The New York Times, December 16, 2003

A Big Museum Opens, to Jeers as Well as Cheers

By MATTHEW L. WALD

 

CHANTILLY, Va., Dec. 15 The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum opened

a vast, gleaming new building on the edge of Dulles International Airport here on Monday,

filled with aircraft of every description, including the B-29 that carried the first atomic bomb

dropped on Japan.

 

The opening was mobbed not only by tourists and aviation buffs but also by several dozen

protesters, who said the bombing of Hiroshima should have been better described. A plaque

in front of the B-29, the Enola Gay, describes it as "the most sophisticated propeller-driven

bomber of World War II" and notes that it dropped the bomb, but tells little more.

 

"If you're going to display it at all, you have to display it with what it did to human beings," said

Joseph Gerson, program coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee.

 

But Gen. John R. Dailey, director of the Air and Space Museum, said the purpose of his institution

was to stimulate interest in technology and science. "The political aspects are more difficult to

cover in three paragraphs," said General Dailey, a retired Marine pilot. The plaque has 14 lines of

text, similar in length to the descriptions of other historic craft here.

 

For three years in the mid-1990's, the Enola Gay's fuselage was displayed at the Air and Space

Museum's main building, on the Mall in Washington, where it created clashes between veterans'

groups and antinuclear activists over how it should be described. But this is the first time the entire

plane has been on display; an elevated walkway allows visitors to peer through the cockpit windows.

 

Mr. Gerson said setting up the plane for public view "builds cultural and political forces in this

country for use of nuclear weapons again." Protesters chanted, "No more war!" In response, some

visitors shouted, "Go home!" and other, less polite demands.

 

Among the protesters today were six Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima bombing and the child

of a seventh. Though noisy, the demonstrators were mostly peaceful. In one exception, a container

of red paint was thrown against the polished aluminum fuselage, bounced off and broke on the

concrete floor. The airport police arrested Thomas K. Seimer, 73, of Columbus, Ohio, and charged

him with destruction of property, a felony, and loitering, a misdemeanor. A second protester,

Gregory Wright, 55, of Hagerstown, Md., was arrested on a loitering charge.

 

Most visitors seemed to take the protest in stride. Sequined drum majorettes from Stone Bridge

High School in the nearby community of Ashburn, who had come with their marching band to

perform at the opening, whipped out cameras to record the scene.

 

By day's end, the museum said, more than 10,000 people had toured the new center. Many were

aviation buffs, from near and far. Ray Appleby said he had come from Gloucestershire, England, to

see the Concorde, whose autopilot, he said, he helped develop. The Smithsonian has an Air France

model, its narrow neck rising above a walkway. It is parked at right angles to the prototype of the

Boeing 707.

 

Tim and Liz Dennison of Herndon, a stone's throw from Dulles Airport, brought their son Justin as

a present for his 10th birthday. The Dennisons, both of them stunt pilots, were impressed that a

tourist attraction on par with those in Washington, 28 miles away, had opened near their home in

the suburbs.

 

The Smithsonian expects to attract about three million visitors a year to its new building, named the

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in honor of the aircraft leasing magnate who pledged $65 million for

its construction.

 

The complex, not quite finished, will ultimately hold more than 200 aircraft and 135 space artifacts.

It is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free, as with all Smithsonian museums, but

parking is $12. A bus runs hourly from the Air and Space Museum's flagship building on the Mall

for $7 round trip.

 

The museum on the Mall gets about nine million visitors a year but houses only some 10 percent of

the Smithsonian's aviation collection. The Udvar-Hazy Center will have nearly all the rest. Many of

the smaller planes are already suspended from its arches, quite a few visible up close from elevated

walkways.

 

Perhaps more than museums of art or natural history, the Air and Space Museum offers a vicarious

pleasure to visitors, who can contemplate flying the craft on display. Not all of them would find that

a treat, though.

 

In the Space Hangar, which is dominated by the Enterprise, a prototype of the space shuttle, a

group of students visiting Washington from the Saklan Valley School in Moraga, Calif., near San

Francisco, clustered around the Gemini VII capsule. Frank Borman and James A. Lovell were

aloft in Gemini VII for 14 days in December 1965 to demonstrate that astronauts could endure

in space long enough to get to the moon and back.

 

Alison Tokar, 13, looked skeptically at the tiny interior and doubted that she could have lasted

that long.

 

"I can't spend an hour in the car," she said. "And they eat like, toothpaste, right?"

 

 

Jon Marino contributed reporting for this article.

 

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company