Friday, November 1, 2013

Washington, D.C. - Day 1: Supreme Court & Library of Congress

On Monday, October 28th, we ventured into the city of Washington, D.C. just to see if we could find our way around.  We took the subway into Union Station, which was an experience in and of itself.  Then we walked a couple of blocks away and found ourselves at the doorstep of the United States Supreme Court.

After snapping a few pictures on the front steps, we asked a guard if there was a visitor center.  He pointed us to the side of the building, and we wandered in.  After clearing security, we worked our way to the main hall and realized that we could join a guided tour of the actual court room!  So after waiting in line for only a few minutes, we were escorted into the court room where the nine justices of the Supreme Court sit, and listened intently to a very interesting guide tell us all about the room. 

We learned who sat where, who had privileges to sit in the room, which justice sat in which seat and why, how they rule and issue their rulings, etc.  We also learned about the actual history of the building itself.  Came to find out that it was President/Chief Justice William Taft who pressed to have a building for the court, and it was constructed under his tenure as Chief Justice.  We also learned about the mural sculptures around the room and the heavy use of symbolism therein. Unfortunately for us, pictures were not allowed to be taken in the courtroom itself.  But I can attest to the overall impressiveness of the room.  And it was very neat to be in the same room that so many crucial decisions have been made for our country!

After having the guide tell us about the courtroom, we went to another level of the building to watch a short film about the Supreme Court and wander the hallway where there were many displays of past justices and the history of the building.  When all was done, we ended up eating lunch in the Supreme Court building!

Next we wandered back outside and went next door to the Library of Congress building.  We went inside to the information desk and learned about the "must see" items in the library.  The lady kindly pointed us in the direction of two important books, the main hall, the Jefferson Collection, and the reading room.

First we saw two important books.  One was the giant Bible of Mainz, which is one of the last handwritten Bibles in existence.  Second, we saw one of only three Gutenberg Bibles left in the world.  (The other two are in London and Paris.)

Next we saw the main hall of the building, which is very impressive and ornate.  We couldn't really capture it in pictures.

Then we took the staircase up to the second floor which is where the Jefferson Collection is.  During the War of 1812, British troops burned Washington, D.C., and with it all the books in the Library of Congress.  To get the library restarted, Thomas Jefferson donated his personal collection of books.  Today his personal collection is on display for all to see.  It is interesting to see what he personally owned.  I'm sure there aren't many personal libraries today with as many classical titles.

Lastly, we went to the reading room observation deck.  Not just anyone can go into the library; you must have special permission.  To those of us who want to see inside but aren't one of the chosen few, we can still catch a glimpse by going to the observation deck.  It is a beautiful library, and I can only imagine the importance of the people who have perused its shelves.

At last our day was coming was to a close.  We found our way back to the subway and got ourselves home again safely.  Not a bad first day in the capital city!