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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Check out our sister blog – Capital Photo History Tours

Capital_Photo_History_Tour_-_Booth_3653Yes, this is my company. I’ve been working with budding photographers for four seasons. Mostly, it’s Washingtonians rather than out-of-towners, though anyone is welcome.

I offer theme tours — the Lincoln assassination, Georgetown homes of the Kennedys, Mount Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery, Georgetown’s canal to Camelot and the U.S. Capitol as well as the Rick on GeorgetownNational Mall. Mostly, this company is for locals so I know you’ve been to the Mall, but I do a couple around there come cherry blossoms time so you can see them.

Capital Photo History Tours is always expanding so this year I’ve added a blog for all of your questions. All those how-to photo tips so bookmark it now and come read more about Washington’s tours where you come for the history and leave with great photos. It’s all about having fun, but also showing friends your great photos.

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Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?


I wish my flowers grew this big.

The Federal Triangle Flower is 10 feet tall and 13 feet wide. Created in 1997 as part of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Center, the courtyard art was sculpted by Stephen Robin. The limestone flower atop a sandstone base reflects the large amount of aluminum used in the buildings.

Essentially, the two flowers were meant to jazz up an area that was a parking lot for 50 years until the Reagan Building opened in 1997. The Reagan Building is the area’s second largest building behind the Pentagon.

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Police and fire boxes gain new life

I’ll admit not knowing the following story until becoming a tour guide. Like a lot of statues, I’d walk by these call boxes never knowing they were once the lifeline of police and firemen.

It’s not often I find superb websites and YouTube videos on subjects covered here. Most subjects here are only 250 to 400 words so if you’d like a detailed history check out Call Box Project and the video below.

This photo is next to Ford’s Theatre at 10th and F. Sts. N.W. Like all former call boxes that became obsolete in the 1970s when police and firemen gained radios, this one was turned into local artwork. Naturally, this one is Abraham Lincoln given he died steps away.

At one time there were more than 1,500 call boxes around town. Many were destroyed during the 1968 riots. But, you’ll still see one here and there. A few don’t have artwork, but there’s often something cool to see.

Just one more reason to walk a little slower around town. There’s artwork amongst us.



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A little statue in the corner has a story to tell

I love the Organization of American States building. It is absolutely fascinating and filled with overwhelming art projects both inside and out.

One is tucked away from the front view, but you shouldn’t miss this one. Just to the right corner of the 17th St. property, behind the trees, is a statue of the Prophet Daniel.

Yes, that Daniel. The one who lived among the lions.

The eight-foot concrete statue was a gift from the Brazilian government in 1962. It’s a replica of a 1805 soapstone statue by sculptor Antonio Francisco Lisboa.

Daniel is a fascinating Biblical figure. As a youth born of Jewish nobles, Daniel served in the Babylon court of Nebuchadnezzar. Yes, that Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel could interpret visions. The ruler asked about his dream and Daniel told him for sinning against God the king would lose his mind and wander among the animals. Sure enough, it happened.

Years later, Nebuchadnezzar’s son and successor Belshazzar summoned Daniel to decipher some words that appeared after the ruler drank from goblets

Continue reading

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Full Count reminds fans there are sports statues in town

With more than 3,100 statues, memorials and monuments, you’d think Washington would be filled with sports figures cast in bronze.

Think again.

Nationals Park has Josh Gibson, Frank Howard and Walter Johnson as gigantic, odd-looking statues beyond the left field bleachers that don’t look like the real people. There are monuments to the late Redskins owner George Preston Marshall and Senators owner Clarke Griffith in front of RFK Stadium.

Otherwise, none of my fellow sports writers can remember a sports statue around town. Surely one should be erected of Abe Pollin, whose Verizon Center spurred the revitalization of Chinatown amid his Wizards and Capitals. Sammy Baugh should have one whenever the Redskins return to Washington. Sugar Ray Leonard might merit one, also.

For now, you’ll have to settle for Full Count in the courtyard of the Federal Reserve Bank at 19th and Virginia Ave. N.W. Sculptor John Dreyfuss spent eight years working on the bronze creation of a hitter, catcher and umpire at the plate awaiting a pitcher who is the correct 60 feet, 6 inches away.

On his website, Dreyfuss says, “In defining this moment in the game, I have been inspired by the paintings of Thomas Eakins’s Civil War baseball players, Andy Warhol’s icons of Tom Seaver, and countless 19th-century folk works. But it is in the study of the great masters, such as Pre-Columbian sculptures of ball players, Pablo Picasso’s bullfighters, and Degas’ jockeys that one understands the games we play define who we are as a people.

“Within the arena of sport and contest, some of the most difficult social issues of our day can be played out. African Americans and women increasingly gained the right to express themselves in non- traditional ways, forming leagues of their own when traditional leagues were exclusionary or depleted of men sent overseas during the Second World War. Today, baseball is still the lens through which Americans see themselves and debate controversial issues. The game continues to challenge athletes to consider their responsibilities as figures in the public realm. In many respects, baseball is a perfect crucible for our national self-definition.”

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Here’s a bar bet you can win

Washington, D.C. is named after two people.

Name them.

I ask this of every group I take out and maybe 10 percent has someone who can answer it.

OK, we all should know that George Washington is the Washington part. If not, read everything in my blog immediately because you need help.

But the second part comes from the D.C. District of . . .

Nothing yet? OK, Columbia is the feminine version of . . .

Dude, you’re killing me. Columbus. Christopher Columbus.

So next time you need a free beer, bet someone at the bar if they know this and you’ll probably drink on the house.

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The lady was a princess

Statues are normally not what I would call sexy. But, I stand corrected before Crown Princess Martha of Norway.

Martha was born a Swedish princess who married Prince Olav of Norway in 1929 at age 28. The princess along with two daughters and one son fled Norway in 1940 shortly before the Germans invaded. Olav and the Norwegian government went to London.

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Martha asylum. The ship, which included 800 Americans, was escorted to New York City’s harbor by two destroyers. The family stayed at FDR’s Hyde Park estate and then the White House before opting for nearby Pook’s Hill estate in Bethesda, Md.  Novelist Gore Vidal called Martha “the last love of Roosevelt.”

Martha and Olav reunited in 1945 at the war’s end. She died of cancer in 1954; three years before Olav became king.

The life-sized statue was donated by Norway to the Norwegian American Foundation in 2005 on the 100th anniversary of the country’s independence from Sweden. The U.S. was among the earlier countries to recognize Norway.

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Churchill – man of two worlds

Winston Churchill does an international game of hokey pokey outside the British embassy on Massachusetts Ave.

Embassies are technically foreign soil so the 181 in town form quite an international landmass. But the late British prime minister, who led England through World War II, was the son of an American mother and British father. Hence, the statue has one foot on American soil at the embassy’s edge and the other on British soil.

Standing just below the Naval Observatory, the nine-foot bronze statue has Churchill flashing the “V” for victory sign with his right hand used by the British during the war and a cane and cigar in his left. Soil from his native Blenheim Palace, his rose garden in Chartwell, England and his mother’s home in Brooklyn lie beneath the granite base. A time capsule underneath will be opened in 2063, the 100th anniversary of Churchill’s honorary citizenship.

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Happy 4th birthday to Monumental Thoughts

Rick SniderMonumental Thoughts celebrates its fourth birthday. Wow, and they said we wouldn’t last a week. Well, I don’t know who said that but if someone did that they would be wrong. Year four saw 13,334 visitors. Over four years, 82,628 have visited my website devoted to Washington’s memorials, monuments, statues and local life.

Google was again my best friend in 2014 with 5,604 hits. Bing and Yahoo were both near 1,200 while Twitter lured 1,145.

Arlington National Cemetery graveThe most read story for the third straight year was the meaning of stones atop graves at Arlington National Cemetery with 3,485 hits. How to find a name on the Vietnam Wall was a distant second at 858 while a photo of the Korean War Memorial was third at 437 and the Court of Neptune Fountain by the Library of Congress was fifth.

Readers came from 109 countries. That amazes me. The U.S. was first of course with 11,726 hits. Brazil was second, but it was some spam bot so Canada was really second, U.K. third. Virginia was the most interested state with 2,371 hits with Maryland second and Washington, D.C. third as expected. Outside our area, New York was the leader with Pennsylvania and California following.

So after 2,480 posts, what’s left to write? That’s a good question.

But there’s always something going on. This is a city, not a museum. Things happen, life goes on. And so will Monumental Thoughts for now.

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American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial brings peace

photo_5-3It’s peaceful when entering the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. It’s just a block off the National Mall near congressional offices at 150 Washington Ave. SW, sandwiched into a one-time medium area that was a short cut exiting town.

There are thousands of people near you, but nobody with you. The recently opened memorial hasn’t been discovered by tourists so it’s a chance to sit and reflect. In fact, sit on benches with handbags for the disabled to use. I haven’t seen those anywhere around town.


photo_4-5The memorial opened in September after 12 years in the making as a tribute to those permanently disabled. Water and fire — the elements are staples of our lives so why shouldn’t they be for a memorial for those injured in wars. And glass panels with photos inside photos so show the pain and compassion of what happened on battlefields.

So take a few minutes and stop by one day. You’ll remember why our veterans are special.


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Where the gossip grew along Embassy Row

Welcome to the home of the other “Washington Monument” as Alice Roosevelt Longfellow was called. The oldest daughter of president Teddy Roosevelt, she lived 96 years and they were very colorful years.

Alice once said, “If you can’t say something nice, come sit next to me.” She was a striking woman who married Congressman Nicholas Longworth who went on to be the House Speaker and whom one of the House buildings is named after. Yet, it was a rocky marriage as she often criticized his politics. Both had public affairs. Indeed, Alice’s only child was a result of an affair with Senator William Borah of Idaho.

Alice once jumped into a pool with a congressman while fully clothed. Posed for tobacco ads. Wrote a juicy autobiography and had an “affectionate” relationship with Bobby Kennedy, JFK’s younger brother who was AG and assassinated when running for president. She called Thomas Dewey that “little man on the wedding cake” that was an image that help cost him two presidential elections. And, worst of all, the lifelong Republican voted Democrat late in her life.

The four-story yellow brick building at 2009 Massachussetts Ave. N.W. is now the home of the Washington Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group that promotes business and free market trade.

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The Embassy Row Lady and the Curse

The Indonesian Embassy was once the home of Evalyn Walsh McLean, whose Irish immigrant father hit it rich as a gold miner. This 3 1/2-story brick mansion trimmed with three bands of limestone and a red tile roof was the city’s most expensive private home when built in 1903 at the cost of $835,000. Legend has it a slab of gold was built into the foundation at 2020 Massachusett’s Ave. N.W.

They used to call it “2020” to maybe downplay its grandeur. The home contained a staircase to mimicked one on an oceanliner. It has a three-story center hall and grand ballroom for parties that even hosted official state dinners during president Woodrow Wilson’s ill health. It had one of the first elevators in the city and a theater. It even had an apartment used by two European kings.

But let’s get to the juicy part. Walsh-McLean was the last private owner the Hope Diamond; the 47-karat diamond now in the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. It is said to be cursed, which Walsh-McLean denied but her brother Vinson was killed in a car crash that Evelyn was badly injured. Her husband Edward was caught in a political scandal and saw his businesses fail and was later declared insane. Evelyn was also taken by a grifter for $100,000 after saying he could rescue the stolen Lindberg baby.

After Walsh-McLean died in 1947, the home was used by the Red Cross before sold to the Indonesian government in 1952, A 100-year-old collection of musical instruments, called a gamelan, is featured in one of the main reception rooms today.

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Remembering a car bomb on Embassy Row

The first impression is it’s some sort of fire plug. Instead, it remembers a terrorist act along Embassy Row.

Chilean exile Orlando Letelier and co-worker Ronni Moffitt were killed by a car bomb on Sept. 21, 1976 where the monument now lies along Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Ave. Ronni’s husband Michael Moffitt suffered only minor injuries because he was in the back seat.

A car bomb on Embassy Row? Hard to imagine.

Letelier, 44, was a high-ranking official under Chilean president Salvadoe Allende, whose three-year government was overthrown in a coup by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Allende was killed during the takeover.

Letelier spent one year in a concentration camp before exiled from Chile. He came to Washington to work for the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank that allowed Letelier to travel worldwide lobbying for sanctions against Pinochet’s government.

Moffitt, 25, was a fundraiser at the Institute for Pubilc Policies. The Maryland graduate earlier worked as a teacher for underprivileged children.

Pinochet tired of Letelier’s efforts and reportedly ordered the assassination. Moffit was unfortunately next to Letelier. Michael Townly was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for his part of the murders. He was released after five years and entered the U.S. witness protection program after testifying against two Cuban accomplices who received life sentences. Pinochet was implicated, but never indicted for the murders.

Today under a shade tree is the small monument with images of Letelier and Moffitt along with “Justice * Peace * Dignity.”

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