A Lesson in US History Part II

Thanks to my ever-improving eavesdropping skills, I bring you these fascinating facts of several sites I saw on my trip to DC over Memorial Day Weekend!

Lafayette Square:

Who would’ve thought that such a plain looking park would have so much history? Not I. This is the statue of President Andrew Jackson, lying at the center of the park, which as a whole was named after a French General. Apparently, this park was called the President’s Park, and was part of the White House, until Thomas Jefferson had a street (Pennsylvania Avenue) cut through it in the year 1804, and opened it to the public. The fascinating part, however, is that since then, this park at some point in time was used as so many things, including a race track, a graveyard, a slave market, an encampment, and even a zoo!

The White House:

President George Washington, the first US President, laid the cornerstone of the White House (then called the Executive Mansion) in 1792, just a few years before I was born ;) . It was completed in 1800, and Washington actually never got to live there, because he passed away the year before. Here’s where the interesting part comes in though. Washington DC was occupied by British troops during the War of 1812, and the Mansion was burnt down in 1814. It was only when it was rebuilt that it was named the White House. It was rebuilt with ordinary (flammable) stone, and painted white to resemble the original color of the Mansion. The Capitol Building, however, which was completed in 1800 as well, is built with marble (aka the eternal stone), to symbolically imply that the Congress is more essential to the preservation of democracy than is the white house.

The Capitol Building:

Ah, the US Capitol Building, one of the sites I was most excited to see. This building, of course, houses the Congress and Senate, and understanding what happens in this building is key to understanding how the US government operates, and this is a goal I have set for myself. As soon as I get to the building though, I am ambushed by a large group of schoolchildren (some of them pictured above) asking me to take pictures of them. After taking about 15, I am saved by one of their teachers, who thanks me for humoring the kids and explains that this is a traditional trip most schools in the US organize for 8th graders, which I thought was very interesting. I go on to tell her that I just recently moved to the US from Jordan, and that gets her attention. After asking me several general questions about Jordan that I will not bore you with, she actually invites me to walk with the group, and listen to what their tour guide has prepared for them. I was able to avoid eavesdropping this time.
Anyway, here’s the good stuff. A woman at the top of the center of the building represents what is called the “Freedom Statue.” In Western traditions, apparently the female represents concepts of liberty, justice, and equality, while the male symbolizes areas such as law and order. What made me proud though, is that this tradition actually stems from Ancient Egypt! Over time, Greeks and Romans adopted these concepts. The statue of the woman also faces East, toward the sun, to symbolize freedom and enlightenment.

The Washington Monument:

The Washington Monument is a site one cannot avoid seeing from many areas in DC. Again, it looked very simple, but I knew that only meant that there was a lot of history behind it. This time, I picked the tour group I’d listen in on carefully, and chose to follow a group of nicely dressed Europeans avidly taking notes on everything their tour leader was saying. I definitely made the right decision. I swear the tour guide spent at least 20 minutes talking about the Monument, and for good reason as it turns out. This monument was completed in the year 1884, even though the decision made to construct it was made in the early 1830s, by the Washington Society, a private non-profit institution. Members of this organization decided that an obelisk would be best as an official monument to commemorate the first US President. Construction was continuously interrupted due to a lack of funding as well as the start of the Civil War. Again, I was pleased to find out that the Obelisk is also an Egyptian concept that captivated Western cultures. Originally, the Obelisk symbolized the sun god Ra. George Washington is said to have considered Ancient Egyptians one of the greatest civilizations. This is why the institution felt that an Obelisk would be the perfect way to commemorate Washington’s commitment to establishing a “New World Order,” that would preserve freedom, liberty, justice, and equality. To preserve this powerful symbol, nothing in the city of Washington can be higher than this monument, which is approximately 165 meters in height.

Those were some of the major fascinating highlights of my trip. I’ll just let you enjoy some of the other pictures I took now :)


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