on March 29, 2013
The National Mall in Washington DC has been referred to as America’s front yard. There is no other place in the United States that honors the legacies of our greatest presidents, the veterans of the US’s many different wars, and preserves the history and heritage of the US on such a large expanse of property. The Mall was the vision of one man, Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who was given the task of designing the layout for the new national capital. He had originally envisioned a "grand avenue" stretching about a mile from the Capitol to an equestrian statue of George Washington. The National Mall now stretches for 1.9 miles from the steps of the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. The planned equestrian statue of George Washington has been replaced with the George Washington Monument, which stands roughly in the center of the Mall. The National Mall sits just south of the White House, truly making this America’s front yard. The only way to experience the National Mall is by foot. We started at the west end of the Mall at the Lincoln Memorial. It is one of the most famous and recognized landmarks in DC. The Lincoln Memorial stands 99 feet tall and is surrounded by 36 columns, one for each of the states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death. The exterior is meant to resemble that of a Greek Temple. The memorial is centered on a circular drive that is flanked on the sides by 23rd St with the backside facing the Arlington Memorial Bridge that crosses the Potomac River into Arlington, Virginia. A long flight of stairs in the front of the memorial leads visitors inside to a massive sculpture of a solitary Abraham Lincoln sitting in contemplation. The 19 foot tall Georgia white marble sculpture of Abraham Lincoln sits in a massive chair that is just as wide as it is tall. The statue then sits on a pedestal that is another 10 feet tall. The statue stands in the center of three chambers separated by two rows of Ionic columns. Engraved on the walls of the two chambers that flank Lincoln is the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address. The iconic image of Lincoln sits peacefully as he looks out over the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, we walked down the paved path that leads to the Korean War Memorial. It sits just to the southeast of the Lincoln Memorial and south of the Reflecting Pool. The memorial honors those who served in the Korean War from 1950-53. There are nineteen stainless steel statues representing a squad on patrol during the war. The statues are in full combat gear and are drawn from each branch of the Armed Forces. Behind the statues is a triangular wall made of "Academy Black" granite from California that is 164 feet long with over 2500 photographic images sandblasted into the wall. The wall is so highly polished and reflective that when starring at the wall, the 19 statues reflect 38 soldiers, representative of the 38th parallel which separates North and South Korea. There is a small wall to the north of the statues that honors the 22 members of the United Nations that contributed medical relief and supplies to the war effort. The triangle path intersects a small circle containing the Pool of Remembrance. It is a shallow pool with the number of soldiers killed, wounded, or missing in action, and prisoners of war inscribed on granite blocks. Next to the Americans statistics are the United Nations statistics in the same categories. There is a granite wall that bears the simple message and sums up every major war that the US has ever been a part of, "Freedom is not Free." We then walked back towards the Lincoln Memorial and picked up the trail that does directly next to the Lincoln Reflecting Pool. The pool is the largest in DC and is 2, 029 feet long and 167 feet wide. At the time of this particular visit, the pool was empty because it was undergoing an 18 month construction project that would circulate nearby water from the Tidal Basin to prevent stagnant water from building up. At the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool is the World War II memorial. The memorial is a semi circular design with a reflecting pool and fountain in the middle. On each end of the memorial are two 43 foot triumphal arches with Pacific and Atlantic carved on them representing the two different campaigns during the war. On both sides of the arches stand 56 granite pillars towering 17 feet, with the name of each of the 48 states at the time of the war engraved on them. The other pillars recognize the District of Columbia, the Alaska Territory, the Territory of Hawaii, Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands, who also took part in the war. While at the memorial, I noticed a particular engraving that was placed inconspicuously. It looked like a cartoon character with a large nose peeking over a ledge with the words "Kilroy was here." There is nothing at the memorial that talks about the image so I had to look it up. What I discovered online was that it was an expression that became popular among serviceman during the war. The origins of the drawing are debated, but what is known is that serviceman would draw the cartoonish figure on walls and buildings where they were stationed. The drawing became so popular that at times the enemy thought it was a code for something, but in actuality it was just something fun for serviceman to do while fighting in the war. We walked across 17th St, which runs directly beside the WW II memorial, and headed up the hill toward the Washington Monument. It is the most recognized monument in DC and a major fixture of the Capital skyline. The obelisk monument is made out of marble and granite and at 555 feet, it is the tallest stone structure in the world. The Washington Monument is on a direct line with the White House to the north, which was part of the original plans laid out by Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Normally, visitors may take an elevator 500 feet up to the observation deck which offers spectacular views of the Nation’s Capital. However, on August 23, 2011, the Washington Monument suffered damage from an earthquake that occurred in the area. Structural cracks and foundation repairs are needed before it is safe for visitors. The National Park Service says that it will be sometime in 2014 before it will be made safe for the public. As many times as I have been to DC, it seems that the monument is either under renovations or is damaged as it is now. I have yet to travel to the top of the monument and it continues to be one of the monuments that I have yet to experience. As we headed back toward the Lincoln Memorial we walked along Constitution Ave passing in front of the White House. Located just south of Constitution Ave and north of the World War II memorial and Reflecting Pool lies Constitution Gardens. It is a 50,000 acre park within the National Mall. Originally built in 1976 for the country’s bicentennial, it stands as a living tribute to the American Revolution and the Constitution. Within the gardens is a pond containing a small island accessible by pedestrians via a walkway. On the island is the Declaration of Independence memorial dedicated to the 56 signers of the historical document. Our walking tour of the National Mall ended at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial located just northeast of the Lincoln Memorial. Commonly referred to as the Vietnam Wall, the memorial is a reflective wall stretching 246 feet long. The wall is built into the ground and it rises 8 inches on both ends to its peak of 10 feet. Sandblasted into the wall are the names of 58,195 servicemen who were killed in the Vietnam War. A pathway takes visitors along the Wall where they can read the names of those killed, leave memorial items at the base of the wall, say a prayer, and even make a pencil etching of a name. Besides the Wall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial also consists of two other monuments. The Three Soldiers Monument is a bronze statue of three serviceman representing the uniforms and equipment used during the Vietnam War. The memorial was meant to give a traditional component to the Wall. The other memorial is the Vietnam Women’s memorial honoring the women who served in the war, mainly as nurses. The memorial consists of three women surrounding a wounded soldier. One woman is looking up, another is praying, and the other tending to the wounded soldier. From the Wall, we ended back up at the Lincoln Memorial having walked the entire National Mall.
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