Capitol Tour and Library of Congress
July 10, 2009
Day four of my visit to the nation’s capital. Karen is working all day today and well into the evening at the Daughters of the American Revolution conference. After eating breakfast, we went different directions. She walked to Constitution Hall, and I rode the Metro to the South Capital Station.
I had reservations to tour the Capitol Building at 8:50 AM. The two chambers of Congress were closed today so only the rotunda and Statuary Hall were available for tourists. The tour was short but definitely a “must see.” Just standing at the center of the rotunda under the statue of George Washington and looking up into the richly painted dome inspires such awe that you barely notice the docent pulling at your arm to continue the tour.
Each state is given the opportunity to place two statues in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall that represent their citizens in some way. Georgia has Crawford Long and Alexander H. Stephens. South Carolina has John C. Calhoun and Wade Hampton. All very important statesmen during their respective eras. Interestingly enough, one of Florida’s dedications is to John Gorrie, the father of air conditioning and artificial ice-making. Without him, parts of Florida may still be uninhabitable.
After the tour, I walked through the connecting underground tunnel to the Library of Congress. The main portion of the Library of Congress is housed in the remarkable Jefferson Building which was built in the 1880s and is a perfect example of American Renaissance architecture. The exquisitely painted interior is one of the most ornate you will see outside of Europe.
The original Library was commissioned by John Adams during his presidency. Over 700 books were bought in England to provide the US Congress with a law library. During the War of 1812, the British burned the library collection along with the capital and the rest of the city. Later during Thomas Jefferson’s retirement, he offered for sale his entire library (the largest in the US at that time) to the government. It was immediately acquired and it formed the basis of the new library. Several years later, in 1851, another fire (this one accidental) destroyed two-thirds of the Jefferson collection. The present library has attempted to make an exact restoration of Jefferson’s library. At the time of this writing, they are about ninety percent complete. I was able to see this extraordinary recreation as one of the main exhibits. One-third of the books were the actual surviving books that Jefferson read and treasured. Simply amazing! Today the Library takes up three buildings and contains nearly 24 million books.
After visiting the Library, I walked behind the Capitol on Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and stopped in the Hawk ‘n Dove for lunch. (I’ve since learned that the Hawk ‘n Dove went through a ground up renovation in 2013. When I visited it again in 2017, I found that it had lost some of its dive charm but it is still a good place for lunch and a pint.) I then went to Riverby’s Bookstore on East Capitol Street near the Folger Shakespeare Library. I bought a couple of books and walked up to the National Archives. I saw that the line was long so I took the Metro back to the hotel and took a “much-needed” afternoon nap.
At 5:30, I walked over to the Post Pub at 15th and L Streets. This is an archetypical dive bar haunted by Washington Post newspapermen and a few tourists. I highly recommend this bar if you are into wood paneling and juke boxes. I had a great bacon cheeseburger and four Bass ales while talking with some of the locals. Four is a good number for ales. It leaves you in good spirits without the feeling that you want to drink four more. One more beer, however, and you find yourself committed to drinking all night. Before you know it, you’re fighting with the karaoke guy because he doesn’t have any Iron Maiden songs.
Until next time…drink responsibly and ramble on.