Where the gossip grew along Embassy Row

Welcome to the home of the other “Washington Monument” as Alice Roosevelt Longfellow was called. The oldest daughter of president Teddy Roosevelt, she lived 96 years and they were very colorful years.

Alice once said, “If you can’t say something nice, come sit next to me.” She was a striking woman who married Congressman Nicholas Longworth who went on to be the House Speaker and whom one of the House buildings is named after. Yet, it was a rocky marriage as she often criticized his politics. Both had public affairs. Indeed, Alice’s only child was a result of an affair with Senator William Borah of Idaho.

Alice once jumped into a pool with a congressman while fully clothed. Posed for tobacco ads. Wrote a juicy autobiography and had an “affectionate” relationship with Bobby Kennedy, JFK’s younger brother who was AG and assassinated when running for president. She called Thomas Dewey that “little man on the wedding cake” that was an image that help cost him two president elections. And, worst of all, the lifelong Republican voted Democrat late in her life.

The four-story yellow brick building at 2009 Massachussetts Ave. N.W. is now the home of the Washington Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group that promotes business and free market trade.

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The Embassy Row Lady and the Curse

The Indonesian Embassy was once the home of Evalyn Walsh McLean, whose Irish immigrant father hit it rich as a gold miner. This 3 1/2-story brick mansion trimmed with three bands of limestone and a red tile roof was the city’s most expensive private home when built in 1903 at the cost of $835,000. Legend has it a slab of gold was built into the foundation at 2020 Massachusett’s Ave. N.W.

They used to call it “2020” to maybe downplay its grandeur. The home contained a staircase to mimicked one on an oceanliner. It has a three-story center hall and grand ballroom for parties that even hosted official state dinners during president Woodrow Wilson’s ill health. It had one of the first elevators in the city and a theater. It even had an apartment used by two European kings.

But let’s get to the juicy part. Walsh-McLean was the last private owner the Hope Diamond; the 47-karat diamond now in the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. It is said to be cursed, which Walsh-McLean denied but her brother Vinson was killed in a car crash that Evelyn was badly injured. Her husband Edward was caught in a political scandal and saw his businesses fail and was later declared insane. Evelyn was also taken by a grifter for $100,000 after saying he could rescue the stolen Lindberg baby.

After Walsh-McLean died in 1947, the home was used by the Red Cross before sold to the Indonesian government in 1952, A 100-year-old collection of musical instruments, called a gamelan, is featured in one of the main reception rooms today.

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Remembering a car bomb on Embassy Row

The first impression is it’s some sort of fire plug. Instead, it remembers a terrorist act along Embassy Row.

Chilean exile Orlando Letelier and co-worker Ronni Moffitt were killed by a car bomb on Sept. 21, 1976 where the monument now lies along Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Ave. Ronni’s husband Michael Moffitt suffered only minor injuries because he was in the back seat.

A car bomb on Embassy Row? Hard to imagine.

Letelier, 44, was a high-ranking official under Chilean president Salvadoe Allende, whose three-year government was overthrown in a coup by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Allende was killed during the takeover.

Letelier spent one year in a concentration camp before exiled from Chile. He came to Washington to work for the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank that allowed Letelier to travel worldwide lobbying for sanctions against Pinochet’s government.

Moffitt, 25, was a fundraiser at the Institute for Pubilc Policies. The Maryland graduate earlier worked as a teacher for underprivileged children.

Pinochet tired of Letelier’s efforts and reportedly ordered the assassination. Moffit was unfortunately next to Letelier. Michael Townly was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for his part of the murders. He was released after five years and entered the U.S. witness protection program after testifying against two Cuban accomplices who received life sentences. Pinochet was implicated, but never indicted for the murders.

Today under a shade tree is the small monument with images of Letelier and Moffitt along with “Justice * Peace * Dignity.”

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The history of flags by the FBI

FBI flagsSometimes the government website says it better than we can. Here is the FBI’s website explanation of the flags along its building on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington.The Grand Union, or Continental Colors, serving from 1775-1777, was first raised on January 1, 1776, on Mount Pigsah, Massachusetts, about the time the Continental army came into formal existence. It combined the British Union Jack and 13 stripes, signifying Colonial unity. The following below is from the FBI website.
The Flag of 1777, which had no official arrangement for the 13 stars. It was flown by John Paul Jones on the USS Ranger and was the first American flag to be recognized by a foreign power.
The Betsy Ross Flag, 13 stars, designed by George Washington, Betsy Ross, and Francis Hopkinson. Although rarely used, it was adopted by Congress on June 14, 1777–the official date of today’s Flag Day.
The Bennington Flag, 13 six-pointed stars, allegedly flown August 16, 1777, over military stores at the Battle of Bennington, Vermont, when the Vermont militia beat back a superior British force.
The Star Spangled Banner, 15 stars and 15 stripes, immortalized by Francis Scott Key in our National Anthem during the bombardment of Ft. McHenry, Maryland, in September 13, 1814.
The Flag of 1818, 20 stars, commissioned by a Congressional Flag Act that returned the design to 13 stripes and stipulated that stars be added for each new state.
The Great Star Flag, 20 stars, designed by Captain Samuel Chester Reid, U.S. Navy, at the request of New York Congressman Peter Wendover and flown over the U.S. Capitol on April 13, 1818.
The Lincoln Flag, 34 stars, raised by President Lincoln on February 22, 1861, over Philadelphia’s Independence Hall to send a message to Southern states, which were preparing to secede from the Union.
The Iwo Jima Flag, 48 stars, which was commissioned in 1912 but came to symbolize our Nation on February 19, 1945, when U.S. Marines raised it on Mount Suribachi after fearful fighting in World War II’s Pacific campaign.
The 49-Star Flag, commissioned in 1959 when Alaska achieved full Statehood. It flew for only one year, until July 4, 1960, after Hawaii achieved its Statehood and when today’s 50-star flag became official.

What about the large banner streaming from the corner of 9th and Penn? It and its twin on 10th and Penn have been flying since May 29, 2004, after we were invited to be part of the dedication of Washington’s World War II Memorial this past Memorial Day, honoring the 16 million who served and the over 400,000 who died in World War II. This banner, of course, uses the 48-star format of The Iwo Jima Flag.

And that flag around the corner, on 9th street? It’s the 50-star flag, which our FBI police reverently raise each day at 5 am and take down at dusk.

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The Hammer? Well, not exactly

It looks like a 40-foot hammer in the courtyard of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Well, you’re close.

Bearing Witness is a hammered bronze plate created by Martin Puryear, an American sculptor who was a minimalist. Well, this is surely minimalistic. Just a big piece of bronze.

It made me think of a judge’s gavel. You probably think it’s something else like a hammer. I guess that was Puryear’s point.

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Buffalo boys won’t you come out tonight

I have long heard about the bridge with buffalos and never realized how closely I walked by them. The bridge is just one block south of Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Ave. N.W.

The Dumbarton Bridge has four buffalos overlooking Rock Creek Park. The span is supposed to resemble a Roman aqueduct and has a 12 percent horizontal curve, which is pretty unusual.

The 7-foot buffalos guard each corner of the bridge that was built in 1914. They were designed by A. Phimister Proctor, who also created the tigers on the 16th St. bridge. During the unveiling party, guests ate buffalo burgers. Gotta love that. Today, it’s a quiet corner and a great one to admire the buffalo.

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Wordless Wednesday: Waterfall at FDR Memorial

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Who is that man in front of the Treasury?

After taking their zillion photos of the north side of the White House, many tourists walk to 15th St. to catch their bus. They pass the Treasury Building along the way and always ask who’s the statue.

When I say Albert Gallatin, the response is usually a blank stare. And, I really can’t blame them.

Created by James Earle Fraser, the bronze statue was erected in 1947. The inscription on the base tells his story:




Gallatin was the fourth and longest-running Treasury Secretary who later founded what’s now NYU college. A young orphan of rich parents, the Swiss-born Gallatin arrived in the U.S. at age 19. Gallatin endured mixed success as a businessman before entering politics. He was a pretty good Treasury Secretary, overseeing the Louisiana Purchase for $15 million and financing the War of 1812 with Britain. However, the national debt grew under his stewardship.

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What’s on the radio?

During the dark days of the Great Depression and World War II, Americans huddled around their radios hoping for the latest news and a little inspiration.

The fireside chats by Franklin Delano Roosevelt were staples of listening from 1933-45. The series of 30 talks dealt with economic recovery and war over 15 to 45 minutes. Roosevelt spoke in a simple style so everyone could understand him. Indeed, 80 percent of the most commonly 1,000 words were used in his speeches.

TV eventually replaced the radio as the dominant medium, but every president since FDR has continued regular radio broadcasts. Indeed, it has been a weekly staple by recent presidents, including President Obama.

This sculpture of a farmer listening intently to the radio is in the FDR Memorial not far from the breadline.

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Shutterbugs – this sculpture’s for you

It seems only fitting that a sculpture of the first photographer rests outside the National Portrait Gallery on 7th St. N.W. just steps from the Verizon Center.

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (November 18, 1787 – July 10, 1851) was a French artist known for the daguerreotype process of photography. He teamed with Joseph Niepce in 1827 because Niepce was a printer who Daguerre thought could speed up the process. Unfortunately, Niepce died in 1833 so it took Daguerre another six years to perfect the process. The French government then bought the invention and declared it a gift to the world.

The sculpture was first dedicated on August 15, 1890 at the Arts and Industries Building. It was moved outside from 1897 to 1969 before moved to storage. It was relocated to its present location in 1989.

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No bowing, she’s not the queen

You never know what kids will say. I asked some youngsters who I was standing next to and “The Queen of England?” was the first response.

Well, I must admit she does look a little like Queen Elizabeth, but it’s actually former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Its location at husband’s FDR Memorial should be a dead giveaway, but kids don’t always make the connection.

Eleanor is standing next to the United Nations symbol given her staunch support for it. She’s the only First Lady honored with a statue at a presidential memorial. Given Eleanor served the longest of any First Lady and often spoke for her husband at events, she certainly deserves it.

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Ascent soars outside Udvar-Hazy Center

One of the more interesting items at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport may be outside.

Ascent is a 75-foot polished, stainless steel artwork that means, well I’m not good at interpretative art. But, some say its upward soaring image represents man’s desire to soar to the heavens.

Ascent was created by John Safer, a real renaissance man who studied law at Harvard, worked in banking and created artwork that hangs in more than 1,000 museums and embassies worldwide.

“It is my hope,” Safer told Cosmos Journal magazine, “that people who look at my work will feel uplifted and inspired. Through my sculptures, I try to make people feel more at one with themselves and the universe in which they live.”

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This old house . . .

Georgetown has plenty of old bricks, but this stone home along M and 30th Sts. stands out. That’s because it’s the Old Stone House.

Built in 1765, the home is the oldest private home in Washington. The house was built by Christopher Layman, a cabinetmaker who died shortly after its finish. Cassandra Chew then bought it and added a rear wing in 1767. Purchased by the federal government in 1953, it now operates under the National Park Service. With its blue granite exterior, the home is perfect example of pre-Revolutionary life.

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Wordless Wednesday: Iwo Jima Memorial

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The Awakening now entertains tourists

For 31 years, a 70-foot statue has been trying to get up in the morning. Guess I’m not so slow after all.

The Awakening is a 70-foot statue of a man trying to get up from the earth. There are five aluminum pieces in the ground with the left hand, right foot, bent left leg and knee, right arm and hand and his head showing.

It was created by J. Seward Johnson, Jr. in 1980 at the southern end of Hains Point in Washington, D.C. across the Potomac River from National Airport. Johnson sold it to National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. in 2007 for $750,000.

It’s closer together than the Hains Point version. Steps from the water, it’s a popular stop for tourists to climb on him. There’s also the nation’s only Peeps store just steps away. Check out the chocolate-covered peeps.

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Octagon House – when six equals eight










I have driven past the Octagon House hundreds of times because my wife worked on the same block for 30 years. I never knew its full story; just that it was an oddly-shape corner building near the White House at 18th St. and New York Ave. NW.

Designed in 1801 by William Thornton, who was the first architect of the U.S. Capitol, the house served as a temporary home to president James Madison after the British burned the White House in 1814. The British left the house alone because it was a temporary embassy for France. Today, it’s a museum of Washington’s early days.

The three-story house includes a circle, two rectangles and a triangle in its floorplan. Many building materials are local, including Aquia Creek sandstone. The decorative materials came from England. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Some say it’s haunted by two daughters of the original owner – Col. John Tayloe, a prominent Virginia planter who built the house at George Washington’s urging. In separate instances, a daughter arguing with Tayloe on the upper stairs fell to her death. Some say ghosts of slaves that once lived in the rear of the home now haunt it.

Oh, one more thing. It has six sides, not eight like an octagon. Go figure. Not the first number that was fudged in Washington.

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Let the lions roar

There are lots and lots of lion statues around town. You get five bonus points if knowing this one is part of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial on E St. N.W. between 4th and 5th Streets (across the National Building Museum.)

Designed by architect Davis Buckley, the Memorial has two walls of grey-blue marble 304 feet long inscribed with nearly 19,000 names of police officers that died on duty dating back to 1792. The bronze lions are shown protecting their cubs. Translation – police protect the public.

Every April, 10,000 daffoldils are planted at the memorial along with the ongoing 60,000 plants and 128 trees.

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Finally, an honest man in Judiciary Square

How many statues are there of Abraham Lincoln around town? That’s a good question. And, I don’t know the answer.

What’s special about this one in front of the D.C. Court of Appeals (Lincoln was a lawyer, after all) is it was the first public monument of Lincoln following his 1865 assassination. It was paid by District residents.

Lincoln stands on a pedestal with a bundle of sticks, which was the symbol of the law in ancient Rome. Sculptor Lee Flannery knew Lincoln so it’s a good likeness. It was dedicated in 1868.

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What’s the most photographed statue in town?

Nobody really knows, but if it’s not Abraham Lincoln at his memorial than it’s surely Andrew Jackson here in Lafayette Park.

Why? First, it’s a great statue. Second, it’s right by the White House. Third, it’s a dynamite shot, especially at night with the White House as the backdrop.

Our seventh president, Jackson is shown aboard his horse wearing the uniform as a major general of his Tennessee militia while reviewing his troops shortly before beating the British in the Battle of New Orleans in the last battle of the War of 1812. “Old Hickory’s” fiery temper is shown by his horse’s front two hooves raised, but Jackson has a snug grip on the reins while tipping his cap to the troops.

Continue reading

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Stephen DeCatur House remains special

Stephen DeCatur must have been one cool cat, if not an unlucky one.

After fighting in the War of 1812 and later facing pirates off the Barbary Coast, DeCatur used the “prize money” from Congress to build this three-story brick house within sight of the White House in Lafayette Park at the corner of Jackson Place and H St. N.W.

Too bad he only lived in it only 14 months before – bam – dying in a duel. Seems Commodore James Baron objected to DeCatur court martialing him and shot him in a one-on-one satisfaction of honor.

DeCatur’s wife moved out immediately. It has since been the home of one vice president, three secretaries of state, five congressmen, a British prime minister and the French and Russian delegations. Nowadays it’s a fine naval museum open to the public.

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