Saturday 9 November 2019
If there is something that Americans know how to do well then it is in building monuments to their honoured hero’s. And if they are not erecting tremendous monuments then they are building tremendous buildings. Today we set out to see a bit of the grandeur that is Washington DC. We get the hotel shuttle back to Union Station and arrange a hop-on/hop-off ticket for the day. We start by doing a full almost two hour loop of the city. A word to those coming to DC – get the Big Bus open top bus not the Old Town trolley bus that we used. Our bus had plastic clear roll up type windows which our driver said we were not to roll up and open because it was too cold. Yes – he had a point – while a fairly clear sunny morning – it was bitterly cold – even my hands were cold in the open and that is saying something! But – this policy meant that we couldn’t take any good photos from inside the bus because of the murky plastic windows. Minor irritation soon put behind us as we stayed on for the second loop and got out at the Capital building.
This is the highest point in the city and designed to be so as no building is allowed to be higher than the statue of Lady Freedom a top the dome the dominates the Washington DC skyline. An interesting tidbit – the actual statue is 19 ft high and no statue in the city is allowed to be higher than 19 ft – not Jefferson in his memorial or Lincoln in his memorial (although the designer of the Lincoln memorial cheated in having Lincoln seated. If that figure stood it would be 30 ft tall.)
Our stop was on the far side of the building so a brisk ten minute hike put us in the visitors centre and lined up for free tickets for the hour long tour of this impressive building. We were shown a 10 minute film that explained the origins of the Congress building and how the system of Congress designed by the framers of the Constitution was a compromise and truly an experiment in Democracy still working itself out today. The motto on Lady Freedom – the 19 ft statue that adorns the top of the dome of the Capital is E pluribus unum – out of many, one. Out of many people, one nation. And we were reminded that it was in this particular building that the principles that govern the USA were formed, debated, and passed into law.
We were shown the crypt under the floor of the dome – The founders of the building wanted to have George Washington’s tomb placed in this space – and even built a lovely one in preparation but didn’t realise that his will stipulated he be buried next to his wife on the family estate!
The centre dome is some 9 million pound (we are after all in the US) cast iron piece of work. The centre room under the dome is lined with statues and large painting showing the history of the birth of America. In fact the building has two statues from every state – chosen by each state by its people and each state can change their choice by popular ballot.
After a fascinating tour we wait to get back on the next bus and make our way around to the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson was the first Secretary of State, under President Washington, the second vice President under President Adams and the country’s third President. He was the principal writer of the Declaration of Independence and also the Constitution. A truly great American and his monument is fitting. An imposing figure in the centre of a round room with four sections of famous texts inscribed in the granite on the walls.
I forgot to mention that this is the Saturday of a long-weekend in the States – Veterans’ Day on Monday. Everybody has decided to descend upon Washington DC for the holiday. Crowds are everywhere and no more so than on the tour buses. We have to wait for the third bus to pick us up as the first two to come by were filled to the brim. This meant an hour standing in the cold. but no matter – we eventually get ourselves round to the Lincoln memorial – passing by the Martin Luther King Jr memorial and the new FDR memorial. Franklin Roosevelt when asked what monument he wanted in his honour is believed to have said, “Well a rock something the size of my writing desk out the front of the National Archives.” Well someone took him at his word and to this day there is a rock the size of a desk on the front lawn of the National Archives! There is also the rather more imposing 7 acre memorial to the only President elected for four terms.
The Lincoln memorial is unlike anything else – set in a form of a Greek Doric temple – it has 36 pillars to represent the 36 states of the Union in the 16th Presidents tenure. On one wall is carved the words of the Gettysburg address while on the facing wall are the carved words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Between is the imposing sitting figure of Lincoln himself. It is breath-taking – and even though I have seen this sight on two other occasions – it still knocks me out! I do not believe there is any doubt that Lincoln is by far the greatest President the USA has had.
A slight miscommunication means Mum and I are searching for each other for longer than we anticipated and decide once we found each other again to draw stumps and call it a day. We get back to our hotel by 6 after another wonderful day on tour.