Remembering the unknown dead of the War of 1812

So much attention is given the Tomb of the Unknowns, but there are actually more than 400 unknowns buried throughout Arlington National Cemetery.

Fourteen soldiers and sailors from the War of 1812 are buried together in Section 1 not far from the Custis-Lee House. Go past the Pan American 103 red stone memorial and nearly enter the woods before the granite marker is on the left. The photo makes it look like the marker is crooked, but I think it was more of my being tired at the end of walking nearly five hours around the grounds.

The 14 soldiers were discovered in 1905 by workers at the Washington Navy Yard. The monument was erected in 1976 by the National Society of the United States Daughters of the War of 1812.

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U.S. meets Canada at Tomb of the Unknowns

U.S. Navy band

U.S. Navy band

I took a group to the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Monday. Just another day until crossing over from the Kennedy graves to find a howitzer blocking our path between the Crook stairs. I’ve only seen that on Memorial Day and the soldiers seemed ready to fire, which they did 10 times by my count.

Arlington National CemeteryApproaching the Tomb the I saw a large Canadian flag, then both U.S. and Canadian colors teams. After the guard change, a U.S. Navy band marched in from one direction, sailors from the steps beneath and the colors teams from a third. Turns out it was Vice Adm. Mark Norman, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy who was visiting.  Norman layed a wreath and both national anthems were played.

It took about 40 minutes, a long time to stand on the marble, but the group all said it was worth the time.

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Goodbye, Jane (magnolias)

cherry blossoms

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Cherry blossoms were in the pink

cherry blossoms

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Cherry blossoms mark spring’s opener

cherry blossoms

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It’s a regular Tool De Force

Tool De Force


It looks like odd tools in my collection, and it is.

Tool De Force is a 12 1/2-foot sculpture at the National Building Museum representing some of the tools used in the industry. It was donated to NBM by John Hechinger, Sr., who many longtime Washingtonians remember for his Hechinger hardware stores that paved the way for big box successors Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Hechinger collected art for his enormous headquarters. This one is by sculptor David Stromeyer, who liked to add color to his pieces.

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RFK, Griffith and Marshall fill stadium entrance

RFK Stadium is known for its games, concerts and events, but the statues in front are altogether missed by many too busy to get inside or in too much of a hurry to beat the crowd afterwards.

The stadium was originally D.C. Stadium when opening in Oct. 1961 at a whopping cost of $24 million – triple its original budget. It was renamed Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in 1969, one year after Kennedy’s assassination.

I happened to co-author a book Hail to RFK still available on that details the greatest players, coaches and games of the Redskins.

In the middle of the stadium’s main entrance are three monuments, two that shaped Washington sports.

The first game was a Redskins loss (what else?) and the owner was George Preston Marshall, who brought the team from Boston in 1937. There’s a large red granite marker on the right side of the entrance by the street with Marshall’s image.

A former RFK general manager wanted to move the monument in 2001 to make way for a concession stand. He tried to give the monument to Marshall’s family. A deal was made with Marshall’s hometown for a site, but nobody wanted to pay the $30,000 shipping costs. District politicians, well aware Marshall was forced to sign black players in return for the stadium’s use, don’t want it downtown, either. So the marker remains there indefinitely.

On the left side is a granite marker to Clark Calvin Griffith, who simply did everything there is to do in baseball before his son moved the team after 1960 to become the Minnesota Twins. Thus, Griffith isn’t a popular name in sports circles despite the American League placing an expansion team in Washington in 1961, which also left in 1971 to become the Texas Rangers. The Washington Nationals came from Montreal in 2005 and after three years at RFK now play at their own stadium a few miles away.

Anyway, Griffith pitched, managed and owned the Senators and even built his own stadium – Griffith Stadium – that is now the site of Howard University Hospital. The “Old Fox” died in 1955 and a monument was erected by the former stadium in 1956 and moved to RFK by 1965.

The seven-foot tall Georgia marble marker was dedicated by U.S. vice president Richard Nixon and cost $7,000, which was paid by the Home Plate Club of Washington. The memorial was designed by Lee Preston Claggett of Arlington-Claggett Memorial Co.

Finally, the centerpiece is a bronze bust of Bobby Kennedy, who was assassinated in June 1968 just when it appeared he would be the Democratic presidential nominee and likely become president. The former Senator and U.S. Attorney General was honored as the stadium’s namesake. There was a brief movement in 2005 to sell naming rights when the Nationals arrived, but that was quickly beaten by then Sen. Ted Kennedy.

The bust was created by Robert Berks, who made hundred of pieces, including the John F. Kennedy bust in the Kennedy Performing Arts Center, the Albert Einstein statue on 22nd and Constitution Ave. and the Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial in Lincoln Park. Berks died on May 17, 2011.

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Cherry blossoms at Nationals Park

Cherry blossoms at Nats Park

Cherry blossoms at Nats Park

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Native Washingtonian: Cherry blossoms beyond Tidal Basin

They’re coming, and I’m not just talking about the cherry blossoms.

More than 1 million people will crowd around the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms with the peak expected to be later this year around April 11. (This is an old photo.) It will be mad crowded. The biggest complaint is there’s someone in your photo because it’s hard to find an isolated place.

But here’s some free advice: come early. Like 7 a.m. early to get nice sunrise photos and not feel crowded. By 11 a.m., the place is rocking. Consider walking across to the FDR Memorial where it’s a little less crowded and you can get the Jefferson, King and Washington Memorials in the background.

But, you can also venture away from the Tidal Basin to see the trees. Sure, there are 3,750 to choose around the water, but there are other places where you’ll have some room to work.

Arlington National Cemetery has 400 cherry trees. The best place is above the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Nationals Park has several outside the home plate entrance (opposite main metro entrance and near the bridge) and you can see a pretty good baseball team, too. Those trees are blooming now.

Stanton Park on Capitol Hill has cherry trees bordering the four-acre oasis and a playground for kids. It’s at Massachusetts Ave. between 4th and 6th Sts. SE.

Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown has 10 acres of gardens and trees, including sour cherry trees. Sorry, I’ve never tasted them to know if they’re sour.

Anacostia Park has 1,200 acres with gardens, trails and shoreline along with cherry trees.

The U.S. National Arboretum at the end of New York Ave. NE has 400 cherry trees through the 446 acres. Lots of other plants and trees, too.

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Remembering Jane Delano, founder of American Red Cross nurses

American Red Cross

Jane Delano

Jane Delano loved nursing so much that on her deathbed in France while inspecting hospitals during World War I, her last words were, “What about my work, I must get back to my work.”

Born on March 12, 1862 near Towsend, N.Y., Delano soon lost her father in the Civil War. She considered the nursing professional “a fine one” and began treating yellow fever victims in 1888 before three years in Bisbee, Ariz. helping typhoid victims. Delano became a superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps from 1909-12 and then chairman of the National Committee on Red Cross Nursing Service. Delano formed 8,000 nurses when the U.S. joined the Great War that was later raised to 20,000.

After her death on April 15, 1919, American nurses raised funds for the monument now at the Red Cross National Headquarters on 17th St. N.W. to honor Delano and 206 nurses that died in World War I. Delano is buried in the Nurses’ Corner at Arlington National Cemetery.

The bronze memorial has a cape over a woman whose extended hands represent a nurse’s readiness to serve. It was dedicated in April 1934 and sculpted by R. Tait McKenzie.

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National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is must see

National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
It has probably been 40 years since I last saw the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and it wasn’t even completed then. A recent visit showed I’ve been away too long.

National Shrine of the Immaculate ConceptionThe Shrine on the outer edge of Catholic University on 400 Michigan Ave. NE is far more than a Catholic church that has seen Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict visit. It is a place of unique architecture as well as worship with nearly one million visitors annually.

It was a long journey towards completion, starting with a 1910 request to build it that took 10 years before the cornerstone was layed. The lower (crypt) level was completed by 1931, but the death of a bishop, the Great Depression and World War II halted construction until 1959. It was completed in 1990. More than 70 chapels and oratories fill it.

The beauty and peace that fills the Shrine certainly make it a must see. And, there’s even guided tours, free and ample parking and a cafeteria.

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Wordless Wednesday: Compassion in Arlington

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Washington, D.C. flag dates back to English battle

Sometimes you learn things from the craziest places, but one of my favorites is the Sunday comics. Flashbacks by Patrick M. Reynolds explains how traditions, names and general lore so simply anyone can learn.

Which brings me to my favorite story – the tale behind Washington, D.C.’s flag. Now anyone with a modest sense of local history will tell you the flag comes from George Washington’s family coat of arms. And that’s true.

Washington, D.C. flag

But the story behind that tale is really cool. As Reynolds tells it, a private in the English army killed an invading Danish king in 979 A.D. The onlooking English king rewarded the soldier with a coat of arms. The king dipped two fingers in the dead monarch’s blood and ran them straight across the soldier’s shield. Thus, the two stripes. The three stars were added later.

In 1657, the soldier’s descendant John Washington came to America toting that coat of arms. His great grandson was George Washington – the father of our country. George loved using that coat of arms. It’s seen regularly at Mount Vernon.

Today, you’ll see the flag around town, but the logo is also on street signs and license plates. It became Washington’s official flag in 1938.

Now is that a cool story or what?

OK, here’s a little more. Some say the Star Spangled Banner was also inspired by Washington’s coat of arms. That’s easy to see. The coat of arms is also visible in Washington’s ancestral region in County Durham in northeast England.

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Cuban Friendship Urn – we’re friends again

Cuban Friendship UrnNow that the U.S. is ready to restore relations with Cuba after a half century of the Cold War, the Cuban Friendship Urn reminds us of a time when we were friends.

Actually, U.S.-Cuban relations are a little complicated. The USS Maine blew up in Havana’s harbor on Feb. 15, 1898 and each side blamed the other. It led to the Spanish-American War that last 3 1/2 months — rivaling the War of 1812 as forgotten wars taught on a snow day in eighth grade U.S. history classes. You know, Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, San Juan Hill? The U.S. ended up gaining Guantanamo Bay that’s still an American base plus current territories Puerto Rico and Guam. We also bought the Philippines from Spain for $20 million as part of the deal.

Anyway, Havana created the USS Maine memorial dedicated to the 266 U.S. sailors that perished that day. The memorial was destroyed in 1926 by a hurricane and among the remains was the urn, which was given to U.S. president Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

Cuban Friendship UrnThe eight-foot, four-ton urn depicts the mast of the Maine with a message in Spanish saying the two countries would remain friends. It was first placed in Potomac Park before removed while the 14th St. Bridge was built in the 1940s. The urn stayed in storage until 2011 when the National Park Service placed it by the Potomac River in East Potomac Park in a little public parking lot few know almost underneath the 14th St. Bridge. (That parking lot is great for walking to the Jefferson Memorial.)

The U.S. and Cuba haven’t been friends in more than a half century, but one day I’ll be drinking rum in Havana and telling locals that Washington has an urn that says we’re friends.




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Supreme Court: The Guardian of Liberty

On the eastern side (facing away from National Mall) of the Supreme Court is the Guardian of Liberty pediment. I only managed to capture part of the 18 by 60 foot scene because of sun problems.

Moses and his tablets are the central figure. (If you look across the street to private homes a tablet of the 10 commandments sits a yard.) To Moses’ left is Chinese philosopher and lawman Confusius, to the right is Solon, interpreter of Greek law. To Confusius’ left is a kneeling man holding rods and an axe that was a sign of Roman law. On Solon’s right is a kneeling woman asking for mercy. Unseen in my photo are two Roman soldiers that essentially oversee the law, a reclining woman for study and judgment and a reclining man representing high character. A tortoise and hare are in the corners to show the slow but sure process of law.

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Joseph Darlington fountain makes you sneak a peak

Occasionally, statues make me feel like a voyeur. Why is that man or boy naked I’m sometimes asked. It happens all too often say at the Boy Scout or Von Steuben statues near the White House. I say I don’t know and move on.

So the golden naked nymph by courthouses near 5th and D Sts. N.W. always makes me feel a little naughty when lingering. She simply stands out aside a fawn and can’t be missed.

The statue is part of the Joseph Darlington fountain dedicated shortly after his 1923 death. He was a brilliant lawyer, hence the fountain’s location.

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7 names to be added to Vietnam Wall

The names of seven Army personnel that died during the Vietnam War will be added to the Vietnam Wall on Mother’s Day – May 10, 2015.

Full Name Date of Birth Date of Death Home of Record State Branch of Service
Francis Gerald Corcoran 11/15/1928 12/09/1967 Philiadelphia PA Army
Michael Paul Knight 2/28/1944 11/23/1969 Thomasville GA Army
Gannon Clark Milby Jr. 3/20/1947 6/10/1968 Easton MD Army
Charley Vernon Stanley 4/6/1927 7/7/1968 Houston TX Army
Stanley M Staszak 3/6/1920 4/4/1959 Rayville LA Army
Clarence Turpin 6/15/1931 11/23/1968 Baltimore MD Army
George Lincoln Wilson 8/24/1924 11/8/1967 Philiadelphia PA Army


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Pan American 103 marker at Arlington National Cemetery

Pan American 103 memorial


With Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi killed, American will remember the tyrant for his backing of terrorists who blew up Pan American Flight 103 in 1988.

A monument to the 270 killed from 22 countries, including 15 U.S. active duty military and 10 veterans, is in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery just behind the Arlington House amphitheater. The base simply describes what happened.

“On 21 December 1988, a terrorist bomb destroyed Pan American Airlines Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all on board and 11 on the ground.

“The 270 Scottish stones which compose this memorial cairn commemorate those who lost their lives in this attack against America.”

A Scottish cairn can be an informal heap of stones or one that is patterned and mortared. This circular monument of 270 red Scottish sandstones is 10 ½ feet tall and seven feet wide.

The stones came from the Corsehill Quarry, which was under the flight path of Pan Am 103. The quarry has operated since 1820 and contributed stones for the Statue of Liberty’s base.

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The Torch of Freedom still shines brightly

Torch of Freedom

It’s not often one monument can essentially tell the history of the U.S., but the Torch of Freedom gives 12 scenes from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam.

Located in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars building at Constitution Ave. and Second St. N.E. the three-sided bronze marker features relief scenes of major events.

The 35-foot marker was erected in 1976 and sculpted by Felix de Weldon, who is more famous for the Marine Corps War Memorial commonly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.

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A memorial in an Arlington crossroads

It’s not unusual for a monument to be moved. Happens more often than you’d expect. And it’s not unusual for a memorial to be updated with a second use. But here’s one that includes three wars and was relocated to the middle of a busy intersection.

Yes, sometimes you just have to park the car and walk to the median strip to see a monument after passing it many times. I saw this one on Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, Va. and finally stopped to see what the stone marker with cannons was all about.

According to the signs, it was originally dedicated in 1931 in tribute to 13 native sons who died in 1917-18 in World War I. One marker said it was erected by Arlington Post 139 and Auxiliary Unit 139 of the American Legion and the citizens of Arlington County. It also notes “The stone was removed from the original location adjacent to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery.” A third marker lists 35 killed in Korea and 52 that died in Vietnam.

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