Michael and I went to Washington, D.C., March 6-9, 2006. We got plane tickets from expedia.com and flew into Ronald Reagan National Airport. Our experiences were similar to what I did in 1977. I allowed for differences. Last time, my parents' generation was in power. Now, it is baby boomers. I told Michael that one day his group will be running the country. I try to impart both knowledge and wisdom!
Michael is studying business law, and I wanted to give him an understanding of the federal government. He knew the 3 branches: executive, legislative & judicial. He knew their functions. Congress makes laws, the judiciary interprets laws & cabinet secretaries put them into action. Branches are subject to checks and balances. For example, George Bush appointed judges, and the Senate confirmed them.
Things are tight in D.C. because of the War on Terror. Security is a necessary nuisance. After arriving, we walked along the Mall to the Capitol and Supreme Court Building. In the Capitol rotunda, Michael wanted to know if Ronald Reagan laid in state on the white circle. The guide said he did. Michael got a picture of 3 of the seats in the Supreme Court Building. The big thing is to overturn Roe v. Wade. 45 years of abortion have killed 60 million babies in an American Holocaust. 9 justices sit on the Court.
We found Hotel Harrington and checked in for 3 nights. We started the second day at the Washington Monument. A cold wind blew as we waited in line. Michael got nice pictures of the surrounding area from atop the Monument. We headed for the Lincoln Memorial. We passed the World War II Memorial and the Reflecting Pool. We joked about Jenny running through the Reflecting Pool in Forrest Gump. We moved on to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 58,256 names were on the Wall. Pointless! We approached the White House. Because of 9/11, tours were scheduled in advance. Michael wondered if Bush was there. He repeated the address of the White House: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We continued to the Holocaust Museum. This was Michael's idea because his friends insisted that he see it. It told the story of Nazi annihilation of the Jews. We descended on the Smithsonian! In the Museum of American History, we saw an exhibit of American Presidents. Michael named the presidents since Jimmy Carter. We went to the dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural History. T. Rex and triceratops sparred! We saw meteorites and the Hope diamond. The diamond made its way from India to France to a man named Henry Hope. We went to the National Archives. Michael liked the Charters of Freedom: Constitution, Bill of Rights & Declaration of Independence. The Constitution consists of a Preamble, 7 Articles & 27 Amendments. The first 10 Amendments are the Bill of Rights, written by James Madison. The founding fathers knew there would be more. Back at the hotel, we watched the conclusion of Titanic. We ate at ESPN Zone next door.
Day 3 began with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. A popular tour! We saw a stack of one million dollars in $10 bills. Bills are made of cloth. They are 75% cotton, 25% linen. The Federal Reserve orders a sum of money to be printed by the BEP and sends it to the 12 Federal Reserve Banks. Michael needs to know about the Fed since he is in banking. We rounded the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial. We noted how Jefferson's statue faces the White House in the distance. I pointed out the cherry trees. We returned to the museums and art galleries along the Mall. Michael touched the moon rock in the Air and Space Museum as I had so long ago. We strolled through the National Gallery of Art. We sat and talked about life.
Michael and I discussed future work and going into business together: real estate and condos. It was talk, but it was laying the foundation for cooperation between father and son. In Barnes and Noble, Michael looked at a Donald Trump book while I dozed. I showed him a letter I received from Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee regarding an increase in compensation for disabled veterans.
Day 4 began with Ford's Theatre where Lincoln was assassinated. We looked into the box where John Wilkes Booth fired the shot. Booth was tracked to a barn and killed. Michael wanted to see Arlington Cemetery, so we stopped by on our way to Reagan Airport. We counted 21 steps taken by the sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We saw John Kennedy's grave! As we strolled through the cemetery, I waxed philosophical. "It is possible to abolish war if men are willing. War happens because men want it." We stopped at the Pentagon. There were no tours.
We landed in Nashville at night. There was turbulence! It had been raining, and lightning was in the distance. Karen met us at the airport. This trip was for Michael.
WASHINGTON, D.C. 1977
Washington is indeed the federal city! It is the place where all the states meet, the place where all periods in the American experience are sewn together. Its meaning and continuity are conveyed to the tourist. My first day in the city was August 16, 1977, the date of Elvis Presley's death. I had a motel room in Springfield, Virginia. I spent 5 days there and took a plane back to Louisville.
My first stop was the Capitol, the center of our country's legislative process. Presidents are inaugurated on the steps of the Capitol Building. 12 have lain in state on the little white circle in the middle of the rotunda. The public has 24 hours to pass by and pay its last respects. I touched the white circle with my foot. Paintings in the rotunda glorify George Washington.
The front of the Capitol faces away from the Mall. The house wing is on the left. The Senate wing is on the right. I viewed both chambers from the visitors gallery above. The House chamber contains seats. There are 435 representatives, one for about every 500,000 people. Representatives are elected by Congressional districts within the states. The reason they have less power than Senators is that they represent less people. Senators are elected by the states themselves. Each state has 2. The Senate chamber has 100 mahogany desks. The vice president presides over the Senate.
When a Congressman gets an idea, he presents it in the form of a bill. He is the author! The president may sign the bill into law or veto it. If he vetoes it, it requires 2/3 of Congress to pass.
Standing on the back of the Capitol, I looked down the Mall to the Washington Monument. Congressmen have their offices adjacent to their appropriate wings. Across the street are the Supreme Court Building and the Library of Congress.
Cases are tried by the Supreme Court from the first Monday in October through the end of June. The public is free to watch. The 9 justices take their places in seats at the front of the courtroom. Supreme Court decisions are important ones. About 5000 cases are submitted each year, and the Court chooses the ones that seem fit. It deals with cases of national importance or Constitutional relevance. Justices are appointed by the president.
Next to the Supreme Court Building is the Library of Congress. Out front is a statue of Neptune. In the lobby, the Gutenberg Bible is displayed. It is their most valuable item! It is in Latin. About 200 were printed, and only 3 complete ones and some fragments are extant. The guide noted that Gutenberg did not invent printing, but printing by movable type.
We were taken to the upper gallery to look down on the reading room. The card catalog was partially visible, and I went down to examine it. It occupied 3 rooms. There were 72 million things in the library, of which 18 million were books. Congressmen can take the books out. The public must use them in the library.
The Folger Shakespeare Library exhibits Shakespeariana! One must be at the dissertation level to use the collection. There is an Elizabethan theater, and plays are staged. Outside the building sits a statue of Puck. His hands are held high. The inscription reads, "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"
I think the Lincoln Memorial is larger than the Parthenon in Nashville. The statue of Lincoln is enormous. Washington and Lincoln are almost portrayed as gods! Inside the Memorial, the Gettysburg Address is on the wall. The significance of this speech is that it provided for a reconciliation after the Civil War.
From the Lincoln Memorial, I walked by the Reflecting Pool toward the Washington Monument. The Pool reflects both, one at each end. It is more like a lake than a pool. Distances and descriptions are deceptive.
The utility of the Washington Monument is apparent. I rose 555 feet and observed the city through small glass windows. The Capitol, Pentagon & White House resembled scale models. The height is only realized when people are seen crawling below like ants. This obelisk is the highest thing in the city, and the law prevents anything from being built higher. It can be seen nearly everywhere and is much bigger than it appears. A circle of American flags surrounds it.
Pennsylvania Avenue is remarkably like any street in any large city. The White House almost appears incongruous. Our line formed, and we entered by the east wing. We were conducted through several rooms: blue room, red room & State dining room. The tour went quickly, and we exited through the front door. I pondered that there are many similarities between presidents and kings. I sensed that the middle class stream flowing through the palace was in some ways an invasion.
The National Archives is where we go to see the Constitution, Declaration of Independence & Bill of Rights. These items are shown along with other historical documents. There is a letter signed by Napoleon confirming the Louisiana Purchase.
The Monroe Doctrine and the Treaty of Versailles give us a material sense of history. We feel that the people of the past were striving on the same plane we are! Their documents were ones of expediency. They were real, containing their own relevance.
The Constitution is the foundation of the existing government. Its principles are those which no laws or court decisions can contradict.
The Declaration of Independence reposes in a glass case above the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration, and it was this that gave him status with Washington and Lincoln.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is in the Treasury Department. It is where they print the paper money. Workers handle sheets of one dollar bills resembling newspapers. 32 bills are printed on each sheet. The workers are nonchalant! To them, the bills are only notes. It made me reflect on the value of money. Money is a symbol. People must work if it is to have meaning, else there will be nothing to buy.
I walked from the Bureau to the Jefferson Memorial. The Memorial is a rounded structure with a dome, open on 4 sides. Jefferson's brown statue stands erect! The Declaration of Independence is on the wall. I thought the atmosphere here to be more relaxed, more classical than that of the Lincoln Memorial.
The Smithsonian Institute is a complex of museums and art galleries. There are over a dozen units. The Castle, the original sandstone building, is used for offices.
1 Museum of Natural History - This is where the dinosaurs are! Bones of many kinds have been reassembled. There is a skeleton of a triceratops. These animals once roamed the western United States as did the later buffalo. Seeing their remains makes them more probable, less fantastic. Also on exhibition is a woolly mammoth from the end of the Ice Age. Its enormous tusks are curved.
Restorations of all animals are available. A model of a blue whale hangs from the ceiling. As long as two semis! Cultural and anthropological exhibits are plentiful. The Egyptian mummies are badly decayed but still exude an aura of mystery intrinsic to that culture. Winged bulls from Mesopotamia are in the same room, carved into slabs of stone. The bulls and the statue from Easter Island demonstrate a broad range of artistic expression.
The collection of gems is nice. Gems are minerals! I touched a meteorite after looking around to see if anyone was watching.
2 Air and Space Museum - Planes and space modules hang from the ceiling. The Wright Flyer, the first plane at Kitty Hawk, is there. So is Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. I touched the moon rock, a flat, triangular piece mounted in a case.
3 Museum of History and Technology - Machines and science! Early astronomical instruments were interesting. I saw a gadget used in ancient Alexandria for determining the equinoxes. Foucault's (fu-co) pendulum demonstrates the rotation of the earth.
4 National Gallery of Art - There are 93 galleries, and I traversed them all. Collections are arranged by nationality and chronology. The Florentine Renaissance precedes the Venetian. Dutch paintings are followed by work from the French, British & Americans. There was a thrill in recognizing originals whose prints I had seen in books. I recalled the juniper tree in the background of Leonardo's "Ginevra de' Benci." Others I noted were David's "Napoleon in His Study," Renoir's "Girl with a Watering Can" & Whistler's "White Girl."
5 National Portrait Gallery - The Hall of Presidents is notable! Nixon's portrait was done by Norman Rockwell. Literary figures are represented. My overall impression is that anyone can be portracized, anyone can be historicized & anyone can be literacized!
Everyone knows there are 3 branches of government: executive, legislative & judicial. We generally think of the executive in terms of the president, but it is the executive departments that function as the active components of government. They put into effect the acts of Congress. Departmental heads are appointed by the president and are answerable to him. The department buildings contain offices. They are not tourist oriented. I walked through the HEW building and the building housing the Department of Labor. HEW became Health and Human Services but still includes the Social Security Administration. Those numbers they give us are account numbers.
Each Department is involved in programs stemming from its philosophy. The Department of Agriculture is no exception. It contends that everything springs from the land. Thus, it concerns itself with rural affairs and farming.
The Department of Defense is housed in the Pentagon! Military command starts there. The joint chiefs of staff are subordinate to the Secretary of Defense, who answers to the president. The Pentagon is a world unto itself. There are all kinds of commercial shops. My tour was conducted by a female marine!
The FBI is in the Justice Department, and I took the tour in the J. Edgar Hoover Building. I saw laboratories geared to the detection of criminals.
I climbed the steps of the Treasury Department. It was closed, but I paused to look at the statue of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury.
I found the Veterans Administration to be rather dry. Fortunately, it pushes for more money and benefits.
I toured Arlington National Cemetery. The tomb of the unknown soldier and the Kennedy graves are what we all see. I arrived in Arlington from the Pentagon via the subway. The city of Arlington is in Virginia.
I reached the Botanical Gardens by cab. I imagined endless rows of gigantic, colorful flowers. I realized how little I knew about plants.
My 5th day in Washington, I spent looking at more art. In the Cocoran Gallery, I came across the portrait of Washington which appears on the $1 bill. It was done by Gilbert Stuart. I took out a bill and conspicuously compared the 2. Before the day ended, I returned to the National Gallery. I listened to a lecture about how Impressionists experimented with the variation of light. Monet's cathedrals provided examples.