Sometimes attractions are in the bank

You can’t miss the gigantic vault door in the lobby of the Courtyard Marriott Washington Convention Center on 9th and F Sts. N.W.

The one-time home of Riggs Bank was built in 1891. It was quite the place with vaulted ceilings and colorful murals of men holding bags of money. Twenty-three U.S. presidents and many foreign embassies put their money in Riggs. Even Confederate president Jefferson Davis and counterpart Abe Lincoln deposited money there. It later merged with PNC Bank in 2005.

When this bank was converted into a 188-room hotel, there was one problem – the vault. It’s massive and couldn’t be moved. No problem. The vault itself is still below. A pretty cool attraction in itself while the steel door remains, too.

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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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Remembering Audie Murphy at Arlington National Cemetery

It’s amazing how yesterday’s heroes are today’s forgotten ones.

It happens all the time in society. Singers and actors once all the rage now draw blank stares from teens. Sinatra – is that a first or last name?

So it goes with Audie Murphy. Whenever someone asks me where his grave is at Arlington National Cemetery I usually figure they’re at least 70 because no one under 50 has ever asked me and those less than 30 have no idea who he is.

Murphy is buried very near the Memorial amphitheater where the sidewalk bends to accommodate more people by the corner grave. At one time it was the second most visited grave at Arlington behind John F. Kennedy.

Murphy lived an incredible life of helping others. He was the most decorated soldier of World War II after enlisting at age 17, winning the Medal of Honor plus 32 medals, ribbons and citations that included five from France and one from Belgium. After once single-handedly battling Germans for one hour using a machine gun from a burning tank, he simply said, “They were killing my friends.”

Murphy became a movie star after the war, appearing in “To Hell and Back” based on his autobiography of 27 months fighting in Europe and 43 other films.

Murphy was killed in a 1971 plane crash at age 46.

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Reagan welcomes you to National airport

I still think it should be called (George) Washington National Airport. Indeed, there’s a sign on the north side that still says so.

But lawmakers renamed it Reagan-Washington National Airport in 1998. That name lasted five minutes as many now call it Reagan Airport. Now there’s a statue of the 40th president at the entrance of the old A terminal.

The statue itself is a pretty nice piece. It was unveiled Nov. 1, 2011 on Reagan’s 100th birthday, The nine-foot president with a 38-foot stainless-steel wall behind him has a bald eagle etched name to his name. The $900,000 statue was privately funded as one of four of Reagan. Sculptor Chas Fagan also created Reagan statues at the U.S. Capitol, London’s Grosvenor Square and the Reagan Library.

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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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Marker gives a new meaning to ‘Anchors away’

Navy commodore George Francis Cutter and his wife Mary Louisa Cutter rest in the rear of Arlington National Cemetery. The Section 1 memorial has an anchor atop a rocky memorial. It’s one of the more unusual markers in the cemetery that’s filled with unusual memorials.

Born 1819 in Massachusetts, began as a captain’s clerk in 1838. He became a prisoner when the USS Truxton wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico in August 1846 during the war with Mexico, but was part of a prisoner exchange four months later. Cutter worked his way up the ranks over the next 33 years before retiring in 1881. He died on Sept. 1, 1890.

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Who’s who at Korean War Memorial

There are 19 soldiers at the Korean War Memorial. They look much alike to the average civilian. For a long time I relied on military members on my tours to teach me who was who largely based on headgear.

But thanks to fellow guide Tim Krepp, I can also share an Army website link that shows each soldier, too.

There are 14 Army, 3 Marines, 1 Air Force and 1 Navy in the unit to represent all four military branches serving in Korea.

The Navy member (#9) is a medic. The website says one of the Marines (#14) is also a medic and the other two are a gunner (#12) and his assistant (#13). The Air Force (#11) seen left is a ground controller. The Army are riflemen, scouts, radio operator and squad leader.

Sculptor Frank Gaylord created 7-foot-3 statues of 12 Caucasian, 3 African American, 2 Latino, 1 Asian and 1 American Indian.

Below are two of the Marines. The one facing is the medic, the other is assistant gunner. Notice the wrinkles on their helmet as the best indicator of being Marines.

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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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Finding my name on the Vietnam Wall, sorta

Vietnam Wall

Vietnam Wall

It wasn’t quite spelled the same way and the middle initial was different, but seeing Richard A. Snyder on the Vietnam Wall while looking for someone’s friend made me pause.

I wondered who this Richard A. Snyder was on panel E19, line 66. Turns out Richard Andrews Snyder was a Marine Private First Class from Rochester, Mich. He was a 19-year-old mortarman in the 4rd Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, H&S Company when killed on May 8, 1967 at Con Thien, South Vietnam, Quang Tri province. The paperwork said Snyder “Died through hostile action . . . small arms fire.” He died quickly and his body was recovered. Seventy U.S. soldiers died that day in Vietnam.

On the website, I found this note:

“I was PFC R. A. Snyder’s Section Leader.( Sgt. Paul R. Ross) He served under me as an ammo carrier with 1st. Bn. 4th Marines H&S Co. 81 MM Mortars. He used to fix the best field coffee and I ever dranked. He was a brave Marine and served his country with honor. He is a part of my life, because we shared part of the Vietnam War and he was one of my Marines. My heart is heavy because we lost a brave Marine and a freind. I remember surviving Marines Wistuba, Callender,Graff just to name a few. All these Marines are a part of me and who I am. SemperFi.”

Snyder was a Protestant, unmarried and served one year before killed.

It’s not a lot to know about someone, but at least 48 years later, Richard Andrews Snyder is remembered.

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Spanish American War nurses remembered

The large granite boulder remembers the nurses of the Spanish America war, which was the first to have nurses organized by the military.

The Maltese cross, symbol of The Society of Spanish American War nurses, sits high on the marker with “To our comrades” written underneath. The palm leaves in the middle represent the tropical climate in which the war was fought along with the traditional laurel leaves. The Maltese Cross is also on the back of the megalith.

Graves of nurses who died in the conflict surround the memorial, which is just yards from the mast of the Maine, which is behind the Memorial Amphitheatre.

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Arlington National Cemetery’s old amphitheatre and rostrum

Before the Memorial Amphitheatre by the Tomb of the Unknowns opened in 1921, this small amphitheatre behind the gardens of Arlington House served as the main gathering place.

Built in 1868, the circular colonnade was once filled with vines. The roof still has them while roses are planted in front. In the middle is a white marble dias called the rostrum with “E Pluribus Unum” inscribed. The 1,500-seat venue saw Gen. James A. Garfield (my sixth cousin) speak at its dedication.

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Adams Memorial proves haunting in a graveyard

You will stop. Stare hard. Start to feel the grief. It’s an amazing memorial — the Adams Memorial.

Located in Rock Creek Cemetery (though this photo is of a copy at the American Art Museum) is a bronze marker dedicated to the memory of Marian “Clover” Adams who committed suicide by drinking film developer chemicals. Prone to depression, she feared illness and was overcome by her father’s recent death.

Clover’s husband, Henry Adams, grandson of U.S. president John Quincy Adams, asked leading American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create a family memorial.

And that’s when it gets really weird. The sculpture was an “abstract personification” that was finished in 1891. The six-foot cloaked figure is neither gender with a lowered head indicating grief. It is haunting, thought-provoking and one of the greatest sculptures you’ll find in a cemetery.

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Scott: best general of whom you’ve probably never heard

The legend says all statues face the White House. It’s not true, though this one does.

Gen. Winfield Scott’s statue lies in the three-sided circle of Massachusetts and Rhode Island Aves. and 16th St. N.W. just blocks from the White House that he failed to win in 1852. Indeed, Scott nearly ran in 1860 but decided he was getting too old. Instead, Scott lived until 1866, one year after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Scott was a bonafide military hero; veteran of three wars against Mexicans, Cherokee Indians and British. Scott served a half century and wrote the military’s first drill regulations.

The pedestal is 15 feet high, which James Goode’s bible of local monuments “Washington Sculpture” says was the largest single block of granite then quarried. Scott dons his field uniform of lieutenant general while looking ahead while his horse rests.

Goode says the horse was supposed to be a mare until family objections that generals always rode stallions. Sculptor Henry Kirke Brown modeled the horse after Scott’s favorite mare. Let’s just say certain additions were made to satisfy everyone. Wouldn’t be the first or last deal made in Washington.

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First U.S. president rests high on the hill

John Hanson

Leaving the Gaylord National Hotel in Oxon Hill, I point to a lonely tree above the rising MGM Grand casino and parallel to the beltway and say, “That’s where the first president of the United States is buried.”

Wait, isn’t Mount Vernon the other way and across the Potomac River?

Yes, but George Washington wasn’t the first president. At least, not exactly.

John Hanson was the first president under the Articles of Confederation (which predates the Constitution from which Washington served) to be elected by delegates of the 13 original states. While third to hold the office, Hanson was the first elected, serve the full one-year term, chosen after the British surrendered at Yorktown to end the Revolutionary War and recognized internationally as head of state. (Washington remained commander in chief of the troops. Today, the president is both.)

Maybe it’s a tricky bar bet question, but you still win.

The son of a planter, Hanson was born in nearby Port Tobacco, Md. on April 14, 1715. He died on Nov. 15, 1783 at the nearby mansion of Thomas Addison. The house was destroyed in 1895, but the graveyard atop the hill has Hanson and a dozen Addison family members interned. It’s a private cemetery, surrounded by fences and locked gates and not open to the public. I photographed this grave marker from the fence. I’m not sure it’s Hanson’s, but you’d think a former president would have the only one in the graveyard.

It’s a nice location overlooking the Potomac River. More than two centuries ago it was probably a fine venue rather before becoming an island in a sea of traffic nowadays.

It would seem more befitting for Hanson to be relocated to Arlington National Cemetery than under a lonely tree above parking lots. Maybe one day someone will honor him so.

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Fort Lincoln Cemetery: Defending Washington during Civil War

Cannons in Fort Lincoln Cemetery?



Two cannons rest amid earthworks in Fort Lincoln Cemetery just past the city’s eastern border, remnants of the Civil War defense. Ironically, they’re only a couple hundred yards from the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814 where the British overwhelmed local forces and marched into Washington largely unmolested to burn the White House.

Anyway, the fortifications were created in 1861 at the start of the Civil War and commanded by Major Gen. Joseph Hooker. The site was named Fort Lincoln after President Abraham Lincoln, who was known to meet with Union troops just a few feet away by the spring house that’s still there.

The two cannons were not among the site’s original four. However, they are original bronze medium 12-pounder boat howitzers designed by John Dahlgren, considered the father of American naval ordinance. These cannons were forged in 1863 during the Civil War and placed at Fort Lincoln in 1921 by the Dept. of Defense.

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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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Take a long look at America and War and Peace

America and War and Peace

Some artwork only requires a moment’s attention to grasp its focus. America and War and Peace will take awhile.

Located by the John F. Kennedy Center entrance, the bronze series of panels 16 feet long was a gift from Germany in 1969. Sculpted by Jurgen Weber, America shows a series of history beginning on the left with starving Europeans vying for sacks of grain from American ships. There are five politicians arguing, New York skyscrapers, Statue of Liberty and even a rocket headed for the moon. The War and Peace section shows a series of violence, families and celebrations with even Louis Amrstrong playing the trumpet.

Whew – it’s a lot to take in, especially since most people are eager to go inside the Kennedy Center for a show.

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Daniel Webster offers the highest of relief panels

Daniel Webster

Normally, the high relief art complements the statue, but the two beneath the statue of Daniel Webster are the coolest ones I’ve seen around town.

They are nearly lifelike, showing none of their 110 years. The scene in the front is of Webster, a congressman from New Hampshire and senator from Massachusetts from 1823-41 and 1845-50, responding to South Carolina Sen. Robert Young Hayne before their brethren over the legality of the South’s succession from the Union. Nearly 100 people are shown in the scene that looks like you’re peering into the actual event.

The rear panel is Webster speaking at the dedication of the Bunker Hill Memorial in 1843. Webster is shown reaching out to the crowd amid a flag background. The panel includes a popular quotation from Webster at the dedication where he said, “Our country, our whole country and nothing like our country.” Not Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” but it works.

Daniel Webster

Don’t overlook the 12-foot bronze statue of Webster, whose hawish stare makes him someone you wouldn’t want to spar. Atop an 18-foot pedestal, Webster is holding a reference book. Oh, maybe Webster’s Dictionary?

The conservative Whig was considered one of the great orators even in the time of Abraham Lincoln. He was a fierce protector of federal rights versus state’s rights in the time of the Civil War. The two-time Secretary of State settled the border dispute between Maine and Canada. Webster was voted one of the top five senators in 1957.

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Down by the old, old, old spring house

The old spring house


It is a house of mystery. Well, at least a spring house of mystery.

In nearly the middle of Ft. Lincoln Cemetery is a spring house believed to be one of the older structural relics of the American colonization era. Some say the 11-foot square structure with 18-inch fieldstone walls was constructed in 1683 by residents. However, the National Register of Historic Places report also conjectures it was built by George Conn soon after buying the land in 1765.

With a gable roof of hand-split cedar shakes, the spring house has a wooden door that leads to one step down for an 18-inch trough. There are also two five-foot latticed openings for air to circulate. The structure was painted white in 1939.

The spring itself is a few feet from the house under what was once the Lincoln Oak that lived for 425 years until destroyed by lightning in 1994. Abraham Lincoln was said to drink from the spring house while discussing war strategy with Army leaders. My mother, who is not as old as Lincoln, said there was a dipper to use for drinking back in the 1940s.

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Capitol pediment: The Progress of Civilization

Capitol pediment

The Senate portico’s eastern front (facing the sunrise) is about America and its conquests. Frankly, the Capitol pediment pretty easy symbolism to decipher.

According to James M. Goode’s fine book “Washington Sculpture,” the woman in the middle is America standing on a rock. The sun rising at her feet as the enlightenment of progress. The woodsman is clearing a forest while an Indian seems to show despair that the whites are taking over his lands. On the left, a Revolutionary soldier with his hand on sword shows readiness. The merchant sitting on goods while touching a globe shows commerce and trade. The two boys are teacher show the future while the mechanic and his tools represent trade.

The marble pediment is 60 feet long and 12 feet high. It was sculpted by Thomas Crawford in 1863.

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