I have driven past the Octagon House hundreds of times because my wife worked on the same block for 30 years. I never knew its full story; just that it was an oddly-shape corner building near the White House at 18th St. and New York Ave. NW.
Designed in 1801 by William Thornton, who was the first architect of the U.S. Capitol, the house served as a temporary home to president James Madison after the British burned the White House in 1814. The British left the house alone because it was a temporary embassy for France. Today, it’s a museum of Washington’s early days.
The three-story house includes a circle, two rectangles and a triangle in its floorplan. Many building materials are local, including Aquia Creek sandstone. The decorative materials came from England. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1960.
Some say it’s haunted by two daughters of the original owner – Col. John Tayloe, a prominent Virginia planter who built the house at George Washington’s urging. In separate instances, a daughter arguing with Tayloe on the upper stairs fell to her death. Some say ghosts of slaves that once lived in the rear of the home now haunt it.
Oh, one more thing. It has six sides, not eight like an octagon. Go figure. Not the first number that was fudged in Washington.
It’s a spit of land with a lot of history that’s now left to neglect.
Sonny Bono Park at the intersection of O St., New Hampshire Ave., and 20th St. about one block south of DuPont Circle is just 800 feet of fenced-in dirt that seems too small to worry about and indeed no one has in awhile.
A local friend of Bono’s spent $50,000 to renovate the land in 1998, installing benches, landscaping and even a time capsule underneath a medallion of Bono in the entranceway that reportedly includes the sheet music of Sonny and Cher’s hit song, “The Beat Goes on.” The park was ruined by city road crews in 2013 and has seen little progress since.
You never know what kids will say. I asked some youngsters who I was standing next to and “The Queen of England?” was the first response.
Well, I must admit she does look a little like Queen Elizabeth, but it’s actually former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Its location at husband’s FDR Memorial should be a dead giveaway, but kids don’t always make the connection.
Eleanor is standing next to the United Nations symbol given her staunch support for it. She’s the only First Lady honored with a statue at a presidential memorial. Given Eleanor served the longest of any First Lady and often spoke for her husband at events, she certainly deserves it.
Georgetown has plenty of old bricks, but this stone home along M and 30th Sts. stands out. That’s because it’s the Old Stone House.
Built in 1765, the home is the oldest private home in Washington. The house was built by Christopher Layman, a cabinetmaker who died shortly after its finish. Cassandra Chew then bought it and added a rear wing in 1767. Purchased by the federal government in 1953, it now operates under the National Park Service. With its blue granite exterior, the home is perfect example of pre-Revolutionary life.
How many statues are there of Abraham Lincoln around town? That’s a good question. And, I don’t know the answer.
What’s special about this one in front of the D.C. Court of Appeals (Lincoln was a lawyer, after all) is it was the first public monument of Lincoln following his 1865 assassination. It was paid by District residents.
Lincoln stands on a pedestal with a bundle of sticks, which was the symbol of the law in ancient Rome. Sculptor Lee Flannery knew Lincoln so it’s a good likeness. It was dedicated in 1868.
Like many things in the Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden, Lunar Bird is a bit of a mystery. The best guess is it’s an imaginary bird with a symbol of the moon for a head, small wings and thick legs.
A bronze sculpture by Joan Miro of Spain, it was originally made in 1945 but recast larger in 1967. It’s 89 3/8 inches by 88 1/2 inches by 58 1/4 inches.
Overall, it’s pretty cool and in a quieter section of the garden. Worth a moment’s rest while walking the mall.
Something old is new again at the Grant Memorial by the U.S.
Eight bronze lamp posts were erected as replicas of the
original design of Edward Pearce Casey dedicated in 1921. The posts have 16
separate castings plus the eagle.
Frankly, I could do without them. They crowd the plaza and
clutter photos frequently taken there. But, it’s a throwback to history and
come after the outstanding 2016 renovation of the bronze figures of Grant atop
a history, surrounding lions and cavalry and artillery on the plaza’s ends.
The Batmobile was near the White House so help’s on the way. The car from the Batman Forever movie (1995) featuring Val Kilmer was displayed for two days as part of the opening of an office for the Motion Pictures Association.
The black cube in Congressional Cemetery curiously placed at an angle will make you stop.
The graves of Charles Fowler and Kenneth Dresser are marked with a cube just 50 yards on the right once entering the gate. Fowler was a writer, educator and advocate for the arts who died in 1995. Dresser was a creative designer who died three months later.
Dresser was best known for designing the Electric Light Parade at Disneyland, Electric Water Pageant at Epcot and Fantasy of Lights at Callaway Gardens, Ga. Fowler was an arts educator and director of Natural Cultural Resources and guest professors at several universities.
The two were members of the University of Maryland’s “Black and Gold Society” honoring those who donated $100,000 or more.
Winston Churchill does an international game of hokey pokey outside the British embassy on Massachusetts Ave.
Embassies are technically foreign soil so the 186 in town form quite an international landmass. But the late British prime minister, who led England through World War II, was the son of an American mother and British father. Hence, the statue has one foot on American soil at the embassy’s edge and the other on British soil.
Standing just below the Naval Observatory, the nine-foot bronze statue has Churchill flashing the “V” for victory sign with his right hand used by the British during the war and a cane and cigar in his left. Soil from his native Blenheim Palace, his rose garden in Chartwell, England and his mother’s home in Brooklyn lie beneath the granite base. A time capsule underneath will be opened in 2063, the 100th anniversary of Churchill’s honorary citizenship.
The General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette was a key figure in American winning its independence. Lafayette blocked the escape route of the British ships at Yorktown, thus forcing Gen. Cornwallis to surrender to George Washington.
Lafayette stands atop a marble pedestal wearing civilian dress, but carrying a sword. He holds a cloak in his left arm while his right is outstretched, maybe to friends.
The woman below symbolizes American. She beckons Lafayette with a sword to implore him to fight for America.
On each side are two generals. On the right are Comte de Estaing and Grasse with an anchor indicating their French naval forces sent to help. On the left are Comte de Rochembeau and Chevalier de Portail with the cannon indicating their French army. On the rear side are two cherubs indicating the delight of the people.
The bronze statue is eight feet high and four feet wide, but the whole monument is 36 feet high and 20 feet wide.
The only thing I knew about James Garfield was he was once U.S. president. I would have struggled to write a fifth-grade report on him
But coming across Garfield’s memorial on the U.S. Capitol grounds intrigued me into learning more. Turns out he was shot three months into his presidency in 1881 by a failed job applicant and died three months later at age 50.
And you thought today’s economic times were tough.
The only clergy member to serve as president, Garfield is also the only person in U.S. history to be a Representative, Senator-elect and President-elect simultaneously. He was not only left-handed, but known to simultaneously write in Latin in one hand and in English with the other. (My handwriting looks like Latin, but is really English.) Garfield was related to a Mayflower passenger later convicted of murder.