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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Happy Fourth of July

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My great west vacation – Yellowstone National Park

Six states, 1,400 miles, worst hail storm ever, snow squall, 45 degrees, 100 degrees – and it was a fun time.

My wife and I went out west to see a cousin for the first time and Yellowstone National Park. I added Oregon, Idaho and Montana to reach 43 states while also in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. I should reach my 50-state goal by 2021.

Every day was different – I find sitting at the beach boring. After flying to Salt Lake City, I covered 350 miles in 4 1/2 hours given 80 mph limits to reach Boise to meet my cousin Coleen for the first time. It was 100 degrees (felt like an 85-degree day in Washington given low humidity.) We then headed for Yellowstone, which is about 360 miles away. We stopped to see Craters of the Moon National Monument that was once a volcanic eruption. Just black debris everywhere. Pretty cool and conveniently on the way.

But Yellowstone was the focus. I’ve been to Yosemite and Yellowstone is much better. While Yosemite is more centrally focused from the valley, Yellowstone has two rings that bring you to different environments.

Of course, we went to Old Faithful first. Always wanted to see it and it did send water 100 feet upwards right on time. We then walked well designed trails to see other geothermal vents. Does that sound too brainy? Hey, it was simply cool to see throughout the valley.

Then there’s the lake that runs a good 40 miles long that is the highest elevated water in North America. Felt like sitting by Lake Michigan in late fall. That a bison was standing feet away from the road when I rounded a curve by the lake was jarring. I also saw elk in the park. Man, those antlers are impressive.

Then there was the “Grand Canyon” of Yellowstone that explains why it’s called Yellowstone. The great thing the park does throughout is provide perfect overlooks and trails by parking lots. You seldom walk far, which is helpful in 4,500 to 8,500 feet above sea level when I’m used to near zero in Maryland. Anyway, kind of gave me the willies looking down at the river that cut through the mountains over centuries.

It was a fun week that left me walking easily when landing in Washington, but instantly hating the heat and humidity. It’s gonna be a long, hot summer. I’ll have to stay in a Yellowstone state of mind.

By the way, I did see Yogi Bear and Boo Boo (but not Mister Ranger) in my final moments in town. Had to buy the sign. That cartoon, along with Smokey the Bear, sparked my interest in becoming a U.S. Park Ranger, which I’m still considering. Yogi didn’t have a pic-a-nic basket, though.




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Figure for Landscape makes you figure it out

This is not a Henry Moore piece despite being next to two of the British sculptor’s works on 7th and Jefferson N.W. But, it’s the next closest thing as fellow Brit Barbara Hepworth’s “Figure for Landscape” follows Moore’s 20th century passion for outdoor bronze sculptures that bend your mind.

The 1960 figure is one of seven cast and was given to the Hirshhorn Gardens in 1981. There really isn’t much known about this figure other than it follows her elemental theme. But, I did find this five-minute film on Hepworth that speaks to her style.

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Wordless Wednesday: Smithsonian Castle

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The Geronimo marker, well sorta

Geronimo surrenders

Sometimes a really strange marker hits you when passing by. Wait, was that Geronimo surrendering in Arlington National cemetery?

Well, yes it is, but the marker celebrates the person buried there who captured the Apache leader — George Crook.

Located at the final turn of the dirt path to Arlington House (straight ahead just when turning left) is the back side of Crook’s memorial. The large granite marker has a bas relief on the back showing the 1883 surrender of Geronimo (center) along with Crook (right) and other soldiers and braves.

Crook (1830-90) became a brigadier general during the Civil War. He was taken prisoner in 1865 before exchanged for Confederate prisoners and finished the war with the Army of the Potomac.

Crook then served out west fighting Apache, Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. He later caught Geronimo in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. Ironically, Crook became known as an advocate for indians that he felt were mistreated by government officials. He served 38 years in the army before dying at age 59.

The steps leading from Arlington House to the Tomb of the Unknowns is also named the Crook Walk after him.

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JFK bust just one example of Berks’ excellence

My favorite sculptor around town is Robert Berks, which saddens to think we never met before he died in 2011. But, as they say, his work lives on.

My favorite Berks’ work among 17 in the Washington area is his eight-foot bronze bust in the Grand Foyer of the Opera House at the John F. Kennedy Center. The 3,000-pound tribute to our slain 35th president is part of a living memorial the center provides. There are audiovisual exhibits on both sides detailing Kennedy’s career.

Berks also created the Robert F. Kennedy bust in front of RFK Stadium. It’s a little smaller, but still in the same sticky bronze style of his brother’s bust. Same goes for the massive Albert Einstein statue along 22nd at Constitution Ave. N.W., Mary McLeod Bethune Emancipation Centennial Monument in Lincoln Park and the Abraham Lincoln bust on loan to Ford’s Theater. They’re all magnificent pieces.

According to Robert Berks Studios, Berks’ pieces around town include Albert Einstein (Smithsonian Institution), Dr. Philip Handler (National Academy of Sciences), Franklin D. Roosevelt (National Archives), Pope Paul VI (National Portrait Gallery), General William Westmoreland (National Portrait Gallery), Johnny Carson (National Portrait Gallery), Robert F. Kennedy (Department of Justice), Ramsey Clark – painting – (Department of Justice), David Dubinsky (Department of Labor), George Meany – monument maquette -(Department of Labor), John Fogarty (Fogarty Health Center, National Institute of Health), Lister Hill (National Institute of Health) and James. V. Kimsey (AOL Foundation).

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Wordless Wednesday: Mount Vernon

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Spencer Fullerton Baird remains with Smithsonian

Walking through the Smithsonian Castle gardens, I spotted a statue of Spencer Fullerton Baird that towered overhead. Who was this man?

Baird (1832-1887) was the Smithsonian’s second secretary and a pioneer in American natural history. He worked at the Smithsonian from 1850-1887 while spending the final nine years as its secretary. During his tenure, the Smithsonian’s natural history specimens increased from 6,000 to two million.

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Cross of Sacrifice at Arlington National Cemetery

Cross of Sacrifice

It’s often called the “Canadian Cross” but technically the large cross behind the Tomb of the Unknowns and near the memorials to astronauts is called the “Cross of Sacrifice.”

The bronze sword atop the 24-foot gray granite cross was dedicated on Armistice Day 1927 in remembrance of Americans who fought in World War I as part of Canadian forces. The cross represents religious faith and the sword is for being in a military cemetery.

Many Americans joined Canadian forces to fight in World War I before the U.S. entered the war. The cross is also in Canadian military cemeteries of at least 40 graves.

Designed by Canadian Sir Reginald Boomfield, it has an inscription by the Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Similar inscriptions were added after World War II and the Korean War.

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Wordless Wednesday: Life on the Mall

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