Memorials inspire hope in cynical Washington

By Thomas Burr

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: June 29, 2014 05:53PM
Updated: June 29, 2014 01:01AM
image
Matt Canham, Thomas Burr

Washington • There are two statues of Utahns inside the U.S. Capitol.

The first, of course, is Brigham Young, Utah’s first governor, the second prophet of the LDS Church and one of the state’s most well-known figures.

The second is a bit more obscure: Philo T. Farnsworth, the “father of television,” who grew up in Beaver and is now immortalized as a bronze statue in the Capitol Visitors Center for his contribution to creating the first TV.

The Capitol is full of amazingly interesting tidbits about our Founding Fathers, our country’s history and the ongoing saga of modern politics. And there are always some Utah-centric things I point out to visitors when giving tours.

I’m no tour guide, for the record. I probably make up half of what I say, and occasionally, yes, I get us lost. But when a relative visits, a college roommate drops by or a neighbor’s uncle is in town, I try to take time to show them my town, which just happens to be the nation’s capital.

I’ve been to the World War II Memorial, the Washington Monument, the memorials for Lincoln, FDR, Vietnam and Korea dozens of times. Always when showing visitors. As it goes in most places we live, we don’t often go see the cultural, historic or famous things nearby unless we’re showing it off to others.

How many Utahns have actually been to the state Capitol? The Territorial Statehouse? How many times have you hiked in Zions National Park or trekked to Delicate Arch? A few times. A couple years ago. Been there, done that.

They become passé, until, perhaps, you visit again and see the inspiration they possess.

Last weekend, some relatives swung into town. I walked them miles and miles, and we saw pretty much all we could in a couple of days. Here’s the Old Supreme Court Chamber, I told them, where the high court once said that a slave wasn’t a person. Here’s the memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our only four-term president who wanted a single stone remembrance but got a huge monument on the Tidal Basin.

The Washington Monument, I recalled, is 555 feet and 5 and 1/8 inches tall. And there’s an aluminum pyramid on top because at the time the alloy was incredibly valuable. Remember that the next time you wrap something in tinfoil.

The facts are what they are, but nothing is as real as seeing them in person, for the first time or the hundredth. And watching the sense of wonder in the face of someone looking at Brigham Young’s statue or the haunting Vietnam Memorial makes it almost feel like the first time.

That sensation was compounded ten-fold last week when I saw the tears well up in the eyes of World War II soldiers from Utah. They took the state’s second Honor Flight to Washington to visit the memorial created in their honor. Tourists come from across America and from abroad to visit these monuments, but few can match the emotion — earned in the trenches 70 years ago — that these guys have in seeing the columns, the fountains, the stars and the words inscribed in marble, a tribute to a war that changed the globe and a memorial for those who never made it back.

An Honor Guard played Taps for the veterans. But it seemed the Utah group more enjoyed the fact that middle school kids from California, tourists from all over and anyone passing by took the time from their visit to stop and shake their hands and thank the soldiers for service. Through the eyes of these elderly veterans, these tourists experienced the memorial in a different way.

It’s hard not to be a cynic in Washington, where politicians constantly butt heads, throw dirt and, at their worst, shut down the government. But the iconic monuments — and the visitors who choose history over amusement — help bring the underpinnings of America back into focus.

Morning email » Snack on Political Cornflakes, The Salt Lake Tribune’s morning dish of political news. Join our mailing list by emailing cornflakes@sltrib.com or follow us on Twitter, @SLTribPolitics. Check back at politicalcornflakes.com for regular updates.

Burr reports from Washington, D.C., for The Tribune. He can be reached at tburr@sltrib.com or via Twitter @thomaswburr.