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Published: October 5th 2009
The National Gallery of Art Sculture Garden
"Thinker on a Rock" by Barry Flanagan, 1997.
We feared it would be raining all day long yet again, especially since it was drizzling when we left the house, but Saturday turned out to be a gorgeous, albeit hot, clear day in DC. As we now know we won't be living in this area for much longer, my husband and I took a day off from packing and moving preparations to explore a few places in Washington, DC that we had yet to visit, such as the National Archives.
We did take a quick stroll through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, which is across the street from the Archives, so that we could enjoy the outdoor exhibit while the sun was shining, though the weather never did get wet again. Then we excitedly passed through the basement entry into the exhibit area of the National Archives since we'd been wanting to see with our own eyes the powerful documents that helped create our country.
The National Archives is a fabulous building with incredible architectural details. The signs guide you down turning hallways toward the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, the resting place of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
The dimly-lit chamber has a vague resemblance to one-half of the Pantheon with its coffered half-dome, a central wall niche outlined by Corinthian columns, and a dark, elegant coloring running through the marble columns and floor.
Few photos came out as there was no flash photography, no natural sunlight and very little artificial lighting. We traveled around the room with the crowd of tourists, scanning over many of the old documents, including the Declaration of Independence, which was faded and not lit, so I couldn't read it and didn't get a photo. In the center of the room is a display case containing the four yellowed pages of the Constitution, watched over by a quiet, still guard. It was lit just enough to photograph and was still quite readable. It looked just as we expected, and almost exactly as it's reproduced in history books and on posters, but being right there - within inches of the famous, revolutionary document - provided a powerful connection with an important turning point in our history, the birth of a new world. Next was the Bill of Rights, which was also lit but faded. After a few more display cases, we wandered out
The National Gallery of Art Sculture Garden
"House I" by Roy Lichtenstein, 1996/98. An optical illusion: is it popping out towards you or receding away from you?
of the Rotunda and off to see more of the Archives.
We walk once more past the display case dedicated to one of the only four remaining copies of the Magna Carta, and the only copy on display in the United States, before traveling through a few more exhibits. We explore the BIG exhibit, which celebrates their "big anniversary" of 75 years with a display of big relics and big ideas including, for example, a 13-foot scroll of the Articles of the Confederation, the enormous 7-foot long bathtub of President William Taft, and Shaquille O'Neal's size 22 shoe.
After the Archives we returned to the Sculpture Garden for lunch at the Pavilion Cafe. We sat by the large windows lining three walls of the tiny cafe, people-watching the crowds gathering in the 6-acre park. Seth had a Caesar salad that he enjoyed and I had a cheese pizza that was surprisingly delicious, mostly because of the quality cheeses, all of which we followed up with a fudge brownie that was gooey and a little too rich. What I mostly liked was the view and, after walking around in unexpected heat and humidity at four-and-a-half months pregnant, I really
The National Archives Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom
The case in the center of the photo holds the Constitution.
appreciated the luxuriously comfortable, cushioned wicker chairs the cafe provided at all of their indoor tables.
Then we crossed the National Mall towards the Smithsonian Institute, also known as the Smithsonian Castle because of its Medieval Revival architecture that gives it the appearance of a turreted and crenelated castle. The castle is actually an information center with knowledgeable guides, brochures in many languages and a continuous video that gives visitors an overview of all of the Smithsonian museums.
James Smithson, the founder of the Smithsonian Institution, was an English scientist who never visited the United States but willed that his entire estate be used to establish an institution in DC upon his death in 1829. He's now entombed within the castle.
The castle is also worth a visit to explore the decorative rooms filled with artifacts collected from various Smithsonian museums, like the bright, vaulted hall pictured here in the photos.
We met up with our friend, Ray, and made our final touristy stop of the day at the National Museum of American History, another Smithsonian that we'd always intended to visit, but that had been closed due to renovations for quite a few months.
The National Archives
Detail of the Constitution, Page 1.
Upon first entering the American History museum we, of course, went right to the Star-Spangled Banner display to view the 200-year old, 30 by 34-foot flag that inspired the National Anthem. The tattered wool and cotton flag, with 15 stars and 15 stripes, is on display within a special room with limited light. The lighting scheme is supposed to represent that of "dawn's early light," as well as functioning to protect the delicate flag. There was no photography allowed, though I imagine it's really something you need to see in person to truly appreciate.
We then spent the majority our of time on the top floor, exploring the Popular Culture Selections exhibit with Dorothy's Ruby Slippers and Kermit the Frog, the American Presidency and Abraham Lincoln exhibit with Lincoln's Top Hat, the Gunboat "Philadelphia," and the Price of Freedom exhibit that traces the history of the American military.
While walking around the Mall the guys were fascinated to realize that many women were looking at me and, more specifically, at my belly. Being only four-and-a-half months pregnant means that I'm barely showing, but there's just enough of a bump to draw attention from women who've already had children.
The National Archives
The Constitution, Page 1.
It was the first time I wore maternity pants in public, and even though that's a subtle enough wardrobe choice that most men don't notice, the women that have sported them do notice, and I noticed many of them looking at me. It was a strange amount of attention and even though my hips have been bothering me, I really enjoyed walking around DC again, even though I know I probably won't be back for many years.
We ended the day with a Thai dinner at a patio table just off Pennsylvania Avenue, as the sun was starting to sink below the buildings and the locals were emerging to walk their dogs and baby carriages along the cobbled sidewalks.
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