WHAT IS IT? Two Memorials located at the south-central edge of the National Mall and Memorial Parks that honor the lives of two distinguished Virginian Founding Fathers.
BEAUTY (5/10) The Jefferson Memorial is a mishmash of Roman architectural styles meant to recall Jeffersonís own designs. If you are looking for Jeffersonian brilliance, you are better off traveling to Charlottesville. His D.C. Memorial looks and feels too much like the Lincoln Memorial. Old TJ deserved better. Thankfully, every spring the surrounding Japanese cherry trees bloom and make even this tired neo-classical design look interesting.
The George Mason Memorial offers quiet charm. Its lovely flower beds encircle a path leading to a larger than life rendition of a seated Mr. Mason. George is surrounded by walls of quotes and flanked by personal affects and volumes of Locke and Rousseau.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (3/10) This Tidal Basin-bordering, southern portion of West Potomac Park has always been an historic afterthought; its most important historic event being the 1912 planting of the first Japanese cherry trees.
CROWDS (6/10) In Season Three of The Simpsons, the family travels to Washington D.C. where Lisa is a finalist for an essay contest. While visiting the Jefferson Memorial, TJís statue pleads with Lisa to stay because he is lonely. No one ever visits him. Things havenít changed much since 1991.
George Mason, on the other hand, probably does not mind the sparse crowds. He looks content lounging in his personal trophy garden, reading the works of Enlightenment philosophers.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5) The easiest way to visit is via the Tourmobileģ Sightseeing buses. Your $20.00 per adult all day ticket drops you off in front of these two Memorials and every other National Mall-area attraction.
The nearest D.C. Metro stop is Smithsonian, located nearly one mile to the northeast. The long distance walk to the Jefferson Memorial is one of Michaelís lasting memories of his first trip to Washington, D.C. as a 10-year old. Which explains a) why the Jefferson MEM was his favorite (because it took some effort to get to) and b) why he never visited it again in the four years he went to school at Georgetown.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5) There are two stores underneath the Jefferson Memorial. One carries mostly touristy-type items, such as t-shirts, miniature memorials, ornaments and the like. The other side contains primarily print and audio/visual offerings. Both could use more substance. Like the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial also provides retail room for other D.C. attractions and monuments. Having been to Monticello, we know there is no lack of material discussing Jefferson, his accomplishments and even his peccadilloes. Why couldnít we find them here?
George Mason doesnít get his own bookstore.
COSTS (4/5) Entrance to both Memorials is 100% free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5) We saw no Rangers in the Jefferson-Mason vicinity.
TOURS/CLASSES (4/10) The superficial representations here of Messrs. Jefferson and Mason are not particularly desirable learning places, especially since both of their plantation homes are terrific tourist destinations and only a hop, skip and a jump from Washington, D.C. Jeffersonís Monticello is 115 miles to the southwest in Charlottesville while Masonís Gunston Hall is only 25 miles to the southwest near Occoquan.
FUN (6/10) Why oh why did we leave the water bottle in the car? Our fun rating might have been higher had we not realized our thirst at what felt like the farthest distance from a Metro stop or street vendor. Luckily, crowds were not as thick here as at Lincolnís and there were plenty of places to sit in the shadow of Jeffersonís greatness and cool off.
We spent only a few minutes at the George Mason Memorial but that was enough time to take in the scents of the summer blooms and speculate as to when a character named Mason would join the cast of Lost.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (6/10) Every spring, the Jefferson Memorial takes center stage on the Mall. It serves as the perpetually stunning backdrop to the beautiful pink cherry blossoms. At all other times its serves as the least visited and most forgotten of the National Mallís four white pillared compass points. Definitely visit the Jefferson Memorial during cherry blossom time. Visit here during the remainder of the year only if you are a National Mall Monument completist and have already purchased the Tourmobile all-day pass.
We enjoyed the George Mason Memorial but recommend it only to the super-completist. On the other hand, Mr. Mason is definitely enjoying an unexpected renaissance with this 2002-dedicated Memorial and the NCAA Final Four appearance of his namesake University. Who knows, perhaps in the near future Masonís legacy will enjoy untold interest, patrons will flock to Gunston Hall and this Memorialís beautifully landscaped flowers will become the subject of every touristís travel blog. Stranger things have happened.
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