National Museum of Patriotism - Closed
"America needs this museum" reads the literature for the National Museum of Patriotism. Our whole country -- deconstructed, co-branded, personal agenda-ized -- has lost the collective suspenders that keep its red, white, and blue pants from falling down, and the NMP aims to reattach us to our national haberdashery.
Is it already too late? One of the gift shop workers told us the museum gets good weekend crowds -- of people killing time before they can enter the overbooked Georgia Aquarium and New World of Coca-Cola down the block. The National Museum of Patriotism features a replica 25-foot-tall Statue of Liberty torch, but its own motto could be, "Give us your tired, your bored, your visitors waiting to walk through some other attraction's golden door."
There are plenty of good vibes at the National Museum of Patriotism, reminding us of another attraction -- the defunct Enterprise Square USA. But this museum's subject needs to be treated with some gravity. Without singing U.S. President heads, it's difficult to counter the allure of multinational sharks and beverages.
Exhibits stress the traditional. The decor is heavy on stars and stripes; praise is directed toward law enforcement and the military. One war exhibit, "Freedom Bike," is a Harley-Davidson airbrushed with scenes such as the fall of Baghdad, the flag-raising over the World Trade Center rubble, and a helicopter gunship killing a Viet Cong in a rice paddy.
The museum also works hard to expand the breadth of what is considered acceptably patriotic. "Voting in America" gets its own wall-mounted display, as does "History of the One Dollar Bill." There are exhibits on the Tuskegee Airmen, "Covert Patriotism" (spying), and mass entertainment, extending from the expected (Bob Hope) to the perplexing (Access Hollywood). The "Hall of Patriots" includes Ronald Reagan, but also conscientious objector Desmond Doss, and Daniel Lyle, an obscure coal miner who died trying to save his buddies in 1904. The galleries offer many looping video presentations along with the static displays.
An entire gallery is reserved for the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, which the museum regards as a pivotal moment for patriotism. A Nam-memorial-style wall engraved with names of the dead leads to framed pieces of rubble and plane fragments. Beyond, in a small chapel, sounds of a jet swooping low overhead are followed by a reading of the poem "Power of One," while photos of the WTC are projected onto a pair of towers and brushed metal screen behind a waterfall. "As we retell with pride of the sacrifice of heroes, we become one people." An altar supports flickering candles and a box of tissues, near a framed portrait of a bald eagle with a tear on its cheek.
The museum's drive for inclusiveness goes pear-shaped in its exhibit on The Olympics, particularly the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, which includes plush versions of its designed-by-committee "Izzy" mascot, a blue blob with high top sneakers and lightning bolt eyebrows. Is this meant to show how bad things can get when we flock to cartoon idolatry instead of real patriotism?
Similarly, a bronze sculpture titled "Education Leads the World" depicts a nerd kid with oversized spectacles and a mortarboard, sitting on a globe, reading with a big magnifying glass. In contrast are the uniformed, ramrod-straight, perfect-physical-specimen "Defenders of Freedom" dummies in the next gallery. With both brains and brawn, America can only triumph.
The National Museum of Patriotism is at its most weighty and comfortable in its "American Symbols" gallery, a 3-D landscape of USA icons floating on an American flag ocean. From Mt. Rushmore to the Liberty Bell (which you can ring) to the flag-raising on Iwo Jima, it's all in one handy tableau, accented by a sonorous narration and pin-spot sequenced lighting. Nearby you can sit in a World War II jeep for snapshots, then it's out into the gift shop, primed to purchase American flag door knockers, "United We Stand" paperweights, and CDs of Lee Greenwood singing "God Bless The U.S.A."
This, in fact, is where the National Museum of Patriotism seems most in touch with its audience. In the same way that a year-round Santa store satisfies those who can't get enough of Christmas, at the National Museum of Patriotism, it's always the 4th of July.