Nobody comes to D.C. to see the Newseum. But with one of the world's greatest (and free!) collections behind a closed sign, Washington's also-rans will get a shot at attention because of the U.S. government shutdown.
The museums that draw millions of visitors to the National Mall closed their doors Tuesday, memorials were barricaded and trash will go uncollected in the nation’s most-visited national park due to the first government shutdown in 17 years.
Visitors found locked doors, black metal barricades and yellow caution tape blocking entrances to popular tourist attractions just hours after the shutdown. Fountains at the World War II Memorial were shut off.
“Why the heck does this have to be closed?” said Deb Cavender, 44, of Ames, Iowa, as she and her husband were making their way toward the memorial.
Tourists took pictures of signs on the barricades that read “Because of the Federal Government SHUTDOWN, All National Parks Are CLOSED.”
One by one, the memorials were closed, along with about 45 fountains maintained by the National Park Service, said spokeswoman Carol Johnson.
That included the World War II monument, but still dozens of veterans were escorted past the barriers by members of Congress so they could see their monument.
More than 125 veterans from Mississippi and Iowa arrived for a previously scheduled visit to find it closed. Members of Congress cut police tape and moved the barricades to let them in.
“It’s unfortunate that this is what happens when they know that there are busloads of veterans coming down here, and they don’t have the good sense to say keep the damn thing open,” said John Kleinschmidt, 87, of Ames, Iowa. “These are the guys that created it.”
Pumps also will be stopped at the Lincoln Memorial‘s long reflecting pool, but it won’t be immediately drained.
Perhaps most noticeable effect: Trash pickup has ceased on the National Mall and in downtown Washington parks maintained by the National Park Service. In total, 330 workers from the National Mall have been furloughed.
Melinda MacNamara, 25, and her boyfriend Ian Keen, 31, were visiting from Australia. They toured the National Air and Space Museum and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Monday but were out of luck Tuesday when they found Smithsonian museums closed. The pair thought the outdoor monuments would be open but found barricades blocking their way.
“We’re making the most of it,” MacNamara said, adding that the sites seemed less crowded.
Travel and leisure spending generates about $12 billion annually for the Washington region’s economy, according to Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis. That’s $33 million a day in tourism business, with the main draw being the National Mall.
“We’re not going to lose it all,” but business lost in leisure travel won’t be made back, Fuller said. “It’s the visitors from Kansas who won’t come here or the international visitors who will now go to Chicago or stay in New York longer. It’s going to cost us something.”
More importantly, the Washington region will lose $220 million per day in federal payroll while the government is closed, Fuller estimated. So federal workers won’t be spending money at small businesses and restaurants while they’re not being paid, he said.
“They won’t be buying anything,” Fuller said. “They’re just going to hunker down.”
While government-run museums on the National Mall were closed, many other attractions planned to stay open for tourists. The group Cultural Tourism DC said there will be numerous arts and cultural options for visitors and residents. Steve Shulman, the group’s executive director, said the shutdown may give visitors a chance to see different sites than they would normally visit.
Museums and attractions planning to stay open include the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Newseum, the International Spy Museum, National Geographic Museum, National Building Museum, The Phillips Collection and others.
Rebecca White, 35, and her husband Kevin White, 39, of Rochester, NY, were honeymooning in Washington on Tuesday and arrived at the American history museum only to find it closed. They said they were disappointed but would go to the Newseum or the International Spy Museum instead, two museums that aren’t run by the government.
“We knew what was going on, but we didn’t know this would be the result,” Kevin White said of the museum’s closed doors, which had printed signs reading “All Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are closed today due to the government shutdown.”
Some federal arts facilities pay for their programs with private funds, including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It was closed to daytime visitors but would open for evening performances. Ford’s Theatre, the site where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, said it was forced to move its performances elsewhere.
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Photo credit: A National Park Service employee posts a sign on a barricade to close access to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. Congress plunged the nation into a partial government shutdown Tuesday as a long-running dispute over President Barack Obama's health care law stalled a temporary funding bill, forcing about 800, 000 federal workers off the job and suspending most non-essential federal programs and services. Carolyn Kaster / Associate Press