The Mall is known as the city's playground. It is a swath of lawns and walkways populated with monuments, museums, and other assorted landmarks. It is an attraction for millions of tourists, and native Washingtonians, every year. It is also the gathering place for hundreds of vendors each year. The Mall is the nation's collection of culture and of memories.
The Mall has been shaped by primarily three planners: L'Enfant, Andrew Jackson Downing, Governor Alexander "Boss" Shepherd, and by the McMillian Commission. L'Enfant's original plan for the Mall was for it to be a broad boulevard surrounded by a park-like setting, where grand mansions would be built. The Mall today has been diagrammed much like L'Enfant wanted it to be, but museums and galleries now line the central core rather than the grand mansions L'Enfant envisioned. Downing was responsible for much of the ornamental planting and landscaping of the central Mall park. Shepherd cleared the Mall of the scars of the Civil War, starting with the railroad tracks which ran through the parkland. Finally, the McMillian Commission set in motion the creation of several monuments and memorials, including the Lincoln Memorial and the Monument Reflecting Pool.
In its past, the Mall served as a gathering place for those other than tourists. During the Civil War, the Mall became the campsite for hundreds of Union soldiers. Half a century later, it was the site of the "Bonus March", a protest by World War I veterans who wished to receive the veterans' bonus Congress had promised them.
Many activist groups have also rallied on the Mall, from suffragettes to Klansmen. It was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963. After his unfortunate assassination in 1968, the Mall was a site of the Poor People's March, a rally against the problems of poverty. In the 1960s, the Mall was the site of many anti-War demonstrations. In the 1980s, it was the site of the Names Project Quilt, a memorial to those affected by the AIDS epidemic. In more recent times, the Mall was the home to more anti-War rallies, this time against the Gulf War. However on June 8, 1991, it was the site of the victory celebration and the largest military parade in the city's history.
Despite its history of protest and activism, the Mall is still best known as a national treasure. It is a home to the various Smithsonian Institution museums and to the National Gallery of Art. The Smithsonian Castle was the first museum established here. It was first created as a serious institution for the study of scientific matters. It was later that the building became known, and loved, as "America's Attic". Other buildings soon followed and today the Mall is lined with such buildings as the Museum of American History, The Museum of Natural History, and the Air and Space Museum.
More information on the various museums of the Smithsonian Institution can now be found on The Smithsonian Institution Home Page.
National Gallery of Art
The tour begins at the northeast section of the park, at the National Gallery of Art. It continues counter-clockwise, visiting the Museum of Natural History, Museum of American History, Department of Agriculture Complex, the Smithsonian Castle and Various Art Galleries, and finally the Air and Space Museum. The tour continues westward to the Washington Monument, places in the West Mall, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veteran's Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and finally, the Lincoln Memorial, site of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Here is a full listing of stops on the tour, in the order traversed. Feel free to jump ahead to places which interest you the most.
National Gallery of Art
Museum of Natural History
Museum of American History
Department of Agriculture
Smithsonian Castle and Various Art Galleries
Air and Space Museum
Places in the West Mall
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Korean War Veteran's Memorial