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After an two-week hiatus, the open air National Mall and the federally funded museums that line it were open for business Thursday morning, and things felt pretty much like they did before the Oct. 1 doomsday.
Families posed for awkward photos, groups of middle school students wearing the same school shirts huddled in front of museums, and about half the people on the Mall seemed to be staring at maps.
“We lucked out,” said Bob Williams, from Iowa, who was headed to the Museum of Natural History with his wife. “Just like the government, we lucked out.”
The Williams had booked their hotel before the government shutdown and couldn’t have canceled their trip even if they wanted to. Same goes for the Norton Middle School eighth grade class, whose field trip from Columbus, Ohio, had been planned more than six months ago. They got in yesterday and had two itineraries: one for if the government was open, the other for if it was closed.
If the government was closed, the eighth graders would have seen at least 10 memorials over three days (which would have only been questionably legal). So the students, for better or worse, have been watching the news, learning about Congress, and hoping the government would reopen.
“They know a lot more about Congress than I ever did at that age,” says Josh Anderson, a teacher and chaperone on the field trip.
Anne Marie Laporte, a docent at the Museum of Natural History for more than 30 years, couldn’t have been more excited to be back volunteering at the museum Thursday. She says things seemed a little quieter than usual in the morning, likely because field trips to the museums were canceled before the shutdown ended and people were still confused as to what was open or not.
“I hadn’t been here in more two weeks,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to come back.”
A maintenance worker at the Smithsonian was grateful to be going back to his job, but was a little less enthused.
“I’m happy to be back at work, but after you stay at home for a little while, you get complacent,” he says. “[The shutdown] seemed like a waste of time. They didn’t accomplish anything, and they’re still paying everyone.”
Photo by Perry Stein