Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Capital One Arena

What was the biggest thing to ever happen where Capital One Arena now lies?

The Greene Turtle restaurant area was once home to The National Era, a weekly abolitionist newspaper that published a 43-week series by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was supposed to just be a few stories, but readers loved it so much it ran for nearly a year. Two years later, Stowe turned those tales into “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

The Era was a mixture of anecdotes, poems, letters, stories and transcripts. Slavery was a major part of the newspaper, though. The Era ran from Jan. 7, 1847 – March 22, 1860 and later published by Frederick Douglass from 1870-74.

There was talk in 2016 of erecting a statue to the arena’s founder Abe Pollin. An interesting idea, but in a city of monuments there’s certainly one for Stowe, too.

Maybe on the same street corner housing Capital One Arena.

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Free books – take one, leave one

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Remembering one of NASA’s own

Bernard Lee Johnson

From George Washington to the moon all within a few feet.

Walking the path to colonial St. John’s Church has a historical marker saying the Episcopal church was erected in 1723 and our nation’s first president attended services there many times. The graveyard isn’t very big, but there’s a large horizontal marker with a rocket ship with the earth and the moon nearby where Bernard Lee Johnson was buried in 1979.  

Johnson was a nearby Fort Washington, Md. resident who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as deputy budget and planning director in the office of manned space flight. After retiring in 1975, he co-owned nearby GI Liquors.

The graduate of Eastern High and George Washington University joined the Army Air Force during World War II. After working for the office of surgeon general and the Commerce Dept., Johnson spent 15 years with NASA during the Apollo missions.

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Slow down to see Woodrow Wilson medallion

Wilson Bridge medallionNot often is a memorial meant to be seen at 60 miles per hour. In fact, I went by it for 52 years before discovering it’s not a dime.

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge connecting Maryland and Virginia is named after the U.S. president. The bridge opened in 1961 and included two aluminum medallions of the president that looks like a coin. When a new bridge opened in 2009, the medallions were placed on the new bridge. (Frankly, I would have sold naming rights to the new bridge to Verizon or some big corporation for $200 million to recover some of the $1 billion cost. Certainly they would love the constant mentions on traffic reports. No different than a sports facility.)

The medallions were created by artist Carl Pal Jennewein, a German-born son of a die engraver. He moved to New Jersey in 1915 to work for a company of architectural sculptors and commercial modelers. The award-winning designer is best known for marble sculptures at the Rayburn House Office Building, 13 Greek deities at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, four stone pylons at the 1939 World’s Fair representing the four elements, two Egyptian pylons at the Brooklyn Public Library entrance and the main entrance of the British Empire at Rockerfeller Square.

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Sunflowers time

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Whooping Cranes bring wilds to downtown

whooping cranesWalking down 16th & O Sts. NW, I was drawn to an unexpected one-acre park where a stainless steel sculpture of two 12-foot tall whooping cranes draw you in.

Wait . . . what?

Kent Ullberg created the cranes in March 17, 1989 for the then headquarters of the National Wildlife Federation. The cranes are shown in a combination of saltwater zone and wet grassland with animals hidden throughout the 14-foot base.

The 2,300-pound sculpture was left when the wildlife federation relocated. Their loss.

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Where Bex eagles soar

Bex EagleJohn “Black Jack” Pershing Park has it all. A statue of the famed World War I general. A waterfall not seen from the street that gives it a hidden oasis feel. And, an American eagle statue on the corner of 15th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. that borders the White House grounds.

“The Bex Eagle” bronze statue is by Lorenzo E. Ghiglieri, sculpture and painter to the stars from the Pope to Tiger Woods, created “Freedom’s symbol.” The plaque reads:

“Free men must re-dedicate themselves to the cause of freedom. They must understand with a new certainty of conviction that the cause of freedom is the cause of the human individual , human individuality is the basis of every value — spirituality, moral, intellectual, creative — in human life.

“Freedom is the right to one’s soul: the right of each person to approach God in his own way and by his own means it is a man’s right to possess his mind and conscience for himself. To those who put their trust in freedom, the state can have no sovereignty over the mind or soul — must be the servant of man’s reason, not the master.”

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Southern Maryland is wine country

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Slave cemetery in Southern Maryland

One of my other pursuits is writing about the emerging wine industry of Southern Maryland. It’s less a decade old and already produced a dozen wineries with more coming.

I visited Long Looked For Come At Last Farm in Mechanicsville, Md. to discuss their plans to graduate from grape growers to a winery in 2020. We were ready to head towards the vines when I spotted a broken marker atop a hill.

“Is that a cemetery?” I asked.

“It’s a slave cemetery,” the owner responded.

Suddenly, the story became a whole lot more interesting. We walked the hilltop to see scattered broken markers. St. Mary’s College produced a 2014 survey estimating 75 African Americans were buried there before 1833. The land owners say there are at least 40 more down the slope. Some were believed to be free men and women.

So jump over to Southern Maryland Wine to read more. And, maybe read about the amazing wineries you can visit.

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Why are coins left on veterans’ graves?

Why are coins left on grave stones at Arlington National Cemetery? Particularly, the graves of Robert F. Kennedy and his brother Teddy plus World War II hero Audey Murphy.

I thought it was something senseless the school kids did. Maybe something to do with paying the ferryman to carry the deceased across the river to the afterlife.

Recently, a veteran told me it had something to do with those who served with the deceased. Several websites like the Quad City Times confirmed what I’ve heard from vets.

Coins left on graves

Coins left on graves

A penny means the person visiting was a friend or acquaintance.

A nickel means they went through basic training together.

A dime means they served in another platoon of the same company or the same battle.

A quarter means they served in the same outfit or were with the person when they died.

The practice reportedly dates back to the Roman empire in seventh century B.C., but carried over to the U.S. after the Vietnam War as a down payment on a future game of cards or beer together. Many longtime guides say they’ve only seen the coins in recent years.

The money is eventually collected and added to the cemetery’s general fund.

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Slave cemetery in Southern Maryland

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Who’s who at Korean War Memorial

There are 19 soldiers at the Korean War Memorial. They look much alike to the average civilian. For a long time I relied on military members on my tours to teach me who was who largely based on headgear.

But thanks to fellow guide Tim Krepp, I can also share an Army website link that shows each soldier, too.

There are 14 Army, 3 Marines, 1 Air Force and 1 Navy in the unit to represent all four military branches serving in Korea.

The Navy member (#9) is a medic. The website says one of the Marines (#14) is also a medic and the other two are a gunner (#12) and his assistant (#13). The Air Force (#11) seen left is a ground controller. The Army are riflemen, scouts, radio operator and squad leader.

Sculptor Frank Gaylord created 7-foot-3 statues of 12 Caucasian, 3 African American, 2 Latino, 1 Asian and 1 American Indian.

Below are two of the Marines. The one facing is the medic, the other is assistant gunner. Notice the wrinkles on their helmet as the best indicator of being Marines.

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All aboard for Randolph

If you’ve ever taken a train at Union Station, you’ve passed this statue. It’s right by the entrance to the boarding area.

A. Philip Randolph was among America’s leading black labor and civil rights leaders. The plaque beneath the bust says Randolph founded the brotherhood of sleeping car porters (hence the railroad station connection) and “conceived and initiated the 1963 march on Washington.”

Randolph first organized shipyard and dock workers before moving on to porters in 1937. His first porters contract included a $2 million raise, shorter hours and overtime pay.

Randolph moved on to discrimination in 1942. His work led to the 1963 civil rights rally where Randolph witnessed Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Had a Dream Speech.” Ironically, the son of an Episcopal minister was an atheist.

The statue was created by Ed Dwight, a former astronaut turned sculptor.

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My guide in Gdansk

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Down by the old, old, old spring house

The old spring house


It is a house of mystery. Well, at least a spring house of mystery.

In nearly the middle of Ft. Lincoln Cemetery is a spring house believed to be one of the older structural relics of the American colonization era. Some say the 11-foot square structure with 18-inch fieldstone walls was constructed in 1683 by residents. However, the National Register of Historic Places report also conjectures it was built by George Conn soon after buying the land in 1765.

With a gable roof of hand-split cedar shakes, the spring house has a wooden door that leads to one step down for an 18-inch trough. There are also two five-foot latticed openings for air to circulate. The structure was painted white in 1939.

The spring itself is a few feet from the house under what was once the Lincoln Oak that lived for 425 years until destroyed by lightning in 1994. Abraham Lincoln was said to drink from the spring house while discussing war strategy with Army leaders. My mother, who is not as old as Lincoln, said there was a dipper to use for drinking back in the 1940s.

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Capitol pediment: The Progress of Civilization

Capitol pediment

The Senate portico’s eastern front (facing the sunrise) is about America and its conquests. Frankly, the Capitol pediment pretty easy symbolism to decipher.

According to James M. Goode’s fine book “Washington Sculpture,” the woman in the middle is America standing on a rock. The sun rising at her feet as the enlightenment of progress. The woodsman is clearing a forest while an Indian seems to show despair that the whites are taking over his lands. On the left, a Revolutionary soldier with his hand on sword shows readiness. The merchant sitting on goods while touching a globe shows commerce and trade. The two boys are teacher show the future while the mechanic and his tools represent trade.

The marble pediment is 60 feet long and 12 feet high. It was sculpted by Thomas Crawford in 1863.

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Vietnam Wall remembrances

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The ‘Journalist’ of Arlington National Cemetery


Section 7A of Arlington National Cemetery is one of the smaller areas just below the Tomb of the Unknowns, but it certainly has a number of famous folks. Joe Louis, Pappy Boyington and Lee Marvin were buried just steps apart.

Then I saw a stone that said “Journalist” on the back. Well, since I’ve been a journalist since 1978 I walked over to see who it was.

John Vincent Hinkel was a U.S. Army colonel who died in 1986 at age 82. He was a newspaper man and public relations counselor who was a constant lecturer at the cemetery and wrote “Arlington: Monument to Heroes” in 1965. Hinkel was also president of the Society of Natives of the District of Columbia.

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A General stone

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The Vietnam Wall

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