Washington is the seventh most photographed city in the world, but some buildings and inside exhibits are barred.
The most prominent no-no is the Pentagonbecause it is a military installation. There are big signs on the perimeter that say no photos and they mean it. Occasionally, I’ll walk a group through the tunnel under I-395 into the parking lot on the way to the 9/11 memorial and someone will take a photo of the building. Moments later, a security vehicle will come by and tell people to stop. I’ve never seen security confiscate anything. Tourists aren’t spies and the police know it. Besides, someone with a long lens could photograph the Pentagon from the highway.
If visiting the 9/11 memorial, you can take photos of it like the one above and the building can be in the background.
On the National Mall, the only prohibition is no tripods because someone could trip in the heavy crowds. But, in less busy times you can usually use them for a brief photo. Just don’t take all day. And, don’t set up under Lincoln’s statue because the National Park rangers will stop you. No tripods by the White House, either.
Mostly, public buildings around town are made for photography. It’s the insides that includes some restrictions. The White House tour only allows cell phone photos, not for security reasons but because they want to keep the line moving.
The House, Senate and Supreme Court chambers and Library of Congress reading room prohibit photography. There are some art exhibits around town that also bar photos to avoid diminishing the old art. Also, no photos of George Washington’s false teeth at Mount Vernon.
Sometimes a guard comes out to the sidewalk to tell you no photos. Seems like every six months this comes up, probably because of new guards, and the police chief sends out a notice that photos are allowed in public areas. If it happens to you, chalk it up as bad luck and let it go. Arguing with security is never a good idea. I shudder to think what could happen.
Anyway, take all the photos you want. Even better, come on our photo tours and we’ll show you the good spots.
Now that the U.S. has restored relations with Cuba after a half century of the Cold War, the Cuban Friendship Urn reminds us of a time when we were friends.
Actually, U.S.-Cuban relations are a little complicated. The USS Maine blew up in Havana’s harbor on Feb. 15, 1898 and each side blamed the other. It led to the Spanish-American War that last 3 1/2 months — rivaling the War of 1812 as forgotten wars taught on a snow day in eighth grade U.S. history classes. You know, Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, San Juan Hill? The U.S. ended up gaining Guantanamo Bay that’s still an American base plus current territories Puerto Rico and Guam. We also bought the Philippines from Spain for $20 million as part of the deal.
Anyway, Havana created the USS Maine memorial dedicated to the 266 U.S. sailors that perished that day. The memorial was destroyed in 1926 by a hurricane and among the remains was the urn, which was given to U.S. president Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
The eight-foot, four-ton urn depicts the mast of the Maine with a message in Spanish saying the two countries would remain friends. It was first placed in Potomac Park before removed while the 14th St. Bridge was built in the 1940s. The urn stayed in storage until 2011 when the National Park Service placed it by the Potomac River in East Potomac Park in a little public parking lot few know almost underneath the 14th St. Bridge. (That parking lot is great for walking to the Jefferson Memorial.)
The U.S. and Cuba haven’t been friends in more than a half century, but one day I’ll be drinking rum in Havana and telling locals that Washington has an urn that says we’re friends.
There’s no shortage of bakeries in Georgetown and no shortage of opinions on which is the best.
The long lines outside Georgetown Cupcakes following its TV show a few years ago leads to many tourists stopping by. Their cupcakes are good, especially the frosting.
But locals often told me Dog Tag Bakery is the best. Finally, I decided to stop by when I had some rare free time. It’s on Wisconsin Ave. below M St. NW and on the south side of the canal on Grace Street, which is across Grace Episcopal Church.
The cafe itself is more welcoming than others in town simply because there’s room for more than a few tables. A few students with laptops sat inside while groups of friends gathered at tables.
I bought three slices of pie for a family gathering. (Really, I didn’t eat them myself.) The most unusual was cranberry, which as expected was tart but interesting. My grandson loved the oreo pie. The gingerbread was fresh and tasty.
I won’t crown a bakery champion, but Dog Tag is definitely the most relaxed one to stop for a snack.
People ask all the time about hidden, off-the-beaten path photos. The funny part is there are so many along the National Mall. The best one is the back of the Lincoln Memorial.
The Lincoln Memorial is the most visited landmark in Washington. About seven million people annually climb those steps, sometimes 50,000 per day in the busy spring and summer months. If you only see one thing in Washington, it’s probably Lincoln. No. 2 is probably the White House.
People know the Lincoln Memorial, maybe because it’s on the $5 bill. He’s perhaps the greatest presidents ever versus George Washington. If not for Abe, we might be a handful of countries across the continent.
So take the normal photos in front and by the statue. And then let’s walk just a few feet and suddenly leave the crowd when going around the corners of the building at the top of the stairs.
It doesn’t matter which side you try, but I would say turn left exiting the statue chamber because it’s normal to turn right. We’re trying to ditch the crowd to get clean photos.
Once you turn the corner, look down the row of columns. It gives you a new perspective, an old world perspective of the monument. You can photograph those empty rows, but also have people stand behind the columns and stick only their heads out. It’s a funny photo.
Next, let’s go to the back side that faces the Potomac River and Virginia. On a winter’s day, look down the Memorial Bridge and you’ll see Robert E. Lee’s home on the hill and white grave stones of Arlington National Cemetery.
Focus on the water and be patient. Wait for a boat to come by for some perspective. On a spring morning, tree blossom turn the scene into some French impressionist painting, especially when raining.
Everyone photographs the Lincoln Memorial, White House and U.S. Capitol. Now you’re ready to see some hidden gems around town. The good news is they’re all around us. But if we’re going to rank the best hidden photo gems, here are three favorites you can easily find.
Teddy Roosevelt Island
Teddy Roosevelt Island is a speck of land in the Potomac River that has been abandoned for decades. You have to walk across a wooden bridge from the Arlington side off the GW Parkway (spacious, free parking) to reach the District island where you’ll find this 17-foot statue by Paul Manship plus two fountains and four large stone monoliths.
The rest of the 88.5 acres is filled with different opportunities. You’ll see deer at some point and riverfront views of Washington plus a marsh. Weekends can be busy, but there are chances to feel alone in the middle of the region’s six million people.
Arlington National Cemetery
Four million people annually visit the military cemetery. And, you can almost see the triangular rut they walk to John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
But you’re so missing out if that’s all you see. The far southern sections are my favorite. The ones in the far back offer endless rows of white head stones (and a reprieve from the rolling countryside) while the western sections (to the right when entering) are like a cathedral of stones as you walk below the rolling hillside. It’s here that you can truly capture the magic of Arlington while seeing legends like Audie Murphy, Joe Louis and President William Howard Taft.
It reminds me of the opening scene of “Married with Children,” though those fountains are in Chicago. The Senate Fountain on the north side of the dome complex is gorgeous with the U.S. Capitol as the backdrop. We often include this spot in our walking photo tours.
The great part of Washington is one-fourth of the land is owned by the federal government with so many national parks. Indeed, Washington’s the greenest major U.S. city with trees comprising 20 percent of the canopy.
Find some places off of the beaten path. At least, they’ll feel like it. Or better yet, come with us on our walking tours.
The best times to photograph theLincoln Memorialare at night and early morning. Otherwise, the overhead sun leaves it looking flat and the evening sun is behind the Lincoln to provide a dark photo.
Night photography can be easy, but a little tricky. National Park Service rules prohibit tripods that are often needed for time elapse photos. But, you can get away with it if farther out from the building in slower times of year. The Lincoln gets nearly seven million visitors annually so it can get really crowded in the spring especially and tripods are a hazard. A one-legged monopod is allowed, but you still have to hold it.
That said, most cameras, iPads and iPhones take a decent photo at night when the light leaks out of the Greek-inspired Parthenon building. I’m a big one on using the Rule of Thirds and standing to the right corner of the building to generate perspective.
The morning light reaches Lincoln with a golden glow. This burns out pretty quickly and while the morning overall isn’t bad, the best is the early rays.
Where should you stand? Depends on the pic you’re looking to get. You can get the sunrise over the Capitol dome at dawn from the top Lincoln steps. It’s a pretty cool photo.
Family photos should be on the steps down near street level. Have the photographer shooting up towards the family on the first rise.
What about the statue? Morning is definitely better with the sun behind you. On a rainy, foggy day, the inside area around the statue can get a really misty glow. It’s rare, but really cool on cool spring mornings.
So keep watching Mr. Lincoln. There are plenty of times and angles to capture.
The Boy Scout represents the aspirations of all past, present, and future Scouts throughout the world. He carries a staff that has been taken from the male figure’s branch of peace. The scout wears the traditional uniform of the group complete with kerchief around his neck.
The bronze monument with a granite base has three figures. They represent the boy scout in the middle with an adult male and female behind him.
The male figure is a classic ancient statue that’s nearly unclothed but through his strong figure represented physical fitness. In his right hand is also the branch of peace.
Gentleman departing the nearby Washington Club tipped their caps to the woman softly rocking on the porch of the corner home – Dolley Madison.
Some 168 years later, the late First Lady supposed is still found some nights rocking on the porch. That is, when she’s not haunting the nearby Octagon House where she and President James Madison lived while the White House was rebuilt after its burning in 1814 as part of the War of 1812 with England.
OK, I’ve never seen Dolley, but I mention her regularly to groups when walking past. (Oddly, young people nowadays have never heard of Dolley Madison cupcakes. What are they teaching in schools nowadays?)
Dolley lived the final two years at the home on H. St. N.W. in poverty after a son squandered the last of her money following the death of the president in 1837. Dolley was well known for saving some White House objects like the painting of George Washington before British troops arrived. The official term “First Lady” came during her tenure after she sometimes served so earlier for President Thomas Jefferson, a widower. During James Madison’s 1809-17 tenure, Dolley was known for “The Charm Offensive” when getting both political parties to meet at informal White House parties to air differences away from Capitol Hill.
Dolley died in 1849 at age 81 with all of Washington turning out for her funeral while the nation mourned. She was first buried in Congressional Cemetery before later buried at Montpelier, Va.
But sometimes, she’s still on that porch. Let me know if you see her.
I often stop during tours at Arlington National Cemetery to point out different grave stones. Over the years, there are many different tales to tell.
The Latin cross on the headstone is easy to decipher. The person was a Christian.
But there are 26 religious symbols on markers at Arlington. They range from the Star of David for Jewish to Hindu, Greek, Lutheran, Morman and Muslim to Aeronic Order, Native American, Humanist and Wicca. There’s even one for atheists.
It’s not often you see who’s lying underground, but former U.S. Secretary of War William Worth Belknap’s image adorns a large bronze medallion on his marker at Arlington National Cemetery that’s worth a look.
Located near the Pan Am 103 memorial (red round marker to the left) and behind the Lee-Custis house’s amphitheater, the large granite marker remembers a former Georgetown law graduate who was the son of Gen. William Goldsmidt Belknap, who served during the Mexican war. The medallion was created by Carl Rohl-Smith.
Belknap (1829-90) rose from Colonel 15th Iowa Vol, Infantry in the Civil War to Brigadier & Brevet Major General U.S. while serving under Gen. William Sherman during the famed march across Georgia. President U.S. Grant appointed Belknap Secretary of War from 1869-1876.
Belknap’s downfall was marrying two sisters (one at a time naturally) who spent money like water. One allegedly sold a prominent position (cough, Rod Blagojevich, cough) that later led to impeachment proceedings against Belknap. He was acquitted by the Senate. Belknap returned to his law practice until his death.
A plaque at the bottom of the marker reads: “Erected by his comrades of the Crocker Iowa Brigade 11th, 13th, 15th and 16th Iowa infantry, Army of the Tennessee. Companions of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States and other friends.”
Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration will be limited to guests, which is not the first time that has happened. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth inaugural was at the White House because of his failing health while Ronald Reagan’s second was indoors because of cold weather.
Of 24 past inaugural crowds I could find through newspaper accounts, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George W. Bush in 1993 were the biggest by a Republican president at 500,000. Ironically, Reagan’s second swearing in was forced inside by frigid weather with the parade cancelled. Bush wasn’t re-elected.
Democrat Barack Obama’s 1.8 million in 2009 is the all-time leader. Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1.2 million in 1965 was more than double John F. Kennedy’s 500,000 in 1961. Obama’s second inaugural in 2013 drew 1 million while Bill Clinton’s 800,000 in 1993.
Kennedy ushered in the modern era of large inaugurations. Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural in 1861 drew only 30,000. Considering the city’s population was 20,000, that’s pretty impressive.
Second inaugurations are often one-third the size of the first. It’s simple logistics. Washington weather can be in the 30s in January. Coupled with hardly seeing anything, many people now opt to watch the second time on TV.
Here are live crowd counts based on newspaper reports.
2009: Barack Obama 1,800,000
1965: Lyndon B. Johnson 1,200,000
2013: Barack Obama 1,000,000
1993: Bill Clinton 800,000
1961: John F. Kennedy 500,000
1981: Ronald Reagan 500,000
2001: George W. Bush 500,000
2005: George W. Bush 400,000
1977: Jimmy Carter: 350,000
1973: Richard Nixon 300,000
1989: George Bush 300,000
1997: Bill Clinton 250,000
2017: Donald Trump 250,000* (Disputed)
1905: Teddy Roosevelt 200,000
1953: Dwight D. Eisenhower 200,000
1885: Grover Cleveland 150,000
1857: James Buchanan 150,000
1933: Franklin Delano Roosevelt 100,000
1853: Franklin Pierce 70,000
1841: William Henry Harrison 50,000
1929: Herbert Hoover 50,000
1829: Andrew Jackson 30,000
1861: Abraham Lincoln 30,000
1817: James Monroe 8,000
1873: Ulysses S. Grant, 2,000
1945: Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1,800 (Private ceremony)
Navy commodore George Francis Cutter and his wife Mary Louisa Cutter rest in the rear of Arlington National Cemetery. The Section 1 memorial has an anchor atop a rocky memorial. It’s one of the more unusual markers in the cemetery that’s filled with unusual memorials.
Born 1819 in Massachusetts, began as a captain’s clerk in 1838. He became a prisoner when the USS Truxton wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico in August 1846 during the war with Mexico, but was part of a prisoner exchange four months later. Cutter worked his way up the ranks over the next 33 years before retiring in 1881. He died on Sept. 1, 1890.