It was not on Valentine’s Day, but love was in the air at the Udvar-Hazy Center on Veteran’s Day in 2005. Two and a half years into dating, my then-boyfriend Ben came up with a very creative and meaningful way to propose to me. He knew how proud I was of setting up our display of a Skylab era Scrabble board, and he used that as a starting point for linking my dedication to work with our acknowledged interest in a future together.
During installation of the small artifact display case in the human spaceflight exhibit area in the Space Hangar, I was on the ladder when it came time to install a magnetic Scrabble board and letters. To make it look interesting on the shelf, I placed the bag of letters on its side with particular letters spilled out: those that represented the Museum (N-A-S-M) and my department, Space History (D-S-H). I also placed letters spelling out three spaceflight-relevant words on the tile racks, which are there even today. Every time friends or family wanted to tour the building, I pointed out my little “inside joke.” Ben had heard the story dozens of times when he leveraged my attachment to that display to his advantage.
Unbeknownst to me, Ben contacted the object’s curator and my colleague, Valerie Neal, to see what she could do. Valerie put the wheels in motion and got the right people involved to complete Ben’s plan. On Veteran’s Day, under the guise of wasting some time before heading to a ski and snowboard exhibit at the Dulles Expo Center, we walked around the Museum for a bit. I thought the Museum visit was strange, but suspicions were raised when at one point I noted that his hand felt sweaty as I held it. Ben passed it off as moisture from his drink at McDonald’s. As we came around towards the center of the Space Hangar, ready to head out, I walked purposely to avoid going to the Scrabble display and telling the story again. Ben gently guided me in that direction anyway. As I got closer, I noticed the letters on the tile racks looked different, and actually started to get mad. The closer I got, the more I realized what the words now spelled out: “Jen will you marry me.” I stopped dead in my tracks, shook my head in disbelief, and holding Ben’s hand, walked slack jawed towards the case.
The story has a happy conclusion of course, and a humorous ending to the proposal itself. As he opened the ring box, which was hidden in a pocket of his pants for hours, the ring fell out and danced across the floor towards the rails that surround our major artifacts. My museum employee mind worried that we might have to get security to get the ring back, but thankfully, it was within our reach! The following September, we got married in front of friends and family, many of whom knew about this amazing proposal before I did.
So next time you’re at the Udvar-Hazy Center, think of my fantastically creative husband Ben when you look at that Scrabble board.
Jennifer Levasseur is a museum specialist in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.