Friday, August 28, 2009

Vacation: Day 5 D.C.

Day 5 began just like Day 4....breakfast at camp, a 10 minute drive to the train station and a 35 minute ride in on the blue line with one transfer on to the yellow line to get to the Rayburn building and start our Capitol Tour.

The L'Enfant Station where we made our transfer was DEEP underground. This is the humongous escalator we had to ride out of there. (We are the big clump of shadowy figures near the bottom.)

Once we made it the office building we met up with Jim (from Champaign, IL) for our tour. He took us through the underground tunnel to the brand new .....

....which is also DEEP underground. It is a beautiful basement though, and full of gorgeous statues. This is Jack Sweigert, astronaut on Apollo 13 (played by Kevin Bacon) and congressman from Colorado. His is the only statue to combine both marble and bronze.

This is a replica of the statue of Freedom that is on top of the Capitol dome. It is (by law) the tallest statue in Washington D.C. at 19 1/2 feet, because "nothing is greater than Freedom." Several statues push the envelope and stand at 19 ft. tall. (There were hundreds of other busts and statues, but you just can't take pictures of all of them.)
Then we moved in to the capitol itself. As the country expanded so did it's capitol building in order to house all of the new congressmen. When it was added on to great thought was put in to making everything equal so that neither the house nor the senate would be perceived to be getting preferential treatment. Both of them were given separate wings on each side of the main rotunda. Each of these wings has it's own grand staircase and entry way. This is the ostentatious chandelier that the Senate put over their staircase....just to show who is really boss.

In the Capitol rotunda itself there are paintings representing great events in American history and statues of some of the presidents. The most recent addition to this collection is the statue of Ronald Regan, our personal favorite.

The dome itself is a spectacular view.
Once you move through the rotunda you are in to National Statuary Hall (which used to be the House meeting area, before the new addition). Each state is allowed to send two statues to the Capitol, honoring citizens from their states. These statues are rotated through different locations in the capitol building and visitors center.

In Statuary Hall we assumed we would find Illinois' contribution to be Abraham Lincoln, but since he is already all over the building, and he is claimed by three other states as well (Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana) they chose to pass. We saw a statue of William Jennings Bryan and assumed he was the "delegate" from Illinois, since he is from our hometown of Salem, Illinois. We were wrong again. Bryan was there as a representative of Nebraska, where he moved to after his childhood in Salem. The statue from Illinois turned out to be Frances E. Willard, the first woman president of a university (Northwestern). She is the only female in Statuary Hall.

Because Statuary Hall used to be the House meeting area there are small brass plaques on the floor of the room denoting where prominent representatives' desks were located. This is the spot where Abraham Lincoln sat when he was representing Illinois.

Of course we saw hundreds of other interesting historical items but there is no way I can describe them all here. After our tour we took the underground tram back to the Rayburn building and said goodbye to Jim. We ate our sack lunch on the Capitol grounds and got ready for our next walk through Washington.
Next on our agenda was the Museum of American History, which was 3 miles away. We took a stroll past the statue of Ulysses S. Grant, through the National Botanic Gardens, and started walking down Constitution Avenue.

This took us right past the National Archives, home to the Declaration of Independence. We wanted to get in there but we knew that lines have been long at the Archives since "National Treasure" brought more attention to the famous document. We decided to just walk past and see how long the lines were. We had a little to spare and thought we might just wait.

When I arrived at the end of the line (which is outside in the blazing sun) I saw two signs. One said, "Your approximate wait from this point will be 45 minutes." The other said, "Due to the number of visitors today the exhibit hall is temporarily closed. Please be patient. The line will begin moving again shortly." That pretty much made up our minds for us. No Declaration of Independence this time. On to .....
Dad really wanted to see the exhibit of ancient coinage and I really wanted to see the First Ladies dress exhibit. We all were anxious to see the real Star Spangled Banner, since we had learned all about it back at Ft. McHenry. We did get to see all of those things (but taking pictures in a dark museum is next to impossible, and in the case of the flag, completely prohibited), plus a few more.

C3PO greeted us just inside the door.

And we found Oscar the Grouch and Jerry Seinfeld's puffy shirt.

We expected to see things like Abraham Lincoln's top hat.....
But we were surprised to find Anton Apollo Ohno's speed skates. Don't get me wrong. I love him. I can't wait to watch him in Vancouver in about 4 months, but I just didn't expect him to be represented in the Smithsonian.

We saw lots of Edison's inventions and a bunch of other cool stuff and then it was time to move on. We wanted to get in to the Museum of Natural History that day too. So we set off again, this time we only had to walk one block to get to our destination.

The beauty of the Smithsonian museums is that they are FREE. We were just about museumed out by this point and we knew that the only thing in the Natural History museum that we were really interested in was the Hall of Gems. No big deal. The museum is free. If we wanted to go in and see just one exhibit we could. It was so nice to have that flexibility.

The kids enjoyed seeing all of the different rocks and gems. They each searched until they found their birthstones and Ryker particularly liked the meteors. We were excited to find lots of exhibits from Illinois, more specifically the Cave-In-Rock area, where Brian's uncle and Grandma have their vacation homes. It was fun to see the names of places we go all the time listed in the Smithsonian.

Of course the Hope Diamond is the big draw in the Hall of Gems, but after seeing crystals the size of a Lazy Boy and rubies as big as your fist even the biggest and best diamond in the world looks a little puny.On the way out Cainan was thrilled to find an Easter Island Head, which he of course named Dum Dum.

Our day didn't end there....but this post is going to.

Next week I'll continue the vacation saga with our monument tour and a baseball game.

To be continued.......

No comments: