Chapter XVI: Library of Congress
Friday, May 13, 2011
Written and owned by Greg L. Miller 2011
Chapter XVI: Library of Congress
Chapter XVI: Library of Congress
This wasn’t going as planned. But then again I didn’t have a plan. My wife is by my side. She is the best thing that happened to me and sometimes there isn’t much more you can ask for in a companion. I look over to her, my chest clinches as my blood pressure easily becomes 180/140 since the ordeal started. This is the problem with blood pressure. When the body goes through any kind of stress it can go up. It doesn’t matter if it’s good stress or bad. If I win the lotto or get in a car accident my blood pressure will go up.
So how do I save myself and my wife? For that matter, how do I help whoever needs help?
I don’t know why I am like this. Maybe it’s because I love the principle of democracy. I’m not going to sound optimistic, why should I? My life just went to hell. I am worried about my wife. I won’t let go of her hand unless I absolutely have to at the moment.
There are two entrances I use at the Library of Congress. Most visitors use the front entrance on First Street SE. The front entrance has a fountain and thirty three ethnological head sculptures on top of the first story windows facing the street. Each head represents a different ethic race. I watch Mark flinch as one of the statue heads crumble as we walk up the stairs. The second story usually has nine busts on a portico but they are destroyed. Near our feet is the broken bust of Benjamin Franklin.
The CNN journalist is lagging behind as she films what’s left of the Neptune fountain at the base of the stairs. King Neptune sits with his four sons who are blowing conch shells while he brandishes a Triton. Near them is an assortment of turtles, frogs and serpents. The water is not working. No one tells her and the camera man to hurry. To be honest I don’t think anyone really cares if she comes with or not. During a situation like this if someone wants to follow they can, if they want to leave then there’s the door. We can hear her professional voice follow us, “This is Susan Bishop reporting from the Jefferson Building across from the Capital Building. It is strangely empty on this side of the street. What we are looking at is the Neptune Fountain. This was once King Neptune, the Roman god of the sea and brother of Minerva. We are about to enter the Library of Congress.” She looks over at her camera man and tells him to turn off the camera and tells her camera man to follow her up the stairs.
We walk up to the entrance. Mark sprints near the end and abruptly stops when he finds out its locked. He doesn’t want to be outside and starts pounding at the door. I let go of my wife’s hand and walk to his side.
Putting my hand on his shoulder I say, “Mark, it’s locked. We need to find another way in.”
Irina gives her opinion, “Maybe we can go in the side entrance off of Second Street. There’s the researcher entrance.”
Mark resigns himself to the fact they weren’t going to get into the Library of Congress from this entrance. We are about to leave when he thinks he sees something in the recess of the shadows near the far wall.
A lone security guard is staring up at the Capital Building, or rather what was once the Capital Building.
I can’t believe I didn’t see him earlier as I blurt, “Holy shit, you scared me.” I recognize him, his name is Berry. I think he has a family but I can’t remember. I look down and see he doesn’t have a ring and come to the conclusion that I must be mixing him with someone else.
Not missing a beat I continue, “Can you get us in the building?”
Irina adds, “We would really appreciate it if you let us in.” She obviously tries using her looks while flattering him, “I am so scared, please be a hero and let us in.”
He snaps out of his daze, looking at our group like we are crazy, “Why would you want to go in there? It’s not any better in there then it is out here.”
Mark doesn’t seem to care and neither does Irina. Mark whips out his identification card and says, “You see this ID? I work here. Let me in. Our supervisor wants us inside now.”
The security guard shrugs, “Whatever you want. I was told to keep the community out, not the staff.”
He opens the front door and steps aside. Mark and Irina rush in. I retake April’s hand as I take a deep breath.
You only live once. Maybe they have a plan to survive in there.
I squeeze her hand as I say, “I love you, honey. Should we see what fate lies in wait for us?”
She doesn’t laugh at my sarcasm. She simply responds, “I love you to.”
Together we walk in. The first thing we encounter in the Jefferson building is a security check point that screens for things that bad guys have. I’m not a bad guy so I never paid too much attention to what they do.
Normally I would have to take out my personal belongs and let them be scanned as I walked through a metal detector and get patted down. There are often two to four security guards greeting visitors and staff but today there is zero. Larry and Pixel decide to say outside with the security guard. Thinking I won’t see him again I say bye and pat Pixel’s head. We hear a click as the security guard locks the door behind us.
Mark comments, “It’s nice to know our security guards are not abandoning their posts, I would have felt better with the police K9 in our group.”
My wife retorts, “He probably doesn’t have a family.”
Mark looks at me and rolls his eyes, “I don’t know, our security personal has a strong sense of duty. During Katrina in New Orleans the biggest issue with cops and firemen wasn’t them abandoning their posts but rather they couldn’t get to work because of the floods took out the roads.”
My wife doesn’t want to hear it as she responds, “I thought the police in New Orleans got in trouble for taking advantage of the situation. Didn’t they steal a lot of things like TV’s and cars from car lots?”
Mark sputters, “I don’t know. You’re always going to have a few bad seeds. This is the Library of Congress and people don’t do that here.”
I further squeeze my wife’s hand while wishing she would stop arguing with Mark but she doesn’t. She has to have the last say, “My husband told me the Library of Congress has a problem with people taking rare books by ripping off the book covers from the binding and selling them on e-bay when they get home. Didn’t you say people here don’t act like the people in New Orleans?”
Mark doesn’t want to argue anymore and changes the topic, “Let’s go. We need to get to our office.”
The Jefferson building is a big building. To our left is a corridor that leads to the Library shop and Graphic Arts Gallery. We were going to the right.
Our office is in the Kluge Center. The Kluge Center is on the right wing if you’re facing the Capital Building on the second floor. We have the scholarly office and the copyright office on our wing.
The Bob Hope exhibit is on the way along with the Whittal Pavilion but we quickly bypass these rooms without looking in. Near the Bob Hope Gallery we find the path blocked. The earthquake took out the ceiling and there was no way to get to our offices from this direction due to the stairwell being past the Bob Hope Gallery.
Mark doesn’t want to admit defeat and counters the problem with a new idea, “If we go to the main chamber on the second floor we could use a side hallway to get to our offices. But we need to get the second floor.
At this time I should have realized this was pointless. There were no people around. No visitors, no staff and no security. We didn’t connect the dots. Staff would have evacuated. But how could I know these things when I missed all the natural disaster drills? The drills occurred to early in the morning when my back hurt. This resulted in me always being fashionably late on a daily basis. I always stayed later in the evening to make up for this short coming.
We are back at the entrance and now going up the steps that reach the Great Hall. Statues of the Greek goddess Athena lie scattered on the floor in various broken chunks and fragments. The Library of Congress had many of these statues but not many of them are left standing. Mark quickly tells us that the path to the left has collapsed on this floor just as it did on the ground floor. We can’t even get to the Meeting Room. The only way is to go to through the Main Reading Room.
I stop and look around near the Bible’s Galleries which is located near the Main Reading Room. Ancient bibles are protected in unbreakable cases; one of them is one of four original Gutenberg Bibles. A few security guards are in the process of taking the national treasures somewhere else. They don’t bother us and we don’t bother them. One of them does tell us that we can’t go further due to falling debris. Mark asks if they knew what happened to the staff but they say they don’t. I am very happy they are taking away the treasures.
We decide that we might find an open corridor on the second floor so we head towards the stairs. There are many stairs and balconies. Corinthian balconies once bedazzled visitors as they entered the chamber. Large archways and sculptured marble give breathtaking visages that easily match any building found in both Italy and Greece. The second story is held by two columns that support the roof. I see that the columns are still intact and breathe a little easier.
The roof is torn and broken in many places. Sunlight streams in the building seeing as all the windows were shattered. Many pillars are still standing but six have fallen. The left stair way has collapsed somewhere in the center. It’s a smooth break, only two steps destroyed, but I don’t want to attempt it. I didn’t want to look closer. I always feel dizzy near edges and heights.
We walk up the right side which is still intact. On the second floor I can’t help but feel despair as I look down to the floor below. An aftershock rocks the building. We all grip the smooth rails.
Tears come to my eyes as I take in the carnage and think what it means. Embedded in the Italian marble of the first floor is an emblem that reminds me of a sun. It marks the exact center of the Library. Mark once told me the marble came from Verona and Sienna. A few of the twelve zodiac emblems can be seen from where I am standing.
My reality swims as I began to feel something stir deep down. I let go of my wife’s hand and speed up my pace on the stairs.
Is the chamber still intact? Does this destruction mean the end of America has come?
I had no way to tell if the end came. As far as I knew what was happening here could be no different than what was happening in cities that were destroyed in Japan, New Zealand, Haiti, Chili, and even California last year. Each place that experienced an epic natural disaster still stood and life went on. Sure, life got hard as countries went into deep recessions. Resources did indeed become scarce but the fact is life went on. It was cities that were destroyed, not the countries.
There was one thing I did know. I was going to protect my wife and I was going to do whatever it took to keep American principles alive in the future. It wasn’t a mistake that the federal government had me as one of its employees.
My gaze drifts to the American flag which still stands near the entrance. I feel pride course through my veins as I look upon the beautiful flag from above.
I hope the security guards put the other national treasures away. If looters get their hands on these artifacts then America might lose our national treasures forever.
April catches up and nudges me out of my silent pondering.
I can’t do anything outside of trying to be my best for America when she needs me. We are going to need to get back to Michigan to our family. We’re going to have to trek home after this.
I knew we were not going to find anyone. I didn’t want to make anyone panic so I keep my pessimism to myself.
I see the security guards remove the United States Constitution which was on display. The security guard who talked to us earlier waves and yells to us they are done here.
I look down upon the chamber room one last time. Not knowing how I know, I believed I am never going to see this place again. Marble figures of Putti crumble under the stress of the newest aftershock. Italian Renaissance art symbolizing American life and culture in the early 1900’s was coming to an end. No longer did it represent the different occupations and skills that were once respected in America. Nor could I see its message of literary anymore. I only feel tragedy. Now only dust and rubble give its silent message of what tomorrow was going to bring.
I can’t handle it anymore and continue to walk up the stairs.
I hear Mark tell someone or maybe it was anyone who would listen, “This sucks. All the beauty of the place is being destroyed! You see that over there? It represents the different seasons.” Without looking I know he’s talking about the panels above the doorway Seasons, “It was made by Frank Benson. You see those sayings on the walls and ceilings? They came from the Librarian of the Library.” His voice chokes up as he starts to cry again. I’m amazed he has so many tears as I hear him continue, “My favorite saying is by Sir Philip Sidney, ‘They Are Never Alone That Are Accompanied With Noble Thoughts’.”
Irina responds, “I always liked the ones by Cervantes. My favorite is Sir Francis Bacon’s quote ‘knowledge is power.’ What are we going to do if we can’t make it to the others?”
We make it to the top of the stairs. No one answers her so I decide to say something, “I guess if that happens we will need to go to our families.”
She mumbles barely audibly, “My family is in Russia. How do I get to them?”
Mark adds after an uncomfortable minute of silence, “We can get you to the Russian Embassy if we can’t find anyone.”
Near the top of the stairs is one of the coolest murals I have ever seen. It’s the Minerva Mosaic. The majestic mosaic depicts a roman goddess of learning and wisdom. I can’t help but lose myself in its intrinsic detail and craftsmanship. I momentarily forget what happening as I appreciate the unbroken piece of art.
Too many things have been breaking today. Thank God this is still intact.
I spent most of my life traveling foreign countries and visiting beaches around the world. I would often meditate on spiritual things. Many times I would gaze out into the stars, dreaming of ancient times. Mercury also represents wisdom. To me, wisdom and spirituality are the pinnacles how I view the world.
How come I just started working here and it had to get destroyed? What am I suppose to do now?
I plead with my eyes, hoping Minerva would impart some of her wisdom onto me. She doesn’t answer. Instead she holds something that looks like a proclamation or a scroll. She is the guardian of civilization.
Mark comments as everyone gazes at the mural, “Look at the owl. It’s perched to the right. The owl represents wisdom. That’s why I decided to work here. I love libraries and what this place stood for.”
I silently relate to what he’s saying. The CNN journalist stops filming near the balcony and joins us. She reads the inscription, “Nil invita Minerva, quae monumentum aere perennius exegit.”
Mark has a lot of longing in his voice as he responds, “Yes, it means she is always vigilant against her enemies. See the Nike figure? It’s a message about victory and peace. Minerva is about all the different fields of learning. I always loved coming here when I was a kid.”
April asks, “Do you think we will be ok?”
Looking at the mural I answer, “See the sun at the upper left corner? The darkness is receding and the light is coming in. We are going to have the same thing happen to us by the time this is all over.”
Right when I was saying this a piece of the ceiling falls and sunlight streaked in. The light beam goes straight to the mural and engulfs it in radiance. Colors shift on the mural and it looks like it’s coming to life, it literary glitters just as a diamond in light.
As a group we gasp, its kin to experiencing something holy. Just as fast the light dissipated leaving us in the light we were accustomed when a new aftershock reminds us why we are here.
“Let’s continue shall we? There’s a side hall way that staff can use to get to our offices. We have to pass the Visitors Gallery that overlooks the main reading room.” We were lucky that no one was is hurt.
The minute I walk onto the balcony I felt like I was entering one of Spielberg’s movie sets. The chamber did not look like it did an hour before. The floor imploded inwards leaving all the chairs and desks under rubble. Nothing was standing. Many people were screaming for help.
My wife and Irina gasp. April instantly turns around while begging me to do something.
I can’t do anything. I hate this.
Sunlight is streaming from the ceiling. The frame of the ceiling is still intact but there were many gaps. It was obvious that the ceiling shattered glass upon the people down below when the earthquake struck. There were eight statues overlooking the chamber but none were intact. Seals representing each state are still firmly embedded where they were supposed to be. On the other hand, the statue of Moses still stood but Newton was nowhere to be seen. Most of the painting were somewhere in the rubble.
I did not want to look down but I couldn’t help myself.
My first glance did not steady me for what I was seeing. Thankfully the people down below did not see our group. There really wasn’t anything we could do for them. There was at least thirty feet between our balcony and the floor. It didn’t look like there was any flat surface left.
We watched in horror as the ground floor shifted back and forth with the aftershocks. Each time it did this the furniture would roll over the bodies, other furniture and books. A few people were alive but were majorly hurt. They were crying.
The center of the room where the librarians distribute books is missing. A massive hole beckons the surrounding furniture to enter is private hell. I couldn’t see a bottom from here. It looks as if the earth was sliding into an abyss. Much dust is picking up and I strangely think I smell burning wood and cinnamon.
Mark tells everyone to not look as we proceed to the private stairway staff uses. I watch him as he tries to use his electronic key card. I feel bad for him and try to muster some patience as I say, “The electricity is shut off. No one is here. We have to leave. I feel safer outside then in here.”
Everyone agrees. I don’t think anyone wants to be in here anymore.
Irina asks, “How do we get out.”
I answer, “Maybe we can get out the way we came in. These aftershocks scare the hell out of me.”
Everyone agrees so we back track the way we came in. While at the front entrance Mark doesn’t give up on his desire to be with the missing staff. The front doors are locked and the security guard doesn’t seem to be around, nor is Larry and Pixel. He asks the group to try one more idea.
My wife makes a smart ass comment towards Mark, “It looks like your super police are missing in action. Maybe he got lost in his car on the way to work.”
I can’t help but laugh and so does the camera man. I swear I smell cinnamon again. We hear something that sounds like a musical instrument coming from the right. Mark tells us that if we take the corridor to the left we might be able to cross around the building and get to our office. To be honest if the doors were unlocked I would have just left right there and then. Instead I find myself trekking in a building which reminds me of a very large marble crypt and I don’t want to be buried alive. I can tell my wife is beginning to think the same thing. She’s doing great and I’m surprised she doesn’t bring up her son or the family we have in Michigan.
Mark and Irina are getting very excited that someone is still here. Irina runs ahead about twenty feet and reaches for the door to the right. She’s heading into the Graphic Arts Galleries but she stops right before she enters.
Looking a little confused she tells us the door is hot. The CNN journalist jolts and starts to tell her to not open the door but she doesn’t say it fast enough. Irina reaches for the door handle and pushes in.
Flames reach for Irina. Mark screams her name but she doesn’t have time to turn or answer. Flames engulf her small body as the air around her is hungrily eaten by the fire.
She didn’t have time to stop drop and roll.
My wife throws herself at me. I poorly comfort her as the Mark cries out. It’s not the same cry as he watched the Capital Building get this destroyed. This cry sounds more like a lover losing his significant other.
The CNN journalist works well under pressure. She quickly directs the group into the Libraries Gift shop. It’s not a big room. The room is maybe about twenty to thirty square feet. I quickly shut the door as I feel the air in the corridor shift with the fire. As soon as I shut the door I could have sworn the fire already reached the spot we were standing moments before.
Mark is still crying but much lighter. He instantly goes for the windows but they are sealed. Seeing some handkerchiefs he grabs a white one. There are three windows. Two are small and one is fairly large. The large one won’t open but the small one’s do. He thrusts his hand out with the white handkerchief and yells for help.
Not knowing what else to do I feel the door. It is hot. Smoke starts to come in from the bottom of the door. I swear a lot. Quickly looking around I see some shirts marketing the Library of Congress and some water bottles. I tell my wife to water down some shirts and I quickly put them at the bottom of the door. The smoke from the fire will be kept at bay for the moment.
My head swims as I feel my blood pressure began to create a terrible pressure in my head. My left hand feels like dead weight for a few seconds. I look at my wife and tell her I love her. She doesn’t know something is wrong and tells me she loves me too. The CNN journalist says we should look around for something we could use. Her cameraman is telling us we were stupid to come into the building and he wants to go home. She tells him to remember what it means to be a journalist. He quiets down. Mark won’t stop screaming for help. My wife walks over to him and gives him a wooden rod that’s part of a child's game set. She tells him to attach the white handkerchief to the end and someone might see it better. He agrees. My breathing settles and my heart beat returns to a safer beat.
We need to get home for I can get my medications.
I feel fear in not having my medications with me. The last thing I want is to die on my wife.
I need to be there for her!
Looking at the door with fear I step back. I decide to take Susan’s advice and start looking around for things we can use. There are the basics; cards, journals, stationary. Various knick knacks were on the ground that once showed the library of congress from different perspectives. Nothing was broken outside of the glass knick knacks. The room was very much untouched compared to the other rooms and buildings I have seen in the last few hours.
My wife is at another section of the store. I can hear her tell the journalist that the children clothes and accessories were pointless. Susan concurs as she points out the board games and puzzles could not be used for anything practical. I see an aisle that is still standing that shows a lot of home accessories and office supplies. I call everyone over.
At first it doesn’t seem like we are going to find anything of value. There are a lot of posters and prints but at closer look we notice that there are things underneath that might be of use. I grab a tote bag with the Libraries image on it and start throwing in city and state maps. Maybe it wasn’t practical but I ended up putting a set of documents called the Freedom documents into the back pack. It has copies of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence. It didn’t matter they weren’t the real thing, the concept of democracy stirs deeply in my heart. The camera man laughs behind the counter and tells us that someone was reading some rare books behind the counter…. I can’t believe one of the books he says and I ask him to bring it over. I wasn’t going to let that book burn as I put in the tote bag.
My wife finds some exotic coffee packs and half a dozen butane lighters. She decides to throw into two mugs after the coffee packs while muttering we were going to need a way to drink our coffee. I put two umbrellas that show some very cool classical art on the sleeves into the tote bag. I decided to put some playing cards into the pack. Not knowing what else to grab I take a notepad and a fancy golden fountain pen that has the LOC’s logo stamped on it.
The camera man finds a fire extinguisher behind the desk. He proceeds to stuff a whole bunch of cash into his pockets from the register and gives the fire extinguisher to April. His camera takes two hands to carry.
Marks voice is growing hoarse but he doesn’t stop yelling for help. He yells with a new fervor as Pixel suddenly appears at the window. A minute later and Larry finds them. He gestures for Mark to step back as he takes his 9 mm hand gun out of its holster.
BANG BANG BANG
The window shatters with the third bullet. We scramble out the window and are greeted by an overzealous K9 barking in happiness. A few minutes later my wife is holding my hand as we watch the Library of Congress burn in an inferno that would have made Dante Alighieri proud as I’m reminded of the 14th century’s divine comedy, Inferno. The nine spheres of suffering found a new reality to play with and the Library of Congress is its playground. Larry reeks like alcohol and is humming This is The End of the World as We Know It.
Posted by Greg L. Miller at 1:09 PM