WASHINGTON (AP) – George and Martha Washington, Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” and other costumed characters greeted thousands of visitors Friday as the National Museum of American History reopened after a two-year, $85 million renovation.

Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State and retired Army general, read President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to a crowd of at least 200 people on the museum’s steps before the doors opened.

“It is the 19th of November, 1863,” Powell said after the blare of horns announced the start of the famous speech. “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Powell’s Army uniform hangs in the museum’s gallery on military history.

Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough said Lincoln would have been pleased that Powell was chosen to read the speech. He said the museum’s opening is a renewal of the Smithsonian’s effort to educate young people.

The Children’s Chorus of Washington sang the national anthem, the crowd waved small American flags, and many wore red, white and blue top hats. The museum opened a three-day festival with the firing of a cannon from the era when “The Star-Spangled Banner” was penned in 1814.

Inside, visitors found favorite exhibits such as Kermit the Frog and a gallery devoted to the American presidency, where President-elect Barack Obama’s picture had already taken its place on a timeline of presidents.

An actress portraying Dorothy in a national tour of “The Wizard of Oz” musical posed for photos with guests near the slippers exhibit. She sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the museum lobby.

Museum officials plan to have costumed historic characters on hand every weekend and daily during the busy summer months. George Washington greeted many children on the opening day, teaching them to bow “as we do in Virginia,” he said, rather than shake hands.

Nearly 3,000 people flooded the museum in the first few hours of its opening, officials said. On an average Friday in November, the museum has about 4,000 visitors all day, spokeswoman Valeska Hilbig said.

Scott and Maurlo Parker, who live on Capitol Hill, brought their two young children to see the Star-Spangled Banner in a new dimly lit gallery that will help preserve the tattered flag.

“We’ve got to do the patriotic stuff since we live here,” Maurlo Parker said. In fact, they named their 8-week-old son after one of the presidents – James Madison Parker – and their 16-month-old daughter is Ellen Virginia Parker.

“He’s very patriotic,” Maurlo Parker said of her husband, who works in a congressional office. She said the flag exhibit was “beautiful.”

“It’s amazing,” she said. “We kind of watched them do the reconstruction, so it was neat to see how it’s all come together.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.