Saturday, November 24, 2001

The holiday weekend may be just the economic shot-in-the-arm downtown Washington needed as thousands of residents and tourists converged on the area’s restaurants, museums and monuments yesterday, seeing the sights, reveling in history and soaking up sun.

“We are not going to let anyone stop us from coming,” said Chris Durrette, of Columbia, S.C., as his family walked from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. Mr. Durrette was in Richmond visiting his sister when he and his wife, Anne, wearing an American flag sweater, decided to see the city.

Some local visitors said they were surprised at the crowds, given all the media attention on the dearth of tourists in the District since September 11.

“My husband and I are blown away,” said Bonnie Volovar of Frederick, Md. She brought family members visiting from Ohio to the Lincoln Memorial. “We thought it wouldn’t be crowded because everyone would be out shopping, as well as all the talk about D.C. being a ghost town. It makes you think [District officials] are crying wolf. This place is packed.”

Alexandria resident Randy Rush, visiting the Korean War Memorial with out-of-town guests, agreed. “We need to be tourists again,” she said.

Most of the sightseers seemed to be visitors staying with family and friends several area hotels reported occupancy rates of anywhere from 25 percent to 34 percent.

“It’s not going to be a very busy holiday season,” said Anthony Duggan, assistant front desk manager at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel. “This Thanksgiving, there is more interest though from the [families on the East Coast] who don’t want to fly but do want to do something very special.”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting delegate to Congress, have urged Americans around the country spooked by the terror attacks to return to the nation’s capital. Local officials also have urged the White House to reopen for tours, but the administration announced this week that the annual Christmas tree lighting would be limited to ticketed guests, and that there are no immediate plans to reopen the White House to the public.

The tourists out Friday were excited, despite the closings and the traffic backups.

The Brady family from Medina, Ohio, came to the District for the holiday weekend because the oldest son, Scott, 8, is a presidential buff, and his parents wanted to do something special. They had the traditional Thanksgiving feast Thursday night at Mount Vernon. On Friday, they maneuvered their way through the crowds at the Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington memorials before making a last-minute run through the crowded American Presidency exhibit on display at the Smithsonian Museum.

“I expected the Washington Monument to be really tall and the Lincoln Memorial to be a bit bigger,” Scott Brady said, “but this has been great, and all my friends said I was really lucky to get to go.”

Plans for the trip were made in August, said Todd Brady, Scott’s father. He said they never considered changing their holiday agenda.

And while the White House is closed to tours, visitors can still get a glimpse of the presidential residence.

“It is great here, and I am not nervous at all,” said Rebeca Barstow, 10, of Atlanta, Ga., who along with her siblings was visiting relatives in Crofton, Md. “We got to see the White House, and I got some grass from their yard!”

Al Tucker, the official tour guide for the Barstow clan, noted this particular holiday weekend and the war have an ironic relationship that he said made it all the more special to spend the time with his nieces and nephew.

“Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday during the Civil War, and right now we are in another war,” Mr. Tucker said. “We need to stand together as a nation, and it is as important now as it has ever been. Some of his themes, freedom, democracy and emancipation seem more relevant now at least that is what I think.”

Separating the events of September 11 from the holiday travel time did prove hard for some.

David Knoeckel, visiting with his family from Colorado, noted that while they were happy to be here and not at all worried, when they arrived at Dulles International Airport, they could not help but remember: This is where one of the high-jacked planes originated.

Looking at the exhibit on American presidents, specifically the section on their role as commander-in-chief, Alison Bober of Arlington noted that the struggles they have encountered are similar to those faced by President Bush today.

“You really can’t help but think of the role President Bush is playing today, as you see how other presidents have dealt with things in similar situations, and you hope that President Bush is able to do just as well,” Mrs. Bober said, adding, “which so far he seems to be doing.”

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