National Arboretum worth trip to edge of town

I used to jog (really) in the Arboretum in the late 1980s while working at the Washington Times. The Arboretum had an open gate by the newspaper along New York Ave.  and I ran best I could around the park. The place always seemed empty and its rolling small hills and natural setting were perfect.

Flash forward 30 years.

The last Sunday of the year before the NFL dominates my schedule (I’m a sports writer in another life) saw my wife and I wonder how we should spend a beautiful fall afternoon. We’ve kinda done everything around town so it’s not easy finding something new.

“The U.S. National Arboretum,” I said. “We haven’t been there in a long time.”

There were people everywhere throughout the 446 acres with nine miles of road. The Arboretum offers a variety of plants and trees with different ones blooming during the year. Established in 1927 by Congress, it’s used for research by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Perhaps the most visited section is the U.S. Capitol columns. The Corinthian columns were once used on the East Portico of the Capitol dome from 1828-64 when a new dome (termites ate the old one) was constructed. The columns were stored until 1984 when relocated to the Arboretum surrounded by 20 acres of meadow with several surrounding paths letting you escape into nature. The columns lie atop stones also used at the Capitol.

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Grace Coolidge saves Rebecca from being Thanksgiving dinner

Grace Coolidge and Rebecca

Rebecca was given to President Coolidge to be dinner on Thanksgiving. Yeah, some Southerners eat it. Supposedly tastes like chicken. But, the Coolidges passed and the raccoon lived with them at the White House for several years before donated to a zoo when the Coolidges left the White House.

I teach a presidential pets class for kids at Outschool.com if you want to hear more.

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Baa baa Black Sheep – Pappy Boyington

You know who Gregory “Pappy” Boyington was even if you weren’t alive during World War II.

The popular 1970s TV show “Black Sheep Squadron” remembered the Marine pilot who shot down 28 enemy planes before down himself and spending the final two years of the war in a prisoner of war camp.

Boyington spent five years in the Marines before resigning in 1941 to join the Flying Tigers in China as an American volunteer unit. He rejoined U.S. forces after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and led a unit of replacement pilots known as the Black Sheep. Boyington was then 30-years old, a decade older than his pilots who dubbed him “Pappy.”

Discovered in a POW camp after the war, Boyington received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman before retiring in 1947 as a colonel. He was later married four times with one of his three children becoming a pilot during the Vietnam War.

Boyington is buried in Arlington National Cemetery’s section 7A just a few stones to the left of boxer Joe Louis’ large marker.

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It’s a regular Tool De Force

Tool De Force

 

It looks like odd tools in my collection, and it is.

Tool De Force is a 12 1/2-foot sculpture at the National Building Museum representing some of the tools used in the industry. It was donated to NBM by John Hechinger, Sr., who many longtime Washingtonians remember for his Hechinger hardware stores that paved the way for big box successors Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Hechinger collected art for his enormous headquarters. This one is by sculptor David Stromeyer, who liked to add color to his pieces.

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Red maple at Oak Hill Cemetery

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The best three pizzas in town

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Remembering Glenn Brenner

Glenn Brenner

I first met Glenn Brenner in 1979 at my college job fair. He was the keynote speaker. Glenn started to speak and said screw it, what do you guys want to know? He then took questions for an hour.

Glenn died in 1992 at age 44 of a brain tumor. It was so sad. I crossed paths with Glenn often, including one time when he came flying over a sand dune at a golf course driving a cart like a lunatic and laughing as we scrambled. Anyone who knew Glenn has 10 funny stories.

Glenn is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown. It’s a historic hilly cemetery filled with many Civil War notables, including Abe Lincoln’s right-hand man Edwin Stanton whose marker is steps from Glenn’s grave.

RIP Glenn. Everyone still misses you.

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City celebrates Biden victory

My wife and I were walking Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown when we heard honking in the distance. Wonder what that was?

Driving through Georgetown, we quickly learned Joe Biden won the presidential election. People were flooding the streets, cars were honking. So, what the hell, we drove by the White House where it was one big party.

I’ve lived in Washington 60 years, voted in 10 presidential elections. (I’ve never missed even an off-year primary.) I have never seen anything like the celebration over Biden’s victory. Not even Obama’s. The crowd was mostly people in their 20s, having a good time, signs saying goodbye to Donald Trump. Given 93 percent of Washington’s vote was for Biden plus a beautiful 70-degree day, it’s not surprising people came to party.

If this post offends you, well, my blog is free and you’re free not to read it. I don’t take sides publicly very often, but I support Biden largely because I feel he’ll have a better plan moving forward to end the pandemic. I don’t care to argue over whether the election was stolen or if we’re heading towards socialism. That’s your opinion and people don’t listen to each other anymore so I’ll save the keystrokes.

But, it was nice to see the young generation charged over helping our country’s future. We have plenty of heavy lifting and will need their energy. I still think this is the greatest country on Earth, but not so blinded that we can’t use some new ideas. Every generation has them and that’s a good thing.

Leaders will decide on the inaugural ceremonies soon. They’re already building the platform at the capitol because it takes three months. With the pandemic, I expect a small crowd at most. Otherwise, it would be one million people or more as most recent inaugurals have been. But like Ronald Reagan cancelling 1985 outdoor festivities and the parade because it was seven degrees and dangerous for people to be outside for extended periods, Biden could limit the day’s activities. Just another tourism hit in a year of zero for tour guides. Oh well.

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McClellan Arch opens past to Arlington National

When Arlington National Cemetery opened to the public in 1864, everyone passed through the McClellan Arch, which is about 150 yards to the left of the current entrance.

Named for Union Gen. George B. McClellan, whose Civil War headquarters was on the cemetery’s grounds, the 30-foot arch was originally a tribute because its namesake wasn’t dead. McClellan later died in 1885. He isn’t buried in Arlington, though his son George McClellan, Jr. is.

On the east side (facing Washington) of the arch inscribed in gold is: “On fame’s eternal camping ground, their silent tents are spread, and glory guards with solemn round, the bivouac of the dead.”

The west side has: Rest on embalmed and sainted dead, dear as the blood ye gave, no impious footsteps here shall tread on the herbage of your grave.”

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An angel

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Finding Boss Shepherd’s tomb

Boss ShepherdAlexander Shepherd was one of the key people responsible for Washington being what it is today, but few know who “Boss” Shepherd was even if his statue is to the right of City Hall’s steps. Indeed, Shepherd is known as “The Father of Modern Washington.”

Shepherd headed the D.C. Board of Public Works from 1871-73 before becoming governor of the town in 1873-74. Basically, Congress threatened to leave for St. Louis if Shepherd didn’t start paving roads, creating sidewalks and sewers and making it a more hospitable place that led to among other things the modern Embassy Row.

Shepherd did all that, but bankrupted the town doing so. Shepherd was called a “Boss Tweed” of his time and left town after going bankrupt himself in the mid-1870s. Shepherd later became rich as a silver miner in Mexico where he died in 1902.

“Boss” was buried at Rock Creek Cemetery down the street from the Lincoln Cottage along Rock Creek Church Road. His tomb is one of many in the cemetery, but Shepherd gained a good location looking down the hill. The tomb remains in good shape along a small road off the main path.

 

 

 

 

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The other Taft – Robert A. Taft Memorial

Everyone knows my distant cousin William Howard Taft, the 26th U.S. president and the fattest person to ever serve in the White House. Figure I’d inherit that bloodline.

But few remember his son Robert A. Taft whose accomplishments earned an impressive 100-foot bell tower near the base of the Capitol at Constitution, New Jersey and Louisiana Aves.

A graduate of Yale and of Harvard Law, Taft was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives from 1921-26 and a U.S. Senator from 1932-53, serving the last six months as Senate Majority leader until his death.

“Mr. Republican” was a real pain in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s side during the democratic New Deal of the Great Depression. His grandson Bob Taft was governor of Ohio.

The bronze statue of Taft is 11 feet and sculpted by Wheeler Williams. The memorial was dedicated in 1959 and accepted by vice president Nixon, who was also president of the Senate. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and former president Herbert Hoover attended the ceremony.

 

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Crossing Arlington National Cemetery

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The general of them all – Alexander Macomb

It’s not often you’ll see a monument with Greek, Roman and Egyptian markings, but Gen. Alexander Macomb’s 14-foot marker at Congressional Cemetery has them all.

The general is surrounded by four lions paws. A sword for his military career, cross for Christian faith, wreath symbolizing victory over death and winged hourglass are still seen, though a butterfly with a circled snake for eternity has since faded because of air pollution, according to James Goode’s “Washington Sculpture.”

A side panel states Macomb was honored “for distinguished and gallant conduct defeating the enemy at Plattsburg (N.Y.)” when pushing British soldiers back across the Canadian border during the War of 1812. Another panel states:

Alexander Macomb
Major General. Commanding-in-Chief
United States Army.
Died at Washington
The Seat of Government
25 June. 1841

Macomb was the son of a wealthy Irish immigrant. Goode writes that Macomb declined his father’s desire to run the family’s 3 1/2-milion acre estate in New York to join the Army at age 16. His gallantry during the Battle of Niagara and Ft. George in 1814 earned a promotion to brigadier general before later winning again at Plattsburg to become major general, the highest ranking officer at the time. He was promoted to commanding general in 1828. Macomb earned disdain in 1829 by recommending the end of soldiers’ daily whiskey ration.

Today, Macomb Street meets Connecticut Ave. in the Cleveland Park neighborhood.

 

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Rock Creek Cemetery markers for memories

Wandering through Rock Creek Cemetery is a lesson is historic architecture. It’s probably the best cemetery in Washington for angels alone. The rich and famous from former Washington territorial mayor “Boss” Shepherd to president Teddy Roosevelt’s iconic daughter Alice are buried in this northwest cemetery that is not actually in Rock Creek Park, but along the road to it.

Researching this unusual marker above shared by sisters Dorothy Moran Worthington and Kathleen Lewis Martin found nothing on the latter. But, Worthington is a relative newcomer to the three-centuries-old cemetery after dying in 2011. The Mississippi native worked in New York where she was the executive secretary to NBC president Brandon Tartikoff before moving to Georgetown in 1990 to be near Martin. The opera and theater lover often signed off on the phone by telling callers, “Hello! I must be going!” made famous by Groucho Marx.

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Where have all the flowers gone?

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Fort Lincoln Cemetery: Defending Washington during Civil War

Cannons in Fort Lincoln Cemetery?

 

 

Two cannons rest amid earthworks in Fort Lincoln Cemetery just past the city’s eastern border, remnants of the Civil War defense. Ironically, they’re only a couple hundred yards from the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814 where the British overwhelmed local forces and marched into Washington largely unmolested to burn the White House.

Anyway, the fortifications were created in 1861 at the start of the Civil War and commanded by Major Gen. Joseph Hooker. The site was named Fort Lincoln after President Abraham Lincoln, who was known to meet with Union troops just a few feet away by the spring house that’s still there.

The two cannons were not among the site’s original four. However, they are original bronze medium 12-pounder boat howitzers designed by John Dahlgren, considered the father of American naval ordinance. These cannons were forged in 1863 during the Civil War and placed at Fort Lincoln in 1921 by the Dept. of Defense.

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Cross of Sacrifice at Arlington National Cemetery

Cross of Sacrifice

It’s often called the “Canadian Cross” but technically the large cross behind the Tomb of the Unknowns and near the memorials to astronauts is called the “Cross of Sacrifice.”

The bronze sword atop the 24-foot gray granite cross was dedicated on Armistice Day 1927 in remembrance of Americans who fought in World War I as part of Canadian forces. The cross represents religious faith and the sword is for being in a military cemetery.

Many Americans joined Canadian forces to fight in World War I before the U.S. entered the war. The cross is also in Canadian military cemeteries of at least 40 graves.

Designed by Canadian Sir Reginald Boomfield, it has an inscription by the Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Similar inscriptions were added after World War II and the Korean War.

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Unknowns of Arlington National Cemetery

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Here’s a bar bet you can win

Washington, D.C. is named after two people.

Name them.

I ask this of every group I take out and maybe 10 percent has someone who can answer it.

OK, we all should know that George Washington is the Washington part. If not, read everything in my blog immediately because you need help.

But the second part comes from the D.C. District of . . .

Nothing yet? OK, Columbia is the feminine version of . . .

Dude, you’re killing me. Columbus. Christopher Columbus.

So next time you need a free beer, bet someone at the bar if they know this and you’ll probably drink on the house.

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