Best places to see downtown fireworks?

Can I say on watching fireworks on TV from my living room is my plan and not sound like a crotchety old man?

I spent the 1980s with a million others listening to the Beach Boys concerts on the national Mall before some politician thought it was somehow un-American. I learned a few things from those days.

If you want to go down to the Washington Monument to see the best fireworks in town, go ahead. Just be prepared for massive crowds, massive delays and massive heat. Don’t worry, you’ll be home in time to go to work on Thursday.

Mostly, that’s the twenty-something crowd with no kids that can handle that mess. It’s fun when you’re young, not so much when you’re older.

But here are a few good places where you can still see the fireworks.

The Air Force Memorial in Arlington is the best vantage point on the Virginia side of the river. Great view of the entire city, plenty of free parking and you’re ahead of the departing crowd. This is much better than the Iwo Jima Memorial except the latter has a closer metro stop.

The U.S. Capitol has an Independence Day concert by the military at 8 p.m. (get there by 6 p.m.) with the backdrop of fireworks.

East Potomac Park isn’t too crowded so a picnic dinner by the water is possible.

Gravelly Point by National Airport gets crowded, but it’s a nice park setting on the Virginia side.

Naturally, anyone can say the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial or Jefferson Memorials are great sites, but they’re virtually by the Washington Monument so all of downtown is lumped into one in my opinion. Lots of security, lines and long metro ride home. The rooftop bars are great, too, but just walking into one without reservations isn’t easy.

Like I said, my couch and remote are looking good this year.

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Locks on bridges reach Georgetown C&O Canal

I was standing on the red pedestrian bridge across the C&O Canal in Georgetown when I spotted a lock under the rail. It contained a heart with”Corbett & Camilla 12/2/13″ attached.


Locks on bridges have become popular worldwide. I first saw them in San Francisco in 2014 and last year on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City where a sign saying not to attach locks was surrounded by them. Ironically, I saw a city worker with bolt cutters taking them off. Spoil sport.

The locks symbolize eternal love between a couple. After attaching the lock to the bridge, the couple is supposed to throw the key into the water so the lock (and their love) remains forever.


After noticing one lock, I suddenly saw five others along the bridge. Maybe they’ve been there for awhile unnoticed. Either way, I hope Corbett and Camila are doing well.

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My 1,000th post

Eight years ago, I started this blog as a new tour guide. It chronicles much of what I learn and see as a tour guide in my hometown of Washington, D.C.

And this is post No. 1,000.

Wow, where does the time go? One thousand thoughts and photos. The blog was named a Top 5 Read by the Huffington Post, but I freely admit a blog on statues and monuments isn’t sexy reading or a required morning briefing. Still, through sheer numbers and perseverance I average about 50 readers per day. It’s about the only writing I do without pay given my 40 years as a journalist, though occasionally it leads to a private tour.

The most read post was about the stones atop graves at Arlington National Cemetery. Not else comes even close. On Memorial Day or Wreaths Across America day, hundreds of people still find me via Google to learn about the rocks.

Do I have anything more so say? Well, one thing I’ve learned as a guide is history is not static or all in the past. Things change all the time. So, I’ll keep guiding and writing as long as I can keep walking.

So watch out – I’m still on the move.

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Sunflower maze in the calm of Southern Maryland

The McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Poolesville, Md. is a great field of sunflowers. I really enjoyed it until everyone found out and the place was overrun. So I have a new alternative for you in another direction – Ladybugs Alive.

Head to Chaptico in Southern Maryland where a family farm turned a section into sunflowers for the birds to eat and people to wander. The maze isn’t too hard, but not simple either. You’ll be glad to find the end. But it’s fun to walk for a short while before finding those blessed picnic tables in the shade.

The sunflowers should peak around July 1 so head there this weekend.



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Lobsterman gets a new spot

Sometimes you have to change fishing grounds, and in this case a new dock.

The Maine waterman, nicknamed the Lobsterman, has been moved as part of the new SW Waterfront from Sixth and Waters Sts. to the Fish Market at 11th and Maine Sts. It looks like they just lifted the statue and boulder from the previous spot and dumped it on the new grounds, though the old plaque wasn’t around. It’s all part of the ongoing building in the area.

Sculptor Victor Kahill modeled the bronze sculpture atop a Maine granite boulder after a real waterman – H. Elroy Johnson, who died in 1973 just one year after being used for the statue. Three copies were made and the one at the Maine State Museum and Library was transferred to Washington in 1983.

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Ahoy there – stop by the U.S. Navy Memorial

Washington has many wonderful fountains. The World War II Memorial’s may be the best at night. The Library of Congress’ Court of Neptune is akin to Rome’s Trevi Fountain. The ones on the sides of the U.S. Capitol are interesting.

But one that often gets overlooked amid its setting is the U.S. Navy Memorial on 7th and Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. across the National Archives. The metro stop literally comes up to the fountains.

The Granite Sea plaza has two shades to show land and sea areas. The scale of the world map is as seen by a spaceship 800 miles above Earth.

The west pool honors international navies, the eastern pool remembers those serving in the U.S. Navy. The cool part is the pools are annually salted by water brought from each of the seven seas.

In the  plaza’s rear is The Lone Sailor. The bronze is made from artifacts from eight U.S. Navy ships. The seven-foot sculpture was created by Stanley Bleifeld in 1987 and modeled after Petty Office 1st clas Dan Maloney. The sailor wears a pea coat over his uniform with his canvas bag holding his possessions while waiting to board his ship.



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Wordless Wednesday: FLOTUS china over the years

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Sons of Revolutionary War at Arlington National Cemetery

While Arlington National Cemetery didn’t open until 80 years after the Revolutionary War, there are 11 veterans interred there. Nine are in Section 1 in the cemetery’s rear near the Fort Meyer gate while Pierre L’Enfant and Hugh Auld are in Section 2 near Arlington House. This makes Arlington the nation’s only cemetery with veterans from every war.

James McCubbin Lingan was one tough hero of this country who survived a bayoneting and 3 1/2 years as a prisoner of war during the Revolutionary War only to be beaten to death by a mob in 1812 while defending the freedom of the press.

Lingan was a prisoner on the British ship “Jersey” where he refused an offer of $10,000 and a commission to switch sides. Lingan also defended a dead prisoner from soldiers sawing off the dead man’s legs to fit into a smaller casket.

A general by war’s end, Lingan was well regarded by George Washington and appointed a collector in the port of Georgetown, which is now part of the nation’s capital. Lingan later became a founding member of the Society of the Cincinnati.

When a Baltimore paper published an editorial opposing the War of 1812, Lingan defended his friend Alexander Hanson from those claiming the stance was unpatriotic. Lingan and Hanson were escorted to the local jail for protection, but the mob broke in and beat Lingan to death.

Lingan was buried in Georgetown, but later re-interred at Arlington on Nov. 5, 1908.

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New perspective can make you feel like an idiot

I wrote about a tree in Arlington National Cemetery that nearly overtook a grave. But I came upon the tree from the opposite angle recently and there was a second grave tucked in the other side of the tree I hadn’t seen. Wow, how did I miss that?

So this is the story of Corporal Charles Ippel, whose headstone is nearly completely covered by the oak tree. That Ippel died on July 26, 1863 and Michael Burns died on Feb. 20, 1864 means the tree in between grew afterwards. At least, I hope so.

Ippel was a member of the 82nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry, which was all German, and Company C, which was all Jewish. He enlisted in Sept. 26, 1862 with papers saying he was from Chicago, married and worked as a cooper. Ippel immigrated from Antwerp, Germany on Nov. 4, 1848 at age 21 through the port of New York.

Military records show Ippel died on July 26, 1863, three weeks after the “Second Hecker Regiment” fought at Gettysburg after an earlier engagement at Chancellorsville. No reason was given.

As written earlier, Burns buried on the other side of the tree was in the Union Army’s 36th Regiment, A Company from Buffalo. Born in Ireland in 1834, Burns enlisted May 13, 1861. 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. He died on Feb. 20, 1864.

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Wordless Wednesday: Turning walls into wallpaper

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The curious tale of Socrates Hoffin, uh Hofius

Wandering Arlington National Cemetery’s back regions, I came across a grave that just struck me. Socrates Hoffin – sounded like a cool name. Figured I’d look him up.

And there began the journey. After searching military records that list him as Hoffin, I finally found his real name was Hofius when researching on I later confirmed it on the regiment’s muster rolls.

The saddest part – he was in the army only three months at the end of the Civil War and died shortly before its conclusion.

A miner born in Hickory, Pa. on March 16, 1842 to farmer George Hofius, Socrates enlisted in the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company H on March 13, 1865. The private was killed June 2, 1865.

Records say the 87th fought several battles in Northern Virginia while Hofius was with them, but nothing on June 2. The regiment lost 202 men during its four years with 90 killed in battle and 112 dying from disease.

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Remember the Alamo and Graceland – my vacation road trip

I’ll remember the Alamo and much more off my recent vacation that snaked 1,046 miles from Memphis to San Antonio.

Yes, tour guides travel sometimes for pleasure, too. My wife and I aren’t ones to just sit on the beach (hot and boring) so we usually see cities. But, in my quest to reach 50 states, we’ve taken some long rides the last two years. I knocked off Idaho, Oregon and Montana during a five-state journey last year highlighted by Yellowstone Park. This time, I reached 45 states by adding Arkansas and Oklahoma between Tennessee and Texas.

(I know – what’s left? Vermont, Nebraska, Iowa, Alaska and Hawaii. I figure by 2021 I’ll be a 50-stater and then think about traveling to all seven continents. I’ve currently seen Europe and Asia as well as North America. I have this retirement fantasy that after seeing Hawaii, we keep going to Australia, head over to China for the Great Wall, then fly home via South Africa and South America. Antarctica will be the last continent with my sons-in-law so someone can save me from the penguins.)

Anyway, here’s a quick summary of my recent Americana journey.


Day 1: Nothing like frequent flyer miles to cause a longer trip. We flew to Memphis via Dallas (yes, I know that was backwards) and saw Graceland. I hadn’t been to Elvis’ home in 20 years and it was the first time for my wife. The key difference from my first visit is a small city of related Elvis museums, planes and restaurants across the street. Wow, what a change. The house itself looks smaller than it is and there’s lots of cool memorabilia. Of course, the tour ends at Elvis’ grave.

We then stayed at the Pyramid on the river, which has a hotel and the biggest Bass Pro you’ve ever seen. They have live alligators! The hotel was awesome. I worried it would be the best of five different hotel rooms that week to spoil us, but the best was still to come.

Day 2: We saw the assassination site of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Beale Street before leaving town. I talk about MLK on tours all the time so it was fitting to see where it all ended. Lots of folks there.

Clinton Presidential Library

It was only 100 miles to Little Rock, Arkansas on a holiday weekend with no road construction. We dodged a real bullet there. Little Rock is a quaint little town. Our focus was the Bill Clinton Presidential Library. Yes, it was really starting to get hot as our trip was about 100 degrees every day, but that didn’t deter us from also walking over the big bridge by the library to see the city. The library did a good job of meshing video with events of his presidency. It’s a couple hours reliving the ‘90s.

We stayed at the Capital Hotel where the service was just awesome. I heartily recommend it. The post-Civil War hotel includes the widest elevator you’ll ever see, supposedly so President Grant could bring his horse inside during a visit.

Oklahoma – my 45th state

Day 3: On to Dallas. Oh, this was gonna hurt. It took seven hours with stops and detours. OK, it was partly my fault. I wanted to add Oklahoma to my life so I detoured at New Boston, Texas to travel about 25 miles north and catch a corner of Oklahoma. Hey, it counts.

We stayed at the Grapevine Mills Hilton where I used to cover NFL meetings about 20 years ago. It was kinda sad thinking 20 years had passed since haunting the halls waiting for team owners to talk. Where does the time go? I scheduled three days in one city in the middle of the trip so the vacation didn’t feel like endless moving.


Day 4: Remember the old (and briefly new) TV show Dallas? The exteriors of Southfork ranch were filmed for the 1977-91 show. We took the tour, which included walking through the home, seeing JR Ewing’s grave, longhorn cattle and Jock Ewing’s car. Just walking the grounds with few people around was really fun. The TV show said Southfork was 100,000 acres, but this ranch is about 340 acres.

JFK assassination spot by first white line

Day 5: Time for some serious grinding. We visited the spot where John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.The Sixth Floor Museum lets you see where the shot was taken before heading outside to see a big X on the street where Kennedy was hit. Lots of expanded video as well as stories on Kennedy’s life in the museum.

We spent the afternoon at the Fort Worth Stockyards, which is basically a small tourist area that gives the feel of the old west, including twice daily cattle drives through the streets. The longhorns seemed to know the way without guidance.

By the way, Dallas highways are 75 mph and have the highest exit ramps I’ve ever seen. Now I know where they’re called flyovers. I wasn’t sure if I was driving a car or plane. Heights don’t bother me that much, but sometimes we were so high I needed to concentrate on the car in front of me than the ground seemingly a mile below.

Day 6: On the road again. (Sorry Willy, it seemed like Brooks and Dunn’s 1990s music is played most places in the background.) This time it was a three-hour drive to Austin, another state capital off the list (though I’m not trying to reach all 50.)

Of course, we stopped at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library on the grounds of the University of Texas. I was a kid during LBJ’s time, but I remember him as being bigger than life. The grainy black-and-white video included a great clip of Johnson saying he wanted to be the president that fed the hungry and educated children. “Can you help me?” he said. “Can I hear your voices?” Gave me chills.

LBJ Oval Office

Like the Clinton library, there was a replica of the Oval Office. I don’t ever expect to be in the real one so it’s pretty interesting to stand inside the copy and imagine how it really works inside the White House.

Austin claims their capital dome is seven feet higher than Washington’s Capitol. Well, the ground is a higher elevation. The dome is a modest version of the one in Washington. The state house dome in Madison, Wisc. Is a closer copy to Washington’s.

Austin is known for its music and food so we saw both at the Broken Spoke. Two-stepping with a live band was a fun evening.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflowers Center

Day 7: We started by seeing the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center outside of town. Kinda small and the sign saying watch for rattle snakes was a little jarring, but the place is a nice tribute to the First Lady, who advocated protecting open spaces. It’s worth one hour.

Finally, it was a couple hours to the Alamo. People told me not much is there and I didn’t expect a lot given it has been almost 200 years. But, you gain a real sense of what these men did in fighting to the end to win the war even if they lost the battle and their lives. How they held off the overwhelming Mexican army for two weeks was amazing.


The last evening out was spent along Riverwalk, a man-made canal filled with restaurants and shops. It’s great fun.

And, the best hotel of the trip was the Valencia right on the Riverwalk. Huge room and free sangria at the front desk when checking in.

So that’s it – lots of this and that. My wife asked which attraction was my favorite? I really didn’t have one. They were all cool in seeing things I’ve long heard about and finally saw in person.


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Wordless Wednesday: My 45th state visited

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Washington Hilton: Where Ronald Reagan was shot

President Ronald Reagan was exiting the Washington Hilton hotel after speaking to a group when a man hoping to impress actress Jodie Foster fired a shot on March 30, 1981.

John Hinckley fired six shots, including one that deflected off the limo into Reagan’s ribs that punctured a lung and caused internal bleeding. Reagan, ever the actor, later joked he forgot to duck. He would soon recover.

White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and Metropolitan police officer Thomas Delahanty were also wounded. Brady’s injury was the worst, becoming permanently disabled with brain damage that ultimately led to his 2014 death.

Hinckley was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity and was confined to a nearby mental hospital. He was released in Sept. 2016 to live with his mother.

A plaque describing the events is outside the T St. exit where many buses pick up guests. It’s a quiet area high atop Connecticut Ave. Except in those scary moments.


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Masonic Temple worth visiting for George Washington fans

I’ve seen the Masonic Temple in the distance all of my life and only been near it twice to realize it’s a pretty big place. Finally, my wife said let’s go see it.

I’m willing to try any place with ample free parking.

Dedicated to George Washington by local Masons, the 89-year-old temple is filled with personal items of the first president, including an amazing family bible. There are two marvelous statues of Washington and two gigantic paintings in the lobby. Walk the back hallways to see photos of the local chapter and it has a feel of a church hall.

Definitely take the elevator to the top of the 110-foot memorial for one of the great views in town. It was originally going to be the site of the U.S. Capitol before city founders decided to cross over the river. You get a wide perspective from the top that I’ll bet it’s awesome when the leaves change.

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Wordless Wednesday: World War II Memorial

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Arlington National marker tells its own story

Arlington National Cemetery folks like to say every grave has a story. This time, the grave marker tells the story.

Sergt. Edwin W. Wall, says the granite marker near the mast of the Maine behind the Tomb of the Unknowns, was “killed in action by a gunshot wound in the brain near Mailao Station Luzon Philippine Islands March 27, 1899.”

Wish it were always that simple.

A member of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Artillery, Wall was sent to the Philippines as part of the aftermath of the Spanish American War. The Treaty of Paris in 1898 gave the islands to the U.S. and months later locals were fighting U.S. troops. Despite outnumbered 4 to 1, American forces prevailed. But the 39-year-old Wall was killed while crossing a river 80 yards wide and too deep to ford while under enemy fire.

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Shutters that prevent a shudder

The Stephen DeCatur House is one of the more interesting homes around Lafayette Park by the White House. And why not since it was the home of a very interesting person.

Commodore DeCatur was a naval hero, having battled the Barbary pirates among others. He used the prize money from Congress for those victories to build the first house by the White House in 1819. He lived there barely one year when dying in a duel.

And that’s where it gets interesting. DeCatur’s ghost is said to be often seen wandering the building, which is now a naval museum. The sounds of crying and a general feeling of sadness is said to be felt by visitors.

But the reason some windows are shuttered is because DeCatur’s spirit is said to be seen staring out them. So, they were bricked up and have shutters.


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Wordless Wednesday: Tidal Basin overflows at Jefferson

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Two-Piece Reclining Figure is one different approach

That Henry Moore was quite a character.

The British sculptor’s “Two-Piece Reclining Figure” by the Hirshhorn Sculpture Gardens on 7th and Jefferson N.W. is one of 7 bronze copies that is supposed to be someone lying down. You may have to squint to see it.

In “A Garden for Art” by Valerie J. Fletcher, Moore said, “I did the first one in two pieces almost without intending to. But after I had done it, then the second one became a conscious idea. I realised what an advantage a separated two-piece composition could have in relating figures to landscape. Knees and breasts are mountains. Once these two parts become separated you don’t expect it to be a naturalistic figure; therefore you can justifiably make it look like a landscape or a rock.

“If it’s a single figure, you can guess what it’s going to be like. If it’s in two pieces there’s a bigger surprise, you have more unexpected views; therefore the special advantage over painting–of having the possibility of many different views–is more fully explored. The front view doesn’t enable you to foresee the back view. As you move round it, the two parts overlap or they open up and there’s space inbetween.”

Lest you wonder if it’s just some strange artwork, one of the copies sold at auction for $4,072,500 on Nov. 9, 1999 in New York City.

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