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National Mall & Memorial Parks

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korean war monument wall soldiers statues

Vacation Unexpected

Got it all planned out. Go there, see this, eat here and all that. But something is going to happen that wasn’t planned. And that is what’s going to be remembered.

Hustling from one attraction to another in a sightseeing frenzy, zipping around Washington D.C., something just outside the crosswalk lines caught my attention. I stopped and looked down. A mini robot painted yellow on the pavement stared up at me.

I pointed it out to my wife and kids and said, “That’s a strange sight.”

“Looks like an alien,” my son said, nonchalantly.

“It reminds me of a petroglyph,” my wife added.

“It looks like we’re going to get run over if we don’t move,” said my teenage daughter.

I figured it had to do with marking the power lines under the street or something like that.

Later, we saw this peculiar fella painted by another crosswalk. Our imaginations went into overdrive, exploring other possibilities for this thick stick figure that was about the size of my hand. It was strange. It didn’t quite belong and we all knew it. But our curiosity dissipated as our other activities mounted.

The mystery of the strange stick figures littering the city will be revealed in the next story when we visit the “The City of Brotherly Love.” Yes, they showed up there, too!

Anyway, after we crossed another crosswalk, I made sure to have the traditional photo snapped (of me) giving a smiling, one-finger salute to the IRS building. Who can resist?


Ford’s Theatre, where President Lincoln was shot, was a grim but interesting stop. It was a little eerie to think of this place as “living” history, in a sense, considering such a horrific event occurred so long ago. I stared at that balcony and then panned down to the stage – so close and personal – and imagined how stunning the sequence of events were for the theatre crowd that fateful night of April 14, 1865. Things got more eerie when we crossed the street and entered the Peterson House to see the bed in which Lincoln died. It is where several soldiers rushed the President to await the doctor’s arrival. The bed is a replica of the original which is on display at the Chicago History Museum. However, the bloodstained pillow and pillowcases were the actual ones used on Lincoln’s death bed.


Upon leaving the Petersen House, which is part of Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, there was a staircase that wrapped around a stack of books that was incredibly high. The stack wasn’t one book on top of the other. Rather, it was a wide cluster. Every book in the bound spire was about Lincoln. Someone said these only represented half of the books published about the 16th President of The United States. I don’t know if that was true but the visual before us was nonetheless astonishing.

tower of lincoln books at peterson house in washington d.c.

One of the most beautiful sights in Washington D.C. is the ornate architecture inside of the Library of Congress building. It wasn’t even a planned stop. Right when we walked in our family let out a collective gasp.

All of the Smithsonian museums and national monuments we visited were impressive to see in person as you may expect. Four of the monuments really struck a note. But first, I need to mention the best hot dog I ever had. Or so it seemed. It was at a nondescript concession stand along the National Mall, simply titled, “Refreshments.” We were famished. Sitting in the grass, we bit into deliciousness. So tasty it’s worth mentioning. Now it could have been one of those, I’m so hungry I could eat cardboard, moments. I can’t say for sure.

What I can say is that this little pit stop gave us the energy it would take to walk, walk and walk some more.

When we were at the Jefferson Memorial, I had my family walk ahead and up the sprawling steps so that I could get a distance shot of them. Now, mind you, my eyes are tricky these days. I need bifocals but don’t have any. I wear “computer” glasses for midrange, driving glasses for far range, no glasses for up close and subscription sunglasses for outside. In fact, my wife was sick of me asking her to stop every time that we went from outdoors to indoors so I could fetch the right glasses from her purse. I felt like Fred Sanford from the old TV show, Sanford and Son. Anyway, I removed my shades to see the LCD display on my camera.  I proceeded to snap great shots of my family on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, resting. I even zoomed in and got great candid close-ups of my wife and kids.

Jefferson memorial silhouette

Later, when we were marveling at the photos of the day while sitting on a curb, my wife sounded a peculiar tone in her voice when she questioned a series of photos I had taken.

“Who are these people? Why so many pictures of them?”

I looked and realized I had filmed a strange woman and her two kids. All of whom resembled members of my family. We had a hearty laugh.

I never knew about the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. But I’ll remember it because of the water fountain that allowed us to replenish our drinking bottles. The memorial is subtle, tucked away and more like a stroll through a park. It spans 7 ½ acres. It was beautiful and surprisingly a favorite of all of ours. Water cascades down rocks in one section. Then you pass into another area and sit for a while admiring the art, architecture and nature wrapped harmoniously together.


In yet another section, I took photos and noticed a Great Depression soup line. Gray, poor, sad statues with heads hung low lined up in a row against a drab brick wall. Then, in my viewfinder, I panned into a colorfully clothed girl with her head hung low standing like the other statues in line. It was my daughter! It turns out, looking at Google images; this is a popular pastime and photo opp at the FDR Memorial. I guess the humor is that starvation seems so far-fetched for most Americans today. That and other contrasts made the people passing by do double-takes and then laugh.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was nice to visit because it’s a long overdue honor for the civil rights icon. After more than two decades of planning, it finally opened in August of 2011. The quotes carved into marble launched wonderful conversation with the kids. But for some reason, the memorial seemed smaller compared to others’. Also, it is from this area that I first peered closely at the Tidal Basin body of water in which many of the monuments surround. It is disgusting. It is an absolute shame that our nation’s capital cannot keep such a central body of water clear from the embarrassing amounts of litter collected in it. It is also a shame that people litter it to begin with.

mlk memorial

One of the best sites for me was the Korean War Memorial. It had a similar black wall as the Vietnam Memorial but leading to it were statues of soldiers coming through a marshy area. It just loomed in my mind with symbolism that made me think of those servicemen. And photos just didn’t capture what my mind did. Then, as I neared the end of the wall, chance timing put an Asian woman (I’d like to think she was Korean), in front of an inscription in the flat black, stone wall. Next to her was a small Asian child. The inscription she pointed to read, “Freedom is not free.”

Freedom is not Free - Korean War Memorial

I said we had four favorite stops and so far mentioned three. I’ll get to the heart-wrenching fourth in a moment.

Remember, this was a blistering hot day and we had covered many miles on foot.  So soaking our bare feet in a huge fountain with shooting water along with many other weary pedestrians ranked right up there with our more memorable stops.

When we left the mall for the long trek back to our hotel on foot (should have used the subway), we were desperate for hydration. Our water supply had long run dry. That’s when I spotted what may have been a mirage. We all rummaged for any remaining change in our pockets. My wallet was cashed-out other than plastic, which was no good at the moment. We scrounged up just enough coin to splurge on one five-dollar frozen lemonade from a mobile stand to share curbside. At home we could get a whole   box of these for less money. Nonetheless, desperate times called for desperate measures. We needed some sort of hydration to make the trek back to the hotel. Our day started with plenty of water reserves but the “Gestapo” over at the Capitol building had us pour out every last drop before entering. Anyway, the four of us lined the curb with our precious refreshment. Each of us took a spoonful of heaven and passed it down. Hawk eyes made sure nobody took more than that in a single turn. Later, if asked what was the best place we ate. The answer was that damn curb. Go figure.

It’s also where we looked at another family’s vacation photos. The ones I took at the Jefferson Memorial.


Later, I bribed my kids with ice cream into writing their most memorable moment of the long trip (which this was only about the halfway mark). Both of their writings were about D.C.

“The thing that brought tears to my eyes was the Vietnam Memorial. To some people, it’s just a wall with names. To others, it’s the place where the memory of a loved one lives on. But to me, it’s where the soldiers that died for the country’s safety are remembered. Just walking through, looking at all of the names on the marble black wall and the presents given from loved ones to the lost lives all lead to one sentence – Freedom is not free.”
– Written by my 11-year-old son.


“Time is probably the most valuable thing on earth. You can always get more money, but time is limited, once you spend it, it’s gone …so you better spend it on something you love. In just one day I was able to see the White House, the Capitol building, the Supreme Court and ALL the Washington monuments …and that was just one day. Imagine what I could do in a week, or a month, or a lifetime. This trip has taught me that you have to make each moment count, so that someday you can say …I spent my time wisely.”
– Written by my 13-year-old daughter.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Next Stop: Philadelphia next right
last leftLast Stop: U.S. Capitol Building


Jefferson Memorial

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

split rock at martin luther king memorial
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

dr. martin luther king jr memorial statue
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

mlk monument washington d.c.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

Vietnam War Memorial Wall

Vietnam War Memorial Wall

Vietnam War Memorial Wall

Vietnam War Memorial Wall

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution

National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution

Ford’s Theatre

Peterson House

Peterson House

World War II Memorial

Washington Monument