The second full day of our field trip was spent in Washington D.C. Traffic is so heavy and unpredictable, our trip leaders budgeted 3 hours of drive time. In realty, Gettysburg is only a 1 hour 20 minute drive but there is never a “normal” traffic day in D.C. This meant we had to be showered, ready and on the bus pulling out of the hotel parking lot by 5:30am. As you can imagine, it was a very quiet bus ride.
Even though we did hit some heavy traffic, the trip only took us 2 hours. We arrived in the D.C. area well before we needed to be at Arlington for our first stop. Our trip leader diverted our buses to an unplanned stop at the Marine Corps War Memorial – Iwo Jima. As luck would have it, the Marines were there working on formations, marching and other ceremonial activities. We had to watch from afar but the kids loved it.
After this short pit-stop, we drove to Arlington National Cemetery. Four students had been selected from our school to participate in a wreath laying ceremony. What an honor for these young people to be part of such a reverent moment. Mr. Fee, one of the teachers who was with us, suggested that I stand down at the far corner of the viewing area. He knew from years of experience, this vantage point would allow me to view the ceremonial rifle inspection by the relief commander up close an personal. He was correct, this view was great. Notice the rusted steps worn into the concrete from years of honor guard marching their 21 steps. This Changing of the Guard goes on 24/7 365 days a year!
After the wreath laying, we had over an hour to explore the cemetery on our own. Many from our school wanted to find the new grave of Ohio hero, John Glenn. Mr. Glenn was a Marine Corps aviator, engineer, astronaut and former U.S. Senator who hails from a town less than 45 minutes from our small, rural area.
We still had another hour to freely explore the rest of Arlington before needing to return to the bus. The JFK memorial / Eternal Flame was nearby and shouldn’t be missed. Notice Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s home at the top of the hill.
Don’t underestimate the size of this 1,100 acre cemetery. There are so many significant figures from history buried here. I was looking over the map I picked up in the visitor center. I noticed Patton Lane down at the far side of the property. I just assumed General Patton of WWII fame was buried there. Three miles later, we never did find it and made it back to the bus in the nick of time. As a funny aside, I later looked up where General Patton is buried and he’s in Luxemburg! Duhh…with 4 smart phones between our group and nobody thought to look that up before making the trek.
The buses dropped our crew off at the Smithsonian Air & Space museum and left us free to roam the city for the next 6 hours. My map study prior to the trip informed me that the Native American Indian museum was right next door. Inside, there is a restaurant (which is more of a food court) that specializes in Native American dishes. I knew my son would like a good Bison Burger and I was right. I had a big bowl of Bison Chili. Throw in a side of chips & salsa, fountain drinks and $42 later – it was an excellent lunch. Food in D.C. is very expensive knowing they have a captive audience. The museum itself is OK, lots of reading and probably not for young kids.
When we left the Native American museum, we noticed that we were very close to the U.S. Capitol building. We did the inside tour 3 years ago during his 5th grade trip so we didn’t feel compelled use our time on that again. Besides, we had ticket for the 2:30pm tour of Ford’s Theater. It was still a 20 minute walk from the Capitol.
I’m a huge fan of President Lincoln and a student of Civil War history. Ford’s Theater was without a doubt the highlight of my trip! I loved the fact that on our recent trip to Dry Tortugas National Park we were able to see Dr. Mudd’s jail cell. Being at Ford’s Theater brought the conspiracy full circle for us. You can see in the picture below, the state box where the President was seated. After the shooting, Booth jumped over the ledge and caught his spur on the bunting draped in front causing him to land awkwardly thus breaking his ankle. Dr. Mudd treated his broken bone and was later implicated as part of the overall plot.
Standing inside this small theater and contemplating the actions of John Wilkes Booth that fateful night of April 15th, 1865 was almost emotional for me. The history of our nation was changed forever because of this hateful act. You can’t enter the room where the President was shot but the museum is filled with many fascinating artifacts related to this event. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time on the theater website for “free.” I say free in quotes because there is a nominal $3 convenience fee per ticket. Remember, this is still an active theater so I highly encourage people to buy tickets in advance to ensure you get the full experience. You don’t want to arrive on a day and there is a show playing and tours are closed.
Regular Guy Tip: Make sure you get the tickets that include the tour of he Museum and the Peterson house across the street. The Peterson house was the boarding house where Lincoln was taken after the shooting and spent his final hours. You can see the actual bedroom where the President died and the waiting room where a grieving Mary Lincoln waited.
The buses were supposed to pick us up at the WWII memorial so we started walking that direction. The Washington Monument was right on the way so we had to stop for one final picture.
With weary legs we fell into our bus seats. The Fitbit said we had done 11 miles today. I was tired for sure but joyful at the same time. It’s the same feeling you have crawling in the tent at night after a great day of hiking in Yellowstone or Yosemite. I know some of you can relate..