Happy Memorial Day

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Where John Wilkes Booth crossed the river


Potomac River crossingForget the chicken crossing the road – how John Wilkes Booth crossed the river after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln is equally perplexing?

I give Booth tours in Washington, D.C. from the White House to Ford’s Theatre. It’s probably the most popular of my many theme tours.

But the story doesn’t end there. Even though I live near the Dr. Mudd House and know many of the escape route sites, I had never been to the actual spot where Booth crossed the Potomac. And then I came across Dave Taylor of BoothieBarn.com, a school teacher who lives in Southern Maryland who has produced an amazing website. Seriously, check it out.

So we went to the Pine Thicket area where Booth stayed four days and nearby Rich Hill, but Dave had been to the river site near Popes Creek, Md. that is private property (so don’t do this yourself without permission) and took us to the waterline. Dave is pictured above pointing to the Virginia shoreline on the left while Maryland is still on the distant right.

Dent's MeadowIt was pretty cool. We stood where the small creek hiding the boat feeds into the Potomac. We scanned the horizon where Booth failed to cross into Virginia on his first attempt about three miles away while federal troops searched for him on land and water. And we could see where Booth successfully crossed on his second attempt before later caught and killed in Virginia.

Standing in the exact spot of a historical event is always intriguing. We’re lucky to do it in Washington. But standing along the river provides insight into just how hard a task it was for Booth and why it ultimately cost him his life.

(Reprinted from 2016.)

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My favorite places — Korean War Veterans Memorial

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Oscar A. Strauss Memorial Fountain at Reagan Building

Religious Freedom

The Oscar A. Strauss Memorial Fountain at the Reagan Building along 14th St. N.W. was 20 years in the making. It was time well spent.

Strauss was a German immigrant in the 1850s who become one of the top U.S. diplomats in the late 1880s. He was an ambassador to Turkey and later spent 24 years at the International Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands. Strauss was a proponent of the U.S. joining the League of Nations.

After his 1926 death, Congress soon authorized the monument that didn’t debut until 1947 because of World War II and debates over its location. The monument has a fountain and statues of Religious Freedom and The Reason.

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Jack Swigert – an American hero

John "Jack" Swigert Jr.Combat pilot, test pilot, astronaut and elected to Congress – it was quite a life for John Leonard “Jack” Swigert, Jr.

A bronze statue of the Colorado Congressman-to-be stands in the Capitol Visitors Center. Made by George and Mark Lundeen, a copy of the statue stands in Denver International Airport.

After stints as a Korean War combat pilot and test pilot, Swigert joined the NASA Astronaut Group 5 in 1966. He was one of three astronauts on the Apollo 13 moon mission in 1970. The mission was cancelled after an oxygen tank rupture that prompted Swigert to utter the immortal, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

During his successful 1982 campaign to become Colorado’s 6th congressional district, Swigert underwent surgery for a cancerous tumor in his right nasal passage. Unfortunately, it spread to his bone marrow and lungs and Swigert died Dec. 27, eight days before he would have been sworn in.

Side note: I saw this same statue at Denver’s airport when catching a train between terminals.

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My favorite places – Washington National Cathedral

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The longest line in town

With unemployment at the largest levels since the Great Depression, the bread line at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial seems even more relevant.

The bread line statues are men waiting in line for food during the Great Depression of the 1930s during FDR’s presidency. It’s one of the more interactive pieces on the mall. Adults always seem to know what to do – get in line for the photo.

Students are always a little slower to join the line. But, once they do I nearly have to pry them away. I always have a sense those photos will be on facebook within hours. The kids just love this statue once they understand it. The key is not hogging it too long so the next group that always seems to be coming can have their time, too.

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Patentees Memorial remembers founders

It’s the most nondescript marker in town. You’ve probably walked right by it on 15th St. N.W. by the many tourist trucks just short of Pennsylvania Ave. and never noticed it.

The Patentees Memorial is a simple six-foot granite marker commemorating the 18 original landholders of the District and their occupations up to 1700. It was erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1935.

It has names on all four sides of the base starting with Robert Troope in 1663. Each side of the monument contains a relief panel carved with a symbol of the early pioneers’ agricultural pursuits.

On the east side is a tobacco plant. It was the cash crop of the American colonies. On the south is a wild turkey, which were abundant back then and has since become an American tradition to eat on Thanksgiving. On the west is a stalk of corn, which native Indians showed colonists how to use as food and fertilizer for crops. On the north is a fish. The Potomac River was even closer nearly and fish were a staple food.


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New Tour – Pigskins and Pizza

Pigskins and Pizza

Whenever we leave lock down and walk the earth freely and safely again, I have a new tour coming – Pigskins and Pizza Tours.

Post-corona virus is going to be a different time in Washington. I don’t see normal tourism returning for a few years and well, a tour guide’s gotta eat. So, I’m combining my two careers as a sports writer of 42 years and a tour guide of 10 years into one big afternoon of eating pizza, visiting some Georgetown historical sites and talking football.

We’ll dine at two different pizza parlors known for excellent pizza because life is too short for bad pizza. You get to ask anything you want about football, other sports or even local history. I’ll keep the group small to enhance the experience. We’ll have fun.

I wish I could tell you when we’re starting, but as Dr. Anthony Fauci says, “The virus determines the timetable.” But, my guess is come July-August I’ll start the Saturday tours. My competitors can offer a pizza tour, but they don’t have my 42 years of covering local sports to discuss.

Stay safe everyone and hopefully we’ll be eating and laughing together soon.

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All I am saying . . . is give Peace Monument a chance

I hate when monuments are in traffic circles because 99.9 percent of people passing by can’t take a second to see them. Not if you don’t want to smash into someone.

I know some of these monuments were here before cars, but it’s ones like the Peace Monument at Pennsylvania Ave. and First St. N.W. by the U.S. Capitol that are completely ignored. And, that’s a shame.

The Peace Monument, once known as the Navy Monument, is one of those pieces that requires more than a passing thought. The two allegorical females atop are America weeping on the shoulder of History (OK, that’s a heavy thought for the day) over the loss of sailors during the Civil War. There are several other symbols representing war, victory and peace on the 1877 monument that 99.9 percent of passersby won’t remember anyway so they might as well continue looking for a parking spot in vain.

The Peace Monument won’t change your life, but it’s nice to look at for a moment. So, slow down and smell the monument.

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Unfolding a La Nina mystery

I used to make paper planes as a kid. Sometimes they only flew a couple feet, but I could see how the crisp lines made air travel work.

“La Nina” provides a chance to see how Christopher Columbus’ ship might look from the paper plane perspective. The black steel sculpture on 18th and Virginia Ave. N.W. is part of the heavy Art Museum of the Americas collection around the Organization of American States building.

“La Niña is the name of one of the three ships of Christopher Columbus and is associated with the age of exploration,” said Columbian artist John Castles. “The project is also dedicated to childhood as it resembles the traditional folded paper boat, a universal toy.”

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Lincoln’s hands – Urban legend or truth?

Tourists love stories. I could tell them the date, cost and weight/height of statues and they’d forget it as soon as I said it.

But the stories, that’s different. Sometimes I’ll tell a PG tale if there is no one under 18-years old, but that’s as racy as it gets.

The Lincoln Memorial has two good urban legends – one that may even be true.

It’s said that Robert E. Lee is carved into Lincoln’s head on the left side (looking at him) as Lee looks back to his old home in Arlington. I’ve seen it after much looking, but it’s not Lee and something more like Poseidon and really from the power of suggestion.

The one that may be true, and nobody really knows for sure, is that Lincoln’s hands make an A and L in sign language. The A by his left hand I could see, but the L seems a stretch.

Lincoln founded the first college for the deaf (Gallaudet College) and sculptor Daniel Chester French knew sign language so he could have done it.

Is it real? Take a look and decide for yourself.

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Rawlins rides on Grant’s coattails

General John Rawlins’ best move was living next to Ulysses Grant when the Civil War started. Grant returned to uniform and took Rawlins with him.

Rawlins was a former gold prospector and attorney who managed to keep Grant largely sober during the war. For that, Rawlins was promoted each time Grant was in serving as his advisor. But that was the extent of Rawlins’ military expertise. He died at age 38 of tuberculosis.

Today, the statue is in Rawlins Park by 18th St. and New York Ave. N.W. just a block away from Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It’s a nice park, but the reflecting pool is disgusting. The place needs some TLC.

The bronze statue started at this location in 1874, then was moved four times before returning in the 1950s. Joseph Bailly was the sculptor.

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Have a drink, kill a president


Lincoln Assassination

What did John Wilkes Booth do the hour before killing Abraham Lincoln? Why, have a drink.

Hey, if you’re going to assassinate a president you might want to drink some courage first. Booth spent one hour nursing a whiskey and water at Tatavull’s next to Ford’s Theatre before changing history.

Today, the saloon is called Star and you can only look inside the glass storefront. The white door to the left was where the alley Booth used when coming from Baptist Alley. It’s now closed off.

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Jose Artigas – The Gaucho Statue

He stands on a spit of land at 18th and Constitutional Aves., but Jose Artigas is another of the giants of South American revolution that dominate the blocks around the Organization of American States building.

Artigas was a gaucho, typically known as a rancher in South American. But, here the nine-foot bronze statue shows him in battle dress. Surprisingly, it doesn’t show a copy of the U.S. Constitution and Articles of Confederation Artigas reportedly kept on him at all times.

Artigas is considered the father of Uruguay thanks to his military victories. Indeed, the statue was paid for by Uruguayan children. Artigas never ran the country and was even once imprisoned by a dictator at age 76 for fear of launching an uprising. He died impoverished 10 years later in 1850.

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The Beckoning symbolizes rising National Harbor

The first thing you’ll see entering National Harbor, a growing waterfront Oxon Hill, Md. tourist and residential development near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and I mean the very first thing is Albert Paley’s “The Beckoning.”

The 85-foot corten steel sculpture symbolizes the emergence of the new city. The multi-colors of vibrant reds, blues, purples, yellows and oranges portrays movement and nature.

Paley has several other works around Washington, including the gates at the Enid Haupt garden of the Smithsonian Castle and at the National Cathedral. There are also two 4,500-pound stainless steel eagles at National Harbor’s main plaza. Paley’s the first metal sculptor to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute of Architects.

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The Lone Sailor is hardly alone

For someone who’s supposedly alone, The Lone Sailor usually has plenty of tourists around him.

Part of the United States Navy Memorial at 7th and Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., The Lone Sailor is a tribute to all the personnel of the sea services. The seven-foot sculpture was created by Stanley Bleifeld in 1987.

The sailor is wearing a traditional uniform underneath his pea coat, which is a dark blue or black wool coat worn by sailors but also very popular among everyday people. He has his canvas bag for all his possessions beside him as well as the docking ring that boats tie up to when in port.

After first using honor guard personnel for models, the sculptor asked for someone more ordinary looking. Then Petty Officer 1st class Dan Maloney became the model. Made of bronze, the statue was mixed with artifacts from eight U.S. Navy ships.

A copy is also at an overlook rest stop just over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

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My favorite places — World War II Memorial

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Holy Rosary Church offers Italian renaissance

The Italian-style church was established in 1913 to serve the more than 3,000 Italians in this “Little Italy” neighborhood who came here to help build the nation’s capital as stone carvers, masons and other trades.

Located at 595 Third Street, N.W., Holy Rosary Church’s exterior includes a bell tower, Christopher Columbus statue and four marble statues representing accomplishments by Italians.

Inside is a traditional Italian venue. A large oil painting on the ceiling behind the main altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Roman artist Romano Fattorini dominates the interior. There is a marble pulpit, stained glass windows and mosaic stations of the cross that are little jewels of art and devotion.

The neighborhood began giving way to federal government buildings in the late 1940s, but many of Holy Rosary’s parishioners are second and third generation and still travel to the church regularly. Indeed, Holy Rosary remains the heart of the Italian community with the feast of the Holy Rosary considered an annual holiday complete with a parade and more food than anyone can eat. The church still offers services in Italian and English every Sunday and afterwards espressos and cappuccinos. This church site opened in 1942.

James Cardinal Gibbons was the Archbishop of Baltimore decreed Holy Rosary Church as a shrine for Italian-American Catholics in 1913.

The bell tower has five bells, each dedicated to a different patron. They are the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Saint Joseph, Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Gabriel and Saint Rita.

The church raised the money for the bells in 1943, but because of a scrap metal shortage caused by World War II they needed to wait until afterwards in 1946. The bells were cast by the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore.

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St. John’s – “Church of the Presidents”

Every president since James Madison has attended the “Church of the Presidents” just a short walk (if they could do so nowadays) from the White House at 15th and H Sts. N.W. Madison started the tradition of the “President’s Pew” in 1816. It’s No. 54, not Area 54.

St. John’s Episcopal Church was designed by architect Benjamin Latrobe, who also worked on the Capitol and DeCatur House a block away from the church and rebuilt the White House after it burned in 1814. The Neoclassical church was built like a Greek cross, but five columns in front and a Roman Doric portico later added made it into a Latin cross. The church’s yellow stucco walls and golden cupola and dome make it easily standout from adjoining buildings. The 1,000-pound bell was cast by Paul Revere’s son Joseph in 1822 and served as an alarm for the neighborhood.

The 22 stained glass windows featuring Leonardo DaVinci’s ”The Last Supper” were added in the early 1880s.

Public tours are Sundays after the 11 a.m. service.

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