Walking in the Footsteps of History, Walking Through Philadelphia, An Amazing Three Days in Washington D.C.
02/18/2013 40 °F
I have no interest in politics, but I have a keen interest in history. I’ve been walking in the footsteps of my forefathers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Washington D.C. In a historical sense, these two cities are among the most important to our country. Our chief revolutionaries met in Philadelphia to strategize the birth of our nation in the late 1700‘s. Their successors moved the whole kit and kaboodle to Washington D.C. in 1800 - the newly minted capital.
The Potpourri of Philadelphia
I’m well into a seven-hour walk through the streets of Philadelphia. It’s a good day for walking. The sun is bright, gliding through wintry pale blue skies. It’s brisk and downright cold in the shadows. But I’m moving fast, and feeling warm in my woolen layers. I tuck into a coffee shop for a cup of warmth. It tastes amazing. I pull out my notebook and make a few notes about my day.
In Philadelphia, it’s easy to get a sense of what the city looked like in the old days. Much of the old city is just as it was hundreds of years ago. The brick buildings have a colonial clean look to them. However, the tenants drive cars around the narrow cobblestone streets instead a horse and carriage.
I’ve walked all around the old city following signs that point the way to historical landmarks. The signs are helpful. Many of the old locations in Philadelphia stand among modern businesses and buildings. So far, I have seen Betsy Ross’s quaint brick house. I peered through the wrought iron bars at Benjamin Franklin’s Grave. I paid my respects to the unknown revolutionaries buried in Washington‘s Square.
My heart beat a little stronger as I walk around Independence Hall. I’m not sure if its patriotism or if I’m realizing that I’m walking in the same footsteps as Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Hancock among many others. What is it like to overthrow a government and create your own? It must be an awesome feeling. On the one hand, you fervently believe your cause is just. Yet terrifying to think about what you are actually doing. At the time of the American Revolution, nobody had overthrown a government before.
Beyond that, I like Philadelphia’s trees. When combined with the deep shadows formed from the low angled winter light, they are beautiful.
Three Days In Washington D.C.
I push open the front doors of Union Station and step out into Washington D.C. I’m not sure where I am. When I look out at the city, I see the U.S. capital building in the distance. I know the capital is south of where I am, and therefore, my hostel is west. I turn right and walk two hundred yards. Sure enough, there is Massachusetts Avenue right where it ought to be. I tighten the straps of my pack and walk on.
I check in at my hostel. I grab my pack and head out for the National Mall. It takes me 15 minutes to get down to mall. I only have three days to explore the mall. I know I cannot see it all, but I can explore several museums and monuments.
I turn into Joe Tourist. I’ve never to Washington, and I aim to make the most of my visit. The first thing I see is the Washington monument. I’m impressed. It’s a cool monument.
I walk along a straight path bordered by trees with birds singing in them. For some reason, I really like this trail. I think it is the warmth of the day. I’m happy to see the soggy green grass of the park. It reminds me of early spring. Where there are signs of spring, there is a sign of hope. And I’m digging my life.
There is an impassive ranger standing against a pillar in Lincoln’s main chamber. He looks as though he is thoroughly sick of tourists and all that goes along with them. I can’t blame him, we tourists mob Lincoln’s statue as if it’s a celebrity. There is a sign at the top of the stairs that attempts to set a quiet, reflective mood when viewing Lincoln. Instead, the braying calls from camera toting tourists echoes throughout the main chamber.
Lincoln is much bigger in person. He looks a bit haggard sitting on his throne, as if he had too much to drink the night before. I prefer the deserted side chambers that have two of Lincoln’s speeches etched into the wall. As a writer, I can admire the Gettysburg address for its succinct prose. It’s not easy to say so much with so few words.
I like the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Wall. They are both moving in their own way, a reminder of the true cost of war: human lives.
It grew dark and I find myself somewhere out in the middle of the mall. To the west, a brilliant sunset bloomed right behind the Washington monument. It’s the best sunset I’ve seen this year, and I can’t help but admire my timing.
To the east, the capital building glows white against the darkening sky. It’s beautiful in its own right, but it doesn’t compare to sunset behind me. I turn around and watch the orange glow of the clouds fade as the monument grows brighter under the floodlights.
I knew before I set foot in D.C. that I would never be able to see all of the museums given my limited time. I didn’t want to race through them in a mad attempt to see everything. I wanted to enjoy each museum for everything it was worth.
With that mindset, I’m going to mention the museums I visited, and which exhibits struck my fancy.
Smithsonian Museum of American History
This was one of my favorite museums. I saw Horatio Jackson’s automobile. Jackson was the first person to cross America by auto long before there were any reliable roads. I saw Julia Child’s Kitchen (which would have made my mom happy). I saw the gold spike that marked the completion of the first continental railroad. I saw the 30 by 38-foot Star Spangled Banner that inspired Francis Scott Key’s poem.
Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian
I played an interactive Peon Game of the Kumeyaay tribe. I loved the song they sing while playing. I like the exhibit about the Mohawk ironworkers. I would like to learn more about the Tohono O’ odham people of the American southwest. There were dozens of beautiful hand crafted items with each exhibit. I am in awe of the craftsmanship and detail put into each piece.
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
I saw Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” and The Wright Brothers “Flyer.” I really enjoyed World War I flying ace Ray Brooks’ story of facing eight Fokkers in a hellish dogfight. “It got to the point where I tried ramming the other planes, to see if I could knock them out of the sky.” I enjoyed the exhibit about Aircraft Carriers and I learned how fighter pilots launch and land their jets on a pitching deck of a ship at sea. I liked this museum more than I thought I would.
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
By far my favorite display was the Nature Photography Contest Winners. The photographs were stunning. When I left, I wanted to get my camera and head out into the wild.
National Portrait Gallery, West Building
I didn’t give myself nearly enough time in this gallery. I stopped in for an hour as I had an hour to kill. This museum was full of gorgeous paintings, portraits, sculptures and the like. My favorite pieces are Thomas Cole’s “The Voyage of Life.” I could look at these paintings all day without tiring of them.
Smithsonian Museum of American Portraits
This museum has later hours than most of the galleries on the mall. I stopped in after dinner for an hour to walk through the main level. One exhibit was about Amelia Earhart. The single piece that caught my eye was her pilot license. Her photograph is beautiful. I wonder why the government started using mug shots of people instead of a beautiful likeness such as this. My passport photo makes me look like a homicidal killer with social interaction problems.
This museum also featured large-scale sketches from contemporary artists. I love to sketch, but I’ve never showed much talent in my art. These pieces were mesmerizing. How can they draw the human form so accurately?
International Spy Museum
I love this museum. This museum is completely interactive, giving you the chance to spy on your fellow tourists. For example, I climbed through an air vent. The goal was to pass through without making any noise. It was simple enough, but it put me into a sneaky mindset for the rest of the museum. I loved listening to the stories about famous spy rings, and dangerous escapes. The museum was full of interesting gadgets and tools of the trade. Spies used many of these clever devices in the field during World War II and the cold war. They seem clumsy to use by today’s standards, but cutting edge back in 1944.
I could have spent all day in this museum alone, but alas, I had to go.
I didn’t spend nearly enough time in Washington D.C. Three days is not enough. If I was planning a trip to D.C. I would plan to spend at least a week if I could spare the time. There is so much to do and see. I only scratched the surface with my visit.
Like MacArthur, I shall return.
Next week? Florida!