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by Dan and Jan Ahart
Washington, D.C. should be visited by every American. It should be seen, not just because it is the capital of this great nation, but it is also the repository of more museum artifacts than anywhere else on earth. The museum buildings, most of which are under the auspices of the Smithsonian, arguably, contain the greatest collection of priceless objects in the world - from the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution to the Hope Diamond and the Wright Brothers Flier. It would take months to explore all of the Smithsonian, the National Park Service and governmental buildings. The content of the buildings notwithstanding, the buildings themselves are worth the visit. From the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol itself, the buildings are bigger than life and befit a great nation. There is so much to see and do in such a small space. The capital is just ten miles square but it is truly a remarkable place. Of all we saw and did, a few thoughts stand out. First, we heard and saw people from all over the world. Sometimes it seemed that the foreign visitors outnumbered American visitors. We were even asked on occasion to explain some written description of a photo or document to foreign visitors. American English is so rich in metaphor that literal translations often leave a non-American perplexed. It was an honor to help, especially when the question had to do with our form of government, which is obviously of great interest to people the world over.
Aside from the monuments, the sheer size, magnificence, and preservation of the many historical and government buildings is amazing. The Supreme Court stands out as one of the most impressive and awe inspiring buildings in this almost overwhelming collection of awe inspiring buildings. Even the old National Post Office is beautiful. There must be more beautifully carved marble and granite in Washington than anywhere else in America. It filled us with pride to be there, especially when we saw the impressions on the faces of foreign visitors. Americans have every right to be proud of their capital. Ford's theater, by contrast, is a very sobering experience in that it has been restored to look exactly as it did when Lincoln was assassinated. His clothes, and the murder weapon are on display as well as many other artifacts of that fateful night. Third, we came away with a renewed appreciation for the truly unique country we are privileged to live in. Not only is our government and our Constitution, with its Bill of Rights the envy of the world, but also the United States, in just over 200 years of existence, has produced some truly remarkable statesmen and heroes.
I must single out Arlington National Cemetery as probably the most impressive experience during our stay. We were privileged to have the time to wander a fairly representative sample of this 600 plus acre cemetery. We saw the graves of five star Generals and Admirals adjacent to those of the lowest ranks. Walking among the graves and reading the inscriptions, transitions the abstraction of distant wars and past conflicts to an almost personal experience. I have visited some of the American cemeteries in Europe and read hundreds of the thousands of names on the walls of the monument at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, but those did not compare to the feelings generated at Arlington. Even the history of the land is unique in that its ownership entwines the Custis family, the Washington family and the Lee family. The property was purchased in the early 1700s by Daniel Parker Custis, who died young leaving his widow Martha and two children. Martha married George Washington. Her son, Jackie Custis inherited the property and passed it on to his grandaughter, Mary, who married Robert E. Lee. The Lee's lived on the property for 30 years in Arlington House, which sits on a high hill overlooking Washington, DC. The land was confiscated during the Civil War, but after the war, Robert E. Lee's son, George Washington Custis Lee was compensated for it with a payment of $150,000. Arlington House is now a museum in the heart of the cemetery and is furnished with many of George and Mary Washington's belongings, including George Washington's violin. Another connection between the families was Robert E. Lee's father, Henry, who was known as "Light Horse Harry Lee," for his daring exploits during the Revolutionary War. He was one of George Washington's favorite protégé's. He served as Governor of Virginia and as a member of Congress. He gave the eulogy at Washington's funeral, in which he stated that George Washington was, "First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
Our anchorage was in Washington Channel, just off the Potomac River and the location was extremely convenient. A subway access was just two blocks away as was a supermarket and small shopping center. The major seafood market for the city was also only one block away. The only, less than great, aspect of our location, was the fact that Washington Channel is the flyway for helicopters ranging from Marine One to commercial helicopters and military aircraft used for transport of VIPs traveling around the city. Since the city is so compact and the air corridors for Ronald Reagan International Airport and the no-fly areas over the white house and other off-limits areas limit the airspace, the Washington Channel, has became a major flying corridor. It seemed that most of the traffic was between the Pentagon and the Navy Yard or Andrews Air Force Base, which is home to Air Force One and is also the landing area of all Heads of State, who fly to the United States. Sometimes the helicopter noise was deafening. Marine One, the helicopter the President uses to fly around in, is often seen on the news. What isn't often seen is that there are always three helicopters used, one carrying the President and the other two used as decoys. The streets around the White House were blocked to vehicular traffic years ago, and when Marine One lands on the South Lawn, the streets are cleared of sightseers. Armed guards can also be seen inside the fence around the White House. We have come a long way from the days when Harry Truman used to take his daily walk on the sidewalks along the streets surrounding the White House.
There are three marinas one can use in downtown Washington, D.C. All of them accept transients and all allow full-time liveaboards. The marina fees were excellent considering the cost of living in the capital. Overnight transient fees were $1.00 per foot of boat length plus $5 for electricity. Water and use of the toilets and showers is included in the fee. Anchoring out is also an option, which is what we did. For $5 a day, access can be had to the dinghy dock, which also includes water for filling the boat's fresh water tanks and use of the showers, toilets, washers and driers. In other words, for $5 a day, we were able to stay in downtown Washington, D.C. with all its amenities. We thought it was the best bargain we have so far encountered in our travels. At the time we were anchored there were usually 10 other boats at anchor, so it wasn't at all crowded. Washington Channel is about a mile long and perhaps 300 yards wide with marinas on one side and a golf course on the other. It is open to the Potomac at the South end and the Tidal Basin at the North end. We were within easy walking distance of the Jefferson Memorial. city also boasts a new jogging and bicycle trail that is 17 miles long and stretches from well North of the Pentagon all the way to Mt. Vernon, which by the way, was named after Admiral Edward Vernon of the British Navy. George Washington's older, half-brother, Lawrence, by his father's first marriage had served under Admiral Vernon and when he built his estate on the property in 1743, he named it for the Admiral. Lawrence died of tuberculosis and bequeathed the property to George. Both George and Martha Washington on buried in an ivy covered mausoleum that is located on the grounds of their beloved Mt. Vernon.
No story of Washington, D.C. would be complete without some information about
its namesake. George Washington was largely educated by his father.
He was a quick study, an excellent equestrian and very methodical
and capable in whatever he set out to do. He was appointed surveyor
of Culpepper County in Virginia at the age of 17 and although he had
no formal military training he was appointed adjutant of the Virginia
colonial militia, with the rank of Major at the age of 20. It was
a position his half brother had held. He distinguished himself in
early encounters with the Indians and French interlopers and by the
age of 23 he was the Colonel in charge of the state militia. Additional
Indian and French skirmishes further enhanced his reputation, as did
his involvement in the colony's House of burgesses. By the time the
Declaration of Independence was signed, Colonel Washington was widely
respected as an Indian war hero, very effective politician, extremely
successful farmer and one of the wealthiest men in America. He inherited
several thousand acres from his father and half brother and Martha
brought an additional 15,000 acres when they married. To say George
Washington was smart, respected, successful and dedicated is a gross
understatement. He also knew that virtually everything he said and
did as the first President, would be precedent for all to follow and
he was very careful in everything he did to set the best precedent
he could, even to voluntarily limiting himself to two terms. He was
held in such high regard that he could have been President for life
and was indeed encouraged to declare himself King by many admirers.
A measure of the man and his love for his country is the fact that
he paid the wages of the continental army out of his own pocket for
nearly two years during the revolution and then refused to be reimbursed
by Congress. He felt that many had sacrificed more than he had.
Next, we head back South. Stay tuned.