Monday, May 21, 2018

Washington DC on foot, part 2

It had been a long day of walking on Day 1: The National Mall from the Capitol to the Potomac River, however the boys were still excited about our second day in Washington DC, which would feature a little less walking and a little more exploring...

Day 2: Ford's Theater, the Old Post Office Tower and the International Spy Museum

With the Washington Monument closed until 2019, there are few options to get a bird’s-eye view of the National Mall, so a visit to the Old Post Office Clock Tower was an easy decision. While the Old Post Office is currently used as the Trump International Hotel, the tower is still operated by National Park Service. However, to enter visitors must circle around to the back and enter through the doors next to the Starbucks. 

Admission is free, and the tower observation deck is open Thursday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm (closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas). Dating back to 1899, it was used as the city’s main post office until 1914. Nearly torn down once in the 1920s and a second time in the 1970s, Trump redeveloped the property into a luxury hotel in 2016. The Old Post Office Clock Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places in April 1973.

In September of 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told (his friend) Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter "If any memorial is erected to me, I know exactly what I should like it to be. I would like it to consist of a block about the size of this (referring to his desk) and placed in the center of that green plot in front of the Archives Building. I don't care what it is made of... but I want it plain without any ornamentation, with the simple carving, 'In Memory of _____.'" I would say they fulfilled his wishes exactly, if not for the enormous Memorial on the Tidal Basin... 

We admired the simple stone and the facade of the National Archives, and then crossed Pennsylvania Avenue. A main artery of DC, Pennsylvania Avenue is a National Historic Site and a unit of National Mall & Memorial Parks. This unique site preserves locations related to the creation of the Federal City, Presidential Inaugurations and other historically significant events.

Across the street from the FDR Stone and the National Archives is the US Navy Memorial and Plaza. Daily interpretive programs at 10am and 2pm meet at the Navy Memorial, an opportunity to learn more about Pennsylvania Avenue and its many impressive memorials. If you can't catch a program, explore on your own. Stanly Bleifield's famous statue, The Lone Sailor overlooks the Granite Sea, a map depicting the world's oceans, using an azimuthal projection centered on Washington, DC. Surrounding the Granite Sea are two fountain pools honoring the personnel of the American Navy and the other navies of the world, and 26 bronze high reliefs commemorating events, personnel, and communities of the various sea services.

Continuing north. On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln at the box seat at Ford’s Theater. Timed-entry tickets let you see the site, although the theater still holds performances so call ahead/arrive early to guarantee you can get in. The basement museum has Booth’s pistol on display, but we crossed the street to the visitor center that also has displays and interactive exhibits. Adjacent is the Peterson House, where President Lincoln spent his final hours before passing away at 7:22am the following morning; the house was closed to tours on our visit, but the visitor center provided insight into the timeline of events, the aftermath, and the fateful event itself.

Ford’s Theater was the second opportunity for the boys to complete a Jr. Ranger booklet in DC, and I recommend a stop even if not able to secure tickets for the theater tour. After the previous day's mileage the boys were happy to find that our next destination was just around the corner... 

All books about President Lincoln!

If you are a James Bond movie fan you’ll be interested in visiting the International Spy Museum. All sorts of undercover tools of the trade are on display. Although advertised as being a ‘kid favorite,’ my sources suggested it might be a bit heavy on signs with dense text and lighter on the fun displays my kids were looking for. As a happy middle ground we skipped the $23/adult entrance fee and hit the gift shop instead, allowing the boys to browse all the coolest gear and gadgets without the lengthy reading required in the museum. Whether our visit inspired Lauris to choose a spy theme for his eight birthday is a mystery, but I know that reverse-mirrored glasses and secret codes have been the norm around our house since.

On our way east we stopped in at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. That morning we had heard a portion of a ceremony in passing, as fallen LE officers from the previous year were being honored - we didn't want to intrude and watched from a distance. This time in passing we had the Memorial to ourselves, and after a reflective stroll through the shaded walks we turned once more towards our hotel.

One final memorial I would like to mention is the Victims of Communism Memorial. The Memorial is in honor of the more than 100 million men, women and children that were struck down by 20th century totalitarian regimes, and features a 10ft bronze replica of the Goddess of Democracy erected by students during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.The design and statue are the work of sculptor Thomas Marsh, and the inscription reads "To the more than 100 million victims of communism and to those who love liberty" and "To the freedom and independence of all captive nations and peoples." Located at the intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey Avenues and G St. NW within view of the US Capitol, the memorial was dedicated by President George W. Bush on the 20th anniversary of President Reagan's "tear down this wall" speech in front of the Berlin Wall with these words:

     ...(Victims) include innocent Ukrainians starved to death in Stalin's Great Famine; or Russians killed in Stalin's purges; Lithuanians and Latvians and Estonians loaded onto cattle cars and deported to Arctic death camps of Soviet Communism. They include Chinese killed in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution; Cambodians slain in Pol Pot's Killing Fields; East Germans shot attempting to scale the Berlin Wall in order to make it to freedom; Poles massacred in the Katyn Forest; and Ethiopians slaughtered in the "Red Terror"; Miskito Indians murdered by Nicaragua's Sandinista dictatorship; and Cuban balseros who drowned escaping tyranny... We'll never know the names of all who perished, but at this sacred place, communism's unknown victims will be consecrated to history and remembered forever. We dedicate this memorial because we have an obligation to those who died, to acknowledge their lives and honor their memory."


There were three resources that I found invaluable for planning such a condensed trip, as well as getting the kids enthused about viewing ‘a bunch of monuments.’ The first is “Washington: The Nation’s Capital” brochure by the National park Service, featuring a large map of all the Park Service and public sites in addition to the location of information kiosks and restrooms. To get a copy contact the Park Service, or download a copy online.

Everyone knows it isn’t pleasant to carry around a heavy, cumbersome guidebook, and so I was relieved to find the Lonely Planet Make My Day: Washington, DC guidebook. A flip-and-match format allows you to get the meat of each attraction in a quick look, the fold-out map in the back is a complete city map with bikeshare & public transportation as well as street index, and a pocket in the back can store stamps, receipts or other important papers as you hike your way across the city.

Finally, the kids got into another Lonely Planet book, Washington, DC City Trails: Secrets, Stories and Other Cool Stuff. Reading about the National Mall beforehand allowed them to identify the monuments and memorials on our wanderings; did you know that the north wall of the Lincoln Memorial originally misspelled the word ‘future’ euture, and although it was fixed the mistake is still visible?

The last time we were in DC the boys were too small for much of a tour - see my previous Washington DC post here. Therefore, our goal was to pack as much as possible into our short time in the city, to get an overall perspective on DC and prepare for more in-depth exploration of museums and other sites on a future visit. A walking tour of the National Mall is an ideal way to see the city, and if you plan your route ahead you can see it all on foot, even with children; just be prepared with comfortable walking shoes, plenty of fluids, sunscreen, and patience to stop and rest as needed. We made it home from DC tired, but satisfied we had made good use of our time there, and we’ve already gotten the start of a list for our next visit: Theodore Roosevelt Island, Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon, the National Zoo…

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...