Walking in Obama’s Footsteps

The day started with a familiar face at breakfast. Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow was in town for a G8 conference. I was sat waiting for my breakfast to arrive when Mr Bercow walked in for his.

We had a full day to ourselves. One of the recommended tours to take in Washington D.C. is that of the Capitol Building. I was able to get ahead of the game by booking myself on a tour whilst we were on the train; that WiFi did come in very handy. The tour was set for just after 12, so I had some time to visit places in the morning.

First up was Arlington National Cemetery, which is massive, so much bigger than I expected. I’d seen pictures and looked at the layout on Google Maps but I just didn’t appreciate the size of the place.

I had a few things to tick off; Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, JFK & Jackie O, Bobby Kennedy, Audie Murphy & the Iwo Jima Memorial.

The first thing that is noticeable, and is fairly obvious, is that there are an awful lot of people buried or have their deaths marked here.I walked though from the entrance to where JFK is buried, I was a JFK nut as a kid, I couldn’t get enough of the conspiracy theories surrounding his death. One day I will get to Dallas!As I was walking to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (TotUS), I wondered whether there were any memorials to the 82nd & 101st Airborne Divisions; both known to me through film and TV. In a very spooky coincidence, as I turned onto the path that would take me too TotUS I saw a tree with a plaque below it…imagine my surprise when I took a closer look.At the TotUS a wreath laying ceremony was taking place. I watched for about 10 minutes as the ceremony took place, with the Marines marching very slowly, methodically & almost robotically as they moved the wreaths into position.In the picture above you can just make out the lines where the Marines have walked. They are all at right angles and it’s fascinating to watch them march around this area.

Due to some renovation work I couldn’t get to the grave of Audie Murphy so I went for a walk to see what else I could see, I was also heading in the general direction of the US Marine Corps War Memorial aka the Iwo Jima Memorial.

On the way I saw a Civil War era canon and the impressive gravestone of William W. Belknapp. Belknapp was a Civil War Major General and a United States Secretary of War.This is a view back towards the National Mall.My time was running out and I still hadn’t got to the Iwo Jima Memorial. I saw a Ranger and asked if it was walkable from where I was and was told it was but it would take more time than I had. So I headed back towards the entrance and the subway. Resolving to come back the next day.

On the way out I passed the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. It’s very large and impressive.Just along from here is this Memorial to the 101st Airborne – The Screaming Eagles. I am very familiar with one particular Company from the 101st, perhaps you are too? Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment – The Band of Brothers.
Arlington Cemetery was a good place to visit and I’d like to go back. I don’t know if they do tours but it would be nice to get a sense of the people buried there, rather than just walking passed lots of names.

I headed back to the Capitol Building to get ready for the tour. Before I went in I took some pictures.I took a couple of pictures inside the building but I appear to have misplaced them! As part of the tour we went into the Rotunda, to get there we walked up a set of stairs that a lot of the incoming Presidents have walked up in order to deliver their inaugural address. The Rotunda is also the place where President’s have their laying in State much like Royals & Prime Minister’s in Westminster Hall in London.

The tour was interesting but ultimately disappointing as we didn’t get into either the Senate or House of Representatives. They may have been in session, I’m not sure. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and was able to answer any question thrown at her with ease.

You may have noticed a recurring theme in my pictures, no not the Dragon, it’s that they all seem to be slightly on the wonk or for my American readers, they’re not quite straight. I have no idea why this is, they looked straight when I took them!

From the Capitol Building it was time to explore a bit more of Washington D.C.

I saw a plaque and took a closer look.A little further down the street is this iconic building.With the FBI seal on the wall.During our initial tour of the city, the location of Ford’s Theatre where President Abraham Lincoln was shot, was pointed out. I knew I wasn’t too far from it and went to see if I could find it.

I went in too have a look and was told tickets for the museum were free, so I took one and headed in. Prior to visiting I had looked up the museum and the reviews weren’t good. Many saying it was a bit shabby. Well they must be old or the museum has cleaned up its act, as it was a very professional museum. Delving into the life of Lincoln and what was happening in the US around the time of his bid to be President, while he was President and what happened after his assassination.

There was a lot of information and I didn’t read it all, I was more interested in Lincoln the man and the assassination rather than the politics of the day; of course they go hand in hand, but I’m a tourist not a history/politics major!

The museum has lots of artifacts on show from the night Lincoln was shot including; the clothes he was wearing, the piece of wood Booth used to hold the door closed allowing him the time to shoot, the boot cut off Booth after he broke his leg escaping, various weapons used and lots of other items.

The gun used to shoot Lincoln is also on display.

When you’ve walked around the museum, you go upstairs into the theatre. It’s still a working theatre and was preparing for a new production on the day I visited.

This is the box in which Lincoln was shot, and a photo through perspex of the box itself. Lincoln would have been sat roughly where the first chair is, the chair is not the original one. Oddly considering who was shot here, the picture shown by the box is that of George Washington.

The tour isn’t done yet, from here you go over the road to the Peterson House where Lincoln died the next day.

The tour shows the room where he died and I didn’t take a picture as I was distracted by a question. As I went in, already in there was an older American couple. I headed for the ‘death room’ and had a look, the husband was there and shouted down the corridor to his Wife who was speaking to the attendant “ask Her where the original bed is”. The attendant replied that the original bed was now in Chicago’s Historical Museum. My face lit up and I said I was going to Chicago in the morning. So despite not even being bothered about going in the theatre, in the space of 24 hours I would be seeing where he was shot, the gun used, his clothes, the room and finally the bed. Not too shabby.

The house also has more artifacts including a replica of the coffin covering, original tassels from the covering and remarkably a handle from the actual coffin; they are unsure why it was removed!

My Presidential assassination fix sated, I wandered a bit more and eventually found myself at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. My timing couldn’t have been better as the heavens opened and the most intense downpour lashed the city.

There was a lot too see but I was getting a bit tired at this point, so just took in the highlights.

The Spirit of St Louis flown from New York to Paris in 1927.The first successful airplane, designed an built by the Wright Brothers.The backup lunar lander from the Apollo 11 mission that took man to the moon.I saw some other very historical things but I didn’t photograph everything! At this point I was very tired and headed back to the hotel. The group were having dinner at a restaurant in Union Station, so I went back to freshen up and ended up sleeping for an hour before going out!!

After dinner I walked back to the hotel with three of our group and saw Mr Bercow again. I joked that someone should speak to him but my three companions all declined, so I thought I would. As he neared the entrance I put out my hand and said ” Hello Mr Bercow I’m from the UK” I don’t know why I said that but I did. We had a brief chat, he correctly identified my local MP, as you would expect the Speaker of the House to be able to do, it was impressive none the less considering there are 650 of them.

My companions were waiting by the lift so I joined them, Mr Bercow was also staying at the hotel and also headed for the lifts. He had a chat with us all and one of the group, Ron, asked him about the recent Cabinet shuffle carried out by the Prime Minister. Being away from the news we had not heard the details (If I’m honest I didn’t even know a shuffle was taking place!), Mr Bercow then gave us a quick rundown of the highlights and then bid us farewell.

The next day would involve a quick tour of parts I missed before heading onwards via overnight train to Chicago.