The Five Guys in the sky

Sometimes you have to look up to see the great attraction.

On the steps of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, you’re rushing up the steps to see the third president. Coming down, you notice the Tidal Basin, White House straight ahead, the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the left and Bureau of Engraving and Printing on the right before heading to the bus.

Stop, look atop the Jefferson and you’ll see the original five guys and we’re not talking burgers and fries.

Across the 10 by 65 foot pediment (left to right) are Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Jefferson, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, who were also known as the Committee of Five.

OK, do I really have to tell you who Franklin and Adams were? Let’s pretend and just say both were Founding Fathers, the latter the second president. On Jefferson’s right are those a little more obscure. Sherman was best known for the “Great Compromise” that formed the system of how many senators and congressmen there are. Livingston was a high-ranking New York politician.

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3 Iwo Jima flag raisers buried at Arlington National Cemetery

Iwo Jima Memorial


Battle of Iwo Jima

Seventy years have passed since five Marines and a Navy corpsman lifted a flag into the volcanic ash to inspire Americans into one last push to defeat the Japanese and end World War II.

And three of those men lie nearby at Arlington National Cemetery.

Rene Gagnon

Rene Gagnon

Pfc Rene Gagnon rests nearly within sight of the Iwo Jima Memorial. Sgt. Michael Strank lies in the middle of the cemetery while Pfc Ira Hayes is on the other end of the cemetery close to the Air Force Memorial.

Gagnon and Hayes along with Navy Pharmacist Mate 2C John Bradley would later be known for their war bond rallies that drew $26 billion in the months after raising the flag on Feb. 23, 1945.

Each one is worth remembering as their images on the Iwo Jima Memorial showed a nation that teamwork would finish a war which claimed 60 million people worldwide and more than 408,000 Americans.

Iwo Jima was a speck of a Pacific island about 600 miles from Japan. Its three airfields that could be used to refuel bombers attacking Japan made its capture vital. The problem was 22,000 Japanese soldiers abandoned on the island and told to die for their country.

The battle lasted from Feb. 19 to March 24 with 18,844 Japanese dead along with 216 taken prisoner and 3,000 unaccounted.

It would be the costliest engagement ever for the U.S. Marines with 6,841 dead and 19,217 wounded of the 70,000 deployed.

On the battle’s fifth day, a group was sent to place a flag on the island’s highest point, Mount Suribachi, to inspire American troops. Soon after, another group from Second Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, Easy Company that saw only 50 of 310 men survive, and a Navy corpsman who participated in both flag raisings, were sent to retrieve and place another flag whose raising was photographed by Associated Press photographer Joseph Rosenthal. That image won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize and launched the needed bond sales.

The story is well told by the book “Flags of our Fathers” by James Bradley, son of John Bradley. Clint Eastwood produced the movie version plus a Japanese version of the battle in “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

Michael StrankCorporal Harlon Block, the first figure anchoring the flag into the ground, and Strank were killed on March 1. Pfc Franklin Sousley died on March 21. Block was buried in Harlington, Texas, Sousley in Elizaville, Ky. and Bradley in Antigo, Wisc.

Hayes, a Pima Native American in Arizona, later rejoined his unit and served during the occupation of Japan. Sadly, he became an alcoholic who died in 1955 at age 32 of exposure. Gagnon lived an embittered life. Promised jobs during the bond drive didn’t follow and he spent his life as a janitor. Gagnon died in 1979. Bradley suffered shrapnel wounds on March 12. He later became a mortician before dying in 1994.

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San Martin rides tall among Latin American memorials


When researching the story of Gen. Jose de San Martin, it sounded so much like the nearby statue of Gen. Simon Bolivar that I had to double check I was looking at the latter. No wonder their statues are near each other.

San Martin was the founder of Argentine independence who later helped free Chile and Peru from Spanish rule, too. He even met with Bolivar, who was liberating other South American countries, though the two opted not to work together.

San Martin was born into a wealthy family, was educated in Spain while spending 28 years there. He even served in Spain’s military against Napoleon while rising to Lt. Colonel. Ironically, the Freemason also opposed Spain’s government and joined revolutionary forces in Buenos Aires in 1812. In a fete worthy of Hannibal, San Martin led forces across the highest Andes peak to defeat Spanish forces. He later resigned his commission and went into exile before dying in 1850.

The bronze statue was dedicated by U.S. President Calvin Coolidge in 1922 in Judiciary Square. It was moved in 1970 for what’s now the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, but rededicated in 1976 at Virginia Ave. and 21st. St. N.W.

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Jose Artigas – The Gaucho Statue

He stands on a spit of land at 18th and Constitutional Aves., but Jose Artigas is another of the giants of South American revolution that dominate the blocks around the Organization of American States building.

Artigas was a gaucho, typically known as a rancher in South American. But, here the nine-foot bronze statue shows him in battle dress. Surprisingly, it doesn’t show a copy of the U.S. Constitution and Articles of Confederation Artigas reportedly kept on him at all times.

Artigas is considered the father of Uruguay thanks to his military victories. Indeed, the statue was paid for by Uruguayan children. Artigas never ran the country and was even once imprisoned by a dictator at age 76 for fear of launching an uprising. He died impoverished 10 years later in 1850.

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Cavalry Baptist survives throughout the years

I once took a church group around Penn Quarter from Cavalry Baptist that wanted to know more about their neighborhood. I wanted to learn more about Cavalry Baptist. I’ve seen the brown brick venue peek out along 8th and H Sts. N.W., but never been in it.

Turns out Cavalry Baptist has quite a history. It was designed by Adolph Cluss, a communist from Germany who knew Karl Marx. Cluss built six churches around Washington as well as the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building and Eastern Market (where your job isn’t your credit when buying produce — cash only, please.)

The church was completed in 1866 and, true to Washington tradition, cost twice the original budget. Fortunately, Amos Kendall, who was a member of president Andrew Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” stepped in and paid $90,000 of the $134,000.

The following year, the church mostly burned down when fire trucks couldn’t get through heavy snow. Bummer. All that work and money gone.

Fortunately, there was insurance and Cavalry re-opened on 1869. Things went well for nearly a half century until July 30, 1913 when a tornado – yes, a tornado – went through downtown Washington and destroyed the steeple. In 1947, lightning hit the clock during a wedding that took nearly 60 years to fix.

I toured the inside of the building and found it to be both modern and expansive. It goes on forever. And, I’ve never met a nicer group of people.

Sunday service is 11 a.m. Cavalry has Spanish and Burmese congregations, too.

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Native Washingtonian 101: Baby, it’s cold outside this winter

Winter in Washington

Winter in Washington


Winter in Washington

our guides don’t work much in January and February for good reason — it’s cold outside. Now native Washingtonians know there are various degrees of cold and we often hear from visitors that this is nothing compared to the great frozen north from where they live.

My response — this is as far north as I’m ever living. Oh, I’ve covered football in Green Bay at minus-22 degrees, but I was out of town 14 hours later. I was offered a job in New York once and said no without hearing details. It’s too cold was my response.

The last three days were brutal by our standards. Sunday was literally a 90-degree temperature swing from the previous Sunday. You would have had to pay me with a gold bar to tour on Sunday.

But I did go Saturday with a group. And after freezing in the morning, the afternoon wasn’t too bad. Take the money when you can get it during the winter is a tour guide’s motto.

It’s definitely different touring in the winter. You see things normally obscured by trees like the Vietnam Wall from the Lincoln Memorial steps or the American Indian Museum from the street. I kinda like it. There’s plenty of parking, but I was surprised to still see a number of student groups.

The fastest tourists ever walk is downhill from the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery to the bus, especially in the cold. I can’t keep up with them. I just waive to meet me at the visitors center.

So what’s worse – the 100-degree days of summer or the 20-degree days of winter? I’d say it’s a tossup, but I was yearning for a hot day and come summer I’ll be yearning for winter.

I often tell people who say I’m so lucky to work outside on beautiful days that one third of Washington days are wonderful, one third are tolerable and one third are rough. And, rain makes any day a little rougher.

At least the cherry blossoms are coming soon. I hope.

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Eastern Market offers history and halibut

At Eastern Market, your job’s not your credit. You gotta pay cash for the produce.

Well, that’s funny if you’re a local because Eastern Motors runs a commercial nonstop. Otherwise, you’re thinking I’m nuts.

Anyway, Eastern Market opened in 1873 at 7th St. and North Carolina Ave. SE as a shopping district for Capitol Hill residents. It was designed by Adolf Cluss, whose red brick style included Cavalry Baptist among six churches.

A fire badly damaged South Hall on April 30, 2007. It re-opened June 26, 2009 complete with air conditioning.

The farmer’s market offers meats, fish, poultry and dairy products. On weekends there are arts and crafts vendors and then a nearby flea market that really brings in the crowds. It’s essentially a town hall for the many government employees who live near the U.S. Capitol.

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El Maiz is not corny

Sometimes sculptures are like a detective story.

Thanks to the fine folks at the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America located on the 18th St. side of the Organization of American States, and a Yahoo translator, I finally figured out this sculpture is El Maiz by Edgar Negret of Columbia.

The towering yellow steel structure was donated by Negret in 1996 because maiz (corn) is a crucial symbol of the Latino culture.

OK, it’s a short detective story. One of those chapter books. At least we know what it is.

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The cat, horse and the general

There’s lots to talk about Gen. Philip Sheridan’s statue. It’s one of the better equestrian statues in town and the horse has a story, too.

But there’s also a cat down the street keeping an eye on his old master. You won’t read this one on Wikipedia, but Sheridan’s widow managed to get her husband’s statue located down the street from her 22nd and Massachusetts Ave. And, high atop the corner home sits a cat on the ledge staring at his master. Uh, a ceramic cat. It’s pretty cool.

As for the horse, well it might be the grandest one ever. This 11-foot bronze statue by Gutzon Blorgum shows Sheridan and his horse Rienzi rallying Union troops during the Battle of Cedar Creek outside Winchester, Va. Sheridan is waving his retreating troops back into battle, his right arm clutching his cap while his left holds the reins tightly.

The pair had just ridden 20 miles as fast as they could to get to the battle and you see Rienzi’s front legs splayed out as if trying to suddenly stop. This proved to be one of the critical moments of the Civil War and “Sheridan’s Ride” by Thomas B. Read explains why there’s a statue.

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Have a drink, kill a president

Lincoln Assassination

What did John Wilkes Booth do the hour before killing Abraham Lincoln? Why, have a drink.

Hey, if you’re going to assassinate a president you might want to drink some courage first. Booth spent one hour nursing a whiskey and water at Tatavull’s next to Ford’s Theatre before changing history.

Today, the saloon is called Star and you can only look inside the glass storefront. The white door to the left was where the alley Booth used when coming from Baptist Alley. It’s now closed off.

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This is what the Red Cross truly means

Two men carry another while a woman shows compassion. The Red Cross Men and Women Killed in Service statue in the Red Cross courtyard at 17th and D Sts. N.W. is the perfect example of what the organization means.

The seven-foot statues, dedicated in 1959 by Gen. Mark Clark, were sculpted by Felix de Weldon., who wanted to show the organization’s compassion and strength. Nobody wears uniforms to represent the group’s willingness to help everyone. Clark was there to represent World War II when 78 Red Cross workers were killed.

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The Polish general in Lafayette Square

General Thaddeus Kosciuszko was an American hero in so many ways.

The Polish-born general of the Revolutionary War is one of four foreign-born general in the park largely for winning the battle of Saratoga, N.Y.

The statue reflects Kosiuszko fighting for both his Polish homeland and adopted America. Wearing a Continental Army general’s uniform, he holds a map in his right hand of the fortifications of Saratoga. Underneath is simply his name and at the base is Saratoga.

Below Kosciuszko is an eagle whose spread wings protect a globe where the new nation lies underneath as well as a flag, shield and sword. On the right is a wounded Kosciuszko in a Polish uniform giving orders to a Polish peasant. On the left, he’s in an American uniform freeing a bound soldier, which symbolizes the American army. Kosciuszko has a flag in his left hand while a fallen musket and overturned drum are at the youth’s feet. In the rear is the dedication from the Polish people.

Kosciuszko later returned to Poland to fight the Russians. He donated his Ohio lands awarded by Congress to fund a school for African-American children in New Jersey.

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The woman behind the man

We always know Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 14 hundred and 92. But, we rarely talk about the woman who funded the trip to the new world – Queen Isabella.

The Spanish monarch is in front of the Organization of American States on 17th St. The bronze life-sized statue has her holding a pomegrate with a dove emerging and wearing the crown of Castille. It was dedicated in 1966 as a gift from the Institute of Hispanic Culture of Madrid.

Isabella sold her jewels to pay for the expedition, which certainly was repaid many times over by discovering America. The Catholic ruler also created the Spanish Inquisition.

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Rawlins rides on Grant’s coattails

General John Rawlins’ best move was living next to Ulysses Grant when the Civil War started. Grant returned to uniform and took Rawlins with him.

Rawlins was a former gold prospector and attorney who managed to keep Grant largely sober during the war. For that, Rawlins was promoted each time Grant was in serving as his advisor. But that was the extent of Rawlins’ military expertise. He died at age 38 of tuberculosis.

Today, the statue is in Rawlins Park by 18th St. and New York Ave. N.W. just a block away from Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It’s a nice park, but the reflecting pool is disgusting. The place needs some TLC.

The bronze statue started at this location in 1874, then was moved four times before returning in the 1950s. Joseph Bailly was the sculptor.

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‘The George Washington of South America’























I often wonder why other countries send statues of their heroes to our city. I mean, what do Washingtonians or even Americans care about the king of this country or the wise man of that nation? Wouldn’t it be better to erect statues where passersby know who they were, much less appreciate them?

But Simon Bolivar deserves notice anywhere. He might be the baddest man among Washington’s monuments.

Bolivar liberated not one country, but six in Latin America. Kicked the Spanish out of what’s now Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Columbia, Panama and Ecuador. Imagine – the liberator of six countries.

Felix W. de Weldon, who also created the Iwo Jima Memorial, built one of the bigger memorials in town at 18th St. and Virginia Ave. N.W. The 27-foot equestrian statue is so heavy it was shipped from New York in five pieces because bridges and trucks couldn’t handle the 40-ton load.

The bronze statue sits atop a black marble base. Bolivar is wearing a gold medallion given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette. There are six nearby fountains representing the six countries he liberated.

Ironically, Bolivar’s vast fortune was spent during the wars. He died in 1830 of tuberculosis.

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Lincoln’s hands – Urban legend or truth?

Tourists love stories. I could tell them the date, cost and weight/height of statues and they’d forget it as soon as I said it.

But the stories, that’s different. Sometimes I’ll tell a PG tale if there is no one under 18 years old, but that’s as racy as it gets.

The Lincoln Memorial has two good urban legends – one that may even be true.

It’s said that Robert E. Lee is carved into Lincoln’s head on the left side (looking at him) as Lee looks back to his old home in Arlington. I’ve seen it after much looking, but it’s not Lee and something more like Poseidon and really from the power of suggestion.

The one that may be true, and nobody really knows for sure, is that Lincoln’s hands make an A and L in sign language. The A by his left hand I could see, but the L seems a stretch.

Lincoln founded the first college for the deaf (Gallaudet College) and sculptor Daniel Chester French knew sign language so he could have done it.

Is it real? Take a look and decide for yourself.

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Demons on Embassy Row

As regular readers know, I’m an average photographer. And sometimes it’s hard to get a good shot, especially when the gates are locked. Hence this photo.

But here’s one of two Balinese Demons who guard the front doors of the Indonesian Embassy, which was once the home of Evalyn Walsh McLean, a super rich heiress whom I wrote about a couple weeks ago. Bali is part of Indonesia and known for its artisans. There are many statues like these in temples on Bali.

These demons are five feet tall and made from volcanic rock more than a century ago. They were purchased by the Indonesian ambassador, who spotted them in Rockerfeller Center.

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Remembering the soul of a poet

There are plenty of memorials to foreigners that I really don’t understand, and this might be the most perplexing of all. I read two short biographies of the man and still not sure why a $1 million memorial across the British embassy on Massachusetts Ave. exists.

Kahlil Gibran was a renowned Lebanese-American poet and artist who died in 1931 at age 48. He first came to the U.S. at age 12 before later studying in Paris. He wrote in both Arabic and English and his A Tear and a Smile and Madman were early hits while The Prophet was a best seller in 1923. Several quotes from his books appear on the memorial.

The small park is a quiet reprieve from Embassy Row. For that, the 1991 memorial fountain dedicated by President George H. Bush accomplishes its purpose.

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DAR Memorial remembers its founding mothers?

I used to think the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) were a bunch of old bluebloods caught in the past.

And then my wife whacked me. No, Lisa just set me straight since she’s a member. Turns out it’s not easy to become a member. Lisa needed documented evidence her great great great (I guess he really was a great guy) grandfather fought with George Washington in the Battle of Trenton. (Not sure if he was in the same boat.)

The DAR on 17th and C Sts. N.W. has a mesmerizing memorial to its four founding (mothers?) amid a garden. The white marble memorial has four bronze medallions remembering Ellen Wardin Walworth, Mary Desha, Eugenia Washington and Mary Smith Lockwood. It was dedicated on April 17, 1929.

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The Beckoning symbolizes rising National Harbor

The first thing you’ll see entering National Harbor, a growing waterfront Oxon Hill, Md. tourist and residential development near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and I mean the very first thing is Albert Paley’s “The Beckoning.”

The 85-foot corten steel sculpture symbolizes the emergence of the new city. The multi-colors of vibrant reds, blues, purples, yellows and oranges portrays movement and nature.

Paley has several other works around Washington, including the gates at the Enid Haupt garden of the Smithsonian Castle and at the National Cathedral. There are also two 4,500-pound stainless steel eagles at National Harbor’s main plaza. Paley’s the first metal sculptor to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute of Architects.

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