Looking down from the pinnacle of the Washington Monument on a warm and getting sunnier Easter Sunday morning, I spied a musical stage on the lawn down below. On the way up from our hotel on F and 7th, I’d already told my dear wife Karen how during my D.C. days living a few miles over the line first as a student at the University of Maryland in College Park and then as a journalist at the Prince George’s Journal, my roommates and I had stood on that ground of God’s green grass to witness what I believe to be the first Mall concert to celebrate our Earth Day.
I can’t be sure this stage is on the same spot, but I can think back more than 35 years to remember the music of Jackson Browne and the Beach Boys and more on a previous full day of important messages in the sun on these significant grounds.
The first Earth Day was in 1970. April 22 marks the 45th. It will be honored worldwide. I consider the Earth to be one our significant leaders, surely.
Beyond the stage, we spotted the Tidal Basin, ringed by monuments. Off to the other direction was the Reflecting Pool, surrounded by memorials. The Cherry Blossom Festival sprouted along the grounds, even though the trees were only in semi-salute because of the harsh east coast winter.
Our mission: Walk many miles. Appreciate many things.
Approaching the Tidal Basin loop clockwise, the huge tribute to Thomas Jefferson was the first destination.
From the National Park Service site:
“The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, modeled after the Pantheon of Rome, is America’s foremost memorial to our third president. As an original adaptation of Neoclassical architecture, it is a key landmark in the monumental core of Washington, D.C. The circular, colonnaded structure in the classic style was introduced to this country by Thomas Jefferson. Architect John Russell Pope used Jefferson’s own architectural tastes in the design of the Memorial. His intention was to synthesize Jefferson’s contribution as a statesman, architect, President, drafter of the Declaration of Independence, adviser of the Constitution and founder of the University of Virginia. Architects Daniel P. Higgins and Otto R. Eggers took over construction upon the untimely death of Pope in August 1937. The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission was created to direct the erection of a memorial to Thomas Jefferson by an Act of Congress approved in June 1934. The present-day location at the Tidal Basin was selected in 1937. The site caused considerable public criticism because it resulted in the removal of Japanese flowering cherry trees from the Tidal Basin.”
Once greenlighted by President FDR, construction started in 1941. They went all out.
Inside the memorial, I had to summon my inner daddy and politely tell a perhaps-kindergarten-aged girl to get down off the Jefferson statue and come back out from inside the chains. Her father picked up on my cue and asked her what she thought the chains meant. Her mother gave me a look. It was a sign of how people think these memorials really are our property. All day long, folks interacted freely with statues, marble and granite.
We almost missed the spread-out grounds that pay tribute to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But a look to the left from the main path gave us a glimpse of a sign saying pagoda ahead, and we took that route instead.
According to the NPS site:
“Franklin Roosevelt remains intimately connected to the National Park Service. During a speech in 1936, President Roosevelt noted the special quality of national parks by stating that ‘there is nothing so American.’ He captured the essential truth of the agency by declaring, ‘the fundamental idea behind the parks … is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.’ “
I had to wait it out, oh, two or three minutes as a parade of people took turns ducking between the Depression-era people above to have their pictures taken. I wanted a clean shot.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Memorial was strikingly different and beautiful, with a towering statue of the statesman of my days to greet me off the path at the end of the Tidal Basin. My time within these grounds filled me with the feeling of gratitude and despair, hope and reality, optimism and something a bit less. Seeing the plaque with the late Reverend’s speech from Alabama in 1963, this memorial spoke to me most in my here and now. I remembered the night he was assassinated, and I thought about how far we’ve come, how much we backtracked, how far we have to go …
According to the NPS site:
“Aug. 28, 2011, the 48th anniversary of the groundbreaking March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, witnessed the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It is fitting that on this date, reminiscent of the defining moment in Dr. King’s leadership in the Civil Rights movement; in the form of solid granite, his legacy is further cemented in the tapestry of the American experience. His leadership in the drive for realization of the freedoms and liberties laid down in the foundation of the United States of America for all of its citizens, without regard to race, color, or creed is what introduced this young southern clergyman to the nation. The delivery of his message of love and tolerance through the means of his powerful gift of speech and eloquent writings inspire to this day, those who yearn for a gentler, kinder world . His inspiration broke the boundaries of intolerance and even national borders, as he became a symbol, recognized worldwide of the quest for civil rights of the citizens of the world.”
World War II National Memorial
Off the start of the Reflecting Pool, the grounds of World War II Memorial is massive. One end reads Pacific, the other Atlantic. Between, the ring includes the names of the states and territories represented by soldiers during that biggest of wars. A huge fountain shooting water high into a wide and shallow pool in the middle of the memorial reminded me of how those who fought this war freed so many from tyranny and delivered hope and beauty instead.
According to NPS:
“Service, Sacrifice, Unity, and Victory —
Through stone architecture and bronze sculptures, the World War II Memorial recognizes the ways Americans served, honors those who fell, and recognizes the victory they achieved to restore freedom and end tyranny around the globe.”
Make sure your shoes are tied tightly before heading up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial. The massive edifice anchors one end of the Reflecting Pool. The steps to reach the seated statue of the bearded president within it are many and ominous.
According to NPS:
“Abraham Lincoln’s contemporaries did not require historical perspective to recognize his monumental impact on the nation. Lincoln not only saved the Union, preserving both its government and boundaries, he reinvigorated the nation’s founding principle — that all men are created equal. No national memorial had been contemplated for any president except George Washington, yet talk of building one to Lincoln began even as he lingered on his deathbed. There was an obvious appropriateness to the concept that Lincoln, the preserver of the Union, should join Washington, the founder of that Union, in being honored on the National Mall. Even the location of the Lincoln Memorial reflects this great symmetry in thought and design. The Capitol Building lies on a direct line with the monument to Washington, the president at the time Capitol construction was begun, and with the memorial to Lincoln, the president at the time the Capitol finally was completed.”
Get to the top of the steps. Go inside and marvel. Come back outside. Look across. Look down. Marvel much more.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
Over to one flank of the Reflecting Pool sits this striking triangle to the conflict that came just before my lifetime. The Korean War Veterans Memorial includes multiple statues of soldiers advancing across a natural field. It literally gave me goosebumps as I stood there imagining the real thing, so lifelike they were in action of service. Prisoner of War flags flew with the American flags. Easter bouquets were placed among the perimeter by families. I also imagined that many of those who gave their lives or are missing would still be living today.
From the memorial’s site:
“The Korean War Veterans Memorial is located near the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was dedicated on July 27, 1995. The memorial commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed services during the three-year period of the Korean War. The war was one of the most hard-fought in our history. During its relatively short duration from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953, 54,246 Americans died in support of their country. Of these, 8,200 are listed as missing in action or lost or buried at sea. In addition 103,284 were wounded during the conflict.”
There was a steady line up and down the pathway at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and I overheard many comments about how impactful the soldier statues in the field were to my fellow visitors.
Vietnam War Memorial
The Wall has become famous in our lifetime because so many families come to mourn the loss of the loved ones whose names are etched upon it for losing their lives in the Vietnam War. This expanse of ground reflects the grieving and loss and was dotted with flowers and flags stuck into the foot of the wall.
According to NPS:
“Located north of the Lincoln Memorial near the intersection of 22nd St. and Constitution Ave. NW, Vietnam Veterans Memorial is free to visit and is open 24 hours a day. The memorial includes the names of over 58,000 servicemen and women who gave their lives in service in the Vietnam Conflict. The memorial also includes “The Three Servicemen” statue and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.”
Walking the Wall reminded me again that all of this happened in my lifetime. I saw the fighting and heard about the loss of life on the news, read about the protests and rallied with my classmates in school as we worried about war. I practically simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief about the end of the draft and let out a cheer for the halt of the fighting. It was that personal to me then. And to so many people touching the engraved names of loved ones lost and pressing down flowers and flags into the little piece of earth below this Wall, it still is.
Coming tomorrow: Cherry Blossom Festival
See Friday: The White House
If you’ve visited memorials and monuments, what struck you the most, and why? What would you like to see for the first time and again, and why? Which of my photos is your favorite, and why?