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  Field Notes From
America's Front Yard

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America's Front Yard On AssignmentArrows

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From Author

Cliff Tarpy

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photograph by Brian Strauss


America's Front Yard On Assignment America's Front Yard On Assignment
America's Front Yard

Field Notes From Author
Cliff Tarpy

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    This assignment allowed me to travel through time, and I savored every minute of it. In my research, I viewed a wealth of historical photographs and maps that portray the Mall's evolution over the centuries. I learned a great deal of history not only about the Mall but also about my adopted hometown of Washington, D.C. It's a short walk from my office down to the Mall, so I was also able to inspect the progress of the new World War II Memorial, the newest of the grand monuments. And then I walked back in time, visiting the somber, moving Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the three grand icons: the towering obelisk that is the Washington Monument; the stately, columned Lincoln Memorial; and the rotund Jefferson Memorial. The Jefferson is my personal favorite, and this story gave me a reason to again linger there at night. Its whiteness was bathed in light, as I watched the water play across the Tidal Basin and the lights move across the quiet Mall and city beyond.

    For all its pleasing open spaces, for all its historical richness, for all its many splendid museums and galleries, the National Mall is not entirely user friendly. I pity local residents and out-of-town vacationers alike—especially those with cranky small children—who drive into downtown Washington and try to find a place to park near the Mall. A warm summer day brings droves of slow-moving vehicles along traffic-choked Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenue, which border the Mall on the north and south. Drivers inch along, watching and hoping for a car to swing out into traffic, thus freeing up a coveted parallel parking space. And if by the time you exit your car, you need to use the bathroom, good luck. This country seems to have an aversion to providing convenient public restrooms, and the Mall area is a prime example. One can always trudge to one of the museums, but be prepared for a long wait as security checks backpacks and purses.

    I once walked down to the Mall and just followed my nose, intentionally leaving my map at home. I found myself discovering the less heralded and easy-to-miss memorials on the Mall, some of which are charming in their small scale and often consist of little more than some creative landscaping. As I walked eastward from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial beside a large pond, I chanced upon a narrow footbridge that led to a small island. There, embedded in the concrete, are stones that contain replicas of the signatures of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. If you take the time to linger, you can learn a little history, then sit and enjoy a pleasant view of the landscape.


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