[Note: This guest post was written by JoAnn Hill, a DC area educator and author of the upcoming book “Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.” Here, she gives us a preview of what’s on those pages — some that I didn’t even know about and can’t wait to discover!]
The past year has undoubtedly presented unprecedented challenges and unforeseen changes for all of us. Concerns over the long-term impact on our mental health continue to grow. In a new study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers found that experiencing new things on a daily basis led to more positive emotions every day. While international and far-away destinations may currently be out of reach for many, we Washingtonians must remember that we are luckier than most to have a bevy of places to visit right in our own backyard. Now that springtime is upon us, it’s time to shake off that cabin fever, get outside, and become a tourist in the city we proudly call home.
Below are five outdoor, family-friendly, off-the-beaten-path places to explore around our beloved nation’s capital. All featured sites are free and just begging to be explored. Check out local DC author JoAnn Hill’s book Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure to discover dozens of additional distance and family-friendly spots in and around the Washington, DC, area.
“Sitting Pretty: The Best Seat in the Neighborhood”
Washington, DC, is a metropolis often defined by its enormity: huge government, monumental memorials, and immense power. It turns out a gigantic chair can also be added to DC’s long list of historical, recognizable, and sizeable landmarks.
Looming over the intersection of Martin Luther King Avenue and V Street in the southeast neighborhood of Anacostia, the colossal chair is hard to miss, and it has become an area icon. Coming in at an impressive 19.5 feet tall and a hefty 4,600 pounds, in 1959, the Big Chair it was identified as the largest chair in the world. The furniture company that created the chair, however, had its eyes on an even bigger prize.
They thought the chair would be even more compelling if they hired an individual live on top of the chair inside a glass cube. A glass home was constructed, complete with curtains along with a bed, shower, toilet, and television. The cube also had three transparent sides, allowing passersby to see its occupant. Rebecca Kirby, a 19-year-old model, was hired to live inside the cube. Kirby managed to stay there for an impressive 42 days, before it became too taxing, and she decided to come back down.
Today, a replica of the famed chair prominently towers over the same intersection, having replaced the deteriorating original back in 2005.
Read All About It: Dive deeper into this peculiar story on pages 172-173 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: Consider pairing your visit to the Big Chair with lunch on the Busboys and Poets’ outdoor patio, a mere two-minute walk away.
Where: 1001–1199 V St. SE, Washington, DC: A 10-minute walk from the Anacostia Metro Station.
“Set in Stone”
Geocachers, history buffs, and adventurists rejoice! Thanks to George Washington and a thorough team of surveyors, individuals can spend their weekends enjoying the imminent warm weather by exploring nearly 40 stone markers that helped set the boundary lines of our nation’s capital city.
In 1790, Washington selected the 100-square-mile site on the Potomac River between the busy ports of Alexandria, Virginia, and Williamsport, Maryland to serve as the nation’s new capital city. Shortly thereafter, planning for an approximate survey of the ten- mile square began, and astronomer and surveyor Benjamin Banneker and his team began to mark the diamond-shaped boundary of DC. They started at its most southern tip and established the south of the square at Jones Point in Alexandria. A ceremonial stone from 1794 still sits here along the Potomac River, commemorating the starting point of the District’s boundary line. Forty stones were put in place featuring the engraving “Jurisdiction of the United States” on one side and “Maryland” or “Virginia” on the other, as well as the year of its placement and distance from the initial stone.
Throughout the years, many of the stones have either been removed, lost, or buried. Over time, the outline of DC has changed significantly, leaving the stones in unusual locations and in various conditions. Some can be found along sidewalks and in front yards, while others are located in dense forests. Some locations have plaques either attached to the stones or in place of those missing.
Read all about it: Discover more about the history of these historical stones on pages 140-141 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: boundarystones.org has mapped out each boundary stone’s location and displays pictures of each stone, showing them enclosed in iron, concealed behind grates, or visibly set out on display. Which boundary stones will you and your family begin exploring first?
Where: Various locations are spread out along the perimeter of Washington’s diamond-shaped border.
Chuck Brown Memorial Park
“Art Imitates Life and Go-Go Plays On”
After being considered the unofficial music of Washington, DC, for nearly 50 years, Go-Go was finally declared the official sound of the nation’s capital in February 2020. No artist has had a greater impact on Go-Go than born-and-bred Washingtonian Chuck Brown. The legendary godfather of Go-Go is credited with creating the genre and helping embed it into the cultural fabric of Washington, DC.
The Go-Go pioneer is so beloved that on August 22, 2014, which would have been his 78th birthday, the city dedicated a section of Langdon Park to the artist, naming it Chuck Brown Memorial Park. A 16-foot-tall abstract art sculpture, named “Wind Me Up, Chuck” by local sculptor and creator Jackie Braitman, was installed near the park’s entrance. The unique art structure stands near the park’s playground and includes colorful instruments for children complete with interactive pulsing lights aligned to funky beats and percussive instruments just begging to be played. Displayed near the art installation is a mosaic retaining wall chronicling 10 moments and images from Brown’s vibrant life.
Looking for even more displays of the city’s love and admiration for the Go-Go icon? Several murals throughout the district vibrantly feature the revered star and the street at the 1900 block of 7th Street NW where it crosses with Florida Avenue NW has been named Chuck Brown Way.
Read all about it: Discover more about the history of these historical stones on pages 120-121 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: The park is great to visit anytime. For an even more lively and memorable outing, join the fellow fans and residents every August 22nd to honor the late musician for Chuck Brown Day.
Where: Chuck Brown Memorial Park, 2901 20th St. NE, Washington, DC: Closest metro station is Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Station (about a 25-minute walk).
DC Callbox Art Project
“A Wake-Call: A Tribute to Women”
For centuries, history books, monuments, and memorials have overwhelmingly cast a spotlight on male figures. Out of some 160 monuments and memorials in the capital region, just over 50 statues include women. A local artist and an ambitious project answered the call to change that.
The DowntownDC BID and the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities partnered with artist Charles Bergen to reimagine nine nonfunctioning call boxes as public art installations. Throughout the 19th century, cast-iron call boxes served as an early emergency alert system predating telephones and two-way radio systems. These call boxes are still scattered across the city, but they haven’t been in operation since the 1970s. Bergen worked with urban historian Mara Cherkasky to identify nine prominent women throughout history for the project. The esteemed group of female trailblazers includes Gospel street musician Flora Molton and expressionist painter Alma Thomas. Each callbox includes a sculpture inside, usually with a painted metal symbol that represents the woman’s contribution (a guitar for Molton, for example), and dates of birth and death.
Read All About It: Learn more about how these extraordinary women made history on pages 178-179 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: Grab your walking shoes and head downtown to explore these intricately designed call boxes while paying homage to nine noteworthy women.
Where: Many of these callboxes can be found between 13th and 15th streets NW, between G and L streets and are a short walk from Metro Center Station.
Mini Washington Monument Replica
“Seeing Double: A Hidden Mini Replica”
Perhaps no other monument in Washington, DC, encapsulates the nation’s capital’s history and patriotism more than the Washington Monument. As a national symbol honoring the country’s first president, the Monument has been a long- standing favorite landmark among both DC residents and tourists. Fans of the Monument will be thrilled to learn that there is not only one Washington Monument to marvel at, but actually two! Visitors can double their fun by uncovering a hidden 12-foot replica of the monument, buried underneath a nearby manhole cover.
Officially known as Bench Mark A, the underground duplicate actually serves as a Geodetic Control Point that’s primarily used by surveyors. It’s part of the system of a million control points across the nation that assists the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) synchronize all of the government’s maps. When it was selected, the underground monument copy was somewhat of an unusual choice. Typically, items like metal cups or rods that are planted into the ground are used, not mini monuments.
The smaller-scaled replica used to be above ground before being enclosed in a brick chimney and buried. In February 2019, the National Park Service unveiled the mini monument to the public for the first time.. The replica’s visibility was short-lived; shortly after its reveal, it was concealed again underneath its manhole cover.
Read All About It: Learn more about how these extraordinary women made history on pages 38-39 of Secret Washington, DC.
Go and Explore: Want to see the mini-monument for yourself? Head down to the National Mall, find the nearest park ranger, and ask them to uncover it!
Where: Buried under a manhole cover just south of the Washington Monument, which is located at 2 15th St. NW, Washington, DC: Closest metro station is Smithsonian.
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JoAnn Hill has lived in Washington, DC, with her husband Thalamus and dog Jackson for over 19 years. An avid traveler and foodie, JoAnn writes about their DC living and dining experiences, as well as their global travel adventures, on her blog dcglobejotters.org. Her writing has been published in BELLA Magazine, Escape Artist, and Triptipedia. JoAnn served as a DC Public Schools teacher for 17 years before co-founding Capitol Teachers, a tutoring company servicing the greater DC area. This is her first book.