At Last, the Next to Last Washington Post
By Todd Hatton
By the time anyone reads this, Angela and I will have returned from our vacation to Washington, D.C. We survived the 795 trip from D.C., through Maryland and West Virginia, then across the length of the Commonwealth to return safe, sound, and very, very tired.
So, if you happened to read my last post from the road, I’ll catch you up.
By Wednesday morning, we were already hitting what I like to call National Historic Fatigue. Washington is a town full to bursting with history, gargantuan, multi-storey marble and granite history. And by the time you’ve seen your umpteenth marble edifice or National Historic Site, they tend to blur together. Their rapid-fire momentousness numbs the brain and before you know it, it’s “oh look, the Apollo 11 command module. Oh look, the red-sequined shoes Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz. <yawn> Oh look, the Hope Diamond. Oh look, etc.”
We gamely kept to our rather loose schedule of places and things to see, but we slowed the pace. The fewer forced marches, the better.
On Wednesday morning, Angela and I split up. She went to the Botanical Gardens while I headed off to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Angela had toured it before, and was understandably reluctant to do it again. I felt obligated however, so I went.
I’m not really sure what to say about it. Part of me thinks the less said, the better. After all, how can words measure the magnitude of the horrors documented within the museum’s walls?
Another part wants to list every name lost to the crematoria, every place, home to Jews for centuries, destroyed by sheer mechanical hatred.
When Angela and I got back together, we took the train to Arlington National Cemetery. We visited the Kennedy gravesites and located the final resting place of one of my literary heroes, Mr. Samuel D. Hammett of Maryland. If you’re among the uninitiated, he wrote a book called The Maltese Falcon.
After a rather grim day, we headed back to the B&B and put a hurtin’ on a bottle of good Riesling, some excellent cheese, and a pair of lemon curd bars.
At 10 am, Thursday, we took a tour of Ford’s Theater on 10th Street NW. As grim as its subject was, I was riveted to every exhibit: the suit Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was shot, Booth’s Spencer carbine, and the derringer he used to kill the President.
I did think it was either a genius of design or a remarkable coincidence that when one stood before the tiny murder weapon, an image of John Wilkes Booth stared back, reflected from a photograph on the wall behind. A little spooky, really.
Upstairs, we looked into the Presidential Box:
The rocking chair in the foreground is where President Lincoln sat. It’s not the original however, that one is in a museum in Chicago, Illinois. The small cane chair next to it is original. It’s the same one Mary Todd Lincoln sat in, close to her husband, on that fateful night.
The museum has kept the theater as it looked on April 14th, 1865:
And the thing that struck me most was how small the box was. The theater overall was not especially big, which is surprising considering that on the night Lincoln was shot, there were about 17 hundred people in the audience, most of whom would end up on the street.
Our next stop was the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Believe me, nothing makes you more grateful we live in the 21st century than seeing what was running around millions of years ago. Take for example the remains of this charming little fish:
May I introduce to you Carcharocles megalodon, or at least its jaws. The fish attached to these teeth could grow up to 67 feet in length and scientists say, or rather hope, this shark became extinct some one and a half million years ago. From their mouths to G-d’s ears, I say.
Then it was off to the font of all, or most, public radio, the Washington headquarters of National Public Radio and a tour from NPR Station Rep Gemma Hooley.
First, let me say that I have come to absolutely adore Gemma, who took the time to give a couple of public radio grunts the fifty cent tour of Where It All Happens. She also let us observe about 20 or so minutes of All Things Considered, with Ann Taylor bustling back and forth between the director and the news reader’s booth, and Robert Siegel not 20 feet away doing what he does every afternoon. We didn’t get the chance to hobnob, but it was inspiring and instructive to see these talented and extremely hard-working people in action. I got tired just watching them.
For our last day, Angela and I headed over to the Chevy Chase area of D.C. to visit Politics and Prose, the second-best bookstore in the United States after The Strand in New York. I’ve now come to the conclusion that a visit to Washington is incomplete without a trip to Politics and Prose.
We wrapped up our last day with a wonderful dinner at Mai Thai’s with a relative of Angela’s, Reuters Congressional correspondent Susan Cornwell. Susan is a fascinating person, and an incredibly intelligent one as well. I know who I’ll be angling to hang out with at that next family reunion.
Saturday morning, we began what turned out to be the arduous journey back through Maryland and West Virginia. It was the kind of drive that made me wish I had flown. And I hate flying. But, the roads magically cleared when we crossed over into Kentucky near Ashland and we were heck-bent for leather all the way back to Murray.
Dang, it’s good to be home.