Saturday, January 28, 2017

Experiencing History

The very crowded Federal Center SW station at dawn on the morning of January 21, 2017. 

There are few times and events that one can say with near certainty will be considered historic in the years, decades, and perhaps centuries to come.

Since this blog is as much a family history as it is a blog about topics and issues concerning genealogy more generally, I think it is worth using it occasionally to leave a record for descendants of pieces of history that I have personally participated in or observed (given that this blog is periodically reduced to book form).

Before this post is taken by some as perhaps being politically partisan, I should go on record as saying I am neither a registered Republican nor a registered Democrat. I am an American whose family on both my mother's side and my father's side have been in America since 1620 and 1640 respectively. I am invested in America!

Since moving to Washington, DC in July 1978, I have witnessed or been caught up in several events that will almost surely be historically significant for many years to come.  I have written about or referenced some of those events in this blog previously.  But a brief listing of some of the events is appropriate here. 

I personally attended two Presidential Inaugurations in Washington, DC (Reagan's 1st and George W. Bush's 1st). 

Ronald Reagan's first Inauguration in January 1981 was the warmest on record at the time -- 55 degrees.  It was the first to take place on the so-called West Front of the United States Capitol and, despite the mild weather, it was reported that 10,000 were in the crowd that observed it. Even as the inauguration speech was taking place, the nation's attention was focused on the American hostages who were in their 444th day of captivity in Iran. They were released as the new President was in the midst of his luncheon in the Capitol with Congressional leaders.  Until Donald Trump was inaugurated eight days ago, President Reagan was the oldest man to assume the office. 

The first inauguration of George W. Bush in January 2001 took place on a gray, cold, rainy, overcast day. It was reported that 300,000 people attended despite the poor weather conditions. I was among a contingent of local Boy Scouts and Scout leaders who volunteered to man hospitality tents on the Mall for bands and others assembling for the inaugural parade. 

Molly is not Catholic and neither am I, but on October 8, 1979 we spent most of the day down on the National Mall to see and listen to Pope John-Paul II (who was the first Pope to visit the White House). There were a reported 175,000 people on the Mall that day to see and hear the Pope.

On September 11, 2001, I was in a meeting at the Washington Navy Yard when the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon took place. [I have written an account of my personal experience of that event here on this blog.] 

Almost twelve years to the day after 9-11 (on September 16, 2013), I was in my office at the Washington Navy Yard when an alert sounded for everyone to shelter-in-place immediately. Twelve people working in the NAVSEA (Naval Sea Systems Command) headquarters building just two buildings behind our office building were murdered that day by a lone gunman. Three more people were seriously injured. 

Looking east to the Capitol from the National Mall near 3rd Street and Independence at daybreak.

The latest historic event I have personally participated in and observed took place one week ago today on Saturday, January 21, 2017. Molly and I decided we had to be there to participate in the Women's March held that day. It is reported that 500,000 or more people were there to take part. I can say that the crowd was the largest assembly of humanity Molly and I had ever been part of. I  can also say that the size of the crowd dwarfed that of the Pope's 1979 Mass on the Mall, Ronald Reagan's inauguration in January 1981, and the January 2001 inauguration of George W. Bush -- all of which I personally observed. 

When they are older and perhaps learn about these times and that March, Molly and I are both going to be proud to tell our granddaughter and her sister (who arrives in May) that we were there -- and thinking of both of them often during the event.  The March was important, huge, and now a part of our history!

We arrived early enough to claim a spot to the left of the stage set up at 3rd and Independence
right in front of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Some very clever Suffragette participants in the March.  They were standing on a low wall just behind us near an entrance to the National Museum of the American Indian (as engraved above the entrance to the top left).

The stage and earliest assembly point. We are standing to the right of the tree at left near the American Indian Museum.

On Independence Ave. looking west from the stage area in front of the American Indian Museum.

Farther up Independence Ave. west of the stage and in front of the Air & Space Museum buildings on the right. One has to realize that this in only part of the crowd. Many more people could not get onto Independence Ave. or near the stage area and were on Constitution Ave. to the right on the other side of the National Mall from the Air & Space Museum -- as the next photo shows.

Marchers on Constitution Ave. on the other side of the Mall from Independence Ave. Participants first started assembling on Independence Ave. and are still over there waiting to be able to march onto Constitution Ave. west toward the White House.

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All photographs by the author except the aerial photos of the stage area and the crowd in front of the Air & Space museum which are marked "VOA" in the lower right.  VOA is the Voice of America, whose offices are directly across Independence Ave. from the National Museum of the American Indian from where we stood. We observed many people on the roof of the VOA building taking aerial shots such as these.  VOA is a U.S. Government-funded agency and is the official external broadcasting institution of the United States.  Also the photo of the marchers going west on Constitution Ave. is by Joeff Davis from

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Copyright 2017, John D. Tew
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1 comment:

  1. John, I really enjoyed this post. Like you, I attended many events during my 20 years of living in Alexandria and working in DC, including seeing and hearing Pope John-Paul II on that October day. I rather miss seeing things first hand, but that's how it is. I'm thrilled seeing your picture and that of Molly, that is a keeper.
    Lowell made the news the other day in the New York Times, and if you have nothing else to do, you might enjoy reading the article: