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Now, I've got several travelogue entries to do. Not going to write them all today, of course, but let's get started...
November 22nd (Tuesday): The Library and the Capital
Now that I'm in a more convenient location (well, sorta), I invited some family members over for Thanksgiving. My aunt, uncle, and one of my cousins came a bit earlier in the week and will be staying until Friday and my brother and his wife are coming tomorrow. Anyway, my aunt's family wanted to do some touring while they were here. I had work yesterday, but Connie and I were free today, so we joined them in Washington DC.
Our first stop was the Library of Congress. Specifically the Thomas Jefferson Building, since the library and its impressive 162 million plus items (mostly, but not entirely, books) is spread across several different buildings now. The library also houses the US Copyright Office. Anyway, the Jefferson building is the oldest and grandest of the library's buildings.
For a quick history lesson, the Library of Congress was originally a modest 740 books purchased from Europe, mostly about subjects such as law and geography that members of congress might find useful over the course of their work. That library was burned by the British in 1814 along with the Capital Building. Thomas Jefferson later sold the government his own personal book collection as a replacement. His collection was much larger (at 6,487 books) and covered a broader range of subjects. They still have it there on display. Well, part of it anyway. A large portion was lost in another fire (an accident that time), prompting Congress to start construction on a new (and much more fire resistant) building (later renamed in honor of Jefferson), which was completed in 1897. In addition to being relatively fireproof, there was some extra money left in the budget (a real rarity for government work), so they were able to make a lot of amazing decorations. It's one of the fanciest and most impressive buildings I've seen. While it's worth visiting just for the building itself, the library also houses a number of displays and exhibits. For example, there's Abel Buell's map, the first American made map of America, and even an original Gutenberg Bible.
We took a tour while we were there, which is how I learned all about the history of the library. It was interesting, but it mostly focused on the building and only showed off a few highlights of the exhibits. I could definitely go back and spend another couple of hours taking a closer look. Or maybe just to use the rather awe inspiring reading room. On that note, it's actually not too hard to get a reading card and use the reading room to access much of the library's collection (except for the rarer items), but only the president, vice-president, and members of Congress can actually check books out.
When we finished the tour, it was getting close to lunch time so we took a convenient underground tunnel to the nearby Capital Building (naturally, that photo was not taken from inside the tunnel, I snapped it outside before entering the library). There's a pretty decent cafeteria inside and we were able to get tickets for a tour right after we finished eating. The Capital Building, in case you're not familiar with it, houses both Congress and the Senate, though they weren't in session that day and the tour doesn't show you their chambers anyway (I heard it used to, but security it tighter these days). Instead, we got to see a pillared chamber with George Washington's tomb...which is totally empty since he's buried at his estate on Mt. Vernon. We also got to see the chamber beneath the dome, with its impressive paintings and statues. Actually, there are statues all over the place of various important figures in US (and occasionally world) history. Including in this chamber, which used to house either Congress or the Senate (can't remember which). Problem is, the acoustics accidentally made it easy to hear people whispering while standing on the other side of the room. Plus, it started to get a bit cramped, so they moved to a different room. It actually housed a market for a little while before it got filled with statues. Anyway, we had a great tour guide and the statues were cool, though the building wasn't nearly as impressive as the Library of Congress. On the way out, I snapped a photo of the original Freedom statue (the newer one is sitting on top of the dome).
To stay out of the cold, we took some more underground passages back towards our parking area. The one between the library and the Capital is pretty fancy. Some of the others, not so much. Anyway, it was a fun half day or so of touring. I'd definitely recommend the Library of Congress. The Capital...it's interesting but wouldn't be near the top of my list of things to see in DC.
That's all for today. More coming next week.