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A Perspective of the Jefferson Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial reflects the 3rd President’s flair for unique architecture, while celebrating one of the most important American Founding Fathers and writer of the Declaration of Independence. While it is the second to the last Presidential memorial to be built, the Jefferson Memorial is second to none when it comes to intricacy.
With a definite resemblance to his home, “Monticello,” and the Pantheon of Ancient Rome, the Jefferson Memorial has a circular appearance, and is surrounded by columns, with a portico facing the Potomac River. Surrounding 2/3 of the monument is a man-made lake, known as the “Tidal Basin,” which adds to the pensive atmosphere.
Completed in 1939, the Jefferson Memorial came as part of then President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program, with a $3 million grant to the Commission of Fine Arts. The memorial was initially not without some controversy. At the time, because of its location in East Potomac Park, some Washingtonians were concerned about the large cherry trees that would potentially have to be removed in building the Jefferson Memorial. Most however always supported the memorial’s construction. There were also, many cherry trees left, with the City of Tokyo, Japan supplying even more. So, with time, the nay-sayers subsided, and today, it is almost impossible to picture Washington without picturing the Jefferson Memorial. From 1938 until 2004, the US nickel helped to cement the memorial’s reputation by featuring it on its back side, with the President on the front.
The Jefferson Memorial is known as the quietest of the Presidential monuments. While others, such as the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument draw huge crowds, the Jefferson Memorial has comparably fewer visitors throughout the year. This, for many of its fans, makes the memorial a place for serene conversation, and an ideal place for deep thoughts.
Many will say that the best time to view the Jefferson Memorial is either at sunrise, or dusk, when sunlight forms a rainbow like prism as it beams through the monument’s 26 pillars.(symbolizing the number of states at the time of Jefferson’s death) This makes Easter Sunrise services one of the most popular annual events in the nation’s capitol.
Many of the monument’s visitors have also been impressed with the fact that unlike many of the other memorials today, the Jefferson Memorial is still open 24 hours a day.
Inside the Jefferson Memorial is a 19 ft. tall bronze statue of the President standing tall with his famous fur coat. He seems to have an eye towards the future, and have knowledge of the challenges and strengths that America would ultimately possess. Initially plaster was used, since metal was being rationed for World War II. However, almost immediately following the end of the war, in early 1946, it was replaced with steel.
The pedestal he stands on was a gift from the State of Minnesota, made out of their famous black granite. This statue was considered the final phase of the memorial, added later, during World War II. Behind Jefferson are some of his most famous words, from a letter to fellow Declaration of Independence signer, Dr. Benjamin Rush. “I have sworn upon the alter of God,” Jefferson writes, “against every form of tyranny.” Adjacent to these words is another column with the Declaration itself, which was penned by Jefferson.
Above the entrance on the Tidal Basin side one feels automatically connected with history when one sees the sculpted depiction of the President with friends, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, John Adams, and Roger Livingston. Many Americans would have loved to have been, “a fly on the wall,” in their fateful meetings, as they deliberated over what would be said in the Declaration of Independence. Marble from all over the country, from Vermont, to Missouri, to Georgia was initially used in the Jefferson Memorial’s construction. It has since however been worked over with finished bronze, which can hold up much better against the elements. With a similar style to many other Federal buildings, the Jefferson Memorial fits in well amongst the Washington D.C. landscape.
In the basement, Jefferson Memorial supporters will also be glad to know that there is a book shop filled with books and memorabilia to complete their trip to Washington, and restrooms as well.
Appropriately, the Jefferson Memorial is also one of the most central Presidential monuments. The monument is a short walk’s distance of the Lincoln Memorial, The Vietnam Memorial, the National Mall, the Smithsonian Institute, and the memorial of Jefferson’s friend, George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which served in many ways as an example to the American Constitution. With the monument’s closeness to so many important locations, it seems an ideal place to park the car and look around.
President Roosevelt, admiring his handiwork, also ordered that the monument be in a position to where it was visible from the White House.
Thomas Jefferson was, without a doubt, one of America’s most eclectic Presidents, wearing the hats of a writer, architect, political philosopher, scientist, and inventor, the Revolution, and America’s formative years might not have been possible without his guidance. Much later President John F. Kennedy was right when he told a group of Nobel Prize winners in 1962 that they were the most extraordinary collection of talent and knowledge that had ever dined at the White House, “except Thomas Jefferson, when he dined alone.” The Jefferson Memorial, with its wise quotes from the President, almost perfect symmetry, and classical beauty, truly immortalizes the 3rd President of the United States, and has served too many, since 1939, as a guide for what he might do when faced with any given situation.