Wordless Wednesday: Waterman Observatory

Waterman Observatory

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Lincoln and Lee – the myth and photo

Lincoln and LeeOK, let me mess with your mind.

One of the stories of the Lincoln Memorial is Robert E. Lee is in the back of Abe’s hair looking at the Southern general’s mansion across the river.

It makes for a good story, but I’ve never seen any evidence of such.

Until now – sorta.

My daughter Megan spotted it. Look at her photo above. Follow the middle of the ear to the left and you’ll see the nose. Suddenly, the chin and forehead come alive.

There’s a face there . . . just not Lee’s. And I really don’t think there is a face in the hair unless you let your imagination go. Look the right and you just see hair. Look the left and you spot something like Poseidon.

Too bad, it would have been a cool if true.

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Whooping Cranes bring wilds to downtown

whooping cranesWalking down 16th & O Sts. NW, I was drawn to an unexpected one-acre park where a stainless steel sculpture of two 12-foot tall whooping cranes draw you in.

Wait . . . what?

Kent Ullberg created the cranes in March 17, 1989 for the then headquarters of the National Wildlife Federation. The cranes are shown in a combination of saltwater zone and wet grassland with animals hidden throughout the 14-foot base.

The 2,300-pound sculpture was left when the wildlife federation relocated. Their loss.

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Smithsonian display says Hillary wouldn’t be first woman prez


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Strike up the band for John Philip Sousa

You may not know the man, but you know his music.

John Philip Sousa was known as “The March King” for his snappy marching music like “The Stars and Stripes Forever (official march of the U.S.) and “The Semper Fidelis” (official march of the U.S. Marine Corps.)

Sousa2Sousa apprenticed with the U.S. Marine Band at age 14 for seven years after his father feared Sousa would join a circus band. The Washington native spent his life conducting and writing marches, including 12 years conducting the Marine Band, and inventing the sousaphone that’s like a tuba. Sousa served in the Navy during World War I and later led the Sousa Band to 15,000 performances until dying in 1932 at age 77.

The grave has a marble bench at the top of a family plot in Congressional Cemetery along with with a marble stone for his plot.

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Allies in War at American Indian museum

Allies in WarWar makes strange bedfellows.

Allies in War, Partners in Peace is a bronze statue by Edward E. Hlavka that is in the American Indian museum. Gen. George Washington is joined by Oneida diplomat Oskanondonha and Polly Cooper, an Oneida Indian who helped starving troops at Valley Forge in 1777-78.

The turtle, wolf and bear (not shown in this photo) depict the three Oneida clans. The statue was created in 2004.

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Wordless Wednesday: Smithsonian of American Indian

American Indian museum

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Oh the things you see in Smithsonians

Wizard of Oz cameraThe upside of January when the touring season is slow and we’re looking for something to do is seeing the Smithsonian museums.

The museums are largely empty and I recently found a parking space two straight days within sight of the door. No way that happens come March.

I’m toying with writing a book on interesting things to see in the Smithsonians because it’s the No. 1 question by tourists. I haven’t been in many of them in years so I’m going through the 16 in town while awaiting the African American museum when it opens later this year.

So I started with my favorite – American History. I just wandered from room to room to see what sparked my interest when I came across the photo above. The movie camera that filmed “The Wizard of Oz.” Today, your cell phone does what this enormous machine did back in 1937.

My favorite part was the presidential displays. John Quincy Adams’ chess set, Bill Clinton’s sax and Ike’s gold clubs were cool. The Union draft wheel, Julia Child’s kitchen and Rosie the Riveter are must see displays, too.

Washingtonians don’t spend much time in the museums. After all, we’re not the ones on vacation. But Monumental Thoughts will spend some time inside for the next month or so. You never know what we’ll see.

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The Cursed Lincoln?

Robert Todd LincolnRobert Todd Lincoln fascinates me.

The only son of Abraham Lincoln (please tell me you know who he is) to live past 18 was called “The Cursed Lincoln.” Really? His father was assassinated and Robert’s the one who was cursed?

Robert wanted to attend the play at Ford’s Theatre with his father that ill-fated night, but Abe asked his son to take little brother Tad to a new play called “Aladdin” opening down the street. He always felt guilty over not being able to protect his father.

However, Robert did see President James Garfield (my cousin) murdered in Washington in 1881. In 1901, Robert was near President William McKinley when assassinated in Buffalo, though Lincoln didn’t see the shot.

Robert Todd LincolnAfterwards, Lincoln refused to be near another president until the Lincoln Memorial’s dedication in 1922 where both President Warren Harding and former President William Howard Taft were nearby. Harding died during his presidency, though.

I also love the story of Robert nearly dying on a train platform months before his father’s death. Robert fell between a train and the platform where he could have been crushed when someone suddenly grabbed his collar and pulled him to safety.

That savior was Edwin Booth – brother of his father’s assassin John Wilkes Booth (another of my cousins.)

Of course, Robert had quite the life. He was present at Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Robert served as Secretary of War under Garfield, minister to the Court of St. James, president of the Pullman Palace Car Company and a noted astronomer.

Robert died in 1926 at age 82 and later buried at Arlington National Cemetery with wife Mary Harlan, daughter of Iowa Sen. James Harlan. The couple and their son Jack are buried in a sarcophagus amid a small grove of trees not far from Taft (another cousin.) I’ve walked past it a half dozen times before using the new GPS app by Arlington.

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Buffalo Dancer II offers prayers

Buffalo Indian IIGeorge Rivera described his bronze statue of a Buffalo Dancer as showing Native Americans showing respect to the buffalo that provide their sustenance through dance. It’s the first statue of an American Indian on the National Mall.

The Pueblo of Pojoaque governor created four 12-foot statues with one coming to the National Museum of the American Indian in 2009. Located to the side of the main entrance, Buffalo Dancer II took eight months to create and came 10 years after Rivera made the first model.

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Volta Bureau remembers Alexander Graham Bell

Volta LaboratoryIt has been known as the Bell Carriage House, Bell Laboratory, Volta Bureau and Alexander Graham Bell Laboratory.

No matter. The Volta Laboratory is a National Historic Landmark for helping the hearing impaired.

Built in 1893 by Charles Summer Tainter and Bell’s cousin Chichester Bell, the towering yellow brick and sandstone building at 35th St. NW in Georgetown, was created for the creation of technologies to help the deaf.

Alexander Graham Bell gained the first patent for the telephone in 1876, but the son and grandson of speech teachers also trained teachers for the deaf. Bell used 50,000 francs awarded by the French government to found Volta Associates that concentrated on recording and transmitting and recording sound. The group then built the Volta Lab for the business.

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Where Bex eagles soar

Bex EagleJohn “Black Jack” Pershing Park has it all. A statue of the famed World War I general. A waterfall not seen from the street that gives it a hidden oasis feel. And, an American eagle statue on the corner of 15th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. that borders the White House grounds.

“The Bex Eagle” bronze statue is by Lorenzo E. Ghiglieri, sculpture and painter to the stars from the Pope to Tiger Woods, created “Freedom’s symbol.” The plaque reads:

“Free men must re-dedicate themselves to the cause of freedom. They must understand with a new certainty of conviction that the cause of freedom is the cause of the human individual , human individuality is the basis of every value — spirituality, moral, intellectual, creative — in human life.

“Freedom is the right to one’s soul: the right of each person to approach God in his own way and by his own means it is a man’s right to possess his mind and conscience for himself. To those who put their trust in freedom, the state can have no sovereignty over the mind or soul — must be the servant of man’s reason, not the master.”

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The Watergate Steps to nowhere along the Potomac

It was supposed to be a staircase to heaven, but turned into a  helluva waste.

The Watergate Steps between the Potomac River and the Lincoln Memorial was built in 1932 as part of the Arlington Memorial Bridge complex. According to a Historic American Engineering Record for the National Park Service, the steps were to be a watergate where boats could tie up and dignitaries welcomed to the city.

It never happened. By July 14,1935, concerts began on a floating barge with the National Symphony Orchestra the first to perform. Crowds as large as 12,000 watched on the steps until 1965 when noise from planes approaching National Airport proved too overwhelming.

The 40 granite steps are 230 feet wide at river level and 206 feet at the top. You’ll often see joggers running the stairs and bike riders resting.

Ohio Dr. separates the stairs and river. Seems there was a big fight over the road with some thought to a tunnel, but eventually the road was kept.

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Senator Cushman Kellogg was a renaissance man

In the very back corner of Arlington National Cemetery, and I’ll give you a special merit badge for finding this memorial under a tree by the superintendent’s residence, lies one of the special politicians of the post-Civil War era.

Cushman Kellogg Davis (June 16, 1838 – Nov. 27, 1900) was Minnesota’s governor from 1874-86 before becoming U.S. Senator from 1876 to his death. The New York native grew up in the Wisconsin Territory where his father Horatio Davis was a state senator.

After graduating the University of Michigan in 1857 and admitted to the state bar in 1860, Davis served in the 28th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment as lieutenant of Company B during battles in western campaigns. Davis was promoted to Assistant Adjutant General before resigning in 1864 because of typhoid fever.

Davis became a lawyer in St. Paul, Minn. and later appointed U.S. Attorney General for Minnesota in 1868 for five years. During his state and national political career, the Republican was appointed by President William McKinley to the 1898 Paris Peace Conference to end the Spanish-American War.

Originally buried in St. Paul, he was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in 1901. The memorial has a bronze bust of Davis atop a granite column. A bas-relief at the base depicts Davis at the Paris Peace Conference.

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The Warren Court

Supreme Court

Sculptor Phillip Ratner once taught school in Washington for 23 years. Now he’s one of the nation’s more respected multimedia artists.

Ratner has five sculptures at the Statue of Liberty, 40 at Ellis Island and others at
the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and U.S. Supreme Court. Shown above is his clay sculpture of the Warren Court shown on the ground floor of the Supreme Court.

A plaque next to the sculpture reads:

“I moved into a little house in Takoma Park [in 1964] and had no room to set up a studio so one day I got to playing around with clay and the first thing I did were the Warren Court heads.”

According to Ratner, he depicted Justice Potter Stewart with his hands clasped together and looking upward in reference to his sole dissent in School District of Abington Township v. Schempp 374 U.S. 203 (1963) in which the Court had found that prayer in public schools was unconstitutional.

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Wordless Wednesday: Washington Crossing the Delaware

Crossing the Delaware

 This 1851 reproduction of Emanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware” was donated to the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Washington chapter in 2014 by its Atlanta chapter.

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‘Heros of the Independance’ at DAR

Heros of the Independance

This bronze bas relief hangs at the Daughters of the Revolution in Washington. The ‘Heros of the Independance” is by David D’Angers in 1905. It was donated by his daughter Helene.

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Happy New Year


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Wordless Wednesday: The Army and Navy at DAR


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Happy fifth anniversary to us

Rick on GeorgetownThanks to a man from South Africa, more people read my little blog on Washington’s monuments, memorials and everyday life over the past year than ever before. His advice on driving more Google traffic literally doubled web traffic.

Year five saw 26,839 visitors to Monumental Thoughts, twice the 2014 total. The big difference? It seems the Google advice was sound as 12,272 people found me, about 7,000 more than the previous year. Yahoo sent 1,794, Bing 1,493, Twitter 731 and Facebook 244.

So after five years, 109,467 viewers have visited Monumental Thoughts. Gee, wish I had paid more attention to celebrating the 100,000th visitor.

Lincoln MemorialThe most popular story for the fifth straight year (why do I bother with new posts?) explains the reason rocks are left atop grave markers at Arlington National Cemetery with 7,030 reads. Favorite places Korean War memorial (3,230), How to find a name on the Vietnam Wall (1,036), How many people are buried at Arlington (839), The Court of Neptune Fountain (542) and Who can be buried at Arlington (516) were the six most read stories for the third straight year. Only a piece on the Watergate steps (499) was a top 10 newcomer. Guess everything I wrote in 2015 was junk.

Viewership rose 18 countries to 123 overall last year. The good ole U-S of A was the natural leader with 20,856. Russia (3,222) was second, largely as hackers tried to break into my site. They actually succeeded briefly once before repelled. Let’s just say the new password is so varied and complex I don’t even know it. Canada (405) was the real second followed by Germany (272), Brazil (251) and the United Kingdom (203).

guard changeAmong U.S. readers, Washington, D.C. actually became the leader for the first time. Yeah, strange isn’t it. Where have they been for four years? Actually, I think it’s more tourists in town causing the rise to 4,812 viewers. Virginia (2,347) stayed ahead of Maryland (1,914) with New York (1,102) and California (1,007) following. All 50 states and two territories were represented, including 11 from Wyoming.

So what’s ahead in 2016? Good question. Five years of blogging doesn’t leave much left to cover, but then I’ve been a sports writer in town for 37 years and it’s not like I haven’t written about the same thing dozens of times.

This year, I’m shifting my business more to groups rather than individual tours, though I’ll do both. My Lincoln assassination tour will most likely consume half my time so be sure to come. Visit my other blog Capital Photo History Tours for information on our many theme tours like Sex and Scandal on Embassy Row, Kennedy homes of Georgetown and more.

Thanks for coming along the journey.

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