The early bird and the monument ... battle of the wills part two

Wednesday 7 June 2006, 9:48 pm

Wednesday, June 7

Yesterday we saw part of the Air and Space Museum. Did I mention that they have actual capsules that have been in space? At Rocket Park in Houston, we saw rockets and capsules that were intended for space use but never actually deployed. At the NASM, they have the actual Mercury 7, Gemini IV or VI (I have dyslexia when it comes to roman numerals), and Apollo 11 ... the one Neil Armstrong rode to the first moon landing. Mary thought it was real cool to see real artifacts from the space program. We saw a space suit that had actual "moon dust" on it. We didn't get to touch anything, though.

We were quite disappointed that we didn't get Washington Monument tickets yesterday. We were mostly disappointed that (1) we would have to get up early again, and (2) we would have to get up even earlier than we did on Tuesday. Grrr. We set the alarm for 6:00 am and we got up as soon as the alarm went off, instead of dawdling.

The story about Washington Monument tickets is that they start handing them out at 8:30 am, and they usually run out around 9:00 am. Some people start lining up as early as 8:00 am just to make sure they get one. The tickets don't cost anything. The tickets are timed ... you come back at a designated time slot. Mary thinks it's like the fast passes you can get at Disneyland. The real purpose here is to insure the security lines are not overloaded ... they let only a few people through security at a time.

Anyway, we got into town around 7:45 and rushed up to the already-forming line. By the time we got to the front, we got the last tickets for the 3:30 pm time slot, and there were only a couple of time slots with any remaining tickets at all. You are allowed a choice of time slots, but as they run out your choices dwindle.

After the early-morning rush of getting the tickets, this turned out to be one of the more fun days we had. We left the mall area to see sights elsewhere. We decided to see the International Spy Museum. But on the way there, we accidentally came across Ford's Theater and the house where Lincoln died. Ford's Theater has been reconstructed internally to its 1865 state. I was disappointed to find that almost nothing original was there; but the experience was still educational. They fill up the theater with as many as want to see the presentation, which takes about 20 minutes. It is just a ranger talk. But you get to hear every detail of what happened all day in the theater on the fateful day when Lincoln was shot. School is still in session and there are lots of kids doing field trips, so our presentation was full of people. We noticed later in the afternoon that the lines were a lot shorter and the crowds smaller.

Did you know that Lincoln was shot on a Good Friday? I didn't know that. Turns out that fact was instrumental in the assassination coming together that day ... which is another story altogether. But it shows that you can really learn a lot at these ranger presentations.

Most of these museums and other sights are part of the Smithsonian Museums or the National Park Service, so they are free. Personally, we think they are all much better than the sights we have paid to see on this trip.

The bottom floor of the theater is turned into a museum about Lincoln, the civil war, the politics of the day, and the group who conspired to kill Lincoln.

After Lincoln was shot, he was taken across the street to a boarding house, where he died the next day in the room of a Union soldier who happened to be out of town that weekend. You can view three rooms of that house. It's not really that interesting, but the wait was short so it was worthwhile.

We eventually got to the International Spy Museum, one of the few museums in DC we've paid to get into. We had about two hours before we had to head back down to the Washington Monument. They suggested you allow two hours to view the museum. After two hours, we'd finished not quite half the museum! They were nice enough to let us come back later and enter a second time to finish up. It's a fascinating place about the science of spying and the lives of spies. It discusses tools of the trade like lock picks, bugs, tiny cameras, and hidden weapons. It shows in rudimentary fashion how spies are trained to do what they do. It tells the stories of a great many US, Soviet, and German spies who were caught. It tells about the deceptions regarding the Normandy invasion and how spies led the Germans astray about Allied plans. It tells about the atomic bomb and those who leaked secrets to the Soviets.

We finally got to see the inside of the Washington Monument at 3:30 pm. Anyone can walk up to the monument, see the outside of it, take photos, talk to a ranger, etc. But you need a special ticket to take the elevator to the top. It's really quite a view. The monument faces directly north, south, east, and west, and it is in a central location on the mall. You can see the Capitol, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the WWII Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the reflecting pools, the Pentagon, the Smithsonian Castle, and many other familiar landmarks. You can come down one floor from the top to visit a small museum about Washington and a bookstore. On the way back down, the you can see various special stones that were donated by the states for use during the construction. Some of them are quite elaborate. We were told that on some days when there is enough staff on hand, you can ride the elevator to the top (500 feet), then walk down with a ranger who will show you all the special stones. There are over 100 of them.

At the end of our very long day, since this is our last night here, I insisted we take a stroll through Georgetown. We found a restaurant there that was very helpful with our food allergies. After dinner, we even got to go into one store (Urban Outfitters) that was still open after 9:00 pm.