Thursday, October 14, 2010

Historic Big Washington -- Part II

One of the greatest things about DC is the beautiful architecture of the monuments and governments buildings. Unlike other big cities the skyline of the city is dominated by the US Capitol and the Washington Monument. The National Mall (open space not a shopping center the 7th graders expected) which runs from the capitol to the Lincoln Memorial (about 2 miles) is the site of several major monuments and 10 of the Smithsonian Museums. We revisited several monuments but did not have the time to explore museums except to see the original Star Spangled Banner that has recently been refurbished.
Without a doubt, for me, the most personal monument is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial known as The Wall. It has the names of the 58,195 service personnel killed in Vietnam. While I did not go to Vietnam during my two years in the Army, I knew several people whose names are on the wall. When it was built many people did not like this "black slash in the ground" so the statue of the three soldiers on the left was added. Later the nurses statue was added to honor the eight women whose names are on the wall. Over time it has become one of the most popular stops in DC. Taking a rubbing (right) of a friend's or relative's name is a common practice here. We did have several students over the years who found their relative's names on the wall. Another practice here is for people to leave personal mementos. We allowed our seventh graders to read anything that was openly displayed but warned them that it could be a letter to a grandparent some child had never met or a note to a buddy someone had served with. On this visit someone had left a Purple Heart and just seeing it was very emotional for me. All these items are collected daily and archived by the park service. Many are displayed in The Price of Freedom: Americans at War exhibit at the National Museum of American History.
At the top are the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the World War II Memorial. These are both very impressive monuments to honor those who served in those wars. The WWII memorial has a wall of 4048 stars each representing 100 Americans who died in that war. In addition to the statues of the soldiers on patrol at the Korean memorial there is a wall of scenes from that war and the words "Freedom is Not Free." Seeing the war memorials in DC really brings that point home. Pictured at the bottom is the Lincoln Memorial and the view from the Lincoln of the Washington Monument and the capitol. The Lincoln has 57 steps, one for each year of his life, and 36 columns, one for each state at the time of his presidency. The statue is very impressive and worth the climb. The trip to the top of the Washington Monument offers a spectacular view of the surrounding area. We did not do it this time. Notice the two colors of stone on the obelisk. The construction was stopped during the Civil War and when it resumed the same stone was not available. It has come to symbolize the split of the war and the joining together of the nation when peace came.
These are the buildings of the three branches of the government. Top are the Supreme Court and the US Capitol and bottom is the White House. The flag is the the Star Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry when Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became the national anthem. The flag has recently been restored and is on display at the National Museum of American History.
We went to the new Capitol Visitor Center and toured the capitol even though we had done this many times before. Center is looking up at the inside of the dome. The statues are Stephen Foster of Pennsylvania who invented the steamboat, Lincoln and Freedom. Freedom is on the top of the dome and at 19 1/2 feet is the tallest statue in the city as no one should be higher then freedom. Top right is the original Senate chamber that later served as the Supreme Court until their building was built in 1935. Bottom are two of the eight paintings in the rotunda. The visitor center has a display of how the building changed as the nation grew and the workings of Congress. The capitol is a very worthwhile visit.
Above left is the National Archives which has on display the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (below left). Seeing these original documents and realizing you are looking at the signatures of the Founders has always been exciting to me. This is a must see. Below right is the Library of Congress and the Gutenberg Bible (top right), one of many rare books that can be found here.
These are pictures of the interior of the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress. This is the first time in my many visits to the city that I have been inside either building. Top center is a statue of John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice, who lead the ruling that gave the court the power to overturn unconstitutional laws. Bottom right is a model of the justices' chamber. We got there too late to get in line to hear oral arguments in the actual chamber. Something to do on the next visit. The rest of the pictures are the Library of Congress. This has to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. They had a display of much of the original library containing the books of Thomas Jefferson. It was a thrill knowing that the books you were seeing had been held and read by Jefferson. We also viewed two special exhibits. One on Ira and George Gershwin which included one of their pianos and several scores of their wonderful music and other memorabilia. The other exhibit was on Bob Hope and his many years of involvement with the USO.
These are the things we saw in our four days in the city. There are many other places that should be on every ones list such as the National Cathedral, Arlington National Cemetery and more of the Smithsonian museums. Everyone should put our nation's capital on their bucket list. It is truly a wonderful place.

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