One of the main sights in Washington DC are the monuments. Great Americans are honored not only by statues but by large buildings or complex carvings. The most well known would be the Washington Monument:
This obelisk is the world’s tallest stone structure, standing at 555 feet 5-1/8 inches. Construction began in 1848 but wasn’t completed until 1884, mainly due to the civil war. It’s pretty cool to see in person not only because of its size but also its iconic nature. It’ impossible to miss when you are wandering about the Mall but I got a good look at it on our way to our monuments tour. We weren’t able to get a really up-close-and-personal look though because the monument was closed. It’s actually closed until the inexact date of 2014…when in 2014? January? December? Who knows… Anyway, the Nation Park Service closed the obelisk in July 2012 to allow for repairs needed after years of shifting ground and Hurricane Irene. I think it looks a bit like a spaceship with the scaffolding, especially when the scaffolding lights up at night.
The Tidal Basin is just south of the Washington Monument and houses a number of important honorary structures. The basin itself holds 250 million gallons of water and is filled by the Washington Channel on one side and the Potomac River on the other. The man-made lake wasn’t originally just for show. People used to be able to swim in it but when drama arose over segregation on its beaches it was deemed easier to ban entering the water than to argue with Civil Rights activists.
We walked the Basin at night (when the temperature had dropped to slightly tolerable levels) with a DC By Foot walking tour. I love walking tours! Some light exercise while seeing the sights and learning fun facts! It’s the best way to travel. This tour was a “free” tour, which I also love. The guide is working entirely for tips, so you know they are going to put their all into keeping you entertained!
The first monument we visited was Martin Luther King Jr. National Monument. This is the newest off all of the 395 monuments the National Park Services maintain, having only opened in 2011. As you approach you see a large stone with a slice cut out & pushed forward, allowing you to enter. This symbolizes a key part of the civil rights leader’s most famous speech: “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
On the basin facing side of the ‘stone of hope’ is a carving on the man himself. The top is exceptionally detailed but as you get further down it becomes less and less defined until he fades into the rock. This was meant to represent Doctor King’s untimely death at age 39. Backing the monument are long walks listing some of Martin Luther King Jr’s best quotes…although none from the I Have a Dream speech. The designers felt the speech was exceptionally well known and wanted some of Doctor King’s lesser-known but equally influential words to be put on show.
Fun fact: The monument actually featured one quote, “I was a drum major for justice, peace & righteousness” that our tour guide told us to make sure to snap a photo of because his family has ordered it’s removal. They think it makes him sound to conceited…plus it is taken out of context and misquoted…oops!
As we travelled around the basin our tour guide pointed out the cherry blossom trees. They are far less noticeable when not in bloom (which only happens for a few weeks a year) but no less important. The trees were a gift of friendship from Japan, although 2000 original tree that arrived were so infested with insects that they had to be burned. 3020 trees were sent as replacements and were planted around the Tidal Basin & other important DC locations. I think I might plan my next visit to DC around these trees…it would be incredible to see them all in bloom!
Franklin D Roosevelt’s memorial is a creative marvel. Rather than raising a Greek-style building or simply putting up a statue, a landscape architect (Lawrence Halprin) was commissioned to design a full ‘park.’ The memorial divides 7.5 acres & 12 years into 4 rooms depicting the great reasons to remember FDR. First you come to a statue of him in his wheelchair. The 32nd president suffered from Polio and was confined to his chair. People thought it was important to depict him in such a way, not only for authenticity but also a statement that it could not stop him from accomplishing many things. As you snake your way though the rooms you see more images of issues he tackled during his presidency, such as a line of men simulate the breadlines of the Great Depression, as well as many of FDR’s best quotes, like “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” One alcove is dedicate to his wife Eleanor Roosevelt, not only for the work she did as the first lady but also for being the first US Delegate to the UN.
But I have skipped one of the major elements of this memorial…the water. Water is everywhere, in every room. It cascades down at chaotic angles in the area depicting WWII, yet is almost nonexistent in the Great Depression space and lies still & stagnate at the end to represent FDRs death.
It was about this time that I saw my first firefly. Our guide told us a story about how she had been giving a tour to a group of school children from up north (not as far north as us though). She had made sure they were out late enough for the fireflies to come out. The kids were apparently so thrilled that some burst into tears at the sight of them. I thought this story was so cute, but didn’t really get it until I caught my first glimpse. I was jumping around and pointing and telling my mom to look here…and there…and there…every time one lit up. They are the most magical things I have ever seen!
George Mason, often referred to as the “forgotten founder,” is a man any Canadians reading this have probably never heard of. I hadn’t heard of him…although now I think he’s awesome! This guy basically single-handedly wrote the Declaration of Independence, but then refused to sign it when the time came. Apparently Washington (and others…but mainly Washington) wouldn’t let him write in parts banning slavery and for him, that was a deal breaker. He and Washington had an epic falling out and are said to have never spoken again. Talk about sticking to your guns! Plus he is also placed in such a chill pose in him memorial that you can’t help but assume he was pretty gangster in life…
The Jefferson Memorial sits right along the basin (where mosquitoes can eat you alive) looked very picturesque. The building is modeled after the Roman Parthenon and the Rotunda Jefferson designed for the University of Virginia. Inside stands a 19 ft tall bronze statue…it’s pretty big…until you see Lincoln, then he doesn’t seem quite as big anymore… The interior walls are carved with the Declaration of Independence, which he wrote with Mason, although he gets all the credit.
The next day Mom & I made sure to see the monuments that rest between the Mall & the Basin. I’m glad we did because these were my favorites!
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial lists all members of the US Armed Forces from that conflict who were killed in action or were deemed missing in action. It overwhelming to see how many people that really is… The wall in 75m long and the font is not large. Interestingly the names are listed in chronological order starting on the far west end with the first confirmed casualty. The memorial was designed in 1981 by college student Maya Ying Lin. Her sketch was unanimously selected as both architecturally appealing and incredibly thoughtful. The wall is placed like cut in the land, as some East Asian countries believe that the land will always heal itself. This is why the monument is something referred to as the “wounded that is closed and healing.”
The Korean War Veterans Memorial is just across the reflecting pool. It is incredibly powerful. Walking up you are immersed in the battlefield. 19 stainless steel soldiers walk through landscape meant to represent the rugged Korean terrain. They represent a variety of races, ages and military divisions but all have the same pained, scared and exhausted looks on their faces. You feels as if ghosts of the past are frozen there to honor their lost comrades. There are no names listed here, but I felt it was an amazing tribute.
Last but not least is the Lincoln Memorial…what to say… I was so excited to get here! I love Lincoln! I could go on and on about him, but I’m pretty sure you already know what he accomplished. S ill stick to the memorial. The exterior is a Greek temple with 36 columns to represent the 36 states of the union when the 16th president was in office. On the interior walls are carved Lincoln’s second inaugural address and his most famous Gettysburg address. But the best part is the 19 foot statue of the man himself. We’re the statue standing it would have been 28 feet tall, but alas they scaled it down and made him seated. I basically had a photo shot here because I was sooooo excited:
Love, Luck & Lincoln,