Since I only have one year in Washington, I am determined to explore and experience the city to its fullest. On Saturday, I started off with a genuine DC experience- the center of the red line on the Metro, spanning from DuPont Circle to Union Station, was closed for weekend track work. There were an ample supply of shuttle buses, but when I returned from the Fellows picnic in the afternoon, traffic was so snarled that progress was extremely slow. Thus I was determined that my Sunday explorations needed to be executed without using the subway.
According to Google maps, the National Cathedral is a mere 1.4 miles, or a 30 minute walk from my house. What Google maps did NOT tell me is that the entire walk is uphill. The National Cathedral is the highest structure in DC. It is actually shorter in height than the Washington Monument, but because the Cathedral sits on great blooming Mount Saint Albans, it provides the best eagle’s eye view of the city.
One of the details that I sought out specifically was the space window, which illustrates the path of Apollo 11 around the moon and back. In the center of the moon’s glass is the only piece of lunar rock that is not in a museum. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins (who incidentally had attended the Cathedral’s Saint Albans School as a lad) presented the rock for placement in the window. I learned later to look overhead near the space window and focus on the “buss,” which is the decoration placed at the junction of several arches. At first glance, it looks like a golf ball, but upon closer examination, it is obviously the surface of the moon with moon boot footsteps across it. Neil Armstrong’s public memorial service will be held on Thursday in the Cathedral, although it is a ticketed event controlled by NASA.
The docent on the tour explained that cathedrals generally have numerous chapels because most people don’t have 7000 friends to invite to an event. Of all the chapels, the War Memorial Chapel was probably the most significant for the stories involved. The entire contents were a gift from England, and the stained glass window depicts scenes from WWII in particular. It was from this chapel that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated. They read every one of the 58,000 names on the wall, which took three days and two nights. In the back corner of the chapel stands cement fragment from the Pentagon that is in the shape of a cross. The docent suggested that the survivors of 9/11 hope that the annual anniversary will become a day of reflection and remembrance rather than turning into a holiday on which you go out to buy a new mattress, as has happened with Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.
As might be expected in a cathedral, the crypt contains the remains of a number of memorable people. Annie Sullivan is buried there as one of the few women who is not known mostly as “wife of someone.” Helen Keller is also buried there, since she said that she couldn’t bear to be separated from her teacher. Nearby, there is a plaque in memory of Helen Keller with the brass worn bright from all the hands touching the Braille dots. Eventually the dots get worn smooth from the contact, and the plaque is replaced to start again.
The Cathedral was badly damaged by the earthquake last year, and because it is a church, the Federal Government is not allowed to provide any money for its restoration. About halfway up the Nave, which is the large main section of the building where people worship, there is a new ceiling of black netting. It still allows the light of the upper windows to shine through, but it protects people below from debris.
My second quest, other than seeing the space window, was to find the gargoyle in the shape of Darth Vader. Apparently there was a competition a number of years ago for different designs, and Darth Vader came in third. He’s very high up, and although I thought I followed the instructions exactly, when I got my telephoto pictures home and blew them up, I couldn’t recognize the characteristic rounded helmet. Oh well, it will give me a reason to return.