Like tickets to hot concert tour, free same-day passes to the National Museum of African American History and Culture were snapped up in minutes Monday morning, the day the museum moved its same-day distribution method from an in-person line to its web-based ticket system.
The museum distributed 880 free passes grouped in 30-minute time slots between 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. The tickets became available at 6:30 a.m., and by 6:34 the banners saying “unavailable” and “sold out” covered every time slot. The passes represented about 10 percent of the 8,700 distributed for the day.
More than 643,000 people have visited the Smithsonian’s newest museum since it opened Sept. 24.
The museum announced the change to its same-day policy last week, saying the colder weather was the reason for eliminating the in-person line. Every weekday since opening, people had lined up along 14th Street to receive passes when staff began distributing them at 9:15 a.m. Often they lined up before dawn to ensure entry.
The change surprised Robin Choi, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Howard University. Her classmates had been successful nabbing passes by lining up by 8:30; the switch to online caught her off guard.
“I’m not super bummed,” she said. “I’m fortunate enough to live here so I can come back.”
Choi planned to return before 1 p.m., when the museum allows walk-up entry. William and Jean Gray of Wichita, Kansas said they planned to return at that hour, too. The couple was unsuccessful when they logged onto the museum’s website. They went to the museum at 9:30 but were told they would have to return at 1. “We’ll come back early and hang out,” Jean Gray said.
Earlier this month, the museum began allowing a limited number of walk-up admissions after 1 p.m. on weekdays. The number of admission depends on the size of the crowds already inside.
Monday’s rush for online passes mirrored the frenzy for advanced passes previously distributed online and by phone by the museum. It took only minutes for 700,000 passes for September through December to be snapped up by potential visitors. In August. The enthusiasm was similar in October, when the next three-month block was released.
Officials said only about 40 percent of the passes for weekdays are being used, although weekend use is higher. Timed passes for April will become available Jan. 4, and passes for May will be released Feb. 1.
Tarrah and Tahani Cooper were among the guests who were able to obtain passes online. The online process was seamless, said Tarrah Cooper, a political consultant from Chicago who was pleased not to have to wait in the cold.
“It’s a monumental experience. It’s worth the lines, worth the wait,” said Tahani Cooper, a retail fashion manager in New York. “It was important to experience it together,” her sister added.
Mark Hagner of Milwaukee scored a single pass on his first try. In town for the week, the software developer said he planned to try every morning until he was successful. He visits the District several times a year, and has looked forward to his first visit to the new museum.
“I’ve watched the buiding being built,” he said. “I’ve heard the building informs the spaces in the galleries. People liken it to the Holocaust Museum. It’s difficult but a good difficult.”