The Phantom Invades D.C.
August 1, 2016
Last week started with the realization that my time in Washington was quickly coming to an end. It has been a wild ride for the past three months, with me doing everything from seeing the Dalai Lama to asking David Copperfield if hypnosis would be considered along with magic as a national art form. There is still a lot that I want to do in D.C. in my last few weeks here, but first I need to do the work that I was sent here to accomplish.
Last week started with a major shift in my favorite part of the job. I have always loved giving tours of the Capitol. Not only does it give me exercise, but I get to share the knowledge gained over my 15 years of research. Last week the Architect of the Capitol, the office tasked with maintaining the Capitol on a daily basis, closed off the entire second floor of the Capitol. This was done in order to fix some of the metal in the Capitol Dome that had started to wear away. As a result of this, the entire tour route had to be redone in order to provide the best tour experience for those coming to visit. This meant opening up whole new areas to our tour route. Luckily this new route dealt heavily with the history of Congress, an area of personal interest for me. This made the ability to quickly change my tour route very easy. Without the help that Cornell gave me, however, I doubt that I would be able to adapt to such a big change as quickly as I did. Even with the abrupt changes, I was still able to give tours that are just as good as the ones I have given in the past.
Since much of my week focused on doing work that I have done in the past, nothing new happened until the weekend. With all of the great sights to see in D.C., I have tried to visit a new place every Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday my friends Laurel and Kenny, both of whom were Cornell graduates, decided to take a tour of the Soldiers Home. This home was the first hospital in the country that was designed to help veterans during the Civil War. This is also where President Abraham Lincoln spent a quarter of his Presidency. He came to this home to get away from the heat of Washington D.C. in the summer, as well for a personal retreat. This is where Lincoln came face to face with the Civil War for the first time, as soldiers were stationed right outside. This was also the home where Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. It was extremely humbling to be in the same room where one of the greatest men in American history wrote one of the greatest documents in history. This tour provided us with an opportunity to learn about the private side of President Lincoln, as well about how he came up with his views surrounding the issues of the Civil War.
While Saturday was spent at the Soldiers Home, Sunday was spent at the Congressional Cemetery. This was a cemetery that is just as honored as Arlington National Cemetery but is much more open to the public. This cemetery is where people like former F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover and Belva Ann Lockwood, the first woman licensed to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, are buried. It was very humbling to stand where these and similar individuals were buried. The cemetery also had a number of centographs, which I learned serves as a marker in a cemetery but they do not denote the location of where a body is buried. These centographs represent some of the greatest legislators in American history and two of my personal heroes: former Senator from Kentucky Henry Clay and former Representative from Massachusetts John Quincy Adams.
Following my trip to the Congressional Cemetery, I prepared for a night at the theater. Besides politics and American history, one of my main passions in life is attending plays, with a special love being reserved for musicals. One of the things I wanted to do most while I was in D.C. was to see a play or musical performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts–one of the most beautiful theaters in America. When I found out that they were staging a production of Phantom of the Opera, I decided that I had to go. Although my seats were not that great, the night was amazing. Not only was I in a theater named for one of my favorite Presidents, but I also got to see a beautiful production of a play written by my favorite playwright, “Sir” Andrew Lloyd Webber. The show hit every mark that a successful production needs to hit (graveyard fight scene, chandelier falling, boat scene in the Phantoms’ lair, and the casting of the Phantom himself). I was happy that this was the show that I chose to see at the Kennedy Center.
Although my time is ending soon in D.C., I still have a lot to do and a lot to learn. The lessons that Cornell has taught me will help guide me through these final weeks.
Andrew is a politics major from Hickory Hills, Illinois.