Reflections by the Mall: Monuments and their Memories
Welcome to the Reflecting Pool Monuments Walk. I’m Amy McMahon, a historian, archeologist and tour guide. I'm especially keen on exploring how the decisions of people from the past have affected our lives up to this day.
The monuments that you’ll be exploring here in Washington DC are a testament to this concept. Three of the four memorials you’ll be visiting today are directly honoring the Americans who fought for this country’s freedoms in war, too many of them losing their lives in the process. And the fourth memorial honors the efforts of a President who also lost his life while safeguarding the US constitution. And all the while you’re walking, you’ll have the monument to our first President constantly within view, reminding us of the freedoms the Founding Fathers originally fought for.
The Reflecting Pool memorials highlight that those original ideals very often will require actual battle to defend. To quote an inscription from within a monument you’re about to explore… “Here we mark the price of freedom”.
You should be standing in the lawn at a confluence of paths, just in front of the George Washington Monument. If you're standing with your back to the monument, in the distance, across the road is the World War II Memorial. That's the direction of west.
I’ve chosen this as our starting point because it’s essentially the geographic point of origin for Washington DC. It’s the location from which so much of the city’s development can be referenced. There’s currently an ironically small marker, called the Jefferson Pier, located within this lawn. It’s quite small and doesn’t draw as much attention as you’d expect. Actually, at one point the stone was so neglected that it was buried for many years. But it’s quite significant because it sits exactly along the north-south meridian that the original surveyors used as their reference point while determining the geographic coordinates for this city’s mapping. The pier also happens to sit exactly along the east-west axis that the planners worked from as well. We’re therefore beginning our exploration today at the same spot where Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries originated their city-founding measurements.
To give you an orientation of where we will be walking together today, all of the memorials we will be exploring are on the land directly west of here, in the direction of the WW2 Memorial, just across the busy 17th Street. You can actually see the perimeters of our tour from here.
Look straight at the WW2 Memorial.
Following that same line of vision, the Reflecting pool and the Lincoln Memorial can also be seen. The Vietnam Memorial is to the north, or the right of the Lincoln Memorial. The Korean Memorial is to the south, or the left.
This tour is designed to walk you through the memorial spaces surrounding the Reflection pool, discussing in depth the elements that make them so special. Feel free to take your time exploring each one. I’ll be providing directions along the way so that you will know where to head next.
Our first stop will be the entrance to the WW2 Memorial, directly across the street.
Let’s begin our trek now by heading to the crosswalk that will take us to the other side of 17th Street. It’s just straight ahead.
As you walk, I’ll briefly explain how VoiceMap works. VoiceMap uses your location to play audio automatically, at the right time and place. This means that you can put your phone away now. Don't worry if I'm silent at times, when I'm not giving directions or telling stories. There's a map on your screen if you ever feel lost, and if you do get way off track without noticing, VoiceMap will let you know.
During the course of this tour, we are going to visit all of the memorials along the Reflecting Pool...save one. There is a small and not-so-known monument within the woods along the south side of the pool, situated between the WW2 and Korea memorials. And while it's managed by the National Park Services it's actually a local commemoration to the citizens of Washington DC who participated in WW1. It's gained some attention recently in connection with current efforts to construct a national WW1 memorial. I provide more details on that within the Bonus Track. If you do feel inclined to stop by and pay your respects, its a lovely quick walk from the Korean War Memorial and it sits near a pedestrian crossing that takes you over to the Tidal Basin, so it may be a pathway for you if you're continuing on to explore the memorials there.
Keep going to the crosswalk. You'll hear from me when you reach it.