Sunday, December 9, 2012

D.C. Tourist Day

Two years in the city and I've seen and done so much, but on my way out of town, I wanted to spend a day walking on the National Mall and visiting the monuments. And of course, a pass by the national Christmas tree at the White House and the Capitol Christmas tree.

My dear friend Ally (who showed me around Rome in January and moved to D.C. for work this summer) humored me by walking for hours, taking photos like tourists and learning about our city, the monuments and the wars/founding fathers they honor.

First up, Jefferson Memorial. I haven't been there in years, despite driving by it almost everyday for a year when I was working in Maryland. It reminded Ally and I of Rome. Rightfully so, as it was modeled after the Pantheon. Jefferson introduced the style in American and you'll see it all over D.C. and of course at the University of Virginia, the school founded by the third American president. A memorial commission was created by Congress in 1934 and the site at the Tidal Basin was selected in 1937. There was some controversy over the site choice because it required that some Japanese cherry blossom trees be removed and some worried the design competed with the Lincoln Memorial. But, then President Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed the design to move forward and laid the cornerstone in 1939. The memorial was dedicated in 1943.

Makes sense to head to the FDR Memorial next, history and location wise. It's a huge memorial, spanning his four terms, though FDR never wanted such a memorial. He asked for something no larger than his desk to be placed near the Archives. And it was, so he actually has two memorials in the district. The memorial is tucked away along the Tidal Basin and it seems like many forget it, but I really love it. Water features are everywhere, very thoughtful statues and quotes as well. One of my favorites is, "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith."

FDR was the only president to be elected to four terms, as most adhered to the unwritten principal of a two term limit. After FDR, a Constitutional amendment was passed, codifying the two term limit.

We stopped at the Martin Luther King Memorial and we're irritated by kids bouncing balls throughout the space. But, we love the quotes etched into the stone. From there, we cut across to the D.C. war memorial that is often overlooked. It's truly beautiful and one of my favorite spots on the Mall. It was built quickly and dedicated on Nov. 11, 1931. The names of the 499 D.C. citizens who died during World War I. The memorial was restored in 2010-2011. The last living WWI veteran worked with a Congressman in 2008 to expand the memorial and designate it as the WWI memorial on the National Mall. That hasn't happened yet.

On to another war memorial, we visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Though it was authorized by Congress in 1986, it took until 1995 to be dedicated. That was the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended the war. It's a very moving memorial, informative and engaging. Ally and I were also surprised to realize that 54,246 Americans were killed during the war that only lasted three years. Somehow, we hadn't realized that. It's a figure shockingly close to the number of casualties in Vietnam, a war that lasted more than a decade. Of the international troops involved in the war, 628,833 were killed. That's a huge number and came from far more international combat troops than those involved in Vietnam.

We spent a fair amount of time at Korea taking in the vastness of the losses, and being incredibly irritated by misbehaving children, again, and their lack of parental oversight. Seriously, if you bring kids to the National Mall, it's an incredible learning experience, but please, please, please make sure that they remain respectful of what these places represent.

Lincoln is always a must see and I read his second inaugural address that's carved into the wall on Lincoln's left. One of Lincoln's hands is a fist, representing his strength and determination to end the Civil War. I've also heard it said that it represents his determination to get the 13th Amendment passed. His other hand is flat, which represents "his compassionate, warm nature," according to the National Park Service. Plus, you get this view from the steps of his memorial. The construction on the Reflecting Pool is finally done, leaving a clear view from one end of the Mall to the other. It was a beautiful day in D.C. and Instagram is pretty fun for capturing one of my favorite views in the city.

A holiday in the district wouldn't be complete without a visit to the national Christmas tree on the White House grounds. This year's tree came from Virginia (wahoo!). The place was packed, as usual, but we circled around to see each of the state and territory trees and the trains around the base of the main tree. We caught it early in the day, so we had fun lighting from the sun and Christmas lights. We were a bit tired at that point, so we walked back to the car and cheated by driving over to the Capitol to take a look at the tree there. This year's is from Colorado and decorated with items made mostly by school children in the state. Here's your national trees:

National Christmas tree at the White House

Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn


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