Day 5 – National Archives and Beyond

The fifth and final day of my stay at Mount Vernon was spent at the National Archives.  Since I was spending and extra day in Washington D.C., I packed up and checked out of Mount Vernon before the bus left for the Archives.  It was a pleasant, if not lightly trafficked, trip into Washington D.C.

We arrived at the Archives before normal business hours and went straight into the “special events” entrance.  It was the first time I’d had to put my backpack through a metal detector since the airport, but it wasn’t too bad.  We spent the rest of the morning going through what the students would do if we were to bring a group to the National Archives.  It was really well designed and implemented.  While we were there we also saw the Constitution and Bill of Rights before the public was allowed in, and then we went on a self-guided tour of the exhibits on display.  The crown jewel, at least for me, was the copy of the Magna Carta that was on display.  I had seen another copy before in London, but any time I get to see an original copy of such an important document I’ll get excited.

When our time was done at the National Archives, I parted ways with the rest of the group and struck out on my own in Washington D.C.  I quickly made my way to my hotel, found my bearings, and headed off for a whirlwind 24 hours in our nation’s capital.  Rather than go into huge detail, I’m going to summarize my thoughts on the sights I visited.

  • American History Smithsonian – I’m not 100 percent sure I’ve ever stepped foot in this museum before.  I had been told by a number of people that it was underwhelming.  The one thing I really wanted to see (a replica of Julia Child’s kitchen) was being repainted, but the rest of the museum is fascinating.  I think the name is misleading, it should be the “pop culture museum”.
  • Air and Space Smithsonian – I was very underwhelmed with this museum.  Sure it’s neat to see all the planes and space ships, but I’m pretty sure they haven’t updated a thing since I was there in the mid-90s.
  • Congress, the Supreme Court, and the White House – I did a “walk by” of these sights since I had no desire to spend any time waiting in line.  Congress was being refurbished, so it wasn’t as striking as it would have been.  The White House was madness.  The Supreme Court building was fun to see although uneventful.
  • Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument – I saw these amazing feats of architecture in both broad daylight as well as at night.  I highly recommend seeing these at night.  There is something oddly spooky about them after dark.  In hindsight, I wish I’d seen the entire mall at night, but a guy’s got to sleep.
  • Jefferson Stone – The original planned location of the Washington Monument.  Not much to see, but interesting to know the back story.
  • World War 2 Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and Korean War Memorial – All three were very well laid out and conceptualized.  I was very impressed with the Korean War Memorial and I really wish I’d seen it at night.
  • Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool – I had seen this before, but I’ll always want to see the Lincoln Memorial again.  There is something extra magnificent about the statue and two speeches on the interior of the Memorial.  As I turned around and gazed at the reflecting pool while standing on the spot Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I have a dream” speech, I also had an odd flashback to the movie Forrest Gump.
  • MLK Memorial – I am completely sure I had not seen the MLK Memorial the last time I was in Washington D.C.  In terms of conceptualization, this was fantastic.  The execution was outstanding.  And the fact that he might be glaring at Thomas Jefferson for all time makes it that much more awesome.
  • FDR Memorial – Roosevelt’s presidency is one of the black holes of my historical knowledge.  I know I should know more, but I don’t.  That being said, this unorthodox memorial did a great job of telling FDR’s story as a president.
  • Jefferson Memorial – I can’t remember if I’d seen this before or not.  I’ll definitely remember this time not only because I got to see the memorial and gaze across at the White House, but also because the rose blossoms were blooming on that side of the tidal pool, so I’m considering myself luck.

It was a history-packed trip, and I’m so thankful my wife allowed me to have this opportunity.  I’ll remember this trip for a long time.  I’ll try and post some of the ways this trip has affected my teaching in the coming months.

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