The Monument The National Mall, occupying the site of the “grand avenue” in L’Enfant’s original design for the U.S. capitol and placed under NPS management in 1965, is home to several key monuments and memorials including the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Roosevelt Memorial, National WWII Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
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Our Visit I visited the National Mall in June while on a business trip to the D.C. area.
Our Weather Partly cloudy and very pleasant (mid 70s).
Overall Impression The Nation’s Capitol is a special place full of history and symbolism. Nowhere is that sense more alive than in the National Mall. Laid out from east to west on a large rectangle of land approximately 2 miles long and 1/4-1/2 mile wide, the Mall encompasses many of the U.S.’s greatest monuments and memorials honoring its founding fathers and heroes such as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt and military servicemen and women from WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. As if this weren’t enough, the mall is flanked by some of the world’s greatest museums including the Museum of Natural History, Museum of American History, Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of African Art, National Air & Space Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and the National Gallery of Art.
Visiting Plan on spending at least 2-3 hours to see most of the monuments and memorials on the Mall. If you’re interested in the museums, you’ll need at least a full day or more. The Mall is two miles long, and parking is at a premium, so be prepared for a lot of walking! Because of the way things are laid out, it’s easy to park anywhere on the Mall and make a circuit to see each site. Walking the circuit and spending a few minutes at each memorial will take two solid hours. While most are right on the Mall, the Jefferson and Roosevelt Memorials are in Potomac Park adjacent to the Mall. If you wish to include these in your tour, plan on an extra hour. The following photos and paragraphs give additional information for the various sites within the Mall.
Washington Monument The Washington Monument stands in the center and dominates the Mall. It stands as a monument to the Nation’s first President, George Washington. The obelisk stands 555 feet tall and was completed in 1884. An elevator takes visitors to the top of the monument. Admission is free, but you must obtain a ticket and a time (there is a small fee to reserve a ticket beforehand). From the top, visitors can see 30 miles on a clear day.
National World War II Memorial The World War II Memorial, dedicated in 2004, occupies a prominent section of the Mall between the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool. It commemorates the contributions of the “Greatest
Generation” to keep the world free from tyranny. The memorial is divided between the Atlantic and Pacific with markings for the major battles of each theater. Columns for the 50 states and territories line the memorial’s central fountains, and famous quotes from leaders during the war are inscribed in marble. This is a beautiful memorial which has the air of a victory celebration more than anything.
Korean War Veterans Memorial The Korean War Memorial occupies an area to the south of the reflecting pool near the Lincoln Memorial. The centerpieces of the memorial are 19 life-size sculptures of soldiers walking in loose formation. Their ponchos and watchful but weary looks tell the story of life as a soldier in Korea. Like the Vietnam Memorial, the area is framed by a black granite wall, but instead of names, the wall bears the engraved faces of Korean-era soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. This memorial is particularly moving in the morning when fog or mist surround the statues.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is lies to the north of the reflecting pool between the Lincoln Memorial and Constitution Gardens. The memorial primarily consists of two large granite walls set an angle and inscribed with the names of the 58,159 who were either killed in action or listed as missing. Visitors descend along the memorial wall until it stands over them at a height of 10 feet at the center and then ascend up the other side. Also on the grounds are the statues of the three servicemen and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. This is a sober place with flowers and flags marking the spot where loved ones and friends stopped to pay their respects.
Constitution Gardens Constitution Gardens is a large area comprising the northwest section of the Mall. In the gardens are trees, flowers, a small lake and paths. A small island in the lake is home to a memorial honoring the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Geese and ducks are year-round residents of the gardens, and they will let you get quite close. This is a nice area to find a little solitude and shade on a typical busy, hot Washington day.
Lincoln Memorial The Lincoln Memorial is one of the best known buildings in all America–after all, its likeness adorns both the penny and the five-dollar bill. The structure, which sits at the western end of the National Mall, was completed in 1922 to commemorate the man who’s actions kept the Union together and freed American slaves. Inside the massive building is a 19 foot statue of Lincoln and enormous inscriptions of two of his most famous speeches: the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. The memorial is also famous as the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech delivered to 250,000 people in 1963 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. The memorial offers an excellent view of the reflecting pool, Washington Monument and the entire western half of the Mall.
Thomas Jefferson Memorial The Jefferson Memorial sits in Potomac Park just south of the National Mall across a large tidal pool. It was completed in 1942 and houses a 19 foot statue of Jefferson along with numerous samples of Jefferson’s most important writings. It serves as a memorial to the ideas of freedom that gave birth to the United States and served as a model for other nations. Because the memorial is separated somewhat from the National Mall, it is less visited than the other sites, but the area it occupies is beautiful, especially in April when the cherry trees (a gift from Japan in 1912) that line the tidal pool near the memorial are in full bloom. Due to time constraints, I was only able to view the Jefferson Memorial from a distance.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial The Roosevelt Memorial occupies a part of West Potomac Park adjacent the Jefferson Memorial. Dedicated in 1997, it is one of the newer memorials in D.C. The memorial is an open-air arrangement with several statues of FDR which represent the era of the longest-sitting President in U.S. history. Due to time constraints, I was not able to visit the Roosevelt Memorial.
A couple of tips: If you can, take the Metro into the Mall (Smithsonian station is the closest stop). This will save you from the sometimes nightmarish D.C. traffic and keep you from paying the somewhat pricey parking meters. If you do drive and park near the Mall, bring lots of quarters! When I went, it took 17 quarters to bring the meter up to its 2-hour maximum time limit.
Nearby Towns Washington D.C.
Official NPS Website D.C Area Parks
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