Monday, May 3, 2010

The Heartbeat of the Nation

Magnet # 232:  Sights of Washington D.C. Photo Montage

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  The Spinks Family

Today marks the anniversary of Washington D.C. being incorporated as a city in 1802. The necessity of creating a permanent, separate capitol for the United States had been stressed for years, but it wasn't until 1790 that the Residence Act settled the matter, establishing the site along the Potomac River. The location of the nation's capitol had been a subject of fierce debate, with neither the South nor the North wanting it placed in the other region's side. But some states in the North had also accrued a serious amount of debt during the Revolutionary War and they wanted the federal government to pick up the tab. Obviously, the Southern states weren't too fond of this idea, as it meant they would have to pay for the Northerner's debt. So it was Thomas Jefferson who finally managed to broker a compromise - the federal government would assume the debt of the Northern states, but the nation's capitol would be located in the South. Ten square miles of land was taken from Maryland and Virginia to form The District of Columbia, or Washington, D.C. The federal city was called Washington in George Washington's honor. The district was named after Christopher Columbus - some felt that the Americas ought to have been named Columbia in his honor and the word a became poetic name that was often used to describe the United States at that time. Even then, some felt that the capitol wouldn't shift from Philadelphia, but George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were determined to realize the nation's capitol, and both personally oversaw the planning. Washington hired Pierre Charles L'Enfant to plan the city, although Andrew Ellicott would later take over that duty. Soon, the White House and Congress were under construction. By 1800, Congress had officially moved to its new home. In doing so, they sent a clear message to the rest of the country - Washington D.C. truly was the capitol, and it wasn't going away anytime soon.

Now, 208 years after its incorporation, Washington D.C. remains the seat of government for the United States and has become one of the most important cities in the nation. Sure, the centers of all three branches of government - the executive, judicial, and legislative - are all located there, but that doesn't mean that this place is just about politics. With a host of attractions and historical sites, the city really is a dream destination for any tourists who are interested in exploring United States history. Some of its most popular attractions - the Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the White House, and the Smithsonian Institute - are all featured on this striking magnet. But that's hardly the extent of this amazing location - there are well over 60 museums and sites that are open for tours. For fans of art, there's quite a few stops including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the National Museum of African Art, and the National Gallery of Art, which is free to tour, as it's owned by the federal government. And if you like books, you can check out the Folger Shakespeare Library, the National Archives, or the Library of Congress.  There are also religious sites to visit, like the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Washington National Cathedral, the Franciscan Monastery, and the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.  And, of course, there are important historical locations like Ford's Theatre National Historic Site and the Woodrow Wilson House.  Or if all of the buildings are too much, try a more nature-oriented spot like the United States Botanic Garden, the National Aquarium, the National Zoological Park, the Potomac Park, or Rock Creek Park.  Even better, these places are often just a brief walk away from one another, as there are so many fit into such a small space. And the city is really a work in progress, with new museums and monuments being opened on a regular basis. Some of the newer additions include 1997's Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the International Spy Museum, which first opened its doors in 2002, and the National World War II Memorial, the African American Civil War Memorial, and the National Museum of the American Indian, all of which opened in 2004. Plus, in 2008, the National Museum of Crime and Punishment opened. And I'm sure there are plenty more in the works. Of course, with all of these amazing places located so close to one another, Washington D.C. brings in throngs of tourists ever year, so expect to have plenty of company on a visit there. Plus, the sheer volume of traffic and parking troubles can be a nightmare, so you may want to use public transportation or see if you can get a hotel that's well-situated or offers a shuttle. Just be careful about where you stay and where you venture - Washington D.C. may no longer have the title of the nation's murder capitol, but it still has plenty of crime. And you may want to plan ahead if you want to get into places like the Capitol Building and the White House, both of which require tour requests or passes from members of Congress.  But even if you can't visit either of these sites, there are obviously plenty of other places to keep you entertained.

Years ago, I traveled to Washington D.C. with my family. I was pretty young, but I do slightly remember touring the White House, seeing the gigantic American flag at the Smithsonian Institute, and walking along the Vietnam Memorial. I even lived there for a brief time when I was even younger, but I don't have any memories of that. But the nation's capitol is definitely worth another visit sometime. Really, there is so much to do and see there you'd almost have to live in the area to experience it all. While I don't think that's going to happen, I'm definitely up for another visit to this incredible city that is truly the only one of its kind.


  1. Another aspect of DC that you did not mention, is the plethora of international restaurants. When we lived there, it was such a treat to try cuisines of many nations.

  2. Hmm...I don't remember the food there at all, but that's a great tip for my next visit - thanks!