Can you guess what George Washington and Christopher Columbus, who lived 300 years apart, have in common?
The Capital of the United States of America is Washington, District of Columbia abbreviated to D.C. The city was named after George Washington, a Founding Father of the United States and the nation’s 1st President. The federal territory, the District of Columbia, was named to honor the Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus.
Columbia, the female version of Columbus is the historical name applied to the Americas and the New World. (The Canadian province of British Columbia is also named thusly). By the 1920’s, the Statue of Liberty had become the female symbol of the United States and ‘Columbia’ was relegated to history.
Washington, DC is small at less than 70 square miles (177.0 km²) and has a population of nearly 700,000 residents. A taxi drove us down one street lined with beautiful embassy buildings and we learned there are 177 foreign embassies in Washington.
Enid A. Haupt Gardens
Enid Annenburg Haupt (1906-2005) once proclaimed “Nature is my religion”. She was the publisher of Seventeen magazine, but her passion was horticulture. As heiress to her family fortune, Enid made numerous contributions to horticultural projects throughout the US and the world.
Haupt endowed the Smithsonian with a sum of money that would not only create the gardens around the Castle, but to maintain an outdoor haven for future generations to enjoy. As a fellow gardener it was a treat to view the Haupt gardens and discover new plants.
It was a much more sobering experience walking through Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site.
John T. Ford ran an extremely successful theatrical business. His theatre opened in August 1863 and had staged 495 performances by April 1865. Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln the theatre was closed and it wasn’t until nearly 100 years later that the carefully preserved theatre was reopened to the public. Today the space is both a museum and a live theatre venue.
On the night of April 14, 1865 when Lincoln became the first American assassinated president, he was wearing a custom made black coat. Embroidered on the inside lining was an eagle carrying a banner that said “One Country, One Destiny.” The civil war ended April 9, 1865 and 6 days later, April 15, 1965, President Abraham Lincoln died from a bullet shot by John Wilkes Booth.
President Abraham Lincoln was a prolific writer and orator and was the last President to write his own speeches. He wrote and issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The document was not without its flaws, but it was a vital first step and is considered to be one of the great documents of human freedom.
Washington National Cathedral
The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, commonly called the Washington Cathedral, is an Episcopal Church; a branch of the Anglican Church.
Construction on the Cathedral that began in 1907 was modeled from the late 14th century English Gothic style. Still closed to the public during our visit, we were able to explore the exterior alone. Because the church is relatively new, time has not eroded the architectural details. The crisp features of the comical gargoyles were quite amusing.
Next to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, Washington Cathedral is the second largest church in the United States. In 2011 a magnitude 5.8 earthquake shook the East Coast causing millions of dollars in damage to the Cathedral. 10 years later reconstruction and repairs continue.
In a quiet park-like setting surrounding the Cathedral are 57 acres of cultured gardens and native woodlands.
In the Bishop’S Garden designers were inspired by medieval walled gardens and terraced landscapes. Nestled amid trees we glimpsed graceful sculptures and in one area a garden is filled with plants mentioned in the Bible.
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is the largest US military cemetery and is located in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
The first military burial was on May 13, 1864 and today there are more than 400,000 gravesites on 690 acres.
Only two former US Presidents are buried in Arlington; William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy. Our tour guide informed us there are 30-40 new burials daily and we did hear gun salutes in the distance.
The history of the land before becoming the cemetery took us completely by surprise.
The great-granddaughter of Martha and George Washington owned the land. Her name was Mary Anna Custis and she married Robert E. Lee. President Lincoln offered Lee the command of the Union or Northern forces for the Civil War. When Virginia seceded from the United States and joined the 10 Confederate States, Lee declined Lincoln’s offer and instead took command of the Confederate Army for the South. Within the first month of the civil war, Mary Anna and Robert E Lee’s property was confiscated by the Union Army and by 1864, 3 years into the war, it became a much needed cemetery. It has been estimated that the number of deaths between the North and South was 750,000.
Monuments and Memorials
In 1791, when Pierre L’Enfant, the French-American military engineer who designed the original layout for Washington, saw the site where the city would be built, he called it “a pedestal waiting for a monument”. Today there are in excess of 150 Monuments and Memorials in Washington.
We may not have seen them all but we did visit the must-sees like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial + Vietnam Women’s Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the World War I + II Memorials, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. We did walk over to the Korean War Veterans Memorial but the statues were completely enwrapped as the memorial was being revamped.
Standing more than 555 feet tall, the white marble Washington Monument has a noticeable color variation. The cornerstone, of the monument built to honor George Washington, was laid in 1848 but by 1854 due to a lack of funds construction was halted. In 1879 when construction resumed, the quarry that provided the original stone was no longer in business and a new source had to be found. Regardless of the change in color, the monument is simply beautiful.
We had planned to take the elevator to the top of the monument but an unusually strong lightning bolt struck the Washington Monument before we could book our tickets. It damaged parts of the electronic system that operated doors and elevators, effectively closing the Monument.
Our header photo is of the Capitol Building taken at dusk. The Statue of Freedom that crowns the dome is a bronze statue of a female figure bearing a military helmet, holding a sheathed sword in her right hand, a laurel wreath and a United States shield are in her left. Although not called “Columbia”, she shares many of her iconic characteristics. ‘Freedom’ is 19½ feet (5.9 m) tall and weighs 15,000 pounds (6,800 kg). A Native American–style fringed blanket is worn over her left shoulder and she faces east toward the rising sun.
Two blocks east of the White House and across the street from the World War I Memorial, built in the luxurious Beaux-Arts architectural style, is the historic Willard Hotel.
In 1816 six small buildings were erected on the site. The buildings were leased out as a hotel to various landlords over several decades and the hotel’s name was changed with each new leaseholder. In 1847 Henry Willard leased the buildings. He combined them into a single structure and enlarged it into a four-story hotel. He renamed the property the Willard Hotel. He would purchase the property in 1864.
Notable events and guests:
In February 1861 the Peace Congress met at the Willard in a last-ditch attempt to avert Civil War.
Julia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” from her hotel room in November 1861.
Amid several assassination threats, detective Allan Pinkerton smuggled Abraham Lincoln into the Willard where Lincoln stayed until his inauguration on March 4th, 1861.
Known as “the residence of presidents”, every president since the 14th President, Franklin Pierce (1853 to 1857) has either slept in or attended an event at the hotel. Six sitting Vice-Presidents have lived at the hotel.
Jean Monnet, a French diplomat and political visionary, considered one of the founding fathers of the European Union, had his office in the hotel.
In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous “I Have a Dream” speech while staying at the Willard.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the most famous address in the US. It took 8 years to build this National Heritage Site we know as “The White House”. It is the residence of the president of the United States and has been for every president since 1800 when John Adams, the 2nd president of the United States (1797 to 1801) moved in.
In July 1790, the US Congress passed the Residency Act that established a permanent capital for the United States on the banks of the Potomac River. George Washington selected the site for the Federal City. In 1791 Congress declared that the city would be named Washington to honor the 1st President of the young nation.
During his presidency, George Washington lived and governed from Manhattan, New York (1789) and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1790-1797). President John Adams also lived and worked from Philadelphia from 1797 to mid-1800. On November 1, 1800, John Adams moved into and became the first president to occupy the White House.
Although George Washington selected the design and the architect for the White House, he, the 1st president of the United States (1789 to 1797) is the only president that did not reside in the White House. By the time Washington left office only the walls stood and the roof was framed. Washington died in 1799, one year before the White House was completed.
Altered, adapted and enlarged multiple times in the past 220 years, the White House today includes 6 stories, 55,000 square feet (5,100 m2), 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases and 3 elevators. Despite the many renovations, the original structure remains and it is said that George Washington would be able to recognize the White House to this day.
The Star-Spangled Banner
During the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key, (1779-1843) a 35-year-old staunch anti-abolitionist lawyer and amateur poet, witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor by the British Royal Navy. The next morning, when he saw that the American flag was still flying over the fort, he wrote a poem that was first published as “Defense of Fort McHenry” and set it to a popular British tune.
His song was renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and more than a 100 years later, in 1931, was adopted as the national anthem of the United States.
For most of the 19th century, the song “Hail, Columbia” served at official functions and is listed, to this day, as the unofficial anthem of the United States. Currently “Hail, Columbia” is the ceremonial entrance march of the vice president of the United States.
Located at the American History Museum in a climate-controlled room, is the original Star Spangled Banner Flag which inspired Francis Scott Key’s poem.
We learned a tremendous amount of American history on our visit to Washington DC. This quote by James Madison, the 4th U.S. President (1809 to 1817) is as important today as it was when we wrote it 200 years ago.
“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
Cheers from these Washingtonians,
Ted + Julia