Thursday 21 October 2010

Day 55 – Freedom From Opening Your Wallet

I realized today one of the best things about Washington DC is that almost every tourist thing to do is free; there are some exceptions of course, but for the most part you don’t have to hand over any cash. This really helps as who isn’t on a budget when travelling?? The National Parks Service runs a lot of the show and I've found out from this ride across America, they do a great job!

One of the things that costs nothing is probably not to be considered a tourist ‘attraction’; although you wouldn’t know based on the amount of people mulling around. On this trip we’ve already visited a number of cemeteries. It’s not because we’re morbid, there’s just something about seeing the grave of somebody that either meant something to you or made history in some way. In life we weren’t able to get up close to them, but seeing their final resting place makes sense to us.
It’s not to everyone’s taste (in fact I can understand if some find it inappropriate and therefore I apologise), but judging by the fact that we weren’t the only ones at Arlington National Cemetery, I could see many share our view. The grave that, more often than not, brings the people here is John F Kennedy. In a way seeing where he was laid to rest takes us full circle as when in Dallas a couple of years ago we also saw the site upon which he was murdered. Arguably one of the most loved presidents in America’s history; he was adored for being like a modern day Abe Lincoln; unfortunately not just in principles, but also in dying tragically by assassination.
Although JFK is where the crowds are, the main cemetery is in honor of those that dedicate their lives to the military. The rows and rows of white headstones is disturbingly sobering. Just the size of the place is overwhelming and due to ongoing wars the cemetery is still buying more of the surrounding land for future burials. Just outside the gates is the Marine Corps War Memorial that is based on the famous image of the flag being raised on Iwo Jima. Having seen pictures of this I was taken aback by how huge it is in person. Like all statues, the bigger the better.
After a quick lunch at Starbucks (I’ve become addicted to their banana walnut bread!) we made our way back to the National Archives. Thankfully this time they were open. Having learned so much on this trip about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights I had expected to be moved by seeing them in person. Surprisingly, having the decaying originals of these documents in front of me wasn’t that emotional. Still, if you’re in Washington definitely pop in and see them…It’s free after all! More interesting for us though, was heading into the research part of the archives. Joe looked up his ancestors and their journey to America from Switzerland in the early 1900’s. See, we’re all pilgrims originally!
Trying to cram in as much as possible into our last day in Washington DC, we visited Ford’s Theatre where Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Now back to being a working theatre the National Parks Service also offers a great tour to learn about the historic events that took place there.
Included in the tour is their museum, which has an impressive collection of items related to the murder. They have the gun used, the boot cut off Booth’s broken leg, Lincoln’s clothes and a pillow his bloody head rested on. It paints a picture of that tragic night in a way that is educating while also being riveting.
The final part of the tour is a National Park ranger talk in the actual theatre. It has been restored to how it looked when Lincoln was shot and hearing the story where it happen really gives you an in depth experience. I was shocked to find out that John Wilkes Booth was a well known stage actor and that Lincoln had even seen him in a play once. Booth was a southern sympathiser who, due to his acting connection with Ford’s theatre, was able to get into the presidents box that night without causing suspicion until it was too late. It seems almost ridiculous to think of such a thing happening, the equivalent today? – Can you imagine, say, Patrick Stewart assassinating Barack Obama? Ludicrous!
Rounding out our day, we wanted a snack and popped into the Old Post Office Pavilion as it advertised a food court. Going through security the guard offered the advice that we should check out the bell tower as it was – you guessed it – free! We had no idea it was even there, but what a cool discovery! Despite the wind, the views of Washington were amazing. On the way back down we found out the bells that ring there are replicas of the ones in Westminster Abbey…Oh, and we did eventually get our snack there, our old friend Ben and Jerrys. Yum!
So, until tomorrow…

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