Inside The Pointy Obelisk

Long time readers of my blog know that I absolutely love tall things. Whenever I get into a new city, I generally like to find the tallest thing around and climb it. I get a little bit King Kongy, albeit from the inside. If it’s got an observation deck, you’ll observe me wanting to go to there.

When I arrived in Arlington in August, however, the Washington Monument was closed to inside visitors. It had only just reopened in September of 2019 after a three-year renovation to the elevator controls and security screening area and then had to close down again six months later because of Covid 19.

As you might imagine, I was incredibly stoked when they announced that it would reopen on October 1st, even with a limited capacity. In order to visit now, you have to get a timed entrance ticket from the recreation.gov site. A very limited number of tickets would be available each day, and each group would only get 10 minutes at the Observation level. They opened the Monument on schedule, and I tried a few times a week to snag one of the precious few visitor slots for each day that I might be able to visit.

On October 28th, I was finally able to snag a slot for the following day, soon after I finished my work for the day. I was incredibly excited to finally get to go up inside the Monument.

I wasn’t paying attention to the weather, though. Hurricane Zeta had just made landfall, and all the leftover rain was coming our way– it was slated to rain all day long, including well past the end of my time slot to visit the monument. I briefly considered not going at all since I would be trudging through rain and the views would be hampered, but after a series of should-I-go-or-not coin flips, I finally grabbed a rideshare to the National Mall. (Normally I would go via the Metro, but my workday and the visit timing were too close together, and I needed a slightly more direct route. I took the Metro home afterward.)

I don’t need to talk about the two shades of marble again, do I? I just talked about that the other day.

By the time I arrived, my feet were wet, and I was well and truly damp despite my coat and umbrella. You can’t quite tell in the photo above, but it was raining. It was raining a lot.

One unexpected benefit of going to the Washington Monument in the middle of what’s left of a hurricane, however, is that there was nobody else there. No tourists, I mean- the staff of Park Rangers was all there, waiting at the entrance of the security area for visitors. I was the only person visiting, though. I went through security in moments, and they let me into the lobby, past some VERY large metal security doors, to the elevator.

I was alone in the elevator, and after a moment I reached the observation deck at the top. There was nobody with me except for another Park Ranger, so I had all of the windows to myself. In hindsight, I really should have taken pictures of the observation deck’s interior to show how I had the place to myself- that’s never going to happen again. It was kind of magical.

Anyway, here’s what I could see out of the little slot windows at the top of the monument. Visibility was hampered by all the rain, but I could still see quite far. Looking East, I could see the National Gallery of Art on the left, the National Air & Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian on the right, and all the way in the distance, the United States Capitol. The Library of Congress and the Supreme Court are back there too, but the rain made those nearly invisible.

Facing South, I could see the Tidal basin and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The Tidal Basin is where they have the Cherry Blossom Festival when it’s not a pandemic year. I still need to visit the Jefferson Memorial; I haven’t been there.

Continuing my clockwise walk around the top level, this is the view toward the West. The World War II Memorial is in the foreground, then the Reflecting Pool, then the Lincoln Memorial in the distance. On a clear day, you could see the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial from here, along with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. I could not.

Lastly, I looked to the north. That big round path around grass is the Ellipse, and sitting behind that is the White House.

Here’s an obligatory selfie of me pointing toward the White House. I promise, that’s what I was pointing at.

After a few minutes looking out the various rain portals and up toward the capstone, I was ready to go back down to the ground. There’s an exhibit level just below the observation level, but it was closed during the pandemic. Stupid pandemic.

I really need to go back on a clear day.

After a brief but lively chat with a friendly Park Ranger, it was time to go back down to the ground. One more very heavy security door and another vestibule, and I was back outside. There was another group of about three people about to go in as I was leaving. Even though it was still raining, I decided to try getting some more National Mall photos- I’d never seen it that empty before. This is looking toward the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial.

…and of course I had to take the “It’s right behind me, isn’t it?” photo. My camera lens was fogged up from all the rain, but there you go.

After that, it was time to walk along the National Mall, in the direction of the Capitol toward the Metro, and on toward home.

Have you ever been inside the Washington Monument?

34/52 (and 13 of 30!)

The Jim Henson Statue and Memorial Garden

A few months before I moved up here, I learned that there’s a statue and memorial to Muppet Creator and alumnus Jim Henson with Kermit the Frog at the University of Maryland. Jim created so much of my childhood that I knew I had to go see it when I had a chance. I made a note and tucked it away in my geographic to-do list until I could go to UMD.

Flash forward to last weekend- the weather was really nice, sunny and clear, so I decided to make the pilgrimage to Maryland. Even with the heavy traffic into DC for people celebrating Biden/Harris winning the presidential election, it only took me about half an hour to get onto campus.

I had the foresight to check a map for visitor parking before I left, and I was able to find a parking spot right across from the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, easy as you please. From the parking lot, it was a short walk back around to the front of the building, where the Jim Henson Statue and Memorial Garden is located. It’s really quite easy to find, not hidden away at all. You can see the sculpture as you approach.

A small plaque is visible on the low wall to the left of the sculpture. The memorial and garden were the idea of the class of 1998, after the 1997 event, “The Muppets Take Maryland” which featured an exhibit and workshops with Cheryl Henson. Some of the other classes from the 1990s helped with funding for the memorial, and the statue and garden were dedicated on September 24, 2003, on what would have been Jim Henson’s 67th birthday. There’s a great deal of making-of photos on the Muppet Wiki’s page about this sculpture.

The bronze statue is 450 pounds of bronze attached to a red granite bench. It was created by Jay Hall Carpenter after a national contest to select an artist and a design.

Here’s a closer look at the detail on the sculpture. It looks like Jim and Kermit are deep in conversation. I think this is just wonderful- I like to think of Jim still having these deep conversations even after his passing beyond the rim. Kermit touching Jim’s wrist is a really nice touch.

Here’s a little bit more of the detail… check out the frog belt buckle on Jim!

Of course since the sculpture is set on a bench, the whole place invites you to sit and join them for a little bit. Please excuse the mask hanging off of my ear; I should have just taken it all the way off for this photograph. (Or asked someone else to take the picture. I’m used to doing it selfie-style.)

Kermit is one of my favorites. I love his optimism in the face of unbridled chaos.

It’s a wonderful tribute to Jim Henson.

Since I was already at the front door of the student union, I decided to peek inside. Their Terrapin mascot is masked but their food court is open. The stadium was visible just past my parking lot, but I was there a few hours before their game against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Have you ever been to the Jim Henson statue at UMD? Who’s your favorite Muppet?

32/52 (and 11 of 30!)

The United States Air Force Memorial

One night pretty soon after my arrival in Arlington, I saw this giant pointy thing from the passenger seat of a rideshare.

I had no idea what it was, and the driver of my Lyft didn’t know either, so when I got home I set about looking for it on Google Maps. I knew approximately where I was when I saw the thing, and it was obviously huge so it didn’t take long to figure out that it was the United States Air Force Memorial.

When Lorrie came up for a weekend visit a few weeks later, we noticed signs indicating it was nearby while we were on the way back from a diner. I had been meaning to go check it out, so we decided to stop. I’m glad we did, because the place was pretty neat.

The United States Air Force Memorial is at the east end of Columbia Pike, on the grounds of Fort Myer just south of Arlington National Cemetery. It is a fairly new memorial, relatively speaking- groundbreaking was in 2004 and it was dedicated in October of 2006.

The three metal spires are all different heights between 201 to 270 feet tall. They’re meant to look like the contrails of three jets doing a “bomb burst” maneuver, with the fourth spire missing to suggest a missing man formation.

Near the spires are four 8-foot-tall bronze statues sculpted by Zenos Frudakis, representing the United States Air Force Honor Guard. Across from the spires on the other side is a free-standing glass panel with the image of four F-16s in a missing man formation.

On either side of the spires are large reflective granite walls with various details carved in them. One section lists all the recipients of the Airmen Medal of Honor award, while another section contains comments and quotations from various important Air Force generals and other notables. Near the drive in are large carved inscriptions from Presidents Reagan and Bush.

I learned during the writing of this post that when there’s not a pandemic on, the United States Air Force Band holds concerts here every Friday night in the summertime.

Have you ever been to the US Air Force Memorial?

26/52 (and 5 of 30!)

Hiroshima

On my second full weekend in Japan, I bought a ticket for a Shinkansen ride to Hiroshima.  By high speed rail, the trip takes a smidge over four hours.  My plan for this weekend was aggressive and exhausting, but totally worthwhile given my limited time in Japan:

  • Friday, go to Hiroshima.  Stay there overnight.
  • Saturday, stash my bag in a train station locker and then see as much as I can before late afternoon.
  • Saturday before dinner, take another two hour Shinkansen ride to Osaka.
  • See as much as I can in Osaka before it’s too dark, and stay there overnight.
  • Sunday, see more of Osaka, including the aquarium.
  • Sunday afternoon, take a very short train hop over to Kyoto.
  • In Kyoto see two very specific things before taking one last two hour train back to Tokyo.
  • Profit.

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The weekend didn’t go entirely according to plan, but I did get to see most of what I wanted to see, starting with a lovely fast train ride through the Japanese countryside after leaving work on Friday.  Have I mentioned lately that I love trains?  I really do.

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Arriving in Hiroshima shortly before sunset, I saw that a baseball game was in progress at the Mazda Zoom-Zoom stadium, which probably has another, more accurate name that I haven’t learned.  I never had a chance to see a baseball game in Japan, but I’m told that they’re very entertaining.  Fellow blogger Adam has written about baseball in Japan quite a few times.

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A momentary aside about the station in Hiroshima-  this waterfall statue thing looks a great deal to me like a pair of mushroom clouds.  I’m quite sure that’s not the intent, but I can’t be the only person who sees that image, can I?

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After checking into the hotel in Hiroshima, I was delighted to find that housekeeping had placed a tiny paper crane on the bed.

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Once I dropped off my bag at the hotel, I set back out to have some dinner.  I ate some junk food near the station, delighting in how much the city has been rebuilt since the bombs 70 years ago.  I don’t know why I was surprised about the rebuilding-  70 years is a very long time.  It’s not as if the land is irradiated.

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I spotted this German restaurant after I had already eaten dinner.  I rather wish I’d spotted it beforehand.  I would have been thrilled to try German cooking in Hiroshima.

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On Saturday morning, I found the Hiroshima sightseeing loop bus, with its adorable pudgy moose mascot.  When traveling through multiple cities on an abbreviated timetable, it’s important to research things ahead of time.   For example, it’s excellent to know that a single fee for the day will take me to all the things that I most wanted to see:  Hiroshima Castle, the Peace Memorial Park, and the Genbaku Dome.

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First up, Hiroshima Castle, sometimes known as the Gokoku Shrine.    Terumoto established this castle in 1589 at the delta of the Otagawa River.

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The original castle was destroyed by the atomic bomb blast in August of 1945, and was reconstructed in 1958 as a museum to exhibit historic artifacts.  I didn’t take many photos of artifacts.  I never really do.  I do like the reconstruction of living quarters though.  I find it interesting.

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I’m also thrilled by the view of Hiroshima from the top of the castle.  I like tall places.

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The castle structure is built next to a shrine.  I saw several weddings during my journeys; this was one of them.

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The castle and shrine together are surrounded by high walls and a moat.  The whole arrangement was really very pretty.

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From the castle, it was less than a mile to walk to the Peace Memorial Park, which is preserved as a remembrance to the atomic bomb and the people killed or wounded at that time.  I have misplaced my notes about the sculptures in the park, but I believe this one was about the families killed in the blast.

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I think this one was about the teachers killed in the blast.  There are about a dozen different sculptures and monuments in the park.  I should have taken better notes.

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This one, at least, I’m sure of.  This is the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students.  During World War II, more than three million students over age twelve were mobilized for labor services in Japan.  As a result, more than 7,000 were killed by the atomic bomb.  This tower is twelve meters high and gradually widens as it rises.  The sculpture depicts the Goddess of Peace accompanied by eight doves perched around the tower.

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This one is well documented on the Internet-  the Children’s Peace Monument.  The top depicts a girl holding up a crane, a symbol of longevity and happiness.  The monument was inspired by the story of a young victim who believed that she would recover from her radiation poisoning once she made 1,000 paper cranes.

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This structure is the Cenotaph.   It is dedicated to all the victims of the bombing, and it embodies the hope that Hiroshima will forever stand as a symbol of peace.

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The building behind the Cenotaph is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and I went inside after I was done in the park.  I took almost no photographs inside this museum, because it felt like sacrilege.

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Looking back through the Cenotaph, you can see the structure of the Genbaku Dome, the lone building to remain standing after the atomic bomb blast.

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This is the Cenotaph courtyard as seen from the museum-  this is a better view of how the entire park is laid out.

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The Atomic Bomb Dome was once the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall.

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At 8:15 AM on August 7, 1945, the atomic bomb designated “Little Boy” was detonated over the city of Hiroshima.  The bomb missed its target by about 240 meters.  It was supposed to detonate over a bridge, but instead detonated almost 2000 feet over a hospital.  This red sphere signifies where the explosion occurred.

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Because the bomb was almost directly overhead, this building’s dome and columns were able to partially withstand the downward force of the explosion.  People closest to the center of the explosion were vaporized instantly.  The pressure wave from the explosion reduced this portion of the city to rubble in moments.  Roughly 70,000 people were killed immediately, and tens of thousands more succumbed to burn injuries from the blast or to radiation poisoning soon after.

Here’s what the Genbaku Dome looked like immediately after the blast.

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In 1966, the Hiroshima city council adopted a resolution to permanently preserve the dome in its current state.    It has been structurally reinforced and fenced off, but is otherwise unchanged from the way it looked in 1966.

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Visiting this dome felt similar to visiting Auschwitz, somber and sobering.  It’s important for us to remember places with massive death tolls, in order to prevent destruction of this magnitude from ever happening again.

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Have you ever been to Hiroshima?

Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial

A short distance outside of Luxembourg is an American Cemetery and Memorial.  If you’re driving, there’s a nice parking lot right at the gate, but if you’re using public transportation, you take a bus a few minutes outside the city center, and then walk for a little more than a mile.  There are signs to point the way, but this road is part of the walk:

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Once you get to the top of the low hill, there’s a pretty hard to miss gate leading into the Cemetery.  The wrought iron gate holds gilded laurel wreaths, to represent valor.

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The US 5th Armored Division liberated this site on September 10, 1944.  A temporary military burial ground for those killed in action during World War II was set up in December of that year, and the Grand Ducal government of Luxembourg granted permanent use from that time without charging any rent or taxes.

I spoke briefly to the woman who was working in the visitor center near the gate; she told me that the office staff is two American woman (herself included,) and one local who speaks fluent Luxembourgish, French, and German.

The centerpiece of the memorial is this tower.  The door in the front opens to a small prayer and reflection chapel.

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Facing the tower are two walls which are Tablets of the Missing, listing the names of 371 Missing In Action.  The remains of these soldiers and airmen were never found or recovered.

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On the other side of the Tablets of the Missing are maps showing the military campaigns fought by these men, including the Battle of the Bulge, fought along the Rhine river.

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Past the monument are the graves, arranged in a semi-circle.  There are 5,076 headstones of those who lost their lives in service of their country on 50.5 acres.  118 of the headstones are Stars of David, like the one near the front in this photograph.

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4,958 of the headstones are Latin Crosses.  22 of them are sets of brothers.  One of the graves is that of a female army nurse.  Walking among these headstones is a quiet, serene experience.

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A pathway separates the graves area into roughly thirds, containing two fountains.  The fountains have bronze dolphins and turtles to symbolize resurrection and everlasting life.

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In front of the ranks, between two American flags, and looking out toward the rest of the graves, is the headstone of General George S. Patton, Jr., commander of the Third Army.

After a long and decorated military career, General Patton actually died in Heidelberg, Germany, from complications of an automobile collision in nearby Speyer.  He was buried in Luxembourg because he had previously requested that he be buried with his men.

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Have you ever been to an American Military Cemetery or Memorial?