Library of Congress

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101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540

In Advise and Consent:

“Below, the city lay before them; the rain had stopped and a sharp wind was driving the clouds apart; great shafts of sunlight slanted down. Each in its accustomed place: the Capitol, the White House, the Library of Congress, the Court, the Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson memorials, the medieval spires of Georgetown University, and the bulk of the Washington Cathedral stood out.” Page i524

In Real Life:

So – in Advise and Consent, Allen Drury only mentions the Library of Congress once – and it’s in a description of the landscape of Washington, D.C.  In the novel, the Indian Ambassador and Senator Hal Fryin are in a jet climbing up in the sky heading to New York. They look over the city and wonder out loud with one another why all the beauty is “… so misused by the men who live in it? Why do we live and work and strive, only to achieve no more than new destructions of one another?”  It’s was a moment.

In real life –  the Libary of Congress sits – just like Drury says it does – huddled up to the Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol. And like the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress followed the capitol around from New York to Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. There – also like the Supreme Court – it took up residence in the capitol building. Then, when the British set fire to the capitol in the War of 1812, it dealt a particular blow to the Library of Congress.  Some arranged for the nation to pay Thomas Jefferson more than six thousand dollars for his library. But in 1851, another fire crippled the library and destroyed two-thirds of the collection including many of Jefferson’s books.  After that, the library got back on track by earning the right to receive two of every book printed. By 1897 – the library moved out and got its own place.

Since Drury didn’t say anything specific about the library I wasn’t looking for anything in particular when I walked in. So I ended up walking around with a particular sense of wonder about everything. The Library of Congress is a show stopper. Apparently the designers wanted to celebrate life and beauty and art – and of course books. The library is modeled after the Palais Garnier in Paris. It’s filled with art and frescos and statues and paintings. We wandered into the Thomas Jefferson library where we saw what’s left of his books.  That was cool.  We dipped into the museum and lounged around the main hall marveling at the tile work which is pretty spectacular. Finally, we went into the alcove where you can look down into the reading room – and across to a wall of books. I wondered for a moment how long it would take to track down the locations in the books with strong settings. Way. Too. Long.  I decided.

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