Remembering a soldier’s death – John Rodgers Meigs

A life-sized bronze Union soldier is shown atop his grave just like this final moments were spent. It’s pretty dramatic in Arlington National Cemetery filled with overwhelming memorials.

John Rodgers Meigs was the third generation of a proud military family. His grandfather was Commodore John Rodgers, a naval officer in the War of 1812. His father was Major Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, who’s buried aside his son.

Meigs was a West Pointer who left to serve as an aide-de-camp of General Philip Sheridan during the First Battle of Bull Run before later graduating first in his 1863 class.

Meigs served at Gettysburg and the Shenandoah Valley, rising to brevetted captain and major for gallantry. On Oct. 3, 1864, Meigs and two others went against three Confederate cavalrymen outside Dayton, Va. Meigs were killed and Sheridan burned 30 homes and barns in retaliation before learning it was a fair fight and not Confederate guerillas executing Meigs. Still, Meigs’ father posted a $1,000 for the killer even after the war’s end.

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Happy Thanksgiving from the deer on Teddy Roosevelt Island


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Washington 101 – Filomena is the best Italian restaurant

FilomenaOK, let’s start a fight over the best Italian restaurant in town. Maggiano’s on Wisconsin Ave. is a contender. Carmine’s on 7th St. N.W. is a fan favorite. But I’m going with Filomena in Georgetown.

I first heard of this small, intimate restaurant was from a local on one of my tours. Her parents are from Italy and will only eat at Filomena. The more I asked about the place just below the intersection of Wisconsin & Ms. Sts. N.W. near the bridge, the more people raved about it. One friend sent me five strategies to eating there like forget the bread, concentrate on the main course and save room for dessert. They were all good tips.

Filomena2I chose lasagna. The best one I’ve ever eaten was in a bar in Florence, Italy, but Filomena is a close second. It has both red meat and white cheese sauce that splits the lasagna evenly. The pasta is so light it’s like pastry and it’s still hard to eat the entire dish. In fact, half made it home for lunch another day.

As for dessert, my diabetes made me pass, but they sure looked good.

Out-of-towners ask me often of good places to eat. Filomena will be my top Italian recommendation.

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Arlington House to close for one year

ARLINGTON HOUSEPerched high atop Arlington National Cemetery, the former home of Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary will close for extensive renovations for one year beginning in Sept. 2016.

Operated by the National Park Service, Arlington House gets a long list of improvements from foundation fixes to painting the outside structure under a $12.5 million grant by Washington philanthropist David Rubenstein, whose past generous donations include paying $7.5 million to cover half of the repair costs of the Washington Monument following a 2011 earthquake. Nearby gardens and slave quarters will also be restored.

The goal is to return the mansion to its state of April 20, 1861 when Lee resigned from Union forces to instead lead Confederate troops in the coming Civil War. Park Service officials hope the home will become a primary destination by Arlington National Cemetery visitors.

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Heightened security coming to Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National CemeteryArlington National Cemetery officials told a gathering of local tour guides that heightened security measures will begin in coming months to greatly inhibit access to the national cemetery.

Really, a cemetery needs metal detectors and ID checks? The most recent terrorist attack in Paris once more shows it’s a new world and increased security around Washington since 9/11 has become a norm. And ISIS saying Washington will be attacked certainly provides reason for more security.

Arlington National CemeteryAt first, I thought this was excessive. The idea comes from above Arlington officials, who know it will be a hardship to the four million visitors that visit annually. But, it’s not their call. No timetable was given, but six months was once mentioned.

While running through the numbers, an official said four lines will process about 300 people with bags per hour. Wait – that’s 2,400 people per day when an average day – and there is no average day there – would be 11,000-plus. That means 80 percent of the people coming can’t get through.

But there are a couple caveats. First, those driving to graves or attending funerals will enter from the street as usual with different security restrictions. Second, there will be an express line for pedestrians with no bags. Frankly, that’s the smart play but means women must leave their purses behind. Well, NFL stadiums don’t permit purses and women have coped. The White House doesn’t either.

Arlington National Cemetery caissonAlso, there will be security patrols throughout the cemetery. There has already been a security guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns for at least a few months. The far gates like near the Iwo Jima Memorial will either be closed or have additional security staffing.

The problem for Arlington officials is there isn’t room for more than four security lanes to enter through the visitor center. The only way to fix long lines would be a new, larger building. Maybe that comes one day, but it won’t be tomorrow or next week. Patience will be sorely needed and tested once security begins.

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Wordless Wednesday: Coffin’s coffin in Rock Creek Cemetery


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A window underseas – World War II Submarine Memorial

It is a window to nowhere and to the seven seas.

The World War II Submarine Memorial honoring those who served in the “Silent Service” faces the U.S. Navy Memorial near the Lone Sailor statue. The stained-glass window with a bronze frame is only seen from the outside because there’s a staircase inside.

A 8-by-10 foot work by sculptor Leo C. Irrera and stained glass artist R. Leo Pelkington, there are multiple scenes in the lives of World War II submariners. Fifty-two submarines with 3,505 sailors were lost during the war.


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The Maine Lobsterman along the waterfront

There are no lobsters in Washington aside the ones in restaurants. Plenty of crabs from nearby Maryland, but the seven-foot statue on Sixth and Water Sts. SW along the waterfront shows a Maine waterman “pegging” lobsters by tying their claws.

Sculptor Victor Kahill modeled the bronze sculpture atop a Maine granite boulder after a real waterman – H. Elroy Johnson, who died in 1973 just one year after being used for the statue. Three copies were made and the one at the Maine State Museum and Library was transferred to Washington in 1983.


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Russian markers in Rock Creek Cemetery

Russian graves

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A stone of another color

It’s funny what grabs you while walking among the graves at Arlington National Cemetery.

The large purple quartz marker that includes the plaque of James Fingal Gregory is one of a kind. At least, I’ve never seen one like it and have covered probably 90 percent of the cemetery.

Gregory was an engineer so maybe they wanted something unusual from the earth to remember him. The West Point cadet from Albany, N.Y. was only 18 when the Civil War started. He rose through the ranks over the years from Second Lieutenant at war’s end to First Lieutenant the next year to captain in 1874. He became a colonel while serving as Aide-de-Camp to General Sheridan from 1881-86 before dying in 1897. Among Gregory’s achievements was a geodetic survey of the northern lakes, boundary survey of the 49th parallel and survey of the Union and Pacific Railroads.

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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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Wordless Wednesday: American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial

American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial

American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial

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Plenty of grief has come from Adams Memorial

Grief:AdamsThis is a story that can feel personal. Of death and despair. Mark Twain and mistakes.

When you find the statue made by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in the middle of Section E of Rock Creek Cemetery, hidden within a tall square of bushes that makes it a sanctuary amid centuries of death, you’re invited to sit down. A large wwrap-around marble bench suspends time while as you look at her . . . or maybe it’s a him. We really don’t know.

Henry Adams asked Saint-Gaudens to create a memorial to his late wife Marian, who feared a prolonged death so much she drank poison to gain a quick one at age 42. Marian Adams was by many accounts a vivacious hostess who loved horseback riding and photography, but the recent death of her father proved fatal for her, too.

Adams MemorialSaint-Gaudens was given free reign by Adams to create the sculpture. According to “Washington Sculpture” by James Goode, Saint-Gauden studied copies of Buddhas before creating the 6-foot bronze cloaked statue that gazes forever. Saint-Gaudens called it “Mystery of the Hereafter” while Adams called it “The Peace of God That Passeth Understanding.” And yet it was Twain who nicknamed the monument “Grief” that it is incorrectly known as today. Some just call it the “Adams Memorial.”

The monument was erected in 1890-91 and rededicated in 2002 after restoration.

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Finding Boss Shepherd’s tomb

Boss ShepherdAlexander Shepherd was one of the key people responsible for Washington being what it is today, but few know who “Boss” Shepherd was even if his statue is to the right of City Hall’s steps. Indeed, Shepherd is known as “The Father of Modern Washington.”

Shepherd headed the D.C. Board of Public Works from 1871-73 before becoming governor of the town in 1873-74. Basically, Congress threatened to leave for St. Louis if Shepherd didn’t start paving roads, creating sidewalks and sewers and making it a more hospitable place that led to among other things the modern Embassy Row.

Shepherd did all that, but bankrupted the town doing so. Shepherd was called a “Boss Tweed” of his time and left town after going bankrupt himself in the mid-1870s. Shepherd later became rich as a silver miner in Mexico where he died in 1902.

“Boss” was buried at Rock Creek Cemetery down the street from the Lincoln Cottage along Rock Creek Church Road. His tomb is one of many in the cemetery, but Shepherd gained a good location looking down the hill. The tomb remains in good shape along a small road off the main path.





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Wordless Wednesday: Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

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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 peak 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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The general of them all – Alexander Macomb

It’s not often you’ll see a monument with Greek, Roman and Egyptian markings, but Gen. Alexander Macomb’s 14-foot marker at Congressional Cemetery has them all.

The general is surrounded by four lions paws. A sword for his military career, cross for Christian faith, wreath symbolizing victory over death and winged hourglass are still seen, though a butterfly with a circled snake for eternity has since faded because of air pollution, according to James Goode’s “Washington Sculpture.”

A side panel states Macomb was honored “for distinguished and gallant conduct defeating the enemy at Plattsburg (N.Y.)” when pushing British soldiers back across the Canadian border during the War of 1812. Another panel states:

Alexander Macomb
Major General. Commanding-in-Chief
United States Army.
Died at Washington
The Seat of Government
25 June. 1841

Macomb was the son of a wealthy Irish immigrant. Goode writes that Macomb declined his father’s desire to run the family’s 3 1/2-milion acre estate in New York to join the Army at age 16. His gallantry during the Battle of Niagara and Ft. George in 1814 earned a promotion to brigadier general before later winning again at Plattsburg to become major general, the highest ranking officer at the time. He was promoted to commanding general in 1828. Macomb earned disdain in 1829 by recommending the end of soldiers’ daily whiskey ration.

Today, Macomb Street meets Connecticut Ave. in the Cleveland Park neighborhood.


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Wordless Wednesday: Three Soldiers Statue

3 Soldiers Statie

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Why hire a professional Washington tour guide?

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Wordless Wednesday: Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

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