Wordless Wednesday: Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

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Native Washingtonian 101 – It’s “War-shington”

Want to sound like a local? Here’s the first clue – we say “War-shington.”

Yes, we sneak an “r” in there. I don’t know why. It’s not because this town makes war on other countries. It’s just something we say and it’s a real clue as to who’s a local. Kinda like a suburban town a few miles south of the city that I spent many childhood years called Accokeek that is pronounced by locals as “Accakeek.” Drives non-locals crazy thinking someone’s spelling it wrong.

Whatever – “Warshington” is a tell on who’s who.

I could amend my pronunciation to “Washington” but why should I? I’m from here and living here. To those who correct me or say I sound funny, I say you’re the non-local who sounds funny to us.

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James Garfield Memorial – my 6th cousin

The only thing I knew about James Garfield was he was once U.S. president. I would have struggled to write a fifth-grade report on him

But coming across Garfield’s memorial on the U.S. Capitol grounds intrigued me into learning more. Turns out he was shot three months into his presidency in 1881 by a failed job applicant and died three months later at age 50.

And you thought today’s economic times was tough.

The only clergy member to serve as president, Garfield is also the only person in U.S. history to be a Representative, Senator-elect and President-elect simultaneously. He was not only left-handed, but known to simultaneously write in Latin in one hand and in English with the other. (My handwriting looks like Latin, but is really English.) Garfield was related to a Mayflower passenger later convicted of murder.

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Wordless Wednesday: Washington at night

Washington at night

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Where do tour guides go on vacation?

Central ParkThe plan last spring seemed simple: head to New York City for a couple of days I had free in mid-August and see the sites.

Who knew it was going to feel like 107 degrees?

I know, it was even a touch worse in Washington, but who wants to spend good money on vacation on the sidewalks to hell?

Actually, we had a good time despite the inferno.

Growing up in Washington meant thinking New York was some crowded place of different people that we wouldn’t like. But, I’ve been to the city about 50 times over my life and must say it’s a nice place. Maybe too cold and crowded for me to live there, but I’ve always found the people to be nice and the city to be amazing.

In recent years, we started going to Manhattan. I hadn’t been there since a school field trip in 1972. But, everyone should see the sites of New York City. The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, United Nations, Times Square . . . it goes on and on.

This time, we did new things. We saw our first Broadway show — On Your Feet, the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. It was awesome. The theater was a little smaller than I expected and the crowd was more casually dressed than the old days, but it was a top-notch show.

Now I run my own photo tours of Capital Photo History Tours, but one can always learn something so my wife, an avid photographer and I tried a photo tour of Central Park. Again, an excellent experience using Citifari. I’d never been inside Central Park — what a grand combination of music, arts and recreation. The tour guide was a funny local with some jokes I can, uh, borrow.

We also visited the 9/11 Memorial. A large black hole with water running down into it without visible end on the site of the old Twin Towers. Pretty impressive.

Overall, I’m saying when you’re done visiting Washington, don’t be intimidated over going to New York. Yes, everything is big and crowded, but that’s part of the charm.

Oh, and one last thing, Amtrak is a civilized way to travel.

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The Concert makes you stop

The ConcertI’ll admit to not knowing much about art, but I know what I like and “The Concert” by Dutch artist Gerrit Van Honthorst made me stop, sit and ponder.

The 1623 oil painting hangs in the National Gallery of Art, West Wing, falls into my favorite category of big in size yet intimate enough to get a personal read. Honthorst liked scenes of contrasting dark and light with big gestures. Here, we see a musical group whose outfits give Hornthorst a chance to use vibrant colors. The painting also shows that following a leader produces great results.

The best part of the National Gallery of Art is its free admission where most similar venues would charge at least $20 elsewhere. All part of your tax dollars at work.

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Wordless Wednesday: Don’t mess with a T-Rex


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5 Must See Smithsonian Exhibits

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Washington life: What’s old is new again

record player“Honey – where are our records?”

Haven’t said that in awhile, but recently receiving a new knockoff of the radio/record players I saw growing up in the 1960s saw me looking for records for the first time since the 1980s. My wife keeps everything and they were hidden away. I put on one she had from 1964 and once more listened to a record. A record from 52 years ago. Amazing.

It’s funny when you get older how much you look back fondly on things from your youth that were once thought old fogey stuff. The new phonograph also has a CD player and is far smaller than the old days, but turning a knob to tune in a radio station felt cool.

I remember old people always saying, “Things always come back in style.” I thought they were nuts. But in recent years I’ve seen those old 1950s frame glasses now worn by the millennials and records are back, too.

Since I essentially teach history as a tour guide, it’s nice to see our modern world still has ties to the old days.

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Wordless Wednesday: Smithsonians exhibits high and low


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5 things to know about the White House

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A 3D map of town at your feet – Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza may be filled with skateboarding teenagers, lost tourists or protestors, but the Pennsylvania Ave. near 14th St. N.W. median is also a map of town’s original plan.

The L’Enfant Map detailing the 1791 plan by Washington’s first city planner Pierre L’Enfant is at your feet. With the white and black stone, it’s like being on a chess board of sorts as you can see how the streets were to be layed out. Maybe the first version of the Sims City game.

L’Enfant envisioned Pennsylvania Avenue as a great ceremonial street, the symbolic link between the Capitol (which he called the Congress’s House) and the White House (which he called the President’s House). Freedom Plaza’s open space reinforces this symbolic connection.

The upper map terrace has a grass lawn where the mall occurs and inlaid bronze plans of the White House and the Capitol located at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The inlays illustrate L’Enfant’s intention to have these two buildings balance each other and symbolize two main branches of government.

L’Enfant’s plan of Washington combines two orders of scale. The giant order is the diagonal avenues that sometimes terminate in a building or a monument. This order characterizes the federal scale of the city. The minor order is the rectangular grid pattern of the local structure of the city. There are quotes from famous people about the city carved into the paving stones that surround the L’Enfant Plan.

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It’s Redskins season already?

Capital_Photo_History_Tour_-_Booth_3653Nothing says football like midsummer heat, but the Washington Redskins open training camp on July 28. It’s the fourth straight summer in Richmond for three weeks of workouts, then comes the preseason and regular season that even includes a game in London.

For me, it means I shift the majority of my time from tour guide back to columnist for several media outlets. I do both year-round, but the Redskins have been my predominant interest since 1993 after 10 years of intermittent coverage.

So you’ll still see me on the sidewalks around town, but don’t be surprised to see me standing behind some Redskins player listening and writing.


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National Fire Dog Monument honors arson teams


After looking for the new National Fire Dog Monument every time I drove by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, I walked the area one day. And there it was in plain sight — by the Engine Co. 2 fire house one block west at Fifth & F. Sts.NW.

Now we mostly think of a fire house dog as a dalmatian riding atop the fire engine on the way to an emergency, but this monument remembers the 81 K-9 teams nationwide that handle “accelerant detection.” Translation: they look for sources of arson in the ashes, which is why the piece is called “Ashes to Answers.”

Sculptor Austin Weishel of Colorado is an EMT and volunteer fireman and seen remarkable success as a sculptor at just age 24. According to Washington Post columnist Joe Kelly, the only younger sculptor of a major piece in Washington was Vinnie Ream, who created a Abraham Lincoln marble statue in 1871.

Weishel’s piece has the dog looking up to a fireman like they’re a team. It was dedicated on Oct. 23, 2015. There is also a plan to have a bronze fire hydrant pour water into a bowl for passing dogs to enjoy.

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Save George Washington, get a statue – Casimir Pulaski

Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski was a Polish count who came to America to fight for freedom. He once saved George Washington’s life, but is best known for teaching American troops the discipline needed to fight the mighty British troops.

Pulaski was known throughout Europe for his bravery and came to the U.S. in 1777 to continue fighting for the cause of freedom. Ben Franklin recommended to George Washington that Pulaski serve in the cavalry. In Pulaski’s first battle at Brandywine, he saved Washington from capture.

Pulaski was made a brigadier general in the cavalry. However, American troops didn’t like fighting under a foreign leader who didn’t speak English so Pulaski resigned from the unit and went to Valley Forge where Washington created a new cavalry of deserters and POWs for Pulaski to lead. Sadly, Pulaski was killed in the Battle of Savannah in 1779.

Ironically, the Revolutionary War hero is shown at the eastern corner of Freedom Plaza in a Polish military uniform with a long cape and a hat adorned with fur and feathers. His feet are in the stirrups and he holds the horse’s reins with both hands. The sculpture rests on an oval base decorated with a band of foliage and Greek key design. Wreathes flank the inscriptions which appear on the long sides of the base.

Erected in 1910 at a cost of $50,000, the bronze equestrian statue is 15 feet high, 12 feet wide. The granite base is 12 feet high and 15 feet wide.

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Wordless Wednesday: It’s beach time

Sea shells

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Sphere No. 6 is . . .

Sphere No. 6 is:

a) What was left of the Death Star after Luke Skywalker blew it up.
b) The remnants of Earth after a nuclear explosion.
c) A bronze sculpture by Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro.
d) I have no idea.

The correct answers are c and d. The piece is one of several by Pomodoro and I’m still not sure what it’s supposed to represent after reading several stories.

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The Chess Players: It’s not over until it’s over

I’m telling you, the player on the left could still win this match. Come on, take the castle already. This game has been going on for an eternity.

Well, at least since 1983.

The Chess Players is one of those fun artworks that make people stop if not take photos. Two life-sized men are playing chess, neither having a great advantage. However, the older gentleman on the right holds the queen in his hand and showing a slight smile while the other looks sad. A key piece has been won and the game’s outcome will soon follow. But you know, if the other guy moved his castle . . .

American artist Lloyd Lillie actually modeled the two figures after family members. This right one is his father, the left his son despite the ages seeming the same barring close inspection.

The bronze artwork lies in John Marshall Park on 4th and C Sts. N.W. aside the Canadian embassy and just a short stroll from the court houses. Supposedly, the park is the perfect place for lawyers to play chess on their lunch hour, though I’ve never stumbled upon a live version.

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5 Must Places to Eat in Washington

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The curious cube of Congressional Cemetery

Congressional cubeThe black cube in Congressional Cemetery curiously placed at an angle will make you stop.

The graves of Charles Fowler and Kenneth Dresser are marked with a cube just 50 yards on the right once entering the gate. Fowler was a writer, educator and advocate for the arts who died in 1995. Dresser was a creative designer who died three months later.

Dresser was best known for designing the Electric Light Parade at Disneyland, Electric Water Pageant at Epcot and Fantasy of Lights at Callaway Gardens, Ga. Fowler was an arts educator and director of Natural Cultural Resources and guest professors at several universities.

The two were members of the University of Maryland’s “Black and Gold Society” honoring those who donated $100,000 or more.

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