Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Memorial Day and Museums Reopenings

I suppose for myself, as a History major, museums signify places of remembrance that offer more vivid understandings of the past. Of course, this is the purpose of Memorial Day as well, as we remember our service members and oftentimes hear their stories. It is only fitting, therefore, that museums should play a significant role in remembering those members of our nation’s military who died serving our country.

But what does Memorial Day in a museum look like in the midst of a pandemic?

Many museums around the country have already begun to reopen in some capacity. For example, the National World War II Museum reopened yesterday in a limited capacity, in terms of both a limited staff and a limited crowd. 25% of the museum’s normal capacity was allowed to enter and 82 of its approximately 300 member staff were laid off. The museum’s reopening required careful planning to maintain the proper safety measures: guests had the option to purchase tickets online in advance, social distancing was maintained, and cleanings happened with more frequency.

Other museums that were not in a position to reopen, even in a limited capacity, resorted to other measures to commemorate the holiday. For example, volunteers at the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum in Vista, California painted the American flag on the back lawn of the property. The flag took 45 gallons of paint to complete and measures 137 feet long and 78 feet tall. Once it was completed, trumpeter Fred Ashman performed “God Bless America” and “Taps” as a tribute.

Wisconsin Virtual Commemoration

Finally, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison held a virtual Memorial Day ceremony. Many local politicians appeared in a video to commemorate Memorial Day: Governor Tony Evers held a moment of silence and Secretary of Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Mary Kolar suggested that viewers pay their respects by flying a flag or lighting a candle at their homes.

A recruitment poster for the Coast Guard SPARs program. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Many other museums have made their exhibits available online, as was mentioned in a previous post on this blog. Some virtual exhibits that are relevant to Memorial Day include the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s World War I-focused exhibit, “We Return Fighting.” The National Air & Space Museum offers an exhibit focused on Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) during World War II, while the National Women’s History Museum offers content on women who served in the Coast Guard during World War II in the SPARS program.

These are just a few of the exhibits and content that I found particularly interesting (I had never heard of the SPARS before!). Many museum exhibits have become available online during this unprecedented time for museums — and for us all — and this has already shaped the manner in which we commemorate holidays such as Memorial Day. So while it was definitely an unusual holiday, at least we are still able to keep learning and remembering and honoring the past.

1 Comment

  1. Barbara Silberman

    May 26, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    The original celebration of Memorial Day was related to slavery and took place in Charleston SC. (See David Blight, Race and Reunion).

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