Wordless Wednesday: Georgetown waterfront

Georgetown water park

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Remembering Jackie Kennedy in the park

Everyone usually thinks of Jackie Kennedy alongside her husband John F. Kennedy at the eternal flame in Arlington National Cemetery.

But, you can catch a glimpse of her name outside a one-time dorm along 21st St. N.W. when attending George Washington University. And, there’s a nice plaque in front of the Stephen DeCatur House at 16th and H Sts. N.W. at the northwest edge of Lafayette Park.

Why? The First Lady probably saved the White House neighborhood.

When JFK was in office from 1961-63, Lafayette Park was a mess. In 163 years, the seven-acre lot was a race track, dump, grave yard and even the site of a murder that became the first temporary insanity defense.

But thanks to Jackie, it was revitalized during her time to become the beautiful park it is today that thousands of people pass to the White House.

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Remembering JFK at Holy Trinity church

Trinity ChurchHoly Trinity Church (3513 N. St. NW) was the city’s first Catholic church in 1792. In the early years, parishioners either rented space on the pews or brought their own chair. But don’t worry, today’s 10,000 parishioners have ample room to sit.

In 1862, 200 military wounded and sick were treated here after the Second Battle of Bull Run. The government used the church for one year before returning it with a $350 payment.

This plaque remembers John F. Kennedy worshipping here regularly until his 1963 death. Indeed, it was the last service he attended before assassinated.

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Wordless Wednesday: Life on the C&O Canal


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George Washington and Purple Heart

Purple HeartThere’s a marker just a few yards left to the entrance into Mount Vernon that is often overlooked but a pretty cool remembrance of history.

George Washington wasn’t allowed by the Continental Congress to promote Revolutionary War soldiers based on merit. But, Washington found a way around it, establishing the Badge of Military Merit on Aug. 7, 1782.

According to The Purple Heart “… The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit directs whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding.”

While a number of badges were awarded, the only three known recipients were
Sergeant Elijah Churchill, 2nd Continental Dragoons; Sergeant William Brown, 5th and Sergeant Daniel Bissel, 2nd Connecticut Continental Line Infantry.

The award was discontinued after the war, but Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing created the Purple Heart in 1932 in General Order No. 3 to honor the bicentennial of Washington’s birth.

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All aboard for Randolph

If you’ve ever taken a train at Union Station, you’ve passed this statue. It’s right by the entrance to the boarding area.

A. Philip Randolph was among America’s leading black labor and civil rights leaders. The plaque beneath the bust says Randolph founded the brotherhood of sleeping car porters (hence the railroad station connection) and “conceived and initiated the 1963 march on Washington.”

Randolph first organized shipyard and dock workers before moving on to porters in 1937. His first porters contract included a $2 million raise, shorter hours and overtime pay.

Randolph moved on to discrimination in 1942. His work led to the 1963 civil rights rally where Randolph witnessed Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Had a Dream Speech.” Ironically, the son of an Episcopal minister was an atheist.

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Wordless Wednesday: Changing of the Guard

ANC guard

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The best view in town is . . .

Tourists ask this all the time.

It’s not from the top of the Washington Monument despite being the highest point in town. Ditto for the Old Post Office Pavillion or the National Cathedral. And while the porch at the Newseum is great for seeing Capitol Hill, all these points aren’t as good as two places across the Potomac River.

The best daytime view of Washington (above) is from the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. The whole town is layed out in front of you. The same essential view can be seen from nearby Arlington House. Both require a moment to catch your breath after climbing a steep hill, but it’s worth it.

The best nighttime view is from the nearby Netherlands Carillion between Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima memorial. You can line up the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol. The cemetery is closed at night so this is your best stop, though the Air Force Memorial on the other side of ANC is pretty good, too.

The most picturesque view from street level is M St. in Georgetown. Just a nice glimpse of the old days. But, Embassy Row along Massachussetts Ave. with its flags runs a close second. Of course, the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin is the best, but only lasts a week or so.

What are your favorites?

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Meet all the presidents at Madame Tussauds

I won a couple tickets for Madame Tussauds, home of the wax figures. I figured hey, why not check it out?

It was a lot more fun than I expected. Just steps from Ford’s Theatre at 10th & F Sts. N.W., the home of wax now has a display of all 44 presidents. We’re not just talking some dull statues, but presidents in all sorts of poses. Sit next to Lincoln in the Ford’s Theater box. Check out the Oval Office with Obama. Since I’m related to five presidents it was interesting to see lesser-known ones like James Garfield up close.

Of course, there are plenty of entertainers and a few that made me scratch my head. And, one completely fooled me in the gift shop.

So if you want to take a break from history, visit Madame Tussauds. You’ll suddenly find history is fun, too.

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Wordless Wednesday: The Vietnam Wall

Vietnam Wall

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My 10 tips for visitors (and locals, too)

I’ve seen tourists from dozens of countries visit Washington over the years. Now that I lead groups, I really have some advice for those coming in the summer. Since my blog is read nearly equally by out-of-towners as locals and from those in 58 countries this year, here are a few tips when coming to my hometown.

1. Wear light colors. Seriously, I know this sounds simple, but many Europeans come from cooler climates and don’t know a black shirt can feel 10 degrees hotter than a white one. They’re already dying from the humidity so don’t make it worse. Wear shorts, too.
2. Bring sneakers or sandals, but not dress shoes, high heels or clogs. You will get blisters walking around Washington.
3. If you want tickets to go inside the White House, call your Congressman or Senator six months ahead. They’ll need your social security number to run a security check. There’s no same-day line.
4. Don’t soak your feet in the fountains. I don’t care if you see others do it.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions from passersby. Washingtonians are used to tourists and don’t mind.
6. But, locals do mind if you stand on the left of subway escalators. Stand to right, walk on left. If you aren’t familiar with using the passes for the metro, pick one of the gates on the ends.
7. Spend the hot afternoons at inside attractions like the Smithsonians. Mornings and evenings are better spent at monuments.
8. Don’t talk politics with locals. We really don’t care what you think.
9. It’s pronounced War-shington. Not Wash-ington. I know it’s spelled like the latter.  We’ll smile if you say it like a native.
10. Tip your tour guide.

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Go on tour by yourself (with me)

The Sniders and LincolnsNo, I haven’t been drinking . . . lately. I’ve just released my first audio tour in conjunction with Voicemap.me.

Voicemap combines GPS technology with the audio tour so when you come within 30 feet of the site the audio begins playing on your iPhone. Of course, you can also choose each site manually.

The Lincoln assassination tour takes you from Lafayette Park to Ford’s Theatre with 10 stops along the way. It’s an easy walk at your pace. The audio tour allows you to do so in less than one hour.

It’s like having me on tour whenever you like. You can even listen to it at home if you like the story but can’t make it to Washington. And, it’s just $2.99.

More audio tours are coming. I’m hoping to have a half dozen by spring when tourists really fill Washington. For now, listen to Lincoln’s final day.

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Business as usual around White House

White House

You never know what you’ll see when walking down Pennsylvania Ave. while approaching the White House. After the recent fence jumper, TV newscasters reported a new fence farther out on the north side where most tourists gather.

Tuesday morning, it was the usual scene. Lots of tourists, a protest about who knows what and the ongoing fence replacement with a temporary fence in front of the work area. There were several small black metal barricades by the temporary fence, but it was no big deal.

There has been a lot of talk about moving tourists back or even worse a screening area that would be a royal pain. If this is the solution, that’s fine. But, the public needs to see the White House up close. The Secret Service needs better training to ensure everyone’s safety.

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Gameplanning Arlington National Cemetery

You want to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns and the eternal flame where the Kennedys are buried, but have only one hour. What do you do?

Uh, turn around and come back when you have more time would be a sensible tip. But, tie your shoe laces tighter (seriously, makes the feet move faster) and get ready to roll.

The key here is what time is it? The guard changes at :00 and :30 until Sept. 30, then the top of every hour. It takes 15 minutes for most people to walk there from the visitor’s center. If you have 20 minutes, go to the Tomb first. I think it’s a harder walk than going to the flame first and cutting across the cemetery to the Tomb, but the time crunch decides this. You’ll catch your breath while watching the guard change, which takes about 10 minutes.

If it’s 10 minutes before the guard change, see the eternal flame first and give yourself 15 minutes from there to get to the Tomb. Go around the left side of the flame to catch the stairs down and (unfortunately) up to the Tomb.

The good part is it’s all downhill from the Tomb and I tell my charges that dessert tonight is guilt free. And since I lead a lot of visitors from the Gaylord National hotel, I show them the Peeps store by the hotel that has – ready for this? – chocolate covered peeps. Sinful, but you’ve already burned off those calories off walking Arlington.

It would be nice to have two hours to see Arlington and the many other graves and monuments, including Arlington House. I’ve been to Arlington many times and still don’t think I’ve truly seen the place. I have a great uncle buried four rows from the back wall by Henderson Hall so I have walked the entire cemetery on a 100-degree day.

When people ask if this is hard walking, I just say if a fat old man like me can do it, they can do it.

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Jesus at Arlington National Cemetery

JesusJesus on the cross always makes you stop and think.

You would think that some depiction of Jesus would be commonplace at Arlington National Cemetery. But the only one I’ve seen is next to the Crook stairs heading up to Arlington House. Maybe there are others around the cemetery, but I’ve walked nearly the entire place and not seen another.

The large headstone with Jesus nailed to the cross, shirtless and eyes closed with “NOT MY WILL BVT THINE BE DONE” is above the grave of Rear Admiral William Hemsley Emory, his wife and children.

A son of an Army Brigadier general of the same name, Emory graduated the U.S. Naval Academy in 1862 after being appointed to it by President Abraham Lincoln. Emory held commands throughout the world before retiring in 1908 after 56 years of service. He died in 1919. Perhaps his most famous mission was saving the Greeley arctic expedition. He was also a naval attache at the Court of St. James’s.

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St. John’s – “Church of the Presidents”

Every president since James Madison has attended the “Church of the Presidents” just a short walk (if they could do so nowadays) from the White House at 15th and H Sts. N.W. Madison started the tradition of the “President’s Pew” in 1816. It’s No. 54, not Area 54.

St. John’s Episcopal Church was designed by architect Benjamin Latrobe, who also worked on the Capitol and DeCatur House a block away from the church and rebuilt the White House after it burned in 1814. The Neoclassical church was built like a Greek cross, but five columns in front and a Roman Doric portico later added made it into a Latin cross. The church’s yellow stucco walls and golden cupola and dome make it easily standout from adjoining buildings. The 1,000-pound bell was cast by Paul Revere’s son Joseph in 1822 and served as an alarm for the neighborhood.

The 22 stained glass windows featuring Leonardo DaVinci’s ”The Last Supper” were added in the early 1880s.

Public tours are Sundays after the 11 a.m. service.

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Native Washingtonian 101: Who you calling Washingtonian?

Wikipedia sometimes cracks me up. The online reference source by the masses has an interesting description of Washingtonian.

Washingtonian is used to refer to people from the state of Washington (see List of people from Washington) or the greater metropolitan area of Washington, D.C. (see List of people from Washington, D.C.), in the United States.

We’re second to the state out west? Guess that all depends on which coast you live. I don’t know anyone in the east who when discussing Washingtonian thinks about the Pacific-Canadian border state.

Washingtonian may also refer to:

Washingtonian (Amtrak train), a named passenger train.

Uh, pass on this one.

Continue reading

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A White House in Dublin?







I’ve always heard the White House was modeled after the Leinster House in Dublin because Irish architect James Hoban used the Irish parliament as a model.

Well, the truth is the White House looks like part of Leinster House. You can see the colum I don’t see a big connection between the two building aside the same architect.

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My favorite places – Washington National Cathedral

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I like Ike, his building not so much

It’s not the prettiest building in Washington.

Mark Twain called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building “the ugliest building in America” while former president Harry Truman called it “the greatest monstrosity in America.”

The EEOB is a French Second Empire style building shown by the massive amounts of steel columns. Ironically, it was considered out of fashion before finished in 1886. It was also called the Napoleon III style that included some Gothic features.

Look high at the top for the War Pediment, which looks like a Roman soldier above a window. On the north side of the building, the military symbol has a medieval suit of armor. A sword runs through the helmet while an eagle representing America sits atop it. Behind the armor are two U.S. shields that partially obscure four Roman military symbols. On the right is the fasces, a bundle of rods enclosing an axe that was a symbol of authority. To the left is the Roman standard of powerful legions. Left of the helmet is the battle axe that denotes strength and then there’s a torch that symbolizes light and knowledge. There are also spears and cannons plus cannon balls. Also, in the left corner are laurel leaves to crown victors and on the right are oak laves representing strength and stability. The whole pediment is 8 by 30 feet.

This is the third Old Executive Office Building and now named for former president Dwight D. Eisenhower. The first two burned down, including by the British in the War of 1812. The shell of the original building is still used deep inside this office.

The President’s Executive Office, the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Council work inside this building. It was designed by Alfred B. Mullett.

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