The best view in town is . . .

Tourists ask this all the time.

It’s not from the top of the Washington Monument despite being the highest point in town. Ditto for the Old Post Office Pavillion or the National Cathedral. And while the porch at the Newseum is great for seeing Capitol Hill, all these points aren’t as good as two places across the Potomac River.

The best daytime view of Washington (above) is from the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. The whole town is layed out in front of you. The same essential view can be seen from nearby Arlington House. Both require a moment to catch your breath after climbing a steep hill, but it’s worth it.

The best nighttime view is from the nearby Netherlands Carillion between Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima memorial. You can line up the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol. The cemetery is closed at night so this is your best stop, though the Air Force Memorial on the other side of ANC is pretty good, too.

The most picturesque view from street level is M St. in Georgetown. Just a nice glimpse of the old days. But, Embassy Row along Massachussetts Ave. with its flags runs a close second. Of course, the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin is the best, but only lasts a week or so.

What are your favorites?

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Wordless Wednesday: Jefferson Memorial

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When a reporter killed in the Capitol

Bloody Capitol steps

The press and politicians have always had an uneasy relationship. But, it was deadly once inside the U.S. Capitol.

Louisville Times reporter Charles Kincaid wrote a story on Kentucky Congressman William Taulbee cheating on his wife while in Washington. The scandal was enough for Taulbee not to seek a third term and become a lobbyist.

Taulbee and Kincaid became enemies over the next three years with Taulbee often bumping the reporter when passing. The two finally came to blows on Feb. 28, 1890 and were separated by House doorkeepers. Taulbee warned Kincaid to arm himself. So, Kincaid went home for his gun and returned to shoot Taulbee on the east staircase of the Capitol. Taulbee died on March 11. Kincaid was later acquitted of charges on the grounds of self-defense.

The enduring part of the tale is Taulbee’s blood is still splatted on the stairs 127 years later. Marble is very porous and stains are hard to remove. And in this case, it remains a reminder not to mess with the press.

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Wordless Wednesday: National Cathedral

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Visit our sister site – SouthernMarylandWine.com

What is a tour guide and sports writer doing with wine website? Telling stories, of course.

Southern Maryland is undergoing a wine awakening. More than a dozen wineries now dot the landscape where tobacco was once king. I’ve lived in Southern Maryland since 1962 and seen the changes from open fields to housing developments and wince every time green hills are converted to blacktop.

ROBIN HILL FARM AND VINEYARDS

But the Big Tobacco settlement 20 years ago induced some farmers to give up tobacco. And, the really smart ones started wineries that led to others doing so. And now there are great stories to tell and an emerging market to follow.

Southern Maryland really isn’t that far, though I remember when Waldorf couldn’t even make the weather on local TV. Too far out. In reality, a Saturday trip from the U.S. Capitol to Brandywine, Md. where four wineries begin  your trip into wine country takes about 30 minutes. They’re much closer to town than the ones in Virginia. Tasting rooms combined with farm life make a nice staycation.

Visit Southern Maryland Wine  to see all the great stories plus the latest news in the wine industry.

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Lincoln at the National Cathedral

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Remembering a terrorist act 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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I’m now a certified National Cathedral guide

NATIONAL CATHEDRAL

Ever want to visit one of those old European cathedrals without needing a passport? Come to the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Washington.

CANTERBURY PULPIT

Commonly called National Cathedral because the Episcopal church welcomes all and serves the nation for major events like presidential funerals and remembrances, it’s the closest thing you’ll get locally to those church abroad. Built from 1907 to 1990, the church has 150,000 tons of limestone from Indiana built in a Gothic style for soaring heights. There are 216 stained glass windows in the church built like a 14th-century cathedral.

President Woodrow Wilson and his wife Edith are entombed there as the church in 1924 sought to become like Westminster Abbey in England and be the resting place of great leaders. No other presidents since have chosen the cathedral with the latest trend having them buried at their libraries.

NATIONAL CATHEDRAL STAINED GLASS WINDOWS

I decided to become a certified Cathedral guide this year to expand my knowledge of the city. Oh, I’ve been to services and funerals at the cathedral over the years, but like becoming a guide around town I’ve found you really don’t know much about places unless you study them. I passed both written and oral exams to become a guide. (Yeah, it’s weird taking tests at my age, but still feels good when passing.)

If you’re interested in a private tour of the cathedral, please contact me. There is so much to know about the place like what statue is the only one showing a president kneeling, what other famous folks are buried there, why a building is a cathedral and where is that Darth Vader grotesque? Don’t worry, you can take all the photos you like and we can spend as long as you like as a private tour versus 30 minutes on student tours.

 

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Eisenhower Executive Office Building

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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 naval museum open to the public.

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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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Daughters of the American Revolution

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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.

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The Awakening now entertains tourists

For 36 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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Nighttime at the Willard Hotel

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A winter’s peek at Sir John Dill

Sir John Dill

Why would anyone walk Arlington National Cemetery in January? It’s the best time for photos.

This photo above of Sir John Dill would be impossible when leaves are on the trees. By looking for the statue from a non-traditional angle, you get memorable photos.

I noticed sitting by the grave of Robert Todd Lincoln (Abe’s son) that I could see the eternal flame of John F. Kennedy’s. I never noticed that before. Didn’t think they were close enough.

So on a fair winter’s day, get some exercise and fresh air and walk Arlington National Cemetery. You’ll get some great photos.

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John Wingate Weeks worth a side trip

John Wingate Weeks

It’s funny how you can walk by something regularly, but come a different way one time and see it entirely differently.

That’s how I stumbled upon the magnificent grave of John Wingate Weeks, a former Secretary of War who’s a stone’s throw from John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame. Normally, I come from the main entrance or from the Tomb of the Unknowns, but for once walked from the west side after seeing William Howard Taft’s and Robert Todd Lincoln’s graves.

Really, how did I miss this large white marble remembrance complete with two benches? Guess I was too focused getting up that hill.

Ironically, Wingate (1860-1926) never served in the military, but he was Secretary of War from 1921-25. He who worked so hard overseeing post-World War I downsizing that he suffered a stroke that led to his death.

Weeks made his fortune in banking before becoming a Republican Congressman from 1905-13 and then a U.S. Senator from 1913-19. He would later join Warren. G. Harding’s Cabinet in 1921. His wife Martha is buried aside Weeks. Their son Charles became a U.S. Senator and Secretary of Commerce under President Eisenhower. The street in front of the graves was named for Weeks.

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The Occidental

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Wandering on a cold winter’s day

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY

It’s hard to be alone with your thoughts at Arlington National Cemetery for much of the year. Nearly four million people visit with crowds heavy from March to December.

But January is the best time to visit if it’s not polar cold. The tourists are gone. Indeed, not one bus on the morning I came. I didn’t see anyone for nearly an hour as I veered away from the popular JFK eternal flame and changing of the guard. And since it was a 43-degree morning, I was fine given walking the cemetery’s hills keeps you warm.

ROBERT TODD LINCOLN

So I sat by Robert Todd Lincoln’s grave where wreaths distributed in December still remain a few more days. Robert was the oldest and only of Abraham Lincoln’s four sons to live past age 18. Indeed, he lived to see the Lincoln Memorial open in 1922. The rest of the family is buried together in Springfield, Ill. but Robert is at Arlington between presidents John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft. On a winter’s day you can see the eternal flame from Lincoln’s grave. Indeed, one of the perks of visiting in the winter is the absence of leaves that block so many views.

You can hear the clock by the Tomb of the Unknowns chiming throughout the cemetery in the cold stillness. Somehow in the summer the chimes don’t reach the edges.

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY

Arlington has so many great stories. I often wander the cemetery where seven family members are buried looking at stones I haven’t seen before, noting their names to look up their history later.

So watch the weather for a warm day and visit Arlington National Cemetery before the crowds return in March. The stillness makes you appreciate life.

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Firefighter monument suddenly No. 2

I’ve determined Washington Post columnist John Kelly secretly wishes he was a Washington tour guide. If not, he’d sure make a fine one. (Must be career wanderlust. As a Washington Post Express sports columnist, I always wanted to be a U.S. Park ranger but instead became a licensed Washington tour guide.)

Kelly reports in ‘First’ D.C. firefighter to die on the job wasn’t the Benjamin Greenup Monument in Glenwood Cemetery long thought to honor the first fallen Washington firefighter indeed doesn’t. Instead, Kelly writes John A. Anderson died two months earlier in 1856. Mostly, it comes down to Greenup came from a wealthier part of town and his colleagues were better able to honor him so over time people assumed Greenup died first.

Hey, it’s not the first time the rich wrote history.

This monument gets some notoriety for its depiction of Greenup’s death. In a three-foot relief panel, Greenup is shown being crushed under the horse-drawn fire engine of Columbia Engine Co. No. 1. Seems Greenup fell under the engine while rushing to the fire and was killed instantly. Amazingly, this very pumper is still in storage for future display.

Firemen were in a hurry not just to save buildings, but to collect a bonus from insurance companies back then. Fights would even erupt between companies over who would fight the fire so Greenup and company were in a big hurry that day.

Fire recruits ride by Greenup’s monument in Glenwood regularly in tribute. Oddly, I wonder if they’ll now need to say he was the second one killed. Anderson is now buried in an unmarked grace in Oak Hill Cemetery near Georgetown.

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