Washington D.C: Day 2 at Arlington and Lafayette Park
Day 2 began with a trip to Arlington Cemetery. Before going through the cemetery itself, we went to the NPS Arlington House: The Robert E. Lee Memorial. If we were all being honest with ourselves, our expectations for the historic home and grounds were not very high. Neither of us had ever been to the home that once belonged to Lee due to the site being under construction. Both of us were wonderfully surprised by the progressive and honest programming the National Park Service site had. So far, it has turned out to be Tomi’s favorite. We got off the trolley to be greeted by a sign that read “Division and Reunification” which offered a small background on the site and a map of the area. We reached the historic home thirty minutes before our scheduled tour, so we decided to explore the grounds.
First, we went into the museum. We were all blown away. The first thing you see is a lifesize statue of Lee in the center of the room, but right beside him, there is signage that reads “A Place of Division and Reunification,” just like we had seen in the beginning. We then sat down to watch a short film on Arlington House. It was phenomenal. The film asked questions to spark interest and encourage questions about the site, as well as how history is interpreted about those who lived and worked at the Arlington House. The museum only got better as we continued through the small space. Along the walls in glass cases were artifacts and panels that spoke about the facts that can only be traced in documentation or by DNA. You could trace the Custis family tree and see the descendants of the enslaved people as well. The NPS left no one out of the interpretation. Finally, what caught our attention most were the interactive physical and digital polling centers. On the wall were five important questions for visitors to answer on sticky notes and think about through their tour: How should we tell the story of Robert E. Lee? How should the United States remember those who fought for the Confederacy? How do the beliefs of your friends and family shape your own views? How do you balance your family, loyalty to your home, and loyalty to your country? How do the actions taken by Lee and other former Confederates continue to impact the nation today? All of these questions had quite diverse answers as one could imagine. Asking visitors these tough questions, whether they physically answer them or not, creates conversation and thought. On our way out, we noticed a small interactive piece of the exhibit which asked you opinion questions pertaining to the museum and showed you the answers of others. It did not shy away from any hard topic and allowed for a visitor to really contemplate and think about what they had seen in the museum. The rest of the tour only got better and we even returned to the museum at the end for a second run through.
As you enter the home of the Custis-Lee family, the first room you enter is Lee’s office where he spent most of his days in his short, four year residence at the Arlington House. It is curious to us how the home was so Lee focused in the past, as he was the shortest resident in the home. This is one of the reasons why the National Park Service is actually considering dropping Lee’s name from the site. Back to the office, this space has importance because not only did Lee spend a lot of time here, but this is also where he declined to command and continue to serve in the US Army on April 20, 1861. Continuing through the home, it was not a shrine to Lee, but a wider focus on all who lived there. We saw paintings in the parlor by George Washington Parke-Custis, the original owner and builder of the home and also about the life of his daughter and Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee. The home acknowledges how Mary Lee was the actual sole owner of the property and her father instilled many legal barriers to ensure her husband would never have ownership. This was something that rarely happened in the 19th century where the father entrusted their daughter more than her husband. Finally, you are able to view the large dining room that had once held many famous guests. When viewing the dining room, there was a type of interactive question the museum posed to us asking, “If you could have a dinner party, who would you invite?” Although this question is not nearly as hard hitting and involved as the others, it shows interpreters wanted to keep asking questions for further thought throughout the experience. Due to the pandemic that still clouds our lives, the small upstairs and basement areas are not able to be toured physically, but can be seen on an interactive exhibit. Overall, to be a house museum, the tour told a visitor more information than the type of china on the table. We were able to see personal sides of the Custis-Lee home that none of us had experienced before.
Our last tour we took was through the north and south slave quarters on the property. Dr. Sherayko was positive that these spaces were not a part of his last visit to the site decades ago. We asked the kind National Park Service ranger what those buildings were used for before being interpreted correctly as the slave quarters. After the experience we had at the Appomattox Courthouse and how they had restrooms styled as slave quarters, we wondered about what these had once been. “Those buildings are original slave quarters. They both were gift shops for the Arlington House prior to the renovations. Now they are brought back to their original state and have exhibits on the enslaved population.” We all walked away astonished. Gift shops? Restrooms? It is absolutely incredible how far the NPS has come to correct their past mistakes and correctly interpret the history of their sites. Entering the dwellings of what could have been for many of the 196 enslaved people at the Arlington House was a powerful experience. Their names, their stories, and their descendants still live on today for all visitors to see. Through thoughtful programming you are able to see bedrooms, the kitchen, and other spaces to grasp what it was like for the enslaved community at the plantation. We were also pleasantly surprised to see a brochure in the quarters that spoke on how Arlington House wished to move forward as a “place of dialogue.” A photo of this brochure is attached. Not only were the exhibits limited to talking about the enslaved people on the property, but also the Freedman’s Village that grew to over 1,500 residents after the Civil War. One of the men, James Parks, who lived, worked, was freed on, and passed away on Arlington House land is actually buried in Arlington Cemetery and was with full military honors. With these added exhibits the Arlington House finally tells the whole story of the plantation, not just half of it.
We all had visited Arlington Cemetery several times throughout our lives. It is a somber place that is still very much active with dozens of military burials every day. Stops that all visitors should visit include the Kennedy gravesite with the eternal flame and the Tomb of the Unknown. Ted Kennedy, a powerful presence in the Senate for years, was the most recent family member to join the others at Arlington in 2009 and each of us paid our respects There are several locations along the tour tram route where the grave markers seem to go on forever showing the true cost of keeping our nation free. Adjacent to the Kennedys is an area reserved for some notable Supreme Court justices, including Justice Thurgood Marshall and Chief Justice Earl Warren. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away in 2020, was recently buried next to her husband. Following the traditions of her Jewish faith, her name will not be added to the gravestone until a year after her death. Though she was petite in stature, her impact on American law was enormous. It was important for all of us to honor her. Medgar Evers was a lesser-known gravesite that we learned about from Dr. Sherayko and the tour guide. We had to pay our respects to the World War II veteran that was also a civil rights activist from Mississippi. As the Mississippi State Secretary for the NAACP, he challenged state-sponsored segregation at the University of Mississippi and worked tirelessly for the voting rights of African-Americans. Unfortunately, Evers was assassinated in his own driveway in 1963 by a white supremacist apart of a group called the White Citizens Council. He was incredibly brave in his service during his years as a member of the Army and an activist for what is right. Evers was able to be buried at Arlington with full military honors. The last site we saw while at Arlington Cemetery was the Confederate monument constructed in 1914 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It went up to honor the 482 Confederate dead buried at Arlington. As seen in our previous posts, everything that the United Daughters of the Confederacy has touched seems to be controversial, and this monument was no exception. It depicted a Black Confederate soldier and a mammy figure that appeared willing to support the Southern cause. Though the artistic style of Moses Ezekiel is impressive, the monument does little in telling the truth about what the Confederacy was fighting for. If its sole purpose recognized that Confederate soldiers are buried at Arlington, no issues would exist. However, since it is shrouded by the Lost Cause, it needs significant actions for context or should be considered for removal.
Our final stop at Arlington Cemetery was the Women In Military Service For America Memorial and Museum. A beautiful structure that commemorates the loyalty, honor, and sacrifice women in our armed services have made and continues to make for our country. A peaceful fountain shoots water upward as the monument to servicewomen surrounds the water feature. Inside the grandiose structure is a museum detailing the efforts of women from the very beginning of their ability to serve. Not only are there original artifacts like uniforms, letters, and weaponry, but there are also notable service members who are recognized with their own personal stories and achievements. To continue the peaceful environment felt outside the museum, art cascades the walls of the museum by service women. It was an inspiring piece of the Arlington landscape none of us had ever been in. We are all thankful we took the time to learn about, appreciate, and honor servicewomen by attending the museum and memorial.
To conclude our long day, we returned to Lafayette Square to meet up with an alum from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, Rebecca Grawl. We sought out her Lincoln assassination tour and were quickly impressed by her knowledge of the President and others involved in the night of April 15, 1865. Though most people know that John Wilkes Booth was the man who shot and killed the President, he was only one small component of a much larger plot which Lincoln’s assassin thought would allow the Confederacy to rise again after their defeat. We were first told about the night that President Lincoln and the First Lady were having at the White House before heading out to Ford’s Theater. Rebecca then shifted to the conspiracy to overthrow the American government. President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, was also targeted by Lewis Powell that night. As Rebecca pointed out though, since Seward had been injured a few days before after falling off his horse, he was lying in the bed of his home with a cast protecting most of his body. Though he was stabbed in the neck and face dozens of times, Seward survived, and Powell was caught at the Mary Surratt Boarding House just a few days later. When Rebecca took our group a few blocks away to the spot where the Kirkwood House once stood, she talked about George Atzerodt, who was assigned to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson. However, before he could do so, he got drunk at the bar of the Kirkwood House and failed to go upstairs to kill Johnson. He was later found by the police at the home of his cousin in Maryland. Finally, we arrived at Ford’s Theater to listen to Rebecca describe the assassination of President Lincoln. Booth, a well-known actor at the time, told patrons in the bar next door that no one would ever forget his name. He infamously shot President Lincoln in the back of the head while he sat next to his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, while they watched My American Cousin from a high private box. Major Henry Rathbone, who attended the play with the Lincoln’s and his fianceé Clara Harris, tried to stop Booth but was stabbed in the process. Booth jumped to the stage and shouted “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” a Latin phrase meaning "thus always to tyrants." Though Booth got away from the scene of his violent act, he was later found and killed by Union men. The other conspirators, Lewis Powell, Mary Surratt, George Atzerdot, and David Harold were executed by hanging just a few months later. Rebecca told an enthralling story about the deaths of one of the greatest and consequential presidents of our history. We cannot thank her enough for offering us this valuable experience in our busy Summer. One way our society memorializes and remembers Lincoln’s legacy is through tours like those offered by Rebecca’s company. We highly recommend searching for tours offered through DC by Foot.
PLEASE BESTIE NOT THE TORCH SONG PANELS I CAN'T NOT TODAY 😭😭😭
do a sad heartbreaking rec list. I want to read what you read or else I'll join your mutuals on roasting 😡
SORRY BESTIE SOMETHING IS IN THE AIR TODAY AND I FEEL LIKE CRYING!!!!! as for heartbreaking recs HMMM okay:
fantastic four vol 1 #587-588
amazing spider-man vol 1 #657
new x-men (2004) #13, 24, 32
daredevil (2014) #10
giant-size astonishing x-men #1
civil war: the confession
iron man/captain america: casualties of war
fallen son: the death of captain america
the death of captain marvel
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