The National Mall – America's Front Yard
re-aired Friday, July 3, 2015.
About the Program
Premiered: April 21, 2015
The United States’ National Mall is an urban park unlike any other in the world, a landscape that seems so timeless and eternal it’s easy for visitors to forget that it is actually man-made.
Now, for the first time, a National Geographic/PBS Special will bring the surprising story of the Mall’s creation and evolution to a national audience.
Using a mixture of contemporary and archival footage, state-of-the-art graphics and exclusive aerials shot within highly restricted airspace, this hour will trace the Mall’s — and the country’s — transformation from fields and farmland to national icon.
A Closer Look at the National Mall
More About the Program
From high upon a 500-foot scaffolding, we will document the multimillion–dollar effort to repair damage done to the Washington Monument during the 2011 earthquake. But the temblor was actually just the latest setback to a monument that struggled to be built in the first place. We will follow its remarkable tale of financial ruin, Civil War, a 24-year work stoppage, an engineer’s determination and the ultimate triumph that made the tower, at its completion, the tallest man-made structure in the world.
Perhaps the most powerful symbol on the Mall, the Lincoln Memorial draws much of its force from a carefully constructed illusion. It may seem like an ancient temple on a hill, but the memorial is actually built like a modern-day skyscraper on stilts. Get a rare look at the secret to its construction as our cameras travel underneath the bustling plaza to document the rarely seen, magnificent underground space below.
For many, one day in August transformed their view of the Mall and of their fellow Americans. The 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr. was the largest march of its kind on the Mall to that point. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was a young organizer for the March, shares her vivid memories of 250,000 Americans gathering to demand justice. That one day changed the course of history and further established the Mall as a place where Americans could effectively make their voices heard.
On the day before the Japanese Cherry trees’ peak bloom, our cameras accompany the National Park Service arborists dedicated to keeping the icons looking healthy and beautiful. Due to their hard work, nearly 100 of the trees are now over a hundred years old — twice the normal lifespan for trees of their kind. But behind these famous trees is a little-known story of disappointment and near failure, making their place in America’s heart all the more remarkable.
From the time it was built, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has inspired a surprising response among visitors — they began to leave personal items at the base of the wall. Go behind the scenes to the National Park Service facility where the gathered mementos are kept.Working alongside the collection’s curators, we trace an item to find out how and why it was left and by whom.
One of the most imaginative and visually powerful demonstrations on the Mall first arrived in 1987. The AIDS Memorial Quilt was a San Francisco-based initiative to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. Through archival footage and a first person account by the Quilt’s co-founder Mike Smith, we follow the emotional and ultimately successful effort to bring the Quilt three thousand miles across the country to the National Mall. “There’s only one place where you go to speak truth to power in a way that the whole country can engage in and that’s the National Mall,” remembers Smith.
The hour ends with a flourish and a bang: Fourth of July on the Mall. Fireworks light up the monuments, open spaces and faces of thousands of delighted people gathered to honor America on her birthday on the nation’s front yard.
The National Mall – America's Front Yard was produced by National Geographic in association with Camera One Productions, LLC.
- PBS Video: The National Mall – America's Front Yard
- PBS NewsHour: Cloning the Original Cherry Blossoms
- PBS NewsHour: In Washington, a Monumental Effort to Repair, Reopen Iconic Obelisk
- A Capitol Fourth: July 4th Concert at the National Mall
- PBS NewsHour: 50 Years Later, March on Washington Rings With Purpose