My Travel Memories: Washington, DC

I really need to return to Washington DC again. Alex and I went to D.C. in 2011, but I was only part-time at my job and hadn’t earned any vacation time yet, so we only had a long weekend.  As a result, we hiked up to the Lincoln Monument and did the tour of the Capitol building, but other than that, we stuck largely to the Smithsonian Institution that weekend.

My 1979 trip to Washington DC was probably the first time I took a subway (though I remember taking the “L” in Chicago when I was very, very little — I think it was when my dad’s brother first started dating the woman who eventually became my aunt). I was thrilled by the Metro.  The Metro stations were just awesome and the train was convenient and it was just one of the neatest experiences I had had pretty much ever at that point in my life.  In fact, my delight in the Washington DC Metro may well be part of why I am such a fan of public transportation nowadays (the fact that I can get to my destination without having to stop reading my book or put down my knitting is a plus, too).

We also went to Arlington National Cemetery.  Washington, DC was a planned city.  Originally both Maryland and Virginia gave up some land for the capital, which was a square more-or-less bisected by the Potomac River.  The government didn’t really do anything with the part of Washington that was on the Virginia side of the river, so  Virginia asked for that land back and got it.  Most, if not all, of that land is now part of the city of Arlington. Within Arlington, Virginia, is, unsurprisingly, Arlington National Cemetery. The centerpiece of Arlington National Cemetery is Arlington House, which is also the Robert E. Lee Memorial. The house was built by the step-grandson of George Washington, George Washington Parke Custis, whose daughter married Robert E. Lee.  Robert E. Lee considered Arlington House to be his home.

During the Civil War, the government confiscated Arlington House and its grounds in part to punish Lee for leaving the United States Army to lead the Confederate Army.  The grounds were turned into a military cemetery in 1864, and bodies were buried close to the house with a goal of rendering the house uninhabitable.  After Lee’s death, Lee’s son later sued the United States government and the Supreme Court ruled that the house had been illegally seized and the government ended up buying the house and land from Lee’s son. So, that’s why there’s a mansion in the middle of the cemetery.  The mansion was there first.

While at Arlington National Cemetery, we visited the Tomb of the Unknowns, and the graves of John F. and Robert F. Kennedy. The Eternal Flame on John F. Kennedy’s grave has been upgraded since our visit.

We didn’t do much of the Smithsonian, though I remember visiting the Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the National Museum of American History (more on those museums once I get around to 2011).  We spent most of our time on the National Mall visiting the memorials.  We climbed up the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial twice, once during the daytime and once at night.  We also took the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument.  Some of the monuments that are there today, such as the Korean and Vietnam War memorials, weren’t there yet.

National Mall looking east
The National Mall from the Washington Monument looking towards the Lincoln Memorial, 1979.

My parents and I visited the White House, as well.  I seem to recall that we entered through the North Portico, and the light fixture there certainly looks familiar.  It looks like my memory might actually be accurate.  The White House website says that the North Portico was “(o)nce the principal entrance to the White House for both the family and the public.”  These days it looks like the visitor tours leave through that door. It was a house.  A very nice house, but a house.  Not so much with books and plants (the rose garden is supposed to be very nice, but I don’t think we spent much time there).

At some point we took a side trip to Mount Vernon, which was where George and Martha Washington lived.  It was another historic house. I do remember George and Martha Washington’s graves and being disappointed that so many of the outbuildings were reconstructed and/or replicas.

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