Alice Roosevelt found in Peacock Alley

alice roosevelt

Posted in Attractions | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Who’s the boss? Why ‘Boss’ Shepherd, of course

George Washington may be the father of our country and namesake for the our town, but Alexander Robey Shepherd, better known as “Boss Shepherd,” is considered “The Father of Modern Washington.”

Shepherd actually stopped an 1870s movement to relocate the capital to St. Louis after national politicians were upset over Washington’s poor infrastructure. Washington’s governor from 1873-74, Shepherd modernized the city’s infrastructure and even planted 60,000 trees to make it more attractive. However, these costly moves nearly put the city into bankruptcy and forced Shepherd from office amid corruption scandals. Shepherd’s plan to keep Washington as the capital city worked, though.

Boss Shepherd was such a controversial person that Mayor Marion Barry removed this statue when taking office in 1979 and exiled it to the city’s impound lot. I guess Mayor Barry figured there was only one boss in town and he was it. However, in 2005, Shepherd’s statue was returned to its original 1909 spot on the right side of the John Wilson Building entrance on Pennsylvania Ave. near 15th St.

The bronze statue is 18 feet tall, including the 18-square foot pedestal made of Vermont granite. It could use a good cleaning, turning green like many statues. It was created by Washington sculptor Ulric Stonewall Jackson Dunbar, who was better known for his statue of baseball pitcher Walter Johnson and death masks.

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding generations long ago on Vietnam Wall

Vietnam Wall namesWhenever I find a name for someone on the Vietnam Wall, I asked who this person is to them.

Often, it’s a relative. Someone they probably didn’t know like their mom’s uncle. Recently, the woman said it was her boyfriend in 1969. She couldn’t believe it took this long to come see his name on the wall . . . summon the courage to confront pain that still seemed raw. Another time it was a woman’s husband whose body was recently recovered and buried at Arlington National Cemetery that morning.

One day, a 18-year-old woman with dreams of becoming a vascular surgeon and asking about local universities and hospitals, mentioned she had a relative on the Wall. I have “The Wall” app on my phone and found it.

“Who is this to you?” I asked.

“It was my great grandfather,” she said.

The man died in 1966. Could it really be her great grandfather? The men on the Wall are mostly those who would be my older brothers or one generation back. I have a neighbor who’s on the Wall. The young woman is almost a decade younger than my daughters. Maybe it was her grandfather. But no, she insisted it was her great grandfather and one of the volunteers told me just did another great grandfather relation.

We had the young lady rub her ancestor’s name to take home. As the letters appeared, it seemed to become even more real to her. That’s the beauty of the Wall.

Every day, there’s a new story on the Wall.

Posted in Memorials | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

My Year with Fitbit

Ever wonder how many steps you really walk? Do you come close to the so-called recommended 10,000 per day? Does more walking make a difference?

I just finished one year with a Fitbit, a present my wife gave me as we headed to Europe. Now stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I walk around the yard instead of Scotland Yard.

But the numbers were surprising. I walked 2,601,871 steps in one year. That’s roughly 1,296 miles – from Washington to almost Denver or a roundtrip to Louisville.

Strangely, I don’t know if that’s a good number or bad. The average day was then 7,108 steps. I lost probably 200,000 steps with no spring tour season when I walk like crazy for 100 days. That would have raised my average to 7,600 daily.

Ironically, the best days came right away in Europe. The best day was 17,400 when touring Stockholm, Sweden with a native friend. We still needed to walk about one mile back to the ship from the train station. My wife was exhausted and strongly suggested a cab, whose driver knew he could screw me for $50 for a five-minute ride, but there wasn’t much choice. I was hoping to hit 20,000 walking to ship.

The best week was the first of two in Europe at 80,327. The second week was 71,759. The closest I came otherwise was mid-September at 75,107 steps while touring a couple days.

There were a few 30,000-range weeks, mostly in the winter and during the lockdown. But, mostly, I was in the 40,000+ range many weeks.

Now there’s this marketing myth that we should walk 10,000 steps daily, but that’s not some medically-based recommendation. It was the maker of pedometers who came up with that arbitrary number. Myself, I try to reach 8,000 and often do so.

Does the Fitbit inspire you to add to steps, especially when on the verge of crossing another thousand number near bedtime? I must admit walking the halls to do so more than once so I guess that worked. I find myself trying to hit the hours of 250 per steps more often. I have it timed for 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for 250 steps per. Occasionally, I do it all nine and sometimes on a heavy writing day might only do three. But the Fitbit buzzes with 10 minutes remaining and I’ve more than once jumped up to hit 250.

I even spent a few weeks with several family members competing in weekday competitions. I won some, lost some. Everyone tired of it after a while.

I don’t sleep with my Fitbit on very often so I don’t see the sleep pattern analysis much. I had given up wearing a watch before receiving my Fitbit so wearing it 24/7 seems excessive if not suffocating. Limiting it to waking hours, I don’t mind wearing it and only missed doing so three days in the year.

Where do I go from here? My Year 2 goal would be 2,920,000 steps so I can average 8,000 steps daily. That’s about a 10 percent increase, which seems doable.

Ultimately, wearing a Fitbit is worthwhile and I even know the time more often plus my pulse rate, which comes in handy when walking hills. Invest $100 in yourself and buy one.

And maybe we’ll walk past each other – six feet apart.

Posted in Washington life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dulles . . . as in Dulles International Airport

DullesMany Washingtonians fly in and out of Washington Dulles International Airport without knowing who Dulles was.

Turns out he was one of us.

A Washington native, John Foster Dulles rose to Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisnehower from 1953 until shortly before his 1959 death from cancer and a was a major player in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery not far from the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Dulles first served as the U.S. legal counsel to the Versailles Peace Conference that ended World War I. He was a member of a New York law firm that specialized in international finance and became a U.S. delegate to the United Nations in 1946-47 and ’50. He briefly served as a U.S. Senator to fill a vacancy before losing a special election.

Actress Carol Burnett’s big break was siging a 1950s song called “I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster.”

Posted in Arlington National Cemetery | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

J. Edgar Hoover – The G-Man of Congressional Cemetery

J. Edgar Hoover

Perhaps the most feared man by criminals and Congressmen alike is buried behind bars.

J. Edgar Hoover once headed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 1924-77. Indeed, his name in on the building along Pennsylvania Ave.

The nation’s top G-Man (Government man, as they were called in the early days) is buried with family in Congressional Cemetery on the edge of town. A simple plot surrounded by a black iron fence with an FBI crest and bench.

J. Edgar Hoover2Funny, I would have expected a statue. ‘

Hoover’s legacy would fill books instead of a blog. Simply, he was the first to create a national police power to catch the worst criminals like John Dillinger and “Machine Gun” Kelly. But critics that included Present Harry S. Truman charged Hoover overextended his powers by creating secret files to blackmail those who opposed him.

Posted in Memorials | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Is this me in 1987?

The Washington Times
Posted in Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Two bridges, four statues

Aspiration and LiteratureBehind the Lincoln Memorial and guarding the entrances to two bridges leading directly and indirectly to Arlington National Cemetery are four bronze equestrian statues that took a long path to their perch.

By Arlington Memorial Bridge are Arts of War statues while Arts of Peace statues lead to the George Washington Parkway.

A competition won by sculptor James Earle Fraser in 29 wasn’t completed until 1949. They were cast in Italy because of lack of bronze in the U.S. The Prime Minister of Italy then paid the $200,000 cost as a goodwill gesture to the U.S.

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

By the shores of gitchigoomie

longfellowMaybe it’s ironic that the man who wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride” is remembered in the middle of a busy intersection.

A bronze statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is at Connecticut and M Sts. N.W., one of the busier crossroads in town. He’s shown in robes with a book, looking contemplatively into the distance over perhaps what he just read.

Longfellow (1807–1882) was one of America’s greatest poets with “The Song of Hiawatha” and “Evangeline” along with Paul Revere’s Ride staples of students’ reading.

Sculpted by William Couper and Thomas Ball, the statue was dedicated on May 7, 1909 while the Marine Band played “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wordless Wednesday: Take me away

Posted in Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Did the Truth set her free?

Sojourner TruthBorn into slavery in 1797, Isabella Baumfree was the first of 13 siblings to be sold at auction at age nine. There would be four more owners over the next two decades.

Finally, after an owner reneged on a promise to free her in exchange for hard work, Baumfree escaped with her infant child in 1826. By 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and preached about women’s rights and abolition.

Today, Truth’s bronze portrait is shown on the right side of the Statue of Freedom model inside the U.S. Capitol visitors center’s Emancipation Hall. She is the first African-American woman’s sculpture in the Capitol.

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Is it safe to come out?

It’s time to leave the bunkers.

The crisis hasn’t passed. People are still getting sick. But, the economy is in shambles and people can’t take the isolation anymore. So ready or not, here we come.

At least, some of us. In waves. No tourists, per say. I’m not sure I’ll tour guide again until next spring, leaving me a big zero for 2020.

But I plan to walk around the memorials today. I’ve missed them after 10 years of walking with tourists, talking about our iconic images. Oh, I’ve spent the last two months converting my Lincoln assassination and Mount Vernon tours into online history lessons for teens, but it’s not the same.

I miss being among the marble stones of history, walking the the streets of my hometown. We lost spring and summer doesn’t look a whole lot more promising, but at least we can start rebuilding our lives.

I look forward to not having to wear a mask that makes my glasses fog up. Popping into a store to buy something quickly. Shaking hands with people. I’ll do what needs to be done, but I miss the old days.

Before March, I’d never heard the terms social distancing, zoom and coronavirus. Now, they’re part of our everyday lives.

History will remember this time long after we’re gone. Maybe some guide will talk about us, of the great COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. I want to be remembered, but not like this.

Hopefully, I’ll see you soon. At least, from six feet away.

Posted in Washington life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Wordless Wednesday: Being outside

Posted in Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Happy Memorial Day

Posted in Washington life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Where John Wilkes Booth crossed the river


Potomac River crossingForget the chicken crossing the road – how John Wilkes Booth crossed the river after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln is equally perplexing?

I give Booth tours in Washington, D.C. from the White House to Ford’s Theatre. It’s probably the most popular of my many theme tours.

But the story doesn’t end there. Even though I live near the Dr. Mudd House and know many of the escape route sites, I had never been to the actual spot where Booth crossed the Potomac. And then I came across Dave Taylor of, a school teacher who lives in Southern Maryland who has produced an amazing website. Seriously, check it out.

So we went to the Pine Thicket area where Booth stayed four days and nearby Rich Hill, but Dave had been to the river site near Popes Creek, Md. that is private property (so don’t do this yourself without permission) and took us to the waterline. Dave is pictured above pointing to the Virginia shoreline on the left while Maryland is still on the distant right.

Dent's MeadowIt was pretty cool. We stood where the small creek hiding the boat feeds into the Potomac. We scanned the horizon where Booth failed to cross into Virginia on his first attempt about three miles away while federal troops searched for him on land and water. And we could see where Booth successfully crossed on his second attempt before later caught and killed in Virginia.

Standing in the exact spot of a historical event is always intriguing. We’re lucky to do it in Washington. But standing along the river provides insight into just how hard a task it was for Booth and why it ultimately cost him his life.

(Reprinted from 2016.)

Posted in On the Trail of John Wilkes Booth | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

My favorite places — Korean War Veterans Memorial

Posted in Memorials | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Oscar A. Strauss Memorial Fountain at Reagan Building

Religious Freedom

The Oscar A. Strauss Memorial Fountain at the Reagan Building along 14th St. N.W. was 20 years in the making. It was time well spent.

Strauss was a German immigrant in the 1850s who become one of the top U.S. diplomats in the late 1880s. He was an ambassador to Turkey and later spent 24 years at the International Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands. Strauss was a proponent of the U.S. joining the League of Nations.

After his 1926 death, Congress soon authorized the monument that didn’t debut until 1947 because of World War II and debates over its location. The monument has a fountain and statues of Religious Freedom and The Reason.

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Jack Swigert – an American hero

John "Jack" Swigert Jr.Combat pilot, test pilot, astronaut and elected to Congress – it was quite a life for John Leonard “Jack” Swigert, Jr.

A bronze statue of the Colorado Congressman-to-be stands in the Capitol Visitors Center. Made by George and Mark Lundeen, a copy of the statue stands in Denver International Airport.

After stints as a Korean War combat pilot and test pilot, Swigert joined the NASA Astronaut Group 5 in 1966. He was one of three astronauts on the Apollo 13 moon mission in 1970. The mission was cancelled after an oxygen tank rupture that prompted Swigert to utter the immortal, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

During his successful 1982 campaign to become Colorado’s 6th congressional district, Swigert underwent surgery for a cancerous tumor in his right nasal passage. Unfortunately, it spread to his bone marrow and lungs and Swigert died Dec. 27, eight days before he would have been sworn in.

Side note: I saw this same statue at Denver’s airport when catching a train between terminals.

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

My favorite places – Washington National Cathedral

Posted in Attractions | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The longest line in town

With unemployment at the largest levels since the Great Depression, the bread line at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial seems even more relevant.

The bread line statues are men waiting in line for food during the Great Depression of the 1930s during FDR’s presidency. It’s one of the more interactive pieces on the mall. Adults always seem to know what to do – get in line for the photo.

Students are always a little slower to join the line. But, once they do I nearly have to pry them away. I always have a sense those photos will be on facebook within hours. The kids just love this statue once they understand it. The key is not hogging it too long so the next group that always seems to be coming can have their time, too.

Posted in Memorials | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment