This past weekend, for the fourth of July, three of my friends from Florida made the 17-hour trek to come visit me and spend the holiday in Washington, D.C. All three hadn’t visited the capitol before (with the exception of Courtnee, who had visited when she was seven) so they were really excited to see the monuments and sights. Although I had stayed a week in DC four years ago, there were plenty of sights I hadn’t seen and many others I would enjoy visiting again.
A view of the National Gallery of Art from the National Air and Space Museum.
Again, Kathy fortuitously was headed the same direction that weekend, and, being a doll, dropped me off in the city Thursday night to stay with my Mom, who also happened to be in the city as she was attending a work conference. All the details seemed to fit perfectly.
The following morning, Courtnee, Jesse, and Dawn arrived (slap happy to boot, as they had been driving throughout the entire night and morning) and we had lunch on Capitol Hill. Once there, we visited the National Gallery of Art (upon my request) and was very excited to see that several of Monet and Renoir works were on display. We also saw the only Leonardo da Vinci work in the Western hemisphere – a painting of a woman’s face entitled, Ginevra de’ Benci (c. 1474/1478). This frieze had two sides – one side featured a woman’s face, and the other side was a landscape. We also saw works by Raphael, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Rubens, and the very famous painting of Napoleon Bonaparte in his study, by Jacques-Louis David (c. 1812).
After the Gallery of Art, we visited the National Air and Space Museum and then headed back to the hotel and had Chinese takeout for dinner. The following day, we spent the entire day outside, visiting the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Memorial, the WWII Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the Museum of American History, and the Natural History Museum. For lunch, we were suckers for buying a very stereotypical hotdog from a corner street vendor – and then ate them under a big oak tree on the National Mall lawn.
These are the classy people I call friends.
On the day of the fourth, we visited the White House amidst a gaggle of protesters swarming the front gates. Rows upon rows of cop cars and secret service men lined each side of the street surrounding the house. While facing the front lawn and fountain, I saw men dressed all in black placed at each corner of the top of the roof, AK-47s in hand. Other policemen were stationed at each gate leading to the house, while others bordered the protesters. Wondering whether or not this was atypical, I went up to a policeman and asked, “This may be a stupid question, but – is there usually this much security, or is it because it’s the fourth of July?” I was promptly answered with, “This is just like any other day.”
A view of the White House, with secret service men on the roof.
After staring at all of these black vehicles, men in uniform, and shouting men and women toting posters and doling out flyers, I realized I would have to give up my dream of becoming president (I kid). I realized that presidents have virtually no freedom. Although I knew our leaders were in the constant public eye and had every move watched and judged, I didn’t even think of the fact that they have no liberty to even partake in the simple things in life – such as reading a book in one’s backyard or walking to the corner café to enjoy a steaming cup of Joe. Such things would be impossible without being bludgeoned by protesters, photographers snapping your picture, and potential assassins watching your every move. Presidents require constant supervision and that’s something, until visiting the White House, I failed to appreciate.
The Lincoln Memorial.
After the White House, we visited the Ford’s theatre, where we enjoyed a very interesting and informative interpretative talk inside. The four of us sat as close as you could get to where Lincoln sat that fateful night – right next to an alcove jutting out from the balcony. We learned that Wilkes Booth had manipulated a very strategic and well-thought out plan to assassinate the president. Being a well-known actor and having featured in several plays at the Ford’s theatre, Booth knew every nook and cranny to the establishment – so had planned to place a certain piece of wood in the door leading to where Lincoln sat so that others could not reach Booth after Lincoln was shot.
A view of the inside of the Ford's theatre.
On the night of the play, Booth snuck into the room undeterred, as the “security” for the night had left earlier. At this point in our nation’s history, the “secret service” was still a fairly new concept and there was hardly any cause for the president to be protected. Having watched every rehearsal and previously acted in the same play that would be played for Lincoln, Booth knew every part to the play in which would influence a certain reaction from the audience. In this specific play, there was one point in the show in which only a single actor was on stage, and he delivered a certain line that was particularly funny – a statement so hilarious that the entire audience would erupt in laughter. It was during this moment that Booth shot Lincoln – straight behind his left ear, which caused him to immediately lose consciousness and slump forward in his chair.
The area of the balcony Lincoln was sitting in - and was shot.
Dawn, Courtnee and Jesse in front of the National Air and Space Museum.
I was so glad to have attended the interpretative program, as I hadn’t known all of these details concerning Lincoln’s assassination. It was so interesting and definitely shed more light into Booth’s thought and planning for such a horrendous murder. After the theatre, we headed back to the hotel and ate dinner. Later that night, we headed to Capitol Hill and spread stark white hotel towels on the lawn and waited for the fireworks to start. While sitting on the lawn, we listened to several well-known artists who were performing on the capitol steps. Such artists included Reba McIntyre, the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish (whose name eludes me), and several other country singers. I think Adam Lambert (although I’m probably incorrect) sung the Star Spangled Banner. After the show, the fireworks started at the National Mall, very close to the Washington Memorial. As we were oohing and aahing at the dancing lights parading on the roofs of city buildings, suddenly we heard an ear-splitting BOOM! as several cannons went off very close to where we were standing. Just across from the capitol steps, at least 10 cannons were shot intermittently throughout the entire firework extravaganza. It was definitely a fourth to remember.
Early the next morning, I had to say my goodbyes to my three comrades as they left to travel back to Florida. In the meantime, I read in the hotel lobby until Kathy whisked me away from DC and drove us back to Assateague.