The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is quite different from the other presidential memorials I’ve already posted about.
For one thing, there are no columns!
For another, it’s made not of white marble, but of red granite from South Dakota.
And, lastly, it’s spread out over 7.5 acres, half-hidden by a small copse of trees. It’s not a DC landmark in the way the other memorials are.
The memorial was designed to be accessible to people with disabilities, out of respect for FDR’s paralysis from polio. There are no steps or stairs anywhere.
It’s also a new monument. Designed by a landscape architect named Lawrence Halprin, it took three years to build and was dedicated in 1997.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States, was in office from 1933 to 1945, for a total of twelve years, one month, one week, and one day. The memorial consists of a series of outdoor “rooms,” one for each of his four terms in office.
Each room contains a waterfall, and each waterfall is progressively larger and more complex to represent the increasingly difficult problems FDR faced during his presidency. I entered the memorial from the “wrong” side, however, so the symbolism was lost on me.
In addition to the waterfalls are various sculptures of FDR …
… and of significant events during his time in office, such as …
… the Fireside Chats (the radio addresses FDR made between 1933 and 1945) …
… and bread lines.
Scattered amongst the sculptures, carved into the granite walls, are words spoken by FDR. The above quotation is my favourite.
There is also a monument to the First Lady. Eleanor Roosevelt stands before the United Nations emblem to honour her role as one of the first delegates to the UN.
FDR served his country during one of the most turbulent decades of the 20th century. Ironically, I found his memorial to be the most peaceful of the presidential memorials I saw in DC.
By happenstance, I was in Toronto this year during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Which led to me taking the above photo.
I was walking up Yonge Street one afternoon on my way to meet a friend. I liked the look of the lights underneath the canopy at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre, so I stopped to take a photo. Within seconds, several people stopped to see who I was taking a photo of (and by “who,” I mean which celebrity) and they began pulling out their own cameras and phones. At which point I smirked to myself, put my camera in my pocket, and continued on my way. Only during TIFF would pointing your camera at a movie theatre cause a traffic jam!
That night my friend and I saw a French film set in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, a beautiful park in Paris I have yet to see for myself. I tried to get tickets to a few more films, but no luck there ― the ones I wanted to see were selling out as fast as I was trying to buy them online. No matter, though. Two of the films I was able to see a few weeks later at VIFF.
TIFF is a smaller festival than VIFF ― it shows fewer films and is five days shorter ― but it’s an industry event, so to speak, and therefore gets a lot of attention because Hollywood and the world’s media comes to town. I could feel the buzz in the air the entire time I was there, which makes September an exciting time to visit Toronto.
Travelling to another country doesn’t always require that you get on a plane. One of the best alternatives to travelling (for me) is hanging out at an international film festival.
Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) is held every October and is one of the largest film festivals in North America. This year, I had a choice of 380 films from 75 countries. Which meant that this month, for the price of a movie ticket, I saw Serbia, Bosnia, South Africa, France, and the Czech Republic.
How cool is that?
The Lincoln Memorial made a strong impression on me, but it wasn’t the kind of impression I was expecting. Of all the presidential memorials, it was the one I was most anticipating ― and the one I found the most unsettling.
I visited the memorial on the Sunday morning of Labour Day weekend. Whereas I had had DC to myself a few days earlier, on this long-weekend Sunday, the place was crawling with people. As I walked towards the Mall from the Foggy Bottom metro station, and witnessed the first of many tantrums I would see that day from a child too young to appreciate the sights of DC, I should have realized it might be a frustrating day.
The thing is, I have a hard time with crowds. Especially when I come across them unexpectedly. I didn’t approach the memorial from the Reflecting Pool side (see above photos). I approached it from the Potomac River side. There was no one there, as you see in this photo.
So to come around the memorial and suddenly be surrounded by so many people ― well, it took me by surprise.
I felt uncomfortable mounting the steps with the hoards of other tourists ― it certainly felt like we were pilgrims entering a place of worship. It’s even called that― a temple. Says so right there on the wall, above the statue of Lincoln.
And the statue! At 19 feet tall, it’s more than overwhelming ― it’s overpowering. If he were standing, Lincoln would tower 28 feet above us mortals standing below. The original design called for a slightly larger-than-life-size statue, but then the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, and the architect, Henry Bacon, realized that a statue only 10 feet tall would be dwarfed by the surrounding structure. They made the decision to go larger, but the result is this imposing likeness of the man Americans consider a martyr and whom they call the saviour of the Union.
I have no issues with honouring the memory of a great man. Sixteenth President of the United States, Lincoln was in office from 1861 to 1865. The Civil War began a month after he took office; it ended a month after his assassination. I doubt there is a politician in office today who has any inkling of how tough his job was.
It’s the religious symbolism I’m not comfortable with. He was, after all, just a man. But as I was editing the photos for this blog post, I studied Lincoln’s face long and hard. I didn’t get a good look while I was there ― the statue is just too high and the place was just too crowded. And I thought about that crowd and wondered if my experience hadn’t been affected by how many people were there with me, sharing what I thought would be a special moment for me alone.
I know. I’m being selfish.
There were many people posing for the obligatory photo in front of Lincoln’s statue. But there were many more people talking to their children, who were listening carefully― no tantrums here. I hope those children remember what their parents taught them that day.
The Lincoln Memorial took eight years to build and was completed in 1922. It’s modelled after a Greek temple, with 36 Doric columns (more columns!) ― one for each state in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death. Inside, in addition to the mega-statue of Lincoln, are inscriptions of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Speech.
I’d like to go back and visit the memorial again someday. I’ll just time it a little better and avoid the place on the Sunday of a long weekend.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
So wrote Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States. These words form the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. (The original is on display in the Rotunda at the National Archives, which I ducked in to see on my last day in DC. Bit faded, and impossible to read in the dim light of the Rotunda ― the low light is necessary to preserve the document ― but it’s thrilling to see the original, none the less.)
The Jefferson Memorial is on the far side of the Tidal Basin from the National Mall. Jefferson was in office from 1801 to 1809, but his memorial (which took five years to build) wasn’t completed until 1943. The architect, John Russell Pope, also designed the National Archives. Both have lots of columns. What is it with columns in this town?
I have a whole whack of photos of the presidential monuments that surround the National Mall, which I will be doling out over the next few posts.
First up is the Washington Monument honouring George Washington, first President of the United States. He was in office from 1789 to 1797.
Made of marble, this obelisk stands at the mid-point of the National Mall, halfway between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. Its construction was begun in 1848, but the Civil War and other squabbles interfered with its completion, and it wasn’t finished until 1884. For a few years, it held the record as the world’s tallest structure (it’s 555 feet high), until the Eiffel Tower overtook it. It still holds the record as the world’s tallest obelisk.
Normally you can go up inside the monument for what must be a nice view over DC, but an earthquake in 2011 damaged the structure, and it’s closed pending the necessary repairs. The scaffolding is scheduled to go up sometime this fall, but luckily I was able to take my photos sans scaffolding.
The Washington Monument doesn’t look like much in photographs, but when you get up close, it’s rather impressive.
Washington DC was a bit of a surprise to me. In some ways, it was exactly what I expected it would be. But in other ways, it was so much … more.
The landmarks were familiar, of course. We see them all the time on the news when TV reporters do their standups in front of the White House or the Capitol. Lots of white marble in those buildings. And columns. So many columns.
It was the scale of the place that took me by surprise. I thought it would be a short walk along the Mall from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. But with all the stops I made along the way, it took me the better part of a day to make that walk.
As I walked, I kept muttering to myself, “So this is what a world capital looks like.” Later the word came to me: imperial. The place is rife with imperialism.
I kept comparing the buildings in DC to the ones in other world capitals I’ve been to (London, say, or Paris). The buildings in Europe are just as grand and just as impressive. But across the pond, there is far less open space, and the grand buildings often catch you by surprise as you turn a corner.
In DC, you have this massive front lawn they call the National Mall that lets you take in all the key sights in one glance. From the Capitol, you look down the Mall directly at the Washington Monument. Beyond that, there’s the Lincoln Memorial. When you stand at the Washington Monument, you turn one way and have an unobstructed view of the White House, but when you turn the other way, the Jefferson Memorial leaps out at you.
Washington DC is a city well-planned. Like other world capitals, DC was selected to be the capital of a young country some years after its founding. But what’s unique about DC among world capitals is that it was built from scratch. George Washington selected Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French-born American, to design the city. L’Enfant envisioned a city centred around three points: the government house (which eventually came to be called the Capitol), the president’s house (what we now call the White House), and a monument to George Washington. Grand streets and avenues intersected at grand circles and squares. The Mall, in L’Enfant’s mind, would be the grandest avenue of them all. A narrower avenue (Pennsylvania Avenue) ran between the Capitol and the White House.
Visionary that he was, L’Enfant was no project manager, and he was soon fired by George Washington. He died in poverty, but eventually was honored with a re-internment in Arlington National Cemetery. His true epitaph, though, is the city he designed.
I spent two days in DC and was able to check off most everything (but not quite everything) on my to-do list. It was the Smithsonian that caught me up; I was barely able to make a start on it.
For more on that, stay tuned.