I went to Washington, D.C. in June 2009 with two of my best friends from high school. We were all about 16 at the time and very excited to be taking this trip across the country on our own! We managed to navigate the Chicago O’Hare airport by ourselves and arrive in D.C., where we were met by the Close Up Program Coordinators. The Close Up Program was an opportunity for students from around the country to come to our nation’s capital and see it “closer up” than the average tourist. We met our senators and representative, went to a play at the Kennedy Center, had different discussions and debates at different monuments and memorials, and learned so much about history and the government while we were there!
The Jefferson Monument is situated in a very pretty location. It’s located along the tidal basin, and near some cherry blossom trees (we were there a week or so after the cherry blossom week, so, sadly, we really only got to see them on the ground). I really liked this memorial–the architecture is beautiful and there are inspirational quotes of some of Thomas Jefferson’s writings on the wall around his statue, which is in the middle of the monument. My favorite part, however, was that his statue is looking out over the tidal basin to the White House, a sentry from the past ensuring that our president never takes too much power for himself.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is a very pretty one, and rather than being constructed as a building to him, it’s a very pretty park full of sculptures, red rock (quarried from South Dakota, we were proud to hear!), and flowing water. It’s a very nice and peaceful place to spend an afternoon, and a nice change after some of the other presidential memorials, because it was a bit more outdoors-y. It also provides a lot of history of the era, with statues of people lining up for unemployment, a statue of a man sitting next to his radio and listening to one of Roosevelt’s “fireside chats,” etc.
The Lincoln Memorial has to be one of the most-recognized and most-visited in Washington, D.C. It’s in the National Mall, with the Korean War Memorial on the left and the Vietnam War Memorial to the right, and it faces the reflecting pool, the World War II Memorial, and the Washington Monument. The place is swarmed with tourists, but if you wait your turn you can stand at the same spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech–there is a marker at the spot engraved in the stone–and look over the National Mall as he did. That was probably my favorite part of this memorial.
The World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Memorials surround the Lincoln Memorial in the National Mall, as described above. One of the things the Close Up Program asked us to consider as we visited them, was whether each memorial focused more on the loss or the triumph of the war. The World War II Memorial definitely focused on the triumph. It’s made up of Pacific battles on one half and Atlantic battles on the other, and there are quotes and bronze plaques along the walls emphasizing the bravery and courage of the soldiers and the triumph of the United States. On the other hand, the Vietnam War Memorial with its list of casualties and the Korean War Memorial with its wall full of faces and statues depicting difficulties of the soldiers, definitely focused on the loss. It was interesting because they corresponded with what the attitude of the general public towards the war was at the time they were constructed.
The Capitol building is undeniably impressive. It’s very large and the architecture is beautiful. At the top of the dome is a statue of Freedom–she faces east because the sun never sets on liberty. We met one of our senators and our representative, and listened in on the House of Representatives. This part was actually incredibly boring–very few representatives were actually there, and it’s basically just one person reading their prepared speech to the C-SPAN camera. Our guide told us that usually they’ve already made up their mind how they’ll vote on something so they don’t need to be there, but I still thought this was a rather disappointing view of what our Congressmen actually do. More interesting was listening to a meeting where Congressmen were asking big car companies like GM, etc., what those companies will do for the American people if they bail them out, which was of course something very prevalent in the news at the time.
One of my favorite destinations was the Library of Congress. The architecture was the most beautiful I’d seen in all of Washington, D.C. and we got to view such marvels as a Gutenberg Bible and some of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library. To go into the library and read books yourself, you must get a library card, which was a process that didn’t take too much time and was definitely worth it. The statues of philosophers through the years lining the dome of the Library and the splendid architecture shouldn’t be missed!
We had one free day while in Washington, D.C., where those who attended the Close Up Program with a teacher did activities planned by that teacher; since we were basically on our own, we decided we should take advantage of the Smithsonians–some of our nation’s best museums with, best of all, free admission!
The Air and Space Museum was very interesting, and we stopped by to take a bunch of pictures of the different aircraft to show our dads when we got home. The museum also taught a lot about the history of the wars. We stopped by the Smithsonian Art Museum (the one with older art, not modern) but were made a little uncomfortable by the lack of clothing in nearly all the paintings, so we decided to go to the National History museum. We spent hours there, seeing the Hope Diamond, plenty of dinosaur bones, a whole exhibit on sea life, totem poles, and many other treasures.
However, our favorite museum, and the one I definitely most recommend visiting while in Washington, D.C., was the American History Museum. It’s full of assorted wonders–Abraham Lincoln’s famous hat, Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Elvis’s guitars, an original Barbie and GI Joe, a collection of the First Ladies’ inaugural gowns, the original star-spangled banner, even the puffy shirt from the Seinfeld episode named for it. It was definitely one of the most fascinating things we saw in Washington, D.C., and a must-see, because there’s something that everyone can appreciate there.