Gold thieves — beware the griffins

Plenty of treasure hunters come to Washington looking for riches, but the guardians are always there to protect our gold.

Two Acacia Griffins protect the Acacia Mutual Life Insurance Building at 51 Louisiana Ave. N.W. in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. The limestone sculptures by Edmond Romulus Amateis are 5 ½ feet wide, 4 ½ feet wide and 9 feet deep. The pair were placed by the main entranceway in 1936.

Griffins were fabled protectors of gold in Scythia, which was north of Greece. Seems the Arimaspians were always unsuccessfully trying to steal the gold only to be stopped by the griffins. Their image was used throughout medieval Europe as protectors.

These two statues have a female on the left and a male on the right holding eggs in their paws. The word acacia is traced to an ancient tree that symbolizes immortality.

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On vacation: Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

One thing I love about traveling is seeing places I’ve long heard about and never expected to see. But in my annual bucket list of travels, I recently found myself walking across the Brooklyn Bridge on a warm fall afternoon.

It was crowded, but nobody offered to sell it. There was a wedding on the pedestrian path. A worker cut off locks on a pole by a sign saying $100 fine for locks. Bikes whizzed by on the left and traffic underneath as we slowly walked slightly uphill after starting from the Manhattan side.

By midpoint, the Brooklyn and Manhattan skylines rose around us. After 40 minutes of steady walking, we were on a Brooklyn pier staring at the big buildings before us like mountains with snowcaps. Instead of walking bad, though, we took the ferry.

So now I’ve crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn off my list (along with Harlem later.) Not a bad day and a good workout. Maybe next time I’ll go to Staten Island on the free ferry.

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Wordless Wednesday: Roof work at Mount Vernon

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Secret White House entrance is no secret

Is something a secret if everyone that cared to know about it since 1941 indeed knows about it?

Visitors often asked about whether there are secret tunnels from the White House. They’re thinking of the 1993 movie “Dave” where a lookalike subbed for a president in a coma and slipped in and out of the White House.

Well, I don’t know about the one from the film, but there’s a passage that runs to an alley seen from H. St. across Lafayette Park. It has a gate and guardhouse protecting the alley so good luck trying to access the tunnel.

Supposedly, the tunnel was built in the 1941 that includes the Treasury Annex that may have been an equal reason for an underground passage to protect currency runners. World War II saw officials worried over FDR being vulnerable to aerial bombings. That a Congressman complained of its costs during a hearing made the tunnel public knowledge.

So, it’s no secret, but let’s just say not trying to see it is common knowledge.

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Handscaping U.S. Capitol grounds was visionary

Give Frederick Law Olmsted credit — he didn’t miss a thing.

When landscaping the U.S. Capitol grounds in 1874, Olmstead wanted to create things that were both aesthetic and functional. The walls were low so the public could see over them. Lanterns like the one shown above lit the grounds at night. The fountains now even have meters to lower the water pressure in heavy winds. Modern architects now call this type of landscaping as handscaping.

This photo is on the west side by the Peace Monument where many tour groups meet their bus. It’s a typical corner of the wall with a good look at the lantern.

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Wordless Wednesday: U.S. Botanic Gardens

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Update: The man with the dog on the Korean War Memorial

Korea1The Korean War Memorial’s Wall of Remembrance is often overlooked by passersby concentrating on the statues. But, it has so many great images among the 1,500 that are worth seeing.

And the best is for last – the German Shepherd is one panel from the right end. The 26th Scout Dog Platoon arrived in Korea in May 1951. They were used for sentry duty and taught to silently warn guards of coming enemy when barking would have tipped Koreans that Americans knew they were coming.

The dogs worked mostly nights and rotated to work every four days not to overtax them. The 1,500 dogs used during the war had one problem – the wind and terrain made it difficult for them to use their sense of smell to distinguish the enemy.

UPDATE: The man with the dog on the wall was Raymond Donnelly, Jr., whose son Tripp contacted me with more information. A Massachusetts native, Donnelly was in the the 24th Infantry Division’s highly-decorated 5th Regimental Combat Team, Intelligence and Reconnaissance Group. He was the only member of his 19-member training class to survive the war.

Donnelly later worked at several major U.S. newspapers as an editor and compositor while also serving on presidential campaigns of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy plus Hubert Humphrey and Sen. Scoop Jackson. Donnelly also served as a director of the Democratic National Convention and with NASA before retiring to work on the Korean War Veterans Memorial organization. He died in 2003 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

 

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Meridian Hill Park is for lovers?

Saw three wedding couples posing for photos on Saturday.

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Two men carry another while a woman shows compassion. The Red Cross Men and Women Killed in Service statue in the Red Cross courtyard at 17th and D Sts. N.W. is the perfect example of what the organization means.

The seven-foot statues, dedicated in 1959 by Gen. Mark Clark, were sculpted by Felix de Weldon., who wanted to show the organization’s compassion and strength. Nobody wears uniforms to represent the group’s willingness to help everyone. Clark was there to represent World War II when 78 Red Cross workers were killed.

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Wordless Wednesday: Pizza at Ledo in College Park

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Remembering a soldier’s death – John Rodgers Meigs

A life-sized bronze Union soldier is shown atop his grave just like this final moments were spent. It’s pretty dramatic in Arlington National Cemetery filled with overwhelming memorials.

John Rodgers Meigs was the third generation of a proud military family. His grandfather was Commodore John Rodgers, a naval officer in the War of 1812. His father was Major Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, who’s buried aside his son.

Meigs was a West Pointer who left to serve as an aide-de-camp of General Philip Sheridan during the First Battle of Bull Run before later graduating first in his 1863 class.

Meigs served at Gettysburg and the Shenandoah Valley, rising to brevetted captain and major for gallantry. On Oct. 3, 1864, Meigs and two others went against three Confederate cavalrymen outside Dayton, Va. Meigs were killed and Sheridan burned 30 homes and barns in retaliation before learning it was a fair fight and not Confederate guerillas executing Meigs. Still, Meigs’ father posted a $1,000 for the killer even after the war’s end.

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The far side of Mount Vernon

I’ve been to Mount Vernon countless times over a half century since growing up across the Potomac River from the mansion. But I’ve only been down to the boat ramp and far crops twice.

Yeah, that’s nuts.

Nearly all of the visitors to President George Washington’s colonial estate head for the mansion and then his tomb. It’s a fair walk overall, especially with a big hill awaiting the return to the museum. Between limited time and the walk, most people never see the far end that’s really not that far away.

On a nice fall day and no clients after a meeting at Mount Vernon, I was restless for a long walk. So, I headed to the water. It’s easy to find. From the tomb, just take the path straight down to the water’s edge where a modern dock welcomes those arriving by boat. It’s maybe a five-minute walk, but downhill.

Sit on the benches for a few minutes and watch the Potomac River pass by on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. You’ll feel a million miles away from town. It’s then a couple minutes to walk to Washington’s fields of corn, cabbage and squash. It’s just a small patch of the estate’s once 8,000 acres that fed 340 people on the plantation, but at least you see some crops. There’s also Washington’s round barn that he designed. Pretty unique.

Now, how do you get back? Well, there’s a shuttle bus every 20 minutes that will take you to the museum. For those with mobility problems, it’s a fine option. (The bus will also take you from the museum to the water.) But there’s also a path straight through the woods that will burn a few calories and end nearly at the top of the hill. You’ll feel a sense of achievement when emerging from the woods.

So if you have extra time and a desire for some extra steps, don’t stop at the mansion or tomb. Keep going.

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Wordless Wednesday: Cavalry comes to Grant’s rescue

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Finding Abingdon plantation inside airport

There’s a colonial plantation at Reagan (Washington National to locals) Airport. Or rather, there’s an airport on an old colonial plantation.

I had to check out Abingdon Plantation when first learning of it from a company specializing in unique urban sites. I’ve flown out of DCA hundreds of times since 1972 and never knew this. With some googling and help from a friend who works at the airport, I parked in Garage A and walked the sidewalk towards Garage B. And there it was. Not that you’d ever know. It can’t be seen from the road and who walks between garages?

Anyway, the plantation is best known as the birthplace of Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, who was the step granddaughter of George and Martha Washington.

The estate was created in 1669 by shipmaster Rovert Howson for settlers brought to Virginia. It would be sold to John Alexander for 6,000 pounds of tobacco.

Flash forward to 1778 where John Parke Custis, son of Martha Washington by a previous marriage, bought Abingdon and 1,000 acres to be near Mount Vernon. Custis died in 1781 while serving in the Revolutionary War and Nelly along with brother George would move to Mount Vernon where they were raised by the Washingtons.

Flash forward to 1864 and a few owners later when the federal government seized the land for unpaid taxes. Two more generations and several owners later, the abandoned house burned in 1930. Soon after, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided Abingdon would make a swell airport.

Today, the brick foundation of two sites of the mansion, several signs and a few benches dot the small site. You can mostly see the main terminal in the distance and a small view of the Potomac River. It makes you imagine what a nice view it had in the day.

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A window underseas – World War II Submarine Memorial

It is a window to nowhere and to the seven seas.

The World War II Submarine Memorial honoring those who served in the “Silent Service” faces the U.S. Navy Memorial near the Lone Sailor statue. The stained-glass window with a bronze frame is only seen from the outside because there’s a staircase inside.

A 8-by-10 foot work by sculptor Leo C. Irrera and stained glass artist R. Leo Pelkington, there are multiple scenes in the lives of World War II submariners. Fifty-two submarines with 3,505 sailors were lost during the war.

 

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Wordless Wednesday: Octagon House

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Baa baa Black Sheep – Pappy Boyington

You know who Gregory “Pappy” Boyington was even if you weren’t alive during World War II.

The popular 1970s TV show “Black Sheep Squadron” remembered the Marine pilot who shot down 28 enemy planes before down himself and spending the final two years of the war in a prisoner of war camp.

Boyington spent five years in the Marines before resigning in 1941 to join the Flying Tigers in China as an American volunteer unit. He rejoined U.S. forces after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and led a unit of replacement pilots known as the Black Sheep. Boyington was then 30-years old, a decade older than his pilots who dubbed him “Pappy.”

Discovered in a POW camp after the war, Boyington received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman before retiring in 1947 as a colonel. He was later married four times with one of his three children becoming a pilot during the Vietnam War.

Boyington is buried in Arlington National Cemetery’s section 7A just a few stones to the left of boxer Joe Louis’ large marker.

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Righting a wrong in American history

Our country has plenty of ugly moments.

Slavery and the American Indian wars were the 19th century blunders that we thought were behind us. And then World War II came with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Suddenly, 112,000 Japanese-American citizens in Hawaii and the West Coast were imprisoned in internment camps. Civil liberties were suspended. It was another awful moment in our history.

The Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II (maybe the longest titled monument in town) was erected in 2000 at Louisiana Ave., New Jersey Ave. and D St. N.W. near the U.S. Capitol to serve as a reminder the U.S. Constitution that protects our rights.

The elaborate park includes two bronze cranes entrapped in barbed wire, their wings unable to fly. The crane is a Japanese symbol of longevity. Granite wars include the names of 10 internment camps and 800 Japanese-American soldiers killed in the war.

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Wordless Wednesday: Atop the Big Red One

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National Arboretum worth trip to edge of town

I used to jog (really) in the Arboretum in the late 1980s while working at the Washington Times. The Arboretum had an open gate by the newspaper along New York Ave.  and I ran best I could around the park. The place always seemed empty and its rolling small hills and natural setting were perfect.

Flash forward 30 years.

The last Sunday of the year before the NFL dominates my schedule (I’m a sports writer in another life) saw my wife and I wonder how we should spend a beautiful fall afternoon. We’ve kinda done everything around town so it’s not easy finding something new.

“The U.S. National Arboretum,” I said. “We haven’t been there in a long time.”

There were people everywhere throughout the 446 acres with nine miles of road. The Arboretum offers a variety of plants and trees with different ones blooming during the year. Established in 1927 by Congress, it’s used for research by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Perhaps the most visited section is the U.S. Capitol columns. The Corinthian columns were once used on the East Portico of the Capitol dome from 1828-64 when a new dome (termites ate the old one) was constructed. The columns were stored until 1984 when relocated to the Arboretum surrounded by 20 acres of meadow with several surrounding paths letting you escape into nature. The columns lie atop stones also used at the Capitol.

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