We had a long Day 3, but Day 4 was going to be just as full. A friend from high school had lived in Virginia for many years. We contacted her before our trip and she gave us really great insider information. She suggested we contact our congressman’s office for tickets and tours of the National Mall sites. Our US Senator is Mike Crapo. We submitted a request for tours of the US Capitol, Supreme Court, White House, and the Bureau of Engraving. Our group was too big for the Supreme Court tour and we made it through the security check for the White House but being the week of the 4th of July, we did not receive that tour either. However, it was arranged for our group to have a tour of the US Capitol and we were given priority tickets to the Bureau of Engraving. Thanks Andrew Roan of Senator Crapo’s office, you were awesome to work with.
The previous day was a Sunday and parking in downtown DC had been free. Before we left DC on Sunday evening, we looked for parking options, ones that would accommodate Jodi’s Suburban with a carrier on top. Jim and Jodi, discovered the nearby hospital parking garage. It was all day parking for $15.00, there was security, and it was inside. We had planned on taking the commuter train in everyday, but this was a much better option.
We arrived at the Dirksen Senate building early as we weren’t sure what the Monday morning traffic was going to be like. We waited for security to open and with time still to spare, we decided to grab a quick breakfast in the Senate building’s cafeteria. They eat very well and the food is inexpensive.
We met our tour guide in Senator Crapo’s office. Natalie was a summer intern. From the office she led us down the tunnel to the subway station. This is how all the senators get to the Capitol Building from their offices. The subway has been upgraded and changed several times. It is the world’s shortest subway line, at 1000 feet and takes about 1 minute. It makes approximately 225 trips each day when the Senate is in session. The cars have the Senate seal on the side. There is a car on display that was used from 1915 to 1961.
While we watched a movie about the history of the capitol and the processes that occur in Congress, Natalie obtained our tickets to the Capitol. By going through our congressman this saved us a tremendous amount of time. In the visitor waiting area, there is a replica of the statue that sits on top of the capitol dome. It is known as the Statue of Freedom and has been in place since 1863.
The Capitol contains numerous statues with each state able to display 2 statues. We found one of our state’s statues, William Borah the senator from Idaho…
and Whitney found one of Iowa’s statue, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug. He created new wheat varieties recognizing him as the Father of the “Green Revolution”.
There were a variety of other statues.
Most of the Statues are in the National Statuary Hall which is also known as the Old Hall of the House. The half dome shape of the hall produces an acoustical effect where in some spots the person speaking could be heard better than others spots. Natalie, had us stand near the John Quincy Adams plaque while she walked across the hall. We could hear her even above the crowd noise.
These are the stairs the newly elected president walks down for his inauguration.
The details in the Capitol architecture are amazing.
We were able to enter the Old Supreme Court chambers. It was used by the court from 1810 to 1860. It was then converted to a law library, and later used as office space. It was vacant from the 1960s until 1975, when it was restored to its original condition.
We walked past an area that is kind of cool. Legend has it that during construction when the floors were poured, a cat ran across the wet cement leaving its foot prints…look close.
Under the rotunda, amongst the support columns is an area known as the Crypt. It was intended to be the burial place of George Washington. However, his final wish was to be buried at Mount Vernon, so the tomb remains empty.
Also in the Crypt you will see a statue of Abraham Lincoln carved by Gutzon Borglum as well as a scaled layout of the National Mall, and a replica of the Magna Carta.
We also were able to go into the Old Senate Chambers, which the senate occupied from 1810 – 1859 and at its peak, it accommodated 64 senators. The Supreme Court occupied the space from 1860 until 1935. It was then used for as a meeting room until being restored in 1975-76.
The rotunda outside the Old Senate chambers.
During our tour we walked through the Capitol Rotunda several times…absolutely magnificent. It is the center of the Capitol building, and is 96 feet in diameter. It is 48 feet to the top of the original walls and 180 feet to the canopy of the dome. The rotunda was completed in 1824. The walls are covered with 8 historical paintings. There are also 19 bas-relief paintings (these are paintings that look like they are carved stone). The walls also have numerous actual stone carvings.
Currently there are 11 statues in the rotunda, representing 6 presidents, several social leaders, and the women’s suffrage movement.
Construction on the addition of the dome occurred from 1856-1859. The dome is metal painted to look like stone. It is actually 2 domes one inside the other with the total weight being 14.1 million pounds!!! The artwork at the top of the dome is a large fresco painting by Constantino Brumidi. It depicts George Washington sitting exalted in the heavens, The surface of the dome covers an area of 4,664 sq feet.
After our awesome tour, we said good-bye to Natalie, but she first gave us tickets to the House and Senate gallery seats. These are good for the entire 153 Congressional Session.
You can not take pictures inside either room and you have to turn in our cell phones. When our son-in-law, Wade turned his flip phone in, the young intern said, “Wow, they still make these??” We spent a few minutes in each Congressional Chamber. They were not currently in session, but it was still interesting and there were congressional pages there to answer your questions.
We exited the Capitol building and snapped a few pictures. With the holiday week, we had the steps all to ourselves.
We walked the short distance across the street to the Supreme Court building.
You can not walk up the steps to enter the building. You must go through a small side door and then you exit coming down the front steps. We were told that by the very stern security guard at the top of the stairs…oops.
The inside of the building is a large open hall. There were lines for tours, but Wyatt was getting a bit bored, so did our own mini tour.
There are busts of the Supreme Court justices
You could even take a peek into the Supreme Court chambers.
Once outside on the front steps, we took a few pictures in the columns…
we then descended onto the steps. What a view of the Capitol building.
After grabbing a snack and a bit of a rest for Wyatt, (it’s hard to be 5 and tour DC), we walked toward the National Archive Building. We passed the statue of General Meade, who was the Union commander at Gettysburg during the Civil War.
On the Hop On tour the previous day, it was pointed out that on Pennsylvania Avenue, there is a blue stripe. This is from the Inauguration parade and helps the vehicles and parade participants.
The National Archives and Record Administration is housed in this building. This agency establishes the polices and procedures for managing the federal records. This is also where the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are displayed. There are no photos allowed and the light is very dim so that the items do not fade. We were lucky as there was only about a 30 minute wait.
From here we continued our walk towards the White House, we passed the Trump International Hotel. We had always heard about people protesting, but we were the only people there, however, there was a lot of security.
Due to heightened security since 2001 limiting access to the White House, there is now a White House Visitor Center. The US Patent office was remodeled and it is now houses a state of the art center.
There were movies, White House artifacts, and interactive displays.
Anything you wanted to know about the White House, you could learn with the scaled display of the building.
It included detailed descriptions
There was even a place where you could take a picture of the White House “up close”
Before heading to the White House, we decided to get something to eat. We entered The Ronald Reagan Building. It is the only place we have ever eaten that you need to go through security, but it is a federal building. Being a holiday week and later in the day, the food court was not busy.
With everyone fed and rested, we walked the 2 blocks to the White House for our “official” photo opportunity. There were crews setting up for the White House 4th of July concert.
From the White House, you look straight at the Washington Monument as well as the National Christmas trees. There were signs with information about the history of the White House
On our way to catch the Mall transportation bus we passed the Bulfinch Gatehouse. This is part of the original fence that surrounded the Capitol grounds.
The Mall Circulator is a great option if you aren’t going to get off and on. The cost is $1.00 per ride. We rode it to the Union Station stop and then walked to the parking garage.
During the day encountered a bit of DC humor, first on an altered pedestrian sign and then from the birds in front of the White House pooping on Jodi.
It had been a fun and interesting day…more adventures to come with Day 5.