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
1964

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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 Lincolncottage.org. 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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Slave cemetery in Southern Maryland

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Who’s who at Korean War Memorial

There are 19 soldiers at the Korean War Memorial. They look much alike to the average civilian. For a long time I relied on military members on my tours to teach me who was who largely based on headgear.

But thanks to fellow guide Tim Krepp, I can also share an Army website link that shows each soldier, too.

There are 14 Army, 3 Marines, 1 Air Force and 1 Navy in the unit to represent all four military branches serving in Korea.

The Navy member (#9) is a medic. The website says one of the Marines (#14) is also a medic and the other two are a gunner (#12) and his assistant (#13). The Air Force (#11) seen left is a ground controller. The Army are riflemen, scouts, radio operator and squad leader.

Sculptor Frank Gaylord created 7-foot-3 statues of 12 Caucasian, 3 African American, 2 Latino, 1 Asian and 1 American Indian.

Below are two of the Marines. The one facing is the medic, the other is assistant gunner. Notice the wrinkles on their helmet as the best indicator of being Marines.

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All aboard for Randolph

If you’ve ever taken a train at Union Station, you’ve passed this statue. It’s right by the entrance to the boarding area.

A. Philip Randolph was among America’s leading black labor and civil rights leaders. The plaque beneath the bust says Randolph founded the brotherhood of sleeping car porters (hence the railroad station connection) and “conceived and initiated the 1963 march on Washington.”

Randolph first organized shipyard and dock workers before moving on to porters in 1937. His first porters contract included a $2 million raise, shorter hours and overtime pay.

Randolph moved on to discrimination in 1942. His work led to the 1963 civil rights rally where Randolph witnessed Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Had a Dream Speech.” Ironically, the son of an Episcopal minister was an atheist.

The statue was created by Ed Dwight, a former astronaut turned sculptor.

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My guide in Gdansk

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Down by the old, old, old spring house

The old spring house

 

It is a house of mystery. Well, at least a spring house of mystery.

In nearly the middle of Ft. Lincoln Cemetery is a spring house believed to be one of the older structural relics of the American colonization era. Some say the 11-foot square structure with 18-inch fieldstone walls was constructed in 1683 by residents. However, the National Register of Historic Places report also conjectures it was built by George Conn soon after buying the land in 1765.

With a gable roof of hand-split cedar shakes, the spring house has a wooden door that leads to one step down for an 18-inch trough. There are also two five-foot latticed openings for air to circulate. The structure was painted white in 1939.

The spring itself is a few feet from the house under what was once the Lincoln Oak that lived for 425 years until destroyed by lightning in 1994. Abraham Lincoln was said to drink from the spring house while discussing war strategy with Army leaders. My mother, who is not as old as Lincoln, said there was a dipper to use for drinking back in the 1940s.

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