I would say that walking around the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in mid-August was kind of like walking in a herd of sheep...but the sheep were lost, walking into frame at the worst times, waiting in lines, and covered in sweat. Sweat like you’ve never felt, man.
I hadn’t been to D.C. since I was 14 on a school trip. When I received an invite several months ago to my good friend’s wedding in D.C. (the main reason I went down there), I was really excited to rediscover the city as an “adult”.
While we only had a weekend down there, I was excited to plan some activities around the wedding to get to know the city a little more. I remembered bits and pieces of how beautiful the monuments and statues were, how clean it was, what it was like seeing the Hope Diamond for the first time...but one thing that seemed to have escaped my memory is the sheer volume of people and how hard it would be to maneuver around them.
I learned the hard way that we’d shown up during peak or ‘high’ season in D.C., when everyone and their 18 family members who couldn’t come for the Cherry Blossom Festival decided to spend some of their summer vacation there instead. Not only did temperatures climb into the upper 80’s and 90’s, but hordes of people would descend upon the National Mall, and the line outside the National Museum of American History would wrap around blocks and intimidate those who were just there to see the giant star spangled banner (which is still very, very cool).
That being said, there is so much history to see down in Washington, D.C., and all challenges aside, nothing really kept us from enjoying the monuments and large public areas of the Mall (museums...were a different story).
After a frustrating ordeal of finding available and legal parking around the Lincoln Memorial area, my two friends and I endured the heat and followed the droves of people walking in that direction. We had seen the Washington Monument up close the day earlier, but decided to focus on the opposite end of the Reflecting Pool on that Saturday.
I had seen this exact area when I was in D.C. years ago, but as I’m sure it does to even locals, it still took my breath away. We climbed what seemed like 500 stairs on that 90 degree day (it was 58), stopping along the way to get some very satisfyingly symmetrical shots of the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument in the distance.
One thing that was really different was the now unavoidable presence of cell phones, selfies, selfie sticks, Snapchat, and all other trademarks of 2017 that were pretty much non-existent on my last trip here in 2009. Listen, I’ve been to other famous monuments, I’ve been to concerts, and I’ve walked through Midtown Manhattan - I get it. Everyone’s gotta get a picture! Hey, how did you think I got all of these?
Maybe it was the volume of people, but I had to circle around the crowd on both sides of the statue to even get close enough for some of these photos because I kept walking into people’s frames, into their selfie sticks, or into their arms because they weren’t paying attention. It was just a lot.
Now, if this place was empty? Or even had half the people in it? I could stay here for hours. The seated Abraham Lincoln towers 30 feet over visitors, housed in a classical Greek-style columned structure commanding their attention like Zeus himself. On the north and south walls beside him, I got to read his second inaugural address and Gettysburg address before exiting down the steps where I stumbled upon a little spot that most visitors probably don’t even see.
On my way to find the bathroom about halfway down the steps, I see on the other side of the entrance there’s a tiny little museum! I didn’t get any pictures because I only did a quick sweep, but definitely go check it out. There are mock ups of the memorial before it was built, old equipment used to carve the marble stone, and lots of other historical tidbits. It’s also an amazing place to cool off because it was sweltering when we were there.
Afterward, we hung around the Reflecting Pool for a bit before heading over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial just a short walk from where we were. We made a friend before making out was over there, but sadly, had to leave him behind.
Before running back to our quickly dwindling meter and checking into our new hotel, we headed toward the memorial where we were met first with the famous Three Soldiers Statue. I actually remember this one from years ago. The three men, meant to represent those fallen soldiers in Vietnam, gaze solemnly at the Memorial Wall containing the names of 58,307 individuals who were killed or declared missing in action.
The structure itself is so, so beautiful, but the atmosphere is much more different there than in the Lincoln Memorial. We whispered, in reverence of those visitors looking for a friend’s or family member’s name, like the woman crouched down, taking a pencil rubbing of her husband’s name towards the end of the wall.
When I read up on the memorial, I learned that the designers of the wall intended it to symbolize a convergence of the past and present; a reminder of how the sacrifices of years ago are never forgotten, and to never take our freedoms for granted. Despite not recognizing any of the names on that wall, I think that’s a message we can all relate to and really take with us, even after leaving the beautiful structure behind.
After walking the length of the Memorial Wall, we decided to grab a popsicle and head to our hotel before venturing back out to another site. We ended up never having time, but I’d really love to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial and FDR Memorial in the same area next time I’m there. I definitely want to get more into how we spent our time in D.C. on the blog, so stay tuned!