Julia Child’s kitchen

Julia Child’s kitchen

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The lady was a princess

Statues are normally not what I would call sexy. But, I stand corrected before Crown Princess Martha of Norway.

Martha was born a Swedish princess who married Prince Olav of Norway in 1929 at age 28. The princess along with two daughters and one son fled Norway in 1940 shortly before the Germans invaded. Olav and the Norwegian government went to London.

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Martha asylum. The ship, which included 800 Americans, was escorted to New York City’s harbor by two destroyers. The family stayed at FDR’s Hyde Park estate and then the White House before opting for nearby Pook’s Hill estate in Bethesda, Md.  Novelist Gore Vidal called Martha “the last love of Roosevelt.”

Martha and Olav reunited in 1945 at the war’s end. She died of cancer in 1954; three years before Olav became king.

The life-sized statue was donated by Norway to the Norwegian American Foundation in 2005 on the 100th anniversary of the country’s independence from Sweden. The U.S. was among the earlier countries to recognize Norway.

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Wordless Wednesday: U.S. Capitol

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The Embassy Row Lady and the Curse

The Indonesian Embassy was once the home of Evalyn Walsh McLean, whose Irish immigrant father hit it rich as a gold miner. This 3 1/2-story brick mansion trimmed with three bands of limestone and a red tile roof was the city’s most expensive private home when built in 1903 at the cost of $835,000. Legend has it a slab of gold was built into the foundation at 2020 Massachusett’s Ave. N.W.

They used to call it “2020” to maybe downplay its grandeur. The home contained a staircase to mimicked one on an oceanliner. It has a three-story center hall and grand ballroom for parties that even hosted official state dinners during president Woodrow Wilson’s ill health. It had one of the first elevators in the city and a theater. It even had an apartment used by two European kings.

But let’s get to the juicy part. Walsh-McLean was the last private owner the Hope Diamond; the 47-karat diamond now in the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. It is said to be cursed, which Walsh-McLean denied but her brother Vinson was killed in a car crash that Evelyn was badly injured. Her husband Edward was caught in a political scandal and saw his businesses fail and was later declared insane. Evelyn was also taken by a grifter for $100,000 after saying he could rescue the stolen Lindberg baby.

After Walsh-McLean died in 1947, the home was used by the Red Cross before sold to the Indonesian government in 1952, A 100-year-old collection of musical instruments, called a gamelan, is featured in one of the main reception rooms today.

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Don’t rush into World War II Memorial – you’re missing out

I didn’t notice the bas relief panels the first time I walked into the World War II Memorial. Like many, I was eager to see the fountain and the memorial from the middle.

OK, go ahead. But when you’re done, linger at the entrances of the north and south ceremonial walls. There are 12 bas relief sculpture panels on each depicting the Atlantic and Pacific fronts.

The panels show the complete influence of the war on the country from agricultural and industrial to military and everyday people from the heartland.

Based on actual photos, th,e bas reliefs were inspired by the Pension Building (now National Building Museum) where the style that makes people the focus of each.

I just added 20 minutes to your visit to the memorial.

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American History museum has best car show

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A silver tree grows in Washington?

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Eisenhower Executive Office Building

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Lincoln at the National Cathedral

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Remembering Jackie Kennedy in the park

Everyone usually thinks of Jackie Kennedy alongside her husband John F. Kennedy at the eternal flame in Arlington National Cemetery.

But, you can catch a glimpse of her name outside a one-time dorm along 21st St. N.W. when attending George Washington University. And, there’s a nice plaque in front of the Stephen DeCatur House at 16th and H Sts. N.W. at the northwest edge of Lafayette Park.

Why? The First Lady probably saved the White House neighborhood.

When JFK was in office from 1961-63, Lafayette Park was a mess. In 163 years, the seven-acre lot was a race track, dump, grave yard and even the site of a murder that became the first temporary insanity defense.

But thanks to Jackie, it was revitalized during her time to become the beautiful park it is today that thousands of people pass to the White House.

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Remembering Fala – the First Dog

I’ve been a tour guide since 2010. I know a lot, but there are so many experienced guides who are walking encyclopedias of knowledge of our town. Still, one incident involving Fala the dog at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial made me realize some tour guides aren’t as smart as they think.

Standing at the FDR when a guide brought an eighth grade class to Fala’s statue, he asked if anyone know where the dog got its name.

Naturally, there was a silence. Kids that age won’t even say how they got their name even if they’re a junior.

The guide says, “He was a present at Christmastime and you know the song, fala la la la.”

My jaw hit the ground in amazement.

Fala was FDR’s dog and the only presidential pet honored by a statue. But, he was named after Roosevelt’s ancestor John Murray of Falahill, a place in Scotland which is only fitting given Fala is a Scottish Terrier. He was also named Murray the Outlaw of Falahil. Fala was indeed a Christmas present from FDR’s cousin.

Fala (April 7, 1940 – April 5, 1952) was a constant companion of FDR before the latter’s 1945 death. He then lived with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who said the dog merely tolerated her while waiting for its master to return.

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Remembering JFK at Holy Trinity church

Trinity ChurchHoly Trinity Church (3513 N. St. NW) was the city’s first Catholic church in 1792. In the early years, parishioners either rented space on the pews or brought their own chair. But don’t worry, today’s 10,000 parishioners have ample room to sit.

In 1862, 200 military wounded and sick were treated here after the Second Battle of Bull Run. The government used the church for one year before returning it with a $350 payment.

This plaque remembers John F. Kennedy worshipping here regularly until his 1963 death. Indeed, it was the last service he attended before assassinated.

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Happy Memorial Day . . . already?


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Hidden Gem – Hillwood Estate

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What’s seaweed taste like?

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Help us continue story telling

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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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The Bloody Steps

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John Wingate Weeks worth a side trip

John Wingate Weeks

It’s funny how you can walk by something regularly, but come a different way one time and see it entirely differently.

That’s how I stumbled upon the magnificent grave of John Wingate Weeks, a former Secretary of War who’s a stone’s throw from John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame. Normally, I come from the main entrance or from the Tomb of the Unknowns, but for once walked from the west side after seeing William Howard Taft’s and Robert Todd Lincoln’s graves.

Really, how did I miss this large white marble remembrance complete with two benches? Guess I was too focused getting up that hill.

Ironically, Wingate (1860-1926) never served in the military, but he was Secretary of War from 1921-25. He who worked so hard overseeing post-World War I downsizing that he suffered a stroke that led to his death.

Weeks made his fortune in banking before becoming a Republican Congressman from 1905-13 and then a U.S. Senator from 1913-19. He would later join Warren. G. Harding’s Cabinet in 1921. His wife Martha is buried aside Weeks. Their son Charles became a U.S. Senator and Secretary of Commerce under President Eisenhower. The street in front of the graves was named for Weeks.

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When a reporter killed in the Capitol

Bloody Capitol steps

The press and politicians have always had an uneasy relationship. But, it was deadly once inside the U.S. Capitol.

Louisville Times reporter Charles Kincaid wrote a story on Kentucky Congressman William Taulbee cheating on his wife while in Washington. The scandal was enough for Taulbee not to seek a third term and become a lobbyist.

Taulbee and Kincaid became enemies over the next three years with Taulbee often bumping the reporter when passing. The two finally came to blows on Feb. 28, 1890 and were separated by House doorkeepers. Taulbee warned Kincaid to arm himself. So, Kincaid went home for his gun and returned to shoot Taulbee on the east staircase of the Capitol. Taulbee died on March 11. Kincaid was later acquitted of charges on the grounds of self-defense.

The enduring part of the tale is Taulbee’s blood is still splatted on the stairs 132 years later. Marble is very porous and stains are hard to remove. And in this case, it remains a reminder not to mess with the press.

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