There are spies among us. A lot of them. At least, that’s the scene at the International Spy Museum’s Spooky Spy Family Night, one of several family-friendly events the downtown museum hosts throughout the year.
I took my 10-year-old and my 7-year-old to the well-organized annual event, which included a scavenger hunt through the museum’s exhibits after hours, face painting by professional makeup artists, and the chance to meet and chat with a real-life spy.
Spooky Spy Family Night runs after the museum closes, from 6 to 9 p.m. The schedule of events is done at your own pace so you don’t have to stress if you don’t show up right at 6. In fact, it might be better if you didn’t show up exactly when the doors open, to avoid that initial crush of pushy parents. (There were about 350 attendees at the event.)
Once you check in at the front desk, you head to a table where you can write your secret agent name on a nametag (mine was Tiger Mom, my daughter’s was Lord Voldemort) and get either a stick-on mustache or a fluorescent hair braid (or both!) to disguise yourself.
Spies who need even deeper cover can head to the second floor’s special events room, where some of the best makeup artists I’ve ever seen at a family event can turn you into a zombie, a pirate, or anything else you can dream up. This room also contains snacks, because undercover agents get the munchies too: cups of Shake Shake Oatmeal Crème Pie frozen custard, pretzels, Cheezits, Halloween candy.
A real spy, former CIA intelligence officer Melissa Mahle, was on hand to answer questions and sign copies of her kids’ books, which all have a spy theme. My kids told me talking to her was one of the best things about the evening.
You could also test your skills on a mind memory game and a code cracking puzzle, but my kids were eager to get started on the scavenger hunt so we headed back to the first floor where we took an elevator to the start of the museum’s exhibits. A booklet we received when we checked in had all the clues we needed to find each piece of “intel.”
My 7-year-old was too excited to take the time to read the clues so I had to read them to him, but he was able to figure out the right answers on his own. Some of the answers involved reading the exhibit captions, others involved doing some activity (showing a roving ninja your best ninja move). I liked the variety of the clues, and it was a fun, interactive way to go through the museum’s exhibits.
Along the way we learned about the earliest American spies (including spymaster George Washington), real spy gadgets (pens that hid messages, handbags that doubled as cameras), and famous movie spies (there’s a whole section on James Bond!).
We had Super Secret missions that we also had to complete. One was to locate one of the “bugs” the museum was crawling with. The other was to find agents wearing trench coats and shake their hands to get a secret bead.
After we completed the scavenger hunt and found the roaming agents (we never did find any plastic bugs), we headed to the museum shop where we handed in our completed booklet and our collection of beads, and received our spy ranking and a prize. The museum shop has a bunch of really cool gift items, including Harry Potter-themed candies. I made a mental note to visit the next time we needed fresh ideas for schoolmates’ birthday presents.
The museum hosts a bunch of other family-friendly special events throughout the year. Upcoming events include Spy Fest (January 27, 2017), Operation Secret Slumber (an overnight at the museum on March 11-12) and summer camps.
One of the spy mottos may be “Deny Everything” but I have to profess that Family Night was entertaining and educational. And stay tuned — Spooky Spy Night will return in 2017!
WHAT TO KNOW
- Spooky Spy Family Night tickets are $14/person. Reserve ahead of time online. (Regular museum admission is $14.95 for kids, $21.95 for adults.)
- Family Night is recommended for ages 5 and up. Younger kids (like my 7-year-old) might want to just zoom through the exhibits in search of the next clues, while older kids (like my 10-year-old) might want to linger and read through the exhibits more carefully. If you come with kids of differing ages, it might help to bring along another adult so you can go at each kid’s pace.
- Closest metro is Gallery Place/Chinatown. Street parking and garage parking is available nearby for a fee.
Photos courtesy of the International Spy Museum.