James Garfield Memorial – my 6th cousin

The only thing I knew about James Garfield was he was once U.S. president. I would have struggled to write a fifth-grade report on him

But coming across Garfield’s memorial on the U.S. Capitol grounds intrigued me into learning more. Turns out he was shot three months into his presidency in 1881 by a failed job applicant and died three months later at age 50.

And you thought today’s economic times was tough.

The only clergy member to serve as president, Garfield is also the only person in U.S. history to be a Representative, Senator-elect and President-elect simultaneously. He was not only left-handed, but known to simultaneously write in Latin in one hand and in English with the other. (My handwriting looks like Latin, but is really English.) Garfield was related to a Mayflower passenger later convicted of murder.

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All aboard the U.S.S. Barry

One of the things I enjoy about being a tour guide is learning about things I’ve passed all my life without knowing what they are.

But after asked enough times on tours when entering town what the ship was at the Navy Yard, I finally learned it’s the U.S.S. John Barry, a retired destroyer now serving as a museum ship. Commissioned from 1955-82, it came to Washington in 1984 so I’ve only not known what it was for 27 years. It’s highlights of service was serving as part of the blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis and earning two battle stars during the Vietnam War. It was the third ship named for Barry.

And who was John Barry? Seems he’s the “Father of the American Navy” who served in the Revolutionary War. He was the head of the Navy until his 1803 death.

OK, can knock that off my Bucket List of things to learn. The list never gets shorter, though.

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Wordless Wednesday: Georgetown canal

Georgetown canal

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Remembering Fala – the First Dog

I spent nine months readying to become a tour guide. I enrolled in an excellent tour guide class, passed the city’s licensing exam and spent the winter continuing to study monuments before tour season began in March.

I’m no expert. Not even close after meeting so many experienced guides who are walking encyclopedias of knowledge of our town. But one incident involving Fala the dog at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial made me realize some tour guides aren’t as smart as they think.

Standing at the FDR when a guide brought an eighth grade class to Fala’s statue, he asked if anyone know where the dog got its name.

Naturally, there was a silence. Kids that age won’t even say how they got their name even if they’re a junior.

The guide says, “He was a present at Christmastime and you know the song, fala la la la.”

My jaw hit the ground in amazement.

Fala was FDR’s dog and the only presidential pet honored by a statue. But, he was named after Roosevelt’s ancestor John Murray of Falahill, a place in Scotland which is only fitting given Fala is a Scottish Terrier. He was also named Murray the Outlaw of Falahil. Fala was indeed a Christmas present from FDR’s cousin.

Fala (April 7, 1940 – April 5, 1952) was a constant companion of FDR before the latter’s 1945 death. He then lived with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who said the dog merely tolerated her while waiting for its master to return.

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Patentees Memorial remembers founders

It’s the most nondescript marker in town. You’ve probably walked right by it on 15th St. N.W. by the many tourist trucks just short of Pennsylvania Ave. and never noticed it.

The Patentees Memorial is a simple six-foot granite marker commemorating the 18 original landholders of the District and their occupations up to 1700. It was erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1935.

It has names on all four sides of the base starting with Robert Troope in 1663. Each side of the monument contains a relief panel carved with a symbol of the early pioneers’ agricultural pursuits.

On the east side is a tobacco plant. It was the cash crop of the American colonies. On the south is a wild turkey, which were abundant back then and has since become an American tradition to eat on Thanksgiving. On the west is a stalk of corn, which native Indians showed colonists how to use as food and fertilizer for crops. On the north is a fish. The Potomac River was even closer nearly and fish were a staple food.


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Taking the ALS ice bucket challenge

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A 3D map of town at your feet

Freedom Plaza may be filled with skateboarding teenagers, lost tourists or protestors, but the Pennsylvania Ave. near 14th St. N.W. median is also a map of town’s original plan.

The L’Enfant Map detailing the 1791 plan by Washington’s first city planner Pierre L’Enfant is at your feet. With the white and black stone, it’s like being on a chess board of sorts as you can see how the streets were to be layed out. Maybe the first version of the Sims City game.

L’Enfant envisioned Pennsylvania Avenue as a great ceremonial street, the symbolic link between the Capitol (which he called the Congress’s House) and the White House (which he called the President’s House). Freedom Plaza’s open space reinforces this symbolic connection.

The upper map terrace has a grass lawn where the mall occurs and inlaid bronze plans of the White House and the Capitol located at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The inlays illustrate L’Enfant’s intention to have these two buildings balance each other and symbolize two main branches of government.

L’Enfant’s plan of Washington combines two orders of scale. The giant order is the diagonal avenues that sometimes terminate in a building or a monument. This order characterizes the federal scale of the city. The minor order is the rectangular grid pattern of the local structure of the city. There are quotes from famous people about the city carved into the paving stones that surround the L’Enfant Plan.

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Baptist Alley gets overlooked

I’ve seen several tours of the Lincoln assassination as well as the one I give and one spot that’s often overlooked is Baptist Alley.

It’s the rear of Ford’s Theatre where assassin John Wilkes Booth entered and exited. The alley to the theater is called Baptist Alley because the theater was originally a Baptist church.

I don’t know of a tour that goes behind the theater aside mine. And, I only do it during the day. It seems like a security risk at night even though it’s very clean and essentially a bunch of office buildings surrounding the alley. But, you just can’t take a chance in the dark. I have no problem walking it during the day, though.

The rear wall shown above is the original wall. You can see a lot of changes by windows now bricked up. But, the doorway that Booth used is still there. Pretty cool.

The alley during the April 13, 1865 assassination was bordered by stables and shanty tents. Remember this was still the Civil War and not enough housing for the huge influx of people in the town. Booth could pass through it without notice, especially since he was a theater regular.

To reach the alley from Ford’s, walk up to F St., turn right, walk about a half block and you’ll see the entrance shown right. Just follow the alley to the rear.

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The longest line in town

With unemployment at 9 percent and millions of Americans suffering through the recession, the bread line at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial seems even more relevant.

The bread line statues are men waiting in line for food during the Great Depression of the 1930s during FDR’s presidency. It’s one of the more interactive pieces on the mall. Adults always seem to know what to do – get in line for the photo.

Students are always a little slower to join the line. But, once they do I nearly have to pry them away. I always have a sense those photos will be on facebook within hours. The kids just love this statue once they understand it. The key is not hogging it too long so the next group that always seems to be coming can have their time, too.

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City Hall needs another makeover







Sorry, but the District’s city hall is ugly.

The John A. Wilson building is the headquarters of the District government. Across the top by windows are alternating male-female statues of Sculpture (male), Painting, Architecture and Music. Commerce, Engineering, Agriculture and Statesmanship.

The building underwent extensive renovations over several years before reopening in 2001 and has since added 200 pieces of artwork by local artists.

After opening July 4, 1908, it was renamed in 1994 for the late city council chairman John A. Wilson, who committed suicide the previous year.

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Holy Rosary Church offers Italian renaissance

The Italian-style church was established in 1913 to serve the more than 3,000 Italians in this “Little Italy” neighborhood who came here to help build the nation’s capital as stone carvers, masons and other trades.

Located at 595 Third Street, N.W., Holy Rosary Church’s exterior includes a bell tower, Christopher Columbus statue and four marble statues representing accomplishments by Italians.

Inside is a traditional Italian venue. A large oil painting on the ceiling behind the main altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Roman artist Romano Fattorini dominates the interior. There is a marble pulpit, stained glass windows and mosaic stations of the cross that are little jewels of art and devotion.

The neighborhood began giving way to federal government buildings in the late 1940s, but many of Holy Rosary’s parishioners are second and third generation and still travel to the church regularly. Indeed, Holy Rosary remains the heart of the Italian community with the feast of the Holy Rosary considered an annual holiday complete with a parade and more food than anyone can eat. The church still offers services in Italian and English every Sunday and afterwards espressos and cappuccinos. This church site opened in 1942.

James Cardinal Gibbons was the Archbishop of Baltimore decreed Holy Rosary Church as a shrine for Italian-American Catholics in 1913.

The bell tower has five bells, each dedicated to a different patron. They are the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Saint Joseph, Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Gabriel and Saint Rita.

The church raised the money for the bells in 1943, but because of a scrap metal shortage caused by World War II they needed to wait until afterwards in 1946. The bells were cast by the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore.

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Is FDR the new E.T.?

Check out the photo. Everybody seems to be touching the finger of the main statue of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

Do they think he’s E.T.?

Seriously, the finger is shiny like it’s brand new. No green, no tarnish. Weird.

The FDR Memorial is the overlooked gem on the mall. Kinda stuck on the side and not as easily seen as the nearby Thomas Jefferson Memorial. But, the addition of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in 2011 spilled over traffic to FDR. At least, the street traffic.


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Sphere No. 6 is . . .

Sphere No. 6 is:

a) What was left of the Death Star after Luke Skywalker blew it up.
b) The remnants of Earth after a nuclear explosion.
c) A bronze sculpture by Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro.
d) I have no idea.

The correct answers are c and d. The piece is one of several by Pomodoro and I’m still not sure what it’s supposed to represent after reading several stories.

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Wordless Wednesday: ANC visitors center

ANC visitors center

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Those wacky rabbits

There are two rabbits who will confuse you like some riddle out of Alice and Wonderland. There are times I’m confused which rabbit is which and I took the photos.

Rabbit Playing Cymbal is in the Hirshhorn Museum’s just a long stone’s throw from the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden that includes Thinker on a Rock featuring a similarly-looking rabbit.

Maybe it’s the same rabbit and it just outruns me from one to the next.

Thinker on a Rocker was created by British sculptor Barry Flanagan, who just loves to create rabbits in all sorts of poses. This one is a tribute to Rodin’s Thinker in 1880. It’s called a “witty and irreverent reference to one of the world’s bets known sculptures.”

Rabbit Playing Cymbal is a bust for me. I couldn’t find any information on it despite my best attempts. Maybe a reader can help out.

UPDATE – Thanks to a reader I learned Rabbit Playing Cymbal is also by Barry Flanagan. No wonder the two reminded me of each other since Flanagan did both.

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The Lone Sailor is hardly alone

For someone who’s supposedly alone, The Lone Sailor usually has plenty of tourists around him.

Part of the United States Navy Memorial at 7th and Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., The Lone Sailor is a tribute to all the personnel of the sea services. The seven-foot sculpture was created by Stanley Bleifeld in 1987.

The sailor is wearing a traditional uniform underneath his pea coat, which is a dark blue or black wool coat worn by sailors but also very popular among everyday people. He has his canvas bag for all his possessions beside him as well as the docking ring that boats tie up to when in port.

After first using honor guard personnel for models, the sculptor asked for someone more ordinary looking. Then Petty Officer 1st class Dan Maloney became the model. Made of bronze, the statue was mixed with artifacts from eight U.S. Navy ships.

A copy is also at an overlook rest stop just over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

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Wordless Wednesday: White House farmer’s market

farmer's market

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The man behind two metro stops – David Farragut

You know the person much be important when two metro stops are named for him.

David Farragut was a Civil War admiral who uttered the saying now paraphrased, “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead.” He said it differently, but history doesn’t let facts get in the way of a good story.

Anyway, Farragut had his ups and downs in the Union Navy. He freed New Orleans from a blockade, but suffered a major defeat at the siege of Port Hudson. However, Farragut rebounded by winning the Battle of Mobile Bay on Aug. 5, 1864 that was the Confederacy’s final major port on the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite heavily mined, Farragut ordered the fleet into battle. When a mine (then called torpedo) hit the USS Tecumseh, other ships started retreating before Farragut ordered, “Damn the torpedos. Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead. Jouett, full speed.”

Farrgut won the battle and was promoted to vice admiral. He later became a full admiral in 1866 and served active duty until dying in 1870 at age 69.

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The Park Bench Statesman: Bernard Baruch

Sometimes those old guys sitting in the park are worth listening to their advice.

Bernard Baruch became wealthy by 1900 speculating in sugar futures on Wall Street. The son of a surgeon that served on Robert E. Lee’s staff during the Civil War, Baruch was considered a kingpin in New York financial circles.

Baruch became President Woodrow Wilson’s advisor on national defense in 1916 and later led U.S. economic moves during World War I. Baruch later advised President Franklin Delano Roosevelt over coordinating private and public financial moves in World War II and was part of the “Brain Trust” during the New Deal.

But the real interesting part of Baruch during his Washington days was a passion for discussing politics from a bench in Lafayette Park next to the Andrew Jackson statue and a short walk to the White House. In 1960, the Boy Scouts honored Baruch with a commemorative bench at his favorite spot. Today, passersby still use the bench. Baruch died in 1965 at age 94.

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Mountain and Clouds will blow your mind

My first thought when entering the lobby of the Senate Hart Office Building – was it this big piece of junk?

A few minutes later when viewing it from the seventh of nine floors, my second thought – Oh, I get it now.

My final thought – Mountains and Clouds is a pretty cool sculpture. Too bad it’s hidden in a government office building that the public rarely sees and few will appreciate from ground level.

It was the final piece created by Alexander Calder, one of the leading 20th-century American sculptors known for creating suspending moving parts called “mobiles.” This piece has four clouds hanging from the roof and five triangular mountains underneath. It’s painted black to contrast with the surrounding white marble.

Ironically, Calder’s final day was spent meeting with the Architect of the Capitol over the sculpture. He even used a pair of pliers to adjust the model. Calder then returned to his New York City home where he died that night. Mountain and Clouds was later dedicated in 1987.

Ironically, I didn’t realize my photo was from the rear until cleaning it up in Photoshop. I was photographing from up high and the lighting hid the rear. But, if I can appreciate it from the back, it sure must be a nice piece.

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