“You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.”—Harry S. Truman
**Authors Note: Unless otherwise noted, all quoted information comes from Fun Facts About Washington DC as created by Old Town Trolley Tours.
It was before 7:00 am when our bus rolled out. John, my husband; the school counselor, Breana Moore; her husband, Patrick; 20 eighth graders; one bus driver named, Bennie (who, three hours later, would be replaced by Allie); and I were ready to begin St. Joseph Catholic Middle School’s annual 8th grade trip. Destination? Washington DC. Months of planning by Moore and her husband had gone into this trip. Now, the fruits of their labor were about to come to fruition.
The Hope Diamond and Topaz as seen in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History
“Washington DC is missing “J” Street. The city uses letters instead of numbers for their streets, but because DC was planned before the letter J existed, there is no J Street.”
I always find traveling to DC an interesting and adventurous trip, as I never know who or what will be encountered in our nation’s capitol city. For example, on this particular trip, George Washington University was holding their commencement ceremony on the lawn of the National Mall. Thus, we were able, throughout the weekend, to gain glimpses of the staging and seating area as it was set-up and broken down—both of which appeared to be a major undertaking requiring what appeared to be hundreds of people.
More interesting images from Museum of Natural History.
“All roads in the city lead to the capitol building. It’s the dividing center for all quadrants of the city, so all roads actually do lead there.”
We arrived in DC around 3:00 pm, thanks, in part, to Allie, our DC savvy bus driver. Our afternoon/evening began with visits to the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum. Our time was limited for each museum, but the students took full advantage of the time given as they took in the sites. Highlights included the Hope Diamond; a crater formed in Arizona by a meteorite; an elephant thigh bone which was taller than me; John Glenn’s space capsule and other early flight ships/planes; and, images from Mars and other planets, to name a few.
“There was a typo in the original etching of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s been touched up since, but the letter E was accidentally chiseled into the beginning of the word Future on the north wall of the memorial.”
Next up, we explored many of DC’s monuments. This required a lot of walking, and it was hot. However, it was a beautiful afternoon, the sun was on its downward decent, and the breeze was light and continuous, making the walk much more bearable.
Images from the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial.
SJCMS 8th grade students in front of the Washington Memorial.
We began with the Washington Monument, and continued on to the World War II Memorial. Next, our group moved on to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, followed by the National Korean War Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Then, we trekked onward to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and finally journeyed to the Jefferson Memorial. By the evening’s end, we had put in eight or more miles; but, wow, what a magnificent evening filled with inspiring sites!
More images from Vietnam Veterans Memorial, National Korean War Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (as seen at top of page), Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial.
SJCMS 8th grade students at the Lincoln Memorial.
The next morning began with mass, church service, as it was Sunday. The church we visited in Virginia was warm, welcoming, and a completely new experience to our students. Parishioners of all backgrounds filled the pews, speaking several different languages, with English spoken via strong accents, reflecting the diversity of this wonderful church. The hand clapping that accompanied the upbeat praise music pleasantly surprised many of our students; however, they could take comfort in the fact that the liturgy was the same. All of us walked away feeling blessed for having spent time in this house of worship.
SJCMS 8th grade students attended mass just outside of DC in a nearby town in Virginia.
“One of the unknown soldiers has been identified. In 1998, a soldier buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was identified.”
Back on the bus after church, Allie deftly maneuvered the bus to Arlington National Cemetery. Once there, we walked the path to the JFK burial site, home of the eternal flame, and then we made our way to witness the changing of the guard. In between those two locations, it was humbling, to say the least, to observe the sea of graves and names. By the time our group was present for the changing of the guard, tears were welling in my eyes by the presence of all the fallen surrounding us. It truly felt like a sacred moment. Afterwards, our group devoured their lunch, and made their way to historic Ford’s Theater, the location of Lincoln’s assassination. While the Ranger-narrator gave an interesting talk regarding the events leading to Lincoln’s untimely death, my mind still kept drifting back to Arlington.
Images from historical Ford’s Theater and Arlington National Cemetery.
“There are underground tunnels beneath the capitol. Miles and miles of tunnels are for senators and members of the House only and are never seen by the public.”
Later that evening, our group enjoyed an evening cruise along the water of the Potomac River. No, nothing educational, per se, about this adventure; but, hey we had teens with a great deal of energy to burn. This was, by far, a favorite experience for many of the students.
SMCMS 8th grade students danced the evening away on a cruise of the Potomac River.
“There are elevators in the capitol building that are off limits. This is because they are reserved for senators.”
Our last day in DC, before hitting the road for home, was spent in three completely different locations. First stop, the capitol. Congresswoman, Carol Miller, had a couple of staffers meet our group for a personal tour. We were even able to use the “off-limit” elevator that is typically reserved for congress members. After riding this elevator, we traversed at a clipped pace along one of the many underground tunnels. It was during this long walk, our group was informed of the all of numerous businesses and other perks located along this sub-terrain paths, including, but not limited to, a Dunkin Donuts and other food vendors, bank, private gym facility with showers, meeting rooms, and so forth to accommodate congress members’ busy schedules. In fact, one staffer told us that many congressmen and women spend four days, or more, per week in their offices, rather than pay for housing in DC, and then they travel home on the weekends!
Images from our tour of the Capitol. (On a personal note, I had to take a picture of phone booths as it had been 30+ years since I had last seen this style of phone booth.)
“There are marble bathtubs in the capitol building. They were installed in 1859 to keep senators from stinking: during that time, they lived in boarding houses that had no running water.”
Once our Capitol tour was completed, our last stop of the day, before lunch, was a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian. This was a very interesting stop, rich with history, artifacts, and culture. As an added bonus, it also brewed up strong and delicious coffee; something John and I were both in need of consuming by that point of the trip!
Images from the National Museum of the American Indian.
Although I did not take any pictures, it worth noting that our third stop, before leaving DC, was Fogo de Chao, an authentic Brazilian Steakhouse. What a dining experience for our students, and frankly, John and me! As a person who needs to eat gluten-free, and prefers to eat plants as well as avoid meat, I didn’t think this establishment would offer much in the way of options for me beyond salad. Boy, was I ever wrong! John and I would highly recommend this place to the meat and veggie lover alike. If you walk away hungry from this eatery, that’s on you as the food is plentiful and prepared deliciously!
All in all, the trip was a positive experience for staff and students.
Even when our bus had two belts break in the mountains of WV and sat on the side of the road, our students made the best of it by creating “tents” with their blankets and edges of bus seats! DC left us smiling, and rekindled a sense of connection to what it means to be an American.
From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe and happy travels this summer!
P.S. Thank you, Breana, Patrick, and SJCMS for making this trip happen!
On a final note, John snuck this picture of me taking a picture of a totem pole carved by Tlingit indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. I was doing this in honor of my 6th grade students who were not on this trip as they learn about the Tlingit people when reading the book, Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen.