The Hill We Climb
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful.
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
— Amanda Gorman
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” ― one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope.
This is the faith that I will go back to the South with.
With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. — Martin Luther King Jr.
Ulysses S. Grant Memorial
When I was going through my Gettysburg photos the other week, I came across these shots of the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial and realized my series on the National Mall monuments to American presidents was incomplete.
Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States, was in office from 1869 to 1877. He was also the Commanding General of the United States Army during the American Civil War. I guess Grant is considered a “minor” president since his memorial isn’t nearly as noticeable or as impressive as the monuments to the “major” presidents scattered around the Mall. But, it is one of the largest equestrian statues in the world.
Located at the base of the West Front of the Capital, the memorial was sculpted by Henry Merwin Shrady over a period of 20 years and was dedicated in 1922, the centenary year of Grant’s birth. The sculpture consists of three parts: Grant is seated on his favourite horse, Cincinnati, and faces the Lincoln Memorial ― so designed in order that “the general who fought for the Union could forever sit facing the president who saved the Union.”
On either side of Grant are sculptures of Union soldiers: artillery soldiers to his left and cavalry soldiers to his right. Grant’s face is hard to see; it was the faces of the soldiers that grabbed the attention of my camera lens.
The National Museum of the American Indian
In my post the other week on the Smithsonian, I mentioned how splendid the building that houses the National Museum of the American Indian is.
And then didn’t bother to post a single photo of the building.
I didn’t post any photos because I think the building is so impressive its photos deserve a blog post all their own.
If you’ve ever been to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec, you’ll recognize the architect’s work. Both buildings were designed by Douglas Cardinal. Born in Calgary, Alberta, to a Blackfoot father and a mother of Métis and German origins, Cardinal’s designs are known for their curved lines and organic shapes.
I could photograph this building over and over again. Here, take a look.
I’m sure there are a lot of perks to being First Lady of the United States of America, but there are also (in my opinion) a few downsides as well. For one thing, they don’t let you keep your clothes.
This, I discovered last summer when I spent a couple of days exploring the Smithsonian. That beautiful ivory silk chiffon gown designed by Jason Wu that Michelle Obama wore to the 2009 inaugural balls? It’s sitting in the National Museum of American History. And the ruby-red velvet and chiffon gown (also by Jason Wu) that she wore exactly a week ago today is designated for the National Archives. (How is it I know the name of Michelle Obama’s designer, you ask? Let’s just call it an occupational hazard of my day job.)
The National Museum of American History is just one small part of the Smithsonian. James Smithson, a British scientist, bequeathed his estate to the United States for the founding at Washington DC of the Smithsonian Institution, which he envisioned as “an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge.” After much discussion by politicians as to what such an Establishment might look like (a museum? a library? a university?), they settled on a museum, and the Smithsonian was established in 1846.
The Smithsonian Institute Building, commonly referred to as “The Castle,” was completed in 1855. The earliest collections, many of them donated by wealthy philanthropists, were first displayed here, but today it contains all of the administrative offices of the Smithsonian.
I imagine it takes quite a bit of administrating. That’s because the Smithsonian isn’t your average museum ― it’s nineteen museums and galleries, and a zoo. Two are located in New York City, and the rest are in the DC area, with eleven of them scattered along the National Mall. And the best part? Admission to all of them is free. I managed to hit a grand total of three museums in two days. Even that was pushing it.
The National Museum of the American Indian is located in a splendid-looking building designed by Douglas Cardinal. It opened in 2004, and is the first American museum dedicated exclusively to the history of Native Americans. The exhibits are divided into four areas: Our Universes (Native beliefs), Our Peoples (Native history), Our Lives (contemporary Native life), and Return to a Native Place (Native peoples of the Chesapeake region). My time here was short, and I limited myself to a temporary exhibition entitled A Song for the Horse Nation ― an exhibit about how horses changed the lives of Native peoples. I’d like to go back and explore this museum some more.
My next stop was the National Museum of American History.
My goal here was simple: to see Julia Child’s kitchen. I succeeded by the skin of my teeth. The exhibit was in the process of moving and had been closed for months, but the museum opened up a temporary display for two weeks just for the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth. Those two weeks overlapped with my visit ― did I luck out or what?
Also on display at this museum is the original Star-Spangled Banner ― the one that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the American national anthem after witnessing the bombardment at Fort McHenry by the British during the War of 1812. It’s massive, very old, and looks its age.
The exhibit on the American Presidency exhibit was particularly popular.
The Smithsonian has a nickname: “the nation’s attic.” Judging by some of the artifacts passed on to the museum by former US presidents, it’s easy to see why.
I was a bit creeped out by the top hat Abraham Lincoln was wearing the night he died, until it occurred to me that he probably wasn’t actually wearing it when he was shot, since he was indoors at the time.
But the most popular exhibit? It was the one called, simply, The First Ladies. It included an impressive display of White House china, and display case after display case of gowns and dresses worn by the first ladies, including that Jason Wu gown worn by Michelle Obama I was talking about earlier.
My last stop was the National Air and Space Museum.
I lasted barely an hour here as it was extremely crowded and filled with screaming children. But I saw everything I wanted to see, including the 1903 Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, and the Apollo 11 command module, Columbia. If you have even a middling interest in either aviation or space travel, check this one out.
I didn’t get to any of the art galleries (there are seven), nor the Natural History Museum. I’d like to check out that zoo some day as well. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is under construction and is scheduled to open in 2015; I expect it will be fascinating.
The Smithsonian is included on most Top 10 Lists of the world’s best museums. No wonder ― it has something for everyone.
Through My Lens: Inauguration Day
In honour of today being Inauguration Day, here is another photo of the Capitol. I was rather bemused to find out last summer that the swearing-in ceremony on Inauguration Day used to take place here, on the East Portico of the Capitol — which, as you can see, faces a parking lot. The ceremony wasn’t moved to the West Front (which faces the Mall) until 1981 when Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his first term as President.
I guess they were having trouble fitting all those spectators into the parking lot?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
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.
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.