Wordless Wednesday: Cavalry comes to Grant’s rescue

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Finding Abingdon plantation inside airport

There’s a colonial plantation at Reagan (Washington National to locals) Airport. Or rather, there’s an airport on an old colonial plantation.

I had to check out Abingdon Plantation when first learning of it from a company specializing in unique urban sites. I’ve flown out of DCA hundreds of times since 1972 and never knew this. With some googling and help from a friend who works at the airport, I parked in Garage A and walked the sidewalk towards Garage B. And there it was. Not that you’d ever know. It can’t be seen from the road and who walks between garages?

Anyway, the plantation is best known as the birthplace of Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, who was the step granddaughter of George and Martha Washington.

The estate was created in 1669 by shipmaster Rovert Howson for settlers brought to Virginia. It would be sold to John Alexander for 6,000 pounds of tobacco.

Flash forward to 1778 where John Parke Custis, son of Martha Washington by a previous marriage, bought Abingdon and 1,000 acres to be near Mount Vernon. Custis died in 1781 while serving in the Revolutionary War and Nelly along with brother George would move to Mount Vernon where they were raised by the Washingtons.

Flash forward to 1864 and a few owners later when the federal government seized the land for unpaid taxes. Two more generations and several owners later, the abandoned house burned in 1930. Soon after, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided Abingdon would make a swell airport.

Today, the brick foundation of two sites of the mansion, several signs and a few benches dot the small site. You can mostly see the main terminal in the distance and a small view of the Potomac River. It makes you imagine what a nice view it had in the day.

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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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Wordless Wednesday: Octagon House

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Baa baa Black Sheep – Pappy Boyington

You know who Gregory “Pappy” Boyington was even if you weren’t alive during World War II.

The popular 1970s TV show “Black Sheep Squadron” remembered the Marine pilot who shot down 28 enemy planes before down himself and spending the final two years of the war in a prisoner of war camp.

Boyington spent five years in the Marines before resigning in 1941 to join the Flying Tigers in China as an American volunteer unit. He rejoined U.S. forces after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and led a unit of replacement pilots known as the Black Sheep. Boyington was then 30-years old, a decade older than his pilots who dubbed him “Pappy.”

Discovered in a POW camp after the war, Boyington received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman before retiring in 1947 as a colonel. He was later married four times with one of his three children becoming a pilot during the Vietnam War.

Boyington is buried in Arlington National Cemetery’s section 7A just a few stones to the left of boxer Joe Louis’ large marker.

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Righting a wrong in American history

Our country has plenty of ugly moments.

Slavery and the American Indian wars were the 19th century blunders that we thought were behind us. And then World War II came with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Suddenly, 112,000 Japanese-American citizens in Hawaii and the West Coast were imprisoned in internment camps. Civil liberties were suspended. It was another awful moment in our history.

The Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II (maybe the longest titled monument in town) was erected in 2000 at Louisiana Ave., New Jersey Ave. and D St. N.W. near the U.S. Capitol to serve as a reminder the U.S. Constitution that protects our rights.

The elaborate park includes two bronze cranes entrapped in barbed wire, their wings unable to fly. The crane is a Japanese symbol of longevity. Granite wars include the names of 10 internment camps and 800 Japanese-American soldiers killed in the war.

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Wordless Wednesday: Atop the Big Red One

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National Arboretum worth trip to edge of town

I used to jog (really) in the Arboretum in the late 1980s while working at the Washington Times. The Arboretum had an open gate by the newspaper along New York Ave.  and I ran best I could around the park. The place always seemed empty and its rolling small hills and natural setting were perfect.

Flash forward 30 years.

The last Sunday of the year before the NFL dominates my schedule (I’m a sports writer in another life) saw my wife and I wonder how we should spend a beautiful fall afternoon. We’ve kinda done everything around town so it’s not easy finding something new.

“The U.S. National Arboretum,” I said. “We haven’t been there in a long time.”

There were people everywhere throughout the 446 acres with nine miles of road. The Arboretum offers a variety of plants and trees with different ones blooming during the year. Established in 1927 by Congress, it’s used for research by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Perhaps the most visited section is the U.S. Capitol columns. The Corinthian columns were once used on the East Portico of the Capitol dome from 1828-64 when a new dome (termites ate the old one) was constructed. The columns were stored until 1984 when relocated to the Arboretum surrounded by 20 acres of meadow with several surrounding paths letting you escape into nature. The columns lie atop stones also used at the Capitol.

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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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Wordless Wednesday: Morning on the Hill

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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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McClellan Arch opens past to Arlington National

When Arlington National Cemetery opened to the public in 1864, everyone passed through the McClellan Arch, which is about 150 yards to the left of the current entrance.

Named for Union Gen. George B. McClellan, whose Civil War headquarters was on the cemetery’s grounds, the 30-foot arch was originally a tribute because its namesake wasn’t dead. McClellan later died in 1885. He isn’t buried in Arlington, though his son George McClellan, Jr. is.

On the east side (facing Washington) of the arch inscribed in gold is: “On fame’s eternal camping ground, their silent tents are spread, and glory guards with solemn round, the bivouac of the dead.”

The west side has: Rest on embalmed and sainted dead, dear as the blood ye gave, no impious footsteps here shall tread on the herbage of your grave.”

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Wordless Wednesday: Blue skies atop Capitol

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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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Lazy day at National Harbor

It’s not often I spend a lazy Sunday afternoon doing nothing, but while waiting for my wife at National Harbor I wandered by the many statues near the water that I’ve driven by dozens of times.

Park the car and see them. From Marilyn Monroe and Abraham Lincoln to Henry Ford and Louie Armstrong, more than a dozen figures are quite a tourist attraction. Lincoln and Frederick Douglass near the main street are probably the most popular with photo goers, but Monroe gets plenty of traffic, too.

National Harbor has become quite the tourist attraction after eight years. Lots of restaurants and shopping, mostly for convention goers during the week and locals on nights and weekends. With the MGM Grand Casino nearby, traffic still isn’t bad.

So come by and see pop and historical icons. Maybe even shake hands with some.

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Wordless Wednesday: Downtown flowers

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Eating big at Bobby Van’s steakhouse

The Tower of Seafood was on the table in minutes like the starting gun to a fine meal. And, we were off.

My Redskins podcast partner Matt and I along with our wives eat at Bobby Van’s each season. A chance to see how the good life really is. We’re never disappointed. More like delighted with each course.

First, the location is 15th and H Sts. NW about a five-minute walk from the White House. The great service begins with manager David Morris greeting you. We like the Tower of Seafood for its cold shrimp, large lumps of crab and lobster. It would normally be the meal, but we were just getting started.

Salads, bread and beer was the next round before we went our separate ways on the main entrees. My wife loves pork chops while Matt and his wife went porterhouse. I tried the crab cakes. And by the way, the baked potatoes are big enough to feed four people.

Dessert saw Matt and his wife splitting chocolate mousse while my wife and I shared an apple tart. Seriously, there just wasn’t room for individual desserts unless someone rolled me home.

The nice part of Bobby Van’s is the atmosphere. Unlike most restaurants nowadays, it’s quiet enough to talk to each other without shouting in a fine dining atmosphere. You can’t beat the great service, either.

So if you’re looking for somewhere new to eat downtown, try Bobby Van’s. And don’t forget the valet parking out front.


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The other Taft – Robert A. Taft Memorial

Everyone knows my distant cousin William Howard Taft, the 26th U.S. president and the fattest person to ever serve in the White House. Figure I’d inherit that bloodline.

But few remember his son Robert A. Taft whose accomplishments earned an impressive 100-foot bell tower near the base of the Capitol at Constitution, New Jersey and Louisiana Aves.

A graduate of Yale and of Harvard Law, Taft was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives from 1921-26 and a U.S. Senator from 1932-53, serving the last six months as Senate Majority leader until his death.

“Mr. Republican” was a real pain in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s side during the democratic New Deal of the Great Depression. His grandson Bob Taft was governor of Ohio.

The bronze statue of Taft is 11 feet and sculpted by Wheeler Williams. The memorial was dedicated in 1959 and accepted by vice president Nixon, who was also president of the Senate. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and former president Herbert Hoover attended the ceremony.


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Religious symbols at Arlington National Cemetery

I often stop during tours at Arlington National Cemetery to point out different grave stones. Over the years, there are many different tales to tell.

The Latin cross on the headstone is easy to decipher. The person was a Christian.

But there are 26 religious symbols on markers at Arlington. They range from the Star of David for Jewish to Hindu, Greek, Lutheran, Morman and Muslim to Aeronic Order, Native American, Humanist and Wicca. There’s even one for atheists.

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Wordless Wednesday: Capitol springhouse

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