Reagan National Airport in gingerbread

Inside the Willard Hotel is a gingerbread version of Reagan National Airport as you head from the lobby to the cafe. Please, don’t eat it.

The entire Willard Hotel pastry staff, headed by executive pastry chef Jason Jimenez, pastry cook Magenta Liverngood and engineer David Sanabria, worked on the display for more than 350 hours. The 400-pound work contains 100 LED lights, 30 feet of electrical wire, 306 pieces of gingerbread and 30 pounds of fondant for the runways. You’ll also hear a live feed from the airport’s control tower.


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Willard Hotel at Christmas

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Willard Hotel at Christmastime

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Merry Christmas from Monumental Thoughts

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Merry Christmas in Washington

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Rainy night at National Theatre

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Christmas at The Willard

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Politics never strays far in Washington

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White House at Christmas

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There are no boundaries to art

Sponge Bob is better known than a plumbob, but at the National Building Museum you’ll see the latter.

Bordering the museum on 4th, 5th, F and G Sts. NW, the Boundary Markers are 10-feet tall with a brick base and concrete for the workers and urn. Atop the marker is a hook that holds a hidden plumb bob inside an urn held by six construction workers. It symbolizes how all buildings are measured when constructed.

Created in 1968 by American sculptor Raymond Kaskey, whose American Law Enforcement Monument is just down the street, the markers have workers looking different to show tradesmen come from different backgrounds.

A plumb bob comes from the Latin term plumbbub for lead weight. The heavy weight goes straight down because of gravity. A plumbob is placed in an urn of oil so it doesn’t move. All measurements of a building from it because it’s centrally located.

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Remembering slain Annapolis journalists

Newseum recently added a tribute to the five journalists at the Annapolis Capital who were murdered in the newsroom in June.

It was personal to me. My good friend John McNamara was among the five. He was a sports writer like me that I’d known since the early 1980s when we both attended the University of Maryland. John loved Maryland basketball and I’ve missed him as the season is now underway.

I hadn’t been to the Newseum in a few years so I wandered about, but I most wanted to see this display that will be there through year’s end. It’s on the fifth floor by a large history sign.

Next year, John and the others will have their named engraved on the glass wall of journalists slain. I’m glad they’ll not be forgotten.

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The Newseum’s daily newspapers

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The other presidential assassination spot

Everyone goes to Ford’s Theatre to see where Abraham Lincoln died. And, thank goodness because that’s a big chunk of my tours.

But, it’s not the only presidential assassination spot in town. James Garfield (my 10th cousin) was shot at what’s now the National Gallery of Art’s West Building. It was the Baltimore & Potomac Railway Station and the new president was walking through it on July 2, 1881 when shot by a madman named Charles Guiteau. It seems Guiteau was told by God to become the U.S. ambassador to France despite no qualifications. When Guiteau was rebuffed, God said to kill Garfield so Guiteau shot him twice. “My God, what is this?” Garfield exclaimed.

Garfield died on Sept. 19, 1881 more from poor medical care than the bullets themselves. And Guiteau was surprised he wasn’t released from prison by a cheering public right up to the point when he was hanged nearly one year later.

Garfield was only president for four months. He’s best remembered by the black statue on the west side of the U.S. Capitol (where buses drop off) because he was a Congressman for 17 years.

Signs over the assassination were recently installed on the National Mall side of the art gallery and aren’t in the exact spot where Garfield was shot. The train station was demolished in 1908.

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City sidewalks, dressed in holiday style

Looking for a little holiday spirit? I’d wander along F St. NW from 15th to 9th Sts.

Businesses along this route generally have large wreaths along this stretch. After seeing the National Christmas Tree near 15th, you’ll pass places like the Willard Hotel, Hamilton restaurant and more. By 9th St. you’ll visit the Christmas village of local artisans. I actually bought something this year.

So don’t be a grinch. Take a stroll down Christmas way.

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Even Pandas wait at Metro Center

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Visiting the National Christmas tree by the White House has been a regular activity since my parents took me when I was around five-years old. (Funny, the trees seemed a lot bigger then.)

This year’s version is a stunner. The tree is a living Colorado Blue Spruce that’s there all year and people like to see it even in the summer. But this year’s may be the best I remember.

I’ve only been to the official lighting once. It’s typically really cold or raining and sure enough it was blustery and frigid this year so I’m glad to have watched it on TV. But, my wife and I went the next night when it was a little warmer and much less crowded. It’s always fun to see the trains running underneath and this year my coin landed on the train as it passed.

The White House tree isn’t the only stunner in town. The U.S. Capitol tree doesn’t require tickets for its lighting and you can park in the nearby parking lots after 5 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends (despite what the signs say. I’ve asked the Capitol police.) The tree in City Center (which I disagree as a name, but whatever) is pretty nice, too.

So, wander around town at night. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

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The man behind two metro stops – David Farragut

David Farragut

David Farragut — you know the person much be important when two metro stops are named for him.

David Farragut was a Civil War admiral who uttered the saying now paraphrased, “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead.” He said it differently, but history doesn’t let facts get in the way of a good story.

Anyway, Farragut had his ups and downs in the Union Navy. He freed New Orleans from a blockade, but suffered a major defeat at the siege of Port Hudson. However, Farragut rebounded by winning the Battle of Mobile Bay on Aug. 5, 1864 that was the Confederacy’s final major port on the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite heavily mined, Farragut ordered the fleet into battle. When a mine (then called torpedo) hit the USS Tecumseh, other ships started retreating before Farragut ordered, “Damn the torpedos. Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead. Jouett, full speed.”

Farrgut won the battle and was promoted to vice admiral. He later became a full admiral in 1866 and served active duty until dying in 1870 at age 69.

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Finally walked by Mayor Barry statue

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Fast finish to tour season

Well, Thanksgiving’s over and so is tour season. Aside a tour here and there, most guides are spending the next two months sitting by the fire and glad to escape winter’s cold.

Strangely, the season ended with a flourish –five tours in 10 days. Folks from London to Atlanta to Boston to I can’t remember. It felt like springtime.

But along the way a couple unique experiences showed there’s always something new ahead.

The first was at Ford’s Theatre where I’ve been hundreds of times given I specialize in Lincoln assassination tours. The theater was closed as they readied for a new play, but we could go to the balcony. The ranger mentioned the Lincoln box was open. Took me a half second to head over to the room that’s normally sealed. Finally, a chance for an up close look at where Lincoln was shot. I’ve heard of the door being opened, but never saw it until now.

My tourists seemed only slight impressed. I was the one walking away with a big grin. Hey, works for me.

The second came at the Supreme Court. After seeing the chamber, I noticed people exiting across the hallway onto the second-story balcony above the tall steps in the building’s front. Again, a half second later, I was there taking in the view. Maybe this happens more often, but it was my first time in eight years of guiding.

It just shows an old dog does find a new bone now and then.

Wonder what’s next?






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Baptist Alley gets overlooked

I’ve seen several tours of the Lincoln assassination as well as the one I give and one spot that’s often overlooked is Baptist Alley.

It’s the rear of Ford’s Theatre where assassin John Wilkes Booth entered and exited. The alley to the theater is called Baptist Alley because the theater was originally a Baptist church.

I don’t know of a tour that goes behind the theater aside mine. And, I only do it during the day. It seems like a security risk at night even though it’s very clean and essentially a bunch of office buildings surrounding the alley. But, you just can’t take a chance in the dark. I have no problem walking it during the day, though.

The rear wall shown above is the original wall. You can see a lot of changes by windows now bricked up. But, the doorway that Booth used is still there. Pretty cool.

The alley during the April 13, 1865 assassination was bordered by stables and shanty tents. Remember this was still the Civil War and not enough housing for the huge influx of people in the town. Booth could pass through it without notice, especially since he was a theater regular.

To reach the alley from Ford’s, walk up to F St., turn right, walk about a half block and you’ll see the entrance shown right. Just follow the alley to the rear.

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