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Taking the Kids: Visiting Washington, D.C.

Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

We’re talking, of course, about The National Mall in Washington, D.C. Consider that The National Mall typically gets more than 25 million visitors a year — more than to Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon National Parks.

Good thing there is so much space — more than 26 miles of pedestrian sidewalks and 8 miles of bike trails stretching from the Potomac River in the west to Capitol Hill to the east.

We’ve had 46 presidents but only five have been honored with monuments on the National Mall. Can you guess which ones?

George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall is the first here not dedicated to a war, a president or a white man. Download the free National Parks app to DC’s national parks and sign on to become a junior ranger (ask at a monument’s ranger station for what you need to do! There may also be special ranger-led activities.)

While you are here, you’ll also visit the famous war memorials on the National Mall. There’s one for World War II veterans, Korean War veterans, and Vietnam veterans. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has become the home of Washington, D.C.'s most visited sites.

The Lincoln Memorial is typically the most visited. “Any visiting kids HAVE to see the Lincoln Memorial and climb up the (58) steps to go inside,” said Stephen, 10, from Ohio, one of the many kids who offered input for my “Kid’s Guide to Washington, D.C.,” now out in its second edition. (The third edition will be out next spring.)

 

This month marks the Lincoln Memorial Centennial. The National Park Service has been undertaking a $25 million renovation, adding new services and a new design to enhance the visitors’ experience. It is expected to be completed before the memorial’s centennial celebration with a large in-person community event on May 30. All month, the National Park Service and its partners will offer commemorative activities reflecting 100 years of honoring the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, including the meaning of the memorial and the Lincoln Memorial’s pivotal role in the civil rights movement. It was at the Lincoln Memorial that Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream,” speech on Aug. 28, 1963 to massive crowds gathered here. It galvanized the civil rights movement.

Look for the words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address – his most famous speech – carved in the walls (nps.gov/linc). Inspired by the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, the memorial features a giant statue of the seated Lincoln and murals with allegorical depictions of his greatest accomplishments as president - the reunification of the United States following the Civil War and the emancipation of more than 4 million enslaved people.

Check out the view across the famous Reflecting Pool! You might be able to see across the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery.

It's no wonder that many families start their DC exploration at the National Mall to visit the monuments and nearby Smithsonian museums. Don’t miss the new “Really BIG Money” exhibit at the National Museum of American History. It’s especially aimed at kids and features some 185 objects from the museum’s National Numismatic Collection, including objects that don’t seem like money at all. Who knew the quetzal bird with its flamboyant tail feathers was used as money in Mexico and Central America..

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