The National Mall (December 5, 2020)
On a blustery early December day we headed back down to the National Mall. We started out on the Ellipse, a 52 acre park between the White House and the Washington Monument. It is, normally, a nice place to get a view of the south side of the White House but there are now so many security fences that you can barely see it. However, we were able to see the National Christmas Tree which, no doubt, is more impressive lit up at night but was decidedly underwhelming during the day.
Sitting next to the Christmas tree is the Zero Milestone marker monument. It was originally intended to be the initial milestone from which all road distances in the United States would be measured. However, at present, only roads in the Washington DC area have distances measured from it.
Sitting on the grounds of the nearby National Academy of Sciences is one of our favorite and least known Washington memorials. The Albert Einstein Memorial is a monumental bronze statue by sculptor Robert Berks that was unveiled in 1979. It is situated just off Constitution Avenue in an elm and holly grove, so it is not easy to see from the road. In a city of formal memorials this one is much more approachable and has become a favorite spot for people to take photos sitting on his knee.
Along the back of the bench, behind the statue, are famous quotations from the scientist. A couple of them seemed particularly relevant to current times.
“As long as I have any choice in the matter, I shall live only in a country where civil liberty, tolerance, and equality of all citizens before the law prevail.”
“The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.”
The statue and bench are at one side of a circular dais. If you stand at the center of the dais where a number of lines meet, Einstein appears to be looking directly at you and when you speak your words are notably amplified.
The National Academy of Sciences is a United States non-profit, non-governmental organization. Members are elected based on their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Election to the academy is one of the highest honors in the scientific field. Founded in 1863, as a result of an Act of Congress that was approved by Abraham Lincoln, the NAS is charged with “providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. … to provide scientific advice to the government whenever called upon by any government department” Unfortunately, the current government does not appear to be seeking that input.
Across Constitution Avenue from the Einstein Memorial and even more hidden from the road is the Vietnam War Memorial. It is one of Washington’s simplest but most effective memorials. Designed by American architect, Maya Lin, it was completed in 1982. It consists primarily of a memorial wall made up of two long granite walls that are sunken into the ground. At the highest point where the two walls meet, the walls rise to over ten feet. At the lowest point at each end to they taper to just eight inches. The wall includes the names of 58,320 American service members who are either classified as “declared dead” (denoted by a diamond next to the name) or are missing in action (denoted by a cross). It is not a complete list because some names have been omitted at the request of families.
Perhaps Washington’s most iconic memorial stands at the western end of the National Mall.
Taking the form of a neoclassical temple, the Lincoln Memorial was designed by Henry Bacon and dedicated in 1922.
Sitting inside the Memorial is a large sculpture of Lincoln sitting in contemplation. It is by the American sculptor, Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) and is another popular selfie spot.
A beautiful porch surrounds the Memorial supported by 36 columns, representing each of the states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death.
From the front steps of the Memorial there is a beautiful view over the Reflecting Pond back over the National Mall toward the Washington Monument.
The Memorial has become a symbolically important venue, especially for the Civil Rights movement. The African-American singer Marian Anderson sang there at the suggestion of Eleanor Roosevelt, after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to perform before an integrated audience at their nearby Constitution Hall. On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Memorial to an estimated 250,000 people.
It has also been included in numerous books, films and televisions show. In the 1994 movie, Forest Gump, Forrest (Tom Hanks) gives a speech from the memorial steps before wading into the reflecting pond to reunite with his friend Jenny.
Near to the Memorial is the Headquarters of the United States Institute of Peace. The building, noted for its unique roof, conveying a dove’s wings, was designed by architect Moshe Safdie.
The Institute is an American federal institution tasked with promoting conflict resolution and prevention worldwide. It provides research, analysis, and training to individuals in diplomacy, mediation, and other peace-building measures. To that end it is well located, because it is very close to the headquarters of the Department of State.
We made a mental note to return to the Department of State in the springtime because they were in the middle of planting thousands of tulip bulbs.
We completed the walk, passing by the headquarters of an organization that has been much in the news of late. The Pan American Health Organization serves as the regional office for the Americas of the World Health Organization. This year the PAHO has filed for landmark status for its Modernist headquarters which were built in 1965. The building was designed by the renowned Uruguayan Modernist architect Roman Fresnedo Siri.