The Politics and Visual Arts departments organised a trip to the United States of America, in which 40 students visited the legendary New York City and the nation’s capital, Washington D.C.
Politics student Owen Limrick shared his experience in the Huish Newsletter. Here is a copy of his account.
‘The Big Apple’
After checking in at the hotel following our flight, the group split into two, with the half I was part of bound to visit the Museum of Modern Art.
The museum contains iconic works from a myriad of internationally acclaimed artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. A piece that I particularly admired was The Starry Night by van Gogh, a work widely regarded as his magnum opus and with good reason.
While I’m not particularly knowledgeable when it comes to the artistic process, I found the way he utilised various shades of blue and spiral effects visually striking.
Another piece that I enjoyed was The Persistence of Memory by surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, a widely recognised work known for depicting melting blue clocks.
After our visit to MoMA, the group reconvened at the hotel.
The following morning, we departed the hotel on the subway system, heading to the waterside. From there, we caught a ferry and began a cruise towards Liberty Island. As we sailed through the bay, the New York cityscape made for an excellent vista and soon enough the famous Statue of Liberty came into view.
Upon landing on the island, we were met with the impressive Statue of Liberty towering over us. The famous monument was a gift from France and is recognised across the World as a universal symbol of democracy and freedom. In her raised right hand, she bears a torch and in the left she holds a tablet bearing “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI,” the adoption date of the Declaration of Independence of America from Great Britain, in Roman numerals.
Next, we took the ferry to neighbouring Ellis Island, home to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. From 1808 to 1924 the island served as the nation’s primary immigration centre. Throughout this period, an estimated 12 million immigrants passed through the centre. Today the centre is a museum that details the history of immigration to the United States.
After arriving back at the city and having free time to grab some lunch, we departed for the national 9/11 memorial and museum. At the bases upon which the twin towers stood are reflecting pools where the water feeds into a pit. Surrounding said pools are parapets that are inscribed with the names of people who lost their lives in the attacks. The memorial serves as a stark reminder of the immense loss of life that occurred on that day.
The museum itself is underground, built by the side of the slurry wall retaining the Hudson River. Many artefacts from the day itself are on display, such as steel beams recovered from the rubble of the towers and a heavily damaged fire truck that was one of the first at the scene. Audio recordings of phone calls from those who were trapped in the upper floors of the towers and on the hijacked planes, greatly contributed to the already eerie atmosphere.
That evening, after taking the subway to Grand Central Terminal while heading to the hotel, we headed to the Rockefeller centre. At the foot of the skyscraper was an ice-rink, surrounded by flags for each of the states. We entered the skyscraper and took a lift to the Top of the Rock observation deck. The views were incredible; seeing the vast NYC skyline at night is something I shall remember for life.
To finish the day, we went through the “crossroads of the world,” Times Square, while returning to the hotel for the night, ready to take the coach the capital the next day.
After our coach journey from NYC, we arrived in the capital in the early afternoon. Following the check in at the hotel, the group departed for the National Mall, a grassy expanse containing many iconic landmarks that encompasses the area from the Capitol building all the way to Lincoln Memorial.
While walking the streets of D.C., I noted the absence of skyscrapers when compared to metropolis of NYC. After researching it, I discovered this is due to the 1899 Height of Buildings Act (amended in 1910), which was designed to keep the capital residents safe as iron and steel-framed structures were still new at the time and were believed to pose structural and fire hazards.
The first landmark we saw was the iconic White House, the building that has served as the residence of every president since John Adams in 1800. Seeing the legendary building was a surreal moment.
Our walk along the National Mall continued and soon enough we arrived at the foot of the towering Washington monument. The monument was built to commemorate George Washington, commander-in-chief of the continental army during the Revolutionary War and later the first president. It was the tallest structure in the world between 1884 and 1889, before being usurped by the Eiffel Tower.
We were then given free time, with which we could explore the rest of the National Mall. Firstly, I headed with a group of friends to see the Second World War memorial. The memorial consists of 56 granite pillars, representing the various states and territories. I found the ‘freedom wall’ of 4048 stars (each star representing 100 Americans who lost their life or went missing in the war) particularly impactful. The memorial serves as a harrowing reminder of the tragic loss of life that occurred during the conflict.
After walking along the picturesque reflecting pool, we ascended the steps and arrived at Lincoln Memorial. The memorial depicts a seated Lincoln, with an epitaph above him that reads: “In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” I found the detail of the statue to be particularly impressive.
That evening, we returned to the hotel after free time to buy dinner and rested for the day ahead of us.
The next morning, we departed the hotel and took the Washington metro (much cleaner than the NYC subway) and headed to Ford’s theatre; this is the location in which Lincoln was assassinated.
Today the theatre hosts a museum dedicated to Lincoln, which I found interesting as it helped me to learn more about his presidency.
Across the street is Petersen House, the building in which Lincoln passed away. Currently, the house acts as a museum, recreating the scene at the time of his death.
Following this, I chose to stay with the half of the group that visited the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. Highlights of that for me were seeing Chuck Berry’s car and MC Hammer’s trousers.
Once the group had reconvened, we once again walked along the National Mall, this time for the Capitol building, the seat of Congress. The Capitol tour was fascinating; the first room of note we saw was the original Supreme Court chamber. This is where the infamous 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision was made, that being that the Constitution did not extend American citizenship to those of Black African descent.
Next, we entered the beautiful rotunda, described as the Capitol’s “symbolic and physical heart.” Along the walls of the chamber are various paintings, depicting key moments in American history such as Christopher Columbus ‘discovering’ America, the declaration of independence and the surrender of Lord Cornwallis in the Revolutionary War.
On the ceiling is a piece called The Apotheosis of Washington where George Washington is depicted sitting exalted amongst the heavens. The painting took 11 months to complete, with the artist (Constantino Brumidi) being paid $40,000, $708,087 in today’s money; this is even more than the annual salary of the president.
Finally, after passing the House Speaker’s office, we arrived in the original House chamber. The room now serves as the National Statutory Hall Collection; each state sends a statue to honour a notable person from their history. I found it strange how many states had sent Confederate leaders, such as Mississippi sending a statue to commemorate Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
I was shocked to learn about the caning of Senator Charles Sumner; in 1856 during the “Bleeding Kansas” crisis, Sumner gave his “Crime against Kansas,” speech where he denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act and slave-owing Democrats. A few days later, Representative Preston Brooks beat him nearly to death with a cane on the Senate floor. The event highlighted the violent socio-political atmosphere in the build-up to the Civil War.
Next, we visited the National Archives. This part particularly stuck out to me; seeing documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution was incredible.
That evening, we all headed to the Hard Rock Café for dinner. I decided to go with their classic burger, and that seemed to be a popular choice amongst the group. We returned to the hotel, for our final night in the USA.
Our last day began with us taking the metro to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The museum contains a variety of famous air/space craft, most notably the Wright brother’s glider. Additionally, the museum has the Apollo 11 capsule as well as the spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong.
After checking out from the hotel that afternoon, we departed for Tyson’s Corner Centre, the 22nd largest shopping mall in the US. I found it interesting to see various chains of stores we don’t have back in the UK.
Finally, we caught our flight home in the evening from Dulles airport and touched down at Heathrow just before 11am the next day. Overall, it was a fantastic trip and I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to go on it.