Our trip to DC was filled with awe-inspiring history. Just walking down the streets felt almost sacred in parts. It made me wonder how much people, particularly those who live and/or work in the area daily, become immune to it.
We spent an afternoon at the National Mall and could have easily spent days:
Lincoln Memorial – At 6’4” in life with a booming voice and commanding nature, Lincoln has been called larger than life by history books. His memorial makes this literal. One can help but feel small in the presence of his grand marble figure, flanked on both sides by his immortal words (“The Gettysburg Address” on one, his Second Inaugural Speech on the other). As you ascend the many stairs to Lincoln’s statue, you’ll see the engraving that marks where Martin Luther King Jr stood for his infamous “I Have a Dream Speech.” From what I know of Lincoln, he wrote all his own speeches (a fact which adds to the regard with which I hold him) and certainly had a way with words. Below him is an indoor museum-like display of more of his memorable quotes along with a special section on the Civil Rights Movement.
Vietnam War Memorial – To the left of the Reflecting Pool as one departs Lincoln’s stead, is the Vietman War Memorial Wall. The panels of the wall, containing more than 58,000 names, meet in the middle of what appears to be a semi-circle. At that meeting point, 1975 marks the bottom of one panel and 1959 marks the top of the next. When I asked an attendant about this, she said, “Yes, this represents the end and the beginning … poetically, a broken circle.” As I walked away, I heard her explaining to another visitor (with a foreign accent) who’d asked what the war was about: “To stop the spread of communism,” the attendant replied. “Did it work?” asked the visitor. “No,” was the simple yet heavy-handed response.
World War II Memorial – Between the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument stands a massive circle of architecture. The World War II Memorial boasts grandiose columns marked by the names of states and territories between two even larger structures representing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the center springs a beautiful fountain and some 4,000 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans lost during the war. As you walk through this Memorial, away from Lincoln and toward Washington, bronze scenes on either side tell the story of the war.
Washington Monument – Unfortunately, this site was closed to entry for renovations so we simply admired its stature, and took note of the different colors (marking a change in materials after a 25-year hiatus in the middle of construction) not always visible in pictures.
Of course, there was plenty else we didn’t see at the National Mall. So much to do, so little time!
On Christmas Day, after the kids received Santa surprises and gifts from Pepa, we ubered to the Arlington National Cemetery.
These hallowed grounds provide a quiet and sad beauty, but beauty nonetheless. We were able to see the infamous changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (my video is almost 8 minutes long!) and pieced together some history for the kids at President John F. Kennedy’s Gravesite and Eternal Flame.
The Highlight of the Trip (for me at least):
But, truly, the evening of the day after Christmas was like Christmas morning for me. Weeks before our trip we’d decided to purchase tickets for a play at Ford’s Theatre rather than the Kennedy Center, and I’m so very glad we did. We saw a production of A Christmas Carol, from seats in the balcony, across from which was the Presidential box where Lincoln sat enjoying Our American Cousin on the night of April 14, 1865 as John Wilkes Booth crept behind him with a revolver.
The historical significance of this place was not lost on me or the children, plus the show was fantastic in its own right. When the ghost of Jacob Marley first appears in the portrait above the mantel and then manifests in the flesh (through a cloud of smoke, booming sound effects and trickery of lights), Wonder Boy jumped clean from his seat to Bryan’s lap. Prior to the show, the cast walked through the audience and one member commented that the Professor (all decked out in theatre attire) was “looking dapper indeed.” The evening at Ford’s was, by far, my favorite experience of the whole week.
From the theatre exit, you can see the Petersen’s boarding house across the street, now dubbed the House Where Lincoln Died. It holds a strange presence on the otherwise modernized street. The story goes that having been shot in the back of the head, Lincoln’s body was carried across the street to a boarding house; and in that boarding house on the following morn, our 16th president passed.
A Visit to Gettysburg
For our following morn, we rented a minivan and drove to Gettysburg. It’s an easy hour-and-a-half drive that takes you from DC to Virginia to Maryland to Pennsylvania. We watched a short orientation film, viewed the Cyclorama (a three story circular portrait of Pickett’s Charge, and then proceeded on the self-guided auto tour. The self-guided auto tour took us by 16 stops to emulate the three-day battle of Gettysburg in chronological order. There were many other monuments and stops along the way, not noted on the map we held. Stopping where we chose and otherwise talking history all the way, we enjoyed several hours of stepping back into what has been considered a turning point in the Civil War. We ended our time in Gettysburg by walking the hallowed grounds of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and standing where Lincoln stood to deliver the Gettysburg Address just months after the great battle.
All in all, we had a healthy dose of Honest Abe on this trip. None of us were complaining.