Welcome back to another adventure in Washington, DC. This week I’ll take you on a night tour of the major sites in and around the National Mall. There are at least 12 tour companies that provide night tours, that’s how popular they are. Not only that, there are fewer people and a lot less traffic to contend with as compared to during the day. Let’s say there is a night tour to fit most budgets and time frames, short or long.
We selected a three hour guided tour with the opportunity to hop off look around and take some photos, an important criteria for me! In addition, they traveled in smaller buses that held up to about 25 people. We met our tour at 7:30 PM at the Navy Memorial, I wrote about it in last weeks blog. It was raining pretty good right up until the tour began making for some interesting reflections then the rain stayed away for the rest of the evening.
Our first stop was near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue where the tour bus dropped us off so we could walk to the White House and take some photos. It was interesting to note that there were armed guards walking on the roof. In addition, there were was a strong security presence on the blocked off street where we walked.
Just beyond the White House is the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB). This building was commissioned by President U. S. Grant, completed in 1888 and originally served as the Department of State, War and the Navy. Built in the French Second Empire style, it was highly criticized as being out of place with all the nearby neo classical buildings. President Truman called this building “the greatest monstrosity in America” and Mark Twain called it the ugliest building in the United States. With that being said, it is now designated a National Historic Landmark! And it is huge, over 550 offices serving as the President’s Executive Office, the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget and the National Security Council. A lot of lights were on when we walked past at 8 PM so must be a busy place.
Across the street is the Blair House, also known as the President’s Guest House. It’s a collection of four separate houses that were joined together into one facility during a 1980’s remodeling project. The Blair house has 119 rooms, 14 bedrooms, and 35 bathrooms, that a lot of cleaning! This makes it physically larger than the White House. It’s used by visiting dignitaries and guests of the President. This is where the whole Bush family stayed during the funeral observances for former President George H. W. Bush last December.
As we left the area our bus was waiting to transport us to our next stop, the World War II Memorial. This memorial, dedicated in 2004, honors the military and civilian service of the millions of men and women that served during World War II. Located between the Washington Monument (still under renovation) and the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial features 56 granite pillars representing the then 48 U. S. states and eight territories. We found the pillar from our home state, North Dakota, and the pillar from our current residence, Wisconsin. There are two large arches representing the war time fronts in the Pacific and the Atlantic. There is also a wall of 4048 gold stars each representing 100 Americans who died during the war. It’s a place of peace and a reminder of the sacrifices made during war.
One of my favorite memorials in Washington is located at our next stop on the night tour, the Jefferson Memorial. I am an admirer of Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of Independence, the first Secretary of State, the Second Vice President, the Third President, and the founder of the University of Virginia. There’s a lot I could say about Jefferson but I challenge my readers to study his life, his enormous body of writing and listen to the podcast, The Thomas Jefferson Hour. While he and I would disagree on some issues, I think we would have a friendly, respectful and challenging dialog. A visit to his Memorial is another good reminder of whence we came.
As we were leaving the Jefferson Memorial, I spotted this reflection of the Washington Monument in the Tidal Basin and couldn’t help making a photo.
Our next stop was at the newest memorial on the National Mall, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Completed in 2011, this memorial commemorates the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., an activist that worked tirelessly to advance the cause of civil rights and non violent resistance. He is only one of four non-presidents to be memorialized in such a way. This Memorial is located near the Lincoln Memorial where he gave his “I have a dream” speech in 1963. King’s likeness is carved out of what is called the Stone of Hope. It’s a beautiful memorial to a great man and a great cause that we are stilling work toward.
On either side of the likeness of King are many of his more famous quotes.
The next stop on our tour was a threefer, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The tour guides led us through the Korea War Veterans Memorial, it was kind of spooky with the platoon on patrol through the rugged terrain of North Korea reflected against the black granite memorial. Some of the most significant battles in the Korean War were fought at night in the freezing cold so it was fitting that we visited when it was dark and on the chilly side. If you’d like to read a very well done historical novel about the Korean War check out Jeff Shaara’s “The Frozen Hours.”
Just a short walk from the Korea War Veterans Memorial is the iconic Lincoln Memorial that honors the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. It’s estimated that over 7 million people visit the Lincoln Memorial each year. The efforts to build a memorial to Lincoln began soon after his assassination in 1865 at the nearby Ford’s Theatre. However, the funding, design and location all stalled the project until it was finally approved in 1913. Construction of the Greek Revival style temple like building began soon after and was completed and opened to the public in 1922. The much larger than life statute of Lincoln was originally envisioned as being smaller but enlarged as not to be overwhelmed by the large room under the rotunda. The walls are inscribed with two of Lincoln’s most well known speeches, the Gettysburg address and his second inaugural address. A visit to this memorial is always awe inspiring and a reminder that the right man came along at the right time and did the right thing to preserve our nation.
As we depart the Lincoln Memorial, it seems so natural to stand on the very spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. made his “I have a dream speech” and imagine the 250,000 people gathered that August day in 1963 to hear him speak. We look beyond the crowd to see the Washington Monument with it’s reflection in the Reflecting Pool towards the Capitol behind it and see what Lincoln strived for during his presidency.
A visit to Vietnam Veterans Memorial always chokes me up, I know a few guys on that wall, some that I was involved with in their care in my military service during the Vietnam War. The walk down the path past the more than 58,000 names on the Wall and seeing reflections of visitors on the polished black granite, especially at night is another reminder about the human sacrifices made during war time. After some time absorbing the Wall, we check out the bronze statue of The Three Soldiers solemnly looking towards the Wall. The nearby Women’s Memorial honors the women that served during the Vietnam War, many that were nurses caring for injured soldiers.
We hopped back on the bus for one last stop and that was to view the Capitol at night.
It was a pleasant three hours with excellent guides and a skillful driver. Again, a night tour is a great way to see some of the highlights without the crowds and traffic. And to see them at night adds something special to their meaning.
Next up, the African American Museum.
Until then, happy travels!