Posts Tagged ‘Washington D.C.’

I was having a conversation with someone the other day and they asked a very legitimate question, “where are you?”

liberty bell

liberty bell

Michael and I have been residing in Harrisburg, PA since we ended our trip in December 2005, just a few months ahead of schedule. Bags were unpacked, the ‘Tima got a car wash, items were pulled out of storage and a new home was found (a few blocks away from the old one).

Since then, one of us went back to work, one of us found a new job, we both wrote for a few other places, and in between we’ve gone back to some of our favorite park sites to give them a second look, like Independence Hall National Historical Park, the Liberty Bell and our beloved Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial.

New sites were given National Park site designations since we created our original list, like the Carter G. Woodson House National Historic Site in Washington D.C. This was one of our final stops, but our visit was still a little premature. The African Burial Grounds National Memorial in New York is another newbie we have to add to our “still to see” list.

Did we reach our goal of Every. Single. NPS site in the Continental United States?


Did we reach our goal of rediscovering America and answering the question, “what, exactly, does it mean to be American?”

We’re not sure if America ever becomes a static answer, or if the discovery ever ends. We found a lot of different answers, and had the time of our lives trying.

And it ain’t over yet.


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Lincoln Memorial Full Frontal

Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was last Tuesday, his holiday is this Monday. At which National Park Sites can I celebrate his life in the meantime? Two days ago we suggested his birthplace in Atlanta and today we suggest the Lincoln Memorial, home to one of his most famous speeches: The I Have a Dream Speech. On that August 28, 1963 day, the Lincoln Memorial grounds served as the centerpiece for the one of the most important (and among the largest) political rallies ever to occur, the 1963 March on Washington.

Every time Michael walks up the Lincoln Memorial steps he feels the same rush of expectation and the same flood of emotions. It is a pilgrimage site and a place to give secular thanks and blessings not just to Mr. Lincoln but to Dr. King and the pioneers of the many human rights organizations that have rallied here. The Lincoln Memorial is a quintessential American icon and a must-see destination for all Americans.

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Part of National Mall and Memorial Parks
Washington, D.C.
Visited: July 14, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 308 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Lincoln Memorial Full Frontal

The instantly recognizable white Georgia marble neo-Classical monument dedicated to our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

BEAUTY (8/10)
At the National Mall western end, the Lincoln Memorial stands, a steadfast Greek Temple that emanates greatness and elicits reflexive, earnest tribute. The ascent up its three flights of stairs builds the anticipation, heightens the spirit and takes you to the most fitting tribute any American president has yet to achieve.

Inside Abraham Lincoln sits. His position recalls an imagined recreation of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Lincoln’s recreation is no less godlike, but instead of the bombast and tyranny of his mythical counterpart, he sits with the wisdom of Athena. Lincoln’s famed melancholy is no more; he sits with self-assuredness. His gaze is more complicated; it speaks of hope and pride but also shows wariness and fear.

Despite its grand scale and lofty symbolism, the Lincoln Memorial is not triumphalist. It shows a man with flaws and sensitivities. It speaks to a hopeful future accompanied by thought and a humble character. It speaks to what America should be.

Penny for Your ThoughtsHISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
The Lincoln Memorial has seen historic significance rare to most memorials and monuments. Since soon after its dedication, the Memorial has played host to countless concerts, political demonstrations and speeches. Perhaps the only speech to rival the legend of Lincoln’s own Gettysburg Address occurred here: Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. On that August 28, 1963 day, the Lincoln Memorial grounds served as the centerpiece for the one of the most important (and among the largest) political rallies ever to occur, the 1963 March on Washington.

CROWDS (9/10)
There were a lot of people here! The mass of humanity that was milling about, ascending and descending the stairs and waiting patiently to be photographed next to Lincoln’s knees were all in celebratory, dare we say, jubilant moods despite the heat of the day. This classic American landmark’s grand size can handle all comers with ease.

The easiest way to visit is via the Tourmobile® Sightseeing buses. Your $20.00 per adult all day ticket drops you off in front of the both the Lincoln Memorial, the nearby Vietnam Veterans and Korean Memorials and every other National Mall-area attraction.

The Lincoln Memorial is located on the western edge of the National Mall, just south of a dense conglomeration of federal offices. The more adventurous (or masochistic) tourist could find a metered street parking space among this mess of barricaded one-ways streets, diplomat-only meters and tricky diagonal intersections but we do not recommended it.

The nearest D.C. Metro stop is Foggy-Bottom-GWU, located three-quarters of a mile to the north at the intersection of 23rd and I Streets. This downhill concrete walk always seems longer than the distance indicates.

The President’s KneeCONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5)
Oddly inadequate. The Lincoln Memorial bookstore is tucked away in the inner right corner of the Memorial’s mezzanine. It is far too small to handle its crowd, especially when a baby stroller is pushed into the mix. Shelf space is divvied up between the Lincoln Memorial and other nearby bookstore-less sites, including the Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Memorials. A few books on civil rights and more recent military involvements are scattered in there for good measure.

We could find no rhyme or reason for the bookstore offerings or why some titles were chosen over others. We couldn’t even find a cool magnet. Those looking for substantial information on our 16th president will do much better at the Ford’s Theater NHS.

COSTS (4/5)
Not a penny to see the front and back of a penny.

The area in and around the Lincoln Memorial’s circular perimeter appeared to be a Ranger-free zone. We saw security guards, bookstore clerks and construction workers doing Memorial restoration but no Rangers. Even the tiny downstairs Lincoln museum appeared to be un-staffed.

Park literature states that there are Park Ranger programs every day at all the National Mall Memorials. Somehow, we missed them all. We understand that the D.C. experience is primarily visceral; it is about being overwhelmed with larger than life statues and legendarily great men.

The Lincoln Memorial needs no elaboration and no educational help. Old Abe sits on his throne and regally looks over the capital city of the country he reunited (and broke apart according to some). His greatest words, the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, flank him on either side, in their full glory and in complete context.

That is why the Lincoln Museum, located beneath the Memorial, is disappointing. The Museum consists mostly of granite-etched Lincoln quotes regarding equality, freedom, emancipation and the Union. These quotes are mangled and taken out of context in a misguided attempt to portray Lincoln as a fiery abolitionist. The museum exhibits reveal more about the curators and their opinions about Lincoln than Lincoln himself.

Side View FUN (10/10)
From his perch, Abe Lincoln enjoys the best and most classic view in Washington, D.C. He overlooks his own reflecting pool, the new World War II Memorial, the soaring obelisk Washington Monument, the National Mall and finally the U.S. Capitol. The vista is stirring at all times and in all seasons. The views and the history will infuse strong patriotic emotions into even the most cynical of Americans. The Lincoln Memorial is a resolute reminder of the positive strength of both humanity and the self.

The Lincoln Memorial is Michael’s favorite place in Washington D.C. Every time he walks up its steps he feels the same rush of expectation and the same flood of emotions. It is a pilgrimage site and a place to give secular thanks and blessings not just to Mr. Lincoln but to Dr. King and the pioneers of the many human rights organizations that have rallied here. The Lincoln Memorial is a quintessential American icon and a must-see destination for all Americans.

TOTAL 60/80

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Manassas, Va.
Visited: October 5, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 249 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Stonewall’s Stonewall
Site of two early Civil War battles, in July 1861 and August 1862. The Battles are also known by their Union moniker, the First and Second Battles of Bull Run.

BEAUTY (4/10)
Northern Virginia’s rolling landscape of expansive farm estates, stately foliage and old brick houses speaks of a gentried, southern aristocratic past (and present). The battlefield’s lush green fields and thinned woodlands would like to go on forever but are sliced into sectors by crowded thoroughfares and hemmed in on all sides by the encroaching suburban sprawl.

The roads through the Park are narrow thoroughfares, only slightly unchanged from the days of horse-drawn carriages. Only nowadays, they absorb constant bumper-to-bumper traffic and a steady diet of smoke billowing tractor-trailers and heavy pick-up trucks.

The First Battle of Bull Run opened the American Civil War. The decisive Confederate victory proved to all that the War would neither end in 90 days nor be an easy Union triumph. The oft-cited story of Washington D.C. politicos and wives in formal dress watching the battle from a nearby hill occurred during First Bull Run.

Second Manassas was another Confederate triumph characterized by the usual incompetence of General George McClellan, then head of the Union Army of the Potomac.

Busy IntersectionCROWDS (2/10)
Does everyone in affluent suburban northern Virginia drive an SUV? Why haven’t the roads changed in direction or width since the Civil War? Why is there a crowded community college less than an eighth of a mile from the Visitor Center? Why are there so many people here and so few Rangers?

The Federal and Confederate armies met twice at Manassas because it stood at a transportation crossroads, namely the intersection of the Warrenton Turnpike and the Manassas-Sudley Road. These roads and their heavy traffic remain. The Warrenton Turnpike, now U.S. Route 29 a/k/a the Lee Turnpike bisects the Park.

The Second Manassas Auto Tour follows these high volume arteries. Good luck keeping your wit’s end trying to pull into parking lots while 18-wheelers tailgate you with signature zeal. A Park Ranger suggested doing the Auto Tour only at a very early hour.

Manassas NBP stands in the midst of Washington D.C.’s large northern Virginia sprawl, about 30 miles west of our capital city. Exit 47 of Interstate 66 drops you off less than a ¼ mile south of the Park’s Visitor Center.

Why is the children’s book, The Story of the Lord’s Prayer, on sale here? Just wondering. There are thousands of books for sale at Manassas NBP and its inventory tag refers to a different book. Maybe it just snuck through.

And why is a book section entitled “Indian & Colored Troops”? Who still uses the term colored? Have no shoppers been offended prior to our visit?

Please, Please Let Me In
COSTS (2/5)
$3 per person to get in, free with the National Parks Pass. If you wish to see the introductory film, there is an additional $3 per person charge. The Parks Pass brings no cinematic discount. After 1 ½ years of National Park travel, and exactly 250 official NPS Sites, Manassas NBP is the first Site to charge for its introductory film.

Both the one Ranger on duty and the extremely helpful volunteer seemed angry and were vocal about the neglected state of the National Park System (and Manassas NBP). Perhaps it is their proximity to Washington D.C. They were neither happy nor accepting of the decision to charge for the introductory film. One volunteer even argued with the ticket vendor about the film’s rightful owner. There really should be more than one Ranger on duty given the thousands that visit Manassas every day.

Well, we do not know what the intro film is like. No way we are paying; principles you see.

(We have since seen the absurdly weird, Manassas: The End of the Innocence. At home, we might add. The movie was directed by Ben Burtt, a sound designer often employed by George Lucas. He famously created the whirring light saber sound from Star Wars as well as Chewbacca’s voice. So, of course, his Manassas film is laden with over-the-top sound effects; but no, we weren’t expecting the morphing soldiers and Richard Dreyfuss. The film’s best part is the skillful Photo Shop removal of the area’s heavily-trafficked streets. Now that’s a special effect.

We can safely say: skip it.)

Judging by the museum displays, there was only one battle fought at Bull Run. Yes, the museum only covers the first Battle. An understanding of the second Battle comes only through the Park brochure and a circuitous driving tour in and around heavy traffic and construction. The Park staff recommended we take the driving tour only on Sundays or in the early morning. At all other times, the trip is a nightmare.

The Park’s educational shortcomings provoked us to pull out James McPherson’s one volume Civil War classic, Battle Cry of Freedom. With book in hand and Gab as trusty narrator, our Civil War battlefield visits have been much more lively and thorough than we ever expected.

Powerful Stonewall FUN (3/10)
The coolest part of the Battlefield was the long row of cannons just outside the Visitor Center that commemorate the Southern troops famous line of defense during the first Bull Run. This line was where Confederate General Thomas Jackson earned his immortal nickname, Stonewall. A monument to the legendary General stands nearby. Stonewall’s monument depicts him (and his horse) with rippling muscles and a larger-than-life demeanor. He looks like a superhero.

If historical sites had feelings, then the Manassas NBP would be sad, confused and deservedly claustrophobic. It would know that it has an important historical story to tell and would know by its strong visitorship that people are very interested. But it would also see the stifling traffic, thick air pollution, infringing housing developments and general educational disregard from the Park system itself.

We would recommend a trip to Bull Run to only the most devout of Civil War buffs. Manassas NBP was a stressful experience. It was too crowded and too endangered (see Pea Ridge review). We were put off by the film charge and wonder if the “pay to learn about your country’s history” route will become more common. Manassas NBP ranks at the bottom of eastern Civil War sites.

TOTAL 33/80

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