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Mount Vernon

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

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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)

A taste of the Smithsonian

Exploring the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum in Washington

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The Smithsonian Institute is massive; its nucleus of over a dozen large museums lining the top end of the National Mall in Washington is the largest museum complex in the world. It was founded in 1846 using 105 sacks of gold sovereigns bequeathed "to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men" by British scientist James Smithson who died in 1829.

The Washington Metro arrives to take me to the Smithsonian Institute

The Washington Metro arrives to take me to the Smithsonian Institute


The Smithsonian Castle and Joseph Henry Statue on the National Mall

The Smithsonian Castle and Joseph Henry Statue on the National Mall

Although there was no way I could (or would indeed want!) to explore all of the Smithsonian museums during my few days in Washington the National Air and Space Museum (the most popular of them, averaging 9 million visitors per annum) had always been high on my Washington bucket list.

The entrance to the  National Air and Space Museum

The entrance to the National Air and Space Museum

Excitingly several of the iconic "milestones of flight" are on display the moment you walk in off the National Mall; the Apollo 11 Command Module as recovered from the Pacific after the first manned flight to the Moon in 1969 has pride of place with the Spirit of St Louis in which Charles Lindberg made the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927 hanging from the ceiling above.

The Apollo 11 Command Module (1969)

The Apollo 11 Command Module (1969)


The 'Spirit of St. Louis' - first solo transatlantic flight (1927)

The 'Spirit of St. Louis' - first solo transatlantic flight (1927)


Viking Mars Lander (1976) in the entrance hall of the National Air and Space Museum

Viking Mars Lander (1976) in the entrance hall of the National Air and Space Museum

In my opinion however the jewel of the collection is the Wright Flyer in which Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first manned heavier than air flight near Kitty Hawk in North Carolina on the 17th December 1903 which has been given a gallery of its own. The Apollo Lunar Module also has its own gallery with the module on display being the one used for ground testing; the other 5 that were built are still sat up on the surface of the Moon somewhere!

The 'Wright Flyer' - first manned heavier-than-air flight (1903)

The 'Wright Flyer' - first manned heavier-than-air flight (1903)


Apollo Lunar Module (1972)

Apollo Lunar Module (1972)

About a third of the museum's galleries are devoted to space flight with several other command modules (the only bits that normally come back!) on show including Friendship 7 (1st American in space 1962), Gemini IV (1st American spacewalk 1965) and the Apollo Command Module used for Skylab 4 (1st American space station 1973).

Apollo Command Module from Skylab 4 (1973)

Apollo Command Module from Skylab 4 (1973)

Most of the really big space exhibits are on display in the Space Race Gallery including the backup Skylab Workshop Module (1973) which you can walk through, test vehicles from the US/Soviet Apollo-Soyuz linkup in 1975 and the Hubble Space Telescope (1990). There was also a German V1 Flying Bomb and V2 Missile on display from WWII and from more recent times a Tomahawk Cruise Missile.

The Space Race Gallery at the National Air and Space Museum

The Space Race Gallery at the National Air and Space Museum


Inside the Skylab Orbital Workshop (1973)

Inside the Skylab Orbital Workshop (1973)


Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (1975) with the Hubble Space Telescope (1990) in the corner

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (1975) with the Hubble Space Telescope (1990) in the corner

On the aviation side there were several galleries containing military aircraft from different periods of history or performing particular roles. There was a gallery of biplanes with a reconstruction of muddy trenches from World War I. There was also a WWI de Havilland DH-4 reconnaissance plane with a box camera being held over its side pointing groundward in the Looking at Earth gallery, it looked very crude alongside the U-2 Spy plane and satellites that were also on display there.

German Fokker D.VII fighter from WWI

German Fokker D.VII fighter from WWI


de Havilland DH-4 observation and photoreconnaissance plane from WWI

de Havilland DH-4 observation and photoreconnaissance plane from WWI


Lockheed U2 spy plane from the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)

Lockheed U2 spy plane from the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)

From World War II there was a gallery containing an example of a fighter aircraft and a pilot's uniform from the USA (P-51D Mustang), Britain (Mk. VII Spitfire), Italy (Macchi C.202 Folgore), Japan (Mitsubishi A6M Zero) and Germany (Messerschmitt Bf 109G). There was also a German WWII Messerschmitt Me 262 included as the first operational jet fighter amongst the exhibits in the Jet Aviation gallery.

British Mk. VII Spitfire, Japanese A6M Zero, Italian Macchi C.202 Folgore and American P-51D Mustang in the WWII Aviation Gallery

British Mk. VII Spitfire, Japanese A6M Zero, Italian Macchi C.202 Folgore and American P-51D Mustang in the WWII Aviation Gallery


Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero

Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero


German Messerschmitt Bf 109G

German Messerschmitt Bf 109G


Messerschmitt Me 262 - the world's first operational fighter jet (1944)

Messerschmitt Me 262 - the world's first operational fighter jet (1944)

Naval Aviation was covered by a separate Sea-Air Operations gallery containing a reconstruction of the bridge of an aircraft carrier (with video filmed aboard the USS Enterprise) and examples of naval aircraft such as the Gruman F4F Wildcat and Douglas SBD-6 Dauntless from the WWII Pacific War and A-4C Skyhawk from Vietnam. The was also a separate gallery for Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles which included a MQ-1L Predator that had recently flown 196 combat missions over Afghanistan.

Vietnam War Douglas A-4C Kittyhawk and WWII Douglas SBD-6 Dauntless

Vietnam War Douglas A-4C Kittyhawk and WWII Douglas SBD-6 Dauntless


MQ-1L Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)

MQ-1L Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)

There was also a large "America by Air" gallery devoted to passenger aircraft down the ages with a 1936 Eastern Airlines Douglas DC-3 hanging centre stage amongst a host of other historic passenger aircraft arrayed in front of the nose of a 1970s Northwest Airlines Boeing 747 which you could also walk through to have a look at the flight deck.

Commercial aircraft in the 'America by Air' gallery

Commercial aircraft in the 'America by Air' gallery

The final couple of galleries covered pioneering aircraft from the inter war years; the bright red Lockheed 5B Vega that Amelia Earhartused in 1932 when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and then the USA seemed to centre stage however I must admit bearing in mind I was on an around the trip I was particularly interested in the Douglas World Cruiser Chicago which was of two (of four that started) to compete the 1st round the world flight in 1924.

Amelia Earhart's Lockheed 5B Vega in which she became the 1st woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and the USA (1932)

Amelia Earhart's Lockheed 5B Vega in which she became the 1st woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and the USA (1932)


Douglas World Cruiser Chicago which completed the 1st round the world flight in 1924

Douglas World Cruiser Chicago which completed the 1st round the world flight in 1924


Northrop Gamma 2B Polar Star that flew across Antarctica in 1935

Northrop Gamma 2B Polar Star that flew across Antarctica in 1935

I spent a whole afternoon in the Air and Space Museum and know I could have spent a lot longer and there was still plenty more to see. I also managed to squeeze in a brief visit the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum on the north side of the National Mall (7.5 million visitors per annum and the most visited natural history museum in the world) on my final morning in Washington.

The National Museum of Natural History on Constitution Avenue

The National Museum of Natural History on Constitution Avenue

The first exhibition hall I saw inside was the Ocean Hall dominated by a 45 feet (14 metre) long North Atlantic Right Whale hanging overhead. However the exhibit adopted as the symbol of the museum is the massive African Bull Elephant in the Rotunda which was shot by a Hungarian big-game hunter in 1955 and subsequently donated to the museum. Its hide weighed 2 tons and it took a taxidermist 10,000 pounds of clay and 16 months to get ready before it originally went on display in 1959.

North Atlantic Right Whale hanging high above the Ocean Hall

North Atlantic Right Whale hanging high above the Ocean Hall


The African Bull Elephant on display in the Rotunda

The African Bull Elephant on display in the Rotunda

Next up was the Dinosaur Hall with its mounted dinosaur skeletons towering above us and excited school parties. Predictably centre stage were enormous mounted skeletons of a horned Triceratops, long lumbering Diplodocus and the terrifying Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Triceratops skeleton on display in the Dinosaur Hall

Triceratops skeleton on display in the Dinosaur Hall


Diplodocus and Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons on display in the Dinosaur Hall

Diplodocus and Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons on display in the Dinosaur Hall

There were several adjacent galleries containing fossils of sea life, plants and mammals but the next one to catch my eye was the one on Ice Age Mammals and Emergence of Man which included large mounted skeletons of a Woolly Mammoth and an Irish Elk. There was also a recreation of a Neanderthal family's burial of young man based on a 70,000-year-old site found in the Regourdou cave in Dordogne, France.

Woolly Mammoth skeleton on display in the Ice Age Hall

Woolly Mammoth skeleton on display in the Ice Age Hall


Irish Elk skeleton on display in the Ice Age Hall

Irish Elk skeleton on display in the Ice Age Hall


Recreation of a Neanderthal Burial in the Ice Age Hall

Recreation of a Neanderthal Burial in the Ice Age Hall

Amongst the galleries upstairs was the Gems and Minerals Hall with rooms full of cases of sparkling minerals and odd shaped meteorites. In pride of place surrounded by a permanent crowd admiring it was the deep blue 45.52-carat (9.10 g) Hope Diamond from India, often referred to as the "most famous diamond in the world" and notorious since it was first discovered in the 17th century for supposedly being cursed.

The Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond


The Gems and Minerals Hall

The Gems and Minerals Hall


Meteorites in the Gems and Minerals Hall

Meteorites in the Gems and Minerals Hall

Also upstairs there was the Western Cultures Hall containing amongst other things an ancient Egyptian coffin and an ugly looking mummy of a divine bull which when it was alive would have lived like a god in a special pen with a temple's walls. The Natural History Museum had several other galleries devoted to more contemporary wildlife with the Mammals Hall and Insect Zoo particularly popular but unfortunately I had run out of time and needed to move on.

Egyptian Coffin in the Western Cultures Hall

Egyptian Coffin in the Western Cultures Hall


Egyptian Bull Mummy in the Western Cultures Hall

Egyptian Bull Mummy in the Western Cultures Hall

Posted by FrancisRTW 03:00 Archived in USA Tagged buildings planes trains museums washington dinosaurs solo us_east_coast spacecraft 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

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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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