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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Wordless Wednesday: Arlington National Cemetery

arlington national cemetery

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This old stone 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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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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Wordless Wednesday: Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza

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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 – National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial

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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Wordless Wednesday: The Willard

Capital Photo History Tour - Booth_3611

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Happy Labor Day


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Saying goodbye to summer is always bittersweet

Capital Photo History Tour - Booth_3620I love summer, but by the end I’m ready for its end. The searing heat has worn me down. So have the sweaty tours and sweaty tourists.

Beach residents have a saying about summer and tourists — they’re glad to see them come and glad to see them go. I know the feeling.

Oh, we’re not closing down like the beach on Labor Day. Instead, the best weather of the year is coming. Indian summer warm days with no humidity are my favorites. Football season is here. An endless series of fall events each weekend. It’s my favorite time of year. Too bad it leads to winter.

Our Capital Photo History Tours are back after a short hiatus and we have plenty of one-time events. Mount Vernon, Capitol Hill, National Mall and Teddy Roosevelt Island will all be offered once along with our usual outings like the Lincoln assassination, Georgetown and Embassy Row.

So it’s safe to come out now that the searing heat and heavy crowds are gone. Let’s reclaim our town and take some great photos. Come along on my tours now because, uh, I’m raising rates in 2017 after holding steady for five years.

And don’t worry, it won’t be long before we’re all complaining about the cold.

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Wordless Wednesday: Window into history

Capital Photo History Tour - Booth_3630

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Lafayette urns have their mystery

Lafayette urns

Much like the urns in the gardens of the Versailles Palace, these two Lafayette urns were forged in the same furnaces that created Union cannons in the Civil War. They were used for flowers in the late 1880s, but now sit on pedestals in Lafayette Park. They are inscribed simply “Ordnance Dept. U.S. Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. 1872.

The urns are 5 feet high, 4 feet wide. Little is known of their creation and no classical precedent can be assigned.

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Lafayette – the Frenchman that Americans loved

The General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette was a key figure in American winning its independence. Lafayette blocked the escape route of the British ships at Yorktown, thus forcing Gen. Cornwallis to surrender to George Washington.

Lafayette stands atop a marble pedestal wearing civilian dress, but carrying a sword. He holds a cloak in his left arm while his right is outstretched, maybe to friends.

The woman below symbolizes American. She beckons Lafayette with a sword to implore him to fight for America.

On each side are two generals. On the right are Comte de Estaing and Grasse with an anchor indicating their French naval forces sent to help. On the left are Comte de Rochembeau and Chevalier de Portail with the cannon indicating their French army. On the rear side are two cherubs indicating the delight of the people.

The bronze statue is eight feet high and four feet wide, but the whole monument is 36 feet high and 20 feet wide.

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Wordless Wednesday: Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

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Native Washingtonian 101 – It’s “War-shington”

Want to sound like a local? Here’s the first clue – we say “War-shington.”

Yes, we sneak an “r” in there. I don’t know why. It’s not because this town makes war on other countries. It’s just something we say and it’s a real clue as to who’s a local. Kinda like a suburban town a few miles south of the city that I spent many childhood years called Accokeek that is pronounced by locals as “Accakeek.” Drives non-locals crazy thinking someone’s spelling it wrong.

Whatever – “Warshington” is a tell on who’s who.

I could amend my pronunciation to “Washington” but why should I? I’m from here and living here. To those who correct me or say I sound funny, I say you’re the non-local who sounds funny to us.

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James Garfield Memorial – my 6th cousin

The only thing I knew about James Garfield was he was once U.S. president. I would have struggled to write a fifth-grade report on him

But coming across Garfield’s memorial on the U.S. Capitol grounds intrigued me into learning more. Turns out he was shot three months into his presidency in 1881 by a failed job applicant and died three months later at age 50.

And you thought today’s economic times was tough.

The only clergy member to serve as president, Garfield is also the only person in U.S. history to be a Representative, Senator-elect and President-elect simultaneously. He was not only left-handed, but known to simultaneously write in Latin in one hand and in English with the other. (My handwriting looks like Latin, but is really English.) Garfield was related to a Mayflower passenger later convicted of murder.

Continue reading

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Wordless Wednesday: Washington at night

Washington at night

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Where do tour guides go on vacation?

Central ParkThe plan last spring seemed simple: head to New York City for a couple of days I had free in mid-August and see the sites.

Who knew it was going to feel like 107 degrees?

I know, it was even a touch worse in Washington, but who wants to spend good money on vacation on the sidewalks to hell?

Actually, we had a good time despite the inferno.

Growing up in Washington meant thinking New York was some crowded place of different people that we wouldn’t like. But, I’ve been to the city about 50 times over my life and must say it’s a nice place. Maybe too cold and crowded for me to live there, but I’ve always found the people to be nice and the city to be amazing.

In recent years, we started going to Manhattan. I hadn’t been there since a school field trip in 1972. But, everyone should see the sites of New York City. The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, United Nations, Times Square . . . it goes on and on.

This time, we did new things. We saw our first Broadway show — On Your Feet, the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. It was awesome. The theater was a little smaller than I expected and the crowd was more casually dressed than the old days, but it was a top-notch show.

Now I run my own photo tours of Capital Photo History Tours, but one can always learn something so my wife, an avid photographer and I tried a photo tour of Central Park. Again, an excellent experience using Citifari. I’d never been inside Central Park — what a grand combination of music, arts and recreation. The tour guide was a funny local with some jokes I can, uh, borrow.

We also visited the 9/11 Memorial. A large black hole with water running down into it without visible end on the site of the old Twin Towers. Pretty impressive.

Overall, I’m saying when you’re done visiting Washington, don’t be intimidated over going to New York. Yes, everything is big and crowded, but that’s part of the charm.

Oh, and one last thing, Amtrak is a civilized way to travel.

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The Concert makes you stop

The ConcertI’ll admit to not knowing much about art, but I know what I like and “The Concert” by Dutch artist Gerrit Van Honthorst made me stop, sit and ponder.

The 1623 oil painting hangs in the National Gallery of Art, West Wing, falls into my favorite category of big in size yet intimate enough to get a personal read. Honthorst liked scenes of contrasting dark and light with big gestures. Here, we see a musical group whose outfits give Hornthorst a chance to use vibrant colors. The painting also shows that following a leader produces great results.

The best part of the National Gallery of Art is its free admission where most similar venues would charge at least $20 elsewhere. All part of your tax dollars at work.

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Wordless Wednesday: Don’t mess with a T-Rex


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