Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.
We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.
It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here, and a link to the next post in the series, when it becomes available, below.
As you can well imagine, Washington DC is chock full o’ memorials and monuments. We visited the ones below over the course of several days. We’d fit them in between visits to the various Smithsonian museums, based on location. There were a lot of other memorials and monuments that we missed or didn’t even think to look for, but here’s what we did manage to see.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Even though no one in my family was the right age to serve in the Vietnam War, I have visited this memorial twice, and both times it has moved me to tears. It’s kind of horrifying in its simplicity. It contains the names of the 58,318 Americans who died during this war.
The wall is set within a hill, so that the first panel you come to only has a few names on it. And as you go downward, ever downward, the number of names increase to the point where you start to feel really overwhelmed. And then as you walk up the other side, the names decrease again, but by then you know that even one name was too much.
The names are carved into polished black granite which is highly reflective. That means that as people come and look at the names, they see themselves looking back. Many people place flowers and letters and mementos at the base of these panels, and every so often the park service will go through and collect these things to be respectfully archived.
As an aside, check out one of the photos I took of the wall, below. Doesn’t it look like that woman who is facing to the right is hovering in mid-air? It’s just a trick of perspective. But I can’t explain why she looks like a statue that is made entirely of ebony. It kind of gives me the creeps. There is no statue at that location. I swear.
Another interesting fact about this memorial is that one end of the wall points to the Washington Monument, and the other end points to the Lincoln Memorial. This was intentional. It’s one more way that this memorial so effectively integrates itself into the larger landscape of Washington DC memorials.
There are also two statues at the memorial. One is called the Three Servicemen, and it honors the men and women who served in the war and later died from causes related thereto. That statue somehow manages to evoke the heat and the sweat and the mud and the exhaustion and the loss of innocence. The second statue is called the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, which honors the women who served in armed forces and took part in this war. Surrounding this statue are eight yellowwood trees to specifically remember the eight servicewomen killed in action during this conflict.
The Lincoln Memorial was our next stop. Everyone is familiar with the memorial itself, if only from movies and photographs. But what I love most about it, as you can see in the pictures below, is that it’s pretty much always crawling with people. They sit on the steps because it’s our place. It belongs to all of us.
These people gaze at the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool. They stand on the very spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood to give his amazing “I have a dream” speech. They wander inside and thoughtfully gaze up at the statue of Lincoln. They recite the Gettysburg Address, which Lincoln had jotted down on his way to Gettysburg, but which I think is one of the most thoughtfully and compassionately crafted speeches I have ever heard in my life.
On the other side of the hall is the speech Lincoln made at his second inauguration on March 4th, 1865. In it, he makes perfectly clear that this war was all about slavery. That’s why I include photos of it here. Don’t listen to those who try to whitewash and romanticize this war. It was about slavery. This man was there, and he’s telling you the way it was from across the decades.
It’s a remarkable inaugural speech, although not as succinct as the one he delivered at Gettysburg. As you read it, remember that the Civil War didn’t officially end until April 9th of that same year, And he had no way of knowing that when he delivered this speech. Thirty-two days after giving this inaugural address, on April 15th, to be exact, Lincoln was dead.
We sat on the steps of this memorial for quite some time. I thought about the grandeur of Washington DC. It is a very dignified city, despite all the political wrangling and outright corruption that takes place within it every single day. It is a place for Americans to be proud of, despite the fact that much of its architecture and layout is meant to intimidate others with our power, which we so often abuse. Being an American can be complicated, once the rose-colored glasses come off.
I thought, too, of the January 6th insurrectionists. How do you come to this very city and invade its capitol with violent intent? How do you disrespect this glorious democratic experiment by defecating in the hallway, dressing in horned hats with body paint, and threatening to lynch people that had (rightly or wrongly) been elected by their constituents?
I can see getting riled up at Bubba’s back yard bar-b-cue about not liking the state of things in this country. But how do you maintain that feeling through a long plane flight, an approach to this beautiful city, and a march to the capitol that was supposed to be led by your Cheeto-in-chief, but wasn’t? How, after all that, do you maintain your momentum to break in, vandalize and destroy, and put people’s lives at risk? Where does that energy come from?
Sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, it was impossible to comprehend that something like that could happen. Not in this city. Lincoln must have been spinning in his grave on that day. And yet some people still seem proud of that insurrection even now. I fear for America’s future.
On another day we stumbled upon the United States Navy Memorial. It took me a moment to transition to this dignified location, not only because the visit was unplanned, but also because we had just emerged from the Metro, which we had had almost entirely to ourselves due to the pandemic. The whole platform was occupied only by the two of us, plus a woman that was talking to herself in a very agitated fashion, while dropping her pants and depositing what looked to be a gallon of pee all over the floor. You’ve got to love big cities.
Having said that, I have to say that the Navy Memorial was really impressive. It consisted of a statue of a sailor, surrounded by an arc of three-dimensional plaques that depicted various aspects of Navy life. Here are some pictures of a few of them.
We also drove past the World War II Memorial one evening, but had no time to stop. That’s a pity, because it seemed like an amazing place. While doing research for this blog post, I also stumbled upon the World War II registry, and discovered that my father was not listed therein. And a few other friends have discovered that same situation with their relatives who served in that war. This is rather frustrating because my father’s service definitely altered the course of his life, and not for the better, and by extension it meant that I grew up without ever knowing him. So the least this registry could do was remember that the guy existed. Sheesh. I have sent them his information for inclusion, and at the time of this writing, it is currently “under review”.
On our last day in Washington DC, we decided to visit a few places that we had missed, but we had very limited amounts of time to do so. But the travel gods must have been smiling upon us, because we met Shionte, who made it all possible. The world should have more Shiontes.
She was our Uber driver to our first destination, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. When she heard of our plans for the morning, and our anxieties about not being able to fit everything in, she told us that we were her last fare of the day, so if we wanted, she’d wait for us and take us from place to place. Heck yeah!
The MLK Memorial is outstanding. It’s simple, yet powerful and to the point. It consists of a gigantic and superbly crafted statue of the man himself, plus a number of his most famous quotes carved into the surrounding walls. When the sun rises, it shines upon his countenance. And he gazes toward the Jefferson Memorial across the water, which I never quite seem to get around to visiting.
Dr. King’s statue is based on a phrase he used in his “I have a dream” speech. The phrase is “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” In this context, he represents the stone of hope, but you can still see the mountain of despair behind him. And you can see the scrape marks in all the stones, representing the struggle and movement that was required to get that stone of hope to where it is today.
I can’t think of a more dignified design that would adequately honor his legacy and the struggle for freedom, equality and justice. This Nobel Peace Prize winner was instrumental in bringing about much-needed change in this country. But we still have a long way to go.
From there, we headed back to Shionte, and she effortlessly weaved in and out of Washington DC traffic to deliver us to our next destination. En route, we learned that she was actually in the finance business, but she had been laid off due to the pandemic. I admired her ability to survive in this very expensive city under those circumstances. I hope things improve for her soon.
Next up was the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and it was huge, as befits our longest running president. He held office from 1933 to 1945, and that was a particularly trying time in our nation’s history.
The first statue you come upon at the memorial is one of President Roosevelt sitting in his wheelchair. I recall that that was a very controversial statue when it was first proposed. On the one hand, it’s an honest depiction of the man, and on the other hand, he usually went out of his way to hide his need for such a chair, so some see this as an invasion of his privacy.
I rather like it. It makes him seem approachable. Human. Like someone I could share a tuna salad sandwich with. And I love the idea of some young person in a wheelchair seeing this statue and realizing that they have as much right to have big dreams and big plans as anyone else does.
There were many FDR quotes scattered throughout the memorial, and they gave me the chills because they still apply, for better or for worse, to our present circumstances. He talks about the need for us to choose social justice and love for our fellow man. He mentions the importance of not throwing nature out of balance. He says we must guard the civil rights of all citizens, and guard against hatred, oppression, and injustice. He opines that war is a horrible thing. He says it’s more important to provide for those who don’t have enough than it is to add more to those who have much, and that there should be no forgotten men or races.
There are many cleverly integrated fountains throughout the memorial and, as I said, there are a lot of amazing statues there as well. One is of a man listening to a fireside chat on his radio. Another is of dejected men in a bread line during the depression. A third one, which I found particularly endearing, is of the man himself, with his little dog Fala. And another one is of his incredible wife Eleanor, who deserves a memorial of her own. I found her to be quite underrepresented in this one. But she’s actually the only first lady represented in a presidential memorial in this country, so that tells you a lot about the patriarchy.
Back to Shionte we went, so that she could take us to the Washington Monument. Due to the pandemic, you can’t go up the 500 feet to the obelisk’s observation deck anymore. That’s a pity because it purports to have the best possible view of DC. Instead, we went to the park store and spent entirely too much on DC souvenirs.
After that, we spotted a homeless man sleeping on the bench out front (visible in the picture above), and decided he would be the perfect person to give the rest of our food to before heading out of town. We had been making sandwiches and having healthy snacks during this entire trip rather than spending money at restaurants for every single meal. There was no sense in having this food go to waste. He thanked my husband and went back to sleep, but we knew he’d make good use of it eventually.
From there, Shionte took us back to our hotel, and DH had to chase her down the street to give her a well-deserved tip. Godspeed, Shionte, wherever you are.
We finished packing our stuff, and deposited it in the storeroom of the hotel, because it was time to check out, but not yet time to go to the airport, and we had one more must-see stop to make before heading home. That place deserves a post of its own, so watch this space!
Enjoying my view? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5