Category: Washington DC

Hidden Gem: National Postal Museum – Washington DC

Hidden Gem: National Postal Museum – Washington DC

Not all of the museums that make up the Smithsonian Institute are located on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The National Postal Museum is located across the street from Union Station. It’s not as well-known or visited by as many people as its counterparts on the Mall, but it’s just as interesting.

Now, you may be tempted to think that the National Postal Museum is just for stamp collectors. Not so! There were many really fascinating exhibits about the history of mail, the role of mail in historic events, and how mail is handled around the world.

The building itself is, appropriately enough, located in the historic City Post Office Building, which was constructed in 1914 and served as the Washington, D.C., post office from 1914 through 1986. If you’ve ever been in a post office that old, you know that it is a beautiful place. Far from the generic gray laminate countertop and fluorescent light spaces that they occupy today, post offices in that era were elegant.  They were places of importance. Marble countertops, high ceilings, and shiny brass fixtures that gleamed like gold were prominent features. The National Postal Museum has retained some of that elegance.

One of the first exhibits we saw was about The Inverted Jenny.  It was a 24-cent stamp used in 1918 depicting a plane (the Curtiss JN-4). Unfortunately, during the printing process a mistake was made, and one sheet of 100 stamps was printed with the plane upside down. These stamps are highly sought after by collectors today, and a single one of them can sell in the ball park of $1 million.

Then we saw an envelope that had been postmarked in space.

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The astronauts aboard the Apollo 15 mission postmarked this envelope and the new space stamps on the last day of their mission in 1971. Meanwhile, 238,000 miles away on Earth, post offices around the country issued the stamps for the first time.

We also saw a mailbox that had been located across the street from the World Trade Center during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It held up surprisingly well, all things considered.

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We got to see displays of stamps and mail from around the world, then we went into a hands on area. There, visitors could design a stamp on a computer monitor, or sort through bins of the real thing to find a few for a new or existing collection. I loved looking through the stamps. I’m not a collector but I did find that they came in handy as embellishments for my scrapbook pages!

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We learned about Owney, the little dog who served as a mascot for the US Railway Mail Service. He was a stray who wandered into the Albany Post Office and ended up getting adopted by a worker there. Owney usually slept on the mail bags and whenever they were moved, he went with them. He was a faithful guardian of railway mail and the bags it was carried in, and would not allow anyone other than mail clerks to touch the bags.

Owney’s trips grew longer as the Railway Service expanded and became more widely used. The postal workers in Albany became concerned that if anything would happen to Owney on his travels, he could end up lost. They bought a dog collar with a metal tag that read: “Owney, Post Office, Albany, New York”. Other railway mail stations added a tag, and eventually Owney looked like this:

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Bless his heart. In his many years of travel with the postal service, he was given more than 1000 medals and tags to wear! (And in case you are wondering, that really is Owney. They had him stuffed after his death.)

From there we saw the various methods of mail transport used over the years. There was a stagecoach, a tractor trailer, and an airplane.

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There was a great walk through exhibit about the Pony Express, which contained this fascinating bit of trivia:

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Makes griping about the cost of a stamp seem petty, doesn’t it?

The special exhibit when we were there was “Fire & Ice,” which showed how not all of the casualties on the Hindenburg and Titanic disasters were human.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the National Postal Museum and I would highly recommend visiting there the next time you’re in our nation’s capital!

BARGAIN ALERT!  The Postal Museum provides a selection of postcards for free.  You only have to pay for the postage to mail them.

The National Postal Museum is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington, DC 20002.  Telephone 202-633-5555.  Open daily 10:00 am t o 5:30 pm except Christmas Day. Admission is free.  The nearest Metro station is Union Station on the red line.  Use the Massachusetts Avenue exit and as you come up the escalator, the museum will be directly across the street.

 

World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

The World War II Memorial honors 16 million members of the US Armed Forces, the support of countless millions on the home front, and the ultimate sacrifice of 405,399 Americans who perished in the war.

Twenty-four bronze panels flank the entrance to the memorial. These panels tell the story of America’s experience in the war. Lining the circular fountain are granite columns representing each U.S. state and territory at the time of World War I. There are also quotes engraved in the stone at various locations throughout the memorial. Here are a couple of my favorites.

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A wall of 4,048 gold stars reminds all of the price over 400,000 Americans paid to win that victory.

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Visitors can also search the World War II Registry, a computerized database honoring Americans who helped win the war, either overseas or on the home front.

The memorial is just beautiful, and is definitely worth a visit. I was touched to see some WWII veterans there with their families. I don’t know why it took so long for the memorial to be built, but I’m glad that it was before all of our veterans are gone.

The World War II Memorial is located on the National Mall at 1750 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C.  It can be visited any  time of day, 365 days per year.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Although I have never lived more than 2.5 hours away from Washington DC, and even went to college there, I had never visited the Lincoln Memorial. It seemed like there was always something else vying for my attention and time. So I decided it was about time I went to see it.

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As with most monuments, there is a lot of hidden meaning and symbolism. The USA had thirty-six states when Lincoln was assassinated. The number of columns surrounding the memorial is also 36. The names of the states are also engraved in the frieze at the top of the building, as are the dates on which they entered the Union.

Once you enter, there is the big statue of Lincoln, seated in his chair. I know you’ve seen pictures and movies, so you know it’s big. But standing in front of it, big is not even close to being an adequate description. It’s just one of those things you have to see in person.

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Interestingly, the sculptor positioned Lincoln’s hands in a manner that displayed the two traits that shaped his legacy. One of the president’s hands is clenched, representing his strength and determination to see the Civil War through to a successful conclusion. The other hand is more open and relaxed, representing his compassionate, warm nature.

The statue was originally intended to be only 10 feet tall, but was enlarged to nearly double that size – 19 feet tall from head to foot. To give you an idea of how big that is, imagine if the statue suddenly became animated and stood up. He would be 28 feettall!

It took four years just to complete the statue of Lincoln.

The north and south side of the memorial interior contain carved inscriptions of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address. The editor in me loves the story about how in the inscription of  Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, an engraver inadvertently carved a letter “E” where he meant to carve an “F.” This error was corrected by filling in a portion of the carving.

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While you’re there looking at the Lincoln statue, be sure to turn around for one of the best views of the Washington Monument and the Reflecting pool you will ever see.

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And, as I always say, don’t forget to look up!

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Take the time to visit this memorial and ponder the significance of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency on our country. You’ll be glad you did.

Confession:  I have never been to the Washington Monument or the Jefferson Memorial, either. Stay tuned!

The Lincoln Memorial is located at the Western end of the National Mall and Memorial Park in Washington DC.  Public parking is available along Ohio Drive, SW between the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials. If taking public transportation, the closest Metro stop is Foggy Bottom (orange and blue lines), about a mile away. The monument can be visited any time, day or night, 365 days per year.

Waxing Historical in Washington DC

Waxing Historical in Washington DC

The Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in Washington DC has been open since 2007. At the time, it was the third branch of the attraction in the United States, the other two being in New York and Las Vegas.

The DC Madame Tussaud’s has wax figures of all 45 US Presidents. The attention to detail and life-like appearance is nothing short of amazing:

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But there are also figures of celebrities on display. This was my favorite:

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And I thought they did a great job of capturing Will Smith’s facial expressions:

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There are first ladies, sports figures, and musicians, too. Families with scouts will appreciate that Lord Baden Powell and Juliette Gordon Low are also represented.

Now, the great thing about Madame Tussauds is that the figures are not cordoned off behind velvet ropes or hidden behind a glass display case. You can walk right up to them and even touch them. (My daughter, who was about 8 years old when we visited, walked straight up to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and poked her finger in his belly button. I’m not sure why, but it was quite amusing to watch!)

Madame Tussauds Washington DC is located at 1001 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. Telephone 1-866-841-3505. The attraction is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.

How to Go Around the World in One Day

How to Go Around the World in One Day

Every year on a Saturday in May, you can travel many countries without ever leaving the US.  It’s part of a Cultural Tourism initiative in Washington DC, and it’s called the Around the World Embassy Tour.

On that designated day, roughly 40 different embassies will open their doors to curious tourists who want to learn more about their countries.  Programs vary from embassy to embassy, but may include displays, food and beverage samples, music, and travel information.

The best part of all is that the program is entirely free and open  to the public.  What a great way to experience and learn about other cultures without the expense of international travel!

The Kazakhstan embassy had mannequins in traditional garb, beautiful woven rugs on the wall, and information about business opportunities in Kazakhstan.

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Australia gave everyone a reusable shopping bag with AUSTRALIA on it .  They also gave us food and wine samples, and provided us with aboriginal music from a didgeridoo.

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Trinidad and Tobago had a steel drum band playing outside, and inside we learned about their traditions for Carnivale.

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The Mexico tour was not in the embassy itself, but in a different building.  It was stunning. There was a multi-story mural of Mexico’s history, stained glass windows, and a gorgeous tiled room where they had a woman playing the guitar.

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So, if you’re planning to be in DC during the month of May, check the Cultural DC website to see if your visit will coincide with the embassy tour.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to travel around the world in one day, too!

Hidden Gem: Einstein Memorial

Hidden Gem: Einstein Memorial

Lincoln. Jefferson. Washington.  These are the monuments you think of when someone mentions Washington DC.  But there a total of 160 monuments/memorials in our nation’s capital.  Some are odd, some are obscure.  The Albert Einstein memorial is just fun.

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The memorial shows a 4-ton bronze figure of Einstein seated on a granite bench. His expression is almost quizzical, and of course his hair is tussled looking.  In his left hand, Einstein a paper with mathematical equations for three of Einstein’s most important scientific contributions: the photoelectric effect, the theory of general relativity, and the equivalence of energy and matter.

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The bench features three quotations from Einstein:

As long as I have any choice in the matter, I shall live only in a country where civil liberty, tolerance, and equality of all citizens before the law prevail.

Joy and amazement of the beauty and grandeur of this world of which man can just form a faint notion.

The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.

The platform at his feet is actually a star map embedded with more than 2,700 metal studs representing the planets, sun, moon, and stars.

None of that sounds particularly fun, which is how I described it at the beginning of this post.  But there is something so grandfatherly about this statue and so benevolent about Einstein’s facial expression.  I have never visited this memorial and not seen someone climb up to sit in Einstein’s lap.

Joy and amazement, indeed.

The Einstein Memorial is located at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Avenue, in Washington DC.