The Warren Court

Supreme Court

Sculptor Phillip Ratner once taught school in Washington for 23 years. Now he’s one of the nation’s more respected multimedia artists.

Ratner has five sculptures at the Statue of Liberty, 40 at Ellis Island and others at
the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and U.S. Supreme Court. Shown above is his clay sculpture of the Warren Court shown on the ground floor of the Supreme Court.

A plaque next to the sculpture reads:

“I moved into a little house in Takoma Park [in 1964] and had no room to set up a studio so one day I got to playing around with clay and the first thing I did were the Warren Court heads.”

According to Ratner, he depicted Justice Potter Stewart with his hands clasped together and looking upward in reference to his sole dissent in School District of Abington Township v. Schempp 374 U.S. 203 (1963) in which the Court had found that prayer in public schools was unconstitutional.

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Volta Bureau remembers Alexander Graham Bell

Volta LaboratoryIt has been known as the Bell Carriage House, Bell Laboratory, Volta Bureau and Alexander Graham Bell Laboratory.

No matter. The Volta Laboratory is a National Historic Landmark for helping the hearing impaired.

Built in 1893 by Charles Summer Tainter and Bell’s cousin Chichester Bell, the towering yellow brick and sandstone building at 35th St. NW in Georgetown, was created for the creation of technologies to help the deaf.

Alexander Graham Bell gained the first patent for the telephone in 1876, but the son and grandson of speech teachers also trained teachers for the deaf. Bell used 50,000 francs awarded by the French government to found Volta Associates that concentrated on recording and transmitting and recording sound. The group then built the Volta Lab for the business.

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Buffalo Dancer II offers prayers

Buffalo Indian IIGeorge Rivera described his bronze statue of a Buffalo Dancer as showing Native Americans showing respect to the buffalo that provide their sustenance through dance. It’s the first statue of an American Indian on the National Mall.

The Pueblo of Pojoaque governor created four 12-foot statues with one coming to the National Museum of the American Indian in 2009. Located to the side of the main entrance, Buffalo Dancer II took eight months to create and came 10 years after Rivera made the first model.

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Strike up the band for John Philip Sousa

You may not know the man, but you know his music.

John Philip Sousa was known as “The March King” for his snappy marching music like “The Stars and Stripes Forever (official march of the U.S.) and “The Semper Fidelis” (official march of the U.S. Marine Corps.)

Sousa2Sousa apprenticed with the U.S. Marine Band at age 14 for seven years after his father feared Sousa would join a circus band. The Washington native spent his life conducting and writing marches, including 12 years conducting the Marine Band, and inventing the sousaphone that’s like a tuba. Sousa served in the Navy during World War I and later led the Sousa Band to 15,000 performances until dying in 1932 at age 77.

The grave has a marble bench at the top of a family plot in Congressional Cemetery along with with a marble stone for his plot.

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Wordless Wednesday: Zigzagging downtown

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Allies in War at American Indian museum

Allies in WarWar makes strange bedfellows.

Allies in War, Partners in Peace is a bronze statue by Edward E. Hlavka that is in the American Indian museum. Gen. George Washington is joined by Oneida diplomat Oskanondonha and Polly Cooper, an Oneida Indian who helped starving troops at Valley Forge in 1777-78.

The turtle, wolf and bear (not shown in this photo) depict the three Oneida clans. The statue was created in 2004.

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First U.S. president rests high on the hill

John Hanson

(Reprinting one of our favorite columns.)

Leaving the Gaylord National Hotel in Oxon Hill, I point to a lonely tree above the rising MGM Grand casino and parallel to the beltway and say, “That’s where the first president of the United States is buried.”

Wait, isn’t Mount Vernon the other way and across the Potomac River?

Yes, but George Washington wasn’t the first president. At least, not exactly.

John Hanson was the first president under the Articles of Confederation (which predates the Constitution from which Washington served) to be elected by delegates of the 13 original states. While third to hold the office, Hanson was the first elected, serve the full one-year term, chosen after the British surrendered at Yorktown to end the Revolutionary War and recognized internationally as head of state. (Washington remained commander in chief of the troops. Today, the president is both.)

Maybe it’s a tricky bar bet question, but you still win.

The son of a planter, Hanson was born in nearby Port Tobacco, Md. on April 14, 1715. He died on Nov. 15, 1783 at the nearby mansion of Thomas Addison. The house was destroyed in 1895, but the graveyard atop the hill has Hanson and a dozen Addison family members interned. It’s a private cemetery, surrounded by fences and locked gates and not open to the public. I photographed this grave marker from the fence. I’m not sure it’s Hanson’s, but you’d think a former president would have the only one in the graveyard.

It’s a nice location overlooking the Potomac River. More than two centuries ago it was probably a fine venue rather before becoming an island in a sea of traffic nowadays.

It would seem more befitting for Hanson to be relocated to Arlington National Cemetery than under a lonely tree above parking lots. Maybe one day someone will honor him so.

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Wordless Wednesday: DuPont Circle

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Washington 101 – Filomena is the best Italian restaurant

Filomena(Reprinting one of our favorites.)

OK, let’s start a fight over the best Italian restaurant in town. Maggiano’s on Wisconsin Ave. is a contender. Carmine’s on 7th St. N.W. is a fan favorite. But I’m going with Filomena in Georgetown.

I first heard of this small, intimate restaurant was from a local on one of my tours. Her parents are from Italy and will only eat at Filomena. The more I asked about the place just below the intersection of Wisconsin & Ms. Sts. N.W. near the bridge, the more people raved about it. One friend sent me five strategies to eating there like forget the bread, concentrate on the main course and save room for dessert. They were all good tips.

Filomena2I chose lasagna. The best one I’ve ever eaten was in a bar in Florence, Italy, but Filomena is a close second. It has both red meat and white cheese sauce that splits the lasagna evenly. The pasta is so light it’s like pastry and it’s still hard to eat the entire dish. In fact, half made it home for lunch another day.

As for dessert, my diabetes made me pass, but they sure looked good.

Out-of-towners ask me often of good places to eat. Filomena will be my top Italian recommendation.

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My 10 tips for Washington visitors (and locals, too)

I’ve seen tourists from dozens of countries visit Washington over the years. Now that I lead groups, I really have some advice for those coming in the summer. Since my blog is read nearly equally by out-of-towners as locals and from those in 58 countries this year, here are a few tips when coming to my hometown.

1. Wear light colors. Seriously, I know this sounds simple, but many Europeans come from cooler climates and don’t know a black shirt can feel 10 degrees hotter than a white one. They’re already dying from the humidity so don’t make it worse. Wear shorts, too.
2. Bring sneakers or sandals, but not dress shoes, high heels or clogs. You will get blisters walking around Washington.
3. If you want tickets to go inside the White House, call your Congressman or Senator six months ahead. They’ll need your social security number to run a security check. There’s no same-day line.
4. Don’t soak your feet in the fountains. I don’t care if you see others do it.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions from passersby. Washingtonians are used to tourists and don’t mind.
6. But, locals do mind if you stand on the left of subway escalators. Stand to right, walk on left. If you aren’t familiar with using the passes for the metro, pick one of the gates on the ends.
7. Spend the hot afternoons at inside attractions like the Smithsonians. Mornings and evenings are better spent at monuments.
8. Don’t talk politics with locals. We really don’t care what you think.
9. It’s pronounced War-shington. Not Wash-ington. I know it’s spelled like the latter.  We’ll smile if you say it like a native.
10. Tip your tour guide.

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Wordless Wednesday: Mount Vernon

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Scott: Best general of whom you’ve probably never heard

The legend says all statues face the White House. It’s not true, though this one does.

Gen. Winfield Scott’s statue lies in the three-sided circle of Massachusetts and Rhode Island Aves. and 16th St. N.W. just blocks from the White House that he failed to win in 1852. Indeed, Scott nearly ran in 1860 but decided he was getting too old. Instead, Scott lived until 1866, one year after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Scott was a bonafide military hero; veteran of three wars against Mexicans, Cherokee Indians and British. Scott served a half century and wrote the military’s first drill regulations.

The pedestal is 15 feet high, which James Goode’s bible of local monuments “Washington Sculpture” says was the largest single block of granite then quarried. Scott dons his field uniform of lieutenant general while looking ahead while his horse rests.

Goode says the horse was supposed to be a mare until family objections that generals always rode stallions. Sculptor Henry Kirke Brown modeled the horse after Scott’s favorite mare. Let’s just say certain additions were made to satisfy everyone. Wouldn’t be the first or last deal made in Washington.

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A stone of another color

It’s funny what grabs you while walking among the graves at Arlington National Cemetery.

The large purple quartz marker that includes the plaque of James Fingal Gregory is one of a kind. At least, I’ve never seen one like it and have covered probably 90 percent of the cemetery.

Gregory was an engineer so maybe they wanted something unusual from the earth to remember him. The West Point cadet from Albany, N.Y. was only 18 when the Civil War started. He rose through the ranks over the years from Second Lieutenant at war’s end to First Lieutenant the next year to captain in 1874. He became a colonel while serving as Aide-de-Camp to General Sheridan from 1881-86 before dying in 1897. Among Gregory’s achievements was a geodetic survey of the northern lakes, boundary survey of the 49th parallel and survey of the Union and Pacific Railroads.

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Full house at the Tomb of the Unknowns

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Fort Washington is a forgotten jewel of two centuries

(Reprinting one of our favorite columns)

Growing up near the fort just south of town, I remember walking Fort Washington’s steps and hills down to the Potomac River with great joy.

Then for some reason, I went 30 years without visiting until a beautiful sunny afternoon last week. And, it looked the same.

Fort Washington dates back to 1809 yet never fired a shot before finally given to the Dept. of Interior in 1946. Not even during the War of 1812 when the British fleet approached from the south while soldiers marched from the east.

Fort Washington’s stone and brick walls and a deteriorating drawbridge provide a rare and insightful look at an old fort without restriction. Sometimes you might be the only person around. You’re free to wander about nearly the entire fort. My brother always threatened to leave me in the dungeons when we were kids.

Originally called Fort Warburton, the post was completed on Dec. 1, 1809, but the first guns weren’t mounted until 1846. Soldiers from the First, Third and Fourth Artillery manned the only guns protecting the capital until the Civil War.

You’ll see plenty of cannons on the grounds. The 15-inch Rodman guns arrived between 1873-75, but they were never fully installed. Instead, concrete bunkers below the fort were built in 1886. But, the post was abandoned in 1891. Then new guns were mounted in 1896 before removed a decade later.

Fort Washington became a staging area for troops headed for France during World War I. The post was again abandoned in 1939 to become the site of a new bridge that instead went a few miles north 20 years later. During World War II, the post became the U.S. Army Adjutant General’s School.

And once again, the fort was abandoned in 1946 and is now run by the National Park Service. There are free self-guided brochures on the left after passing through the gate.

Nowadays, Fort Washington is a great park that’s pretty crowded on summer weekends, but otherwise has plenty of parking for a visit. It’s about 10 minutes from the beltway off Rt. 210 South. You can see the Wilson Bridge and the city easily from the fort. The 95-foot flagpole with a 36 by 20 foot flag can be seen from Alexandria.

The lighthouse built below the fort in 1882 is 28 feet tall. You’ll often see people fishing along the shoreline or nearby boats. There’s excellent fishing along this part of the river.

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Remembering Audie Murphy at Arlington National Cemetery

(Reprinting one of our favorite columns)

It’s amazing how yesterday’s heroes are today’s forgotten ones.

It happens all the time in society. Singers and actors once all the rage now draw blank stares from teens. Sinatra – is that a first or last name?

So it goes with Audie Murphy. Whenever someone asks me where his grave is at Arlington National Cemetery I usually figure they’re at least 70 because no one under 50 has ever asked me and those less than 30 have no idea who he is.

Murphy is buried very near the Memorial amphitheater where the sidewalk bends to accommodate more people by the corner grave. At one time it was the second most visited grave at Arlington behind John F. Kennedy.

Murphy lived an incredible life of helping others. He was the most decorated soldier of World War II after enlisting at age 17, winning the Medal of Honor plus 32 medals, ribbons and citations that included five from France and one from Belgium. After once single-handedly battling Germans for one hour using a machine gun from a burning tank, he simply said, “They were killing my friends.”

Murphy became a movie star after the war, appearing in “To Hell and Back” based on his autobiography of 27 months fighting in Europe and 43 other films.

Murphy was killed in a 1971 plane crash at age 46.

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Wordless Wednesday: Columbia Gardens

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Restoration on Mount Vernon mansion

Keeping a 250-year-old mansion in pristine shape isn’t easy. Now Mount Vernon is taking things down to scratch.

George Washington was a sharp guy in more than beating the British. He wanted the mansion to have a stone look like those in England despite being made of wood. So, sand was mixed with paint and from a distance indeed looks like stone. That is, until you knock on it.

The most visited home in America with more than 1.1 million people annually, Mount Vernon opted to return the mansion to its original look several years ago from white to tan. Now they’re stripping off the old paint down to the boards, which have shown surprisingly little deterioration. They are removing 28 layers of paint.

Yes, it stinks to have all the scaffolding in front to ruin pictures, but ultimately, you’ll see the home in its original glory once more.

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George Washington’s whiskey is a little rye, uh dry

George Washington whiskey(Reprinting one of our favorites)

After beating the British and serving two terms as our president that included putting down the Whiskey Rebellion, George Washington retired to his home Mount Vernon — to make whiskey.

In fact, Washington was the nation’s biggest whiskey maker the last couple years before dying in 1799. Washington made 11,000 gallons , earning 50 cents per gallon.

In recent years, Mount Vernon created Washington’s still and using George’s recipe makes three batches annually of several hundred bottles. They’re not easy to get. They’re not sold on the internet so people arrive two hours early to wait for the rare sales that go quickly.

Luckily, I have a friend that can buy it for me and settle up later. I got the small bottle of whiskey ($99) and poured three glasses for my two sons-in-law and I.

I’d like to say it went down smooth, but I’m not much of a hard liquor drinker. Mostly, it seemed awfully dry. Still, the bottle is in my china cabinet for rare events. After all, it’s pretty cool.

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Wordless Wednesday: Crouching Woman

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