… Continued from Part II:
The Library of Congress – This impressive granite structure is situated facing the East (front) side of the US Capitol. The main building, known as the Thomas Jefferson Building, opened in 1897 and the interior design has been amazing people since. Throughout the building, there are paintings, sculptures, and mosaics, all dedicated to the theme of “knowledge”. There are quotes from Confucius, Shakespeare, Milton and more in the Great Hall. You can view the Main Reading Room from the second floor. In the Main Reading Room you will see stained glass windows dedicated to the seals of States and Territories as of 1897. There are also 8 giant marble statues each one representing the characteristics of civilized life and thought. Below that are 16 bronze statues paying tribute to men whose lives were devoted to the subject they represent: Moses & Saint Paul (Religion), Robert Fulton and Columbus (Commerce), Edward Gibbon and Herodotus (History), Francis Bacon and Plato (Philosophy), Homer and Shakespeare (Poetry), James Kent and Solon (Law) and Joseph Henry Isaac Newton (Science). Below you can see researchers at one of the 236 desks, where they have access to the vast collection of the library. On display in the Great Hall are The Gutenberg and Mainz Bibles. The Gutenberg Bible is the first book printed with moveable metal type in Western Europe. The Mainz Bible is handwritten (and oh so impressive). Both bibles were made in Mainz, Germany in the 1450s. While we were there we took a look at Thomas Jefferson’s library. The original Library of Congress burned in 1814 when British troops set fire to the building. Thomas Jefferson sold his collection of 6,487 books to Congress in 1815. There was another fire in 1851, destroying about 2/3 of Jefferson’s books. Today you can view his collection in the library, as well as books he owned that the library has acquired. Now, in the day of digital books, I don’t know if I could ever accumulate over 6,000 books. If you make your way to the Library of Congress, you can take a free tour of the building. The tours are about an hour long. In addition to touring the building, there are exhibits on display (sometimes rotating), including the Bob Hope Gallery, Civil Rights Movement, and Popular books of America. I particularly loved seeing a few of my favorites in their early editions: Fahrenheit 451, The Wizard of Oz, Where the Red Fern Grows and The Giving Tree.
The Capitol – We were able to get a tour of the Capitol building. You can easily get a tour by going online and picking a date & time. You may be able to get a day of tickets at their walk up booth, but it is strongly suggested you check out availability ahead of time. The day we went was a Thursday, and 90% of the people there were school kids. Your tour may differ depending on what is going on in the building and how many people are there that day. You are first ushered into a large theater and watch a 20-minute video covering the history of Congress, the Capitol building construction and important decisions made in this building. On our tour, we went to the main three rooms of the Capitol. The first stop was the Crypt. It was designed originally to house George Washington’s tomb, however, by the completion of the tomb in 1827, the family of George Washington did not want to relocate his tomb. In the Crypt you can also see a star on the floor, which indicates the center of Washington DC. It also houses 13 statues from the original 13 colonies. Throughout the building there are statues everywhere. In fact, each state is allowed to submit two statues in the Capitol as long as it meets a few requirements: It must be made of marble or bronze, must be there for at least 10 years before it can swapped out, it cannot be someone who is still alive, and has to be an individual from that state. In addition to the state statues, Congress can commission statues. Most recently, Congress commissioned a statue of Rosa Parks after her death in 2005, and in 2013 the statue was revealed. The statues are throughout the building but most of them are near the entrance to the House of Representatives in the National Statuary Hall, this was our next stop on the tour. This Hall was the original House of Representatives until 1857 when the representatives outgrew the room. In this room bronze markers lay on the floor where Presidents who served in the house, desks sat; we saw Andrew Johnson’s marker. After leaving the Statuary Hall, we entered the final room, the Rotunda. In the Rotunda, you can look up to see a beautiful “The Apotheosis of Washington” in the dome. Below the dome is the famous “Frieze of American History”, which shows 19 scenes from American History. As the base of the rotunda are 8 paintings, 4 of them representing American Revolution and independence, and the other 4 representing exploration and colonization of America. California’s second statue is in the rotunda, placed here in 2009, of Ronald Reagan. The base of the statue is made from a piece of the Berlin Wall. The rotunda might look familiar to you, because this is where past Presidents funerals have public viewings here, called lying in state.
If you are visiting the Capitol, you can also view the rooms where the House of Representatives serve, as well as the Senate. However, you will need a special ticket only your Representative can attain for you. You can walk nearby to their offices and talk to their administrative staff to get a ticket. You can also write ahead of time to your representatives for tickets – including White House tickets. As Congress wasn’t in session at the time, we decided to skip doing this. We also ate lunch at the café in the Capitol – and were surprised at how delicious and reasonably priced it was. I mentioned before, each visit to the Capitol can be different based on what is going on. We walked around the outside of the building and were surprised that they are doing exterior repair on the West side. You can always plan ahead, but Washington DC is a city always improving, repairing, shifting and moving. Don’t be surprised if your visit varies from ours.
The Supreme Court – This impressive building is in the heart of DC and home to the highest court in our land. Plan you visit here accordingly. You can check out the Supreme Court calendar and schedule your visits to see it live in action. We went on a Thursday when nothing was happening. We got to hear a 25-minute lecture about the history of the Supreme Court, how it runs, and the history of the building. After the lecture, we went downstairs to view the museum. There are painted portraits of past justices, exhibits about John Marshall, and two beautiful spiral staircases. If you decide to visit the Supreme Court, do know if you sit in on a hearing they are an hour long. There is limited seating for those sitting for 5-10 minutes, and the rest of the seating is for those staying the full hour. There is no photography in the courtroom – regardless of if hearings are going on or not. The Supreme Court is next to the Library of Congress and across the street from the Capitol. It is fairly easy to do all three in a day.
**To be continued…**