By C.I. Sivasubramanian
Aged 95, Retired Director, Ministry of Commerce, New Delhi
The author is from Coimbatore. He has been living in Delhi throughout life. He was employed with the Government of India, Ministry of Commerce and retired as Director in 1986.
Introduction by Venkat
Places are made worthy by the people who live for causes above personal ambitions. Their deeds create history and the deserved structures and spaces built in their honor become the hallmarks of city landscapes. Mr. C. I. Sivasubramanian describes the various structures, architectural wonders and places to visit in the city of Washington DC. He has covered the essential ‘must-see’ places in relevant detail and historical background. This article gives a birds eye-view on what to expect at the capital of USA, Washington DC.
Many seek jobs in USA for career growth and hence knowing about the cities is of good relevance and value. The writing is easy to read with a lively and engaging description.
America is a favourite destination for many Indians. Many have gone and settled down there happily. There were good opportunities to settle down there. Even now many aspire to go and settle down there. There are huge backlog of applications pending with the US Immigration authorities. I am sure many in India would like to know a little more of that country. Let us start with the capital, Washington DC.
(A little explanation here. There are two Washingtons in America one is a state and one is a city. To distinguish the city from the state they have added an addendum DC to denote the city which is otherwise known as District Columbia.)
The White House
The first thing that comes to our mind when we say Washington is the White House, residence of the President of the United States (familiarly known as POTUS). George Washington, the first President chose the site for the White House in 1791. It was designed by an Irish architect named James Hoban. Although President Washington oversaw the construction of the White House he never occupied it. It was John Adams, the second President who occupied the White House first in 1800. Thereafter it was put to fire during America-England war of 1814. It was then constructed and reconstructed many times and even in periods of reconstruction some Presidents continued to live here. As at present the construction is complete although it may need some renovations. The White House is occupied presently by the current President of the USA Joe Biden and his wife. The beautiful mansion, located at 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue, is considered the living museum of American history. It is where history continues to unfold.
The US Capitol (Note the different spelling)
M. Pierre L’Enfant designed the Capitol. There is a Metro Station in the capital city named after him. The Capitol houses the Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) and is the most recognized symbol of democratic government in the world. It is on a hill and is popularly referred to as ‘The Hill’. The Rotunda, the ceremonial hall, is right in the front, with one of the biggest domes in the world at l80 feet above the ground, which is used for ceremonial occasions, like receiving foreign dignitaries, and for the bodies of Presidents (like those of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy) to lie in state. There are various halls, like the old Supreme Court Chamber (now the Court has moved to the front of the Capitol, a few yards away); the Statuary Hall (where the statues of prominent dignitaries of the State have been exhibited); the Crypt (which houses the exhibits on the history of the building); the Brumidi Corridor (Constantino Brumidi, the Italian painter, has painted the ceilings of the Rotunda and other chambers).
The White House and the US Capitol
The Washington Monument was built between 1848 and 1884 as a tribute to George Washington’s military leadership during the American Revolution. An obelix it stands at 555’ tall in the middle of the national mall. It is the Hallmark of Washington and is hailed as the Presidential memorial. The monument can be viewed from the air and from far distances.
The National Mall
The National Mall is part of the US Park system. It is located between the Washington Monument and the Capitol and contains a number of National museums known as Smithsonian Museums. A must visit place for all the visitors to the Washington City. A brief description of these museums is given below.
–The National Museum of Natural History has a collection of gems, including the Hope diamond and other diamonds in pink, blue, and white color, worn by Marie Antoinette, the Czarina and other high dignitaries. The Minerals Section displays various minerals like quartz, crystal, topaz and other minerals in various shades and colours. It also shows a video on how the earth is changing and the earth plates have been moving over the years. A student of mineralogy could spend days collecting materials for a thesis. The mammals section displays animals, including the panda, and pre-historic animals from various parts of the world. All are stuffed animals – for the live ones, one would have to go to the zoo! A film in an IMAX theatre, shows rare species of sea creatures and birds recently discovered in one of the islands south of South America known as Galapagos.
–The National Air and Space Museum: On the Independence Avenue in the Mall is one of the most popular Smithsonian museums. The museum has a collection of the original 1903 Wright Flyer, Lindbergh’s spirit of St. Louis plane, and John Glenn’s Friendship 7 space capsule (John Glenn went into space again on the 29th October, 1998), Apollo 11 Command Module and a space station. It is breath-taking to see these collections in the original. The Langley Theatre in this museum has an IMAX theatre, showing the Grand Canyon in all its natural beauty. The viewer feels as if he is taking a ride on a balloon across the canyon.
–National Archives, there are original manuscripts of the Declaration of Independence, a draft of the American Constitution, the Bill of Rights, as also the great Magna Carta. Though a British document, as it laid the foundation for the rights and privileges of the people, a forerunner for the Bill of Rights, the National Archives obtained an authentic copy for exhibition in this hall.
-The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is a part of the US Treasury. Do you know that the first paper currency was printed, not in America nor in Europe, but in China, way back in the 7th Century! America started printing its currency notes, the dollar bills – popularly known as ‘greenbacks’ – only in 1861. The other currency facility is in Fort Worth in Texas. The attendants in the Bureau will take you around the printing rooms, in a file, and explain the processes involved in the making of currency, step by step. Coins are not minted here. There is an exhibition room downstairs.
The Washington Monument and The National mall
Kennedy Center (The Americans use a different spellings for ‘centre’)
Kennedy centre from outside and the Kennedy statue inside
The Kennedy Centre has six grand theatres devoted to drama, dance, music and films, like Eisenhover theatre, Terrace theatre. It has the longest foyer in the world, measuring 630 feet in length, longer than the Washington Monument! One could view the city of Washington and its surroundings from the terrace. One of the halls flies the flags of all countries in the world, including that of India. Gift items from around the world were displayed prominently. There is one, an Indian sapling, donated by Mrs. Indira Gandhi.
The Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln memorial is a US National memorial built to honour the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, the President who stood for the unity of races. It is on the western end of the National Mall in Washington D.C. across from the Washington monument. The memorial’s architect was Henry Bacon. The Lincoln statue was carved by the Puccinelli brothers. Dedicated in May 1922, it is one of several memorials built to honour an American President. It has always been a major tourist attraction.
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is designed after the Pantheon of Rome, and is significant as America’s foremost memorial to its third president, One of Washington’s largest and most famous memorials, this structure serves as the southern anchor of the city’s monumental plan, the other elements of which include the Capitol, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and the White House.
Vietnam War memorial
The Vietnam War Memorial
The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial has slabs of stone in which are inscribed the names of heroes who had laid down their lives for the American nation. While we do not see any reason for America’s intervention in Vietnam (Nixon got the bitter pill), Korean war was UN-mandated and we also participated.
Korean War Memorial
Likewise, there is a Korean War Memorial for the war dead. A number of statues of American soldiers are spread out in a field. America went to war in Korea as a representative of the UN. India also had played its part in that war.
The Korean War Memorial
The Arlington Cemetery
The Arlington Cemetery is where the remains of 175,000 American soldiers, as also those of John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy, boxer Joe Louis, Oliver Wendell Holmes, etc., are interred and is an important landmark in Washington DC. A guide will take you around.
All these places are important landmarks of the United States, and all these places could be covered by metro rail. Just a bird’s eye view of Washington DC.
By C.I. Sivasubramanian
Aged 95, Retired Director, Ministry of Commerce, New Delhi