As I trudged through freshly fallen snow and biting wind in southeast DC last Friday, my main thought was, “OK, why am I here right now?” It was numbingly cold — the wind definitely shivered the timbers! Admiring the architecture of the buildings around me helped to distract me a bit, but it was still freezing.
Part of the reason for my visit was because I had made a promise to a fellow blogger that I’d blog about the Library of Congress (LOC) if I ever went and to meet another WordPress blogger, S. She is a recent transplant to the DC area from New York and seeks work as an entry-level writer and social media person, something to which I could relate. So we met at a Starbucks on Pennsylvania Avenue and had a great time in the cozy, coffee-scented warmth, chatting for two hours about the DC area, networking, blogging, writing and social media.
Afterward, I walked over to LOC. It’s actually three different buildings — the James Madison building, the John Adams building and the Thomas Jefferson building. I peeked in at the Madison building but there wasn’t much to see, so I went over to Thomas Jefferson.
As I stepped into the 75-foot Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson building, my first thought was “OH WOW!” This is the view I had:
Now I’ve seen some gorgeous interiors in my time — including the Kennedy Center, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle — but I’ve got to say, this place would make Michelangelo sob with joy. I wandered around the Hall and checked out their Christmas tree, which was still on display. All the ornaments had a literary theme and I immediately craved them.
I also viewed the Main Reading Room, but from its balcony. I couldn’t go in on the main floor because you need a special reader identification card to enter. But the balcony offered a decent view, even through sheets of transparent acrylic plastic.
I visited a series of exhibits on different topics. One of my favorites was one dedicated to the Civil War. I got to see a copy of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s handwriting, the contents of Lincoln’s greatcoat pockets on the day of his assassination (a wallet, a pocketknife, a watch fob, two of the tiniest pairs of eyeglasses that I’ve ever seen and other objects) and Walt Whitman’s haversack.
Walt lived in DC for a while, working in the army paymaster’s office and volunteering as a nurse. He was a great believer in visiting the sick to cheer them up with small items for their comfort, which he’d keep in the haversack and give out to patients. I liked finding out that this great writer had a kindly side to him.
Another interesting discovery is that LOC is a lot more than just a storage place for books. They’ve got Presidential papers, other documents of historical or literary interest, photographs and tons of other items that need preservation. I’d love to see what they have about the Titanic.
I think my favorite features were the Gutenberg Bible (So big! It must weigh a ton to carry around), Thomas Jefferson’s collection of books (over 6,000!) and the quotes scattered around the second level of the Great Hall. Here’s a few of them for your enjoyment:
Books will speak plain when counselors blanch.
Knowledge comes but wisdom lingers.
The chief glory of every people arises from its authors. (Editor’s note: Hear, hear!)
In books lies the soul of the whole past time.
I breezed through the gift shop and considered visiting the Adams building, but chose to walk over to the Folger Shakespeare Library because it was so close. They had an exhibition of historic costumes and theater sets in a Tudor-style gallery which looked as if it could easily conceal a hidden passage or two (check out the images here).
And I explored the theater from the balcony since a crew was busy building a set for the next production. The interior of the theater is also Tudor style and reminded me of the Globe Theater with the half-timbers and lots of carved wood. I’m definitely going to a production there someday, when there’s time.
(It made me a little homesick. I did a lot of crew work in my college theater and I miss it. *sighs*)
After the Folger, it was time to hop back onto the Metro to head home. It was a good day, though cold, and I hope to revisit LOC again. Definitely worth the trip!