The Other Arlington

For most people, commemorating Memorial Day in Washington D.C. brings images of wreath layings at Arlington Cemetery, or the sounds of motorcycles rumbling into town for Rolling Thunder.

But there are some lesser known commemorations in the District that have ties to the founding of Memorial Day itself.

One is the wreath laying at Logan Circle, which honors the Civil War general who helped launch the holiday – originally known as Decoration Day – all the way back in 1868.

Another happens at the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home (USSAH) National Cemetery, located up the hill north of the Petworth neighborhood and next to Lincoln’s Cottage.

It’s one of our oldest national cemeteries, even pre-dating the better known Arlington Cemetery.

USSAH National Cemetery Gates
USSAH National Cemetery Gates

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The Home of Black History

The connection between the month of February and African American history is a well-established tradition throughout the country.

But few Washingtonians probably know that it had its start nearly a hundred years ago here in the District – at 1538 9th Street in Shaw, to be exact.

That’s where you’ll find the home and office of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, often called the “Father of Black History.”

In this unassuming row house, Woodson researched, wrote, and published some of the most important works of African American scholarship in the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

Carter G. Woodson's house at 1538 Ninth Street, NW.
Carter G. Woodson’s house at 1538 Ninth Street, NW. (Photo: HD)

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Something’s Brewing in Blagden Alley

Most people’s instincts are to avoid alleys. At least in fiction and film, nothing good ever comes from taking a wrong turn into one.

But when it’s the opening of a new coffee shop in an old District alley way, you can’t keep me away.

Saturday morning I ventured into Blagden Alley in the historic Shaw neighborhood for a first taste of La Colombe. It’s a trailblazing coffee company from Philadelphia, with cafes also in New York, Chicago, and Seoul. They’ve recently been supplying coffee to some notable D.C. restaurants, and have finally opened an outpost here in the District.

La Colombe, D.C.'s newest coffee shop in historic Blagden Alley.
La Colombe, D.C.’s newest coffee shop in historic Blagden Alley.

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History and Hops at Heurich’s House

This week, three of my favorite things were combined into one evening: local D.C. lore, great craft beer, and an historic house tour.

That’s the premise behind the Heurich House Museum’s monthly History & Hops event – and seriously, what could be better?

It brings together local brewers (happily a growing breed in the District) and the Brewmaster’s Castle – the museum and mansion that was home to Washington, D.C.’s most successful brewer, Christian Heurich (pronounced HI-Rick).

The house has been an iconic place for me since I moved to D.C. Located just off Dupont Circle on New Hampshire Ave, you can’t miss it’s odd shape, Old World architecture, and imposing stone turret.

It’s instantly recognizable to Washingtonians, even though most would be hard-pressed to tell you the history behind it.

Luckily it’s a fun tale, best told over a cold brew.

Christian Heurich's Dupont Circle mansion, also known as the Brewmaster's Castle.
Christian Heurich’s Dupont Circle mansion, also known as the Brewmaster’s Castle.

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Shaw’s Memorial

There have been a lot of significant Civil War anniversaries as we pass through the sesquicentennial (that would be 150 years) of America’s greatest conflict.

Today marks one of those – the failed assault on Fort Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts regiment, one of the first African-American infantry units to fight in the Civil War.

If you’ve seen the movie Glory, then you’re probably familiar with the story and its significance.

But what does that distant battle off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina have to do with Washington, D.C.?

For me, this anniversary hits close to home – literally. I live in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, an historically African-American part of the city near U Street.

The neighborhood is named after Colonel Robert Gould Shaw from Boston, who was the commander of the 54th Massachusetts (and played by Matthew Broderick in the movie).

NPR had a story today on the influential Shaw Memorial by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens – an amazing piece of bronze sculpture depicting not only Shaw, but his regiment of soldiers marching out of Boston and off to war.

Shaw Memorial's plaster sculpture at the National Gallery.
Shaw Memorial’s plaster sculpture at the National Gallery.

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French Connections for Bastille Day

This weekend in D.C. had a decidedly French flavor, and that’s before I even realized that today was Bastille Day.

On Saturday I visited the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization founded at the close of the Revolutionary War by French and American officers to preserve the bonds forged during that long struggle. George Washington, the general who helped unify the Continental Army and the colonies, served as its first president.

Among its ranks, there were two founding French members who would be well known to future Washingtonians – the Marquis de Lafayette and Pierre Charles L’Enfant.

A mural in the sumptuous Anderson House showing Washington and Lafayette and the founding of the Society of the Cincinnati.
A mural in sumptuous Anderson House showing Washington and Lafayette and the founding of the Society of the Cincinnati.

Lafayette was the young French aristocrat who ending up playing a key role in both the American and French Revolutions, and whose name and statue grace the park on the north side of the White House.

And L’Enfant of course was the talented but difficult engineer and artist who served General Washington during the war, and was later selected by him during peacetime to design our first capitol – Federal Hall in New York City – and then the capital, the District of Columbia.

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A Memorial to Memorial Day

Washington, D.C. has always been a special place to commemorate Memorial Day.

There’s the wreath laying and decorating of graves across the river at Arlington Cemetery, the parade down Constitution Avenue, the concert on the Mall, and tributes at the various war memorials. And there’s the omnipresent rumble of motorcycles as Rolling Thunder rides into town.

But if you venture beyond the Mall and into one of the District’s historic neighborhoods, you can pay tribute to the very beginnings of Memorial Day and the man who helped to start it all – General John A. Logan.

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The wreath-laying at Logan Circle

His impressive statue is the centerpiece of Logan Circle, which is probably the most beautiful circle in the city. It’s also one of the most residential, and is more often the site of picnics, dog-walking, and bocce ball than official ceremonies.

But each year on Memorial Day there is a small but meaningful commemoration in the park, with a wreath laying at the base of the statue sponsored by the Logan Circle Community Association, the Illinois State Society of Washington, D.C., and the National Park Service. This year there was an Army Color Guard and a concert by a Marine Corps band.

There were also remarks by one of Logan’s biographers, which probably helped answer the question that even most Washingtonians would have to ask:

Who was General John A. Logan, and what does he have to do with Memorial Day?

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