Last weekend, Friday July 6 through Monday July 9, my family spent it wandering around our historic nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. We walked those four days and got quite the workout. Except for the first day that was sweltering hot, transforming me into a soggy, drippy human puddle, the walk was absolutely beautiful and a good challenge to my under-exercised body.
We visited the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and Martin Luther King’s Memorial on the first day.
On the second day, which was the most pleasant weather wise, we visited a few museums: The Natural History Museum, American History Museum, and African American History Museum in the National Mall (all part of the Smithsonian). My sons who had not been excited about coming, did enjoy some exhibits. Both of them loved the butterfly pavilion and insect area in the Natural History Museum.
My oldest, Nicholas, also liked the African American History Museum. We both did. It was a very moving and impacting experience. It is three stories full of the history of African Americans, starting with their origins in Africa to the slave ships, slave trade, sugar plantations and the like, and the distinguished men and women in the latter years, including Phillis Wheatley, for whom I wrote about in a blog post a couple of weeks ago! That was especially cool for me to read an excerpt from her poem on display and see her statue.
Each floor progressed further in history. The second story was my favorite. It held the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights artifacts and videos. It also had a special exhibit going on while we were there. What timing! They had on display for a limited time, the casket that young Emmett Till had been buried in until 2005/2006 (can’t remember which year, but it was one of them). There was a line meandering through the second floor. We waited about forty-five minutes or so to go into the room where the coffin was to read about it and look at it.
Gospel music was playing when we entered the room, which tested my ability to keep my tears at bay, and a large sized photograph of Emmett’s destroyed face taken by a newspaper (I think it was Jet) was in a gold picture frame set in the coffin representing him. Thankfully, the casket was elevated, and the coffin’s ledge of the open casket was at my eye level, and I couldn’t see the photo. Incidentally, I’d already seen the photo when I’d watched the excellent documentary Eyes on the Prize a couple of years ago. I didn’t need to see it again.
My oldest son, Nicholas, was behind me sniffling. He said he saw a sliver of the side of Emmett’s battered face and couldn’t bear to see anymore, so he looked away. We walked out of there feeling the grief of the murder of a young boy.
A video was in an alcove explaining the murder of Emmett. Nicholas, poor guy, shed many tears and sniffled a lot. What a huge heart my son has! I managed to stave off the tears that had collected in my eyes.
The next day we went to the Air and Space Museum and looked at all the airplanes and early aircrafts used to fly. We also watched a twenty-five minute film in the planetarium on dark matter, which was fascinating. Don’t ask me to explain dark matter because most of what was presented in the film was quite complicated. But we collectively agreed that was the most interesting film we’d ever see in a planetarium, and we’d seen quite a few in the past!
We then headed to one of the museums I’d been waiting for, the National Gallery of Art. This was a HUGE edifice, as were the others, but this one had two unattached buildings that were a West and an East building. We only got through the first floor and partially the bottom floor. There was too much to take in in the few hours open and available to us! But I saw the early art work by the American artists I’d studied last term in my American Art class, and that was really cool.
I took a picture of one of the paintings of my favorite landscape artist, Albert Bierstadt. It’s called Lake Lucerne, if I remember correctly. What a beauty! I wanted to walk into the scene, it’s so peaceful and gorgeous.
Lastly, I took a picture of artist, Hiram Power’s incredibly beautiful sculpture, The Greek Slave. I studied this piece in my American Art course. It was quite the talk of the public and controversial at the time. Here’s an excerpt on the story behind the sculpture via The Metropolitan Museum of Art:
“The full-length female nude represents a bound prisoner being sold in a Turkish slave market, an allusion to the atrocities that the Turks committed during the Greek War of Independence, and, by implication, to the ongoing debate over slavery in the United States. The Greek Slave toured American cities from Boston to New Orleans between 1847 and 1849, and again into the 1850s, where it drew huge crowds and brought forth, alternatively, outpourings of protest and praise. Miner Kellogg, manager of the statue’s organized tour, assembled a descriptive pamphlet emphasizing the figure’s “high moral and intellectual beauty,” suggesting that—though nude—it was “clothed” in Christian piety. The Greek Slave was also shown in London in 1845 and 1848, and was a centerpiece of the United States display at the Great Exhibition in 1851.”
I’d seen a black and white photo of it in a linked article in my American Art course and a color one in the printed textbook I have, but that did little justice to what I saw in person. It was beyond beautiful in person. A real brilliant and gorgeous work of art!
We then walked up to Chinatown that my son, Nicholas, wanted to see so much. We bought a few souvenirs there and headed back to the hotel.
We finished off our vacation with a visit to Arlington Cemetery where we saw the graves of some well known figures in American history.
(John F. Kennedy grave)
(Robert Kennedy grave)
We’ll be back some time soon to see all the other museums and the rest of the art museum!