Discovering Washington: Through the Lens

Discovering Washington: Through the Lens is a 90-minute documentary produced by WETA, which takes a bird’s eye view of the national capital region's sites, from the iconic monuments of the National Mall and the stately splendors of Mount Vernon and the White House, to the majesty of the Potomac River and the breathtaking natural beauty of Great Falls. Learn more about some of the sites and stories mentioned in the program below.

Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 21 Steps at a Time

Sentinels guard the Tomb at all times, and in all weather conditions. (Source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Lloyd Cosby remembers standing on the plaza at Arlington Cemetery, inspecting a guard change at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, when an elderly woman approached him. “Are the guards here at night?” she asked.

It was the late 1950s, during the year and seven months that Cosby served as the Tomb guards’ platoon leader. Later that day, the woman would tell Cosby about her son who had died at war, but had never been identified. The Tomb of the Unknowns was the only place she could come to pay her respects.

“Yes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Cosby told her. “Every second of every minute of every day.”

Burial of the first official unknown soldier from World War I, on Nov. 11, 1921. Credit: U.S. Army

Arlington's First Official Unknown Soldier

At Arlington National Cemetery, one of the most haunting features is the Tomb of the Unknowns, also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

On the rear of the monument, there's a haunting inscription: Here rests in honored glory, an American soldier known but to God.

But the story of how the first official unknown soldier from World War I was selected for burial in the graves alongside the monument is a strange one. For one, he wasn't actually the first unidentified casualty to be entombed at Arlington.

Two bison in front of the Smithsonian Castle, downtown Washington, D.C., circa 1880's. The bison were used as models for Smithsonian Institution taxidermists and were part of the Live Animal Collection, forerunner to the National Zoo. (Photo source: Smithsonian Archives)

Happy Birthday, National Zoo!

On March 2, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation establishing a zoological park along Rock Creek in Northwest Washington “for the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people.” But, of course, the backstory began years before.

Prior to the creation of the Zoo park, the Smithsonian kept a large collection of animals in pens and cages on the National Mall. Washingtonians flocked to see the motley collection which included a jaguar, grizzly bear, lynx and buffalo.

Buffalo grazing on the National Mall! Can you imagine?

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