Continuing on in our Washington, D.C., series, one can hardly talk about a visit to this historic city without talking about a visit to the White House, which is relatively easy to do by simply placing a request through one’s member of Congress. Inside, visitors get an up-close and personal look at the heart of our country’s leadership, which is so wonderfully, and tragically, chock full of a wealth of pomp, circumstance and history throughout its hallowed halls, rooms and offices. It’s interesting to note that although officially named the White House in 1901 by then President Teddy Roosevelt, the building was previously known as the “President’s House,” the “Executive Mansion” and the “President’s Palace.”
The center of the circle
As we learned in an earlier part of this series, D.C. was originally designed in a wide circle or wheel, its streets comprising spokes and its layout later encompassing four quadrants. At the center sits the U.S. Capitol, one of the most spectacular, if not the most spectacular capitol building in the nation.
A visit here starts in the massive, underground, three-level 580,000-square-foot U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, which is its own tourist attraction and location of many Senate offices. Just give to you an idea of its size, the Capitol itself is about 775,000 square feet.
If nothing else, while you’re in D.C. (besides visiting the White House), I would say that a tour of the Capitol is one of the most amazing things to do in town. Whether you embark upon a guided tour or pre-arrange a staff-led tour through your congressional office (note: not all states offer staff-led tours), you will be simply awed by all the history, architecture, insights and inner workings of this magnificent place. Staff-led tours often include special passes for entrance to the Senate and House galleries when Congress is not in session.
We will never forget
Something else I love about D.C. are the memorials that commemorate so many historic figures and events in our nation’s history. Whether you visit during the day or at night, you will no doubt appreciate their grandeur and significance. Highest on our list, of course, was a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the first national memorial to honor a non-president and a man of color. Located on the city’s Tidal Basin, the memorial is fashioned in a crescent geometric pattern within a trilateral configuration that incorporates awe-inspiring views of the Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson memorials. And as the 50th anniversary of King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech nears on Aug. 28, it strikes a chord that his statue is within sight of the Lincoln Memorial, where he delivered that speech.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial has a commanding presence within the D.C. landscape, encapsulating the ideals of justice, hope, democracy and love, which appeared over and over in King’s written and oratorical messages. Each element of the memorial–“The Mountain of Despair,” “despair” being the previous state of our nation; “The Stone of Hope,” the focal point of the memorial with a 30-foot, life-like statue of Dr. King; and the North and South Walls, featuring more than a dozen poignant inscriptions from King’s speeches and sermons–send their own distinctive yet collectively powerful messages.
Designed to honor our 16th president, the Lincoln Memorial is equally amazing. Just climbing the impressive steps offering spectacular views of the city and standing below his soaring 19-foot marble image (set high above its structural pedestal) is awe-inspiring. Inside–though it’s really an open plaza except for the gift shops tucked inside both ends–of the Greek-inspired temple memorial, you’ll find a series of historic murals depicting “Emancipation” and “Unification,” as well as Lincoln’s Gettysburg and second inaugural addresses.
Fashioned in the shape of a rotunda, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is a tribute to our third president and author of the Declaration of Independence. His statue, also soaring some 19 feet tall, is encircled by many of his well-known works as well as select passages from the Declaration.
Most may not know that the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is actually the city’s second FDR memorial. The first, a small marble block, is situated on the grounds of the National Archives Building, standing in tribute to our 32nd president. Encompassing just over seven-acres, the second FDR memorial incorporates numerous expressive sculptures and water elements, the latter of which was an important part of Roosevelt’s life since childhood.
Another of the city’s most recognizable memorials is the Washington Monument honoring President George Washington. Towering a staggering 555 feet into the air, the marble structure resembling an Egyptian obelisk is an enduring D.C. symbol. Although visitors can tour the inside, the monument is temporarily closed for repairs due to the earthquake that occurred not far from there in 2011.
Humility and great gratitude are what I felt at both the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and the World War II Memorial. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, honoring those who served in the Vietnam War, is, in a word, sobering. I don’t think I have ever been to a public place with so many people yet could almost hear a pin drop. Whether you were born before, during or after the war, it is quite an unbelievable experience to have the ability to view, and touch, the 58,000-plus engraved names of the women and men who gave their lives in service.
Everywhere I looked, people were taking pictures of loved ones’ names, outlining their names with paper and pencil, leaving mementos and/or silently shedding tears of sorrow and gratitude. If you have young children, this is a very Washington inspirational and educational way to demonstrate to them both the cost of war and the deep commitment of some to freedom. Commemorating the sacrifice–both in service and lives lost, 16 million and 400,000-plus, respectively–the World War II Memorial tells the story of the soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors, both American and with Allied forces, who fought during this historic war.
The elements of the memorial are remarkable, encompassing two architecturally masterful pavilions–the Atlantic and Pacific; a central Rainbow Pool with beautiful water features; a field of gold stars, 4,048 in all and each representing 100 American military deaths; a pillar and two wreaths (the latter symbolizing the agricultural and industrial resources offered in the war effort) for each state of the Union and U.S. Territory, arranged in alternating order around the field of gold stars for when they entered the Union; 24 bronze bas relief panels; and close to 17,000 individual granite stones. Open 24/7, the memorial is a must see.
Aaaaah! Can you tell that I just loved D.C.? It is such a historic and fascinating city with fun and exciting things to see, do and experience for visitors from all over the world.
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial: 202-426-6841, www.nps.gov/frde
- Lincoln Memorial: 202-426-6841, www.nps.gov/linc
- issippiMLK Jr. Memorial: 202-426-6841, www.nps.gov/mlkm
- National WWII Memorial: 202-619-7222, www.wwiimemorial.com
- T. Jefferson Memorial: 202-485-9880, www.nps.gov/thje
- U.S. Capitol: 202-226-8000, www.visitthecapitol.gov
- World War II Memorial: 202-426-6841, www.nps.gov
- Washington Monument: 202-426-6841, www.nps.gov/wamo/
- White House: 202-456-1111, www.whitehouse.gov
- Vietnam Memorial Wall: 202-426-6841, www.nps.gov/vive
- Washington, D.C., Convention and Visitors Bureau: 202-789-7000, www.washington.org