Lazy day at National Harbor

It’s not often I spend a lazy Sunday afternoon doing nothing, but while waiting for my wife at National Harbor I wandered by the many statues near the water that I’ve driven by dozens of times.

Park the car and see them. From Marilyn Monroe and Abraham Lincoln to Henry Ford and Louie Armstrong, more than a dozen figures are quite a tourist attraction. Lincoln and Frederick Douglass near the main street are probably the most popular with photo goers, but Monroe gets plenty of traffic, too.

National Harbor has become quite the tourist attraction after eight years. Lots of restaurants and shopping, mostly for convention goers during the week and locals on nights and weekends. With the MGM Grand Casino nearby, traffic still isn’t bad.

So come by and see pop and historical icons. Maybe even shake hands with some.

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Wordless Wednesday: Downtown flowers

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Eating big at Bobby Van’s steakhouse

The Tower of Seafood was on the table in minutes like the starting gun to a fine meal. And, we were off.

My Redskins podcast partner Matt and I along with our wives eat at Bobby Van’s each season. A chance to see how the good life really is. We’re never disappointed. More like delighted with each course.

First, the location is 15th and H Sts. NW about a five-minute walk from the White House. The great service begins with manager David Morris greeting you. We like the Tower of Seafood for its cold shrimp, large lumps of crab and lobster. It would normally be the meal, but we were just getting started.

Salads, bread and beer was the next round before we went our separate ways on the main entrees. My wife loves pork chops while Matt and his wife went porterhouse. I tried the crab cakes. And by the way, the baked potatoes are big enough to feed four people.

Dessert saw Matt and his wife splitting chocolate mousse while my wife and I shared an apple tart. Seriously, there just wasn’t room for individual desserts unless someone rolled me home.

The nice part of Bobby Van’s is the atmosphere. Unlike most restaurants nowadays, it’s quiet enough to talk to each other without shouting in a fine dining atmosphere. You can’t beat the great service, either.

So if you’re looking for somewhere new to eat downtown, try Bobby Van’s. And don’t forget the valet parking out front.


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The other Taft – Robert A. Taft Memorial

Everyone knows my distant cousin William Howard Taft, the 26th U.S. president and the fattest person to ever serve in the White House. Figure I’d inherit that bloodline.

But few remember his son Robert A. Taft whose accomplishments earned an impressive 100-foot bell tower near the base of the Capitol at Constitution, New Jersey and Louisiana Aves.

A graduate of Yale and of Harvard Law, Taft was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives from 1921-26 and a U.S. Senator from 1932-53, serving the last six months as Senate Majority leader until his death.

“Mr. Republican” was a real pain in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s side during the democratic New Deal of the Great Depression. His grandson Bob Taft was governor of Ohio.

The bronze statue of Taft is 11 feet and sculpted by Wheeler Williams. The memorial was dedicated in 1959 and accepted by vice president Nixon, who was also president of the Senate. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and former president Herbert Hoover attended the ceremony.


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Religious symbols at Arlington National Cemetery

I often stop during tours at Arlington National Cemetery to point out different grave stones. Over the years, there are many different tales to tell.

The Latin cross on the headstone is easy to decipher. The person was a Christian.

But there are 26 religious symbols on markers at Arlington. They range from the Star of David for Jewish to Hindu, Greek, Lutheran, Morman and Muslim to Aeronic Order, Native American, Humanist and Wicca. There’s even one for atheists.

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Wordless Wednesday: Capitol springhouse

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Date night – Fogo de Chao and Trump Hotel

I have walked by Fogo de Chao at least several hundred times while leading tours, telling people how good the food was inside. At least, I heard it was. I’m like a dog with his nose pressed against the glass. Not allowed inside places for rich folks. Not paying high prices for things.

My kids heard the story many times. How one day I would be rich enough to eat there. Finally, they got the hint and my birthday present wasn’t a book or shirt. It was a gift certificate to Fogo de Chao.

My wife said would we should save it for some big occasion? Hell no, let’s go. And we did on Saturday. The place is busy so I used for a reservation.

It was everything I expected and more. Servers constantly passing the table with different types of meat. I’ve always wanted to try lamb, but afraid to order it in case I didn’t like it. Well, sampling lamb was much safer and I found it was good. In fact, the hotter the meat the better it tasted no matter what I ordered. But, the best was rib eye.

Now I’ve learned not to eat until I burst. It took a lifetime not to do so, but I left room for dessert that was a sizeable cheesecake. Overall, four rounds of meat that took 86 minutes before tapping out.

My advice – it’s pricey, but for a special occasion worth it. The restaurant is crowded and loud and busy so it’s more of a buffet for rich folks than an intimate affair. I still like Bobby Van’s or Del Frisco Double Eagle steakhouse more. But it was a chance to fulfill a dream after walking by so many times. Now I can tell people more of what’s inside.

Afterwards, I figured why not cross the street to see Donald Trump’s new hotel? I sat inside the old Post Office headquarter dozens of times during lunch breaks for a bus company I once gave tours. I wanted to see how Trump made it great again.

Well, he sure did. Maybe you have to know the old place to appreciate what has been done. It used to be a long neglected, dirty, grimy place. Now it’s bright, shiny and new with lots of marble and clean everywhere. The lobby was packed.

We took a quick look – the public is allowed in hotel lobbies as public space. Another thing off my bucket list as I often show people the hotel from the outside.

Not a bad Saturday night.

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A new White House?

Dear Mr. President,

I have a simple solution to the White House allegedly being “a dump.”

You’re a real estate developer so glam it up. Make it great again. Go live at your hotel down the street for the next two years and let the carpenters have at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The White House is essentially an 18th century building that has been renovated several times. Harry Truman taking a bath nearly crashed through the floor, prompting the last major renovation from 1948-52. He lived across the street at Blair House. Calvin Coolidge added a third floor in 1927. James Madison stayed at Octagon House after the British burned down the White House in 1814.

There is historical precedent for presidents staying elsewhere during renovations. Sure, it wouldn’t look good walking in the front door one day and out the back the next. Remember when Nancy Reagan said the White House was dated and changed all the china? Everyone really hated on her for years over that even if she was right. It just sounded elitist. But given your popularity ratings, Mr. President, there’s not much downside to staying at your hotel while the White House is upgraded.

Don’t worry critics will say the move enriches your hotel. Hey, you have to stay somewhere and White House operations will work nicely there in the short term.

The White House needs a makeover from basement to rooftop. I’m sure the Secret Service would love new security enhancements. Just keep the exterior the same and historical preservationists will be happy.

Surely there is already a plan to remake the White House. Throw some of your own wealth for added niceties for public relations value.

And then spend weekends at the White House instead of escaping “The Swamp” in your new president’s palace.


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Wordless Wednesday: Beauty on Capitol Hill

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Wood’s career as big as his grave marker

Sometimes I just wander through Arlington National Cemetery without any agenda and see what I see.

I came across the biggest grave marker I’ve ever encountered that wasn’t some sort of monument. Turns out it was the appropriate size.

Leonard Wood’s military rise was something out of a Forrest Gump tale. In 10 years, he went from captain to Army chief of staff.

Wood graduated Harvard medical school and entered the Army in 1883 because he was bored just practicing medicine. Wood was first sent to Arizona where he earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for assisting in the capture of Apache chief Geronimo.

Next up was White House physician to presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley where Wood also became friends with Teddy Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Naturally, the Spanish American War began and Roosevelt, now president, appointed Wood as commander of the Rough Riders.

Wood then spent three years as governor of Cuba working with Walter Reed (seriously, how many names can we drop in one story?) to combat malaria. Wood then spent one year as commander of the Philippine Division for governor William Howard Taft. Six years later, President Taft made Wood the Army chief of staff.

In 1920. Wood finally tasted defeat when seeking the Republican presidential nomination where he lost the 10th convention vote to Warren Harding. Instead, he became colonial governor of the Philippines.

Wood died in 1927 during an operation. He’s buried near the Rough Riders not far from the mast of the Maine.

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Cordell Hull: Father of the United Nations

Cordell Hull

It’s strange how everyone knows President Woodrow Wilson was instrumental in the League of Nations that the U.S. never joined, but few recall the key person starting the United Nations.

Cordell Hull merits only a three-foot bronze bust outside the Organization of American States along Constitution Ave. between 17th and 18th Sts. — and it’s only a copy.

Hull was born in a log cabin in 1871 where he became a lawyer and then a captain in the Spanish-American War. Hull spent 22 years as a Congressman before elected to the Senate in 1931. Two years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Hull to Secretary of State because of the latter’s open trade policies.

Hull openly courted Latin American countries, hence his memorial’s placement, but perhaps the most famous act was delivering an edict to the Japanese just days before Pearl Harbor’s bombing to stop military aggression.

For his role in founding the UN, Hull received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945.

Beneath his bust on the base, it reads: Let each American nation vie with the other in the practice of the policy of the good neighbor. Peace must be our passion.

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Wordless Wednesday: MLK, Jr. Memorial before revision

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Sky Landscape is for the 99 percenters

Sky Landscape

For everyone who was told they’re not good enough, those who spent years trying to make it, that sacrificed everything for their dream — Sky Landscape is for you.

Louise Nevelson struggled for many years after arriving from Kiev, Russia. Working with odd objects found on the streets of New York from toilet seats to wine crates, Nevelson didn’t hit it big until the 1950s. Now you can find her work in the National Gallery of Art and most major museums nationwide. Not bad for someone who once hung out with Willem de Koonig and Pablo Picasso.

Nevelson created Sky Landscape in 1983. The 30-foot steel sculpture atop a granite base rests at Vermont Ave. and L St. N.W. Certainly, it represents Nevelson’s eclectic style.

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William Howard Taft – not just the other president

There are two presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Everyone knows John F. Kennedy, the eternal flame and all that. But who’s the second?

Here’s a hint — he’s my seventh cousin, five times removed.

What, you still need another hint? OK, we’re roughly the same size, which sadly made him the fattest president ever. (I’ve lost weight, though.)

William Howard Taft was the 27th president and the only one to also become chief justice of the Supreme Court for nine years until shortly before his 1930 death. He was also Secretary of War, provisional governor of Cuba, governor general of the Philippines and solicitor general.

Taft was the first president to be buried in Arlington National. Woodrow Wilson is the only president buried in Washington at the National Cathedral. Aside Kennedy, the other presidents are buried wherever they came from.

Taft’s marker is a 14 1/2-foot Stoney Creek Granite marker sculpted by James Earl Frazier. It’s in the Greek Stele style with an ornamental motif.

Helen Taft, who planted the first cherry blossom tree along the Tidal Basin, became the first First Lady to be buried at Arlington alongside her husband. Jackie Kennedy Onassis later became the second.

Taft is buried to the right of the main entrance. Indeed, follow the sidewalk to the right about 75 yards and a walkway on the left leads to Taft.

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Wordless Wednesday: Georgetown hideaway

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Thomas T. Gaff isn’t so scary after all

Thomas Trueman Gaff

Thomas T. GaffFrom the street it looks like a member of the Walking Dead has emerged in Rock Creek Cemetery.

Walking up the steep incline makes the grave marker a little less scary and a little more impressive. What once looked like a creature half out of the ground is actually the top of a long marker.

Thomas Trueman Gaff left behind a Greek statue heading a deep vertical marker. He was a wealthy owner of distillery and heavy machinery businesses in Cincinnati who moved to Washington around 1904 when named a commissioner of the Panama Canal’s construction. His elaborate home was known for its parties. Today, it’s the residence of Columbia’s ambassador.

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Lee Marvin – The famous neighbor was a Hollywood legend

The eyes always go to the adjacent grave. Heavyweight champion Joe Louis. Big marker, big name, hard to miss.

But to Louis’ left is a simple white stone marker containing another legend – actor Lee Marvin. Yes, it’s the famous actor best known for the tough colonel in “The Dirty Dozen” who also won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Actor in “Cat Balou.”

Marvin served as a marine in the Pacific during World War II. He earned a Purple Heart in June 1944 when a bullet severed his sciatic nerve in his hip during the battle of Saipan.

After his discharge, Marvin was working as a plumber’s assistant in New York when asked to fill in for a sick actor. The rest was history.

Marvin also became part of legal history when long-time companion Michelle Triola successfully sued him for assets after their breakup. It became the basis for palimony.

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Wordless Wednesday: Georgetown’s old charm

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The Hiker welcomes you to Arlington National

The memorials start long before entering the gates of Arlington National Cemetery. Just after leaving the Memorial Bridge is “The Hiker.”

World War II soldiers were called G.I. Joes and World War I predecessors were Doughboys. The Spanish-American War fighters called themselves Hikers.

The 1906 bronze sculpture by Theodora Alice Ruggles-Kitson showing a typical infantry man was recast more than 50 times and often seen in town squares across the country. This one was dedicated on July 24, 1965.

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Jimmy’s Place was best casino between New York and Havana

Like a lot of stories, this one starts with a family member. After all, my family has been in Washington since the early 1800s.

A distant cousin I never knew emailed me about a blog entry on his grandfather and my grand uncle (which most people wrongly say great uncle) named Fallas Broche, who spent six weeks in the U.S. Army before discharged because World War I ended while he was in boot camp. Fallas was later buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The cousin gave me some updated information on his deceased grandparents. I double checked with my mom and she said, “Oh Aunt Roan was really nice to kids. Always dressed well with a lot of makeup.

“She worked at a casino in Bladensburg.”


And so another interesting story begins. Roan was a black jack dealer at Jimmy’s Place, owned by James A. LaFontaine. It was said to be the nicest underground gambling joint between New York and Havana right on the city line and Bladensburg, Md.

There were nine roadhouses of sorts on the Eastern Ave. border where more than a century earlier the British defeated American troops in the War of 1812 and went on to burn the White House. Jimmy was so on the border that if city cops tried to bust the joint the customers ran out the other side into Maryland where they couldn’t be touched and vice versa.

They say the cluster of clubs is where someone thirsty could wet his beak during Prohibition and hear some of the best music of any sort through live bands right into the 1970s. Chick Hall’s Surf Club was also well known. Hall even played guitar with singer Patsy Cline.

But my Aunt Roan worked at the Maryland Athletic Club, which everybody called Jimmy’s Place from 1921 through 1947 when closing. More than 600 people filled Jimmy’s playing roulette, faro and table games.

It seemed everybody knew Jimmy’s. There’s even a Sports Illustrated article on it.

Jimmy died in 1949 and the casino was destroyed by fire in the 1960s.The photo above is a gas station on the site of where I believe Jimmy’s once stood.

My Aunt Roan moved to Los Angeles where my cousin said she paid her bills while in her 70s playing poker at legal card casinos.

She sounds like aces to me.


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