Happy Thanksgiving

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Bully, bully for Teddy Roosevelt Island

Teddy RooseveltIt’s amazing the number of oases around downtown and how seldom we stop to see them.

I recently made my first trip to Theodore (did anybody but his mother not call him Teddy?) Roosevelt Island. A long walk around the 88.5-acre island across from the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center along the Virginia banks of the Potomac River is always good for the soul.

There were lots of couples walking dogs, families giving the young kids someplace to run off some energy, photographers and naturalists wandering the park, though most days it’s pretty quiet. You cross over from the parking lot alongside the George Washington Parkway on a wooden bridge that’s pretty cool for taking photos, especially with the river currently iced over.

It’s not a far walk until seeing Roosevelt’s 17-foot statue by Paul Manship, two fountains and four large stone monoliths with Teddy’s favorite sayings dedicated in 1967. It’s a pretty good likeness for something in the middle of nowhere.

But then the real fun begins. The path circles the island so you can go either way. It’s supposedly 1.3 miles, though it sure felt longer. The island’s topography is so varied with granite rocks alongside a marsh that rises above the long wooden path that is underwater in the spring.

Deer_3There are great photo spots for Georgetown down to the Lincoln Memorial, but the coolest thing is watching for the deer. Not two seconds after remembering to look for them I spotted a handful munching away in tall grass. They’re pretty tame, though don’t approach them or a hoof may land upside your head.

The island is a National Park site and has restrooms on the southern side during warm months. It was earlier known as My Lord’s Island, Mason’s Island and Anacostine Island for the Indians who first inhabited it in 1668. A series of owners followed, including three generations of George Mason’s descendents.

Jogging PathA mansion was built by John Mason in 1796, but the family vacated the island in 1831. Two fires destroyed the house that was completely demolished by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. The Washington Gas Light Co. bought the land in 1913 only to sell it to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association in 1931. Congress approved a memorial in 1932, but a generation passed before it was built.

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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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Water’s coming back to Georgetown’s canal

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Happy Veterans Day

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Fall is the best time to walk Arlington National Cemetery

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Wordless Wednesday: Where Lincoln sat when assassinated

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Ready to rake leaves at Arlington National Cemetery?

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Finding relatives at Arlington National Cemetery

We’ve all seen the World War II movies. The wave of dead bodies that seem like a Hollywood trick and not someone else’s family.

I recently learned one of them was family on my mother’s side. A couple branches over on the family tree that made us third cousins, one generation removed. Harold Grover English died on May 10,1945 during the invasion of Okinawa. The sixth deadliest battle of World War II, and the deadliest in the Pacific theater, saw 82,000 American casualties, including more than 12,500 dead. The Japanese lost 110,000 and the civilian population lost 150,000.

Harold was among the 6th Marine Division, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Regiment that cleared the northern part of the island. His nephew, who was born a few months later to the latter’s twin sister that married a soldier who served alongside Harold, told me little was known about how Harold died, only that the private was wounded in the early assault and later died.

It felt like a gut punch reading this history.

Harold is buried in Arlington National Cemetery’s Sec. 34, grave 2895. It’s a remote part on the eastern side of the cemetery where few visitors ever walk past. Harold’s stone near a large tree is so deteriorated that family has asked cemetery officials to replace it. I’ll be there whenever they do.

Harold was only 19 years old. Part of the “Greatest Generation” that sacrificed so much with Harold sacrificing everything.

But the story doesn’t end there. Harold’s brothers Marshall  T. and James Herbert English are also buried at Arlington. James was a Staff Sergeant who was in the 92nd Depot and later died in 1964 at age 47. Marshall was a Sergeant First Class in the Army who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam before dying in 1986 at age 61.

Despite dying 22 years apart, the brothers lie aside each other in Section 31, Nos. 1391 and 1392.

The two are in the section on the right as you approach John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame. While visiting the pair, a funeral arrived about 200 feet away. It’s unusual to see someone buried in that section nowadays. I failed to check the name on the day’s schedule, but my guess is that person was a spouse being buried with someone already interred. Having just been a pall bearer myself the previous week, I marveled at the preciseness of the unit coming down the slope more than 50 yards. It’s not as easy as they made it look.

I now know of six family members buried at Arlington. I didn’t know of any until a few years ago. With my family’s long roots in Washington, I expect there are probably more I haven’t yet found. I didn’t know the English brothers, but take pride that they earned the right to be there. And, some pain knowing Harold died on the other side of the world before brought to Arlington.

RIP, my cousins.

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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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Mrs. Obama’s farmer’s market has veggies (and kettle corn)

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Food trucks tell no lies

I don’t often eat at food trucks, but damn they’re tempting sometimes. Not just for saving money and time, but interesting items.

I wandered past a group near a downtown Metro station at lunchtime. And, the one thing about the trucks is they tell the truth of dietary habits. The pizza slice truck must have had 20 people in line. The salad truck saw none. Obviously, the salad truck must sell some or they’d be broke, but pizza and tacos and stuff we should skip are always the top sellers.

The truck with fresh lobster roll amazes me. That’s real commitment to fresh food being shipped daily. I thought it was pricey until once being in Maine and the same lobster roll there was $1 more. So, no more complaining over the price.

Honestly, a lot of the food doesn’t interest me and I’ve been known to grab a hot dog from a downtown cart occasionally between tours. I like the folks. They work hard in all weather just like me and some see my tour badge and cut the price. Professional courtesy, I guess.

But remember, the salad truck needs customers, too.

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I like Ike, his building not so much

It’s not the prettiest building in Washington.

Mark Twain called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building “the ugliest building in America” while former president Harry Truman called it “the greatest monstrosity in America.”

The EEOB is a French Second Empire style building shown by the massive amounts of steel columns. Ironically, it was considered out of fashion before finished in 1886. It was also called the Napoleon III style that included some Gothic features.

Look high at the top for the War Pediment, which looks like a Roman soldier above a window. On the north side of the building, the military symbol has a medieval suit of armor. A sword runs through the helmet while an eagle representing America sits atop it. Behind the armor are two U.S. shields that partially obscure four Roman military symbols. On the right is the fasces, a bundle of rods enclosing an axe that was a symbol of authority. To the left is the Roman standard of powerful legions. Left of the helmet is the battle axe that denotes strength and then there’s a torch that symbolizes light and knowledge. There are also spears and cannons plus cannon balls. Also, in the left corner are laurel leaves to crown victors and on the right are oak laves representing strength and stability. The whole pediment is 8 by 30 feet.

This is the third Old Executive Office Building and now named for former president Dwight D. Eisenhower. The first two burned down, including by the British in the War of 1812. The shell of the original building is still used deep inside this office.

The President’s Executive Office, the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Council work inside this building. It was designed by Alfred B. Mullett.

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Wordless Wednesday: Caps corn maze

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George Washington and Purple Heart

Purple HeartThere’s a marker just a few yards left to the entrance into Mount Vernon that is often overlooked but a pretty cool remembrance of history.

George Washington wasn’t allowed by the Continental Congress to promote Revolutionary War soldiers based on merit. But, Washington found a way around it, establishing the Badge of Military Merit on Aug. 7, 1782.

According to The Purple Heart “… The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit directs whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding.”

While a number of badges were awarded, the only three known recipients were
Sergeant Elijah Churchill, 2nd Continental Dragoons; Sergeant William Brown, 5th and Sergeant Daniel Bissel, 2nd Connecticut Continental Line Infantry.

The award was discontinued after the war, but Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing created the Purple Heart in 1932 in General Order No. 3 to honor the bicentennial of Washington’s birth.

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If you’re a plane or space junkie, Udvar-Hazy worth the trip

For years I’ve heard great things about the The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Drove by the entrance plenty of times without stopping just like hundreds of other local attractions.

It’s worth the trip to the Chantilly, Va.  venue near Dulles International Airport. Maybe that’s a little far for tourists without a car, but if you’re a serious plane junkie then the Smithsonian’s Air and Space museum downtown is not enough. There is a shuttle from Dulles to this Smithsonian museum.

I don’t detail attractions in my blog for the obvious Xs and Os that you can read on an official website. I discuss whether it’s worth going, what I liked and whether your family will, also.

First, I love attractions that are hassle free. It cost $15 to park very close, but admission is free. Just the customary quick bag check. They only allow one-legged tripods.

Continue reading

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Wordless Wednesday: Robin Hill winery

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Lily Pond: art for art’s sake, I guess

On this site was the first water to be piped through the streets for city residents.

I’ll let you have a moment to absorb all that.

The Lily Pond in John Marshall Park at 4th and C Sts. N.W. by the Canadian embassy is one of the silliest things. Indeed, it commemorates the city spring first used as a water source, hence the life-sized lily pads, frogs, turtles, fish and dragon flies.

Part of a 1983 makeover of the park, the Lily Pond is 2 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter. The granite and bronze fountain designed by American artist David Phillips makes a fine place to rest.

I guess it’s art for art’s sake . . . or for pete’s sake.

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U.S. Botanic Gardens more than a greenhouse

One of the joys of becoming a tour guide is stopping at places I’ve driven past a million times.

High on the list is the U.S. Botanic Garden on 1st and Maryland Ave. S.W. on the footstep of the U.S. Capitol. I just figured it was some small green house and not worth stopping.

I was wrong. As usual.

I stopped by on a Saturday and it was pretty crowded with families looking for a low-stress activity. Something you can just walk around and combine with other places.

George Washington wanted a botanic garden in the new capitol city showing the importance of plants. The mission has more than succeeded.

The conservatory has world deserts with some pretty wild looking cactus. They look like that could jump up and grab you. The children’s garden lets kids burn off some energy. The Garden Primeval smells like the beginning of time with high humidity for ferns and ancient plants from 150 million years ago. The Jungle is a tropical rainforest where you can climb to a second level for a better overall view. The orchid room has more than 5,000 varieties with 200 on display.

There are replicas of major monuments and buildings scattered throughout that kids especially love at Christmastime. It’s a good chance for a pop quiz on what they’ve seen already around town.

Overall, it’s free admission, easy to get in and out and you can stay however long you like. The Botanic Garden is easy on the eyes and a mental break from so much history around town.

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Wordless Wednesday: The Irish Sea

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