I’m now a certified National Cathedral guide


Ever want to visit one of those old European cathedrals without needing a passport? Come to the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Washington.


Commonly called National Cathedral because the Episcopal church welcomes all and serves the nation for major events like presidential funerals and remembrances, it’s the closest thing you’ll get locally to those church abroad. Built from 1907 to 1990, the church has 150,000 tons of limestone from Indiana built in a Gothic style for soaring heights. There are 216 stained glass windows in the church built like a 14th-century cathedral.

President Woodrow Wilson and his wife Edith are entombed there as the church in 1924 sought to become like Westminster Abbey in England and be the resting place of great leaders. No other presidents since have chosen the cathedral with the latest trend having them buried at their libraries.


I decided to become a certified Cathedral guide this year to expand my knowledge of the city. Oh, I’ve been to services and funerals at the cathedral over the years, but like becoming a guide around town I’ve found you really don’t know much about places unless you study them. I passed both written and oral exams to become a guide. (Yeah, it’s weird taking tests at my age, but still feels good when passing.)

If you’re interested in a private tour of the cathedral, please contact me. There is so much to know about the place like what statue is the only one showing a president kneeling, what other famous folks are buried there, why a building is a cathedral and where is that Darth Vader grotesque? Don’t worry, you can take all the photos you like and we can spend as long as you like as a private tour versus 30 minutes on student tours.


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Eisenhower Executive Office Building

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Stephen DeCatur House remains special

Stephen DeCatur must have been one cool cat, if not an unlucky one.

After fighting in the War of 1812 and later facing pirates off the Barbary Coast, DeCatur used the “prize money” from Congress to build this three-story brick house within sight of the White House in Lafayette Park at the corner of Jackson Place and H St. N.W.

Too bad he only lived in it only 14 months before – bam – dying in a duel. Seems Commodore James Baron objected to DeCatur court martialing him and shot him in a one-on-one satisfaction of honor.

DeCatur’s wife moved out immediately. It has since been the home of one vice president, three secretaries of state, five congressmen, a British prime minister and the French and Russian delegations. Nowadays it’s a naval museum open to the public.

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What’s on the radio?

During the dark days of the Great Depression and World War II, Americans huddled around their radios hoping for the latest news and a little inspiration.

The fireside chats by Franklin Delano Roosevelt were staples of listening from 1933-45. The series of 30 talks dealt with economic recovery and war over 15 to 45 minutes. Roosevelt spoke in a simple style so everyone could understand him. Indeed, 80 percent of the most commonly 1,000 words were used in his speeches.

TV eventually replaced the radio as the dominant medium, but every president since FDR has continued regular radio broadcasts. Indeed, it has been a weekly staple by recent presidents, including President Obama.

This sculpture of a farmer listening intently to the radio is in the FDR Memorial not far from the breadline.

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Daughters of the American Revolution

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What’s the most photographed statue in town?

Nobody really knows, but if it’s not Abraham Lincoln at his memorial than it’s surely Andrew Jackson here in Lafayette Park.

Why? First, it’s a great statue. Second, it’s right by the White House. Third, it’s a dynamite shot, especially at night with the White House as the backdrop.

Our seventh president, Jackson is shown aboard his horse wearing the uniform as a major general of his Tennessee militia while reviewing his troops shortly before beating the British in the Battle of New Orleans in the last battle of the War of 1812. “Old Hickory’s” fiery temper is shown by his horse’s front two hooves raised, but Jackson has a snug grip on the reins while tipping his cap to the troops.

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The Awakening now entertains tourists

For 36 years, a 70-foot statue has been trying to get up in the morning. Guess I’m not so slow after all.

The Awakening is a 70-foot statue of a man trying to get up from the earth. There are five aluminum pieces in the ground with the left hand, right foot, bent left leg and knee, right arm and hand and his head showing.

It was created by J. Seward Johnson, Jr. in 1980 at the southern end of Hains Point in Washington, D.C. across the Potomac River from National Airport. Johnson sold it to National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. in 2007 for $750,000.

It’s closer together than the Hains Point version. Steps from the water, it’s a popular stop for tourists to climb on him. There’s also the nation’s only Peeps store just steps away. Check out the chocolate-covered peeps.

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Nighttime at the Willard Hotel

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A winter’s peek at Sir John Dill

Sir John Dill

Why would anyone walk Arlington National Cemetery in January? It’s the best time for photos.

This photo above of Sir John Dill would be impossible when leaves are on the trees. By looking for the statue from a non-traditional angle, you get memorable photos.

I noticed sitting by the grave of Robert Todd Lincoln (Abe’s son) that I could see the eternal flame of John F. Kennedy’s. I never noticed that before. Didn’t think they were close enough.

So on a fair winter’s day, get some exercise and fresh air and walk Arlington National Cemetery. You’ll get some great photos.

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John Wingate Weeks worth a side trip

John Wingate Weeks

It’s funny how you can walk by something regularly, but come a different way one time and see it entirely differently.

That’s how I stumbled upon the magnificent grave of John Wingate Weeks, a former Secretary of War who’s a stone’s throw from John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame. Normally, I come from the main entrance or from the Tomb of the Unknowns, but for once walked from the west side after seeing William Howard Taft’s and Robert Todd Lincoln’s graves.

Really, how did I miss this large white marble remembrance complete with two benches? Guess I was too focused getting up that hill.

Ironically, Wingate (1860-1926) never served in the military, but he was Secretary of War from 1921-25. He who worked so hard overseeing post-World War I downsizing that he suffered a stroke that led to his death.

Weeks made his fortune in banking before becoming a Republican Congressman from 1905-13 and then a U.S. Senator from 1913-19. He would later join Warren. G. Harding’s Cabinet in 1921. His wife Martha is buried aside Weeks. Their son Charles became a U.S. Senator and Secretary of Commerce under President Eisenhower. The street in front of the graves was named for Weeks.

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The Occidental

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Wandering on a cold winter’s day


It’s hard to be alone with your thoughts at Arlington National Cemetery for much of the year. Nearly four million people visit with crowds heavy from March to December.

But January is the best time to visit if it’s not polar cold. The tourists are gone. Indeed, not one bus on the morning I came. I didn’t see anyone for nearly an hour as I veered away from the popular JFK eternal flame and changing of the guard. And since it was a 43-degree morning, I was fine given walking the cemetery’s hills keeps you warm.


So I sat by Robert Todd Lincoln’s grave where wreaths distributed in December still remain a few more days. Robert was the oldest and only of Abraham Lincoln’s four sons to live past age 18. Indeed, he lived to see the Lincoln Memorial open in 1922. The rest of the family is buried together in Springfield, Ill. but Robert is at Arlington between presidents John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft. On a winter’s day you can see the eternal flame from Lincoln’s grave. Indeed, one of the perks of visiting in the winter is the absence of leaves that block so many views.

You can hear the clock by the Tomb of the Unknowns chiming throughout the cemetery in the cold stillness. Somehow in the summer the chimes don’t reach the edges.


Arlington has so many great stories. I often wander the cemetery where seven family members are buried looking at stones I haven’t seen before, noting their names to look up their history later.

So watch the weather for a warm day and visit Arlington National Cemetery before the crowds return in March. The stillness makes you appreciate life.

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Firefighter monument suddenly No. 2

I’ve determined Washington Post columnist John Kelly secretly wishes he was a Washington tour guide. If not, he’d sure make a fine one. (Must be career wanderlust. As a Washington Post Express sports columnist, I always wanted to be a U.S. Park ranger but instead became a licensed Washington tour guide.)

Kelly reports in ‘First’ D.C. firefighter to die on the job wasn’t the Benjamin Greenup Monument in Glenwood Cemetery long thought to honor the first fallen Washington firefighter indeed doesn’t. Instead, Kelly writes John A. Anderson died two months earlier in 1856. Mostly, it comes down to Greenup came from a wealthier part of town and his colleagues were better able to honor him so over time people assumed Greenup died first.

Hey, it’s not the first time the rich wrote history.

This monument gets some notoriety for its depiction of Greenup’s death. In a three-foot relief panel, Greenup is shown being crushed under the horse-drawn fire engine of Columbia Engine Co. No. 1. Seems Greenup fell under the engine while rushing to the fire and was killed instantly. Amazingly, this very pumper is still in storage for future display.

Firemen were in a hurry not just to save buildings, but to collect a bonus from insurance companies back then. Fights would even erupt between companies over who would fight the fire so Greenup and company were in a big hurry that day.

Fire recruits ride by Greenup’s monument in Glenwood regularly in tribute. Oddly, I wonder if they’ll now need to say he was the second one killed. Anderson is now buried in an unmarked grace in Oak Hill Cemetery near Georgetown.

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Small places I love in town – Lincoln portraits

Lincoln family portrait

My favorite places aren’t the biggest attractions, but the smaller venues.The personal connections. It’s what makes travel fun.

Maybe that’s why I like covering teams just as much on non-game days as the games themselves as a local sports writer for the past 40 years. (I now work for the Washington Post Express and 106.7 The Fan as a columnist.) Behind-the-scene stories interest me more.

So this year I’m going to write about smaller venues when possible. Anyone can talk about the Lincoln Memorial. I do it all the time. But these two portraits hang in the lobby of the Willard Hotel just past the clerks on the left. It’s a small section of the lobby where you can study them in peace.

The portrait above is of Abe Lincoln and sons Willie (far right) and Tad. The lower photo is Mary Lincoln and their son Robert Todd Lincoln. The Lincolns also had a fourth son, Edward Baker Lincoln, who died in 1951 at age three of tuberculosis.

Mary and Robert Todd Lincoln

It many ways, the Lincolns are a sad story. Abe may have been our greatest president in holding the union together during the Civil War, but the price was his own life at the hands of assassin John Wilkes Booth, who oddly is a distant cousin of mine.

Willie and Tad both contracted typhoid fever in 1862 during the family’s second year in the White House. Some say it was caused by the bad water conditions around the White House. Willie didn’t recover and died at age 13. It’s said Willie’s death was the greatest heartbreak of his father’s life. Tad would die at age 18 while traveling with his mother overseas for two years. All three boys are now buried alongside their parents in Springfield, Ill.

Robert Todd Lincoln as Lincoln Memorial dedication

Robert Todd Lincoln was the only son that lived into adulthood. Indeed, he died in 1926 at age 82 after attending the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial four years earlier (shown left.) He was Secretary of War from 1881-85 and served as envoy to the United Kingdom. Robert is buried at Arlington National Cemetery after living in Washington much of his life.

Mary Lincoln died in 1882 at age 64. A life of heartache for sure, but we at least see the Lincolns shown in good times.

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Monumental Thoughts turns 8

Happy birthday to Monumental Thoughts . . . again.

I’ve just finished eight years of tour guiding and writing this blog, which is mostly a journey of continued learning. Last summer saw my 1,000th post of the sites and sights around Washington.

It was a typical year overall. Lots of time on the National Mall, though occasional excursions to the many other great parts of town. I created a Presidential and First Ladies drinking tour which I do for private groups. Indeed, private tours are my mainstay now, though occasionally I’ll do a school group in the spring.

In 2018, 13,975 visited Monumental Thoughts.The blog, which was called a Top 5 Read by the Huffington Post, has now drawn 159,807 viewers through the years.

For the eighth straight year, rocks atop stones explaining why they’re atop Arlington National Cemetery graves was the most read story. Finding a name on the Vietnam Wall was second followed by an update on the man and dog on Korean Wall Memorial.

Well, on to year nine. I figure on guiding as long as I can, which is hopefully at least a few more years. I’m also finishing a book on angels in our lives called “The Angel Among Us” and working on a website featuring the wines of Southern Maryland. And, of course, I’m still covering the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post Express and 106.7 The Fan. I just celebrated 40 years as a local sports writer with hopefully 10 more to go.

Good luck to us all in 2019.

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Reagan National Airport in gingerbread

Inside the Willard Hotel is a gingerbread version of Reagan National Airport as you head from the lobby to the cafe. Please, don’t eat it.

The entire Willard Hotel pastry staff, headed by executive pastry chef Jason Jimenez, pastry cook Magenta Liverngood and engineer David Sanabria, worked on the display for more than 350 hours. The 400-pound work contains 100 LED lights, 30 feet of electrical wire, 306 pieces of gingerbread and 30 pounds of fondant for the runways. You’ll also hear a live feed from the airport’s control tower.


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Willard Hotel at Christmas

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Willard Hotel at Christmastime

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Merry Christmas from Monumental Thoughts

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Merry Christmas in Washington

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