These famous quotes, which are inscribed at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C., really had an impact on me when we saw them last summer.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our first full day in D.C., we did pretty much everything and almost nothing. We could have stayed there a week and not seen and done all of the things we wanted to do, but we did our best to hit all the highlights, starting with a ride on the Washington Metro. I love riding trains in different cities, and I really loved the design of their stations!
We found plenty of pigeons as soon as we arrived downtown:
Our first stop was at the nation’s capital’s castle…the Smithsonian Castle. It’s a beautiful building with a lovely garden, and the workers there were very helpful in showing us where all of the various museums are located (our one big sadness was that the Air and Space Museum was closed for renovations).
From there we headed to what may be the most recognizable monument in the country, where we had a Hamilton moment…”She tells my story.”
Of course we also saw the Lincoln Memorial (and lots of ducklings along the way, while we played “On Your Left!”):
We visited the not-quite-complete Korean War Veterans Memorial. Maybe it’s because we watch M*A*S*H so much, but this was another favorite of mine.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was probably the busiest (outside of the Lincoln Memorial), and there were many flowers and notes:
There is also a separate Vietnam Women’s Memorial:
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is even more impressive in person, and there was something especially humbling about visiting it around Juneteenth.
There is also a District memorial (the only such memorial in the city), the District of Columbia War Memorial, which recognizes those from the nation’s capital that served in WWI. Both General John J. Pershing and John Philip Sousa were present at its dedication in 1931.
The nation’s WWI Memorial (which is not fully complete) is not located on the Mall near the others, but we did stumble across it, and the statue of General Pershing, eventually:
We weren’t sure what the Eisenhower Executive Office Building was when we first saw it, but the French Second Empire architectural style is easy to identify:
I’m not going to lie…we were a little underwhelmed by the view of the White House…between the fencing and the distance the public is kept from it, it’s hard to feel like you really saw it:
Until you realize that there is a much better view from the other side! Our house is a very, very, very fine house! And we got to do the Cha Cha Slide in the street out front. I was hoping to do our favorite group dance on our trip, but I was not expecting to do it at the most famous address in America!
We also walked through Lafayette Square, where we admired the statues of Lafayette (of course), Kościuszko, von Steuben, and Rochambeau, making it a park dedicated to Europeans (two Frenchmen, a Polish general, and a Prussian), who assisted the new nation in the Revolutionary War.
We stopped to get a Philly cheesesteak of all things from a D.C. food truck…I’ve never been to Philadelphia myself, but Ryan tells me it was pretty authentic!
Then it was time to visit some Smithsonians. We started with the National Museum of American History. I was very disappointed that the gallery that houses the Ruby Slippers was being renovated, so we didn’t get to see those, but I did especially enjoy a display about the nation’s First Ladies:
Moose was interested in the section dedicated to American music:
And Chickadee was very excited to see Abraham Lincoln’s actual hat:
We also visited the National Museum of Natural History, where the main attraction was the Hope Diamond.
There were lots of other cool things to see, too (we even touched a piece of Mars!), even though the layout of the museum made it a little challenging to figure out where to go next.
We also visited the National Archive (no photography permitted), where it was a moving experience to see not only the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, but also the 1297 Magna Carta, which strangely few people seemed interested in.
Afterwards, we stopped at an ice cream truck outside the museums:
And then got on the train to grab dinner at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Full details on our meal there in the future, but it was delicious!
After eating, we hopped back on the train to return to the National Mall. Near the station, we came across another memorial. The different branches of the military have their own memorials scattered throughout the D.C. area. We didn’t see them all (and photographed even less of them), but I really thought the design of the United States Navy Memorial was cool:
We located a statue of John Paul Jones, and I continued my tradition of not being able to remember the phrase he is famous for saying (“I have not yet begun to fight!”).
I liked seeing how the evening light made the Washington Monument look as we took another lap around the reflecting pool:
We even found someone willing to take a family photo!
We stopped by the German-American Friendship Garden, which I felt a particular connection to.
Our evening walk also took us past a statue of a “hometown hero” from my childhood, Kazimierz Pulaski. I was never really clear as to why he was so popular in Illinois and especially Chicago, although I suspect the large Polish population in the area has something to do with it, but it was still cool to see someone from the Revolution so obscure to so many but so familiar to me!
The Waldorf Astoria isn’t particularly significant…I just thought it looked pretty:
“If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. But be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I hope I’ve emphasized that the Cakeway to the West project is about more than just art to me. I’m not sure if I’ve shared one of the stories that is one of the big reasons why, though.
When I photographed this cake in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue at Fountain Park, an older (not sure I want to use the word elderly, but close to it, at least), gentleman stopped to talk to me. He wanted to know if I was officially involved with Stl250 (sadly no), and if I had seen some of the other cakes at some of his favorite places. Your basic cake-related small talk that takes places over many of these installations.
But then he said something that humbled me and touched me in a way that I didn’t expect a public art project could. He thanked me, for photographing the cake and the statue. Because he’s afraid that people will forget Dr. King, and he wanted to thank me for my role in keeping his memory alive. Here I was, just taking a picture of cake in its setting, but to him, I was doing something so much bigger, something with lasting value.
I think that was the day (May 25, if you’re keeping track), that I realized that this is about more than just art, or a scavenger hunt, or even celebrating St. Louis’ birthday. It’s about stories. The stories of the city, and the stories of the individuals who live here. These stories (and seeing the places that go with them), have truly changed my life. I’ve tried to hear as many of those stories as I can as I’ve traveled the metro area, but none have stayed with me the way that conversation on a Sunday afternoon in May has.