Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building — Washington, D.C.
My sister and I landed at Reagan National Airport and alighted on The Federal City with great expectations and magnificent intentions: a self-guided tour of the Library of Congress, a taste of D.C. cuisine, a taking in of museum exhibits, and a traversing of the Pathway of Peace at twilight.
We hailed a ride with Uber–the best alternative to a taxi in my sister’s humble opinion. The driver made interesting conversation that spanned the subjects of history, economy and nature as he navigated the morning traffic en route to our first destination, the Library of Congress.
As we passed the Capital, he asked conspiratorially, “Do you think there are underground tunnels there?”
“You bet!” I replied, more in fancy than in point-of-fact.
Before we could conspire, we arrived at the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building where our driver waved farewell with the zeal of one bidding his dearest of friends adieu. (Did I mention that Uber is the best alternative to a taxi? Oh, I did? Well, OK then.)
Before proceeding, my sister and I considered getting a cup of coffee. As though on cue, a gentleman wearing a hard hat and a bright yellow cable harness slung over his left shoulder appeared beside us.
“It’s too early for you to be tourists,” he stated with an easy smile, “so where are you girls headed?”
We told him, and he pointed down the street to a nearby Starbucks.
“You’ll find a gal with a laptop sitting by the window. She’s there every day,” he confided as we crossed the busy intersection and closed in on our second Cup of Joe of the day.
“I work on the Capital grounds in the underground tunnels,” he said with a nonchalant shrug.
The irony was too much for my sister and me. I think we both squealed.
“Oh, don’t get excited,” he continued, “They aren’t people tunnels. They’re tunnels with a bunch of wires and stuff.”
This additional information did nothing to quench our curiosity—a fact that he was clearly enjoying. He nodded a few doors down to the Starbucks before disappearing into a diner with a broad grin and a rousing call to “Keep the conspiracy alive!”
One peppermint mocha apiece later, we found ourselves in front of the Jefferson Building again, gazing up at its flame-tipped dome. I must have looked a bit awe-struck, because a passerby called out, “Welcome to D.C.!”
“It’s good to be here!” I replied, delighted by the warm reception thus far.
The dome of the Thomas Jefferson Building. Library of Congress; Washington, D.C.
I wondered if the day could get any better. The answer: It sure could. And it did. Here are some of the highlights of our trip.
After navigating security, we made a bee-line for the Bible section of the Jefferson Building, where I beheld a complete version of The Gutenberg Bible for the first time ever. There are only three perfect vellum copies of The Gutenberg Bible in existence today. The Library of Congress has one of them. The other two are at the Bibliothèque Nationale and the British Library. Vellum, incidentally, is fine parchment made from animal skin, and this particular Bible was printed in about 1455, when the creation of the mechanical printing press (i.e. the Gutenberg printing press) marked the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern world.
The Gutenberg Bible (here in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.) is one of the first “masterpieces of fine printing” to come off of the circa 1400s Gutenberg press–the first movable metal type printing press.
The next order of business was to get my very own Library of Congress Reader Card. (My sister already has one.)
The best part of obtaining this card? The trip through the cellar to move from the Jefferson Building to the James Madison Memorial Building* where the Reader Registration Office is located. (We could have gone outside and walked from one building to the other, but when I heard that there was a way to get there through the “tunnel,” well, the Nancy Drew side of me prevailed. And my sister obliged.)
The benefit of having a Library of Congress Reader Card? Access to the Library’s Collections. …And access to the Main Reading Room itself! During our visit, I read excerpts from George Washington’s diaries, perused the religion and theology alcove, and looked up the copyright listing for my children’s book, Our Sunny Day Ride.
The Reading Room from the overlook. (Cameras aren’t allowed in the actual Reading Room.) — Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building; Washington, D.C.
Although we could have stayed at the Library of Congress all day absorbing knowledge from the more than 150 million resources, we boarded the metro for the Mall. (No, not the shopping mall. The National Mall.) There wasn’t enough time to visit the museum exhibits before lunch, so we watched the planes come in—a leisurely activity that I could do all day.
Can you see the plane in the following photo?
The base of the Washington Monument (Washington, D.C.). Hint: In this picture, there’s a plane approaching Reagan National Airport. Count six flags in from the left and look at the horizon.
For lunch, we ate at The Founding Farmers, which, according to their website, is “owned by genuine, hardworking, American family farmers” and is “a nod to the founding fathers of our country, many of whom owned and farmed land that surrounds Washington, D.C.”
It was at their “Farmacy” that I had my first ever New York Egg Cream. (That’s a drink, by the way, which actually has no eggs in it at all. Just good old chocolate syrup, whole milk and sparkling seltzer.) It was delish!
A plaque in the waiting area of The Founding Farmers restaurant. (Washington, D.C.)
After lunch, we made our way back to the National Mall and visited the National Gallery of Art, taking in the Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections and The Dying Gaul in particular, followed by the Early Flight exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The sun was setting as we left the Mall, and I captured this striking photo of the U.S. Capitol.
The remainder of the day, which consisted of a twilight stroll around The Ellipse, can be found in my earlier “Deck Them All” post.
During a visit to America in 1842, Charles Dickens referred to Washington, D.C. as “a city of magnificent intentions.” At the time, it was a young city. Those who had designed it had planned for greatness, but it had yet to meet their great expectations. Today, monuments, museums, stately government buildings and public parks create a unique and varied experience for visitors. I’m not sure ‘what the dickens’ Charles Dickens would think of our nation’s capital today; but during our recent visit, my sister and I did everything that we intended. The day–and the city–was magnificent.
* The Library of Congress consists of three separate buildings: the Jefferson Building, the Madison Building, and the John Adams Building.