Memorials and Monuments in Washington DC

Washington DC is a wonderfully interesting city.

not only because of watching the machinery of governing grind away, but also because of getting back in touch with the history of this country.

the memorials and monuments are quite something. and there are many.  41 of the many are on the National Register of Historic Places.

the ones that have been around for years include the Washington Monument, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the United States Marine Corps War Memorial (the Iwo Jima memorial).

some others are relatively new, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the National World War II Memorial, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

the one that to me is the most imposing and the cause for the most reflection is the Lincoln Memorial.  partly because of its positioning — at the western end of the National Mall with only the Washington Monument between it and the US Capitol building.  very impressive to say the least.   over 6 million visitors experience it every year.  the two speeches (The Gettysburg Address and The Second Inaugural Address) which are carved into the stone interior walls are so worth reading over and over again. they never get old.

in addition, you have to work to get to see it. you have to walk up a number of steps to get inside of the Lincoln Memorial.  sometimes, what is harder to get to is of more value.


my favorite memorial in DC, however, is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  most people are not even aware of this one.  it is kind of hidden away in the trees between the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial on the western shore of the Tidal Basin.  it is off the beaten trail.  a fair distance from the National Mall.  unless you are specifically searching for this memorial, you will not find it.  yet, 2.5 million people visit it every year.


but what a unique way to honor his role in America’s history.   it is all outdoors.  no buildings, no canopies. it covers more than 7 acres of land.  and you have to walk quite a ways to see the entire monument.  it winds and jigs and jags.  you can walk around it in whatever order you wish to.

the entire exhibit is made of stone, sculpture and water.  it is designed to be totally accessible to all, which is especially important given the fact the FDR was in a wheelchair his entire four terms as President.


but on my most recent trip to DC this week, I went to a new Memorial that I had never been to before — the Martin Luther King Memorial.   and I liked it.  primarily because it is so understated.  and  it is so quiet and peaceful in its location next to the Tidal Basin and close to FDR’s Memorial.

MLK is the first African American honored with a memorial on or near the National Mall and only the fourth non-President to be memorialized in such a way.

the memorial has a statue of Dr. King, which is entitled the Stone of Hope. but to get there you have to walk past two other huge pieces of granite that symbolize the “mountain of despair.”   all of this is reflecting one of the lines in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech when he said “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”. the drama of this is striking and arresting.

the rest of the memorial is simply an Inscription Wall which has a collection of 14 of his quotes inscribed in marble to be read and reflected upon by all.

For example, one of the 14 is “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” (given on February 25, 1967, in Los Angeles)

I found the memorial very powerful.

incidentally, a week from Monday, the 28th of August, is the 54th anniversary of MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech that he gave from the Lincoln Memorial before thousands of people on the National Mall.

6 thoughts on “Memorials and Monuments in Washington DC”

  1. I lived in DC for 11 years and never tired of them. The FDR memorial also includes what is probably the only statue of a dog — FDR’s Fala.

    1. Thanks. Nice catalog of the symbols that struggle to hold us all together.
      PS. Victoria saw the Selma Hayek movie and said she thought it wasn’t that great. (Selma was okay, though)

  2. I haven’t seen the FDR or the MLK Memorial. You have inspired me to visit both during my next trip to DC.

  3. Neil – Very nice! We have seen the FDR Memorial but not the MLK. Incidentally, I was present in DC for MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech in August 1963. It was a very peaceful and pleasant day for that historic speech.

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