We had been walking around Washington D.C. for 10 straight hours by the time we reached the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. After navigating our way through the slightly confusing (but stroller friendly) WMATA Metro to reach our hotel two and a half hours too early to check in, we decided to walk down to meet some friends for lunch before making our way to a few of the many Washington museums. Too far from our hotel by the time we finished at the museums, we continued on to the free DC by Foot walking tour of the National Mall we scheduled for 7 pm that evening. For the next two hours, we made our way through a number of the grandiose memorials that stretch along the south of Washington, DC.
As our tour concluded a little after 9 pm, I found myself running up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. My feet were aching, and for a brief moment, I considered contenting myself with the view from below, since there is no way to take the stroller up to the memorial, but knew that standing at the base of the 19 foot tall statue of Lincoln would be the highlight of the Washington trip for me. Yashy and I took took turns ascending the steps while the other stayed with the kids (plenty of space for them to play by the steps). When I reach the top the view turned out to be worth the climb. Sitting magnificently on his chair overlooking the Reflecting Pool and staring determinedly at the Washington monument in a perfect depiction of the resolve and courage he showed in saving the nation, Lincoln is portrayed as the overseer of the nation, protecting its citizens and guiding their maturation. Within the walls of Memorial, standing in front of the statue between inscriptions of his Gettysburg Address on the South side and his second inaugural address on the North, I felt a sense of awe I’d only previously experienced at the Taj Mahal. The structure seemed twice as big as I had envisioned; its beauty and wonder can help outsiders to understand the deep seeds of American patriotism. I was so enthralled ascending the front steps that I completely forgot Martin Luther King Jr. had stood on those same steps to proclaim his dream. As he stood in front of an estimated 250,000 people on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. implicitly reminded Americans that his dream was the dream of their greatest leader, the man who held the nation together in a time of civil war. The achievements of those two men are among the greatest accomplishments of modern man.
The National Mall is a masterpiece of city planning and architecture. Our host on this day started the 2 hour tour at the base of the Washington Monument, and in riveting detail, he outlined the planning of the area and the struggle to have the monument constructed. Towering over the large stretch of land, the Washington Monument, once the tallest structure in world, reinforces the importance of the National Mall for Americans. In the vicinity are the National Museums of the American Indian, Air and Space, American History, Natural History, African Art, the Gallery of Art and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, all of which are free to enter. Our tour would only cover about half of the monuments, but DC by Foot also offers a four hour walking tour that covers the National Mall and the adjacent Tidal Basin, where a number of other monuments are erected, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The 2 hour tour covers about a mile of walking, with numerous stops to relax, or, as the little ones preferred, to get out of the stroller and run free!
National WWII Memorial
Our tour moved from the Washington Monument towards the National WWII Memorial. Along the way, we stopped for a view of the White House as our guide continued to recount the history of the area, including some amusing anecdotes about the early history of the White House (though not mentioning the time we Canadians – British at the time – burned it down in 1812). When we reached the WWII memorial, we all had a chance to relax at the side of the enormous fountain that covers the centre of the structure, where the Little Monkey badly wanted to feed the ducks. The memorial is one of the more recent additions to the National Mall and reflects the pride the United States feels in the war effort. Two triumphal arches stand at each end of the pool and a wall of stars, 1 for every 100 soldiers killed, lines the west wall. It’s size reflects the immensity of the war effort and the sacrifices made by all US citizens, at home and abroad. The memorial was Yashy’s favorite stop on the tour and seeing the monument at night really added to the ethereal setting. A few of the photos she took on Instagram are worth checking out. This memorial is the only one that had a personal connection for me; my two grandfathers both fought in World War II and the subsequent effect on the rest of their lives had been felt by everyone in my family.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Our final stop before the Lincoln Memorial was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Vietnam War was a controversial war in America. Protests against the war were common in the US in the sixties and seventies and American Cinema would reflect the struggle of its veterans for decades. The monument is a grim reminder of the 58,300 Americans who lost their lives for a cause most did not understand. Visitors to the memorial find themselves walking deeper and deeper into the ground as they follow a wall inscribed with the name of each soldier who lost his or her life. The structure reaches its deepest point when the wall descends 10.1 feet below the surface, at which point one walks up the other side V-shaped chasm. The effect is startling, reflective of the heavy price veterans paid as the United States found its occupation in Vietnam deepening and intensifying. As I walked down the path along the growing list of names, I had the Little Man resting his head on my shoulder, and found myself hoping that his generation will never have to endure an armed conflict. For me, the power of Vietnam Veterans Memorial was second only to the Lincoln Memorial. Amazingly, the design for the wall was submitted by a 21 year-old undergraduate student in an open competition. For anyone looking to understand how the United States came to be involved in Vietnam, David Halberstam’s book, “The Best and the Brightest” is essential reading.
As a non-American who is often discouraged by the bellicose nature of too many of America’s citizens and their leaders, I found this tour to be eye opening. The monuments reflect a great sense of pride, but also reveal a responsible introspection of American history. We felt that taking the tour as the sun was setting was a wise decision. Seeing these monuments at night adds to their beauty. I found myself wishing I had more time on this trip to complete the four hour walking tour that includes the Tidal Basin and perhaps a few of the other D.C. tours that Free Tours By Foot offers. Alas, our time and energy would not allow it. The Little Monkey and the Little Man, however, they were ready to continue. On walking tours, as long as the kids have a stroller and a chance to get out and explore, distance is not a consideration for them. In a few years, when the kids are older, I think that we’ll be taking another trip to the National Mall. I can think of no better place for the kids to learn about American history.