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Our RV site was right next to the playground, so Genevieve and Sebastian entertained themselves while Ben and I got ready for today’s adventure in Washington D.C.
There are many monuments and museums to see in Washington D.C., and Ben and I had already experienced a lot on previous visits to the city. During our two days here, we didn’t want to overwhelm the children with “too much”—none of us wanted to experience sensory overload (or meltdown). We had three activities on our agenda for today—riding to the top of the Washington Monument, exploring the newly renovated Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and visiting Ford’s Theater where President Lincoln was assassinated.
We used the smooth-flowing public transportation system to get into Washington, D.C. this morning. First, we took a bus from our campground to the metro station.
On the bus we met a wonderful family--Ted and his two daughters Kate (age 10) and Jessie (age 8).
Ted had been born and raised in Maine. He had recently rented an RV for the first time, and he and his daughters were on a 10-day “escape” (his word). They were heading for the zoo today and would be touring the White House and seeing historical monuments later this week.
(Our family’s request to tour the White House had been denied, according to the office of our local Congressman, Sam Farr. I guess that we just don’t have the right “connections.”)
We passed a church in College Park with a marquee that read “A Nation is Only as Strong as the Character of Its Citizens.” Profound words.
(Sorry for the fuzzy photo of the church above, but I really liked the marquee.)
The children sat in the front car of the metro, and they enjoyed watching the tunnel lights go zipping by once we were underground.
Leaving the metro:
We emerged from the underground station a few blocks from the National Mall, which is large open and grassy rectangular area that is bordered by the Smithsonian museums and numerous national monuments.
Near the center of the Mall is the tall white column of the Washington Monument.
A few months ago, I had reserved tickets online for the 10:30 a.m. “tour” of the Washington Monument. The tour was supposed to involve riding an elevator to the top and then walking down the interior monument stairs with a ranger in order to view various engraved blocks that are embedded in the interior walls.
We had a lot of walking to do in order to get to the tour on time. But first, we had to take a short detour to take advantage of the restrooms in the Smithsonian castle. In the lobby was an exhibit of seemingly random items—a chair, a prize machine, satchels, globes, a shield, a vase, etc.—all piled together. As we rushed by, Genevieve recognized the pile from the movie featuring the Smithsonian, “Night at the Museum II.” Despite our time pressures, we had to stop and get a photo:
Then we hurry-hurry-hurried to make it to the entrance of the Washington Monument on time.
Whew—we made it!
However, the ranger at the entrance informed us that they were no longer offering ranger-guided walking tours down the interior stairs—he didn’t give a reason and was not apologetic about it. Although I was a bit disappointed, the plus side of having tickets was that we were allowed to bypass the long line outside and go right to the elevators.
The monument was, of course, built to honor our first president, George Washington. In the lobby near the elevator doors was a description of Washington, carved into the wall:
The elevator took 70 seconds to reach a height of 500 feet. The viewing area at the top covered 30 miles in each direction. We soaked everything in, mesmerized.
The southern view, with the Jefferson Memorial:
The western view, with the Lincoln Memorial:
When Sebastian first looked out of the western window, he pointed to the Lincoln Memorial and said, “Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his speech there, and the people stretched way back.”
The northern view, with the White House:
And the eastern view, with the Capitol building in the hazy distance:
After looking and looking through all of the windows, and then looking some more, we took the stairs down one flight to view the exhibits about the history of the monument.
Here are some interesting tidbits that we learned:
Construction of the Washington Monument was started by a private group of citizens in 1833. The structure was built part way and stood unfinished for 25 years due to strife and division within the nation over issues concerning the union, slavery and states’ rights.
Mark Twain saw the unfinished monument amidst the mud and commented: “It has the aspect of a factory chimney with the top broken off.” Washington Monument finally opened to the public on October 9, 1888, and was the tallest building in the world. Today, it still remains the “tallest freestanding stone structure.”
The pointed tip of the Washington Monument is cast aluminum. The builders wanted something that would not tarnish and would act as a lightning rod. Aluminum was considered a rare metal in the late 1800’s. The east side of the tip is engraved with the words “Laus Deo”, which is Latin for “Praise Be to God”.
One side of the elevator had a glass window so that we could see some of the engraved blocks on the interior walls on the way down. Here are a few that I managed to photograph:
At the base of the Washington Monument, we took a family photo with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.
A close-up of the Lincoln Memorial.
We then headed over to the main Ranger Station on the Mall to get Jr. Ranger booklets for Genevieve and Sebastian.
On the way, we passed by this beautiful tree--the children had to try climbing it. They didn’t get far! Genevieve said that it was “very slippery.”
The bark was very shiny in places, probably from so many people sitting on it, climbing, or attempting to climb it, over the years.
Sebastian at the Ranger Station:
The requirements for earning a Jr. Ranger badge here were extensive and included filling in pages and pages of information about various monuments. The kids set to work at once to fill in some of the things that they had just learned at the Washington Monument.
While we were relaxing, this bird came to visit us.
Our next stop was the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, which was across the Mall and down a few blocks. On our city map of Washington D.C., the distances from one point to another didn’t look too long. However, in reality, the city blocks were lengthy, the museums and other buildings that appeared as small geometric shapes on the map were humongous, and the spaces in between could be quite wide. I am not complaining—I love walking. Sebastian, however, has shorter legs than the rest of us, so he tired quickly (probably because there were no boulders to climb in order to kickstart his adrenaline).
The National Museum of American History has more than 3 million “artifacts” related to American history and culture, stretching from the Revolutionary War to the present day. It re-opened at the end of 2008 after a 2-year, $85 million renovation project. I had never visited this museum before, and I was eager to see all of the newly designed exhibits.
When we entered the large interior, we were serenaded by two women singing, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Here is Genevieve in front of the singers.
We were surprised to see a statue of George Washington in an "ancient ruler" pose.
The statue was created by American sculptor Horatio Greenough in 1841. The U.S. Congress had commissioned a statue of Washington for the Capitol Rotunda. The artist had wanted to portray Washington as a timeless leader and “exemplar of liberty,” and he incorporated many visual symbols. For example, he based the design on classic statuary of ancient Greece, which is considered the seat of the world’s first democracy. Moreover, the way in which Washington is presenting the sword with the handle toward the viewer was intended to show that Washington relinquished his power to the people after he led them to victory in the Revolutionary War. Despite the artist’s good intentions, the statue was not well received. Many people at the time were aghast at the “inappropriately dressed” depiction of their revered leader. (Did Washington's bare torso really look like that anyway?) The marble figure only remained in the Capitol Rotunda for less than 3 years, and then was moved to the east lawn; it was finally transferred to the Smithsonian in 1908.
Here is a small Indian at the base of the Washington sculpture.
Sebastian preferred to look at the 1960’s Dumbo car from Disneyland’s “Dumbo the Flying Elephant Ride.”
This 1898 Red Cross ambulance was thought to have been used in Georgia during the Spanish-American War; 10,000 soldiers fell ill with typhoid there, and 761 died.
Here is the large telescope used by Maria Mitchell, who is considered by many American historians to be the “first woman astronomer.”
Mitchell achieved fame when she discovered a comet in 1847. She taught astronomy at Vassar College and was a strong advocate for women’s rights. She promoted science as a means for women to break free from traditional constraints, saying, “When [women] come to truth through their investigations . . . the truth which they get will be theirs, and their minds will work on and on unfettered.”
We found an innovations area for children. Here is the exhibit name:
“Play” they did!
Genevieve tried to wind-surf:
And Sebastian experimented with fans:
Ben and I learned that Kevlar, a polymer that is five times stronger than steel, was invented by Stephanie Kwolek, a woman who had loved math and science as a child.
Kwolek had studied chemistry in college, intending to be a medical doctor; but she didn’t have enough money to go to medical school, so she became a chemist instead. She was one of the few female chemists at DuPont in the 1960’s. In 1965, she came up with an “unusual” polymer solution while experimenting to develop light-weight, heat resistant fibers. She spent “several days” trying to convince her male colleagues to spin the solution into fibers and then test its physical properties. The results astounded everyone. She was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1996, thirty-one years after her remarkable discovery.
Kevlar is not only strong and lightweight, it is also chemical and flame-resistant. It is now used in boat hulls, firefighter’s suits, helmets, tires, bullet-resistant vests, and many other items that need to resist heat or cuts. Ben and I have used Kevlar items for years in our motorcycle gear (leathers and gloves).
Stephanie Kwolek said, “All sorts of things can happen when you are open to new ideas and playing around with things.”
We all admired the wooden features of the 1831 John Bull locomotive, one of the first steam engines in the United States. It had been imported from England in 1831 and used on the first railway system between New York and Philadelphia, cutting the travel time between the two cities from 2 days by road to five hours by rail.
We were delighted to discover a large section devoted to Santa Cruz County, California (our home). The exhibit addressed the train system and the immigrants who came to the area to work in the agriculture fields.
The first part discussed the creation of the Santa Cruz railway. By the 1870’s, rail lines criss-crossed the United States. The small farming town of Watsonville, California (in Santa Cruz County) was linked to the rest of the country via the Southern Pacific Railroad. Businessmen and developers in the nearby town of Santa Cruz, along the Pacific Ocean, dreamed of developing a city that rivaled San Francisco. They worked for years to raise money to build a 15-mile railway line connecting Santa Cruz to Watsonville.
Funding was tight, and a cheaper narrow-gauge (36-inch) railway line was finally completed in 1876. The line was primarily built by Chinese laborers, who graded long stretches, laid the rails, pounded the rail spikes, and constructed bridges. They worked 10-hour days, six days a week, for a dollar a day, and they lived in crowded tents a mile east of Santa Cruz. Here is an old photo of the Chinese railway workers:
The Jupiter was a steam locomotive that ran on the narrow-gauge line between Santa Cruz and Watsonville.
In 1881, only five years after the Santa Cruz line was completed, the railway went bankrupt. The Jupiter became obsolete when Southern Pacific bought the line and converted all of the tracks to standard gauge (56 ½ inches).
The exhibit regarding politics and the fluctuating ethnicity of immigrant farm workers in Watsonville was fascinating. Many laborers are needed to work the rich agricultural fields in Watsonville. In the mid-1800’s, Chinese laborers were employed. Then the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese men and women. The Watsonville landowners then recruited Japanese workers, until Japanese immigration was restricted in the 1920’s. Then the primary groups of laborers became Filipinos until 1934, when the United States restricted Filipinos from entering into the country. After that, Mexicans were encouraged to become workers during the period between 1942 and 1965. The exhibit indicated that the population of Watsonville is currently 70% Latino, and that Latinos did 90% of the agricultural work there in the year 2000.
We then cruised over to the boat exhibit, where the children each picked out their “favorites”. Genevieve’s favorite boat was the Jim White, a Mississippi riverboat:
Sebastian’s favorite was the Mauretania, which was built in 1907 in England and was the first passenger liner with steam turbine engines.
He also was drawn to this sailing vessel.
One exhibit told about the devastating consequences of factory trawlers, which are large ships that pull huge nets and process the fish at sea. The ships can catch up to 300 metric tons of fish each day. Fleets of trawlers almost eliminated all of the cod in the North Atlantic seas until laws were finally enforced in the 1980’s.
Of particular interest, and relevance, to us was an exhibit on driving across the United States. We learned that the first person to drive a car across was H. Nelson Jackson (with his mechanic Sewall Crocker) in a Winton touring car in 1903.
It was a rough trip. Combined with the lack of roads, roadsigns, and bridges, Jackson and Crocker struggled with mud, washouts, and numerous breakdowns. They completed the journey in 63 days, at a cost of $8000, which included the purchase of the car.
In 1909, a time when women could not yet vote, few women owned or even drove automobiles. However, Alice Huyler Ramsey accepted the challenge of a sales manager for Maxwell automobiles, and became the first woman to drive across country. She, and three female passengers, drove a Maxwell car from New York to San Francisco in 59 days, making extensive use of a block and tackle device that they had packed to deal with the Midwest mud.
The museum also contained a genuine rapid transit car from the Chicago “L” train, an elevated railway that opened in 1892. This particular car carried passengers until 1992. It has been restored to its 1952 appearance.
The Museum of American History was enormous, and we could have spent the entire day wandering through the vast exhibits. We had only seen a small portion; however, there is only so much information we can absorb at one time before our eyes glaze over and we start to wilt.
On the way to the exit, we passed C3PO.
Outside, we rested in the fresh air and enjoyed some ice cream.
Across from us, this young man was beating out a fantastic rhythm on his nonconventional drumset.
Our next stop was the Ford’s Theater.
On the way, I was admiring the architecture of the government buildings.
Looking up, I saw some details that I hadn't ever noticed before.
We passed the beautiful Old Post Office Pavillion.
The next building was very “boxy.” Genevieve said that it looked “creepy.”
I asked two men, standing in a doorway across the street, if they knew the name of the austere building. One responded, “Yeah, it’s the FBI.” Creepy indeed. Sometimes one can judge a book by its cover.
The architecture of the narrow red brick building (behind Genevieve’s head) contrasted sharply with the taller modern building that wrapped around two sides of it.
Outside of Ford’s Theater, where Abraham Lincoln was shot.
We went inside and were lucky enough to get tickets (free) for a ranger-led tour that would begin in 25 minutes.
During our tour, we were led inside the theater, which is part of the National Park system but is also a working theater with several productions every year.
An old photo of Lincoln in the lobby:
Genevieve at the auditorium doorway:
We had great seats where we could gaze up at the booth in which Lincoln sat (now draped in the American flag).
Liz Hogan, a volunteer, gave an excellent presentation describing the events that occurred that night.
Here is a summary:
The assassination occurred the night of April 14, 1865. Only five days earlier, General Lee had surrendered to General Grant, bringing an end to the Civil War (in which 620,000 people had died). Lincoln had given a speech on April 11th in which he said that he was considering giving the right to vote to certain freed slaves and to the 200,000 black soldiers who had fought for the Union. This infuriated 26-year old John Wilkes Booth, who was an actor and a Confederate agent. Booth had previously concocted a scheme to kidnap Lincoln and trade him for 100,000 Confederate prisoners of war; that plan was now changed to one of murder.
No one was guarding the President that night at the theater. In fact, two more presidents would be assassinated before a Secret Service team would be assigned to protect any president. Booth was a well-known actor and was allowed into Lincoln’s viewing room. He waited until the funniest line in the play had the audience roaring, and then he put a single bullet into the back of Lincoln’s head. Lincoln was carried to a home across the street, where he died nine hours later.
Booth jumped onto the stage, catching his boots in the drapery, and injuring his leg. People in the audience knew that Booth was an actor, so everyone was confused and wondering whether this was supposed to be part of the performance. Booth escaped out the back and rode away on a horse. He was captured and killed 12 days later.
The presentation was very moving, especially when we were right there where the murder occurred. (Sebastian, I must admit, was not quite as engaged as I was; he drifted off to sleep half way through the 30-minute talk.)
President Lincoln seemed to be a man of true integrity, who actually tried to live up to his high ideals.
Our tickets to Ford’s theater also gave us access into the Peterson Home across the street, where Lincoln had died. However, Sebastian seemed exhausted, and Ben and I were completely satisfied with the theater presentation—we didn’t feel the need to see the room in which Lincoln actually died, especially since we would have to wait (with Sebastian) an unknown amount of time in line to get in the front door. We contented ourselves with viewing the exterior of the building.
We walked toward the metro station, with Sebastian riding his favorite “taxi” (me).
These two statues had profound words engraved at their bases:
“Study the Past”:
And “The Past is Prologue.”
With all the not-so-distant political rantings about the “patriotism” of group-think, and the “unAmericanism” of having diverse opinions, perhaps our leaders might benefit from studying the atrocities that occurred when rampant McCarthyism destroyed lives in the 1950’s. (I am not so jaded as to think that the past has actually been studied and that fear tactics are being used intentionally to deter people from challenging the decisions of self-motivated government officials, am I?)
On the way to the metro, Ben decided that he was not yet ready to return to the campground. He proposed that he take Genevieve and Sebastian to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (his favorite), while I enjoyed some quiet time to wander through the galleries of the Hirschhorn Museum of Contemporary Art (my favorite). The two buildings were across the street from one another on the National Mall.
The mention of the Air and Space Museum was like smelling salts to Sebastian—boinnngg! He suddenly sprang to life.
The kids did have the option of coming with me to view art—they both enjoy art museums--but the “space” theme won them over.
Off with Ben they went--see you soon!
Outside of the Hirschhorn was a large sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein called “Brushstroke”.
Lichtenstein is famous for his Pop-Art. He died in 1997, and I was surprised to note that this sculpture had been “enlarged and fabricated”, as well as painted, in 2002-03, after his death. Hmmm . . . when is an artist’s work not the artist’s work?
The artwork at the Hirschorn was so delicious and satisfying to my soul, I could have stayed and savored it for hours. However, I only had one hour, so I couldn’t linger too long. Here are some of my favorite pieces from today:
These “sack people” by Juan Muñoz never fail to make me smile. The sculpture is called “Last Conversation Piece.”
René Magritte, a Belgian artist who lived from 1898 to 1967, has always been inspirational to me because of the way in which he created art that challenged people’s perceptions of reality. Here is a sculpture entitled “The Healer.”
The sculpture was made in 1967, the same year that Magritte died of pancreatic cancer.
Here is one of Magritte’s earlier paintings, entitled “Delusions of Grandeur II.”
I have long-admired the work of Lucien Freud, especially his ability to capture skin tones. Here is his 1992 painting entitled “Nude With Leg Up (Leigh Bowery)”.
This work made me draw in my breath—oh! Funny how art can just reach out and make a strong connection. Different things appeal to different people, of course. This 1990 sculpture was by the Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz, and is entitled “Four on a Bench.”
I was hoping that “Big Man” (by Australian artist Ron Mueck) would still be here. I finally found him tucked away in a corner of the basement gallery, brooding away as usual. He is huge, almost 7-feet from the floor to the top of his head. He intrigues me, what else can I say?
This 1968 sculpture is entitled “Two Volumes in the Virtual,” by Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto.
Eva Hesse was a sculptor who did pioneering artwork with latex, fiberglass and plastics. She died from a brain tumor in 1970 at the age of 34. Here is one of her pieces, “Vertiginous Detour.”
Here is an untitled work by another of my favorite artists, Jasper Johns.
While walking through galleries, I am always entertained by comments that other people make about the artwork. Today, I overheard one man say to his companion while they were gazing at a sculpture called “The Sorceress” by Jean Tinguely: “I guess I’m just too old.”
I met up with Ben and the children on the grass in front of the Air and Space Museum.
Genevieve and Sebastian were enthused about their visit to the museum. Of course, it was all the more exciting because we had recently seen the movie “Night at the Museum 2”, which takes place in large part at the Smithsonian—the movie shows many of the air and space exhibits. The kids exclaimed that they had seen Amelia Earhart’s plane and the Wright Brother’s first plane. They had also gone on a “cosmic coaster simulator” ride, in which they traveled around the planets and learned information about each one.
This bird with a speckled chest came over to greet us.
Walking back to the metro, I noticed this older building, with its column and tiny turret, juxtaposed against the larger, modern office building behind it.
We rode the metro back to the bus stop. The kids were “all tuckered out” from our wanderings through the city. Genevieve just couldn’t stay awake.
We then took a taxi from the metro station back to the RV park, rather than wait 45 minutes for the bus. Our taxi driver was an older man who was originally from Pakistan. He has lived in the United States for 27 years. He was a teacher and then went to a university in the United State to study nutrition. He worked for many years and then retired. Now he drives a taxi. He told us that he cannot return to Pakistan because he is Christian now, and Christians are not welcome. He said that many churches have been burned in Pakistan. He has a wife and three grown sons, who all live with him. He also has three grandchildren. He said that in his culture, it is important for families to live together and see one’s children every day.
After dinner tonight, the kids (and Ben) played in the pool.
We all slept well tonight, ready for another full day tomorrow.
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