The General and the White House

General Andrew Jackson
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Modern Head requires standing still to catch meaning

I walked past Modern Head several times and didn’t see him.

I took this photo and still didn’t see him.

But once I looked at the photo in the right angle — there he was. Wow, it sure took me long enough, but there’s the face, the mouth – it’s art that you have to hold still for a moment to get.

On the corner of the American Art Museum at 8th and F Sts. across from the Spy Museum, the blue painted stainless steel sculpture is by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) who created it in 1989, 15 years after first conceiving the piece.

Modern Head is part of Lichtenstein’s belief that man and machine are interwined. It has some of that 1930s art deco influence. The first one was installed in 1996 in Battery Park and survived the 2001 fall of the Twin Towers. It’s illustrated in a sign by the Modern Head here in Washington.

Our Modern Head was donated by Jeffrey Loria in honor of his late sister Harriet Loria Popowitz. I know Loria best as the former owner of the Florida Marlins.

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Reagan welcomes you to National airport

I still think it should be called (George) Washington National Airport. Indeed, there’s a sign on the north side that still says so.

But lawmakers renamed it Reagan-Washington National Airport in 1998. That name lasted five minutes as many now call it Reagan Airport. Now there’s a statue of the 40th president at the entrance of the old A terminal.

The statue itself is a pretty nice piece. It was unveiled Nov. 1, 2011 on Reagan’s 100th birthday, The nine-foot president with a 38-foot stainless-steel wall behind him has a bald eagle etched next to his name. The $900,000 statue was privately funded as one of four of Reagan. Sculptor Chas Fagan also created Reagan statues at the U.S. Capitol, London’s Grosvenor Square and the Reagan Library.

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Making invisible ink

Invisible ink

Just mix one-quarter cup of teaspoon and one-quarter cup of water, stir and then apply to paper using a Q-tip. Let dry, then rub dark juice on it with a Q-tip to come alive.

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Barred photo sites around Washington

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 Pentagon because 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.

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Cuban Friendship Urn – we’re friends again

Cuban Friendship UrnNow 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.

Cuban Friendship UrnThe 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.




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Wordless Wednesday: Grace Episcopal Church

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Subscribe to my weekday videos on YouTube

Don’t miss a single show and subscribe, too. Trying to stay out of the poor house.

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Dog Tag Bakery – Georgetown’s finest

Reprinted 2018

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.

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Hidden photo spot in plain site – Lincoln Memorial

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.

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War of 1812 cemetery marker

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Best Hidden Gems

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.

Senate Fountain

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.

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Best Lincoln Memorial photo tips

The best times to photograph the Lincoln Memorial are 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.

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Congressional Cemetery

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Boy Scout Memorial combines past and present

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.

Continue reading

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Dolley Madison and the Haunted Porch?

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.

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My favorite Lincoln photo – the weariness of war

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Religious symbols at Arlington National Cemetery

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.

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The man behind the grave marker

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.”

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Ranking presidents

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