive features.

For a detailed schedule of Saturday’s events, visit americanhistory.si.edu/onthe move or call (202) 357-2780.