Union Station

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50 Massachusetts Ave. NE  Washington, DC 20002

In Advise and Consent:

“Going in gravely with the Senator from Minnesota and the Senator from Arkansas, the eye of the Senator from Illinois fell suddenly upon an inscription carved high on the face of the great gateway building.
He that would bring home the wealth of the Indies, it said, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.
And he thought of his opponent as he had seen him last on television, the commanding presence, the magnificent defiance, and as he had seen him in their last talk together, laying the Presidency itself on the line in one supreme gamble to save his political reputation and his political power; and he thought with a grim, inescapable admiration that he had indeed brought home the wealth of the Indies, and indeed had carried the wealth of the Indies with him; and what it had all meant for his country, of good or ill, what man in this hour could truly say?”  Page i1565

In Real Life:

In Advise and Consent, Allen Drury describes how the Senator from Illinois caught a glimpse of an inscription on the front of Union Station in Washington D.C. It said – “He that would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.”  However – the entire quote goes on to say. “So it is in traveling. A man must carry knowledge with him if he would bring home knowledge.”  It’s from – seemingly – Boswell’s Life of Johnson and it’s a Spanish proverb Johnson tossed out while he was tussling with his friend James Boswell.  There seem to be a couple of interpretations of what it means. And Drury – applied it in a little different way – to the presidency. But I – obviously – like the interpretation that says when you go somewhere – you have to know about where you are going before you get there so that you can get the most out of your travels. Wait. That is such a good idea – like you could read a book or something…

I started poking into Union Station and found architects Daniel Burham and Peirce Anderson designed it. I feel I’ve been following Burham around the country because he built so many things – I’ve even been to his grave in Chicago.  The plan for Union Station was to put all of Washinton, D.C. railways under one roof.  And Burham did that with his usual flare – picking from all kinds of architectural influences to create the station. It opened with great fanfare in 1908 and during World War II it was a hotbed of activity. Then – the need for such a massive train station waned as people turned their backs on train travel. In the ’60’s and 70’s the federal government tried to turn Union Station into a visitor center but that didn’t fly. And suddenly in 1981 – Union Station was shuttered because of a leaking roof. Lawmakers made a move to fix the roof and bring it back to life. So – millions of dollars and seven years later the station reopened and it even included a little something for shoppers – a mall. These days Union Station is a hotbed of activity again – a bustling hub for both D.C. mass transit and train travel up and down the east coast and around the country.

So – I was excited to see it.  I discovered the very best way to arrive at Union Station is NOT the way I arrived. I drove – I was alone – which eliminated any possibility that I could be dropped off so I could hop out and do my thing.  I drove around and around looking for a place to park until I finally settled on illegally parking across the street from the station and whipping out my telephoto lens to grab a shot of the inscription. Even through the lens – I have to say – the inscription is beautiful. And that’s cool – but if I would do it over again I would take a different mode of transportation – like I would roll into Union Station in a train car – like you’re supposed to. And I would enjoy a little more of Burnham’s genius.  Yes, in the words of Samuel Johnson –  if I had carried a little more of the wealth of Union Station with me, I might have brought home more of the wealth of Union Station.

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