January 27: Old Friends Touring DC: Navy Memorial and National Portrait Gallery

A rare treat for the Old Friends weekend, we were able to tour on Sunday as well. Today included breakfast, church and then a trip to downtown DC to visit the Navy Memorial (site of the Lone Sailor) and the National Portrait Gallery.

Our first stop after finding parking (which was free on the street where we were since it was Sunday), was a walking trip through Judiciary Square where we found these two gents deeply absorbed in an impromptu chess game. They didn’t include a timer. Russ pointed out that the board was also set wrong, not something to be noticed by the casual observer.
Our primary stop was just around the corner on Pennsylvania Avenue at the Navy Memorial. Best known for the statue of the Lone Sailor out front, there are exhibits and a theater inside. 2012 was celebrated as the Year of the Chief.
DSCN7908This centerpiece hangs in the center of the spiral staircase leading down to the main exhibit floor. This one is beautifully made of wood with the woodgrain showing as the gold color with painted silver for the shield. This is a replica of the traditional Chief Petty Officer’s collar device, the fouled anchor.


Chief Petty Officer uniforms

I’ll take a moment to apologize here for the quality of some of the pictures that follow. The lighting showed a glare on several of the displays. Normally, I’d reject those pictures but I believe the Navy Memorial needs to be shared a bit more and I’ll compromise the picture quality to give you a better idea what’s there.


Memorial plaque for submarine sailors of WWII


Multiple memorial plaques provided in exchange for donations. There were a number of displays similar to this one.


The Senior Enlisted Sailor in the Navy is the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON). This display pays tribute to those who have served in this capacity. Of the 13 men who have served as MCPON, three were submarine-qualified (James Herdt 1998-2002; Terry Scott 2002-2006; and Rick West 2008-2012)


DSCN7919The Navy Memorial maintains a log that allows sailors or their families to enter pertinent data about the sailor as part of the memorial. Their goal is to include all Navy Sea Service Vets. Father Steve was looking things over but decided to complete the entry back at Chateau Pierre.


Signalmen and spotters served in good weather and bad.


The Memorial includes a library of books (fiction and non-fiction) about the Navy and its sailors and also by some of the sailors.


A piece of the USS Arizona, bombed and sunk in the attack on Pearl Harbor.


The display included portraits of Presidents who had served in the Navy. This one is John Kennedy. Also included were Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.




The Ship’s Store


The Navy Memorial maintains a log of sea service veterans. This poster reminds us that sea service veterans are all around us and asks to help. Visit their website at www.NavyMemorial.org


Statue depicts “The Kiss”, subject of a famous Life magazine cover at the end of WWII.

P1060136There are a number of scale models of Navy ships on display.



The Lone Sailor


The Lone Sailor with friends


The compass in the Memorial Plaza.

After visiting the Navy Memorial we headed over to visit the National Portrait Gallery. The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Smithsonian Institution and is dedicated to the display of portraits of persons who have made significant contributions to American history and culture. There is an extensive display of Presidential portraiture including a wire sculpture of President George H.W. Bush pitching horseshoes. The American Art Museum (which shares the building) included exhibits displaying the national parks and other persons in our history. There was an exhibit depicting Amelia Earhart and artifacts from the US Patent Office.

We highly recommend that you take the time to visit. While you’re there, allow time to take in the atrium in the center courtyard shown in the pictures below.


The water in this picture is no more than a quarter to half inch deep. Although it appears to be much deeper.

We chose to grab lunch in the atrium. There were a number of folks who seemed to be just enjoying the opportunity to relax and read or study in the pleasant temperatures and the sunshine coming through the glass roof. It sure beat the cold outside.

DSCN7937After we left the Portrait Gallery, it was time for Russ to hit the road south while Father Steve, Betty and Keith headed back to Germantown.

Father Steve left on Monday via BWI where he experienced his unusual luck at finding delayed flights but arrived safely back at home, albeit a bit later than planned.

It was another great weekend with great friends, exploring the sights right here in our own backyard.

January 26: Old Friends Touring Locally: Fort Washington — Who Knew?

P1060055 P1060048 DSCN7845 DSCN7843 DSCN7839 DSCN7832 DSCN2944During our last visit with Russ and Father Steve, we had spied something on the eastern side of the Potomac while coming home from Mt. Vernon. A little web research identified Ft. Washington as our target.

As it turns out, Ft. Washington is still a fort. After all these years of being so close, who knew? Today’s adventure would take us there to see close up. Fort Washington is under the care and ownership of the National Park Service.

Originally the location was home to the Digges estate. The Digges family were friends of George and Martha Washington. In fact, George celebrated his 43rd birthday here. It has been called Warburton Manor. The first military installation was called Ft. Warburton. The site is across the river and slightly upriver from Mt. Vernon. President George Washington suggested it be built. With perpendicular earthen walls, it stood 14 feet above the bottom of a ditch which surrounded the river side of the fort. It included a tower with six cannon overlooking the river. But Ft. Warburton lasted only 5 years.

In August 1814, British forces entered Washington through Bladensburg MD and burned the White House, Capitol and most other government buildings. The next day British warships sailed up the Potomac headed for Alexandria VA. Capt. Samuel Dyson feared Warburton would wind up in British hands so he evacuated and used the powder to destroy the fort. (You may note that Samuel Dyson is not a name you hear in discussions of early American heroes.)

James Monroe, acting Secretary of Defense, engaged Pierre L’Enfant (famous for the layout of Washington) within a month to build a replacement even as the threat diminished with the Treaty of Ghent being signed in December 1814 and the British defeat at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815. L’Enfant was subsequently dismissed and replaced and the construction was completed in October 1824 at a cost of $426,000 (roughly the price of some of the larger homes in the nearby Ft. Washington community.

As the country moved closer to the Civil War, it became clear that Ft. Washington’s position guarding the capital and across the river from Virginia was more critical. At one time, the fort was under the command of Lt. George Washington Custis Lee, son of General Robert E. Lee. With the growing unrest, he resigned his commission and moved to Virginia. After Lee’s departure, forty Marines were assigned to defend Ft. Washington but were replaced in January 1861 a company of Army recruits. The day after Ft. Sumter fell, the Army’s 1st Artillery took over Ft. Washington. For a time, Ft. Washington stood as the only defense for Washington but was supplemented by a string of 68 enclosed forts and batteries encircling the city.

The fort served during the War of 1812, the American Civil War, the Spanish American War and into the 20th century as a potential defense during both World Wars before reverting to the Department of Interior.

The new fort was designed to serve as a link in the defense of the East Coast of the USA from Naval attack, not just the nation’s capital. During the Civil War, the development of armored ships and rifled cannon shifted the nature of warfare, allowing the ships to approach closer than wooden ships could and to fire rifled cannon which were capable of demolishing brick fortifications and with greater range.

This 24 pounder cannon has an effective range of 1900 yards, almost double the distance to the Virginia shoreline.

This 24 pounder cannon has an effective range of 1900 yards, almost double the distance to the Virginia shoreline. This is all that remains of the fort’s 1861 armament.

Fort Washington has evolved over the years and is not just one structure but several on the property that were built to meet the changes in strategy and technology. It is also one of only a handful of the seacoast fortifications still in their original form.

In 1872, the US Army turned the fort over to the Army engineers who constructed new gun positions. In 1896, new concrete batteries were built near the fort for Endicott-era guns, 10-inch rifles on disappearing carriages, 12 inch mortar batteries and 4 inch rifles. Land was purchased and similar batteries were built across on the Virginia side of the Potomac — Ft. Hunt.

In 1921, after the post was no longer needed, it became the headquarters of the 12th infantry. During WWII, the Adjutant General’s Officer Candidate School. was based there. In 1946 the fort was deactivated and became part of the National Park System so that it could be preserved historically and provide recreational opportunities. One Facebook friend says he attended a military school there (or near there) in 2005.DSCN2931
On the point there is also a navigational channel marker which has served as a fog warning.

Our visit was on a cold but sunny day and we started our tour by driving through the park and taking the path down by the river. It’s obvious that the park is used by many nearby residents as a place for walking, bike riding and exercising the dogs.DSCN2925
On leaving the car, we came across this trash can with a solar powered compactor.

The old light house/fog signal is small (even compared to DSCN2937Massachusetts lighthouses), less than 30 feet high.
The area between the main fortification and the river has been used over the years for munitions storage, kitchens and later for mounting of cannons and other artillery. From this area is also the entrance called the sally port. Steve walked in this way but found that entrance locked.

The stairway from the water battery inside the fort.

The stairway from the water battery inside the fort. Doors at the landing below provided protection and thus a sally port.

The stairway from the water batter outside the fort

The stairway from the water batter outside the fort. Doors at the bottom and at the top (shown) provided additional security.



Mt. Vernon lies just beyond the tree-covered point on the right.


Looking upriver. The bridge in the distance is the Woodrow Wilson connecting MD to Alexandria VA via I95/495

The fort is located on a high point at the juncture of the Potomac River and Piscataway Creek, slightly upriver from Mt. Vernon. This area is known as the Water Battery. In this area were several support facilities for the fort including the powder magazine, storehouse, saddlers shop, blacksmith, stables and the shot house. In the late 19th century, the area underwent major changes as platforms for four fifteen inch guns were added. Later, there were provisions for the Endicott guns. Guns located in this area could ricochet across the water (like skipping rocks) to more directly and accurately hit attacking ships.   DSCN7820 DSCN2953


P1060125Two sets of gates protected the main entrance. During renovations made in the 1840s, a drawbridge was added to further protect the entrance. A series of chains and counterweights provided for rapid closure in case of attack from the land side. Additionally, 13 guns provided protection. Gunrooms were built flanking the main entrance (or sally port) to aid in that protection.




The main entrance or sally port from inside.

DSCN7857The northwest demi-bastion was designed to contain two levels of guns but only the upper row was installed. The lower level was used by laundresses who lived with their soldier husbands until better quarters were built later. The area was also used for storerooms.

P1060105DSCN2965Also part of the 1840s improvements was the addition of this protected passageway called a capionere which projected from the landside wall and included two levels of guns mounted on swivel tracks to facilitate aiming.





The capionere also provided a hidden point to keep an eye on the four-legged neighbors.

There was also a battery along the outer wall of the ditch surrounding the fort. This provided the capability to fire muskets against attackers who had entered the ditch as well as towards the river.



Postern gate, now sealed up



Officers quarters


Looking across to Enlisted quarters


Another view across the main parade ground


Looking south across the parade ground from above the front gate. A shed (no longer there) at the far corner provided lookout and control capabilities for the Endicott era mines in the river.


Part of the river mines system from the late 19th century.


Father Steve with a cannonball in the guard shack.


Exiting the fort, you see the visitor center in the yellow house on the hill. DSCN2947 At some point, it was the commanding officers’ quarters but it is not clear during which era. The visitor center contains an audio-vsual presentation as well as some historical
DSCN3013 DSCN3021exhibits. It also contains the highly sought after (at least by Betty) gift shop! On this particular day, it also contained the first place with heat that we had entered since leaving the car.

Outside the visitor center is the Battery Commander’s Center (the concrete tower) and Battery Decatur.
Battery Decatur was completed in 1891 and is made of reinforced concrete. It reflected the shift in defensive structures to rifled projectiles. On the top were mounted 10 inch guns which used the recoil energy to lower the gun out of sight for reloading. The guns had a range of about 7 miles. DSCN3011The lower stories had storerooms for shot, powder and shells and cranes to lift the ordinance to the upper floor guns.

During WWI, the two guns of Battery Decatur were shipped to Fort Monroe Va enroute to use in France. Ft. Washington was garrisoned by the DC Coast Artillery and a number of military units were organized there. The fort was also used as a staging area for troops headed overseas.

Following that, the fort was occupied by the 3rd Battalion 12th Infantry. Its soldies participated in a number of state functions until 1939 when the 3rd Battalion was moved to Fort Myer near Arlington Cemetery. In ’39, the fort was transferred to the Department of Interior and was home to a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) barracks.

Following the US entry into WWII, Ft. Washington was returned again to the Department of War. Further expansion occurred with additional buildings for students and to provide support services for training military personnel. The Veterans Administration used part of the area and buildings as public housing.

In 1946, the fort was once transferred to the Department of Interior with may of the WWI and WWII era buildings removed. So far, it has remained a public park since.

After all the tramping around up and down stairs and hills and breathing all the fresh winter air, it was time for a relaxed meal.  So it was over to Proud Mary’s at the Ft. Washington Marina.

photo7By the time we had finished our meal, it was time to head for home and resume the hotly-contested Uno championship.

January 25: Old Friends Touring Monticello

Steve and Russ were two of Keith’s roommates when we were at the Navy’s training facility in New York. Although our paths diverged quite a bit afterwards, it was an intense time in our lives and the friendship that really got its roots there has continued and deepened through the years. At least once per year, we try to get together and visit with each other and to play tourist somewhere. For point of reference, Betty and Keith met while Steve, Russ and he were roommates.

On January 24, the website for Thomas Jefferson’s home in the hills near Charlottesville VA indicated that they had closed early due to the inclement weather but to check back for the schedule for the next DSCN2868 day. At sometime after 9:00 am on Friday, January 25 the website indicated they would be open normal hours so we loaded up with hopes of seeing Monticello and maybe even Monroe’s Ash Lawn and Madison’s Montpelier. The forecast was calling for the possibility of light snow in the early evening.

Not in any particular hurry to get there, we meandered a bit and considered getting lunch on the way but decided to wait until after our tour and pulled into the nearly deserted parking lot about 1:00. It appears the flurries and cold had discouraged many less hearty souls from the hilltop this afternoon. We went inside the cluster of buildings and bought our tickets for the 1:30 tour. After we purchased our tickets, we were told that would be the last tour this day as they would be closing early today because of the weather. When I had last toured Monticello (a time best measured as a couple of decades rather than a specific number of years), tickets were purchased at booths similar to those seen at a fair rather than the complex of steel and cedar with brick walkways. DSCN2869 Since our tour was departing soon, we decided to skip past the gift shop and theater DSCN2870 DSCN2917 but went into the museum to await the shuttle. The museum exhibit was themed more around the lives and times of the others living at Monticello, including the slaves of his era and later occupants. Outside the museum was a life-sized bronze statue of our third President and we all took the time to speak with him one-on-one.DSCN7810 DSCN7811 We boarded the bus and Jefferson watched us head up the hill. He’d be there when we returned.
We rode in the shuttle bus up to the main house and you could feel it getting colder and the snow flurries came more frequently.


Perpetual tourists. Seemingly oblivious to the cold but cameras in hand…

"Y'all take your time looking around out there. We're waiting on another bus but I'm closing this door."

“Y’all take your time looking around out there. We’re waiting on another bus but I’m closing this door.”


The low square structure at the corner is a cistern for saving rainwater.


Jefferson’s library and personal quarters from the outside. The openings along the ground under the floor level allowed for warming fires to support the plants he grew.


Guest rooms occupied the rooms to the left in this picture and a tea room was to the right (rear). While Jefferson was ahead of his time in many regards, the accessible ramp is a more recent addition.

Our tour began on the first floor inside but the cameras had to be put away there due to copyright and ownership issues on some of the loaned display items. I suggest you visit the website here where more detailed discussions and pictures can be found.
The first room we visited was the main entry which included a view of the large one-week clock which Jefferson had built as well as artifacts from the Lewis and Clark Expedition into the Louisiana Purchase.
We moved into the family’s quarters seeing Jefferson’s library and hothouse which was heated in part by fires under the brick floor. We curved across the backside of the house and into the dining area with bright paint which seemed a cross between sunflowers and marigolds. Continuing around to the opposite front corner of the house, we viewed a guestroom and then moved down a narrow stairway to what would be service areas of the house, generally used by the servants and working folks rather than house guests.


This bottle-sized dumb waiter allowed sending wine directly from the wine cellar to the butler’s pantry off the dining room.

DSCN2883 DSCN2884 DSCN2889 DSCN2890 DSCN2893 DSCN2894 DSCN2895 P1060006 P1060007 P1060008 P1060009


The 7 day clock upstairs is operated by these weights but the length is too much to be fully contained on one floor so the end of the weights goes into the cellar.


This passage leads from the cellar south to the outside.


One of the cisterns. Because of periodic shortages of water, Mr. Jefferson installed 4 at strategic locations to catch rainwater from the house and walkways. Each of the four potentially held 3,800 gallons.


These were single rooms that were used as a study or quiet place by Jefferson and his guests.


The more famous views of the house were actually the back. The white sheeting covering the columns is to protect renovation/restoration work in progress.


The fish pond is covered in ice. Fish caught in neighboring streams were kept alive until needed for the table.


The view to the south


The Garden Pavilion, favored by Jefferson as a quiet and peaceful place to read in the cool of the evening, was toppled by several windstorms following his death and was restored in 1984.


The south pavilion was called the “outchamber” by Jefferson. Thomas and Martha originally lived in this. The lower story was at first a kitchen until it was later converted to a laundry (1808). In about 1818, the laundry was moved to the North Pavilion as it was closer to a natural spring.


Under the walkway leading to the South Pavilion were several rooms which included a dairy (where milk was stored and butter made) and quarters for the enslaved workers who worked in and around the house.


Under the walkway leading to the South Pavilion were numerous rooms


North Pavilion

DSCN7806 DSCN7808
Our tour guide graciously led us to the back of the house and invited us to look around but told us the last shuttle down the hill would be leaving soon. On the way down the hill back out to the visitors center, we were given a brief stop by the Jefferson family graveyard. DSCN2911

When we reached the visitors’ center, everything was locked up so no gift shop or looking around a bit further. It was back to the car to move along so they could close the gates.

In fairness to the folks at Monticello, we need to relate a bit more of the story. Yes, their website had said they would be open regular hours and the forecast was for slippery roads coming down off the hill but that was the same forecast they had when they announced they would be open all day. No one was rude but you could sense that the folks who worked there were concerned about getting safely home and we were what stood between them and being on their way. When we got home, we sent an email expressing a concern that the daily update of the website could stand a reevaluation of policy. They agreed and said they would be looking into that. They also sent us a set of tickets to be used for another day and a nice book from their gift shop. It’s often said that the true measure of customer service and graciousness is how you handle an issue, rather than a perfect record of never having an issue. They handled the recovery well.

After we left Monticello, we drove over to see nearby Ash Lawn, the estate of President John Monroe, owned and operated by his alma mater, the College of William and Mary. Alas, they were also closed due to the weather but we did manage to get a couple of pictures.


Bit of trivia, Virginia’s governor now serves for one five year term.

DSCN2918 DSCN2919 We’ll have to save Ash Lawn for another day. Perhaps an earlier start will get us to Montpelier as well.

And so we headed for home but we had skipped lunch and were all getting a bit hungry. In the course of seeking a restaurant that suited all, it became known that Father Steve HAD NEVER EATEN AT A WAFFLE HOUSE!!! So we remedied that.


There’s something very, very wrong with this sign. Do you know what it is?

photo1After food, it really was back to the house with a stop at Wawa (somewhere else Steve had never been).

The Uno Championshp Series continued well into the night!

Friends Playing Tourists: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (Part 4)

The Uno Championship was complete and bragging rights go to the visiting team. The cranberry juice was getting low and thoughts of work and paychecks led Russ to pack his truck and head for home on Sunday morning.  Steve checked Mass times and got a ride to services. After church, we stopped by Taco Bell for lunch (it was Sunday, Chick-Fil-A was closed ;)) When he got back we made plans to head for today’s destination, Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. 

In making our preparations, we called Ryan to join us. She agreed to meet us there with her friend, Steve. After circling like vultures for a couple of rounds, we managed to find on-street parking on Constitution Avenue and so entered through the older entrance.

The Museum of Natural History is probably best-known for the Hope diamond, the dinosaurs, and the mastadon. We saw all those things…and then some. In center court, the display includes the mastadon.

Next we went into the geology and fossils section.











Although our pictures didn’t turn out so well, there was an extensive exhibit on the Chilean Miners’ rescue. You can see more of it at this link. Steve and Keith agreed that mining should not be our profession as our bulk would not fit into the rescue capsule.

An unusual exhibit for the Smithsonian is an exhibit called Butterfly Garden. It includes a walk through garden where you can mix and mingle with the butterflies. There’s more at the link.

Steve made a quick run into the Skeletons and Mummies Exhibit. 

We met up in the mammals exhibit before a stop at the gift shops on the way out just before closing time.

Following our afternoon at the museum, dinner was in order. We decided to try the Burmese fare at Mandalay in Silver Spring. Burmese was a new experience for us although Ryan and Steve had eaten there before. It was quite tasty and the service was good with reasonable pricing and only a short wait for our party of five.

Our long weekend with friends was drawing to a close. We settled in at home for the evening without Uno or cranberry juice.

Monday morning was a slightly earlier rising but we did manage to sleep in. Monday brought us to breakfast and then to ferry Steve toward the airport and back home.

It was a great weekend with great friends. We had played tourist and played cards and built a few more memories. When do we get to do it again?

Friends Playing Tourists: Exploring Baltimore (Part 3)

Saturday found us turning our sights toward Baltimore, Maryland’s largest (and perhaps best known) city. After furthering the world championship of Uno and consuming significant quantities of cranberry juice (with just the slightest hint of Cape Codder fixings), our morning got started around 10. Our quest for the day included Fort McHenry, the Zappa bust and the Baltimore Basilica.

This year, Maryland will be celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 (as evidenced by our current car tags as much as anything else). Following the Battle of Baltimore, Francis Scott Key observed the Flag (15 stars and 15 stripes at the time) being flown over Fort McHenry from his vantage point in Baltimore Harbor and penned the words to The Defence of Fort McHenry which would become our Star Spangled Banner. An interesting piece of info is that the tune was that of an old drinking song.


The original tune was “To Anacreon in Heaven,” an English drinking song written by John Stafford Smith with words by Ralph Tomlinson, Esq.  According to tradition it was first “sung at the Crown Anchor Tavern in the Strand, circa 1780.” Tomlinson was president of the Anacreontic Society, a gentlemen’s club popular with upscale London boozers. Anacreon (563-478 B.C.) was a Greek poet known for his songs of wine and women.

Copyrights were a different issue in those days.

Key was a Washington lawyer. He was onboard a British truce ship attempting to negotiate the release of a civilian friend of his who had been captured. While onboard, Key’s delegation learned of plans to launch the attack on Baltimore. He was detained onboard to protect the plans. Thus he witnessed the dawn’s breaking from the ship and saw the over-sized American flag which was raised at first light.

The Americans were under the command of Brevet Lt. Col. George Armistead and  did suffer casualties, amounting to four killed and 24 wounded.

The War of 1812 came about largely because of an ongoing tussle between the French and the English for control of the seas. The very young United States wasn’t really a player in that tussle but suffered on-going collateral damage as the English and French were constantly trying to disrupt the others’ supply lines. Along the way, American sailors were conscripted into service on foreign-flagged ships. Eventually, having had enough, President James Madison requested a declaration of war against the British.

Other events in the War that may stand out in your mind include the Battle of New Orleans (In 1814 we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the Mighty Mississipp’, remember Johnny Horton?) and the burning of Washington by the British and moving of the capital to Brookeville Maryland for the day.  The Americans had designs on removing the British from Canada as well but that wasn’t to be.

Our tour guide was an historian with the National Park Service. It was obvious that the man enjoyed his job! Our tour included the facts and enough drama and humor to make his presentation particularly memorable.

The fort is positioned at the mouth of the Baltimore Harbor at the convergence of the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay.  Although the count of hits vs. misses show that much of the “rockets’ red glare” was visual effects. Cannon fire from the fort was designed to skip across the water and penetrate the hull near the waterline where the red hot cannonball was likely to start a fire and lead to the loss of the ship.

The fort is of the five-pointed star design with a dry moat around it which could be used as cover by musket men to fend off a land attack should an invading naval attack make it to shore. The fort was active until 1925 when it became a National Park. In 1939, it was designated a National Monument and Historic Shrine. It was also used as a Coast Guard base during World War II.

The Fort contains several buildings which served as officer and enlisted quarters, a brig and an ammunition store. Exhibits depict these uses as well as artifacts from the fort’s life.

The flagpole which supports the flag is two-pieces, much as a ship’s mast would be. This was apparently fairly common design for forts of this era. There was also an exhibit showing how the flagpole is anchored and a display of the original flagpole anchor.

There is a newly-constructed visitor center which contains the obligatory gift shop and a series of exhibits on the War of 1812 and the Star Spangled Banner. The audio-visual presentation is entertaining and has a quite dramatic ending with a view of the soaring and (on the day we were there) brightly sunlit view.

We made the requisite stop at the Gift Shop both to do our part to support the operations plus we needed to get a few things (postcard, shotglasses and a DVD featuring history and our favorite Park historian).

  A big commemorative celebration with tall sailing ships and fireworks and enough pomp and circumstance to be worthy of the occasion is planned to begin June 18, 2012.  Sounds like quite the party.

All this fresh air and exercise of climbing around the fort worked up our appetites. The suggestion was put forward to find some lunch, or considering the hour, maybe an early dinner and noodles were requested for the menu. Sounds like its time to find Baltimore’s Little Italy!

Bridge construction had the most direct route blocked so we wound our way back out to 95 and then on to circle the Inner Harbor.

  We headed to Little Italy with no particular restaurant in mind (as we’d never been there before) and cruised until we found a parking spot on High Street, conveniently in front of the door at Amicci’s. After perusing the choices, we decided that Amicci’s to be our choice.

Seated quickly, we ordered drinks and calimari as an appetizer. Our dinner choices included pasta dishes including mussels and chicken marsala. All our choices were tasty, served promptly and attractively. Amicci’s was a good choice. Happenstance was in our favor.

By the time we had finished our meal, it was nearing dark so we continued on to find the bust of Frank Zappa.

The bust of Frank Zappa was a gift to the city of Baltimore to honor a native son and matches another bust in Vilnius Lithuania. It was of particular interest to Steve as he had seen the matching bust during his travels in Lithuania. Finding it is a bit more of a trick. We were aware it was outside the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. There are at least 3 Enoch Pratt libraries in Baltimore! It seems Enoch Pratt was a friend of Andrew Carnegie and also a successful businessman and philanthropist. The Zappa bust is located at the Southeast Anchor Branch on Eastern Avenue and was celebrated by the city with Frank Zappa Day when it was unveiled on September 19, 2010.

This picture is getting shared as I'm trying to figure exactly what happened. A slow shutter speed accounts for the light trails but the center shows a relatively clear face of the bronze Zappa bust.

We still had hoped to make one more site in travels around Baltimore but we weren’t sure we had time to make it. America’s First Basilica is in Baltimore. It usually closes at 6:00 and we were past that BUT on Saturday evening, the church is open for Evening Mass. Mass brings parishioners and parking was at a premium so we dropped Steve and Russ by the door and went to circle the block. Second time around we found a spot as Mass was letting out.

It’s a beautiful building and the night lighting shows it off dramatically. The Baltimore Basilica, built from 1806-1821, was closed from April 2004 until November 2006, for a major restoration to return the church to its original design, as envisioned by America’s first bishop, John Carroll, and as planned by renowned architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. The Basilica reopened with much fanfare and celebration, just in time to commemorate her 200th Anniversary. Within the first year of reopening, over 200,000 visitors were welcomed from all over the world, to walk through history, rejoice in faith, and admire the Basilica’s stunning architecture and artwork. The Basilica is also one of Baltimore’s beloved cultural institutions, offering educational tours daily, as well as hosting uplifting concerts and informative lectures.

It had been a full day and the Uno cards were calling. We drove past Camden Yards and back to Germantown for some more serious socializing.




Friends Playing Tourists in DC: A Tribute to Our Military Heroes (Part 2.2)

From the Declaration monument, we made our way to one of the newer and more well-known memorials, the World War II Memorial. It is both striking in its design (even with the water drained for the cold weather as it is now) and awe-inspiring in its sobriety. It is also very popular at all times of year.

The World War II Memorial honors the service of sixteen million members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America, the support of countless millions on the home front, and the ultimate sacrifice of 405,399 Americans.  On May 29, 2004, a four-day “grand reunion” of veterans on the National Mall culminated in the dedication of this tribute to the legacy of “The Greatest Generation.” See more at the official website.

It is situated between the Washington and Lincoln adjacent to the Reflecting Pool. This was the first time that Steve and Russ had been to see it.

The Memorial includes granite columns for each of the states, districts and territories that sent their sons and daughters to fight.

Connecting the granite columns are bronze ropes just as the country was bound together in a common purpose. (More than a few lament the passing of these binds while rejoicing that their cause has ended.)

At opposite ends of the circle are soaring pavilions to signify the two major fronts of the war, the Atlantic (sea, land and air)  and the Pacific (sea, land and air).In the center of the circle are pools of water (during normally warmer months). At various spots are bronze bas-reliefs and engraved granite recalling significant events or thoughts of the period.One of my favorite parts of this Memorial is the wall of over 4,000 gold stars commemorating those who were casualties or missing after the war. (We didn’t get a picture of them.)

Our next stop was the Korean War Veterans Memorial, located southeast of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall. The Memorial commemorates the many who died (USA 54,246 United Nations 628,833), went missing (USA 8,177 UN 470,267), captured (USA 7,140 UN 92,970), and wounded (USA 103,284 UN 1,064,453) for a country of people they never knew.

The Memorial contains 19 larger-than-life figures are made from stainless steel and are depicted marching next to a wall of polished granite where a multitude of faces look on. There is something haunting in the sculpture as well as the faces etched and reflections. The visit to the Korean Veterans Memorial was a first for the guys.

Our next stop was the Iwo Jima Memorial.

“The United States Marine Corps War Memorial stands as a symbol of this grateful nation’s esteem for the honored dead of the U.S. Marine Corps. While the statue depicts one of the most famous incidents of World War II, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in the defense of the United States since 1775. ” You can read more about the Memorial at the official website.

The Pentagon September 11 Memorial opened on September 11, 2008 to honor the memory of the 184 people who died in the attack there on September 11, 2001 both on the ground and onboard the airplane.

The Memorial is located on the rounds of the Pentagon complex and not easily reached. The options include taking the Yellow or Blue Line Metro to Pentagon Station and then walking around to the opposite side of the complex or driving and parking on the opposite side of I-395 (although 5 handicap parking spaces are available next to the Memorial). There is also a walking tunnel under 395 from near the Pentagon City Mall. I believe that there is also a drop off for tour buses nearby so the “difficulty” and long walk is only if you’re traveling on your own.

For each person who died there, there is a bench rising from the ground on one end and suspended in the air on the other. Below each bench is a pool of moving water. On the end of the bench, the name of the person is engraved. You can tell whether the person was inside the Pentagon or onboard the airplane from which end of the bench with their name is anchored in the earth and which end is elevated. If the anchored end is closer to the building, they were inside the Pentagon. If the anchored end is away from the building, they were onboard the airplane.

The benches are arranged based on the year of birth of the person. The younger children onboard the airplane are closer to the entrance. Thankfully, there are also fewer of them in that area. If more than one member of a family died during the attack, family names are listed in the reflecting pool under the bench, in addition to the separate benches that have been created for each individual. A wall along the edge of the Memorial begins at a height of 3 inches and rises to a height of 71 inches, the ages of the youngest and oldest victim of the attack, and approximately 85 paperbark maple trees are planted on the memorial grounds.

Friends Playing Tourists in DC (Part 2.1)

Friday morning rolled around and not too early after a full night of Uno and Cape Codders but we were out and about after breakfast. Our goal for the day was the National Mall in DC. Since our last friends’ visit, there were a couple of new Monuments and Memorials as well as several we had never visited. One thing about DC is that there is always something else to see and do.

Our first stop was to be the new Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the Mall adjacent to the Tidal Basin and the FDR Memorial and in line between the Jefferson Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. We had visited before and the monument is truly impressive and somewhat emotional for me, at least. There was a young woman with her cameraman there from the Voice of America (VOA) broadcasters. She was interviewing visitors and asking folks to share their opinions and impressions of the man who is recognized largely for his work and stance on civil rights and his position on peace, including voicing objections to the Vietnam War.

This visit, we chose to participate in the Park Rangers tour/talk. He spoke a bit about King himself and also offered some information about the monument itself and some of the controversy that accompanies it.

The main rocks are made of pink shrimp granite, which we had never heard of before. First, it’s less pink than pink granite and was imported from China because pink shrimp granite is not available in this country. The carving of the likeness was also performed in China as

the talent for this size statue is no longer readily available in the US.

There is also some controversy regarding the inscription on on one side of the large statue. The inscription appears as “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” In context, King said “If I was anything, I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” The concern is that the shorter quote reflects an egotistical attitude that King didn’t have.

The NPS store at the monument was closed for the day due to an upgrade of the computer software but we did get to peek in the window to see that the dedication engraving still shows the August 28, 2012 date. The dedication ceremonies were re-scheduled for October due to Hurricane Irene passing through the area.

We crossed the street and visited one of the oft-overlooked memorial on the Mall, the District of Columbia World War One Memorial. This commemorates those residents of the District who gave their lives in WWI. It’s made of white marble. Recently it gained attention on the floors of Congress when DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton spoke in favor of preserving its original purpose rather than expanding its role to include others from WWI. One surprise (especially for late January) was blooming cherry trees! It’s been a mild winter but really!Daughter Ryan has been temping downtown lately and we had decided to have her join us for lunch. As we started heading that way, we passed by the Washington Monument. In truth, there aren’t many places you can go where you don’t see the Washington Monument. It’s temporarily closed though.

We walked over to retrieve her from the secret confines of her latest assignment and then went to the Food Court at National Place. Steve and Russ got lunch from Five Guys, Betty and Keith chose Moe’s and Ryan got sushi. Nice lunch where everyone got to choose something different and we managed to meet the time constraints to get Ryan back to work on time and we continued on our touring after taking a little time to check out the Old Post Office building, Ben Franklin and Steve got his picture taken with the sign for the folks who did his most recent audit. (Just to be clear, that seemed to go well although he was waiting on a final disposition on some of his deductions.)

We walked along Constitution Avenue and took a break at 14th Street and then continued to the Ellipse where we saw the Monument to the 2nd Infantry Division. Somehow that one hadn’t shown up in our travels or conversation before.

We crossed over to the Lockkeeper’s House for the old Washington City Canal at the corner of 16th and Constitution.

Speaking of things we’ve not seen nor heard mentioned, did you know there is a Monument to the signers of the Declaration of Independence?

It’s located along Constitution across from 18th and between the Lockkeeper’s House and the Vietnam Memorial.

We continued on the Mall but that’s subject for another post.

Former Sailors? Old Sailors? Long-time Friends: Playing tourists (Part 1)

The year was 19…well, it was some time ago. Russ, Steve and Keith were roommates and attending the same Navy school in the wilds of the Adirondacks when we all met Betty who was also a student at the same school at the same time. As you know, Betty and Keith eventually married and we’ve more or less stayed in touch or maybe gotten back in touch. On a pretty regular basis, the four of us get together to play tourist and catch up. It’s a great time. While I’ll not share the details of the conversations, Happy-Tracks is going to offer you the chance to tag along as we play tourist right here in the DC and Baltimore areas.

We’ll start on Thursday. Steve arrives via airplane at BWI-Thurgood Marshall. We used the occasion to conduct a little test of Maryland’s newish InterCounty Connector toll road. The results are in. It takes about the same time to get from our house to/from BWI whether you take the toll road or Warfield Road to Clarksville. By the way, a similar comparison test showed about the same time to get to/from work whether using the toll ICC or the non-toll Beltway. Oh well.

As Steve’s plane arrived in early afternoon, we stopped for lunch. At his request, we stopped at ChickFilA in Germantown.

On to the house. Russ arrived and we had a traditional eastern Eurpoean meal of sausage, chops, mushrooms and potatoes served with homemade mead (honeywine) which had been brewed by Ryan. Good hearty meal with good friends. After dinner, we moved on to Cape Codders and the Championship of Uno. The evening passed with good conversations until the early hours.


Dr. Martin Luther King and the Dreams

On the holiday in 2012 that commemorates his life, the news cycle is consumed by the election process and pointing fingers at “those people” who are responsible for the failings in our Government. It should go without saying that the thrust of these remarks are that “we” are doing everything we can and “they” are doing everything possible to prevent us accomplishing good.

To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Flashback, if you will, to September 24, 2011, Betty and Keith visited the recently-opened memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King on the National Mall in Washington, DC. We are going to share some pictures we took that day in September of the Memorial. It should be on your list of places to visit. Come with an open mind and with sufficient time to “soak” in the dreams of Dr. King.

In these sour, pessimistic times, it is important to remember the great lesson of King’s remarkable life: Impossible dreams can come true.
This is not a partisan message; King was every bit as tough on Democrats as Republicans. His activism even transcended ideology. His call for social justice and his opposition to the Vietnam War were rightly seen as liberal, but his insistence on the primacy of faith and family was deeply conservative.

Eugene Robinson

Dedication Plague

The dedication date reflects the original planned date. The arrival of Hurricane Irene postponed the dedication until October 16, 2011.

 Martin Luther King, Jr.
(January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968)

May he rest in peace. May his dreams keep good men and good women from resting too comfortably too soon.

New Year’s Day Traditions

New Year’s Day is one of those holidays that is steeped in traditions, some of which are predictors of future events, some of which are actions designed to influence future events.

For many years, Daddy would arise well before daylight and make his way to his his cousin’s farm to hunt quail. He often hunted there and it was believed to be good luck if the first visitor of the New Year was male. My Grandma Holman believed whatever you did on New Year’s Day would be repeated throughout the year. Grandma lived next door and avoided cooking and housework that day. It was one of the few holidays that she really took to heart in her observance.Our family lore includes the story of my Mother, taking advantage of a day off from work and Daddy being out of the house, was doing laundry and hanging it out on clothesline in our backyard. Grandma observed Mother hanging laundry and rushing out to get her to stop as it would doom her doing housework all year. I guess Daddy hunting and visiting with his cousins really fit in with that, too.

In carrying on the family tradition, for the last decade, I’ve made a point to be spending the day in the woods with friends. It’s usually been with whatever four wheel drive club but 2012 finds me “unaffiliated” with a club. My friend, Miles and I decided to head down to George Washington National Forest and ride some trails we’d not ridden in a long time that were remembered as being fairly easy. Since there were only the two of us, we both went in my truck so that we could do some catching up as well.

We got to Harrisonburg late morning and headed towards the lower end of the Second Mountain Trail. It had been a long while since either of us had been there and it was an entertaining ride, just enough challenge but not so difficult as to interfere with the verbal exchange! After we got to the ATV loading area at the top, we started the trail along the top of Dictum Ridge which is part of the Rocky Run ATV loop.Where Rocky Run turns to go down from the ridge and over towards Second Mountain, Dictum Ridge is now closed to motor vehicle travel. Find us on a SPOT map

No vehicles past this point

Dictum Ridge 2012

"Before" picture from Dictum Ridge taken in 2001