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Congressional Impasse Leaves Museums Empty, Monuments Shut

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Federal bureaucracies aren't the only ones scaling back operations during the government shutdown. It's also meant that kids couldn't take field trips to the Smithsonian.

In fact most of the popular Washington attractions funded by the government are closed. That includes the Smithsonian's 19 museums and the National Zoo, plus Ford's Theatre and the National Gallery of Art.

Christy Agor is on maternity leave from her job at the State Department. She admits that as a federal worker she should have known the National Zoo would be closed Tuesday. The zoo is part of the federally funded Smithsonian.

"The poor animals are getting furloughed as well," she says. "It's really too bad."

For visitors from out of town, the shutdown is a major annoyance. Xiao Xiao Hong made the trip from her home in Connecticut, along with a friend visiting from Beijing. The two were looking forward to seeing the zoo's giant pandas — the latest participants in a cultural exchange begun with a landmark diplomatic gift from China to the U.S. in 1972. Hong says about half of the places they wanted to visit in Washington are closed.

"It's just unfortunate because we've never been to D.C. before," she says.

Even though most of the Smithsonian's employees are not working today, all of the animals at the zoo will be cared for. But none of the Smithsonian's facilities are open to the public.

"It means we disappoint a lot of tourists," says Smithsonian spokesperson Linda St. Thomas. "Last week we had 400,000 people here. And today we have signs saying we're closed due to the government shutdown."

Even the "panda cam" is turned off.

"The panda cam and [other] animal cams are also shut down because they're run by employees who work in buildings that are now closed," St. Thomas explains.

The National Park Service is also shut down. That means hundreds of sites it maintains around the country are closed — Ford's Theatre, Yosemite National Park, the Statue of Liberty and Civil War battlefields, among them.

But some people aren't letting the shutdown get in the way of their mission to visit American monuments.

This morning a group of World War II veterans arrived as part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight, which sends veterans, free of charge, to Washington to visit war memorials. When the veterans got to the World War II memorial — a sprawling open-air monument on the National Mall — it was barricaded.

The veterans, many in their 80s and 90s, reportedly pushed the barricades aside ... and were eventually allowed through.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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