Tag Archives: Secret Washington DC

Five Spooky & Mysterious Sites & Stories to Explore Around DC this Halloween Season

[Note: This is a guest post contributed by JoAnn Hill, a DC area educator and author of the book “Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.” ]

 

An Attorney General’s missing skull, a former first lady interred in a public vault for two years, a forsaken ghost town that was formerly a booming industrial town, intricately carved chainsaw sculptures in a local cemetery, and signs of the occult at the White House. Below are five fascinating sites and stories to uncover as you set out to explore the mysterious, bone-chilling, and downright spooky side of DC and its surrounding area this Halloween season.

Check out Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure to learn more about the hidden histories below as well as to discover dozens of additional gems and off-the-beaten path locales in and around the Washington, DC, area.

 

Congressional Cemetery: “Head’s Up: The Case of An Attorney General’s Missing Head”

Imagine receiving a phone call where the caller asks, “Would you be interested in getting William Wirt’s head back?” Such was the mysterious call that a Congressional Cemetery manager received in 2003.

William Wirt served as Attorney General under Presidents James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. Wirt holds the title of longest serving attorney general
 in United States history, and he is also credited with turning the position into one of national importance. In 1853, Wirt’s son-in-law built a massive family vault near the highest point of the cemetery, so large that it remains the biggest and most visible monument on the grounds.

Following the puzzling 2003 phone call, the cemetery manager decided to probe further. The lock had been removed from the door, and the vault had indeed been vandalized. It was eventually determined that Robert L. White had collected Wirt’s skull, adding to his bizarre collection of 40-some skulls.

Read All About It: Learn more about the bizarre case of Attorney General William Wirt’s missing head on pages 150-151 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: Congressional Cemetery is open daily from dawn to dusk.
Where: Congressional Cemetery is located at 1801 E Street SE.

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Congressional Cemetery: “Keep It in the Vault”

Over 3,000 individuals have been interred in the Congressional Cemetery’s Public Vault, including three presidents, one vice president, and two first ladies. Many stay here for only one to two days since it was never intended to be used for long-term stays. So, why was Dolley Madison interred in the Public Vault for two years, making her the longest known interment of the vault?

Dolley Madison was a trailblazer. She helped define the role of First Lady, was often credited with helping advance James Madison’s career, and perhaps most notably, saved a historic portrait of George Washington from being burned by British troops during the War of 1812. While the Madisons were among the elite, they weren’t immune to falling on hard times. As James Madison’s health began to deteriorate, he prepared his presidential papers to help secure financial security for Dolley after his death. Their son Payne’s recklessness, however, destroyed their finances.

Read All About It: Learn more about the Madison family’s financial woes and Dolley’s two-year stint in the public vault on pages 36-37 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: Congressional Cemetery is open daily from dawn to dusk.
Where: Congressional Cemetery is located at 1801 E Street SE.

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The Ghost Town of Daniels, MD: “Ghosted in Daniels”

When visiting a ghost town, it’s often difficult to imagine what stood there before. Signs of desertion and decay often cloud our ability to envision the possibility of past life and vibrancy. Daniels, once a booming industrial town in Ellicott City, Maryland, is now one of the most mystifying ghost towns in the DC area. An abandoned shell of its former self that’s faded away in a deep wooded forest, the ghost town of Daniels is now sadly characterized merely by rotting wood and crumbling stone.

Straddling the Patapsco River, the town of Daniels was originally settled in 1810 when Thomas Ely and his family moved here to establish a textile mill. The area around the mill became known as Elysville. Over 40 years later, the town was bought by the family of James S. Gary and renamed Alberton in recognition of their son Albert. The mill stayed within the Gary family for nearly a century until the Daniels Company came along and purchased the entire village in 1940. $65,000 bought them 500 acres and the right to change the town’s name from Alberton to Daniels.

Read All About It: Learn more about the ghost town of Daniels and its history on pages 70-71 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: The forsaken town is free and open dawn to dusk.
Where: Remnants of the ghost town of Daniels can be found in present-day Ellicott City, MD.

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Glenwood Cemetery: “Sprucing Things Up with Some Chainsaws”

Since 1852, Glenwood Cemetery, a historically private and secular cemetery, has been characterized by elaborate Victorian monuments and its notorious residents. It is the final resting place of George Atzerodt, a co-conspirator in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and the infamous murderer Frederic De Frouville. More recently, however, the countless graves have been joined by less typical cemetery inhabitants: towering intricately carved wooden sculptures emerging out of the ground.

Faced with many aging and dead trees, along with those severely damaged in heavy storms, Glenwood Cemetery decided to turn an eyesore into creative art. The cemetery contacted a professional chainsaw artist, Dayton Scoggins, to transform the deteriorating trees into unique wooden sculptures. Inspired by passages in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, Scoggins used four large oak trees to carve the soaring sculptures.

Read All About It: Learn more about the four intricately carved chainsaw sculptures on pages 84-85 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: The sculptures are situated behind the cemetery’s Romanesque mortuary chapel.
Where: Glenwood Cemetery is located at 2219 Lincoln Road NE.

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The White House: “As White as a Ghost”

The White House, often regarded as the People’s House, boasts the most recognizable address in America. While the stately residence symbolizes power, patriotism, and the American people, it has also been connected to the occult and is considered by many to be quite haunted, with countless sightings of former presidents, first ladies, and White House staff members.

One of the most frequent ghostly sightings is that of First Lady Abigail Adams. Adams used to hang laundry in the East Room, the warmest and driest room of the White House. Her apparition has been reportedly seen walking toward the East Room dressed in a lace shawl and cap with outstretched arms like she’s carrying laundry. President Andrew Jackson has been said to haunt the Rose Room as well as the halls of the president’s chambers. The Rose Room served as Jackson’s bedroom and is believed by many to be one of the White House’s most haunted rooms.

Without a doubt most persistently reported ghost sighting has been of President Abraham Lincoln. Many psychics believe that Lincoln’s presence has remained in the White House to serve as an aide during crises as well as to finish the work that was interrupted by his assassination.

Read all about it: Discover more about which famous White House ghosts have been sighted on pages 166-167 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: Public tour requests must be submitted through your Member of Congress. These self-guided tours are generally available on Fridays and Saturdays.
Where: The White House is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

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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. Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure is her first book.

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Five Hidden Histories and Stories on and Around the National Mall

[Note: This is a guest post contributed by JoAnn Hill, a DC area educator and author of the book “Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.” ]

 

A carousel’s connection to the Civil Rights Movement, an accidental shooting by the US army, an anti-dancing law that rivals the injustices of Footloose, world-renowned graffiti, and a science-touting statue that just might make you smarter… these lesser-known, feel-good, and bizarre stories are just waiting to be explored on and around the infamous National Mall.

Below are five fascinating stories to uncover at familiar sites on your explorations around the National Mall.  Check out local DC author JoAnn Hill’s book Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure to learn more about the hidden histories below as well as to discover dozens of additional gems and off-the-beaten path locales in and around the Washington, DC area.

Carousel on the National Mall

“Round and Round: A Carousel Takes a Turn into the Civil Rights Movement”

For decades, the National Mall’s iconic carousel has been a prominent fixture on the city’s most popular strip of grassy land. The carousel, however, is much more than an exuberant ride; it also serves as a hopeful window into the Civil Rights Movement.

On August 28, 1963, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech before a crowd of some 250,000 people during the March on Washington. On that same day, about 45 miles away outside of Baltimore, Gwynn Oak Amusement Park discontinued segregation. An 11-month-old baby named Sharon Langley was the first African American child to go on a ride there and rode the classic carousel, which was originally located in the park, along with two white children. The three children riding the carousel together exemplified King’s message of integration and racial harmony.

In 1981, the famous carousel made its way to its new home on the National Mall when a Smithsonian concessionaire purchased it, unaware of its historical significance. Seven years later, Donna and Stan Hunter purchased the special carousel and have owned and operated it ever since.

Read All About It: Learn more about how the beloved carousel reflects Civil Rights history on pages 74-75 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.

Thing to Know: Unfortunately, the Carousel is currently closed due to Covid.

Where: The Carousel is located on the National Mall: Jefferson Drive SW.

 

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Lincoln Memorial

“Oops! We Didn’t Mean to Shoot, Mr. President!”

The Lincoln Memorial is a national treasure, commemorating one of America’s most revered presidents, Abraham Lincoln. What many may be surprised to learn is that nearly 80 years ago, it was also the site of an accidental shooting by the US Army.

In 1942, as part of World War II defenses, an anti-aircraft gun was installed atop the US Department of Interior. The gun was positioned near a local bridge to protect the city against an air attack. On September 3, at 10am, a US Army soldier accidentally released a round of ammunition at the Lincoln Memorial. The accidental firing left its mark on the east side of the memorial. Bullets struck the structure’s frieze and damaged three of the 36 states’ names: Connecticut, Maryland, and Texas.

It is certainly safe to say that the Lincoln Memorial may just be the one US structure attacked by its own country.

Read All About It: Learn more about the US Army accidental shooting on the Lincoln Memorial on pages 186-187 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.

Go and Explore:  A baseball-size indentation was imprinted into the marble of the memorial’s outer wall. The gouge has been fixed before, but the patchwork has fallen out. There are no plans to refill or fix the hole.

Where: The Lincoln Memorial is located at 2 Lincoln Memorial Circle NW.

 

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Jefferson Memorial

“Leave Those Dancing Shoes at Home”

There may be a time and place to dance like no one’s watching, but dance enthusiasts should beware of adding the Jefferson Memorial to their lists of dance venues.

On May 17, 2011, a federal appeals court in Washington, DC, declared expressive dancing as prohibited inside the Jefferson Memorial. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit stated that expressive dancing “falls into the spectrum” of prohibited activities, including picketing, demonstrations, and speechmaking, at the memorial. The rules are intended to ban conduct that has the propensity to attract spectators while detracting from the dignified and ceremonious setting of the national memorial.

The court’s ruling was in response to the 2008 arrest of several individuals silently dancing to commemorate Thomas Jefferson’s 265th birthday. The dancers’ expressive performance was deemed as unlawful. The court viewed the performance as a distraction to fellow visitors, as well as an attraction to onlookers.

While some of the laws passed in our nation’s capital have caused many to scratch their heads, this one may just be among the strangest and surprising of them all.

Read All About It: Learn more about this bizarre law at the Jefferson Memorial on pages 2-3 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.

Go and Explore:  The Jefferson Memorial is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Where: The Jefferson Memorial is located at 16 E. Basin Drive SW.

 

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World War II Memorial

“Bald-Headed and a Little Bit of Comfort”

Wandering around the World War II Memorial evokes numerous emotions: feelings of sorrow, honor, remembrance, and respect, just to name a few. Individuals walking near the Pennsylvania pillar, however, may find themselves feeling additional emotions of surprise and bewilderment.

During World War II, various drawings of a large-nosed, bald man peering over a fence next to the words, “Kilroy was here” popped up all over the globe wherever battles were being fought. The mysterious sketches were proof that an American comrade had previously been there, providing comfort and reassurance to many anxious soldiers. The identity of the artist behind the graffiti was unknown, resulting in many to be confused by these peculiar drawings.

While the popularity surrounding ‘Kilroy was here” eventually dwindled, the widely recognized graffiti symbol can still be seen around the world, causing some to fondly remember its historical meaning and others to scratch their own heads in bemusement.

Read All About It: Learn more about the worldwide “Kilroy Was Here” WWII drawings on pages 80-81 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.

Go and Explore: The “Kilroy Was Here” graffiti sketch is located behind the golden gate next to the Pennsylvania pillar.

Where: The World War II Memorial is located at 1750 Independence Avenue SW.

 

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Albert Einstein Bronze Statue

“Save a Seat for Science”

Many of the capital city’s monuments ask visitors to quietly reflect when visiting, creating tranquil and sometimes even somber memorial site settings. One lesser-known monument, however, has chosen to take a quite different approach; visitors coming to pay tribute to one of the world’s most famous scientists are encouraged not only to sit on his statue, but also to climb upon it.

Standing twelve feet tall and weighing approximately four tons, a bronze statue honoring physicist Albert Einstein is situated near the southwest corner of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) grounds. In 1979, the NAS unveiled the sizable statue to commemorate the centennial of Einstein’s birthday. The famous physicist appears relaxed, leisurely sitting on a three-step bench made of white granite.

The statue’s base is characterized by a star map—a 28-foot expanse of emerald pearl granite that’s embellished with more than 2,700 metal studs representing the sun, moon, stars, planets, and other astronomical objects precisely placed by astronomers from the US Naval Observatory as they were on the centennial date.

Read All About It: Learn more about this this bronze tribute to science on pages 184-185 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.

Go and Explore:  Legend has it that if you rub Einstein’s nose, some of his genius will rub off on you!

Where: The Albert Einstein Statue is located at 2101 Constitution Avenue NW.

 

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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.

 

 

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Four Outdoor, Family-Friendly, Off-the-Beaten-Path Places to Explore Outside of DC

[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.” You may be aware of some that have been featured on KFDC, but JoAnn provides more background and details to make a visit to see them even more interesting and fun!]

 

Spring is here, and Mother Nature is summoning us to get outside, explore, and relish in the abundant sunshine and crisp fresh air. While our nation’s capital is brimming with parks, gardens, and urban green oases, taking a day trip outside of the city can serve as a welcome change of pace and lovely opportunity to reset and recharge. A respite from the city is sometimes the exact remedy for chasing away those lingering winter blues and jumpstarting the highly anticipated new season.

Below are four outdoor, family-friendly, off-the-beaten-path places to explore outside of Washington, DC. A couple of them are free and can be explored further in local DC author JoAnn Hill’s upcoming book Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. Check out Secret DC to discover dozens of additional outdoor and family-friendly spots in and around the Washington, DC, area.

Enchantment in a Storybook Forest

Many of our childhoods were defined by the stories and games that we played. Those looking to recapture their favorite childhood memories will be delighted to know that less than 45 minutes outside of Washington lies an enchanted forest, a storybook haven brimming with innocence, nostalgia, and magic.

In August 1955, the Enchanted Forest opened its storybook park in Ellicott City, MD. For over thirty years, families from near and far visited the popular fairy tale complex. Generations were captivated by the park’s ability to recreate a spellbinding world filled with delight and allure. As larger and more impressive entertainment complexes began to open throughout the area, the Enchantment Forest’s appeal began to wane, causing the park to close in the early 1990s.

More than a decade later, nearby Clark’s Elioak Farm made the decision to revive the storybook-themed park by gradually acquiring and reinstating a number of the forgotten fairy tale items. In 2004, much to the delight of parents and kids, they procured the Cinderella pumpkin coach. A year later, they restored a slew of other items, including Mother Goose and her Gosling, the Beanstalk affixed with the Giant at the top, multiple Gingerbread Men, the six Mice that pulled Cinderella’s Coach, and the Crooked House and the Crooked Man.

Over subsequent years, more items were obtained and refurbished, further enhancing the revived forest by adding over 20 new fairy tale characters and a newly created Enchanted Forest Pine Tree Maze.

Read All About It:  Read more about the Enchantment Forest at Clark’s Elioak Farm on pages 134-135 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. You can also find it in the KFDC round-up of best outdoor places around the area and among the places to go for Easter fun.

Go and Explore: Clark’s Farm will reopen on Thursday, April 1. The farm and forest are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Admission is $7 per person.

Where: Clark’s Elioak Farm, 10500 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, MD

 

Gravelly Point Park

Aviation enthusiasts and those simply dreaming of escaping to faraway destinations should look no further than Gravelly Point Park, a small grassy park located a mere hundred feet north of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. It’s here in this delightful park in which both aircraft lovers and travel addicts can convene to witness commercial planes soaring overhead throughout the course of the day.

Situated along the George Washington Parkway in northern Virginia, the attractive picnic spot is where arriving planes descend to their landing strips. Flights arriving at the capital city travel over the Potomac River to reduce noise disturbances to the city. The park’s proximity to the north end of Reagan’s runway 1/19 makes it one of the premier spots in the United States for airplane sightings. Spectators willing to brave the thunderous noise are rewarded with unobstructed views of aircraft departing and arriving at the airport.

While flight tracking is the primary draw here, Gravelly Point Park attracts more than just aviation fanatics. It’s also a wonderful place to enjoy a picnic lunch, throw a frisbee or football, walk your dog, or ride a bike while surrounded by arresting scenic views. Regardless of your reason to visit, you’re guaranteed to be flying high in this picturesque park.

Read All About It:  Learn more about Gravelly Point Park as you soar through pages 50-51 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. You can also find it in the KFDC round-up of best outdoor places.

Go and Explore: Entrance and parking are free to the public. By car, Gravelly Point is only accessible heading north on the GW Parkway. Runners and cyclists can access the park by taking the scenic Mount Vernon Trail.

Where:  George Washington Parkway, Arlington, VA

 

The Abandoned Shipwrecks of Mallows Bay

Near the shores of Mallows Bay, a small bay on the Maryland side of the river, lies what’s known to be the largest shipwreck armada in the Western Hemisphere. Over the last century, the bay’s turbid waters have become home to nearly 230 fallen ships, creating an enormous fleet graveyard.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, 1,000 wooden steamships were commissioned for construction to help boost the number of transport vessels needed. Due to time constraints, the wooden ships were hastily and shoddily built, falling far below the standard of being ready to be used in wartime. In fact, not one of these poorly crafted vessels ever even crossed the ocean. The following year Germany surrendered, and the availability of steel increased, causing the ill-conceived wooden ships to become abandoned and obsolete. The decaying remnants of the nearly forgotten ships continue to occupy the muddy waters of Mallows Bay to this day.

In the 1960s, researchers began to evaluate the environmental effects of the shipwrecks on the river and its inhabitants. It was determined that the wooden shipwrecks were non-toxic and had in fact become a foundation for a flourishing ecosystem. The ghostly ships have managed to bring new life to the river, completing the circle of life!

Read All About It:  Plunge into Mallows Bay and learn more about its abandoned shipwreck fleet on pages 60-61 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.

Go and Explore: Kayakers and canoeists who paddle up and through the wreckage will ultimately get the best views of the neglected ships. Charles County Recreation & Parks will soon be offering guided kayak tours of Mallows Bay. Visit their website to learn when 2021 tour dates will be added.

Where:  Wilson Landing Road, Nanjemoy, MD

 

The Awakening at National Harbor

Over the past several years, National Harbor has burgeoned as an expansive multi-use waterfront development. Conveniently located across the Potomac River from the District and Alexandria, VA, the lively complex is an ideal place to escape the city and enjoy a relaxing day. One particular attraction here, particularly for kids, is “The Awakening” sculpture, a gigantic statue emerging from a man-made beach along National Harbor’s waterfront. The statue is practically begging to be touched and climbed upon by gaggles of giggling children.

Constructed from five cast-aluminum pieces and measuring more than 70 feet across and 15 feet high, “The Awakening” was created in 1980 to portray a bearded man trapped on Earth who has been aroused. Artist J. Seward Johnson’s colossal creation is comprised of a man’s head, hand, outstretched arm, bent knee and foot that’s been arranged to suggest that he’s breaking free from Earth. The aluminum sculpture was previously buried at the public parkland at Hains Point in Washington, DC and was owned by the Sculpture Foundation, an organization that promotes public art. The foundation sold the colossal sculpture for a whopping $740,000 and subsequently dug it up from its previous residence and transported it by trucks to its current waterfront home.

While no real restoration was needed when “The Awakening” arrived at National Harbor, a small change to the art installation was needed. When the sculpture resided at Hains Point, the five pieces were slightly askew, causing the figure to be anatomically incorrect. When the statue’s wire base was reburied in the man-made beach, one of its legs was marginally moved. “The Awakening” instantly became a popular attraction of National Harbor and continues to be a major draw today.

Read All About It: See more about visiting The Awakening and National Harbor in this KFDC post.

Go and Explore: National Harbor is accessible from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, I-495, I-95, and I-295, as well as by water taxi from Washington, DC, and Alexandria, VA.

Where: National Harbor: 153 National Plaza, Oxon Hill, MD

 

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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.

 

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Five Outdoor, Family-Friendly, and Free Off-the-Beaten-Path Places to Explore in DC

[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.

 

Big Chair

“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.

 

 

Boundary Stones

“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.

 

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