Sunday 10 November 2019
Today turned into a long day where we squeezed as much as we could handle walking one end of the National Mall to the other and seeing many of the museums and sights in between. It started with us catching a cab from our hotel to the Church of the Epiphany, an Episcopal Church in downtown we had researched before leaving Australia. They had an 8am service we wanted to attend. For those following this blog – you may remember that we worshiped last Sunday at Old North Church in Boston. Today’s worship couldn’t have been more different if it tried! For a starter it was filled with the down-n-out of the city who attend the worship and sign up for the cooked breakfast program that is offered afterwards. There was a security guard patrolling the front of the aisles and reminding some of the more bored and at times loud parishioners that they were in a church. Congregation would have numbered 60 of whom 55 would have been African American. The music was gospel based. At the beginning they asked for volunteers to do the readings so yours truly put his hand up to do a reading – well what do you do – once a Priest – always a Priest – even on holidays! Apart from a few unruly outbursts the service was a lot of fun. Feeding the hungry and looking our for the marginalised are some of this Church’s main programs and it was a salient reminder – less than three blocks from the White House – how divided this country is between the haves and the have nots.
Mentioning the big Cheese – after church we walked those three blocks to see if we could have a gander at the White House – but we were turned away by some very gruff looking but polite policemen who said the House was off limits today. Ah well – I’m not really a fan of the current resident and anyway I have seen the place before. So we head off for our next stop – the 555 ft high Washington Monument – we had been informed that the lift inside works and we wanted to go to the very top. We make our way on this glorious morning to the base of the monument – only to be informed by some very polite park rangers that all tickets for today have already been distributed – (it was only 9.15am!!) So – we touch the base and have a look at the views looking back to the Lincoln memorial and can just see the White House in the distance.
Given that we are about two hours ahead of schedule – we are starting to think about what we could add to the end of the day. Next stop is the National Archives. Part of the last week has been a history tour of the big three cities – Boston, Philadelphia and now Washington DC. We have learnt about why the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written; have seen the very chamber where they were written; now we wanted to see the actual documents themselves. And so in the National Archive building we do indeed see them as well as the original Bill of Rights. Given that we are so used to seeing copies I must say the real documents look a bit worse for wear. They are some 230 years old and the lettering is quite faded and hard to make out. About the only signature you can make out these days is the big one by John Hancock.
Cuppa tea time – so we make our way to the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden – a wonderful oasis of contemporary sculptures – set in a tranquil setting with a wonderful pavilion cafe. Given that we had seen Rodin’s museum only a few days earlier in Philadelphia – I chuckled to myself over the Rabbit thinker!
Next stop – we walk to a choice of Mum’s – the National Museum of American Indian history and Culture. This is a new museum and is beautifully laid out on four levels. I took a shot looking up to the ceiling and it reminded me of the Guggenheim in New York. So after reflecting upon the poor in the morning – I am now confronted with another of American histories dark underbelly’s – that of its treatment of the native American Indians. The fourth floor was a complete display of the hundreds of treaties made between the various Indian nations and the USA – all bar one (that of William Penn in the late 17th century) of which were broken. The forced removal of the Indian people from their traditional lands is a red stain upon this countries history and after being proud of the government and the founding fathers over the last week and a bit – I was mortified by the action of President Jackson especially. The treaties became know as ‘bad paper.’ It was turning out to be a reflective day where the complexities of history and the advantages of hindsight became all too apparent.
We have time up our sleeve and energy still left in the legs so we head over to the ‘Newseum’- a museum about the the press – celebrating the first amendments granted right to a free press. Six floors crammed with fascinating material – a timeline of important newspaper, radio and TV moments. Specific displays looking at cultural changes over the years – a special display on 911 and also one on the 30th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. So much to see – it would takes many visits to do this museum justice. I was impressed with the display looking at photojournalism and the Pulitzer prize winning pictures – many of which have become household images around the world. I also found interesting the display on political editorial cartoons – many reflecting upon the current President.
Both of us are exhausted by the end of this – we are at maximum overload and decide to call it quits. We have been on the go for a solid 9 hours and have walked a good ten or so k’s and are ready to go and start preparing for the next stage of the journey – traveling to Chicago in the morning.