While visiting Washington DC we stayed at a hotel in Tysons Corner, Virginia. The hotel was conveniently located two blocks from a metro station. One new thing to know when touring DC is that now many tourist attractions have a timed pass entry, meaning you can book a reservation online up to a month before you visit. The Washington Monument (National Park Service) charges a $1 processing fee for each person. The positive side of this is you do not have to wait in long lines to get into the most popular attractions. The negative is you have a set time to be there which takes away the flexibility of changing your plans or want to stay longer at one place. We found ourselves often checking the time and calculating how long it would take to get to the next place. The National Mall is 700 acres with fourteen monuments and memorials and there is a lot of walking from one place to another. When planning our trip we tried to get reservations at places close together each day, but there was still lots of walking both days.
We got up early and after breakfast at the hotel we walked to the metro and had an easy ride into DC. It was another cold morning! First stop was the Washington Monument. We had a short wait until our timed entry. We heard a park ranger tell some tourists that all tickets had been given out for the day. Their options were to try to book online for the next day or show up tomorrow around 7:00 AM and get in line to see if there were any tickets available.
First we had to go through security. A tourist from France was stopped when security discovered small fingernail clippers in her purse. She was confused when she was told to throw them away or not go in. She left and came back so I assume she threw them away or gave them to someone outside.
Years ago you could walk up the steps to the top of the Washington Monument but that is no longer allowed. Now you have to take an elevator. I overheard a woman tell the park ranger she walked up the stairs with her parents many years ago and wanted that experience with her child. The park ranger kindly said no.
Work began on the Monument in 1848. Originally the plans called for a statue of Washington on a horse but the design evolved into a towering obelisk. By 1854 the stone structure reached 152 feet. War and lack of money halted construction and it stood incomplete for twenty years.
During this time the Monument was used as a fort and training ground for Union troops. A soldier named David C. Hickey carved his name into the stone wall and it is still visible today in the lobby of the Monument.
The top of the Washington Monument is made of aluminum, which at that time was considered a precious metal because it was so difficult to mine. In the 1800’s it was considered more valuable than gold or silver. The 100 ounce aluminum cap also serves as a lightning rod.
When it was dedicated in 1885, it was the world’s tallest building at 555 feet. It lost that honor in 1889 when the Eiffel Tower was opened at 986 feet. However today the Washington Monument is considered the world’s tallest freestanding stone structure. There are over 36,000 stones in the Washington Monument. There are 193 stones lining the Monument ‘s stairwell symbolizing the idea “Out of Many, One”. The Washington Monument Society asked for donations of carved stones to honor George Washington. States, cities, countries and civic groups sent stones to be part of this famous Monument.
We rode the elevator to the observation level which took 70 seconds. It seemed crowded on this floor and the windows were very small so you had to patiently wait your turn to look out. There were several windows with views overlooking DC to the north, south, east and west.
Our next reservation was for a tour of the U.S. Capitol. We had also booked this online about a month ago. No charge per person. I must say planning to visit these sites would be difficult for people without computers and internet access! It was a bit of a hike to get from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. Bill grabbed a quick lunch at a food truck on the way.
Security was tight with no food or drink allowed, along with the usual banned items. We could see discarded food and drink items in the nearby trash can. Even unopened food packages were not allowed.
The original Capitol cornerstone was laid by President George Washington in 1793. In 1800 the government moved from Philadelphia to Washington DC. and moved into an unfinished building. By 1814 two wings had been added for the House and Senate. The Capitol and other public buildings were burned in 1814 during our second war with Great Britain, the War of 1812. The exterior walls survived but the interior was gutted. By 1819 the wings were reopened and the center building reopened in 1826. By 1850 many new states had been admitted to the Union so new, larger wings were added by 1859. The old House wing became Statuary Hall and Congress invited each state to contribute statues of its most notable citizens. Today these statues are found in Statuary Hall, the Rotunda and throughout the Capitol building.
In 1857, an American sculptor completed the plaster model for the Statue of Freedom, which weights 13,000 pounds and is 19.5 feet tall. The statue has been restored and is on display here. The plaster model was cast into bronze. In 1863 the Statue of Freedom was placed at the top of the dome.
Many additions and renovations to the Capitol have continued over the years.
The Rotunda is the heart and center of the Capitol. It is a ceremonial space where state funerals have been held. Visiting heads of state are met here and historic events have been observed.
Our tour began at the Capitol Visitors Center where a large group of us was shown a thirteen minute film called “Out of Many, One”. We were then divided into groups and assigned a guide. Our guide gave us each headsets so we would be able to hear him as he led the tour. The guide talked about all the statues provided by each state.
The National Statuary Hall was used in the past by the legislators and many statues today.
Florida state Civil rights pioneer Mary McLeod Bethune is the first Black American to represent a state in Statuary Hall.
Our last stop of the day was The Library of Congress and once again we had a pre-booked timed entry. We were getting tired but fortunately it was close by.
They didn’t offer guided tours here but you still needed a timed entry pass. The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library.
The ceiling of the main reading room is a mural that represents twelve countries as of 1897:
- Egypt represents Written Records.
- Judea represents Religion.
- Greece represents Philosophy.
- Rome represents Administration.
- Islam represents Physics.
- The Middle Ages represent Modern Languages.
- Italy represents the Fine Arts.
- Germany represents the Art of Printing.
- Spain represents Discovery.
- England represents Literature.
- France represents Emancipation.
- America represents Science.
It has over 173 million items with collections in 470 languages. Among the collections are more than
- 51 million cataloged books and other print material
- 4 million recordings
- 17.5 million photographs
- 5.6 million maps
- 8 million pieces of sheet music and
- 75 million manuscripts
The Great Hall has paintings and sayings all around. These are a few that we liked.
Also located here is the U.S. Copyright Office, the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, the Congressional Research Office and the Law Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress was originally established in 1800. It was burned and destroyed by the British in 1814. At the time it had 740 books and 3 maps. Thomas Jefferson, retired and living at Monticello, offered his personal library as a replacement. Congress appropriated $23,950 to purchase Jefferson’s collection of 6,487 books. This helped the Library but also helped Jefferson who was deeply in debt by this time. The Thomas Jefferson Library is located on the 2nd floor.
Facing a shortage of space and wanting to protect the collection from fire, a new Library was built and opened in 1897. And what a beautiful building it is!
We really enjoyed walking around the building. We encountered a friendly, helpful docent we talked with for a while. He answered our questions and obviously loved what he was doing.
The Gutenberg Bible is considered one of the Library’s greatest treasures. It was produced in Mainz, Germany in the mid 1450’s. It is the first book printed using movable metal type in Western Europe.
It had been a busy, fun day. We walked to the metro station and then the two blocks back to the hotel. According to our watches we had walked over six miles. We were tired but what a great day!!!
Next up: Our last day in DC