This weekend gave me the opportunity to experience the eclectic mix of activities Washington, D.C. has to offer. Growing up in the Philadelphia area has provided me with many historical landmarks and tours, including the Liberty Bell, the National Constitution Center, Independence Hall, and Betsy Ross’s house. Even with this background it was a nice change to immerse myself in the history of this nation’s capital. The first stop was a tour of the Capitol Building, which involved a fifteen minute introductory video discussing the origins of the building and the U.S. government in general. We
had a wonderful tour guide, Natalie, a retired teacher and guide at the Capitol for the last 13 years. She concluded our tour with a personal story about the terror and fear she endured on September 11, 2001. She vividly described the terror that she felt running from the building and seeing a plane fly into the Pentagon building where her husband worked. Luckily, her husband was out of the office that day, but lost a lot of close friends because the plane crashed in the area where his office was located. Her speech was moving and made me reminisce about my own memory of that tragic day.
Following the Capitol tour I was off to the Holocaust Museum, which was truly an enlightening and humbling experience. I was reminded of my how often I take for granted the freedom I have to practice the religion of my choice and live without fear of unjustified persecution. Anne Frank’s words resound with all of us, “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery and death.”
The rest of the weekend was spent visiting the Spy Museum, the National Museum of American History, the National Air and Space Museum, and the Hishhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. It was amazing to see Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads as outdoor sculptures. There are twelve bronze animal heads that represent the signs of the Chinese zodiac and are based off the original eighteenth-century heads designed during the Qing Dynasty.
The Air and Space Museum has numerous interesting exhibits, but being the animal lover I am I was drawn to a small display of a rhesus monkey named Able. Able, along with a squirrel monkey named Baker were the first monkeys to survive a spaceflight. On May 28, 1959, aboard an Army Jupiter missile the two animals traveled to an altitude of 360 miles with a distance of 1700 miles and returned unharmed. Unfortunately, Able died a few days later during a surgery to remove an implanted electrode. Baker lived 25 more years, mostly at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. I find it amazing that for over 50 years American and Soviet scientists have learned a tremendous amount about space travel from numerous species of animals, including primates, dogs, cats, rabbits, turtles, insects, and many others. The care of these animals and the importance of this research is why NASA employs veterinarians. Who wouldn’t be thrilled to have such a job?
An another aspect of this weekend I really enjoyed was being able to go for some great runs around famous landmarks, such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. D.C. is full of runners so it was nice to lace up my sneakers and experience the city on foot. Lastly, to cap off the weekend the Philadelphia Eagles pulled off a win. I’m enjoying D.C., but I’m not ready to be a Redskins fan anytime soon!