9 cool facts about Washington D.C.'s Union Station

It used to have its own mortuary!

Union Station in Washington D.C. opened in 1907 and was designed by Daniel Burnham (who also designed 1893’s Columbian Exposition, which is showcased in the book Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen, it's an excellent book by the way). It's considered by many architects to be the best example of Beaux-Arts design style. Every year around 36 million people pass through Union Station. There are 120 places to shop and eat, so it's not just a place for transit, it's also a destination in and of itself. Over the years there have been some dramatic changes and enhancements to the transportation hub in our nation's capital. Here are a few of the coolest facts you may or may not know about Union Station in Washington D.C.


1.) Union Station cost $125 million dollars, much of which went into the 22-karat gold leaf that adorns the 96-foot high vaulted ceilings.


2.) There are statues of 36 Roman legionnaries. Originally they were naked, but rather than offend puritanical sensibilities they were given shields to cover their unmentionables.


3.) It's the home of Amtrak's HQ.


4.) Originally the area where Union Station now sits was known as "Swampoodle", because it was pretty much a sewage-infested shantytown.


5.) In addition to the Roman legionaries, there are also six statues, designed by Louis St. Gaudens, each representing a Greek god or demigod (Prometheus, Apollo, Ceres, Themis, and Thales), and the mathematician, Archimedes.


6.) Union Station used to have an on-site mortuary.


7.) Antiques were discovered in the air shafts in the 1980s, and no one knows how or why they were placed there, but it's believed they've been there since 1907. 


8.) There used to be a Presidential Suite (now B. Smith's Restaurant), which was used by President Taft, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, King Albert I of Belgium, King Prajadipok of Siam, Queen Marie of Romania, and King Haasan II of Morocco and lastly, President Eisenhower.


9.) It's also a pretty popular filming location. You've probably seen it in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Strangers on a Train, Collateral Damage and Wedding Crashers, and "The West Wing."



City Walking Guide, History is Elementary, Union Station DC

Places explored in this article:

This was originally written for Roadtrippers, a great resource for anyone interested in travel.
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