After leaving Sharpsburg, we stopped in Charles Town, WV and Frederick, MD on our way to Washington DC. Charles Town, named after its founder Charles Washington, youngest brother of George Washington, was where abolitionist John Brown (see post on Harpers Ferry) was tried and hanged. Since we had been to Harpers Ferry to see the John Brown Fort, we felt it was only right to see where the story ended. The courthouse and site of the hanging are both on the Charles Town walking tour.
BTW, the pictured Perkins house (formerly the Gibson-Todd house) is for sale, so you can own a piece of real estate history for a mere $800K.
Frederick was our lunch stop and we immediately fell in love with the town. Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Frederick was an important crossroads during Revolutionary and Civil War times. The scenic city has a wonderfully preserved historic district filled with great restaurants and cute shops. Francis Scott Key practiced law in Frederick.
After lunch and a walk through town, we drove to our apartment in Washington DC and got settled in. We have a nice little place on Capitol Hill in one of the row houses in the Southeast sector. Our host told us not to be too concerned about the secret service types in the area as John Boehner is our next door neighbor. Guess that should make the neighborhood pretty safe! Neighbor John is on his summer recess, but if he returns prior to our departure, we’re definitely knocking on the door for a cup of sugar (or maybe a box of Kleenex).
Since arriving in DC last Sunday evening, it is amazing how much ground we have covered (literally). We thought it would be best to list the sites we have visited and give one or two thoughts on each. You’ll have to guess which one of us wrote about each stop. Here we go:
Monday: We went for a long walk just to familiarize ourselves with the area, including the Capitol, White House, National Mall, Lincoln Memorial, and Washington Monument.
We met Rebecca & Josh Klein (Rebecca is Al & Janie Murow’s daughter) for dinner near their home in the U Street Corridor of DC at El Centro, a wonderful tacqueria. The food and drinks were delicious (sorry forgot to take pictures), but the company was what brought us here. We enjoyed seeing them both and getting to know Josh a little better.
Tuesday: We took a Monuments walking tour with “Walk of the Town,” the #1 activity on DC TripAdvisor. Our guide Tim, a retired teacher was excellent. Here are a few things we learned:
The US Capitol Building: We learned that Thomas Jefferson was the first president to be sworn in at the Capitol; and that only two presidents have walked to the White House from the Capitol following the ceremony (most go by motorcade), Jefferson (who also walked to the ceremony) and Jimmy Carter.
We have a Capitol building tour scheduled next week so we’ll go into more detail later.
The original elevator ride to the top of the Washington Monument took 20 minutes. Only men were allowed in the elevator as it was thought to be unsafe. Women and Children had to climb all 897 stairs.
Construction was halted for 23 years (for the usual reasons, politics, money, war). When construction was finally resumed in 1879, the new stones were brought in from a different quarry and as a result, the top 2/3’s of the monument are a slightly different color than the bottom 1/3.
We will be taking the elevator up (Robin too) next week so more to come…..
World War II Memorial:
The day we visited the World War II Memorial there were a dozen WW II veterans being honored at the site. It was very touching to see them all together along with their families and friends. They were treated with the utmost respect.
We were surprised at the awful condition of The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool water. It consisted of horrible stagnant, green murky water. Our tour guide explained that the water actually looks better than it used to as the Park Service recently reconstructed the pool by circulating in water from the Tidal Basin. The pool’s resident Canadian Geese most likely add to the problem. What were Jenny and Forrest thinking……yuk.
Located at the Westernmost end of the Mall, the Lincoln Memorial sits on a direct line with the Capitol Building, Washington Monument, WWII Memorial and Reflecting Pool. On the interior walls on either side of Lincoln’s statue, are inscribed the Gettysburg address and his second inaugural address.
Rumor has it that the back of Lincoln’s head was sculpted to look like the face of Robert E. Lee, which, if true, would have Lee staring (through a wall) directly at his old house, the Custis-Lee mansion, now the Arlington House, situated within Arlington National Cemetery. Of course it is not true, but check out this photo.
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., made his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; there is now an inscription on the step where Dr. King stood, commemorating that historic event. Dr. King was speaking at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial:
Offerings are left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial nearly every day. These items have been intentionally left at the memorial since its opening, including letters, POW/MIA commemorative bracelets, military medals, dog tags, religious items and photographs. One person even left behind a motorcycle. Rangers from the National Park Service collect these items every day and, with the exception of unaltered U.S. flags and perishables, send them to a storage facility in Maryland. The facility is not open to the public, but certain memorial artifacts are put on view as part of traveling exhibits. Such artifacts will also be displayed at an education center yet to be built.
Over 58,000 names are inscribed on the memorial in the chronological order of their deaths. The first and last meeting at the center of the wall.
Korean War Memorial:
The memorial has 19 stainless steel statues larger than life-size, between 7 feet 3 inches and 7 feet 6 inches tall; each weighs nearly 1,000 pounds. When reflected on the memorial’s adjacent granite wall, there appear to be 38 soldiers, representing the 38th parallel. The figures form a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces. They are dressed in full combat gear, dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea. Anywhere you stand in the memorial, at least one of the statues will be staring directly at you. The granite wall has images taken from actual pictures, sandblasted into it, depicting scenes from the war.
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum:
I have to admit that the National Air and Space Museum was not one of my favorite places to visit. I hate to sound like a science museum snob, but earlier in our trip we visited Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida as well as the Wright Brothers National Museum in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Not being a “science” person, I was a bit bored with the displays. If I have to pick a highlight of the museum it would be the Amelia Earhart exhibit. I enjoyed seeing the enthusiasm on a young girl’s face as she observed the displays. She obviously had completed a school report on Amelia Earhart and was familiar with her accomplishments.
Yes dear, the Earhart exhibit was a good one but seeing the Spirit of St. Louis and the actual plane flown by Orville and Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk was pretty cool too.
Wednesday: Started the day meeting Ashley Cheung for coffee at the Union Train Station. Ashley played basketball with Emily at SRVHS and now resides in DC. Ashley is a program associate for the Council of Chief State School Officers (while working on her Masters in Public Policy at George Washington University). It was great to see and visit with Ashley. We can’t get enough of seeing how grown up and successful all of these “kids” have become. A ray of hope in this bizarre world of ours.
Wednesday was also prescription pick-up day for us. Our drugs at the local Walgreens were not ready, but fortunately the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery was just down the street. We were planning to visit the Gallery anyway so the prescription delay worked out nicely.
The National Portrait Gallery exhibits various portraits of people who have made a significant contribution to American history and culture. Lucky for us the Gallery happened to have several exhibits from the Civil War Era. Our favorite exhibits included “Grant and Lee” showing their class photos from West Point and death masks, “Mathew Brady’s photographs of Union Generals”, “Mr. Lincoln’s Washington”, and “America’s Presidents”, which is a complete collection of Presidential Portraits. We also enjoyed the exhibit on American icons. It was a very fast 4 hours.
Finished the day with a nice dinner at Matchbox.
We again joined Tim on a Walk of the Town walking tour, this time on the Waterfront/Tidal Basin. The Tidal Basin is a partially man-made reservoir on the Potomac River. The Basin is lined with cherry blossom trees. So, do you know the history of the cherry trees in DC? In 1912, the people of Japan sent 3,020 cherry trees to the United States as a gift of friendship. First Lady Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin. These two original trees are still standing today near the John Paul Jones statue at the south end of 17th Street. Workmen planted the remainder of the trees around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park. Each Spring the city celebrates the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Although I’m sure it would be a beautiful site in the Spring, we fully enjoyed our walk around the basin without any crowds.
While getting an orientation of the day’s schedule from Tim, a group of Navy Cadets marched by singing “Anchors Aweigh”. Just couldn’t get the camera out in time to video, but I did get a snapshot of the Cadets at the John Paul Jones statue.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial:
The centerpiece for the memorial is based on a line from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech: “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” A 30 feet high relief of King named the “Stone of Hope” stands past two other pieces of granite that symbolize the “mountain of despair.” Visitors figuratively “pass through” the Mountain of Despair on the way to the Stone of Hope, symbolically “moving through the struggle as Dr. King did during his life.”
The wall behind the Stone of Hope has 15 famous quotes from various King speeches. “I have a dream” is not one of them.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial:
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is spread over 7.5 acres and traces 12 years of the history of the United States through a sequence of four outdoor rooms, one for each of FDR’s terms of office. FDR had been asked in 1941 about how he would like to be memorialized. His response was, “If any memorial is erected to me, I know exactly what I should like it to be. I should like it to consist of a block about the size of this (putting his hand on his desk) and placed in the center of that green plot in front of the Archives Building. I don’t care what it is made of, whether limestone or granite or whatnot, but I want it plain without any ornamentation, with the simple carving, ‘In Memory of ____’.”
A small group of living associates of the President, on April 12, 1965, the twentieth anniversary of his death, fulfilled his wish by providing and dedicating this modest memorial. (We’ll get that picture in the next post…)
George Mason Memorial:
I’m guessing that most people (even in DC) don’t know this one exists. George Mason? He does have a university named after him but he was never a president. A founding father but he didn’t sign the constitution. And the memorial wasn’t even built and dedicated until 2002. What’s up with that?
Well, the memorial commemorates the contributions of this nation’s “forgotten Founder” who served as a very active and important delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. He did not sign the Constitution because it did not abolish slavery and because he felt it did not provide enough protection for the individual from the federal government. So, you have to give him credit for that. Turns out that it was Mason who eventually convinced the Federal government to modify the Constitution by adding the first 10 amendments, which were based on his Declaration of Rights written for Virginia. So, we can credit George Mason for the Bill of Rights! I’d say that certainly deserves a memorial. Thanks George.
The huge dome-shaped Thomas Jefferson Memorial is built on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin and is a circular colonnaded structure that is open to the elements. It’s shape is similar to the Pantheon of Rome, and it also mirrors the University of Virginia rotunda, a structure designed by Jefferson. In the center is a 19 foot bronze statue of Jefferson. Excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, which he primarily authored, and other selections from his writings are on the interior walls.
Jefferson was FDR’s favorite president, so he requested the funding for the memorial and was the one who dedicated it in 1943. FDR had the memorial located so he could see it from the White House balcony. He even had a Cherry tree or two removed for a better view.
Interesting note: We learned that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (friends, then foes, then friends) both died on the 4th of July, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
Needing a memorial break, we headed to the Maine Avenue Fish Market for lunch. This open air market serves every type of seafood imaginable. We picked up a couple of Haddock sandwiches, some gumbo and chowder and had a fine lunch.
On the way home, we found ourselves outside the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, so we figured we would go see how money gets printed. This brief tour kind of felt like the brewery tours we’ve done. They herd you in, show you a few assembly lines, and take you to the gift shop. Too bad they don’t pass out free samples when you leave!
Dinner at the apartment. Portobello sausages (almost set off the smoke alarm) and veggies.
Arlington National Cemetery:
On Friday we took the Metro to Virginia on the other side of the Potomac River to visit Arlington National Cemetery, a military cemetery for casualties and deceased veterans of the nation’s conflicts beginning with the Civil War, as well as re-interred dead from earlier wars. The cemetery was established during the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, which had been the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s wife Mary Anna (Custis) Lee (a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington). Once Virginia seceded from the Union, Mary Lee believed her estate would be overrun by federal soldiers. She buried many of the family treasures and left the area.
When the Civil War began, most of the soldiers who died in battle near Washington, D.C. were buried in D.C. or Alexandria, Virginia, but by late 1863 both cemeteries were full. The U.S. Federal government purchased Arlington at a tax sale in 1864 for $26,800 (equal to $400,000 today). Mrs. Lee had sent an agent to pay the property taxes but the government refused to take the payment. In 1882 the Lee family won a lawsuit claiming the property had been confiscated without due process and the estate was returned to the Lee family who sold it back to the government for $150,000 (equal to $3,221,364 in 2014).
The National Park Service acquired the Custis-Lee House in 1933 and restored the house and grounds. It is now called Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial.
Located just below Arlington House is the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame and grave-site. JFK’s grave-site is shared with his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (who requested and lit the flame), their son Patrick and daughter Arabella. On the grounds near the memorial are the gravesites of brothers Robert Kennedy, Ted Kennedy and a marker for Joseph Jr., who died in WWII.
Our last stop was The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which has been perpetually guarded since July 2, 1937 by the U.S. Army. The guards follow a meticulous routine when watching over the graves. The changing of the guards is not to be missed by those visiting Washington DC. Bob videoed part of the ceremony but unfortunately his iphone camera maxed out on space. He did get part of the relief guard’s weapons inspection by his commander. For those of you still reading, check it out.
The Pentagon Memorial honors the 184 people lost in the terrorist attack at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, when hijacked AA Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Each victim’s age and location at the time of the attack have been permanently inscribed into the Memorial by the unique placement and direction of each of the 184 Memorial Units. The Memorial also serves as a timeline of the victims’ ages. Each memorial unit is a cantilevered bench over a lighted pool of flowing water, with a permanent tribute by name to each victim. Each memorial unit is specifically positioned to distinguish victims who were on board flight 77 from those that were in the Pentagon. The entire memorial is orientated on the exact flight-path of flight 77. We listened to an audio narrative on our phones while viewing the memorial grounds. It was extremely moving to hear the stories of survivors and victim’s loved ones while viewing the memorial and noting the distinct difference in the color of the brick where the Pentagon building was restored.
After the the Cemetery and Pentagon Memorial we took the Metro to the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden for the summers last “Jazz in the Garden” concert. We had a great time listening to the music and people watching.
After a long exhausting day, we made it back to our neighborhood and went out for Italian at Lavagna.