Walking the Nation’s Capital – by Charlotte Canelli

Read Charlotte Canelli’s column in the May 4 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website.

In 1965, my parents packed our family of six into our Oldsmobile sedan and spent one month touring the country from California to Boston and back again. We first navigated south, stopping at over a dozen national parks along the way. Our trip home was to the north and included Niagara Falls and Reno, Nevada.

On that family vacation, I had my first lessons in navigation using multiple road maps and AAA tour books. I often won the front seat between my parents and spent hours studying the highways, motel amenities, restaurant offerings and sightseeing highlights in those guidebooks.

In this 21st Century, GPS devices guide us along the highways and our smartphones find our favorite coffee and food fixes. We have a plethora of websites to surf before we go and shelves of books, both in the stores and the library, with which to plan a itinerary.

My most profound memories on that trip in 1965, other than a weeklong family reunion in Boston, were those in Washington, D.C.

When Gerry and I realized that our grandson, Colin, would miss his 8th grade trip to Washington, D.C. this spring because we will be attending a family wedding elsewhere, we quickly decided that we would make the trip to Washington. We planned the trip during his April vacation at the time of the Cherry Blossom Festival.

You can read about Washington D.C.’s famous cherry trees in “Eliza’s Cherry Trees: Japan’s Gift to America”, a fabulous children’s picture book written by Andrea Zimmerman. I had always thought Lady Bird Johnson was responsible for the flowering cherry trees in Washington, DC. (While the Japanese government gave 3,800 trees to Lady Bird for the beautification of the capital city in 1965, the origination of cherry trees in Washington, DC began many years before.) Zimmerman explains in her book that Mrs. Eliza Scidmore tried to bring cherry trees to Washington for more than 24 years and finally succeeded in 1909. First Lady Helen Taft received a donation of 2,000 trees from Japan when Washington’s cherry blossom parade and festival became the highlight of a week in April each year.

Of course, on any trip to Washington, a visit to as many monuments as possible is a must. An overview in the book for adults, “Monuments and Memorials of Washington, D.C.” by Allan M. Heller,will help you decide which ones to visit. Besides the obvious memorials and monuments, the book includes information on monuments to American patriot Nathan Hale, the celebrated writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and inventors Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin and a check-off list so you can see and do everything.

The beauty of the city is, however, that you can visit most of the monuments on a long and leisurely afternoon walk. Both of J.S. Burrows’ books, “Korean War Memorial” and “Vietnam War Memorial” will introduce you to the reasons why these visits are so fundamental to Americans and those across the world. Brent Ashabranner’s “A Memorial for Mr. Lincoln” and “The Washington Monument: A Beacon for America” explain the planning and reverence for awe-inspiring monuments that never cease to amaze everyone who visits them. (The Washington Monument has been closed to the public since the earthquake in August of 2011 but it is still an astonishing beacon in the center of the mall.)

During our recent trip, we were able to visit the newly-dedicated Martin Luther King Memorial where visitors meet in a plaza somewhat isolated from Washington, D.C.’s bustling traffic on the tidal basin side off the mall. You can read more about this amazing monument in “The Stone of Hope: Martin Luther King Memorial and Master Sculptor Lei Yixin” by Mike Xiong.

Further along the tidal basin on the way to the Jefferson Memorial is the awe-inspiring FDR Memorial. It is a park-like wonder filled with waterfalls and life-sized sculptures. Read “The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial” by Ted and Lola Schaefer.

No trip to Washington, D.C. would be complete without seeing the Capitol or the White House from every angle. This is not as easy as it used to be; 9-11 changed much of the world for us and visits to these notable buildings and grounds are no exception. With our noses pressed to the fence along Constitution Avenue, I was excited to see the White House victory garden planted by Michelle Obama and a beehive which takes center stage. Robin Gourley’s book for children, “First Garden: The White House Garden and How It Grew” explains how this natural feast came to be. Other terrific children’s books are “The White House: An Illustrated History” by Catherine O’Neill, or “Our White House: Looking In and Looking Out” by the National Children’s Book and Literary Alliance.

In this column, I’ve left out so many of the must-see places – the Arlington Cemetery where we walked among the graves of the three Kennedy brothers and the Tomb of the Unknowns. And, of course, no visit to Washington, D.C. would be complete without the Smithsonian museums such as the National Air and Space Museum where a new exhibit dedicated to the Wright Brothers was a remarkable adventure for us.

Martha Day Zschock has written many delightful books that travel through places using the alphabet and “Journey Around Washington, D.C., from A to Z” is one of them. Another terrific journey is “Capital! Washington D.C. from A to Z” by Laura Krauss Melmed. Another overall tour of Washington, D.C. is the late Edward Kennedy’s “My Senator and Me: A Dog’s View of Washington, D.C.” illustrated by New England author/illustrator David Small.

Before you plan your next visit, pick up an armful of children’s books or a stack of tour books to introduce your family effortlessly and effectively to one of the best places to visit in this country, Washington, DC. If you would like to reserve any of these titles please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-769-0200, or reserve them in the Minuteman Library catalog.

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