My Fave Place in DC: The International Spy Museum

by Jill Berry on April 12, 2012

I’m a big believer in fairness. Fairness makes me feel like a better person. But, I can also be left feeling that adjudicating what is fair is a thankless task. Take a squabble between two children over the only blue soccer ball. Who is to say who had the ball first. I wasn’t there. Child #1 claims ownership, but isn’t it Child #2′s turn to have the ball? And couldn’t they share the ball? And what about the brand new red ball, isn’t that good enough?! Refereeing what is fair is not for the weak.

There is one area where I will always give myself high marks for fairness: experiences. I’m a stickler when it comes to making sure that the kids have the same experiences. The two older ones saw Sesame Street Live, so of course my son had to be taken when he was old enough. We took the older two to Disney World when the youngest was three so we took my son when he was 3. I practice the same level of equality with local places in DC.

A few years ago, I took my Teen to the International Spy Museum while my husband took our Tween and Kid to the Zoo. I wanted to wait for my youngest to be old enough to benefit from the full experience of the Spy Museum. This week as a part of his 9-year-old birthday celebration we took our son to the Spy Museum.

The museum is a rabbit warren of rooms covering different eras of espionage, spying, and code breaking. I observed many small children on the day we visited who desperately wanted to run around. There’s not enough space inside for that type of play. From the conversations I had with my son, I could tell that he was old enough to not only read the labels on the display cases, but also understand them.

Visitors to the International Spy Museum enter through a pleasing entryway on F St., N.W. Once inside with tickets in hand, we were led to a set of elevators. The elevators took us up to the museum entry point. After stepping off the elevator at the Permanent Exhibits (Espionage, School for Spies, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the History of History), we were instructed by the guide to choose an identity from those listed on the columns. This identity would be our cover for our visit to the Spy Museum.

We all chose someone close to in age, so that we could maintain our cover story. The kids picked kids who were around their age. We were told by a museum guard to memorize our “covers.” Could we stay undercover?

Is there a kid out there who does not love periscopes, walkie talkies, or phones made out of tin cans. We walked from display case to display case marveling at how large and bulky the early bugging devices were. Although these devices fit in buttonholes and hats, they did not look comfortable to wear under clothing. Today’s miniscule gadgets are marvels of invention, but can you imagine lugging around the equipment carried by Cold War spies?
While my husband, the Kid, and the Tween-now-Teen, explored the museum with fresh eyes, as a returning visitor I found myself looking at an exhibit on spies from the Civil War that I had missed on my earlier visit. Another room that piqued our interest was the code breaking room. Have you heard of the Enigma Code? During WWII, scholars based in England and the U.S. worked to break and create codes to help the war effort. My son used a computer to try his hand at breaking a code.
The layout of the Spy Museum, while compact, allows visitors to transition from one exhibit to the next freely. I was surprised that I heard no complaints from the kids while we were in the museum. There was so much to explore.
Want to learn more about the International Spy Museum?
  • General Admission (Youth 7-17) $13.95
  • General Admission (Senior ages 65+, Military/Intelligence Community) $14.95
  • General Admission (Adult ages 18-64) $19.95
  • In addition to the General Admission charge, you can experience at an extra charge: Operation Spy $14.95 — recommended for ages 12+
  • Summer hours, daily 9 a.m. -7 p.m. For the rest of the year hours vary.
  • Like the International Spy Museum on Facebook.
  • Follow @IntlSpyMuseum on Twitter.

I was provided with passes for my family to enjoy the International Spy Museum and to facilitate my review. The views expressed in the view are my own. I follow the tenets of Blog With Integrity. If you want to learn more about my travels in D.C., Baltimore, and farther afield, follow me @MusingsfromMe or read my blog: Musings from Me: Seizing Family Time.

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Elaine April 12, 2012 at 3:38 pm

My mother was like you, she interpreted the term “fair” to mean “equal” or “the same”. Although I think this is the easy interpretation of the term fair, it’s not clear to me that it’s the correct one. I think different people should be treated differently. I could amuse you for hours with stories about the great lengths my mom took to be “fair” when it really made no sense at all. However, I do admire ANYONE who is consciously making choices and parenting decisions – and your kids are rocking it. And I LOVE that you took your kid to the Spy Museum at a time when he was ready for it. That makes all the difference. And of course, it’s a fantastic place. I look forward to when my kids are old enough to enjoy it!

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Corey Feldman April 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm

After all of these years, I have still never been there. When my kids are old enough that I am comfortable explaining to them what a spy is, I’ll go/take them…

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