George Washington’s whiskey is a little rye, uh dry

George Washington whiskeyAfter beating the British and serving two terms as our president that included putting down the Whiskey Rebellion, George Washington retired to his home Mount Vernon — to make whiskey.

In fact, Washington was the nation’s biggest whiskey maker the last couple years before dying in 1799. Washington made 11,000 gallons , earning 50 cents per gallon.

In recent years, Mount Vernon created Washington’s still and using George’s recipe makes three batches annually of several hundred bottles. They’re not easy to get. They’re not sold on the internet so people arrive two hours early to wait for the rare sales that go quickly.

Luckily, I have a friend that can buy it for me and settle up later. I got the small bottle of whiskey ($99) and poured three glasses for my two sons-in-law and I.

I’d like to say it went down smooth, but I’m not much of a hard liquor drinker. Mostly, it seemed awfully dry. Still, the bottle is in my china cabinet for rare events. After all, it’s pretty cool.

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Wordless Wednesday: Peggy’s Cove, Canada

Peggy's Cove

Hey, even tour guides go on vacation.


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Wood’s career as big as his grave marker

Sometimes I just wander through Arlington National Cemetery without any agenda and see what I see.

I came across the biggest grave marker I’ve ever encountered that wasn’t some sort of monument. Turns out it was the appropriate size.

Leonard Wood’s military rise was something out of a Forrest Gump tale. In 10 years, he went from captain to Army chief of staff.

Wood graduated Harvard medical school and entered the Army in 1883 because he was bored just practicing medicine. Wood was first sent to Arizona where he earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for assisting in the capture of Apache chief Geronimo.

Next up was White House physician to presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley where Wood also became friends with Teddy Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Naturally, the Spanish American War began and Roosevelt, now president, appointed Wood as commander of the Rough Riders.

Wood then spent three years as governor of Cuba working with Walter Reed (seriously, how many names can we drop in one story?) to combat malaria. Wood then spent one year as commander of the Philippine Division for governor William Howard Taft. Six years later, President Taft made Wood the Army chief of staff.

In 1920. Wood finally tasted defeat when seeking the Republican presidential nomination where he lost the 10th convention vote to Warren Harding. Instead, he became colonial governor of the Philippines.

Wood died in 1927 during an operation. He’s buried near the Rough Riders not far from the mast of the Maine.

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Gold thieves — beware the griffins

Plenty of treasure hunters come to Washington looking for riches, but the guardians are always there to protect our gold.

Two Acacia Griffins protect the Acacia Mutual Life Insurance Building at 51 Louisiana Ave. N.W. in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. The limestone sculptures by Edmond Romulus Amateis are 5 ½ feet wide, 4 ½ feet wide and 9 feet deep. The pair were placed by the main entranceway in 1936.

Griffins were fabled protectors of gold in Scythia, which was north of Greece. Seems the Arimaspians were always unsuccessfully trying to steal the gold only to be stopped by the griffins. Their image was used throughout medieval Europe as protectors.

These two statues have a female on the left and a male on the right holding eggs in their paws. The word acacia is traced to an ancient tree that symbolizes immortality.

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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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Changing of the guard at George Washington’s tomb

GW tomb change

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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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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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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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Fort Washington is a forgotten jewel of two centuries

Growing up near the fort just south of town, I remember walking Fort Washington’s steps and hills down to the Potomac River with great joy.

Then for some reason, I went 30 years without visiting until a beautiful sunny afternoon last week. And, it looked the same.

Fort Washington dates back to 1809 yet never fired a shot before finally given to the Dept. of Interior in 1946. Not even during the War of 1812 when the British fleet approached from the south while soldiers marched from the east.

Fort Washington’s stone and brick walls and a deteriorating drawbridge provide a rare and insightful look at an old fort without restriction. Sometimes you might be the only person around. You’re free to wander about nearly the entire fort. My brother always threatened to leave me in the dungeons when we were kids.

Originally called Fort Warburton, the post was completed on Dec. 1, 1809, but the first guns weren’t mounted until 1846. Soldiers from the First, Third and Fourth Artillery manned the only guns protecting the capital until the Civil War.

You’ll see plenty of cannons on the grounds. The 15-inch Rodman guns arrived between 1873-75, but they were never fully installed. Instead, concrete bunkers below the fort were built in 1886. But, the post was abandoned in 1891. Then new guns were mounted in 1896 before removed a decade later.

Fort Washington became a staging area for troops headed for France during World War I. The post was again abandoned in 1939 to become the site of a new bridge that instead went a few miles north 20 years later. During World War II, the post became the U.S. Army Adjutant General’s School.

And once again, the fort was abandoned in 1946 and is now run by the National Park Service. There are free self-guided brochures on the left after passing through the gate.

Nowadays, Fort Washington is a great park that’s pretty crowded on summer weekends, but otherwise has plenty of parking for a visit. It’s about 10 minutes from the beltway off Rt. 210 South. You can see the Wilson Bridge and the city easily from the fort. The 95-foot flagpole with a 36 by 20 foot flag can be seen from Alexandria.

The lighthouse built below the fort in 1882 is 28 feet tall. You’ll often see people fishing along the shoreline or nearby boats. There’s excellent fishing along this part of the river.

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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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William Howard Taft – not just the other president

There are two presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Everyone knows John F. Kennedy, the eternal flame and all that. But who’s the second?

Here’s a hint — he’s my seventh cousin, five times removed.

What, you still need another hint? OK, we’re roughly the same size, which sadly made him the fattest president ever. (I’ve lost weight, though.)

William Howard Taft was the 27th president and the only one to also become chief justice of the Supreme Court for nine years until shortly before his 1930 death. He was also Secretary of War, provisional governor of Cuba, governor general of the Philippines and solicitor general.

Taft was the first president to be buried in Arlington National. Woodrow Wilson is the only president buried in Washington at the National Cathedral. Aside Kennedy, the other presidents are buried wherever they came from.

Taft’s marker is a 14 1/2-foot Stoney Creek Granite marker sculpted by James Earl Frazier. It’s in the Greek Stele style with an ornamental motif.

Helen Taft, who planted the first cherry blossom tree along the Tidal Basin, became the first First Lady to be buried at Arlington alongside her husband. Jackie Kennedy Onassis later became the second.

Taft is buried to the right of the main entrance. Indeed, follow the sidewalk to the right about 75 yards and a walkway on the left leads to Taft.

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Lee Marvin – The famous neighbor was a Hollywood legend

The eyes always go to the adjacent grave. Heavyweight champion Joe Louis. Big marker, big name, hard to miss.

But to Louis’ left is a simple white stone marker containing another legend – actor Lee Marvin. Yes, it’s the famous actor best known for the tough colonel in “The Dirty Dozen” who also won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Actor in “Cat Balou.”

Marvin served as a marine in the Pacific during World War II. He earned a Purple Heart in June 1944 when a bullet severed his sciatic nerve in his hip during the battle of Saipan.

After his discharge, Marvin was working as a plumber’s assistant in New York when asked to fill in for a sick actor. The rest was history.

Marvin also became part of legal history when long-time companion Michelle Triola successfully sued him for assets after their breakup. It became the basis for palimony.

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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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