THE BLOG

Essential Tourist Traps, Part Six: The National Mall, Washington, DC

10/26/2010 05:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Washington, DC is a company town all right. It has one industry -- the government -- and everything derives from that. People go there to see the government and said government's tributes to itself, nothing else. Sure there are restaurants and museums. Sure there are three major universities, and some pretty nice parks, but aside from the Universities, all are either run by the government or by private interests to maintain it.

A bar frequented by bureaucrats and journalists helps maintain the government as much as the official office buildings. While it would be wrong to say the entire District of Columbia is a tourist trap, few would want to go see the southeast Quadrant, the area called the National Mall most certainly is. In an earlier installment of this series, someone complained that The Statue of Liberty was a "tourist attraction" not a "tourist trap." Well, consider this:

Take a look at the Lincoln memorial. Walk up those famous stairs and when you are on the same level as the base of the statue, go right. There you will find a souvenir shop. That's right, built right into the edifice.

Remember, Jesus tried to start a riot about something like that.

It wasn't always like that. A century ago, the mall had only one major memorial, that to George Washington, and a much smaller Smithsonian institution. Today, we've got something for every war we ever fought, and then some. The Mall is beginning to run out of room, what with the Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King memorials due to begin construction soon and at least a dozen others in the works.

Most of the ones that are already there aren't the least bit objectionable, but do they each deserve a souvenir stand? No. The problem is that special interests have gotten a hold of them and for the most part made them worse. Look at the Vietnam memorial for example: Maya Lin's original design was perfect. It was simple, stark, and moving. It honored those who served and died in the war, but not the war itself. It was totally complete and did it's job perfectly. And as such, it stood as is for a number of years, and then a veteran's group demanded to be included, and two groups of sculptures were added cluttering up the space. Not to disrespect those brave people who served and demanded to be honored there, but they pretty much ruined the serenity and the artistic unity of the space. It looks a bit cluttered, and the souvenir shed nearby doesn't help all that much either.

Another example is the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial, which has FDR depicted in a way that would have horrified him. Pride is considered a deadly sin for a reason.

With the John Stewart rally less than a week away, going all the way to DC without strolling around and seeing some of these monuments would be a tragedy. There are too many memorials to see than can be done in a day, but most are essential. Most also have souvenir stands. This makes them tourist traps.