We take the Potomac River for granted as it passes often passively by Washington. But far north of the city lies Great Falls National Park where the water drops quickly and sometimes deadly.
I went there once as a young child. I remembered the river pouring over the rocks.
And that was my only memory for about 50 years until Sunday when a 70-degree day in mid-February compelled me to be outside. Why not go see it again, I thought.
Turns out lots of other folks had the same thought as the final few miles took more than 30 minutes and a remote parking lot was needed. But it was fun to see the falls that are nearly on the complete opposite side of town from where I live. The view looked much the same as I remembered.
Washingtonians a century ago used to visit the falls in the summertime to escape the heat. How they made it from the city mystifies me. It’s a good way from town.
But Washingtonians’ connection to the falls predates the city’s origins. George Washington believed a series of canals could connect the Potomac River between the East and Ohio Valley where the country’s western expansion would begin. In 1784, the Patowmack Company began five canals that were completed in 1802.
For 26 years, the canal would see great commerce over the three-day trip from Cumberland, Md to Georgetown. Railroads eventually made canals obsolete.
The falls are still a great recreational area with plenty of picnickers. People go swimming and boating along it, though the section near the visitor center has a sign stating seven people a year drown in the river so be careful.
I doubt I’ll be around in 50 years to see the place again. Maybe my grandchildren will one day want me to take them.
Fort Lincoln Cemetery clock
What could be more fitting for a cemetery than a clock that never ends?
This 1938 floral clock in the entrance area of Ft. Lincoln Cemetery just across the District’s border in Brentwood, Md. was created by famed timekeeper Seth Thomas.
The face is 32 feet in diameter with 28 feet for flowers. The numbers are 21 inches high and one foot wide. The minute hand weighs between 300 to 350 pounds and 18 feet, 4 inches long. The hour hand is 200 to 250 pounds and 14 feet, nine inches long. The hands are caste aluminum.
Plants adorn the clock in warmer months. There are 5,000 red and 2,900 green Alteranthereas, 400 Santonlinas and 500 Sedum Tomentosiums.
So much attention is given the Tomb of the Unknowns, but there are actually more than 400 unknowns buried throughout Arlington National Cemetery.
Fourteen soldiers and sailors from the War of 1812 are buried together in Section 1 not far from the Custis-Lee House. Go past the Pan American 103 red stone memorial and nearly enter the woods before the granite marker is on the left. The photo makes it look like the marker is crooked, but I think it was more of my being tired at the end of walking nearly five hours around the grounds.
The 14 soldiers were discovered in 1905 by workers at the Washington Navy Yard. The monument was erected in 1976 by the National Society of the United States Daughters of the War of 1812.
Tool De Force
It looks like odd tools in my collection, and it is.
Tool De Force is a 12 1/2-foot sculpture at the National Building Museum representing some of the tools used in the industry. It was donated to NBM by John Hechinger, Sr., who many longtime Washingtonians remember for his Hechinger hardware stores that paved the way for big box successors Home Depot and Lowe’s.
Hechinger collected art for his enormous headquarters. This one is by sculptor David Stromeyer, who liked to add color to his pieces.
The Spanish Steps of Washington is a mere fraction of its namesake in Rome, but the Kalorama neighborhood marble oasis is a pleasant distraction and often place to rest.
Built in 1911 by architect Robert E. Cook as part of the Municipal Office of Public Works and Grounds as part of the City Beautiful movement, the steps atop 22nd St. were needed when horse-drawn carriages couldn’t scale the steep hill from DeCatur Place to S St. N.W.
Americans learn about the Wright brothers for their invention of flight. But don’t overlook Alberto Santos-Dumont, who was the first to flight an aircraft heavier than air through its own propulsion in 1906.
The bronze bust of Santos-Dumont on 22nd and DeCatur Place NW remembers the Brazilian hero who experimented first with balloons and dirigibles. His first flight in Paris lasted 197 feet. After four years of intense aviation work, Santos-Dumont reportedly suffered a mental breakdown and retired. He suffered from multiple sclerosis and died in 1932.
Sometimes you learn things from the craziest places, but one of my favorites is the Sunday comics. Flashbacks by Patrick M. Reynolds explains how traditions, names and general lore so simply anyone can learn.
Which brings me to my favorite story – the tale behind Washington, D.C.’s flag. Now anyone with a modest sense of local history will tell you the flag comes from George Washington’s family coat of arms. And that’s true.
Washington, D.C. flag
But the story behind that tale is really cool. As Reynolds tells it, a private in the English army killed an invading Danish king in 979 A.D. The onlooking English king rewarded the soldier with a coat of arms. The king dipped two fingers in the dead monarch’s blood and ran them straight across the soldier’s shield. Thus, the two stripes. The three stars were added later.
In 1657, the soldier’s descendant John Washington came to America toting that coat of arms. His great grandson was George Washington – the father of our country. George loved using that coat of arms. It’s seen regularly at Mount Vernon.
Today, you’ll see the flag around town, but the logo is also on street signs and license plates. It became Washington’s official flag in 1938.
Now is that a cool story or what? There are others who say the District’s flag is about the three original commissioners and two states whose land comprised Washington. Well, they have their story and I have mine.
OK, here’s a little more. Some say the Star Spangled Banner was also inspired by Washington’s coat of arms. That’s easy to see. The coat of arms is also visible in Washington’s ancestral region in County Durham in northeast England.
Jane Delano loved nursing so much that on her deathbed in France while inspecting hospitals during World War I, her last words were, “What about my work, I must get back to my work.”
Born on March 12, 1862 near Towsend, N.Y., Delano soon lost her father in the Civil War. She considered the nursing professional “a fine one” and began treating yellow fever victims in 1888 before three years in Bisbee, Ariz. helping typhoid victims. Delano became a superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps from 1909-12 and then chairman of the National Committee on Red Cross Nursing Service. Delano formed 8,000 nurses when the U.S. joined the Great War that was later raised to 20,000.
After her death on April 15, 1919, American nurses raised funds for the monument now at the Red Cross National Headquarters on 17th St. N.W. to honor Delano and 206 nurses that died in World War I. Delano is buried in the Nurses’ Corner at Arlington National Cemetery.
The bronze memorial has a cape over a woman whose extended hands represent a nurse’s readiness to serve. It was dedicated in April 1934 and sculpted by R. Tait McKenzie.
I recently watched “Charlie Wilson’s War,” a 2007 movie starring Tom Hanks on U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson’s support of Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet–Afghan War in the 1980s. The movie grossed $119 million worldwide, which is a pretty respectable number.
The movie made me look up the real Charlie Wilson. Turns out Charles Nesbitt Wilson (1933-2010) was a pretty impressive fellow. A 12-term Congressman from Texas whose Operation Cyclone was the largest ever CIA covert operation. (At least as far as we know.) The U.S. Naval Academy officer served from 1956-60 as a lieutenant and gunnery officer on a destroyer. He also served at the Pentagon in an intelligence unit.
Wilson is pretty easy to find at Arlington National Cemetery. Turn left when reaching the cemetery’s main street after leaving the visitor’s center. On the left side, it’s the first section, last stone on the right side of a row at Section 54, grave 195.
On the eastern side (facing away from National Mall) of the Supreme Court is the Guardian of Liberty pediment. I only managed to capture part of the 18 by 60 foot scene because of sun problems.
Moses and his tablets are the central figure. (If you look across the street to private homes a tablet of the 10 commandments sits a yard.) To Moses’ left is Chinese philosopher and lawman Confusius, to the right is Solon, interpreter of Greek law. To Confusius’ left is a kneeling man holding rods and an axe that was a sign of Roman law. On Solon’s right is a kneeling woman asking for mercy. Unseen in my photo are two Roman soldiers that essentially oversee the law, a reclining woman for study and judgment and a reclining man representing high character. A tortoise and hare are in the corners to show the slow but sure process of law.
Occasionally, statues make me feel like a voyeur. Why is that man or boy naked I’m sometimes asked. It happens all too often say at the Boy Scout or Von Steuben statues near the White House. I say I don’t know and move on.
So the golden naked nymph by courthouses near 5th and D Sts. N.W. always makes me feel a little naughty when lingering. She simply stands out aside a fawn and can’t be missed.
The statue is part of the Joseph Darlington fountain dedicated shortly after his 1923 death. He was a brilliant lawyer, hence the fountain’s location.
Pan American 103 memorial
With Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi killed, American will remember the tyrant for his backing of terrorists who blew up Pan American Flight 103 in 1988.
A monument to the 270 killed from 22 countries, including 15 U.S. active duty military and 10 veterans, is in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery just behind the Arlington House amphitheater. The base simply describes what happened.
“On 21 December 1988, a terrorist bomb destroyed Pan American Airlines Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all on board and 11 on the ground.
“The 270 Scottish stones which compose this memorial cairn commemorate those who lost their lives in this attack against America.”
A Scottish cairn can be an informal heap of stones or one that is patterned and mortared. This circular monument of 270 red Scottish sandstones is 10 ½ feet tall and seven feet wide.
The stones came from the Corsehill Quarry, which was under the flight path of Pan Am 103. The quarry has operated since 1820 and contributed stones for the Statue of Liberty’s base.