Hey tourists, here's the skinny on Washington's monuments

A federal arts panel voted down a proposal to identify Washington's monuments with stone markers. Here's Decoder's guide for lost tourists.

By , Staff writer

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    While too far from the Mall for many tourists, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial remains a top Washington monument to put on your list.
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Does the White House need a sign in front of it that says “White House”? Would a “Washington Monument” billboard help tourists identify that tall stone pencil? Are visitors to D.C. so confused that they can’t find iconic memorials even if they’re standing in front of them?

Yes. More on that in a second.

First, the news: A federal arts panel in February voted down a National Park Service proposal to add small stone labels to Washington’s major memorials. The labels were ugly, would clutter the National Mall, and were unnecessary, said the US Commission of Fine Arts. The Park Service pushed for the signs because its research shows that many people from out of town don’t know what they’re looking at.

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Decoder sides with the Park Service on this one. We’ve lost count of how many times someone on the street has asked us, “Where is the White House?” Since our office is a block from Pennsylvania Avenue, most of the time we just point.

We’ve been asked if that building next to the White House is where lawmakers meet. (No. They have this place called the “Capitol.”) We’ve been asked if anyone lives at the White House. We’ve been asked if the Pentagon is really a pentagon. We’ve been asked if you can walk to Mount Rushmore from here or if it’s better to take the Metro.

Just kidding on that last one.

So with the sign idea nixed, Decoder has put together a clip-and-save guide to the monuments.

Lincoln Memorial. It’s a big white square thing way down by the river over there. Take a cab.

Washington Monument. See that tall spike? That’s it. Don’t bother.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It’s this black slash in the ground. Follow the Scout groups.

Jefferson Memorial. Too far. Nobody’s ever been there. Round, I think. Watch out for geese.

White House. Right here. You’re looking at it.

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