Saturday, February 20, 2016

Postcards from The Library of Congress

The Great Hall of the Library of Congress

Libraries have always had a special place in my heart. Growing up, books were a way to travel around the world and throughout time without ever leaving my cozy chair. I swear that in 6th Grade, I went to the school library every morning to check out a new book which I would read from cover to cover that night. Even now, I volunteer at my kids' school libraries and find a zen-like peacefulness in each book having an precise place where it belongs.

When we visited Washington, D.C. last fall, I wanted to go to the Library of Congress for no other reason than it has the second biggest collection in the world. I had no idea how drop dead gorgeous the building is inside. Tall windows flooded the room with light. Vivid colors popped out in contrast to the ornately carved marble. I had yet to lay my eyes on a single book, and I was already captivated.

Looking across the mezzanine of The Great Hall

Opened in 1897, the Thomas Jefferson Building's neoclassical architecture seems to proclaim to the world that this new country just a tad over 100 years old may be young, but it is wise and steeped in the history of the Western world. At the time, it was declared as "a glorious national monument." It was one of the first buildings in Washington, D.C. to be constructed with electricity installed, and the electric light bulb torches held aloft by the statues at the base of the stairs represent both enlightenment and scientific progress.

Elaborate marble carvings along the outside of the stairs up to the mezzanine.

Along the outside of the stairs, children representing America, Africa, Asia and Europe sit on either side of a globe. The railing has smaller children holding the tools of various trades .

Only a few books are on display in the Great Hall, but my oh my, what spectacular specimens they were. No one was standing in front of one display case, so I sauntered over, not expecting much from whatever was in it. Little did I know that I was about to come face-to-face with one of the most valuable books in the world.

The Gutenberg Bible was one of the first books printed using moveable type.

Behind the glass lay a complete Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum with absolutely no one paying any attention to it. I perused it at my leisure wishing that I could reach through the glass to flip the pages. The case across from it held the handwritten Giant Bible of Mainz created around 1450. These two books are some of the greatest treasures in the Library of Congress.

Stained glass skylights

Even the ceilings soaring 75 feet above the floor are gorgeous at the Library of Congress. There is so much detail to it. Six square stained glass windows framed in aluminum-leaf designs.

A closer look at one skylight

A person could spend hours here looking at all the details packed into this room. I wished we had time to take the free, one-hour, docent-led tour, but I had to satisfy myself with looking around on my own. Quotes are painted under each circular window around The Great Hall.

A quote from Francis Bacon

Inlaid marble medallions decorate the floor.

Inlaid marble on the floor

As with everything else in the building, water spigots were elevated from something merely functional to one of a million decorative elements.

Small water spigot

The fifty American artisans involved in creating this showplace truly excelled at their task of highlighting the art and culture capabilities of the young nation. One of the best pieces to catch my eye was the Minerva of Peace mosaic created by Elihu Vedder. It is in a prime location on the landing of the stairs leading up to the Main Reading Room overlook. Vedder created the piece out of glass, marble and gold-leaf. In it, the Roman Goddess Minerva, guardian of civilization, is flanked by a wise owl on one side and a statue of Nike, the goddess of victory on the other. She is gazing at a scroll listing important fields of study such as Law, Mechanics, and Philosophy.

Minerva of Peace by Elibu Vedder

Making my way up the stairs past Minerva, I finally reached a glassed in overlook over the Main Reading Room. Visitors on the floor of the Main Reading Room must be authorized and at least 16 years old, but anyone is welcome to go up to the Overlook to see this magnificent room.

Main Reading Room

At 160 feet, this ceiling is much higher than that of the adjacent Great Hall. Gigantic marble columns support statues that represent desirable characteristics of civilized life and thought. The semicircular windows bear the seals of 45 states and 3 territories that belonged to the USA in 1897. I loved gazing in the alcoves and catching a glimpse of the bookshelves in that section. Oh what a library!

As a nice surprise, I discovered that some of my writing is archived at the Library of Congress. Your writing is there too... if you tweet on Twitter. Yes, they are archiving every single tweet. I've always wanted to have something in the Library, and it looks like I finally found a way.

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  1. Michele, Great post. I've always wanted to go to LOC. Next time you are in Europe, go to the Mainz, Germany and the Gutenberg Museum. It tells about the history of printing and has three G. bibles on display.

  2. Okay, I've been past the building and it never occurred to me how fabulous it would be inside. This is definitely 'on the list' now. Great post!

  3. Great pictures! I love the LOC. Last time in Washington, we ran out of time before getting there, so it's top of the list when we go back this year. #wkendtravelinspiration

  4. I visited the Library of Congress when I was 15 years old (long time ago). I have visited DC several times after that but have not returned to the library. I forgot how beautiful it is inside. I am wanting to go back to DC (after not visiting in several years). I want to revisit favorites and discover new places.

  5. This photo tour makes me wanna visit the LOC right away!! :)

  6. I've never been to the Library of Congress but I definitely want to go the next time I'm in DC - what a beautiful building!

  7. wow this is so beautiful! Thanks for sharing it :)

  8. I was nowhere close to seeing everything I wanted to visit in DC. I'd love to go back, too.

  9. I was the merit badge leader for helping Boy Scouts earn their Graphic Arts merit badge, and printing was a big part of it. I would love to see those.

  10. I agree that there's so much to do in Washington that it's hard to cram it all into one trip. I hope you get to see it next time.

  11. The US Capitol is across the street, and that's a great tour, too.

  12. I had no idea how beautiful it was, so that was a nice surprise.

  13. The library of congress is so beautiful and your photo really captured it well.

  14. Oh, I love libraries too and also was one of those kids always reading through a stack of books. In fact, I just got a new library card this week for our little village library in Scotland which admittedly is just one-room with limited hours but it still has plenty of books:) This looks beautiful and I haven't been to any of the big historical libraries in the Northeast yet but need to put these on our list when we make it back to D.C., NYC, Boston, Philly, etc. to visit these gems. Thanks for sharing!

  15. I don't think I have ever seen a more beautiful library. I would be too busy staring at my surroundings to get any reading done.

  16. I loved this virtual tour, Michele! I have been to DC several times over the years and have yet to go to the Library of Congress. There's so much to do there! I really need to make it a priority next time especially seeing all the details you captured here. It almost looks like some European palace. Glad to know I'm in the Library too with all those tweets. Thanks for that interesting tidbit!

  17. Hi Michelle, I have never been to the Library of Congress and, oh my, I had not idea how magnificent it was. I would be distracted by the detail of its architectural beauty and forget about checking out the books. And wow, so interesting to know that they archives all the tweets! Thanks for sharing your lovely photos and enjoyable narratives.


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