You know, the US election is not that long ago, and I got a bit swept up in it and it’s made me reflect back on my time in the nation’s seat of power, the capital Washington DC. I don’t know about others, but I found when I visited this destination you couldn’t avoid the feeling you were an extra in an episode of ‘The West Wing’.
I should preface that by saying, first of all, I was lucky enough to have made a couple of friends when I had been travelling and had a place to stay for free in Washington. I really wish I still had my diaries from this time in my life, but still I do remember enough. They worked for Congressmen, would you believe? I kinda feel like every second person in DC works somehow in politics, but yes, I stayed with a couple, one of which worked for a congressman. Not that I met him or took a tour of the capital, but still.
The thing is, if you watch enough of The West Wing or the right movies, it becomes familiar to you. The Capital building, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. In reflection, I wish I’d known more about the place and the USA before I went there. Although I have no immediate plans to return to the States (when able to) I certainly hope that before my life is done I get back to Washington DC to fully appreciate the place for what it is and what it means to so many people.
The result is, well, I guess I didn’t fully appreciate what I saw or where I went. I stayed in this town house which actually wasn’t too far from the National Mall, the strip between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Building. The Capitol Building is where the two houses of Congress sit and debate, and presumably if they are anything like the MPs in Australia, spend most of their time yelling abuse at the other side. I remember walking from the townhouse to the Mall, and that it didn’t take so long.
The streets where I stayed were honestly awesome, with flags outside the houses, not wide streets, shady, a few trees, red brick buildings, it really was something like I had ‘seen on TV’. I knew that I was in a special place.
Remember, Washington DC was a purpose built capital. Such as, you know… NurSultan for example or in the case of my own country, Canberra. However, no purpose built capital presents with the awe that Washington DC does, let me tell you! It’s built on the banks of the Potomac River, and I think was once swamp land.
John Adams, the second ever President of the USA and one of the founding fathers (along with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and the like) was the first President to reside in the White House, which if the HBO mini-series (John Adams) is anything to go by, was the very first building built for the city, completed around 1800. Before then the President resided in New York City I believe, or Philadelphia where the Congress sat before independence and some time after before they elected the first President.
I really eat this stuff up these days, as you might be able to tell. This Mall is awesome really, it’s huge, punctuated by the Capital at one end, the (let’s be honest here) phallic Washington Monument in the middle and the Lincoln Memorial at the very end. At the time, I knew about Washington and Lincoln as I walked down the Mall. I also found the memorials to the Vietnam and Korean Wars there too.
There are also various Smithsonian Museums on the Mall. Including the Air and Space Smithsonian, which was the one I elected to visit. I mean, you would, wouldn’t you? And to one side and up a bit, but not that far away and seemingly not as impenetrable as you might think, stands the White House. In the John Adams series we see he moves in with in yet to be finished, a long time before electricity and it’s Autumn going into Winter. A big, empty house where he lives by the fire. Today so many people work in it! Such a contrast to its humble beginnings. In the mini-series, it appears to be in the middle of a wood on swamp land. Look at the city today!
After I stood by and admired the Lincoln Memorial – fun fact for those who imagine American politics has always been as it is today, Lincoln was the 13th President, a Republican President. The Republican Party was the anti-slavery party at the time, and Lincoln was the President who abolished it. Even fifty years ago the Democratic Party appeared to play better in the ‘South’ than the Republicans. Neither party existed in the time of Adams.
I walked around the lake there to the FDR Memorial, but to be honest I knew the name but nothing about this man. Another amazing story actually possibly the MOST amazing story – Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the ONLY President to serve more than two terms. He won FOUR elections. Only to die shortly after being sworn in after his fourth win. Not only that, he was wheelchair bound but managed to keep it a secret, I think until his death! He would be propped up by his helpers when making speeches in such a way to make him seem to be standing. He was President from the early 1930s through most of the Second World War. Harry Truman took over when he died in 1945. Can you imagine a President hiding something like this these days?
Finally, I finished my walk at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. He was the third President, and fried to John Adams, then not, then later in life again. I knew the name, I knew he had been a President, but that was all in 2004. And here’s another amazing fact – (if you are interested in American Politics, you really should see the John Adams mini series!) both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day in 1926. The date? The fourth of July!
As you can see, I have gotten quite excited writing this post! I know we can look at the USA sometimes and shake our heads in disbelief, but their history, though not nearly as ancient as that of so many countries, is fascinating. One of the reasons I guess is that it’s NOT as old, so much more is known about it! I hope you enjoyed today’s rantings. Do you find American history and politics interesting? Let me know! Thanks for reading – May the Journey Never End!