This week I’ll take you to three of the sites that we visited during our recent trip to Washington, DC; the United States Navy Memorial, the Library of Congress and the National Archives.
As we traveled back and forth from our AirBnb to the National Mall on the Metro, we often disembarked at the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro stop. As travelers emerge from the station they often look to the left towards the Capitol Building or the National Archives. But if they look straight ahead, they see the US Navy Memorial located on a plaza with a visitor center nearby. This memorial is dedicated to the millions of men and women that have served in the “sea services” since their beginnings in 1775 with eight small wooden ships. Currently, nearly 330,000 active duty personnel and over 100,000 reservists are serving in the Navy on 288 ships and over 3700 aircraft. The idea for a memorial was talked about for many years and was even included in Pierre L’Enfant’s original plan for the District of Columbia. It wasn’t until 1977 that the Navy Memorial became a non-profit organization and a bill introduced in Congress to build a memorial on public ground. The Memorial, located on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and White House, was finally dedicated by President Reagan on the 212th birthday of the US Navy, October 13, 1987. The visitor center opened in 1991.
The Memorial Plaza is said to contain the largest map in the world known as the Granite Sea to illustrate the reach of the US sea services.
Both our fathers served in the Navy during World War II so we were attracted to the sculpture of the “Lone Sailor” that signifies those who have served or are serving. In addition to the many displays in the visitor center, there is a Navy log, the largest public archive of sea service personnel (Navy, Marines, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard). We did searches for our dads but they weren’t in the archives so we plan to add them in the future. We did look up some friends and relatives that we knew were in the Navy and only found one, my cousin, Marie Ellwein Sarratt. We plan to add the names of our dads and encourage all former Navy and Marine service members to add theirs to this archive.
Around the Memorial Plaza there are twenty six bronze sculptures honoring the history of the Navy. The one pictured below was of interest to me as it made reference to one of my hero’s, Theodore Roosevelt.
Across the street from the Navy Memorial lies the National Archives, the repository of all the official historical documents and records of the US government. This stately building is located between Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenue with the visitors entrance on Constitution Ave. After passing through security and being reminded a couple of times (it must have been the DSLR camera that drew their attention!) that absolutely no photography is allowed in the Archives, we proceed to the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. This is where the original founding documents of the USA are found: the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution of the United States; and the Bill of Rights. We had to stand in a cue as there were lots of middle and high school students viewing the documents. In fact, they were all over Washington, it’s what is known as “fly-in” season. Security keeps things moving reminding people there are others waiting to see these important documents.
The Archives also has additional exhibits including a copy of the Magna Carta, one of the many documents that inspired the Founding Fathers. We toured some of those exhibits and checked out the gift shop. I was disappointed to learn that an exhibit on Remembering the Vietnam War had just closed a couple of days before our visit. Regardless, a visit to the inspiring Archives is a must to remind us of where we came as a nation and the importance to safeguard those freedoms and values for the future.
As a kid growing up on the plains of western North Dakota, a library was the gateway to learning about the larger world. At our country school, our teachers would send away to the State Library for a box of books each month and we eagerly read every book that was sent whether it was below or above our reading level. Then the regional bookmobile, a library on wheels, started visiting our school and we could select our own books. The bookmobile also came once a month in the summer when we could check out up to ten books. My sister and I would each check out ten and then trade so we could both have enough reading material until their next visit. Needless to say, we read a lot, I still do and have had a library card ever since! Even worked in a bookmobile for a while when attending college. With that in mind, a visit to the largest library in the world that contains more then 167 million items including 38 million books was not to be missed.
The Library of Congress (LOC) is now housed in three separate buildings. The main building, the Thomas Jefferson Building, is across the street from the Capitol. The LOC was the idea of James Madison in 1783 and signed into law by President John Adams in 1800. The first LOC was located in the Capitol Building and consisted of 740 books and three maps. By 1814 the collection had over 3000 items but were destroyed by the invading British Army during the War of 1812. It was after this event that Thomas Jefferson proposed selling his vast collection of books, 6487 items to the LOC. After considerable debate whether some of his books were atheistical, irreligious, or immoral, Congress voted to make the purchase. Jefferson’s books were those of a scholar who used the books not of a collector that had them sitting on a shelf to impress visitors. As fortune would have it, nearly two thirds of Jefferson’s books were destroyed in another fire in the Capitol in 1851. Subsequent Librarians of Congress have worked over the years to replace the destroyed volumes, at this time only 300 remain to be replaced. The LOC moved to the Jefferson Building in 1897 and due to the volume of materials and demand from patrons, the John Adams Building was added in 1939 and the James Madison Memorial Building opened in 1976.
After clearing yet another security screening and stopping at the information desk , we entered the Great Hall, the centerpiece of the building. What can I say? It’s awesome! Unlike any library I’ve ever been in!
The LOC offers tours on a regular basis that led by volunteers. First, we were obligated to watch a short film and then were introduced to the very knowledgable docent that led our tour group. In addition, to another look at the Great Hall she took us to see the Gutenberg Bible, important because it was one the first mass produced books after the invention of the movable type printing press.
She took us to the mezzanine level overlooking the floor of the Great Hall where there are quotes and murals representing the development of western civilization as it stood in 1897.
We also got a peek at the Main Reading Room that contains desks where researches can use the LOC’s collections. Only high ranking officials and the staff librarians are allowed to check out materials so most are read onsite.
One of my favorite parts of the LOC is Thomas Jefferson’s Library that contains some of his original books as well those replaced after the 1851 fire. I love his quote “I cannot live without books, ” my sentiments exactly!
There are additional exhibits in galleries such as the Exploring the Early America’s Exhibition, the Maps Exhibition, the Rare Books Collection, the Bob Hope Gallery, and etc. There’s a lot to see so plan to spend at least a few hours or plan to return, it’s free and fascinating!
Here are a few final photos from our brief visit. I especially like the photo last photo of the three students behind the sculpture, hope they were there on the quest for knowledge!
That does it for this week, join me next week for a night tour of Washington, DC.
Until then, happy travels.