The munchkin and I traveled to Washington, D.C., for four days this week, to visit a sick friend in Baltimore. We stayed with other friends in Washington. I was hoping for a day wandering on the Mall, but we had only one afternoon for it due to rain. As it turned out, that was nothing. We got out of the region with 48 hours to spare before yesterday’s big storm hit.

So, Wednesday we went on the carousel, popped into the natural history museum for the living butterfly exhibit and a look at a lot of skeletons, and “climbed on things.” The Mall is full of low walls and fountains that were clearly designed with a four-year-old in mind. As far as Munchkin was concerned, we could have spent all day at the US Navy Memorial fountain on Pennsylvania Avenue. This was our compromise, since I wasn’t about to fly 3,000 miles to go to playgrounds, which probably would have been her first choice.

An unexpected, interesting-only-to-Mama treat awaited us on the way back from the Navy Memorial, though. Walking up toward the metro on 7th Street, we passed a sign reading

Unitarian Universalists collect famous Unitarian Universalists, and Clara Barton was a Universalist all her life. I did not know about this chapter in her career, which immediately predated the involvement in the American Red Cross for which she is most famous. Apparently she had done a great deal of work to identify Union soldiers in Andersonville Prison, and as the war ended, President Lincoln asked her to head up a Missing Soldiers Office in Washington. The site, the 9th floor of what is now 437 1/2 7th Street, NW, is held by the federal government as a potential museum.

I let out a little exclamation when I saw the sign, and of course, stopped to read about it, which led to one of those interesting conversations with the munchkin in which I try to explain the unexplainable and unthinkable. The wearing of identification tags wasn’t common practice yet during the Civil War, and tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dead soldiers were buried, unidentified, on the battlefields where they died. Apparently Barton’s office handled over 63,000 letters in three years. The same source, the General Services Administration website,  says she was able to provide information to the families of 21,000 men. I wonder if it was ever good news.

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