The Library of Congress. Vietnam War Memorial. Lincoln Memorial. World War II Memorial. Chinatown. An art installation titled LOOP. Smithsonian American Art and Portraiture Museum.
We have been to Washington, DC, several times, and each time we try to see something different, something we hadn’t had time for previously. So we had seen most of the Smithsonian Institute, took a White House Tour, visited Ford’s Theater and the house where Abraham Lincoln died, saw Georgetown and walked the Exorcist staircase. In addition, I lived in Washington for two years while I was in graduate school, but that was over 30 years ago, and memories fade, believe it or not!
The first three photos are from the Library of Congress, truly one of the most beautiful buildings we have ever seen. It opened in 1897 to house our country’s growing library; two copies of all copyrighted books were required, and the collection, housed in the Capitol, was running out of room. Every corner has paintings or sculptures (and a story!). We took the free tour, and found out there are few books IN the Library of Congress building…it is mainly a museum, with exhibits on Bob Hope, George Gershwin, the Great War, and Baseball, to name a few. There are movies to watch in each exhibit. It really is more like an extension of the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, which surprised us. The bulk of its books are stored in Ft. Meade, MD, each with a number and location for easy retrieval. If you are approved to use the Library for research, a book requested in the morning will be delivered from Ft. Meade by the afternoon. The Library has more than 32 million books and print materials in 470 languages, along with a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, one of three complete vellum copies known to exist on earth.
The Vietnam War Memorial brought tears. Passing by the 58,000+ names…each a life needlessly lost…was overwhelming. As shown in the photo below, earlier in the day, John McCain’s family had placed a wreath at the middle of the monument, thanking all who served. We had watched the Vietnam War documentary by Ken Burns, and he talks about how the war (and casualties) escalated because we didn’t want to admit eventual defeat. One reason the US stayed in the war was probably because the US had supposedly never lost a war prior to that time. That is arguable if one looks at the War of 1812. Although the Battle of New Orleans went very well for the US, it took place after the peace treaty was signed, and it is hard to argue that the US “won” that war, considering that the British sacked DC and that some of the issues the US went to war over were not resolved in the treaty.
The other main reason the war continued was probably due to what economists call the Sunk Cost Fallacy, which means that when making a decision as to continue or not continue a course of action, it is irrational to consider costs already incurred. If the costs cannot be recovered, they should not be considered in the decision-making. Interestingly, neither animals nor children fall for the Fallacy. Children have to be taught it by adults: “Don’t ever give up, kid.”
We went to Vietnam a couple of years ago. It looks a lot like the small Asian countries that haven’t had an affair with communism. Although they still profess to follow the communist ideology, they are increasingly capitalist. One of our favorite magazines, The Economist, describes the country’s leadership as “ardently capitalist communists.” In other words, if the war hadn’t happened, Vietnam would probably look a lot like it does now.
If you like a lot of pain with your history, we recommend that you see the Ken Burns series as well as The Fog of War, which shows that the Vietnam War may have been fought over misunderstandings between the two sides as much as anything.
Around the corner from the Vietnam War Memorial is the Lincoln Memorial, with that gorgeous view of the Washington Monument over the reflecting pool. We are also posting a little-known piece of trivia about the Lincoln Memorial: Lincoln is flanked on the right and left by two speeches, the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, and the inaugural address contains a typo! Here is the text as it should be: “With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.” Look at the word, FUTURE. You can see that the bottom bar of the F has been scraped away, as it was chiseled to read, EUTURE.
The World War II Memorial is quite lovely, two arches with Atlantic and Pacific etched on them, and wreathed pillars for each of the 48 states at the time, along with the American territories, around a pool. It opened in 2004.
Then, a visit to Chinatown. Look at the pedestrian walkway on the streets! All of the animal symbols of the Chinese zodiac are there, making a walk through very whimsical. And in Chinatown is the former boarding house of Mary Surratt, the first woman executed by the US federal government. It was at this location on H Street where she met with John Wilkes Booth and the other conspirators. How jolting then, to look at the photo after the plaque and see that today, the building is….Wok and Roll!
Loop is an art installation adjacent to our hotel. You sit in it and pull the bar, and a zoetrope (look it up!) inside revolves around your head! It also lights up with different colors…so delightful to just find this randomly and enjoy an old-fashioned pleasure.
The last three photos are the atrium at the Portraiture Museum, which had an interesting interplay of light and shadow, as we were there when it was approaching dusk; then, a walkway between buildings that shows the clouds and sky; and hanging beach balls that decorated a retail passageway for two blocks. What a fun idea!
So, this all looks pretty ambitious, given that it is very hot in DC and every visit includes lots and LOTS of walking. But keep in mind that this was over 5 days. We normally don’t do so many touristy things, but it is called for in bigger cities like DC, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. We push a little more to get more in when there is a lot to do, but we are always aware that we will visit again in the future and see whatever we hadn’t seen previously. We need our rest days, too! And, we need time to plan our future days and weeks, since we must ensure that we have a bed every night. Currently, we have a place reserved every night through next August. Hotels and airlines will only allow us to book a year in advance, so we cannot yet book the end of next year, although we know where we will be. So today, relaxation….according to the Weather Channel, it is 93 degrees outside, feels like 102, and we know we don’t want to walk or sightsee with sweat rolling into our eyes. We can return in the future and see more….