Unless otherwise noted, all content and photos are © 2018 Monumental Thoughts.
You can’t miss the gigantic vault door in the lobby of the Courtyard Marriott Washington Convention Center on 9th and F Sts. N.W.
The one-time home of Riggs Bank was built in 1891. It was quite the place with vaulted ceilings and colorful murals of men holding bags of money. Twenty-three U.S. presidents and many foreign embassies put their money in Riggs. Even Confederate president Jefferson Davis and counterpart Abe Lincoln deposited money there. It later merged with PNC Bank in 2005.
When this bank was converted into a 188-room hotel, there was one problem – the vault. It’s massive and couldn’t be moved. No problem. The vault itself is still below. A pretty cool attraction in itself while the steel door remains, too.
There’s no shortage of bakeries in Georgetown and no shortage of opinions on which is the best.
The long lines outside Georgetown Cupcakes following its TV show a few years ago leads to many tourists stopping by. Their cupcakes are good, especially the frosting.
But locals often told me Dog Tag Bakery was the best. Finally, I decided to stop by when I had some rare free time. It’s on Wisconsin Ave. below M St. NW and on the south side of the canal on Grace Street, which is across Grace Episcopal Church.
The cafe itself is more welcoming than others in town simply because there’s room for more than a few tables. A few students with laptops sat inside while groups of friends gathered at tables.
I bought three slices of pie for a family gathering. (Really, I didn’t eat them myself.) The most unusual was cranberry, which as expected was tart but interesting. My grandson loved the oreo pie. The gingerbread was fresh and tasty.
I won’t crown a bakery champion, but Dog Tag is definitely the most relaxed one to stop for a snack.
People ask all the time about hidden, off-the-beaten path photos. The funny part is there are so many along the National Mall. The best one is the back of the Lincoln Memorial.
The Lincoln Memorial is the most visited landmark in Washington. About seven million people annually climb those steps, sometimes 50,000 per day in the busy spring and summer months. If you only see one thing in Washington, it’s probably Lincoln. No. 2 is probably the White House.
People know the Lincoln Memorial, maybe because it’s on the $5 bill. He’s perhaps the greatest presidents ever versus George Washington. If not for Abe, we might be a handful of countries across the continent.
So take the normal photos in front and by the statue. And then let’s walk just a few feet and suddenly leave the crowd when going around the corners of the building at the top of the stairs.
It doesn’t matter which side you try, but I would say turn left exiting the statue chamber because it’s normal to turn right. We’re trying to ditch the crowd to get clean photos.
Once you turn the corner, look down the row of columns. It gives you a new perspective, an old world perspective of the monument. You can photograph those empty rows, but also have people stand behind the columns and stick only their heads out. It’s a funny photo.
Next, let’s go to the back side that faces the Potomac River and Virginia. On a winter’s day, look down the Memorial Bridge and you’ll see Robert E. Lee’s home on the hill and white grave stones of Arlington National Cemetery.
Focus on the water and be patient. Wait for a boat to come by for some perspective. On a spring morning, tree blossom turn the scene into some French impressionist painting, especially when raining.
Everyone photographs the Lincoln Memorial, White House and U.S. Capitol. Now you’re ready to see some hidden gems around town. The good news is they’re all around us. But if we’re going to rank the best hidden photo gems, here are three favorites you can easily find.
Teddy Roosevelt Island
Teddy Roosevelt Island is a speck of land in the Potomac River that has been abandoned for decades. You have to walk across a wooden bridge from the Arlington side off the GW Parkway (spacious, free parking) to reach the District island where you’ll find this 17-foot statue by Paul Manship plus two fountains and four large stone monoliths.
The rest of the 88.5 acres is filled with different opportunities. You’ll see deer at some point and riverfront views of Washington plus a marsh. Weekends can be busy, but there are chances to feel alone in the middle of the region’s six million people.
Arlington National Cemetery
Four million people annually visit the military cemetery. And, you can almost see the triangular rut they walk to John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
But you’re so missing out if that’s all you see. The far southern sections are my favorite. The ones in the far back offer endless rows of white head stones (and a reprieve from the rolling countryside) while the western sections (to the right when entering) are like a cathedral of stones as you walk below the rolling hillside. It’s here that you can truly capture the magic of Arlington while seeing legends like Audie Murphy, Joe Louis and President William Howard Taft.
It reminds me of the opening scene of “Married with Children,” though those fountains are in Chicago. The Senate Fountain on the north side of the dome complex is gorgeous with the U.S. Capitol as the backdrop. We often include this spot in our walking photo tours.
The great part of Washington is one-fourth of the land is owned by the federal government with so many national parks. Indeed, Washington’s the greenest major U.S. city with trees comprising 20 percent of the canopy.
Find some places off of the beaten path. At least, they’ll feel like it. Or better yet, come with us on our walking tours.
Happy birthday to . . . us.
Seven years of roaming the streets as a licensed Washington tour guide, seven years of blogging about what I see and learn. When will it end? I have no idea. Probably at least a few more years.
It was another interesting year. Hopes that political talk after the 2016 presidential election would end surely didn’t. Wow, people can be angry. I managed to dance around most discussions.
The Museum of the Bible opened in November to good reviews. I started picking up tours of groups coming to see the museum and using a guide around town who can talk about religion and our founding fathers.
During the spring school tours, two things came to mind. One, the eighth graders weren’t born on 9/11. Kinda blows the mind it has been that long ago. Two, these kids see John F. Kennedy as just a name in a book when we visit the eternal flame.
Personally, I’ve now seen 43 states after visiting Oregon, Idaho and Montana during a western swing that included Yellowstone National Park. I heartily recommend it, but dress warm even in the summer. We were in a snow squall in late June and temps never reached the 60s in three days. I also returned to New York City and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.
As for blog stats, things were down a little. I think it’s because I blocked Russia and China users who repeatedly tried to hack into my site. I closed my photo tours site because of the hacking and merged it here. I also added a 100 exhibits to see at the Smithsonians list to the blog.
In 2017, 14,832 visited Monumental Thoughts.The blog, which is called a Top 5 Read by the Huffington Post, has now drawn 145, 832 viewers. Well, 145,833 since you’re now reading this.
Google was my best friend, sending 7,783 visitors while 3,751 came direct. Twitter sent 934, Facebook 556, Bing 326, Yahoo 252 and Pinterest 47.
Readers came from 102 countries topped by the U.S., Canada, Russia, United Kingdom and Brazil respectively. Washington, D.C. was naturally the highest amount of readers followed by Maryland, Virginia, California, New York and Florida, but all 50 states were represented, including three folks from Alaska.
For the seventh straight year, rocks atop stones explaining why they’re atop Arlington National Cemetery graves was the most read story. The Watergate steps, Court of Neptune fountain, finding a name on the Vietnam Wall and how many are buried at Arlington were the most read stories afterwards. Translation: Nothing written last year made the top 10. Hmm.
Well, on to year eight, though the winter freeze has touring on hold for awhile. Time for some rest.
The Boy Scout represents the aspirations of all past, present, and future Scouts throughout the world. He carries a staff that has been taken from the male figure’s branch of peace. The scout wears the traditional uniform of the group complete with kerchief around his neck.
The bronze monument with a granite base has three figures. They represent the boy scout in the middle with an adult male and female behind him.
The male figure is a classic ancient statue that’s nearly unclothed but through his strong figure represented physical fitness. In his right hand is also the branch of peace.
The best times to photograph the Lincoln Memorial are at night and early morning. Otherwise, the overhead sun leaves it looking flat and the evening sun is behind the Lincoln to provide a dark photo.
Night photography can be easy, but a little tricky. National Park Service rules prohibit tripods that are often needed for time elapse photos. But, you can get away with it if farther out from the building in slower times of year. The Lincoln gets nearly seven million visitors annually so it can get really crowded in the spring especially and tripods are a hazard. A one-legged monopod is allowed, but you still have to hold it.
That said, most cameras, iPads and iPhones take a decent photo at night when the light leaks out of the Greek-inspired Parthenon building. I’m a big one on using the Rule of Thirds and standing to the right corner of the building to generate perspective.
The morning light reaches Lincoln with a golden glow. This burns out pretty quickly and while the morning overall isn’t bad, the best is the early rays.
Where should you stand? Depends on the pic you’re looking to get. You can get the sunrise over the Capitol dome at dawn from the top Lincoln steps. It’s a pretty cool photo.
Family photos should be on the steps down near street level. Have the photographer shooting up towards the family on the first rise.
What about the statue? Morning is definitely better with the sun behind you. On a rainy, foggy day, the inside area around the statue can get a really misty glow. It’s rare, but really cool on cool spring mornings.
So keep watching Mr. Lincoln. There are plenty of times and angles to capture.
But outside the South Korean Embassy along Massachusetts Ave. is not only a statue of Dr. Philip Jaisohn, but a second monument explaining the first. The statue matches the photo very well.
Now that’s service. I’m just going to let the board speak for itself.
“Dr. Philip Jaisohn was a pioneer of independence, democracy and public awakening for Korean people. After the failed 1884 reformation movement, he was exiled to the United States where he became the first Korean-born to become an American citizen. A graduate of Columbian Medical College, he
practiced medicine in Washington DC, later serving the US government as a wartime physician. Both in Korea and in the United States, Dr. Jaisohn made relentless efforts for the independence of Korea. In 1895, he briefly went back to his native soil where he founded the first Korean language newspaper. In 1919, he organized the Korean Independence campaign in Philadelphia. Dr. Jaisohn will forever be remembered as a leader of Korean-American community and a leading spirit for Korea’s democracy and modernization.”
Actually, U.S.-Cuban relations are a little complicated. The USS Maine blew up in Havana’s harbor on Feb. 15, 1898 and each side blamed the other. It led to the Spanish-American War that last 3 1/2 months — rivaling the War of 1812 as forgotten wars taught on a snow day in eighth grade U.S. history classes. You know, Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, San Juan Hill? The U.S. ended up gaining Guantanamo Bay that’s still an American base plus current territories Puerto Rico and Guam. We also bought the Philippines from Spain for $20 million as part of the deal.
Anyway, Havana created the USS Maine memorial dedicated to the 266 U.S. sailors that perished that day. The memorial was destroyed in 1926 by a hurricane and among the remains was the urn, which was given to U.S. president Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
The eight-foot, four-ton urn depicts the mast of the Maine with a message in Spanish saying the two countries would remain friends. It was first placed in Potomac Park before removed while the 14th St. Bridge was built in the 1940s. The urn stayed in storage until 2011 when the National Park Service placed it by the Potomac River in East Potomac Park in a little public parking lot few know almost underneath the 14th St. Bridge. (That parking lot is great for walking to the Jefferson Memorial.)
The U.S. and Cuba haven’t been friends in more than a half century, but one day I’ll be drinking rum in Havana and telling locals that Washington has an urn that says we’re friends.
Washington is the seventh most photographed city in the world, but some buildings and inside exhibits are barred.
The most prominent no-no is the Pentagon because it is a military installation. There are big signs on the perimeter that say no photos and they mean it. Occasionally, I’ll walk a group through the tunnel under I-395 into the parking lot on the way to the 9/11 memorial and someone will take a photo of the building. Moments later, a security vehicle will come by and tell people to stop. I’ve never seen security confiscate anything. Tourists aren’t spies and the police know it. Besides, someone with a long lens could photograph the Pentagon from the highway.
If visiting the 9/11 memorial, you can take photos of it like the one above and the building can be in the background.
On the National Mall, the only prohibition is no tripods because someone could trip in the heavy crowds. But, in less busy times you can usually use them for a brief photo. Just don’t take all day. And, don’t set up under Lincoln’s statue because the National Park rangers will stop you. No tripods by the White House, either.
Mostly, public buildings around town are made for photography. It’s the insides that includes some restrictions. The White House tour only allows cell phone photos, not for security reasons but because they want to keep the line moving.
The House, Senate and Supreme Court chambers and Library of Congress reading room prohibit photography. There are some art exhibits around town that also bar photos to avoid diminishing the old art. Also, no photos of George Washington’s false teeth at Mount Vernon.
Sometimes a guard comes out to the sidewalk to tell you no photos. Seems like every six months this comes up, probably because of new guards, and the police chief sends out a notice that photos are allowed in public areas. If it happens to you, chalk it up as bad luck and let it go. Arguing with security is never a good idea. I shudder to think what could happen.
Anyway, take all the photos you want. Even better, come on our photo tours and we’ll show you the good spots.
It’s not often you see who’s lying underground, but former U.S. Secretary of War William Worth Belknap’s image adorns a large bronze medallion on his marker at Arlington National Cemetery that’s worth a look.
Located near the Pan Am 103 memorial (red round marker to the left) and behind the Lee-Custis house’s amphitheater, the large granite marker remembers a former Georgetown law graduate who was the son of Gen. William Goldsmidt Belknap, who served during the Mexican war. The medallion was created by Carl Rohl-Smith.
Belknap (1829-90) rose from Colonel 15th Iowa Vol, Infantry in the Civil War to Brigadier & Brevet Major General U.S. while serving under Gen. William Sherman during the famed march across Georgia. President U.S. Grant appointed Belknap Secretary of War from 1869-1876.
Belknap’s downfall was marrying two sisters (one at a time naturally) who spent money like water. One allegedly sold a prominent position (cough, Rod Blagojevich, cough) that later led to impeachment proceedings against Belknap. He was acquitted by the Senate. Belknap returned to his law practice until his death.
A plaque at the bottom of the marker reads: “Erected by his comrades of the Crocker Iowa Brigade 11th, 13th, 15th and 16th Iowa infantry, Army of the Tennessee. Companions of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States and other friends.”
Navy commodore George Francis Cutter and his wife Mary Louisa Cutter rest in the rear of Arlington National Cemetery. The Section 1 memorial has an anchor atop a rocky memorial. It’s one of the more unusual markers in the cemetery that’s filled with unusual memorials.
Born 1819 in Massachusetts, began as a captain’s clerk in 1838. He became a prisoner when the USS Truxton wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico in August 1846 during the war with Mexico, but was part of a prisoner exchange four months later. Cutter worked his way up the ranks over the next 33 years before retiring in 1881. He died on Sept. 1, 1890.