Wordless Wednesday: Words of wisdom

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Happy 2018

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Monumental Thoughts turns 7

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.

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Christmastime in Georgetown

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White House Christmas tree

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Christmas village at 8th and F Sts. NW

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Boy Scout Memorial combines past and present

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.

Continue reading

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Best Lincoln Memorial photo tips

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.

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Statue of Dr. Philip Jaisohn looks like the real thing

Many statues kinda, sorta, maybe look like the person. Given many of the subjects are long dead, it’s not always easy to know how striking the likeness may be.

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.”

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Cuban Friendship Urn – we’re friends again

Cuban Friendship UrnNow that the U.S. has restored relations with Cuba after a half century of the Cold War, the Cuban Friendship Urn reminds us of a time when we were friends.

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.

Cuban Friendship UrnThe 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.




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Barred photo sites around Washington

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.

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The man behind the grave marker

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.”

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Marker gives a new meaning to ‘Anchors away’

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.

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Women In Military Service For America Memorial

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On the edge of Arlington National: Medgar Evers

I like to wander the edges of Arlington National Cemetery, by forgotten graves far from the hordes of visitors who don’t stray far from the Kennedy flame and Tomb of the Unknowns.

It’s peaceful, feeling like a cemetery instead of a tourist area. And, you’ll find the most interesting people on the edges.

With a race blocking access by most entrances one morning, I decided to park at the Iwo Jima memorial and walk into Arlington from the side entrance gate. It’s a little longer of a walk, but there’s nothing short about walking around ANC.

I came to the farthest grave on one side and decided to just see who it was. I was quite surprised I knew the person — Medgar Evars.

Evans returned from serving in World War II to become active in the civil rights movement, especially n the desegregation of the University of Mississippi. He was murdered on June 12, 1963 by Byron De La Beckwith of the White Citizens Council (Ku Klux Klan.)

Two juries of all white men were deadlocked on Beckwith’s guilt, but new evidence brought a murder conviction in 1994 — 31 years later. Beckwith died in prison in 2001.

Evers death was remembered by Bob Dylan in the 1963 song, “Only a Pawn in Their Game.” The 1996 movie “The Ghosts of Mississippi” focused on the second retrial.

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3 Iwo Jima flag raisers buried at Arlington National Cemetery

Iwo Jima Memorial


Battle of Iwo Jima

Seventy years have passed since five Marines and a Navy corpsman lifted a flag into the volcanic ash to inspire Americans into one last push to defeat the Japanese and end World War II.

And three of those men lie nearby at Arlington National Cemetery.

Rene Gagnon

Rene Gagnon

Pfc Rene Gagnon rests nearly within sight of the Iwo Jima Memorial. Sgt. Michael Strank lies in the middle of the cemetery while Pfc Ira Hayes is on the other end of the cemetery close to the Air Force Memorial.

Gagnon and Hayes along with Navy Pharmacist Mate 2C John Bradley would later be known for their war bond rallies that drew $26 billion in the months after raising the flag on Feb. 23, 1945.

Each one is worth remembering as their images on the Iwo Jima Memorial showed a nation that teamwork would finish a war which claimed 60 million people worldwide and more than 408,000 Americans.

Iwo Jima was a speck of a Pacific island about 600 miles from Japan. Its three airfields that could be used to refuel bombers attacking Japan made its capture vital. The problem was 22,000 Japanese soldiers abandoned on the island and told to die for their country.

The battle lasted from Feb. 19 to March 24 with 18,844 Japanese dead along with 216 taken prisoner and 3,000 unaccounted.

It would be the costliest engagement ever for the U.S. Marines with 6,841 dead and 19,217 wounded of the 70,000 deployed.

On the battle’s fifth day, a group was sent to place a flag on the island’s highest point, Mount Suribachi, to inspire American troops. Soon after, another group from Second Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, Easy Company that saw only 50 of 310 men survive, and a Navy corpsman who participated in both flag raisings, were sent to retrieve and place another flag whose raising was photographed by Associated Press photographer Joseph Rosenthal. That image won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize and launched the needed bond sales.

The story is well told by the book “Flags of our Fathers” by James Bradley, son of John Bradley. Clint Eastwood produced the movie version plus a Japanese version of the battle in “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

Michael StrankCorporal Harlon Block, the first figure anchoring the flag into the ground, and Strank were killed on March 1. Pfc Franklin Sousley died on March 21. Block was buried in Harlington, Texas, Sousley in Elizaville, Ky. and Bradley in Antigo, Wisc.

Hayes, a Pima Native American in Arizona, later rejoined his unit and served during the occupation of Japan. Sadly, he became an alcoholic who died in 1955 at age 32 of exposure. Gagnon lived an embittered life. Promised jobs during the bond drive didn’t follow and he spent his life as a janitor. Gagnon died in 1979. Bradley suffered shrapnel wounds on March 12. He later became a mortician before dying in 1994.

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Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of Remembrance

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San Martin rides tall among Latin American memorials


When researching the story of Gen. Jose de San Martin, it sounded so much like the nearby statue of Gen. Simon Bolivar that I had to double check I was looking at the latter. No wonder their statues are near each other.

San Martin was the founder of Argentine independence who later helped free Chile and Peru from Spanish rule, too. He even met with Bolivar, who was liberating other South American countries, though the two opted not to work together.

San Martin was born into a wealthy family, was educated in Spain while spending 28 years there. He even served in Spain’s military against Napoleon while rising to Lt. Colonel. Ironically, the Freemason also opposed Spain’s government and joined revolutionary forces in Buenos Aires in 1812. In a fete worthy of Hannibal, San Martin led forces across the highest Andes peak to defeat Spanish forces. He later resigned his commission and went into exile before dying in 1850.

The bronze statue was dedicated by U.S. President Calvin Coolidge in 1922 in Judiciary Square. It was moved in 1970 for what’s now the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, but rededicated in 1976 at Virginia Ave. and 21st. St. N.W.

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The grave in the tree at Arlington National Cemetery

The grave has almost been lost to a tree

Michael Burns’ grave in the rear of Arlington National Cemetery has a very large oak nearly swallowing the Civil War infantryman’s site. The standard stone marker is right next to the tree, which looks a good century old itself and obviously wasn’t there when Burns was buried in 1864. Makes you wonder what it will look like 50 years from now.

It made me wonder who was the man overshadowed by the tree. With the help of Ancestry.com, I found his records.

Born in Ireland in 1834, Burns enlisted May 13, 1861 as part of the Union Army’s 36th Regiment, A Company filled with men from Buffalo, N.Y. The private received a disability discharge on Oct. 30, 1862 in Washington, D.C. The separation papers list “Surgeon’s CTF at Washington, D.C.” as the reason. I wasn’t able to determine what that meant.

My best guess is Burns was injured during a battle outside Washington given the discharge location. He died Feb. 20, 1864, less than four months after his discharge. Everything indicates death was caused by an infection from a battle wound, but that’s just an educated opinion.

The “Washington Volunteers” lost 37 men to wounds and 31 to other causes. Burns was one.

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Happy Thanksgiving

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