Friday, January 7, 2011

A day spent in good company, October 28th, 2010


It was only the beginning of our third day in the city and we were already exhausted, first thing in the morning....


It was going to be an *extremely* long day, with lots of pictures......In fact, as I was writing this entry Whirlwind looked at the pictures and said "That was SUCH a long day!  Did that day have 300 hours??"

Today was the day we'd 'do' the Washington Mall.  One monument, many memorials, and a heck of a lot of walking.

Our first stop was that huge obelisk right in the middle.  The Washington Monument of course.


In DC there are a bunch of presidential memorials but only one presidential monument.  That'd be this one.  So how come Washington gets to be a monument and not a memorial?  Well, that's because he was alive when the Continental Congress, in 1783, decided to erect a monument to the father of this country.  It was to officially be called 'The Washington Monument'. Even though the actual construction didn't start until1848, well after Washington's death, the name of the structure did not change and it remains a monument, and not a memorial, to this day.

The other men memorialized here in DC were all long gone by the time someone thought to memorialize them.  Hence they are memorials and not monuments.

If you look real carefully at the picture of the monument above you can see that the stone used on the bottom is different from the stone used above it.  That's because the work stopped at an early stage because they ran out of money and the country was dealing with some major issues by this time, like the approaching civil war.  The work stopped for about 25 years while the monument sat like a stump in the middle of Washington.  Quite the disgrace.  Finally, someone had had enough of it and found the money to finish it off.  It was completed in 1884, 36 years after construction had began.

Inside is the man himself (well, you know what I mean) and one of his many admirers.  Though I am told to make it very clear that no, Washington is not Inventor's favorite president.  His favorite is the 16th president.  But we'll get to him later today.


The interesting thing I noticed is that only here is the statue of the man relatively small.  It's really the structure itself that stands out more than anything else.  This, as opposed to Jefferson and Lincoln who yes, have a remarkable structure surrounding them, but also have enormous statues depicting them.  After what we learned about Washington, this does not come as a surprise.  He did not like to make himself stand out.  He was "...pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding...." (taken from inside the monument).

So, after getting our tickets (free, but must have them in hand) and waiting for our scheduled time, we finally ascended the 555 foot 5&1/8th inches tall monument.

The views from the top, as you can well imagine, are spectacular.  There are little windows to look out of in each of the four directions; north, south, east and west.  We all studied the map earlier but this provided a nice 3D introduction and orientation as we began our day.


Looking south we saw Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial across it.  That'd be our next stop.


Turning west we looked down upon the Lincoln Memorial (great excitement rang out!), the World War Two Memorial and the Reflecting Pool between them.  You can't see them from here, but close to the Lincoln end on the left is the Korean War Memorial and on the right is the Vietnam Memorial.  Just across the river, behind Lincoln, is Arlington, VA (we did not make it over there).


Notice the reflection of the Lincoln Memorial....

On those steps leading up to the Lincoln Memorial is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech. Certainly no disrespect to MLK, but I'm also reminded of Forrest Gump when I look down on this....."FOOORRREEEEEEST!!!"


Moving on, here we're facing north, looking down of course on the White House.  See what I mean by how small it seems compared to the buildings around it?  I also always imagined much more land surrounding it.  Though that's a pretty huge back yard I guess, but not quite as big as ours these days! :-)


Finally, we turned to face east and the other end of the mall.  That of course is the Capitol way down there with the Smithsonian museums lining the mall.  One road over to the north sits the National Archives.  Do you know that the majority of Americans who visit DC don't even go in to see the National Archives building?!  That's just crazy!  You'd think seeing the original founding documents of this country, among many other things, would be top priority.  You'd think.


Just to give you a little orientation here.  The two streets lining The Mall are Jefferson on the south and Madison on the north. South of Jefferson is Independence Ave and north of Madison is Constitution Ave.  On Independence Ave. you'll find such things as the Department of Education, the FAA, USDA, Department of Engergy, etc.  On Constitution Ave. you'll find the IRS, FTC, EPA, etc.  All those well loved government institutions......A necessary evil I suppose, though I have a few, or many, choice words for some of those departments....The USDA, EPA, FDA, and Department of Ed. come to mind....

BTW, Pennsylvania Ave runs on a diagonal from the Capitol to the White House but can't be see too well in this photo.  The distance from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial is two miles.

At the top of this monument is also a small exhibit about the Washington and the structure.  Here's what it looked like when the work stopped.  Truly a disgrace.


225 years later and his wish still hasn't come to fruition.....will it ever?


Heading back down in the elevator these were pointed out to us:


Each state created a commemorative plaque in honor of Washington to be placed inside the Monument.

Walking around Tidal Basin and along the Japanese cherry tree lined streets, we headed over to the Jefferson Memorial.


That's him in there,


Truly awe inspiring.  What a man!



A master of the pen, scientist, philosopher, legal mastermind, an internationally recognized 'patron of learning', and the 3rd president of this country.  Among many other things, believe it or not.  Composer of the Declaration of Independence, advancer of enlightened ideals, he set out to revise the legal system of his state (Virginia) "with a single eye to reason and the good of those for whose government it was framed".  Virginia's laws of religious freedom set a powerful precedent for the separation of church and state in the country's law.

The great contradiction that embodies Jefferson is of course the issue of slavery.  For someone who argued that "all men are created equal", he had a lot to explain as the owner of one to two hundred slaves of which he only set five free upon his death. To give him some credit though, he did try repeatedly to end or at least limit slavery.  He tried to ban slavery in the newly purchased territory of Louisiana but lost the vote (i.e. the Louiseana Purchase that doubled the size of the country, one of his great accomplishments).  As president he also signed the bill that outlawed importation of new slaves to the United States. Ultimately, however, he wasn't willing to risk his political career by pursuing emancipation.  He left it for the next generations to deal with what he termed the "abominable crime".

Of course, the other huge thing Jefferson was known for during his presidency was the Lewis and Clark expedition.  The famous expedition sent out west to explore, discover and learn.  All things Jefferson himself was known for.  We of course love us some Lewis and Clark, so even without all the other 'stuff' Jefferson is known for, he captured our hearts right from the start.

Workin' on those Jr. Ranger projects.....the Mall project was enormous as you can imagine.  So much to do and see....The White House and grounds, or Presidential Park, had its own Jr. Ranger project which we did as well.


Leaving the Jefferson Memorial we headed for our next stop, the FDR Memorial.  On our way there we walked along the other side of Tidal Basin and had a nice view looking back at where we started our day.


We approached the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial from the east, so we really we began our tour from finish to start. Unlike the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the FDR Memorial is not designed with pillars, arches or domes.  It is an elongated area divided into four open air 'rooms' each representing FDR's four terms in office as well as a 'prologue' room introducing him.  The memorial is one of the largest in the country but it certainly doesn't feel like a huge imposing structure.  Instead, the little quiet alcoves and waterfalls make it feel like secluded quiet gardens.  FDR's New Deal programs of the 1930's helped lift America out of the Great Depression and are highlighted here.  His role in helping the allies win WWII is of course also commemorated.

Within each 'room' the highlights of each term are depicted in quotes carved on the walls.


Statues depicting hardships of the time (such as hunger and war), FDR's fireside chats (a term he coined for his pioneering weekly radio addresses),


FDR and his dog.

Eleanor Roosevelt was of course present as well.  Representing strength and dignity, as well as being a strong voice for human rights, the kids were very proud to stand in her shadow.


Meandering through the memorial one comes across many beautifully designed waterfalls and pools,


It's really very well and beautifully designed.


The abundance of short quotes at the Memorial are what touched me the most.  One could really get a feeling for what this man was about by the sprinkling of his words throughout.



Walking from FDR to Lincoln one comes across what will be the future site of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and then, the Korean War Memorial.


We were reminded that "Freedom is not free" and that that is what the Americans in Korea (along with other countries) were fighting for.

The memorial "...depicts a squad on patrol and evokes the experience of American ground troops in Korea....windblown ponchos recall the harsh weather" (taken from the NPS info).   There are 19 stainless steel soldiers and they are all reflected in the black granite wall you see behind them, bringing the total number of soldiers you see to 38.  The border between North and South Korea is on the 38th parallel.  The memorial is filled with such meaningful representations.


Finally, we made it over to Lincoln.  Literally a dream come true for some of us, and it's the kids I'm speaking of here.


Though Lincoln is Inventor's favorite president, Analyzer has a very special place in her heart for this memorial as well.  About a year ago she and her American history study-mates (this was a homeschool group) built their own Lincoln Memorial. Their memorial was even put on display at the Boulder Public Library!  She knew practically everything there was to know about this Memorial, its design and all the various elements and their significance, thanks to her wonderful teacher and friend, Christine.


We could not get up those stairs fast enough....


And this is the spectacular view from the top of those many many stairs,


Fortunately we had gotten there just in time for a ranger talk.


Once concluded, Analyzer managed to stump the ranger with a question that he actually had to go look up the answer to in a book!  She wanted to see Lincoln's handwriting and wanted to know where she could find the original Gettysburg Address, in Lincoln's hand.  Well, sure enough the answer wasn't straightforward.  I would have thought it'd be at the National Archives, but nope, it was to be found in the Library of Congress instead.  OK.  Question answered.  The fact that we never made it to the Library of Congress is quite a different issue.  Sadly, even after seven solid days of sightseeing, one can't squeeze it all in.....


Hero worship at its finest....literally at the feet of greatness....


Lincoln is just so compelling, it's hard to turn your back and walk away.  You just want to stand there and stare all day....


The 16th president is best remembered of course for saving the Union and freeing the slaves, thereby becoming a symbol of freedom himself.  He was that "future generation" who would deal with the "abominable crime", in Thomas Jefferson's words.

He actually didn't go to war over slavery.  It was the South who seceded from the Union and fired the first shot.  Lincoln was the one to insist on preserving the Union and getting the South back, so to speak.  Only at some point during the war did he decide to write his famous Emancipation Proclamation, theoretically making it illegal in the south to own or trade slaves.  Though in practice he could not enforce this new law in the southern states, the declaration now turned the war into a crusade on slavery.


Inside the Memorial we found Lincoln, of course, as well as the famous Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address.

On the platform at the top of the staircase is a modest yet historically significant slab of granite.  That slab has the words "I have a dream" carved on it.  It is the exact location MLK stood to deliver his famous speech in 1963.  We had the honor and privilege of placing our feet exactly where his two feet stood.


A year ago we also had the honor and privilege of standing beneath the balcony he was shot on, at the Lorraine hotel in Memphis, TN.

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Moving on along 'the trail' we got to the Vietnam Memorial. The Memorial is comprised of more than 'just' The Wall.

First, we came across the directories, if you will.  In them you can look up the name of a fallen soldier and find its location on The Wall.  The sheer size of these books was staggering.  Especially for the kids.  It's really hard to comprehend such numbers in theory, or even carved onto a wall.  But when you hold something in your hands that's so very very thick, then, maybe, you can begin to digest.  This is when a quiet solemnness began to come over the two older kids.  This is where that deep sunken feeling started creeping into their hearts.  You could see it on their faces, on the way they moved and in the way they examined the things around them.


Next, we studied this statue.  Children.  They are children.  And that's the first thing my kids noticed as well.  That, and that distant despondent look on their faces.....


The Wall of Names.  The famous Wall of Names.  It honors the men and women who gave their lives during the Vietnam war as well as those who are missing in action.  The names are listed "in the order they were taken from us".

The Vietnam war lasted 16 long years.  Such a *huge* amount of time.  58,267 lost their lives.

Here, the kids came across a letter an 8 year boy wrote to his great uncle.  He left it at the wall for him.


Here, we came across a photo of a bunch of army buddies in uniform, with one circled.  In front of that photo were left a beer can and a cigarette.  We studied that photo for a while.


Finally, we went to examine this statue commemorating the women, most of them nurses, who served and gave their all to help under the worst conditions.  Again, the despondency and anguish is overpowering.


The names of seven army nurses and one air force nurse appear on the Wall.  Eight trees were planted around this statue to mark their sacrifice.


At this point Analyzer, being the serious empathizer she is, became very quiet.  I could feel the strain of the pain building up inside of her.  Inventor, in his own wonderfully child like way, managed to pull himself away from the pain he had internalized and delve into silliness as a coping mechanism.  That's fine.  They can only take what they can take.

By the time we'd reached the World War II memorial Analyzer however was done.  She said "it's too much, it's just too much".


Given that statement, and her obvious level of fatigue, both physical and mental, we just gazed out at the memorial and absorbed it visually, without delving too much into the symbolism of it all.  The kids know what World War II was about and know about the Holocaust, so I didn't feel the need to push it here.  And BTW, speaking of the Holocaust, no, we didn't visit that museum on this trip.  Talk about too much.  They'll be plenty of time for that a little bit later in their lives.


We were done.

No, we didn't see it all.  There are many more memorials, not to mention Arlington, to be seen.  But they'd have to wait until next time.

We were done with presidential and war monuments and memorials.  Done with walking for what seemed like miles on end.

Done with our long eight hour day.  Done with the heaviness and seriousness.

It was time for everyone to break out into the sillies, and that was just fine.  Everyone needed to find some release one way or another.

This monument is really hard to hold up straight people!  I'm doing my best!


Nothing like foolin' 'round right under the president's nose!


On our walk back to the car I snapped this picture, though what I really wanted to do was throw eggs at their windows.....No, I don't think they do nearly enough, to say the very least, as you might have guessed.


And finally, driving out, we zoomed passed this.


Hard to tell in this blurry shot, but that's Jon Stewart's 'Restore Sanity' rally stage going up over there.  Today was Thursday and the rally was set for Saturday.  The Mall was getting ready for some action!  Though we would have loved to attend the rally, if for no other reason than 'how cool would THAT be?!', there was no way we were doing it with the kids in tow.  Talk about a mad house!  We did entertain the notion for about 5 minutes, but when we saw the amount of traffic already heading into the city as we left it on Friday, we decided, hell no!

After a long day of visiting and connecting with history, we really felt we had walked along with giants.  We were truly at the feet of historic greatness here in DC.

Tomorrow, we'd be lightening it up a bit with the Air and Space Museum!

*Hopefully I can post it tomorrow, we're still working on solving our space issue.....

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the tour. do you remember your visit to DC when you were 13? You certainly saw a lot more this time.