What would you do on an overcast Saturday in February right before Super Bowl Sunday?
I decided to tackle one of the few remaining items on my DC “To Do” list – a list of items to see, do, and try in Washington, D.C. on days when I had nothing in particular to do. I chose to visit the Library of Congress (LOC). There are only 4 “to dos” remaining from the original list, which means I better start adding some things! Stay posted for a new DC “To Do” list.
For all of the school trips I made to DC, I hadn’t visited the LOC until yesterday. The building is right across the street from the Capitol, and from the outside it looks like just another Roman-style marble building.
However, the inside was another story! I was not expecting to find this:
The main reading room was even more beautiful! Unfortunately, we were unable to photograph it, but if you watch National Treasure you will get to see just how stunning it is.
Some interesting facts I learned while on a free tour at the library:
- It was built ahead of schedule and under budget.
- The library receives 26,000 new pieces of material every day.
- The contents of Lincoln’s pocket on the day he died is preserved at the library. For some reason, the man had a confederate $5 in his pocket. Why these aren’t at the Archives is still a mystery.
- The library owns a vellum copy of the Gutenberg Bible – there are only 49 copies of the bible remaining in the world.
- When the LOC was burned in 1812, Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sold almost 6,500 of his personal collection to LOC to reestablish the library.
The Thomas Jefferson Library – the books that he sold to the library – are housed in a circular room open to the public. (Again, no photos were allowed). There were some interactive monitors around the room that allowed visitors to browse various shelves, look at different topics of books TJ owned, and even read some on-screen translations of some of the texts. I randomly digitally selected a book on a shelf, and to my surprise it was none other than the Father of International Law himself – Hugo Grotius’s Hugonis Grotii de Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres (Law of War and Peace).
The LOC is so awesome, you can even see a cover page of the book online: Hugo at LOC
Having studied international law in undergrad and grad school, I am very familiar with Hugo’s writings, so I was pleasantly surprised to find one of my favorite president’s owned a copy of his book. Nothing like random connections with the past on a dreary Saturday afternoon!
Overall, if I were giving tourist advice, I would tell people to ditch some of the Smithsonians and make room in their itineraries for the LOC – a beautiful and cool place. Do you know the best thing? Anyone can use it! If you wanted to do research, you just need a valid government ID and to get a LOC library card – thats it! I guess I am showing my nerd side, but I am just super stoked at what a cool place I discovered!
Have you ever visited the Library of Congress?