Layed off – On the street again

I was sitting in the Redskins media room like I have off and on since 1983. I was reading Twitter and saw my boss say her last day at the paper was tomorrow.

Wait, what?

A quick call told me I was also done. The Washington Post Express was putting out its last edition in the next few hours. I wrote my last column and said goodbye to staffers. As a contract employee, there was no severance.

For the third time since 2013, I’m layed off from my newspaper job. The Washington Examiner let non-political writers go in 2013. PressBoxDC went video only in 2017. Now the Express is gone.

Now, I’m not unemployed. I also write for 106.7 The Fan, Warpath magazine, and others. And, I tour guide regularly. Have three tours this week as fall season resumes.

But I’ve been a newspaperman since I was 18 and losing a print outlet always hurts. Maybe another opportunity will come along. If not, it was a great 41-year run and I’ll continue to work elsewhere.

Covering the Redskins has taught me many life lessons, but the biggest is the ability to move on from losses. Chew on it for a day, then focus on the next thing.

To the hundreds of readers who have sent supportive messages, thank you so much. Don’t worry – I’ll be fine. Just read my stories on other outlets and follow me on @Snider_Remarks on Twitter.

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We cannot tell a lie – GW’s birthplace is cool

GW Monument birthplaceMonumental Thoughts has a guest contributor – Megan Johnson. (Hey, we’re all for free labor.)

A sprawling stretch of land along Popes Creek, Va., isn’t all that different today from when George Washington entered the world 284 years ago – and that’s just the way the National Park Service likes it.

At the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, visitors are treated to talks with knowledgeable park rangers about this place the first president called home until the age of 3. On a plantation originally settled by John Washington, George’s great-grandfather, one of America’s forefathers was born along the waterfront in 1732.

GW birthplaceThough the original family home burned to the ground in a Christmas Day fire in 1779, an oyster shell outline marks where it once stood. Nearby is a memorial house representing similar styles of the era, added to the property in 1931. Park rangers offer tours throughout the day.

Today, the grounds consist of an obelisk one-tenth the size of the Washington Monument that honors him in Washington; an herb and flower garden with a gargantuan birdhouse; a burial ground with 32 members of the Washington family; and a colonial living farm with horses, cattle, poultry and more. The expansive property boasts many hiking trails with scenic views, and the visitor center has displays of 18th-century objects and paraphernalia. Watch a 14-minute video of Washington’s early life here before exploring on your own.

Bird watchers can be treated to plenty of action from wildlife soaring along the shores of Popes Creek where it meets the Potomac River. Relaxing on a wide, modern deck at the visitor center can be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Photographers will rejoice in opportunities to capture the trees and animals on the property, especially as the seasons change. The beach near the visitor center is also accessible for wading and picnicking.

AnimalsThough the birthplace monument may not have enough to entertain young or active children, it’s very worth walking beneath the trees to imagine what Washington’s boyhood was like nearly 300 years ago. Tranquil, calm and quiet, the Birthplace Monument has many benches along the waterfront and tucked into the forest just beckoning visitors to pause and reflect.

One visit and you’ll understand why.

The George Washington National Birthplace Monument is located at 1732 Popes Creek Road, Colonial Beach, Virginia. The visitor center and grounds are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Restrooms and a gift shop are located in the visitor center, which has plenty of free parking. There is no fee to enter, but donations are accepted. For more information, visit their website or call 804-224-1732, ext. 227.

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The Outer Banks awaits

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The Hall family and the angel

Mary Ann Hall was a popular madam in Washington, running a bordello where the American Indian Museum now stands. It was said to be the classiest one in Washington during the Civil War.

Mary Ann and a sister are buried under the right contemplative statue at Congressional Cemetery while her mother and another sister are under the angel on the left.

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Washington Circle remembers that Washington

Washington circleIt is perhaps the most overlooked statue in plain sight of the man for whom the city is named. Washington Circle by Foggy Bottom that intersects 23rd, K St., New Hampshire Ave. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW has a bronze equestrian statue of George Washington sculpted by Clark Mills. Yes, the same Clark Mills whose Andrew Jackson statue sits in the middle of Lafayette Park.

Washington is shown at the Battle of Princeton. It was first authorized by Congress in 1783, but wasn’t erected until 1860 at a cost of $60,000. The statue is modeled after Jacques-Louis David’s painting “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” with the horse resembling a wild one that once roamed the Midwest plains. Frankly, the statue lacks much of the action shown in the painting.

The circle itself is on Pierre L’Enfant’s original city map of 1791. Ironically, Washington fired L’Enfant over disagreements. The area was a jumping off point for Union troops during the Civil War.

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St. John’s Church

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Happy Labor Day

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Giant pile of rocks dwarfed by the man underneath

Nick RoweWhat rocks atop graves means is the runaway most read post on a daily basis in the near three years of my blog.

Rocks are a Jewish tradition stemming from the Bible where Rebecca is buried along the road to Jerusalem by her family with the rocks deterring predators. Today, it’s a way of saying hello, I came by the grave. Americans have embraced the idea and also leave coins and medals.

I started noticing rocks atop a grave in Sec. 48 near the Tomb of the Unknowns about 100 feet from the top on the left side when taking the sidewalk from Crook’s Stairs. It’s the biggest pile of rocks by far I’ve seen. Finally, I stopped to see who “Rowe” was.

And it’s an amazing story.

Rowe headshotJames N. “Nick” Rowe was a U.S. Army lieutenant who was Vietnam prisoner of war from Oct. 29, 1963 when caught in an ambush to Dec. 31 1968 when killing his guard and escaping. Rowe was nearly shot by American troops in a helicopter thinking his clothes meant he was a Viet Cong soldier. He later wrote “Five Years to Freedom” about his imprisonment.

After leaving the Army in 1974, Rowe was recalled to duty in 1981 as a lieutenant colonel to create the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program taught to high-risk personnel like Special Forces and aircrews. In 1987, Rowe was chief of the Army division of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group helping Philippine forces counter the communist New People’s Army. In 1989, Rowe warned military leaders of planned assassinations of high-profile leaders, including himself. He was killed by a sniper on April 21, 1989 in Manila.

Rowe2The backside of his tombstone facing the sidewalk reads:

“So look up ahead at times to come,
despair is not for us;
We have a world and more to see,
while this remains behind.”

J.N. Rowe

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The path taken

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Lincoln Cottage still a great respite

Lincoln CottageI have a secret – I’d never been to the Lincoln Cottage before  taking a tour group.

And it’s better than expected.

Now I’ll leave the nuts and bolts to the website But a few things hit me during the one-hour tour that was expertly done.

Lincoln Cottage statue2The serenity of the grounds is still there nearly 150 years after Lincoln spent one-fourth of his presidency staying at the cottage. I always wondered how much difference could three miles have made, but if it does so now it must have been countryside then.

The thought of standing in rooms that Lincoln spent so much time is pretty cool. Really, how often can you do that?

Ford’s and Petersen House are great venues, but they’re where Lincoln died. The cottage is about where he lived.

It’s certainly a pleasant alternative during the government shutdown and even after the politicians come to their senses and everything reopens.

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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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