Washington National Cathedral inspires

Want to see an old Roman church in Washington, D.C.? The Washington National Cathedral is the closest thing I’ve found since touring Italy.

You may recognize the world’s sixth largest church from televised events like late president Ronald Reagan’s funeral or Christmas masses attended by presidents. I attended a funeral for a basketball player so it’s a working church for everyone.

The church has an old world feel through its stone work, gargoyles and sweeping views. It is 100 yards long, the length of an American football field. Lots of stained glass with a real moon rock embedded in one midway on the right. Plenty of side rooms, eight floors and wonderful grounds.

The church is Episcopalian, though it has a non-denominational feel. Clergy from all denominations preach. It’s an older crowd with few kids, which is nice for those who like mass without a crying baby. The church is so large there are always seats. I especially like when the clergy enters for the mass and their prayers resonates throughout the church. It feels very spiritual.

There are free guided tours, but you can wander about yourself. Here are a few things to see.

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Chinese Community Church has something old, something new

It took modern science to make the Chinese Community Church look like 1852.

Founded by U.S. Capitol architect Thomas Ustick Walter as a Presbyterian church, it was later a Jewish temple and Baptist church before purchased by the Chinese Community Church in 2006.  Located at 500 I St. N.W., the church is only a couple blocks from the modern-day Chinatown.

The formstone, old stone look that wrapped the original brick-and sandstone in the 1950s was removed beginning in 2007. Church leaders wanted to install a steeple since it’s a Christian venue, but the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board refused permits because it was not part of the original design. The church opted to recreate the original Italianate-style tower, all 88 feet of it, with its five-foot cross.

Working off old photos and with the advice of an architectural historian, Washington architect Darrel Rippeteau designed a close replica. It took seven months to chiseled off the formstone and remove decades-old layers of paint from the brick.

Today, you can attend services in Mandarin, Catonese and English.

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The real George Mason

George Mason is hanging out not far from fellow founding father Thomas Jefferson in West Potomac Park.

The George Mason Memorial remembers the “Forgotten Founder” who wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights and was his state’s delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Mason didn’t signed the Constitution because it didn’t abolish slavery or provide sufficient protection to individual citizens.

Ironically, the Forgotten Founder has a forgotten monument because it’s not very pedestrian accessible. Not many people walk to the Jefferson Memorial where they would come across Mason and there’s not much parking nearby.  Still, it’s fun to sit by the one-third larger than life-sized statue of Mason who’s seated on a bench passing the day while reading. There’s a 72-foot long stone wall and circular pool.

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Remembering Jane Delano, founder of American Red Cross nurses

American Red Cross

Jane Delano

Jane Delano loved nursing so much that on her deathbed in France while inspecting hospitals during World War I, her last words were, “What about my work, I must get back to my work.”

Born on March 12, 1862 near Towsend, N.Y., Delano soon lost her father in the Civil War. She considered the nursing professional “a fine one” and began treating yellow fever victims in 1888 before three years in Bisbee, Ariz. helping typhoid victims. Delano became a superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps from 1909-12 and then chairman of the National Committee on Red Cross Nursing Service. Delano formed 8,000 nurses when the U.S. joined the Great War that was later raised to 20,000.

After her death on April 15, 1919, American nurses raised funds for the monument now at the Red Cross National Headquarters on 17th St. N.W. to honor Delano and 206 nurses that died in World War I. Delano is buried in the Nurses’ Corner at Arlington National Cemetery.

The bronze memorial has a cape over a woman whose extended hands represent a nurse’s readiness to serve. It was dedicated in April 1934 and sculpted by R. Tait McKenzie.

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John Paul Jones Memorial lost in traffic

One of the feistiest American admirals of all time has been marooned on a traffic island.

John Paul Jones is on a spit of land at the intersection of 17th St. and Independence Ave. SW just a few yards from the National World War II Memorial. But, it’s a traffic blockade and a little dicey to walk up to (hence my crummy photo.)

Jones is best remembered for his reply to a British commander asking him to surrender during the Battle of Flamborough Head during the Revolutionary War. “I have not yet begun to fight,” Jones replied despite on the worse of the battle to that point. The sailors rallied to win the engagement and Jones became America’s first naval hero and the only naval officer during the war to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.

The father of the U.S. Navy is simply shoved aside after first appearing in Potomac Park in 1912. The 10-foot bronze statue stands amongst a 15-foot marble pylon. Water flows from the mouths of dolphins on both sides into a small pool. The bas-relief has Jones raising the U.S. flag on his ship, the Bonhomme Richard. It was the first time a U.S. flag was raised on an American warship.

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Cherry Blossoms 2020

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Please don’t see the cherry blossoms

It is a great year for the cherry blossoms. Nice and early as winter that was actually very nice now gives way to spring.

More than 1.5 million people annually visit the Tidal Basin area to see the 3,000 trees given as a gift from Japan more than a century ago. Unfortunately, crowds are still coming this year despite pleas to not given social distancing. Beating this plague upon our land means a lot of sacrifices, including not seeing the trees we wait for all year.

Crowds are probably 10 percent of the norm and that’s still just too much given the state of shelter in place. My wife and I arrived at dawn on Friday thinking it would be safe only to find thousands of people there. We just drove around rather than risk getting out. My wife still took plenty of nice photos like the one above.

National Park police have opted to close the roads around the Tidal Basin for the next few days to discourage crowds, though plenty of folks still come. It’s scary we could be condemning ourselves to further illness by seeing the trees.

There are few visitors in town given everything seems closed. The outdoor monuments are open for now, but we’ll see how long that lasts. Hopefully, this pandemic will pass soon and next year we’re pack the Tidal Basin in joy.

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Sorry, Washington is closed

Planning to come to the nation’s capital this spring? Not anymore? I hear you.

Everything is closed. Everything. And not just today, but probably all spring and maybe into the summer. Museums, federal government, Capitol, Supreme Court, White House, National Archives, sports teams . . . even Arlington National Cemetery for a day.

Let’s admit it – America is under lockdown for the foreseeable future. It’s not our fault and there’s nothing to be done but wait out the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the magnolias are in bloom by the Smithsonian Castle and the cherry blossoms should be in preak bloom around March 20. My wife and I will brave the virus to see the trees this weekend. I mean, it’s outdoors and there shouldn’t be a lot of people so we’ll do our best.

This sucks, but we’ll get through it. Stay healthy everyone.

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Balkan food at Ambar

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Big bloom coming March 27?

National Park Service forecasters say the cherry blossom peak bloom will be March 27-30. I dunno. Something in me says it will be a week earlier. I’ve lived here nearly 60 years as a native so I know local weather. Oh well, we’ll see who’s right.

Meanwhile, don’t forget the magnolias, which usually peak bloom a week earlier. The ones by the Smithsonian Castle are the best. Personally, I like them better than the cherry blossoms.

UPDATE: Forecasters now say March 22-25. When will they learn to trust me?

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Native Washingtonian 101 – It’s “War-shington”

Want to sound like a local? Here’s the first clue – we say “War-shington.”

Yes, we sneak an “r” in there. I don’t know why. It’s not because this town makes war on other countries. It’s just something we say and it’s a real clue as to who’s a local. Kinda like a suburban town a few miles south of the city that I spent many childhood years called Accokeek that is pronounced by locals as “Accakeek.” Drives non-locals crazy thinking someone’s spelling it wrong.

Whatever – “Warshington” is a tell on who’s who.

I could amend my pronunciation to “Washington” but why should I? I’m from here and living here. To those who correct me or say I sound funny, I say you’re the non-local who sounds funny to us.

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Ambar experience in Arlington

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Lafayette urns have their mystery

Lafayette urns

Much like the urns in the gardens of the Versailles Palace, these two Lafayette urns were forged in the same furnaces that created Union cannons in the Civil War. They were used for flowers in the late 1880s, but now sit on pedestals in Lafayette Park. They are inscribed simply “Ordnance Dept. U.S. Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. 1872.

The urns are 5 feet high, 4 feet wide. Little is known of their creation and no classical precedent can be assigned.

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Pan American 103 marker at Arlington National Cemetery

Pan American 103 memorial


With Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi killed, American will remember the tyrant for his backing of terrorists who blew up Pan American Flight 103 in 1988.

A monument to the 270 killed from 22 countries, including 15 U.S. active duty military and 10 veterans, is in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery just behind the Arlington House amphitheater. The base simply describes what happened.

“On 21 December 1988, a terrorist bomb destroyed Pan American Airlines Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all on board and 11 on the ground.

“The 270 Scottish stones which compose this memorial cairn commemorate those who lost their lives in this attack against America.”

A Scottish cairn can be an informal heap of stones or one that is patterned and mortared. This circular monument of 270 red Scottish sandstones is 10 ½ feet tall and seven feet wide.

The stones came from the Corsehill Quarry, which was under the flight path of Pan Am 103. The quarry has operated since 1820 and contributed stones for the Statue of Liberty’s base.

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Joseph Darlington fountain makes you sneak a peak

Occasionally, statues make me feel like a voyeur. Why is that man or boy naked I’m sometimes asked. It happens all too often say at the Boy Scout or Von Steuben statues near the White House. I say I don’t know and move on.

So the golden naked nymph by courthouses near 5th and D Sts. N.W. always makes me feel a little naughty when lingering. She simply stands out aside a fawn and can’t be missed.

The statue is part of the Joseph Darlington fountain dedicated shortly after his 1923 death. He was a brilliant lawyer, hence the fountain’s location.

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A little statue in the corner has a story to tell

I love the Organization of American States building. It is absolutely fascinating and filled with overwhelming art projects both inside and out.

One is tucked away from the front view, but you shouldn’t miss this one. Just to the right corner of the 17th St. property, behind the trees, is a statue of the Prophet Daniel.

Yes, that Daniel. The one who lived among the lions.

The eight-foot concrete statue was a gift from the Brazilian government in 1962. It’s a replica of a 1805 soapstone statue by sculptor Antonio Francisco Lisboa.

Daniel is a fascinating Biblical figure. As a youth born of Jewish nobles, Daniel served in the Babylon court of Nebuchadnezzar. Yes, that Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel could interpret visions. The ruler asked about his dream and Daniel told him for sinning against God the king would lose his mind and wander among the animals. Sure enough, it happened.

Years later, Nebuchadnezzar’s son and successor Belshazzar summoned Daniel to decipher some words that appeared after the ruler drank from goblets

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Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?


I wish my flowers grew this big.

The Federal Triangle Flower is 10 feet tall and 13 feet wide. Created in 1997 as part of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Center, the courtyard art was sculpted by Stephen Robin. The limestone flower atop a sandstone base reflects the large amount of aluminum used in the buildings.

Essentially, the two flowers were meant to jazz up an area that was a parking lot for 50 years until the Reagan Building opened in 1997. The Reagan Building is the area’s second largest building behind the Pentagon.

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LBJ Memorial Grove is a quick hit

LBJ Memorial Grove

Funny how I can live a lifetime in one town and still see new things even in my seventh decade in Washington.

I’ve driven by the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove many times, but always in a hurry to be elsewhere. Looking for some exercise on a warm afternoon, I played hooky and stopped by the memorial.

The memorial is technically in Washington on Columbia Island as part of a small, sleepy marina within sight of the Pentagon. It was chosen for its view of Washington across the Potomac River. The giant granite monolith from Texas was dedicated in 1973 less than one year after the 36th president’s death. The grove of dogwood and white pine trees leads to long walks of solitude despite overhead planes heading for Reagan National Airport and plenty of commuters whizzing by.

Johnson and First Lady Ladybird Johnson loved the outdoors and worked hard to keep the environment clean. Indeed, Ladybird was behind the billboard act that stopped more roadside ads from cluttering our views.

This memorial seems a modest reminder of a powerful president. I visited LBJ’s presidential library in Austin, Texas in 2018 and it was impressive. So was the nearby wildflower reserve dedicated to Ladybird.

The memorial has plenty of parking and a restroom and is only a few minutes walk to the monolith. The recording of three Ladybird sayings doesn’t work.

Take a breath from your busy day and stop by to remember LBJ.

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Georgetown along the water

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Perfect place for a winter walk

Teddy Roosevelt Island

Is there anything better than a warm winter’s day as a respite from the persistent cold?

Well, this has actually been a pretty nice winter by Washington standards. No real snow – yet. Don’t want to jinx things. We’ve reached the middle of February so the cherry blossoms are just a month away.

Anyway, a spit of warm weather gave me a respite from cabin fever and a yearn for a long walk to get the legs ready for tourist season. One of my favorite walks is Teddy Roosevelt Island, which is technically in Washington but only accessible by Virginia over the bridge shown above.

I’ve written the island’s history before so let’s just talk about the walk. It’s about 1 1/2 miles around on the shorter circuit, maybe two miles if taking the wider loop. I always start off trying the longer loop, but I like the shortcut that crosses over the statue and is a nice place to catch your breath.

Parking is free and usually plentiful except on warm spring weekends. I went on a Monday afternoon and there were still plenty of folks around. I was seldom alone as someone was always walking a dog.

Still, there’s nothing like some fresh air and sunshine to escape the winter if only for a few hours.

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