How could I ever think driving up to D.C. from the marina for a day or two would give us enough time to cover this city? Here we are on the second week with so much left to do. We started the week with the three branches of government that the U.S. Constitution laid out for us in 1789.
Last year the Washington Monument was covered in scaffolding, this year it’s the Capitol Building and headquarters to the Legislative Branch.
Eric sent an email to our Representative, Allen Lowenthal of California’s 47th district, requesting a tour of the Capitol. Becca scheduled our tour and we met her at their office in the Cannon House Office Building.
When the federal government moved to Washington D.C. in 1800, the unfinished White House and Capitol Building were the only government buildings in D.C. at the time. Taverns were still a prime meeting place and the swamps made the town a muddy place to do business. Today our 435 Representatives have offices in Cannon, Longworth, and Rayburn Office buildings. The Senators in the Russell, Dirksen and Hart Buildings as well as the Representatives in their buildings have access to the Capitol and Library of Congress through a Tunnel System. Check the link, it’s fascinating what is included in this underground city. There is a subway connecting most of the buildings as well as a convenience store, food court, and hair salon.
From the Cannon Building, where our representative has his office, we walked along the tunnel to the Capitol. This is where the Congressional High School Art Exhibit is displayed. Since 1983 the Congressional Institute has sponsored this competition.
In 1793 President George Washington laid the cornerstone for the Capitol. When he died in 1799 the designers asked Martha if they could build a tomb for her husband, she agreed. Then in 1827, after the Capitol was rebuilt due to the fires set by the British in 1814, the builder’s oversight omitted the tomb and then Washington’s will and the current owner of Mount Vernon didn’t allow for his body to be moved. So, George Washington’s body remains in Mount Vernon and this room below the Rotunda and the columns supporting the floor above is still called the crypt.
A marble compass is set into the floor to mark where the four quadrants of the District of Columbia meet. Our tour guide said that path the president walks on his way to his inauguration takes him through this room. Each President makes a point to step on this compass like all of his predecessors for good luck.
The Capitol is a beautiful building, full of art. The Rotunda is a circular room 180 feet high, the Statue of Liberty at 151 ft could stand tall in this room. painted on the dome is the Apotheosis of Washington, a fresco depicting Washington becoming a god and sitting among heavenly figures. You’ll have to read the link for a full description of the symbolism. But, in my opinion, I don’t think George Washington would have approved of this painting. I don’t think he wanted to be thought of as a king or a god.
Around the Rotunda there are eight huge paintings depicting scenes such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s Resignation, explorers like Columbus, the Pilgrims, and famous surrenders. In the Rotunda as well as throughout the entire building are statues of famous people.
Statuary Hall, just south of the Rotunda, was the House Meeting room from 1807 – 1857. A new meeting room was constructed because the domed ceiling made echos so it was difficult to hear discussions and debates. Starting in 1870 two statues were contributed by each state. By 1933 the hall starting getting crowded and there were concerns about the floor holding all that weight. Since then the statues have been distributed throughout the Capitol. Becky joined us for the tour, she and I worked together in Hawaii and now she lives just a few miles north of the Capitol.
The Statue of Freedom in bronze tops the dome of the Capitol. A plaster model of the statue is on display in the Visitor Center.
When the Federal Government moved to Washington D.C. in 1800, this building housed the Senate, their meeting room and offices, the House of Representatives, their offices as well as the Supreme Court and their offices. Wow, a lot of business went down here. Over time, these groups all grew out of their original spaces. The Senate met in the chamber pictured below from 1810 to 1859. The Vice President of the United States is the President of the Senate (good to know, I always wondered what he did), and sat at the curved desk with red canopy. Facing him are 64 desks for senators, two from each of the 32 states at the time. When the Senate moved out, the Supreme Court moved up stairs to this room until they got their own building in 1935.
The Capitol also displays plaques to honor events and people. For instance, a plaque on the wall reminds us that on May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse in the Old Supreme Court Chamber sent “What hath God wrought” in Morse Code, a bible verse from Numbers 23:23, via electric telegraph to Alfred Vail at the B&O outer depot in Baltimore.
Bronze plaques are on the floor of the Old House meeting room to honor the presidents that once sat in that place as a representative.
Another plaque remembers the citizens aboard United flight 93 who overtook Al Qaeda hijackers on 9/11/2001 which less than 20 minutes from Washington D.C. crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. This heroic deed, killing all 33 passengers, saved the Capitol and lives of countless people working there to run our country. Our American history tours have taken us to memorials erected in New Jersey directing our view to the empty sky in Manhattan where the twin towers once stood and Baltimore in front of the World Trade Center built there on the water front.
The Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, leaders of Woman’s Suffrage, in the Rotunda also displays an unfinished piece of marble. Wikipedia says this is to represent the unfinished work of women’s rights, contrary to the information given on our tour that the space is reserved for the first woman president. Wikipedia says that the space isn’t large enough to carve a bust.
Exiting back down the hall to the Cannon Building, we have a beautiful view of the Capitol’s dome. Thanks to our tour guides, law students and interns for Representative Allen Lowenthal.
The Thomas Jefferson Building is the oldest of three Library of Congress buildings which was finished in 1897. Before that, the library was housed in the Capitol Building. We enjoyed our lunch out front. Most days we set out to tour D.C. just before noon and are ready for lunch soon after we arrive at our first building.
The Jefferson Building is also part of the Capitol Tunnel system. The original Library of Congress was established in 1800 with 740 books and 3 maps ordered from London. By 1814 the collection grew to 3,000 volumes, which were destroyed by the invading British when they burned the Capitol building.
Within a month Thomas Jefferson offered to sell Congress his collection to pay off debts. Jefferson’s collection was that of a scholar instead of a gentlemen’s collection for display. Congress accepted his offer and received 6,487 books for $23,950. By 1851 the collection grew to 55,000. Unfortunately another fire destroyed 2/3 of the collection, including 2/3 of Jefferson’s books. Within 10 years hardworking librarians managed to replace all but 300 of Jefferson’s original books.
Thomas Jefferson’s books are on display in the Library. We previously learned about his love for books while visiting Monticello last year.
In 1897 the library moved to the Thomas Jefferson Building and the collection changed direction from a research library for Congress to our National library. Today the Library of Congress includes 32 million books in 470 languages, millions of manuscripts, newspapers, comic books, films, maps, sheet music, photographs and the largest rare book collection in North America including a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and one of the three known Gutenberg Bibles from the 1450s.
The Library of Congress, built during the Gilded Age, is considered to be one of the richest public interiors in the United States. The ceilings and walls are covered with murals and paintings created by more than 50 American painters and sculptors. I really feel like I could have spent more time looking at the art in this building.
The library contains 838 miles of books, you can get a library card, but can’t take any books home with you. Instead you get to spend the day in a reading room like this one.
The current Supreme Court building and home to the Judicial branch, was finished and occupied in 1935 thanks to the efforts of Chief Justice William Howard Taft.
The Supreme Court was established by Article III of the Constitution and currently consists of a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. The Supreme Court Justices are responsible to ensure the President’s actions and Congress’ laws are Constitutional. They also hear cases from State courts when it is thought that the ruling is not in accordance with the Constitution. There is no term limit for the Justices. The swear in Presidents and rule over Impeachment proceedings.
Up the marble stairs and in through the brass doors leads to the columned Great Hall lined with busts of the 16 former Chief Justices that have lead the court since 1789. The building is large and grand but relatively plain because it was built during the Great Depression.
One unique feature in the building is the two marble spiral staircases. Each ascends five stories and is supported only by overlapping steps and by their extensions into the wall.
The only large statue we saw in the Supreme Court Building is that of our fourth Chief Justice, John Marshall. He was the longest serving Chief Justice and served during six presidents from John Adams to Andrew Jackson. He is credited with strengthening the power of the court and encouraging the hand down a single majority opinion rather than individual opinions from each justice. For the very first time his court overturned an Act of Congress which set the principle that the Constitution is a set of laws that the courts may interpret, and the Supreme Court may declare null and void any new law that conflicts with the “laws” of the Constitution.
The Executive Branch is also the home to the First Family. 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, if you want to send them a party invitation or Christmas card.
Our visit came just after a breach in security where someone jumped this fence and ran into Mr. Obama’s front door. We did notice security everywhere inside and outside the fence. Police in cars in the driveway, out on the street on horseback, wandering around near the fence and the sneaky ones were hiding so we didn’t see them.
We signed up for a tour of the White House but none are available. Instead we walked around the perimeter and toured the visitor’s center across the street. The visitor’s center did a great job of reminding us that while the President’s office and offices for his staff is in the White House it is also a home. They had a great movie/slide show with interviews by Presidents and their family members who lived in the White House. Mr. Clinton talked about how exciting it was to live in the same house where all our previous Presidents, except George Washington, lived.
By 1900 the White House was getting crowded so they expanded with West Wing office space, and in 1946 the East Wing was finished for social events and as a reception area. In 1927 the second floor residence space was expanded by renovating the third floor attic. After all this in 1948 it was decided that the house wasn’t structurally sound and was rebuilt with an internal steel frame and new interior rooms. Wow, that’s remodeling. Below the First Family’s living quarters is the ground floor and State floor and a two story basement.
One morning Eric turned on NPR and heard that the President would be at the dedication of the new American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. ”Hey Kids, grab your stuff we’re leaving in five minutes.” Off we went with our friends from Dream Catcher, racing up the street, late as usual. When we arrived at the location, we found that tickets were required and tickets were available, so we all got in. We passed through security, were directed to a seating area in the back, and almost immediately the program started.
Security was posted on the top of the surrounding buildings, a helicopter circled above and I’m sure plenty of observant people were mingling in the crowd. The flags were presented, we sang the National Anthem and did the pledge of Allegiance.
We heard from Lois Pope , Gary Sinise, Hon. Sally Jewell, Hon. Robert McDonald, Dennis Joyner and Arthur Wilson. They each spoke about disabled veterans from their own experiences. Each speech really made me think about the people who offered their lives for our freedom, returned from war and will live the rest of their lives with the scars. The last speaker was President Obama. His entrance was announced with Hail to the Chief. We didn’t shake hands or anything, but it was still exciting to see the President in person.
If you want to watch an hour of the absolute best speeches on the topic of the sacrifice our military gives to our country from several points of view, please watch the Dedication Ceremony below.
Like every day here in D.C., the day was filled with exhausting hikes from one side of the mall to the other. Today, we walked the full length of something just over 2 miles.
At the opposite end of the mall from the Capitol is the Lincoln Memorial. This memorial was dedicated in 1922 to honor our 16th President. We all see pictures of this memorial nearly every day on the $5 bill and the penny. Lincoln fought to keep the Union together during the Civil War and each of the 36 states in the Union at the time are inscripted along the top of the building.
Lincoln’s statue is 19 feet high, if he were standing up, President Lincoln would be 28 feet tall. Panels on the wall display his Gettysburg address, given in 1863 near the Gettysburg battlefield reminding us of the principles of the Declaration of Independence and preservation of the Union, and Lincoln’s second inaugural speech, delivered after the end of the Civil war and days before his assassination discussing rebuilding the Union. These speeches, as well as the ones delivered at the Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial and many other great speeches are rather short but the words are wisely chosen.
The Lincoln Memorial became a venue for Civil Rights. In 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let Marian Anderson, a contralto singer, perform before an integrated audience at Constitution Hall. Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for her to perform before 75,000 people on the Lincoln Memorial Steps. In 1963, 100 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech, MLK is now honored with his own memorial across the street from here.
In the park along the south side of the reflecting pool is the Korean War memorial. At the end of WWII Korea was divided, at latitude 38, the United States supported South Korea while China and the Soviet Union supported North Korea. In 1948 both North Korea and South Korean had established governments and both claimed to the be legitimate government of Korea, neither respected the division at the 38th parallel and full on war broke out when North Korea invaded South Korea. The United States’ involvement in Korea’s Civil War resulted in more than 35,000 deaths and 8,000 MIAs. North and South Korea committed numerous massacres on each other and in the end an armistice, cease fire, was negotiated in 1953 and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission composed of Swiss and Swedish armed forces has been stationed near the 38th parallel to keep the keep the peace. Our Grandpa Mac was shipped off to the Chosin Reservoir as a Marine reservist right out of High school and fought in the brutal 17 day battle that was a turning point in the war.
The Vietnam Memorial’s wall contains over 58,000 names of people killed in the war. Like Korea it was a civil war with communist countries backing one side and non-communist on the other.
Communism is an effort to produce a stateless, classless and moneyless society, structured upon common ownership of the means of production, similar to hunters and gatherers of prehistoric times. They feel that after an initial struggle between the classes people will be able to live peacefully. The problem seems to be that they can never get past that initial struggle.
In front of the Eisenhower building is the 1st Infantry Division Memorial. They are the oldest continuously serving division, since 1917. After WWI this monument was erected, and plaques have been added as the 1st Division continued to serve in subsequent wars.
The WWII Memorial is at the opposite end of the reflecting pool from Lincoln. This is a huge memorial with arches representing the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, and 56 pillars representing the U.S. states plus territories, a fountain, and plaques.
We sure do miss Topaz. She spent the entire summer in Buffalo with my mom and her dog JJ. The kids and I visited her when we spent August in Buffalo, but Eric hasn’t seen her since June. There were plenty of dogs walking along the Mall. The old Golden was watching the people go by with his owner, the young shepherd is in training as a search and rescue dog, and the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was spotted several times walking along the mall with his family.
Enough with the pups, we’re off to more memorials. The Tidal Basin is situated next to the Mall and in between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel (where Makai is anchored). The area was a marshland, breeding ground for malaria, dumping of sewage and detracted from the city’s visual appeal. In 1889 the basin was dredged out and designed to capture water at high tide, then redirect the water through the Washington Channel to flush away silt and keep the water from becoming stagnant.
Today it’s a beautiful little body of water with paddle boat rentals and surrounded by monuments and the famous Japanese Cherry trees. For about 1500 years the Japanese have been enjoying picnicking under their cherry trees. The blossoms are depicted on everything from Kimonos and art to WWII planes. Around 1900 Mrs. Scidmore and Dr. Fairchild worked to bring cherry trees to Washington, trying a few here and there. In 1909 a Japanese Chemist Dr. Takamine and the Japanese Consul Mr. Midzuno decided to help out and donated 2,000. When they arrived a year later, they were found to be infested with bugs and had to be burned. In 1912 a second donation of over 3,000 trees arrived in D.C. These were planted and by 1935 the first Cherry Blossom Festival was held. So what about WWII and our friendship with Japan? In 1952 Japan requested assistance replanting the grove where our stock was taken from, their trees were damaged in the war, so the National Park System shipped bud wood back to Japan. In 1958 this pagoda was given to the people of Washington D.C. from the Mayor of Yokohama to symbolize friendship.
The Tidal Basin’s newest memorial is to Martin Luther King, Jr., completed in 2011, 48 years after MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, 100 years after Lincoln emancipated the slaves. If you research any of these monuments you’ll find the design is loaded with symbolism. One such fact is that the MLK memorial is located at 1964 Independence Ave, a reference to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The inscription wall contains 14 quotes from Dr. King’s speeches between 1955 and 1968. Wikipedia has a list of the quotes, each one with words selected to make an impact.
The nice thing about visiting the memorials is that we get to stroll through the park. The kids collected acorns and offered them to squirrels we met along the way.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial stretches 7.5 acres along the Tidal Basin. The memorial is sectioned off to represent each of his four terms as President of the United States. Yes, it was after FDR that the presidental term limit of two terms was enacted.
The FDR memorial consists of sculptures, quotes, and a waterfall.
The last memorial we visited was Thomas Jefferson. His statue is in a beautiful domed building surrounded by inscriptions from the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson is one of the most influential founding fathers with a long list of credits including primary author of the Declaration of Independence and being our 3rd president.
While museums are interesting, Roy is always looking for a little fishing. Too bad, it’s not allowed in the Tidal Basin.
Our walk back to the anchorage passes by a huge fish market. There were several shops with heaping piles of seafood. Roy couldn’t resist the jumbo Shrimp, we got four shrimp in one pound. Becky came by and we all had Roy’s shrimp plus Chinese take out.
Our daily walks to, from and along the Mall take us past numerous buildings. Some have impressive architecture and others are just important places of business for out country.
We would walk by one building and think of the many times we’ve heard or seen the department in the news or on paperwork. It was neat to see people going in and out of the buildings instead of just a stamp of approval or a new regulation.
We got sidetracked for the week and finally returned to the American Indian Museum.
The exhibits were a pleasant change from the usual moccasins, pottery and tools we’ve seen at the Native American Museums in the West. This museum covered native people in all of North and South American. We spent quite a bit of time watching short films about various tribes and their way of life as well as animated stories explaining popular legends. We learned about the people in the north hunting whales, seals and salmon, and people in the south living in the mountains with their pack animals. One room was dedicated to the Native Americans and their struggle to maintain their land and culture. The white man’s treaties and ultimately broken promises.
The one last Smithsonian Museum on the Mall is the National Gallery.
We were surprised at the number of pieces from famous artists and how close we were able to get to the paintings. A few years ago the kids and I worked out way through an art book and online class and probably all of the classic examples of style by famous artists were here in the National Gallery.
I asked one of the security officers about why we’re able to photograph and get so close to the paintings, she said the National Gallery is supposed to be for the people. I’m far from knowledgeable about art, but strolling through the gallery was exciting. I could answer questions the kids have by googling questions on my iPhone, it’s great to have the answers in my little device. We miss that ability when we leave home and have limited internet access.
It has been a long time since we visited a zoo, so we checked out The National Zoo, a couple of metro stops up from the mall. All the museums greeted us with bag checks and security, but we could walk right into the zoo, no ticket booths or anything. The girls took a ride on a fun carousel. The animals are all exotic zoo animals, including a blue crab, Komodo dragon, meerkat, rinoceros, a bison and many more.
Everyone was excited to see the Giant Panda, but the closest we got was a bronze statue or something from the gift shop.
They had all the usual zoo animals as well as a farm exhibit.
We walked through the reptile house.
My favorite was the big cats.
We settled in and got very comfortable in our spot at the anchorage. We even got used to the helicopters. Several times a day, actually every few minutes, low flying choppers flew over us. I’m sure the Washington Channel must have a dotted line on it for the helicopters to follow. Occasionally we would see three big ones labeled United States of America. There are 35 helicopters, based in Quantico, in the Marine One fleet. Helicopters to transport the President or Cabinet staff and foreign dignitaries are often used instead of motorcades. When the President is on board the helicopters fly in a group of three to five, the president on one and the rest are decoys. Helicopters began landing on the White House Lawn in 1958 so Eisenhower could have a quick ride to his summer home in Pennsylvania. In 2009 Marine One flew with the first all female crew. By the amount of overhead noise I would say Marine One is plenty busy these days.
We were lucky to have buddies in the anchorage. The kids were always interested in where their friends were, but often everyone was exhausted after the families went out to explore museums and monuments. We made friends with a family of seven from Florida on Take Two, and an Austrian boat with one boy anchored next to us, and of course our long time pals on Dream Catcher.