Before we start the walk-through, there are a few important design features that are important to understanding the memorial.
First, keeping in mind FDR’s own physical impairments, the memorial’s head designer, Lawerence Halprin, who himself was physically impaired, strongly considered accessibility in the design of the memorial.
FDR was stricken with polio at age 39 and lost the use of his legs; he was wheelchair bound for his entire presidency.
The memorial was the first to be built wheelchair accessible and includes a system of low ramps, tactile reliefs, and Braille writing.
Second, there are a number of symbolic water features that change in size and volume as you move through the memorial.
The waterfalls are intended to symbolize the increasing tumultuousness surrounding FDR’s presidency, marked by the Great Depression, World War II, and Roosevelt’s death in 1945. The use of water was symbolic and each room has a different water feature.
Third, the stone walls also reflect these historical changes, becoming more rough-hewn as visitors move through FDR’s four terms.
Fourth, the memorial includes sculptures depicting notable imagery during FDR’s presidency, such as a bread line and fireside chat.
There is also a sculpture of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt honoring her dedication to the United Nations, making the FDR Memorial the only Presidential memorial to include the First Lady.
Finally, the memorial features 21 quotes carved into stone recounting passages from FDR’s most notable speeches and writings.
As you move from room to room, note the inscriptions on the ground marking the transition from one Presidential term to the next.
To enter the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, begin at the visitor’s center on the north side off of West Basin Drive.
With the visitor’s center on your left, you are standing in the Prologue Room. The Prologue Room was added to the memorial in 2001 to accommodate the statue to your right.
This life-sized depiction of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his wheelchair was the result of a 3-year debate after the memorial was opened in 1997.
Originally, Lawrence Halprin and the other memorial designers decided not to represent FDR in a wheelchair, since the President himself went to great lengths to hide his disability.
However, the National Organization on Disability widely criticized the memorial for representing a historically incomplete picture of the President.
Memorial officials first attempted to quell criticism by adding casters to the chair statue that you will see in the third room. That did not satisfy disability advocates.
So, the National Organization on Disability raised over 1.6 million dollars to fund the addition of the prologue room, which includes the statue depicting clearly FDR in his wheelchair, welcoming visitors to the memorial.
Walk around the right side of the wall in front of you, and notice the bronze-cast Presidential Seal as you enter the first room of the memorial.
First Term 1933-1937
The first room in the FDR Memorial represents the Great Depression and the hopefulness that his election to the presidency meant to many Americans.
Seven quotes, all taken from his inaugural address, refer the Great Depression and are inscribed into the surrounding walls, including FDR’s most famous quote “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
During this speech, Roosevelt addressed the economic crisis, staggering unemployment rates, and foreign policy. His confident and direct oratory style gave American’s assurance during a time of extreme financial instability.
Under that quote is a bronze relief depicting his inaugural parade.
The water feature for this first room is a single strong waterfall, representing the crash of the Great Depression.
Continue through the memorial to the second room; notice the inscription in the ground as you move into FDR’s second presidential term.
Second Term 1937-1941
The central focus of FDR’s second term was developing and executing the New Deal, a system of job programs funded and organized by the federal government in partnership with states, intended to bring the country out of economic turmoil.
In this room, there are three scenes depicting the state of American citizens in the United States during the Great Depression.
In front of you, against the large central wall, a rural farming family is depicted suffering from the effects of drought, dust bowls, and poverty.
A bread line is also shown, representing the poverty and desperation of the urban working class during the Great Depression.
Inscribed above the sculptures is the following quote from FDR’s second inaugural address: “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”
The sculpture to the right depicts a man listening to one of Roosevelt’s fireside chats.
FDR gave thirty public addresses over the radio between 1933 and 1944, communicating directly with the American public for the first time in US presidential history.
Over the radio, FDR spoke simply and clearly, addressing national issues with straightforward language and direct explanations.
These broadcasts allowed FDR to intimately connect with Americans in their homes—he earned the trust of the Nation and reassured the country during times of economic upheaval and world war.
This tradition is carried on to this day through the President’s weekly address, usually posted online and broadcast on the radio.
Continue straight, around the right side of the central wall, and you will see a large stepped waterfall directly in front of you with six columns standing in the center of the room.
These columns are meant to represent FDR’s New Deal, depicted as rolls of an industrial printing press. The negative images are shown wrapped around the columns and then “imprinted” on the wall to your left as bronze reliefs.
The more than 2 dozen images show examples of New Deal programs that FDR pushed to enact to help the United States out of the Great Depression.
These tactile reliefs are meant to be interactive for the blind and include Braille captions throughout.
The large stepped waterfall represents the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dam-building projects, which helped stimulate the economy and electrify an area hard hit by the economic collapse.
The waterfall is now bigger and more elaborate. In a way, the TVA represented an evolution in the new deal, from funding small, locally controlled projects to more federal control involving multiple states in one endeavor.
Walk around to the left to enter the third room, noting the inscription on the ground.
Third Term 1941-1945
FDR’s third term as President brought the United States into World War II. The broken slabs of granite scattered along the ground represent the confusion and struggle that WWII created, with the quote “I hate war” inscribed on the blocks.
You should also notice the waterfall, now not only larger and steeped but also chaotic, in disorder, reflecting the disorderly state of international affairs at the time.
Beyond the stones is a large sculpture of FDR and his beloved pet dog, Fala (the only presidential pet to be memorialized).
This is the memorial’s original FDR statue, depicting him at the Yalta Conference, just months before his death, with a cloak obscuring his chair.
If it seems familiar, it’s because it’s a depiction of him in a famous of him with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill seated next to him (minus the cigarette).
As mentioned in the prologue room summary, this statue was the subject of controversy, even after metal castors were added to represent the wheelchair.
Interestingly, the depiction of FDR is correct. In the Yalta Conference image, he is sitting in a regular chair.
You will also notice that FDR’s pointer finger and Fala’s ears are shiny gold, as visitors have been touching and taking pictures with the bronze sculptures since 1997.
Continue along to the left to enter the fourth and final room of the memorial.
Fourth Term 1945 Room
Walk down the ramp to your right to enter FDR’s fourth term, which was punctuated by the President’s death on April 12th, 1945.
At the middle of the ramp is a still pool of water with a relief above depicting the President’s funeral procession.
Still water, representing serenity and reflection, is common at memorials when representing death.
Continue down the ramp and enter the main area of the memorial.
To your right is a statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with a United Nations emblem behind her.
This is the only presidential memorial to honor a First Lady. It also commemorates her contributions to the UN and human rights causes.
As this memorial is not just a memorial to FDR but to the American public and what we went through together as a country at the time, this final room brings together everything.
You’ll find still water, chaotic and stepped waterfalls, and a single strong waterfall – the types of water feature you saw earlier through the memorial.
Carved into the steps to the left, exiting the memorial, there is a brief timeline of events in FDR’s life.
The last quote of the memorial, engraved onto the wall to your right as you exit, is taken from FDR’s January 6th, 1941 State of the Union Address, when the country was on the precipice of entering World War II.
In this speech, Roosevelt listed the “Four Freedoms” that American’s would be fighting for overseas:
This is a great option for families. For more family-friendly ideas, check out our things to do with kids section.
5. Smithsonian Folklife Festival
June 29-30, 2019
Come experience traditions from around the world right here on the National Mall!
These two days of celebration are hosted by the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
Like the other Smithsonian museums, it is free to the public, so be sure to come and experience the music, song, dance, crafts, cooking, and other celebrations of cultures around the world.
For more free things to do in DC in June, check out our free things to do section below.
6. National Capital Barbecue Battle
Whether BBQ to you is a type of food or an event, you don’t want to miss this annual cook-off downtown, the weekend of June 23 and 24, 2018. There will be live music, interactive exhibits and, of course, food!
Likewise, on many evenings each week, you could also find military parades to enjoy.
The US Marine Corp’s Fife and Bugle Teams perform their Sunset Parade at the Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday evenings. The Marines also offer their Evening Parade from the Marines Barracks on Friday evenings.
We detain both in our things to do at night section.
The US Army performs its Twilight Tatoo, a military pageant that will definitely rock you to your feet. This is particularly popular with families and we detail it in our family-friendly section.
Tours are offered throughout the day and take you to see the Crypt, Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall.
If you want to know all about the surrounding Capitol Hill, join us for one of our free walking tours. You’ll get to learn about the history of Capitol Hill, see the Supreme Court, and go inside the beautiful Library of Congress.
The tour also includes tickets to the inside of the Capitol tour, so you’ll get to experience all of it in one go.
June- August 2019
Depending on which outdoor screen and neighborhood you’re looking for, some of them extend into August. These outdoor movies are free and often play classics or new releases.
With huge blow-up screens, bring a blanket and some snacks.
One great place to watch is Farragut Park. Their lineup for June is:
June 7: Crazy Rich Asians June 14: A Dog’s Way Home June 21: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
For a complete schedule of films, dates, and locations, visit here.
Visiting DC for Memorial Day? At the end of May every year, hundreds of thousands of people pour into Washington, DC to honor all of our nation’s veterans on Memorial Day.
There are a number of different events and ceremonies that commemorate this special weekend including a national concert, parade, and motorcycle rally. This post covers things to do in Washington DC on Memorial Day 2019 including a top 5 list, nighttime activities, family-friendly things to do, and free things. Read our master post on things to do in DC any time of year.
Every summer the Marine Corps hosts a weekly Sunset Parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial (also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial). The tradition began in 1956, two years after the dedication of the memorial, and has continued ever since.
In 2018 the event was moved to the Lincoln Memorial due to renovations at the Marine Corps War Memorial. For 2019, while renovations are completed, the parade will still take place on most dates at the Lincoln Memorial.
The parade includes musical performances by “The Commandant’s Own,” the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, as well as precision drill by the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon.
This post is about the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and how to navigate both locations. There are two campuses, one on the National Mall and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center which was later added near the Dulles Airport.
WHERE TO STORE LUGGAGE AT REAGAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Unfortunately, TSA no longer allows lockers at airports in the United States, so you won’t find self-service luggage storage at any area airport such as DCA, Dulles, or BWI. You can always call your airline and see how early you can check a bag, as some will allow you to check luggage hours before your flight.
Your best option for luggage storage will be the AirBnb Method below.
WHERE TO STORE LUGGAGE AT DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Unfortunately, TSA no longer allows lockers at airports in the United States, so you won’t find self-service luggage storage at any area airport such as Dulles, DCA, or BWI. You can always call your airline and see how early you can check a bag, as some will allow you to check luggage hours before your flight.
Your best option for luggage storage will be the AirBnb Method below.
WHERE TO STORE LUGGAGE AT ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Unfortunately, due to strict security regulations Arlington National Cemetery does not offer lockers or luggage storage. Arlington Cemetery is very difficult to navigate with large items and you will want to store your luggage before you set out to explore the cemetery.
Your best option for luggage storage will be the AirBnb Method below.