Crossing Arlington National Cemetery

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The general of them all – Alexander Macomb

It’s not often you’ll see a monument with Greek, Roman and Egyptian markings, but Gen. Alexander Macomb’s 14-foot marker at Congressional Cemetery has them all.

The general is surrounded by four lions paws. A sword for his military career, cross for Christian faith, wreath symbolizing victory over death and winged hourglass are still seen, though a butterfly with a circled snake for eternity has since faded because of air pollution, according to James Goode’s “Washington Sculpture.”

A side panel states Macomb was honored “for distinguished and gallant conduct defeating the enemy at Plattsburg (N.Y.)” when pushing British soldiers back across the Canadian border during the War of 1812. Another panel states:

Alexander Macomb
Major General. Commanding-in-Chief
United States Army.
Died at Washington
The Seat of Government
25 June. 1841

Macomb was the son of a wealthy Irish immigrant. Goode writes that Macomb declined his father’s desire to run the family’s 3 1/2-milion acre estate in New York to join the Army at age 16. His gallantry during the Battle of Niagara and Ft. George in 1814 earned a promotion to brigadier general before later winning again at Plattsburg to become major general, the highest ranking officer at the time. He was promoted to commanding general in 1828. Macomb earned disdain in 1829 by recommending the end of soldiers’ daily whiskey ration.

Today, Macomb Street meets Connecticut Ave. in the Cleveland Park neighborhood.


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Rock Creek Cemetery markers for memories

Wandering through Rock Creek Cemetery is a lesson is historic architecture. It’s probably the best cemetery in Washington for angels alone. The rich and famous from former Washington territorial mayor “Boss” Shepherd to president Teddy Roosevelt’s iconic daughter Alice are buried in this northwest cemetery that is not actually in Rock Creek Park, but along the road to it.

Researching this unusual marker above shared by sisters Dorothy Moran Worthington and Kathleen Lewis Martin found nothing on the latter. But, Worthington is a relative newcomer to the three-centuries-old cemetery after dying in 2011. The Mississippi native worked in New York where she was the executive secretary to NBC president Brandon Tartikoff before moving to Georgetown in 1990 to be near Martin. The opera and theater lover often signed off on the phone by telling callers, “Hello! I must be going!” made famous by Groucho Marx.

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Where have all the flowers gone?

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Fort Lincoln Cemetery: Defending Washington during Civil War

Cannons in Fort Lincoln Cemetery?



Two cannons rest amid earthworks in Fort Lincoln Cemetery just past the city’s eastern border, remnants of the Civil War defense. Ironically, they’re only a couple hundred yards from the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814 where the British overwhelmed local forces and marched into Washington largely unmolested to burn the White House.

Anyway, the fortifications were created in 1861 at the start of the Civil War and commanded by Major Gen. Joseph Hooker. The site was named Fort Lincoln after President Abraham Lincoln, who was known to meet with Union troops just a few feet away by the spring house that’s still there.

The two cannons were not among the site’s original four. However, they are original bronze medium 12-pounder boat howitzers designed by John Dahlgren, considered the father of American naval ordinance. These cannons were forged in 1863 during the Civil War and placed at Fort Lincoln in 1921 by the Dept. of Defense.

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Cross of Sacrifice at Arlington National Cemetery

Cross of Sacrifice

It’s often called the “Canadian Cross” but technically the large cross behind the Tomb of the Unknowns and near the memorials to astronauts is called the “Cross of Sacrifice.”

The bronze sword atop the 24-foot gray granite cross was dedicated on Armistice Day 1927 in remembrance of Americans who fought in World War I as part of Canadian forces. The cross represents religious faith and the sword is for being in a military cemetery.

Many Americans joined Canadian forces to fight in World War I before the U.S. entered the war. The cross is also in Canadian military cemeteries of at least 40 graves.

Designed by Canadian Sir Reginald Boomfield, it has an inscription by the Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Similar inscriptions were added after World War II and the Korean War.

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Unknowns of Arlington National Cemetery

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Here’s a bar bet you can win

Washington, D.C. is named after two people.

Name them.

I ask this of every group I take out and maybe 10 percent has someone who can answer it.

OK, we all should know that George Washington is the Washington part. If not, read everything in my blog immediately because you need help.

But the second part comes from the D.C. District of . . .

Nothing yet? OK, Columbia is the feminine version of . . .

Dude, you’re killing me. Columbus. Christopher Columbus.

So next time you need a free beer, bet someone at the bar if they know this and you’ll probably drink on the house.

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Buffalo boys won’t you come out tonight

I have long heard about the bridge with buffalos and never realized how closely I walked by them. The bridge is just one block south of Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Ave. N.W.

The Dumbarton Bridge has four buffalos overlooking Rock Creek Park. The span is supposed to resemble a Roman aqueduct and has a 12 percent horizontal curve, which is pretty unusual.

The 7-foot buffalos guard each corner of the bridge that was built in 1914. They were designed by A. Phimister Proctor, who also created the tigers on the 16th St. bridge. During the unveiling party, guests ate buffalo burgers. Gotta love that. Today, it’s a quiet corner and a great one to admire the buffalo.

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Who doesn’t like Ike?

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Taking green energy in stride

Sidewalks – they’re not the friendliest of places around Washington.

I once fell face down on the sidewalk when kicking a raised section near OPM. I wasn’t badly hurt, but that people actually walked around me without helping angered me even more.

The brick sidewalks in Georgetown neighborhoods can be awful on good days. Missing bricks, broken sections and tree roots crumbling them are constant. The same could be said for Capitol Hill neighborhoods, too.

But there’s one cool section in DuPont Circle that’s literally street smart if sadly penny foolish. The city spent $300,000 for a series of high-tech pavers that create energy to power nearby park lights simply based on the typical 10,000 people who walk over it. They’re on the south end of the circle above Connecticut Ave. between Sun Trust Bank and the Krispy Kreme store.

They’re interesting. The pavers move a little in creating the energy, though not enough to make someone fall. I usually walk on them to do my part for a greener world. But $300,000 seems excessive for such a small return.

Until it’s more cost efficient, this idea should take a walk.

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Daniel Webster offers the highest of relief panels

Daniel Webster

Normally, the high relief art complements the statue, but the two beneath the statue of Daniel Webster are the coolest ones I’ve seen around town.

They are nearly lifelike, showing none of their 110 years. The scene in the front is of Webster, a congressman from New Hampshire and senator from Massachusetts from 1823-41 and 1845-50, responding to South Carolina Sen. Robert Young Hayne before their brethren over the legality of the South’s succession from the Union. Nearly 100 people are shown in the scene that looks like you’re peering into the actual event.

The rear panel is Webster speaking at the dedication of the Bunker Hill Memorial in 1843. Webster is shown reaching out to the crowd amid a flag background. The panel includes a popular quotation from Webster at the dedication where he said, “Our country, our whole country and nothing like our country.” Not Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” but it works.

Daniel Webster

Don’t overlook the 12-foot bronze statue of Webster, whose hawish stare makes him someone you wouldn’t want to spar. Atop an 18-foot pedestal, Webster is holding a reference book. Oh, maybe Webster’s Dictionary?

The conservative Whig was considered one of the great orators even in the time of Abraham Lincoln. He was a fierce protector of federal rights versus state’s rights in the time of the Civil War. The two-time Secretary of State settled the border dispute between Maine and Canada. Webster was voted one of the top five senators in 1957.

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Thomas T. Gaff isn’t so scary after all

Thomas Trueman Gaff

Thomas T. GaffFrom the street it looks like a member of the Walking Dead has emerged in Rock Creek Cemetery.

Walking up the steep incline makes the grave marker a little less scary and a little more impressive. What once looked like a creature half out of the ground is actually the top of a long marker.

Thomas Trueman Gaff left behind a Greek statue heading a deep vertical marker. He was a wealthy owner of distillery and heavy machinery businesses in Cincinnati who moved to Washington around 1904 when named a commissioner of the Panama Canal’s construction. His elaborate home was known for its parties. Today, it’s the residence of Columbia’s ambassador.

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Sky Landscape is for the 99 percenters

Sky Landscape

For everyone who was told they’re not good enough, those who spent years trying to make it, that sacrificed everything for their dream — Sky Landscape is for you.

Louise Nevelson struggled for many years after arriving from Kiev, Russia. Working with odd objects found on the streets of New York from toilet seats to wine crates, Nevelson didn’t hit it big until the 1950s. Now you can find her work in the National Gallery of Art and most major museums nationwide. Not bad for someone who once hung out with Willem de Koonig and Pablo Picasso.

Nevelson created Sky Landscape in 1983. The 30-foot steel sculpture atop a granite base rests at Vermont Ave. and L St. N.W. Certainly, it represents Nevelson’s eclectic style.

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William Howard Taft – not just the other president

There are two presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Everyone knows John F. Kennedy, the eternal flame and all that. But who’s the second?

Here’s a hint — he’s my seventh cousin, five times removed.

What, you still need another hint? OK, we’re roughly the same size, which sadly made him the fattest president ever. (I’ve lost weight, though.)

William Howard Taft was the 27th president and the only one to also become chief justice of the Supreme Court for nine years until shortly before his 1930 death. He was also Secretary of War, provisional governor of Cuba, governor general of the Philippines and solicitor general.

Taft was the first president to be buried in Arlington National. Woodrow Wilson is the only president buried in Washington at the National Cathedral. Aside Kennedy, the other presidents are buried wherever they came from.

Taft’s marker is a 14 1/2-foot Stoney Creek Granite marker sculpted by James Earl Frazier. It’s in the Greek Stele style with an ornamental motif.

Helen Taft, who planted the first cherry blossom tree along the Tidal Basin, became the first First Lady to be buried at Arlington alongside her husband. Jackie Kennedy Onassis later became the second.

Taft is buried to the right of the main entrance. Indeed, follow the sidewalk to the right about 75 yards and a walkway on the left leads to Taft.

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The tree that ate a grave marker

In the far away section 13 of Arlington National Cemetery, Charles Ippel was buried shortly after his July 26, 1863 death. The Union corporal succumbed to wounds suffered three weeks earlier at Gettysburg as part of 82nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry’s Company C.

Charles Ippel’s stone in 2012

It was an all-German, all-Jewish unit nicknamed the Concordia Guards because they all signed up at a B’nai B’rith Ramah Lodge meeting at the Concordia Club in Chicago. Ippel arrived in America in 1848 at age 21 from Germany and was married and working as a cooper. He joined the war when the 82nd Illinois was formed in Oct. 1862.

The 82nd Illinois didn’t fight until the Battle of Chancellorsville (Va.) on May 1-5, 1863, losing 155 of its 400 men. The unit was then rested until needed in Gettysburg one month later.

Ippel’s unit occupied Cemetery Ridge over the first two days of the battle. Facing Confederate Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell’s II Corps, the 82nd Illinois was forced into street fighting in Gettysburg on the first day, including a seven-hour stretch before clearing the enemy and reclaiming its base in the peach orchards of Cemetery Ridge. Over the three-day battle, the unit saw four dead, 19 wounded and 89 missing.

Ippel stone remains 2020

Details of Ippel’s injuries weren’t noted in records, only that he died from them. The 5-foot-9 Ippel with blue eyes and slight frame would be buried at Arlington next to Michael Burns, who died on Feb. 20, 1864 from wounds suffered months earlier as part of the Union’s 36th Regiment, A Company from Buffalo. Most likely, Burns died from infection.

Certainly, there couldn’t have been a large tree between the two, but the massive trunk near the curb has claimed half of Burn’s marker and now all of Ippel’s. A broken chunk remains in the tree.

But that’s not the end of the story. In September 2020, I discovered a modern ground marker with a Christian symbol and Civil War between his unit and death date just a few feet from the old marble stone. Alerted that Ippel was Jewish and not Christian, a cemetery official said the error was made by a contractor and a new stone has been ordered.

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Eisenhower Memorial shines

The young boy

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Eisenhower Memorial finally opens


It’s a long stroll across the Eisenhower Memorial, but then there’s a lot to discuss about Dwight D. Eisenhower. The leader of Allied Forces to win World War II and U.S. president requires a lot of marble.

It took nearly 20 years to build the memorial after long squabbling between the family and designer, but in the end it’s a nice remembrance across from the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum on Independence Ave. NW between 4th and 6th Sts.

The memorial is easily visible from the street. It may be nicer at night when lit up, showing the cliffs of Normandy during the key invasion to beat Germany. The steel tapestry doesn’t quite look as brilliant during the day. There are also three statue areas from the young boy looking ahead at his life as commander of forces to the presidency. There’s also a gift shop and public restrooms and plenty of street parking.

It’s not the grandest memorial in a town filled with them. And, maybe it’s a little big in taking over a former park that was once filled with victory gardens dating back to the war. But it will surely be used as a respite from government workers in surrounding buildings once the pandemic shutdown ends.

I was born during Ike’s presidency so “I Like Ike.” And, I like the memorial.

Now, let’s get started on one for John Adams.

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Lee Marvin – The famous neighbor was a Hollywood legend

The eyes always go to the adjacent grave. Heavyweight champion Joe Louis. Big marker, big name, hard to miss.

But to Louis’ left is a simple white stone marker containing another legend – actor Lee Marvin. Yes, it’s the famous actor best known for the tough colonel in “The Dirty Dozen” who also won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Actor in “Cat Balou.”

Marvin served as a marine in the Pacific during World War II. He earned a Purple Heart in June 1944 when a bullet severed his sciatic nerve in his hip during the battle of Saipan.

After his discharge, Marvin was working as a plumber’s assistant in New York when asked to fill in for a sick actor. The rest was history.

Marvin also became part of legal history when long-time companion Michelle Triola successfully sued him for assets after their breakup. It became the basis for palimony.

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St. Mary’s Church in Southern Maryland

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