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Washington Open Top Bus Tour

A tour around a nation's monuments, museums and national cemetery

semi-overcast 28 °C
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I wanted to see the US Capitol and White House while I was on the US East Coast so shortly before the end of my round the world trip I booked myself into a hotel for a few days in Washington and got myself a train ticket there on AMTRAK.

Arriving on my own in a strange city I started my stay with an open top bus tour to get my bearings; an approach I had also used earlier in my trip in Zurich and Sydney. The tour began from Washington's Union Station and soon after drove past the front of the US Capitol a short distance away for which I had a visit booked in a couple of days.

Washington's Union Railway Station

Washington's Union Railway Station


The US Capitol Building at the east end of the National Mall

The US Capitol Building at the east end of the National Mall

Washington is laid out with the Capitol Building atop Capitol Hill as its focal point and the 1.9 mile (3 kilometre) long open space of the National Mall stretching westwards to the needle like Washington Monument a little over half way along its length and then beyond to the Lincoln Memorial close to the Potomac River.

The view from the Capitol down the National Mall towards the Washington Monument

The view from the Capitol down the National Mall towards the Washington Monument

I'd heard of the Smithsonian Institute but never appreciated before that it was a collective term for the national museums of the USA. The 19 museums that make up the nucleus of the Institute line each side of top end of the National Mall, making it the largest museum campus in the world. I later managed to visit two of its most popular museums while I was in Washington - the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History.

The red-turreted Smithsonian Castle on Independence Avenue on the south side of the National Mall - headquarters of the Smithsonian Institute

The red-turreted Smithsonian Castle on Independence Avenue on the south side of the National Mall - headquarters of the Smithsonian Institute


The American Indian Museum on Independence Avenue

The American Indian Museum on Independence Avenue


The US Holocaust Memorial Museum on 14th Street

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum on 14th Street

About half way down the National Mall (where the White House faces onto it from the north) is the Washington Monument, the 555 feet (169 metre) high obelisk completed in 1884 in honour of George Washington the 1st US President. Unfortunately it was closed for repairs and covered in scaffolding while I was there having been damaged by the 2011 Virginia Earthquake and then Hurricane Irene later the same year.

The Washington Monument half way down the National Mall

The Washington Monument half way down the National Mall


View east up the National Mall to the Capitol Building from the Washington Monument

View east up the National Mall to the Capitol Building from the Washington Monument


The White House looking north from the National Mall

The White House looking north from the National Mall

A change of tour bus took us from the Washington Monument out to the Arlington National Cemetery just over the Potomac River where more than 400,000 military personnel from every US war since the American War of Independence right up until current day Afghanistan are buried. The cemetery was originally the home of Confederate Commander-in-Chief Robert E. Lee and was occupied by Union troops early in the Civil War in May 1861. In 1863 a village for freed and runaway slaves was created and then the following year for both practical and symbolic reasons it started being used as a military cemetery.

Memorial Avenue leading up to the Arlington National Cemetery

Memorial Avenue leading up to the Arlington National Cemetery


The entrance into Arlington National Cemetery

The entrance into Arlington National Cemetery


Wax model of a Honor Guard Bugler in the Visitors Center

Wax model of a Honor Guard Bugler in the Visitors Center


Rows of military graves at the Arlington National Cemetery

Rows of military graves at the Arlington National Cemetery

Deep in the heart of the cemetery with a terrific view over Washington are the Tombs of the Unknowns guarded by a honor guard from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment who also provide the ceremonial escort for the US President. None of the guards wear rank insignia so as not to outrank the unknowns and they perform a Changing of the Guard Ceremony by the tombs every half hour. There are four tombs; the original tomb from WWI with tombs from WWII, Korea and Vietnam in the plaza alongside it. The Vietnam Tomb is empty as modern DNA meant it was possible to identify who it was and return his remains to his family.

Looking up at the Tombs of the Unknowns

Looking up at the Tombs of the Unknowns


The Tombs of the Unknowns overlooking Washington

The Tombs of the Unknowns overlooking Washington


Changing the Guard Ceremony at the Tombs of the Unknowns

Changing the Guard Ceremony at the Tombs of the Unknowns

What I didn't appreciate beforehand is that all US military personnel who have seen active service and have been honourably discharged are eligible for burial at the cemetery if they so wish and this means it has on average seven burials per day. It took me a bit by surprise when I saw a Honor Band and Guard march past followed by a horse-drawn flag draped caisson and funeral cortege for one of these burials.

The Honor Guard leading a funeral cortege at Arlington National Cemetery

The Honor Guard leading a funeral cortege at Arlington National Cemetery


The horse-drawn caisson passes carrying an American flag-draped casket

The horse-drawn caisson passes carrying an American flag-draped casket

Arlington House itself was built in 1802 on high ground in the estate by Robert E. Lee's father-in-law George Washington Parke Custis (the step grandson of George Washington). The now restored house has a terrific view of Washington to its front with the wide boulevard of Memorial Drive and Arlington Memorial Bridge leading straight to the Lincoln Memorial.

Arlington House, the former home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee

Arlington House, the former home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee


The view over Washington from Arlington House

The view over Washington from Arlington House

On the hillside directly below the house is the grave and eternal flame of President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22nd 1963. His wife Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was buried alongside him 1994 and his younger brother Senator Robert F. Kennedy (assassinated in LA, California June 5th 1968) is buried in an adjacent grave plot.

The eternal flame by President John F. Kennedy's grave

The eternal flame by President John F. Kennedy's grave


Close up of President John F. Kennedy's gravestone

Close up of President John F. Kennedy's gravestone

The cemetery has lots of other memorials of interest including a pair of memorials behind the Tombs of the Unknowns Amphitheatre to the crews of the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttles lost in 1986 and 2003.

Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle Memorials either side of the 1979 Iran Mission Monument

Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle Memorials either side of the 1979 Iran Mission Monument

As we returned to the Washington we drove past the Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Ministry of Defence and the largest office building in the world. Unfortunately (but perhaps not surprisingly) we were not allowed to take any close up photographs!

The Pentagon

The Pentagon


Another view of the Pentagon

Another view of the Pentagon

Returning to the Washington Memorial I took the opportunity before getting back onto the main tour bus to have a look around the nearby Federal Bureau of Printing and Engraving. I had so far been unsuccessful in my attempts to see coins being minted at the US Mints in Denver and Philadelphia so when there was an opportunity to see US bank notes being printed instead I was keen to take it! Not surprisingly for security reasons we were not allowed to take photographs of the printing presses running although in the gift shop on the way out there was a case containing a million dollars and you could also measure your height in $100 bills (I'm $1,607,700 tall!).

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing on 14th Street

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing on 14th Street


Tour Entrance for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Tour Entrance for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing


$1,000,000 in $10 notes on display in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing

$1,000,000 in $10 notes on display in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing


How tall are you in $100 notes?

How tall are you in $100 notes?

I then got back on the main tour bus and we made our way around the numerous national memorials that pepper the lower section of the National Mall. Immediately behind the Washington Monument is the National World War II Memorial at the top end of the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

The National World War II Memorial with the Lincoln Memorial behind it at the other end of the Reflecting Pool

The National World War II Memorial with the Lincoln Memorial behind it at the other end of the Reflecting Pool

The neo-classical Lincoln Memorial dedicated in 1922 to honour the 16th US President anchors the west end of the National Mall. Inside the memorial is the famous 19 feet (5.8 metre) high statue of Abraham Lincoln with words of his 1863 Gettysburg Address and 1865 Second Inaugural Address engraved on two of its walls.

The memorial has been the site of many famous speeches with hundreds of thousands of people gathered around its Reflecting Pool, including African-American Civil Rights Movement leader Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963 and anti-Vietnam War Protests in the late 1960s. It has also been used a backdrop in numerous films including Logan's Run (1976), Forest Gump (1994) and Planet of the Apes (2001) amongst many others.

The Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial


Lincoln's Statue inside his Memorial on the National Mall

Lincoln's Statue inside his Memorial on the National Mall


Looking back up the National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial

Looking back up the National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial

Just to the south of the Lincoln Memorial beside the Tidal Basin are the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (32nd US President between 1933-1945) and picturesquely on the other side of the Basin the Thomas Jefferson Memorial (3rd US President between 1803-1809).

The Martin Luther King Memorial

The Martin Luther King Memorial


The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial


The Thomas Jefferson Memorial on the other side of the Tidal Basin

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial on the other side of the Tidal Basin

Amongst the other memorials nearby was the Korean War Veterans Memorial depicting a patrol of soldiers from the conflict and the Albert Einstein Memorial with him holding a manuscript engraved with the formulas of his three most important scientific advances (the theory of general relativity, the photoelectric effect and the equivalence of energy and matter).

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Korean War Veterans Memorial


The Albert Einstein Memorial

The Albert Einstein Memorial

In addition to a grid of north/south (numeric) and east/west (alphabetic) streets Washington also has diagonal avenues named after states and the final leg of our bus tour took us along Pennsylvania Avenue which is probably the most famous and busiest of them. This is where a lot of the federal government buildings such as the Internal Revenue, Department of Justice and FBI Headquarters are and is usually referred to as the Federal Triangle.

Pennsylvania Avenue

Pennsylvania Avenue


View from the bus on Pennsylvania Avenue - all roads lead to the Capitol

View from the bus on Pennsylvania Avenue - all roads lead to the Capitol


The J Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue - headquarters of the FBI

The J Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue - headquarters of the FBI

One of the final buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue before the Capitol is the Newseum which apparently contains loads of footage of major events over recent years and looks like something the media mogul baddie in the James Bond Film "Tomorrow Never Dies" would have dreamt up. It looked a fascinating place to visit with terrific reviews but unfortunately I didn't have time to fit it in.

The Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue

The Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in USA Tagged trains museums tour washington videos solo war_memorials mints us_presidents us_east_coast film_locations Comments (0)

Mount Vernon

A trip down the Potomac to visit George Washington's country estate and tomb

sunny 26 °C
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When I said I wanted to visit Washington DC for a few days lots of people recommended that if I should try and do an excursion out to George Washington's country estate and tomb at Mount Vernon while I was there. It sounded a great idea so I began my second day in Washington with a 90 minute boat trip down the Potomac River to Mount Vernon in northern Virginia.

Our last view of the Capitol Building as we set sail down the Potomac for Mount Vernon

Our last view of the Capitol Building as we set sail down the Potomac for Mount Vernon

On the east bank we soon sailed past the hangars of the Anacostia Naval Air Station - home of "Marine One", the call-sign of the Marine Corps helicopters that ferry the US President to and from the South Lawn of the White House. Meanwhile overhead domestic passenger jets were flying over us to land at Ronald Reagan National Airport on the opposite shore of the river (international flights use Dulles Airport 20 miles further out of town).

The hangars at Anacostia Naval Air Station - home of 'Marine One'

The hangars at Anacostia Naval Air Station - home of 'Marine One'


A passenger jet coming into land over the Potomac River at Ronald Reagan National Airport

A passenger jet coming into land over the Potomac River at Ronald Reagan National Airport

It was a relaxing cruise down the Potomac during which we past the Cherry Blossom, a recreation of a 19th century Victorian Paddle Steamer moored up on the Alexandria Old Town waterfront. We also sailed under the "bascule" (i.e. opening or drawbridge) span of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge carrying the south eastern section of the Capitol Beltway, the interstate freeway that rings Washington.

The Cherry Blossom Paddle Steamer moored up at Alexandria

The Cherry Blossom Paddle Steamer moored up at Alexandria


The bascule span of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge carrying the Capitol Beltway Interstate across the Potomac River

The bascule span of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge carrying the Capitol Beltway Interstate across the Potomac River

The final landmark we passed was Fort Washington on a promontory on the east bank; originally built in 1809 it was the only defensive fort protecting the city although it was abandoned to the British during the War of 1812 without a shot being fired. Mount Vernon itself then came into view picturesquely sat on a small hill on the west bank and our boat headed for the shore and tied up at its wharf.

Fort Washington on the north bank of the Potomac River

Fort Washington on the north bank of the Potomac River


George Washington's House at Mount Vernon as seen from the Potomac River

George Washington's House at Mount Vernon as seen from the Potomac River

On the 20 minute walk up to the Mansion through the woods we stopped at Washington's Tomb. George Washington was the first US President 1789-1793 and when he died in 1799 the original plan had been for him to eventually lay to rest in the crypt under the dome of the Capitol Building. However his preference had always been to be buried in a new family vault at Mount Vernon replacing the existing deteriorating structure and this is what eventually happened in 1837 when his remains were placed in his current marble sarcophagus beside 23 other members of his family.

George Washington's Tomb at Mount Vernon

George Washington's Tomb at Mount Vernon


Crowds gathered around George Washington's Tomb

Crowds gathered around George Washington's Tomb

The Washington's were slave owners and close to his tomb there is the slave burial ground where 50-70 slaves are buried in unmarked graves and now have their own large memorial.

The Slave Burial Ground and Memorial close to Washington's Tomb

The Slave Burial Ground and Memorial close to Washington's Tomb

George and Martha Washington moved to Mount Vernon when they got married in 1757. George's father built the original simple farmhouse in 1735 but George then extended it over the five decades he lived at Mount Vernon into the three story 21 room mansion we see today.

View of the front of the Mansion from across the Bowling Green

View of the front of the Mansion from across the Bowling Green


The queue through the Servant's Hall into the Mansion

The queue through the Servant's Hall into the Mansion

Entry was by timed ticket through the one and half story Servants' Hall that flanks the front left of the Mansion and is mirrored on the right by a similarly shaped building housing the Kitchen. Photography wasn't allowed inside the house which felt grand but simple with bits added over time giving it character. George Washington died of a severe throat infection in the rather simple looking main bedchamber in December 1799.

The archaeological dig underway by the exit from the Mansion into the Kitchen

The archaeological dig underway by the exit from the Mansion into the Kitchen


The Kitchen at Mount Vernon

The Kitchen at Mount Vernon


The view of the back of the Mansion from the riverside lawn

The view of the back of the Mansion from the riverside lawn

George Washington laid out his estate so the outbuildings were spread along the lanes leading to the left (north) and right (south) from the Mansion. To the south was the coach house, stables, laundry, smokehouse and various store rooms.

The Washington's coach in the Coach House

The Washington's coach in the Coach House


The stables at Mount Vernon

The stables at Mount Vernon

The operation of the farm for the Washington's was run by their overseer whose accommodation and office is on the North Lane which also included a spinning room, blacksmith shop and yet more storerooms.

Inside the overseer's accommodation along the North Lane

Inside the overseer's accommodation along the North Lane


The Spinning Room along the North Lane

The Spinning Room along the North Lane


Making nails inside the Blacksmith's Shop

Making nails inside the Blacksmith's Shop


The Salt House along the North Lane

The Salt House along the North Lane

The head gardener also had his own house and we were also to see inside a 'necessary', which was the polite term for the outside privy. It had 3 seats so going to the toilet could obviously be a communal activity!

The head gardener's office at Mount Vernon

The head gardener's office at Mount Vernon


The 'necessary' (toilet) at Mount Vernon

The 'necessary' (toilet) at Mount Vernon


Inside the 'necessary' there were 3 seats - going to the toilet could be a communal activity

Inside the 'necessary' there were 3 seats - going to the toilet could be a communal activity

Mount Vernon has a couple of walled gardens. The Lower Garden containing vegetables for the Kitchen is on the south side of the Mansion while the showcase Upper Garden with its Greenhouse was used for fruit and nuts. Next to the Greenhouse were the Women's Slave Quarters; the Washington's had 317 slaves and about a quarter of them lived here while the rest lived down on the farm. George Washington had growing misgivings about slavery during his life and emancipated all of them in his will.

The Greenhouse and Upper Garden at Mount Vernon

The Greenhouse and Upper Garden at Mount Vernon


Inside the Women's Slave Quarters at Mount Vernon

Inside the Women's Slave Quarters at Mount Vernon

Rather than arriving at the Wharf, the more usual way to arrive at Mount Vernon is through the rather impressive Museum and Education Center. The Museum itself contained various artifacts from his life however a lot more interesting to me was the Education Center which contained various displays explaining his life including several wax models recreating what he would have looked like at key events during his life.

Model of George Washington (45 years old) leading his army at Valley Forge (1777-1778)

Model of George Washington (45 years old) leading his army at Valley Forge (1777-1778)


Model of George Washington (57 years old)  being sworn is as the first US President (1789)

Model of George Washington (57 years old) being sworn is as the first US President (1789)

Despite being a General and the first President of the USA George Washington primarily considered himself a farmer and this reflected in the 4 acre Pioneer Farm (he actually cultivated more than 3,000 acres) located by the Wharf on the Potomac River. I was interested in the explanation for the different types of fencing used around the farm; tightly woven wattle fencing to protect poultry and small animals, post and rail fences to permanently mark boundaries and most interestingly zig-zagging split rail fencing around fields of crops (their main advantageous was they could be easily laid around trees and other obstacles).

The Pioneer Farm at Mount Vernon with split rail fencing in the foreground

The Pioneer Farm at Mount Vernon with split rail fencing in the foreground

Pride of place at the Pioneer Farm is a reconstruction of the 16 Sided Barn that Washington designed for treading wheat; the way it worked was that the wheat was laid out around the first floor and horses walked over it loosening the grain out of the straw so it fell through the floor to be picked up below making threshing the wheat a lot easier. Also on the Pioneer Farm is a reconstruction of a Slave Cabin which is more typical of how the majority of slaves lived.

Washington's innovative 16 Sided Barn on the Pioneer Farm at Mount Vernon

Washington's innovative 16 Sided Barn on the Pioneer Farm at Mount Vernon


Slave cabin on the Pioneer Farm at Mount Vernon

Slave cabin on the Pioneer Farm at Mount Vernon


Cattle on the farm at Mount Vernon

Cattle on the farm at Mount Vernon

The hooter of our boat moored on the Wharf then sounded recalling us to take us back to Washington. The current wharf was built in 1880 and restored in 1991 but the Washington's also had a Wharf and a thriving fishing business - in 1772 his fisheries reaped 1.3 million herring and more than 11,000 shad used to help feed the plantation as well as being an important source of income.

Our boat waiting at the Wharf to take us back to Washington

Our boat waiting at the Wharf to take us back to Washington

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in USA Tagged bridges boats museums tour washington solo helicopters us_presidents us_east_coast Comments (0)

Capitol Hill and the White House

Tours of Capitol Hill and the theatre where President Lincoln was assassinated but only a distant glimpse of the White House

sunny 27 °C
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Tours of public buildings tend to be free in the USA but often have to be booked up a long time ahead (as I found out to my cost when trying to visit the US Mint in Denver). I was chuffed therefore to find only a couple of days beforehand that there was still a tour slot available for the US Capitol during my stay in Washington.

The entrance to the Capitol is via the large underground Visitor Center at the back of the building opened in 2008. Having cleared the airport style security you enter Emancipation Hall dominated by the original plaster model for the bronze Statue of Freedom which stands on top of the Capitol's Dome.

The entrance to the Visitor Center behind the US Capitol

The entrance to the Visitor Center behind the US Capitol


The Statue of Freedom in the Visitor Center's Emancipation Hall

The Statue of Freedom in the Visitor Center's Emancipation Hall

Emancipation Hall is the large central space in the Visitor Center where you pick up your tour passes from one on the information desks situated at either end and then queue for one of the two Orientation Theatres - this place is designed to cope with numbers as politely as possible with lots of volunteer guides on hand offering help. While waiting there is a rather impressive Exhibition Hall with models and exhibits describing the history of the building; there is also looking up a rather unusual and impressive view of the Dome itself.

One of the two Information Desks at either end of Emancipation Hall

One of the two Information Desks at either end of Emancipation Hall


The view of the Capitol Dome through the glass roof of the Visitor Center

The view of the Capitol Dome through the glass roof of the Visitor Center

The Capitol Building and Visitor Center is cluttered with statues as each US state is entitled to donate 2 statues honouring persons notable to their history to the national collection which they can change over time. Twenty four of the 100 statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection are in the Visitor Center.

Jack Swigert (1931-1982) from Colorado's Statue in Emancipation Hall

Jack Swigert (1931-1982) from Colorado's Statue in Emancipation Hall


Chief Washakie (1798-1900) from Wyoming's Statue in Emancipation Hall

Chief Washakie (1798-1900) from Wyoming's Statue in Emancipation Hall


King Kamehameha (1758-1819) from Hawaii's Statue in Emancipation Hall

King Kamehameha (1758-1819) from Hawaii's Statue in Emancipation Hall

The tour itself begins with a short film in one of the Orientation Theatres where you are allocated to a tour group; ours was large containing perhaps 80 people but all linked to the tour guide by a radio earpiece so everyone could hear her. We were then taken into the Rotunda and had its marble painted frescos, friezes, paintings and statues explained to us as we looked up at the inside of the impressive 288 feet (88 metre) high and 96 feet (29 metre) diameter Dome. The Rotunda is where John F Kennedy and ten other US Presidents have lain in state after they died.

Our guide explains the various pieces of artwork around the Rotunda underneath the Capitol's Dome

Our guide explains the various pieces of artwork around the Rotunda underneath the Capitol's Dome


Looking up at the inside of the Dome from the Rotunda

Looking up at the inside of the Dome from the Rotunda


'Baptism of Pocahontas' - one of the 8 large oil paintings depicting events from US History around the bottom walls of the Rotunda

'Baptism of Pocahontas' - one of the 8 large oil paintings depicting events from US History around the bottom walls of the Rotunda


Statues of Presidents Grant and Lincoln beside the POW/MIA Flag in the Rotunda

Statues of Presidents Grant and Lincoln beside the POW/MIA Flag in the Rotunda

Next we entered the semi-circular shaped National Statuary Hall; this where all the state statues were displayed from when they were first inaugurated in 1864 until 1933 by which time the hall had become rather cluttered (the statues were 3 deep!) and their weight threatened to fall through the floor. The statues were instead distributed throughout the building and today only 38 statues remain in the National Statuary Hall itself including Rosa Parkes (Civil Rights Pioneer 1913-2005 who refused to give up her bus seat to a white person) and Ronald Reagan (40th US President 1981-1989).

National Statuary Hall where the House of Representatives sat 1807-1857

National Statuary Hall where the House of Representatives sat 1807-1857


The Statue of Liberty above the south door of National Statuary Hall

The Statue of Liberty above the south door of National Statuary Hall


Rosa Parkes' Statue in National Statuary Hall

Rosa Parkes' Statue in National Statuary Hall


Ronald Reagan's Statue in National Statuary Hall

Ronald Reagan's Statue in National Statuary Hall

National Statuary Hall was originally where the House of Representatives met from when it was completed in 1807 until 1857. It has peculiar acoustics which mean you can't hear someone speaking quite close to you while being able to hear someone whispering on the opposite side of the room - a phenomenon demonstrated to us by our guide. It is rumoured that John Quincy Adams (6th US President 1825-1829) took advantage of this while a congressman 1831-1848.

John Quincy Adams' desk location 1831-1848 - the famed whisper spot

John Quincy Adams' desk location 1831-1848 - the famed whisper spot


Our guide (you can just about make her out in her red uniform) demonstrates the whisper point from across National Statuary Hall

Our guide (you can just about make her out in her red uniform) demonstrates the whisper point from across National Statuary Hall

Our official tour ended with a trip down to the crypt, but not before I managed to get sneak photo through the main backdoor of the Capitol along Capitol Street East with the US Supreme Court on the left and Library of Congress on the right. Down in the crypt we saw amongst the massive columns and arches supporting the Rotunda the White Compass Stone which marks the zero spot from which all of Washington's streets are numbered and where it was originally envisaged that George Washington (1st US President 1789-1797) would eventually be buried.

A sneak photograph out the backdoor of the Capitol along East Capitol Street

A sneak photograph out the backdoor of the Capitol along East Capitol Street


The Compass Stone and Lincoln's Bust in the Capitol's Crypt

The Compass Stone and Lincoln's Bust in the Capitol's Crypt

I then managed to get a pass to the House of Representatives Visitor's Gallery to sit and watch the Senate in session for ten minutes or so discussing the finer points of a new bill concerning the War on Terrorism (Congress was not sitting out of respect for a New Jersey Congressman who had died the previous day). It was then time to move on and I took the underground tunnel to the Library of Congress across the street.

The underground tunnel from the Capitol Building over to the Library of Congress

The underground tunnel from the Capitol Building over to the Library of Congress

The Italian Renaissance-style Library of Congress Jefferson Building directly behind the Capitol was built in 1897 and is the oldest of the four buildings housing the Library. Entry to the building is via its stunning Great Hall which has a 75 foot (23 metres) high stained-glass ceiling, marble floor and marble staircases. Branching off from the Great Hall are several impressive exhibition galleries on such topics as the American Civil War and American Explorers. Although we were only allowed a fleeting glimpse from the Main Reading Room Overlook, the centrepiece of the Building is the Main Reading Room with its ornate domed 160 feet (49 metres) ceiling and wood panelled desks.

Inside the Great Hall of the Library of Congress

Inside the Great Hall of the Library of Congress


View down into the Great Hall of the Library of Congress

View down into the Great Hall of the Library of Congress


The stained-glass ceiling of the Library of Congress' Great Hall

The stained-glass ceiling of the Library of Congress' Great Hall


View across the Great Hall to the entrance to the Main Reading Room Overlook

View across the Great Hall to the entrance to the Main Reading Room Overlook

It was now time for some external shots; the Library of Congress was fine but the US Supreme Court across the road was undergoing refurbishment and cloaked in white sheeting - Sydney Town Hall, Denver Capitol, St Patrick's Cathedral New York... I'm beginning to lose count of the number of landmarks that been obscured by scaffolding while I've been on my trip! At least they had the good sense to put an image of the building on the taupaulin so it wasn't an eyesore while undergoing the restoration work.

Outside the Library of Congress

Outside the Library of Congress


The US Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court


Rear view of the US Capitol

Rear view of the US Capitol

Walking back across the street and around to the west front of the Capitol I got a close up of the classic view of the building where it looks down the National Mall towards the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. A short distance in front of the Building is the mounted Ulysses S. Grant Memorial (18th US President 1869-1877 and Civil War General) and the Reflecting Pool, again with great views of a very photogenic building.

View of the Capitol from the north west

View of the Capitol from the north west


Front view of the steps leading up to the US Capitol

Front view of the steps leading up to the US Capitol


View of the US Capitol from the path around the Reflecting Pool

View of the US Capitol from the path around the Reflecting Pool


Me sat by the Reflecting Pool outside the US Capitol

Me sat by the Reflecting Pool outside the US Capitol

The White House is 1.2 miles (1.8 kilometres) from the steps of the Capitol on the north side of the National Mall facing the Washington Monument. On the way there I stopped at the National Archives Building on Constitution Avenue and queued to see original copies of the US Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in its central Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom with an original copy of the British 1297 Magna Carta on display in a case close by. Unfortunately photography inside the building was not allowed.

The National Archives Building on Constitution Avenue

The National Archives Building on Constitution Avenue

Carrying on to the White House, it has been the home of all US Presidents ever since it was completed in 1800 although it needed to be rebuilt after it was burnt down by the British during the War of 1814 (apparently in retaliation for the destruction of some public buildings by American troops in Canada). I had hoped to do a tour of the White House but these had been stopped indefinitely in March 2013 because of staff shortages following the 2013 budget sequestration (a casualty of US brinkmanship party politics!). Even the Visitors Center was closed for refurbishment temporarily replaced by a Portakabin in the Park to the front of the South Lawn.

Crowds by the railings in front of the White House

Crowds by the railings in front of the White House


The White House - home of the US President

The White House - home of the US President


Me by the railings of the South Lawn in front of the White House

Me by the railings of the South Lawn in front of the White House

I did however manage to book a slot to visit the Ford Theatre 5 blocks away which is where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated while watching a performance of the play "Our American Cousin" shortly after the end of the American Civil War in April 1865. It's still a working theatre with a museum in the basement containing Lincoln artifacts such as the gun John Wilkes Booth used to shoot the President and then a trip upstairs to the theatre auditorium to see the Presidential Box beside the stage where the fatal shot was fired.

The Ford Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated

The Ford Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated


Glass case containing the gun that killed Abraham Lincoln

Glass case containing the gun that killed Abraham Lincoln


The Presidential Box inside the Ford Theatre where President Lincoln was assassinated

The Presidential Box inside the Ford Theatre where President Lincoln was assassinated

After he was shot President Lincoln was carried across the street to the small back bedroom of the Petersen Boarding House where he died in the early hours of the following morning. As with the theatre itself while the building has been restored to look like it did in 1865 very few of the furnishings are originals. Upstairs their is a museum describing how the assassins were tracked down and hanged and a book shop with an impressive tower of 15,000+ books claiming to contain every book ever written about Abraham Lincoln.

The Petersen House across the road where President Lincoln died

The Petersen House across the road where President Lincoln died


Abraham Lincoln's death bed

Abraham Lincoln's death bed


The tower of 15,000  books written on Abraham Lincoln in the Petersen House

The tower of 15,000+ books written on Abraham Lincoln in the Petersen House

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in USA Tagged buildings tour washington native_american solo us_presidents us_east_coast constitutions Comments (0)

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