Wednesday, August 09, 2006

24 (?) August, 1955

Dear Folks

This is my twelfth (?) day in Norfolk, and I am no more attached to it than the last time I wrote. Nobody in the Navy seems to know (or care) that I exist—if, in fact, this can be called existence. Ah, no no no, Roger—no bitterness. Well, it isn’t quite all Hell.

Last Saturday, after standing an 8-12 Fire watch (which is really a burglar watch & consists solely of pacing up & down the bunk room eyeing everyone suspiciously) I & Dave Bagg, a guy from Binghamton, New York, took off for Washington.

To get from Norfolk to Newport News, which lies directly across the wide bay made from the mouth of the Elizabeth River, we took a ferry. It was a fine day, & the ferry plowed through the brown water, making a billowing white foam along her sides. I have never seen so many ships in my life! Large freighters in black & red, rusty old merchant vessels, sleek Navy tankers & troop carriers, & far off the grey hulks of battleships, cruisers, & aircraft carriers. Yet large as each one of these was individually, they looked like toys in a huge pond.

The ferry trip & the trip to Washington (about 187 miles) took us five hours. It was still light when we reached the city, & the first thing we’d seen, while still out in the country, was the tall white spire of the Washington monument.

The city itself is unique. It is in & surrounded by several states, & yet is a part of none of them.
The District of Columbia is the shape of a tilted square, with one corner knocked off by the Potomac River, I believe. Its citizens have their own license plates, & are not allowed to vote.

Immediately upon crossing the Potomac on U.S. Highway 1 from the South, you enter the city.
On your left is the round dome of the Jefferson Monument, modeled after the home of the gods upon Mt. Olympus. The highway then curves around it, in a half moon effect, & upon crossing another bridge you are in the outer rim of the business section. This goes on for about three or four blocks, & then comes the Mall. It is a two-block wide park stretching from the Capitol to your right (several blocks away) to the Washington Monument, about two blocks or more to the left beyond that to the Lincoln Monument, near the banks of the Potomac. All these are directly in line. From the Washington Monument, cutting off to the North (?) at a 90 degree angle, another wide park leads to the White House.

Since the Washington Monument was closest, we drove to it first. It is located on a man-made hill constructed about a huge, pyramid base. The monument rises straight up as a needle for 560 feet. Standing at its base & gazing up, it seems to lean out over you. Of greyish-white marble, it is two toned, the bottom 136’ being slightly lighter than the top. It was at this point that work on the monument was halted for almost forty years due to the civil war, lack of funds, & political arguments. An elevator rises to the top, while a recorded voice tells you the history of the monument. From the top, you look out over the city at the Capitol, the White House, & the Lincoln & Jefferson memorials. From the Washington to the Lincoln monuments of a distance of roughly eight blocks. Between the two stretches the Reflecting Pool, wherein both monuments are mirrored in the calm waters.

The Lincoln Monument, which we visited first thing the next morning, fascinated & completely awed me. As I said in the postcard, I fully expected to see people in togas milling about the thirty-six huge columns, or ascending & descending the long flights of stairs, so broad they were like terraces. It is like nothing so much as a Greek or Roman temple, wherein Lincoln, like Zeus, sits & stares out over his people. A group of Negroes posed for their picture beside one of the great fire-urns which flank the stairs. The monument is open only on one side, & Lincoln sits serenely against the opposite wall beneath the words "In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever." On the left wall, as you stand facing the statue, is the Gettysburg Address—on the right is his Second Inaugural Address (which is excellent, though largely unfamiliar). I spent about ten minutes just staring at the building itself. It is modeled after the Parthenon in Athens.

The Jefferson monument gets more attractive the closer you get to it, until when you stand beside it, towering columns & sweeping lines, it becomes beautiful, with its shining white dome & sugar-colored marble. Unlike the Lincoln monument, this is open on all sides. The entrance (main entrance) faces upon the Potomac, toward the Washington monument. Gleaming stairways cascade almost to the water’s edge. The statue of Jefferson, in contrast to the rest of the structure, is of dark bronze. It is 19 feet high & stands upon a six-foot pedestal of black granite, facing toward the Potomac.

And now we come to the grandest building of them all. (Enter Sunday edition—written to the accompaniment of organ music from Divine Services being held on the flight deck).

The Capitol building itself is immense—great & sprawling, yet not heavy or clumsy. It possesses the dignity such a building should have. It sits (surprisingly) on a hill—when you approach from behind, three are flights & flights of stairs, & two huge terraces. Upon one is a large tier-bowl type fountain, looking also dignified despite the little boy who lay in his shorts on its edge requesting everyone who passed to throw pennies into the fountain so that he could go in after them. The second terrace, at the foot of the building, has long rows of vivid flowers, which contrast very nicely with the solemn grey of the building. Walking around to the front of one of the wings, under a great pillared portico, you find evidence that, even though it is a very stately & important building, it is still a symbol of a highly unorthodox America. On one of the windows, which was slightly dusty, someone had traced with his finger –"Wash these windows once in a while—A Taxpayer."

The front view is the one with which we are most familiar, the whole dominated by the Dome. Atop the dome stands a 19’ statue of Freedom, a plaster replica of which stands in the basement of the building—she is quite ugly.

The main doors are a wonder—of wrought bronze (or brass, or iron), the contain tiny (1’) statues of Columbus, Isabella, & many others who had to do with the founding of America.
These statues fascinated me, for they are perfect in every minute detail—complete scenes in the panels, with individual statues along the edges. On either side of the main doors are the large statues of a Roman warrior (right side) & his lady (left) He has his nose & chin missing, she a right arm. No doubt the work of eager souvenir hunters. They look like marble, but evidently aren’t, for in the lady’s broken hand can be seen the rust marks & indentations of a metal frame.

Inside is a kaleidoscope of statuary, paintings, marble colonnades & hallways, murals & paintings, staircases & chandeliers. The Senate & House chambers are dignified—the House done in pale blue, the Senate in gold. The Senate sit in chairs with desks attached, like in old fashioned schools. The House, because of so many members, has no individual desks. Both have galleries around & above.

The lady guide who showed us around had a marvelous effect—she believed deeply in everything she said, & she had a fine sense of the dramatic, without being "corny." I remember her remark as we sat in the Senate galleries & looked about at the plain, but very dignified, room, with no huge drapes or gaudy paintings. She said: "you see how wonderful it all is? Something that is good & honest doesn’t need to be plush or elaborate."

Well, I have rambled on now for five pages, which should be enough for anyone. I forgot to mention we also went to the Smithsonian Institute—I’ll take Chicago’s Hall of Science & Industry any day. So, my good parents, I will close now & send this off.

Please remember your erring son, & count the days with me. Until I see you, I am,
As Always

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