People come to DC for the museums, the monuments and the culture, but there is so much more to the city. Can you name the only signer of the Declaration of Independence buried in DC? Here’s a hint: he’s also where the term “gerrymandering” comes from. Appropriate, right? It’s Elbridge Gerry and he’s buried in Congressional Cemetery, which is now a dog park in Southeast DC. If you’re interested in learning more facts and trivia that the tourists don’t know, read on!
photo: Andrew S. via Yelp
1. Look up at the ceiling of Union Station. All that glimmers isn’t paint. It’s solid 23-cart gold gilding.
2. Gold or no gold, the roof started leaking and the whole building fell into disrepair and was almost demolished…twice. Once in the 1960s and once in the 1970s.
3. More than 5 million passengers pass through Union Station every year.
4. As you exit Union Station, see if you can find the replica Liberty Bell in Columbus Circle.
5. Union Station would look much different if plans that called for the Lincoln Memorial to be built on the grounds went forward.
photo: Balee D. via Yelp
6. Both the site of the Lincoln Memorial and the design were controversial. Other proposals included a Mayan temple and an Egyptian pyramid.
7. Lincoln may or may not be signing his initials in American Sign Language with his hands.
8. The statue of Lincoln was originally supposed to only be 10 feet. As plans for the monument expanded so did the statue, which wound up being 19 feet.
9. There is a typo in the Gettysburg Address on the north wall. Instead of “future” the word was inscribed “euture.” Though the typo has been corrected, the original spelling is still visible.
10. The same team that designed the Lincoln Memorial also designed another DC landmark: Dupont Circle. The fountain in the middle of the circle was state-of-the-art in 1921 when it boasted an electric water pump.
11. Under Dupont Circle there are lots of tunnels – and not just fore the Metro. In 1917, a series of tunnels plastered with German newspapers were discovered during excavation of a new apartment building. The tunnels were dug by a Smithsonian moth and mosquito expert who claims to have dug them for exercise. Unfortunately, you cant visit the tunnels as they were filled in years ago.
12. Not far from Union Station is the United States Supreme Court, which is a relative newcomer to the city. It was completed in 1935. Before then, the Court used the Old Senate Chamber, as well as spaces in the basement of the Capitol and even Philadelphia’s Old City Hall.
photo: Shirly C. via Yelp
13. While becoming a Supreme Court Justice is the dream of many lawyers, you don’t need to have a law degree to be on the court. In fact, a majority – 57 percent – didn’t have law degrees.
14. Talk about a resume! William Howard Taft is the only person who has served as both President and Chief Justice. He was also a short-lived fifth Racing President at Nats Park
15. There’s a gym with a basketball court on the top floor – meaning that there’s a highest court in the land inside the Highest Court in the Land.
16. A fruit or a vegetable? Everyone knows that tomatoes are actually fruits – not vegetables – but that didn’t stop the Court from arguing the point in an 1893 case. The Court ultimately decided that tomatoes are vegetables because they are served during the salad or main course and not during dessert.
photo: Sivilay T. via Yelp
17. Across the street from the Supreme Court is the US Capitol, which is topped by a statue officially called the Statue of Freedom. She weighs in at 15,000 pounds and was cleaned for the first time in her 141 year history in 1993.
18. While a statue might be one top, plans to bury George Washington in a crypt in the basement were scrapped. Visitors, however, can still see where the tomb was going to go and browse the gift shop.
19. While Washington isn’t under the Capitol, is its own subway system is.
20. The Capitol is literally strewn all over the Capital – original stone blocks litter Rock Creek Park and the original columns stand in the National Arboretum.
21. If you head west from the Capitol you will arrive at the National Mall that houses the Smithsonian and other attractions, but the National Mall as it appears today has not always looked the same. There was once a railroad that ran down the Mall, as well as pasture land for grazing cows, markets, and even dinosaur (statues) have graced the Mall.
photo: G.D.S. via Yelp
22. Trees have always been part of the Mall. Today there are over 9,000 of them.
23. The Mall continues to grow and change – with the Martin Luther King and World War II memorials being the most recent additions. A World War I, Disabled Veterans, and Eisenhower Memorials are all scheduled to open on the Mall in the near future.
24. While sometimes used synonymously, the Smithsonian and the Mall are two different things. The Smithsonian is a group of 19 museums only some of which are on the Mall.
25. The Smithsonian’s founder and namesake, James Smithson, never set foot in the United States and the Smithsonian almost didn’t come into existence. Congress was skeptical of accepting Mr. Smithson’s gift at first.
26. The Smithsonian’s collection is HUGE! Remember those 19 museums? Together they display only about 1 percent of their Institute’s collection at any given time.
27. There are nearly 30 million visitors a year to the Smithsonian.
28. One of the most popular Smithsonian museums is the Museum of Natural History. Not only does the museum host roughly 8 million visitors a year, but it also employs close to 200 natural history scientists – the largest such group in the world. Even better, you can watch some of these scientists at work during a visit.
29. Aside from some of the most famous items in its collection – like the Hope diamond – the museum has unknown artifacts waiting to be discovered. One of these is a 20 million year old dolphin fossil that scientists only identified in 2016 because it looked “cute.”
photo: The Air and Space Museum
30. Across the street from the Natural History Museum is one part of another Smithsonian blockbuster: The Air and Space Museum.
31. While the glass façade looks solid, the East wing of the Air and Space Museum acts like a giant garage door opener that allows the museum’s artifacts to be brought in and out.
32. The museum has the largest collection of aviation artifacts in the world – ranging from the Wright Brothers’ flyer to a rock that was brought back from the moon (they also have the capsules that went to the moon).
33. Though not on the Mall, the National Zoo is also part of the Smithsonian and is one of the oldest zoos in the country.
photo: Damian Patkowski via Unsplash
34. The zoo has been home to giant pandas since 1972, though they are officially “on loan” to the United States from China.
35. The zoo’s original location was behind the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall.
36. Pandas aren’t the only famous bear residents. Smokey Bear – yes, THAT Smokey Bear – was a resident from the time he was saved from a forest fire in New Mexico.
photo: Kaitlyn F. via Yelp
37. The original plan for the Washington Monument called for it to have a flat roof. The pyramid on top wasn’t added until 1879.
38. Three future presidents – including Abraham Lincoln – were at the ceremonies at the start of construction of the Washington Monument in 1848.
39. When the Washington Monument opened on October 9, 1888, it was the tallest man made structure in the world. It only held the title for about five months until the Eiffel Tower opened the following March.
40. It is still the largest obelisk in the world.
41. If you look about a third of the way up the Washington Monument, there is a slight difference in color. That’s because construction was halted during the Civil War and had to get stone from a different quarry when construction started back up.
42. The Washington Monument might be made out of stone, but Washington’s home on the Potomac River, Mount Vernon is not. It is made out of wood that has been made to look like stone.
photo: Kuuipo D. via Yelp
43. Despite what some movies say, there are no secret entrances out of Mount Vernon’s cellar.
44. The kitchen garden has been continuously growing herbs and vegetables since the 1760s.
45. George Washington never lived in the White House. The first to do so was John Adams, though it was still called the Executive Mansion then.
46. The name wasn’t changed to The White House until President Theodore Roosevelt changed it in 1901.
47. The Oval Office wasn’t added until 1909.
48. The White House was burned by the British during the War of 1812. The White House almost collapsed a second time – in 1948 – when it was found that the wooden, load-bearing columns were rotted through and close to failure. Luckily, it didn’t happen.
49. The International Spy Museum is the only museum in the world committed to espionage and spy craft.
50. The Spy Museum recently moved to a new location and doubled its original size.
51. The National Harbor hasn’t moved, but it took a while to be built. It was originally approved as PortAmerica in the 1980s.
photo: Tara G. via Yelp
52. Washington is known for its cherry blossoms, but these trees aren’t a native species – they come from Japan and were first given as a sign of friendship between the two countries in 1912.
53. How seriously do Washingtonians take their 4,000 cherry trees? Very. It is considered vandalism of federal property to pick the flowers, so look but do not touch!