Jeanne D’arC

Today, Joan of Arc turned 600 years old. Or she would have, if she hadn’t been burned at the stake at the tender age of 19.

What do you get the warrior maiden who has everything? In the District, you get that girl a sword.

Jeanne D'Arc statue, Meridian Hill Park
Jeanne D’Arc, leading the charge.

That’s what the Jeanne d’Arc statue in Meridian Hill Park received at the end of last year in anticipation of her sixth centennial.

Her sword went missing several years ago, but the Meridian Hill Neighborhood Association successfully lobbied the National Park Service for a replacement, arriving in time for the big birthday.

The statue might seem an odd choice for Washington, D.C., but it represents yet another tie between France and America in the nation’s capital.

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Unbuilt Washington

In conversation, some things are better left unsaid – and in the Historic District, some things are better left unbuilt.

That’s the unspoken commentary behind a new exhibit that opened at the National Building Museum this past weekend. “Unbuilt Washington” explores the monuments and buildings – and occasional Venetian-style canal – that might have graced the District, if only they had made it past the drawing board.

There’s the colossal pyramid honoring Abraham Lincoln, or the medieval-style Memorial Bridge dedicated to Ulysses S. Grant, or the new executive mansion built further up 16th Street, atop Meridian Hill.

The U.S. Grant Memorial Bridge
The U.S. Grant Memorial Bridge

As a D.C. guide, I thought this exhibit was a pretty fascinating tour of an alternate Washington. And with Thanksgiving approaching, I was also left feeling grateful that some of these outlandish structures were left unbuilt – either through lack of funds, shifting priorities, or public outcry.

The exhibit reminds you that from its inception, the federal capital has presented a veritable blank slate for architectural imaginations and often competing notions of national expression.

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Law and Order in the District

When you’re a tour guide in Washington, D.C., you never know what you’ll encounter. Any given day, the nation’s capital plays host to all kinds of groups, protests, parades, and commemorations.

One Sunday a couple of weeks ago, I was guiding a Japanese tour through the city when we encountered a pretty unusual sight in front of the Capitol building. A row of about 25 policemen on horses, lined up across the National Mall.

Police Officers on Horseback

The officers were from all different regions of the country, wearing distinct state uniforms and riding different breeds of horses.

It made a great sight, especially with the statue of Civil War General and President Ulysses S. Grant astride his own horse looming just behind them.

Turns out, it was National Police Week, and that Sunday was Peace Officers Memorial Day.

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Searching for Swampoodle

What is Swampoodle?

That’s the question posed by Irish playwright Tom Swift and his director (and wife) Jo Mangan in their play of the same name, which premieres tomorrow night in Northeast D.C. at the old Uline Arena.

Beatles Poster
A poster from the Beatles’ D.C. performance

One might also ask, “Where is Swampoodle?”

That was the question posed this week by a colleague of mine when she coincidentally found the unfamiliar name listed on a map of D.C.

I’ve been intrigued by Swampoodle for months now, after a friend told me he would be acting in a play about a vanished D.C. neighborhood with a rather improbable name.

I was even more interested when he told me it would be performed in a now defunct coliseum that had once featured the Beatles, Malcolm X, and a host of other historic visitors to the District.

I sat down with Swift a few weeks ago to talk about how a pair of Dubliners became obsessed with a little-remembered Irish quarter thousands of miles away in our nation’s capital.

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Royal Fever in the District

Royal fever continued unabated in the District this week, as Washingtonians had the opportunity to bask in a small bit of reflected glory from Will and Kate’s wedding.

Fresh off his son’s nuptials, Prince Charles was in D.C. promoting something a little less glamorous – sustainable agriculture and community gardening.

Prince Charles touring the Community Good City Farm in LeDroit Park
Prince Charles touring the Community Good City Farm in LeDroit Park (Photo: Robert Yule)

The historic neighborhood of LeDroit Park had the honor of a prince in its midst (watch out, Prince of Petworth) when Charles visited Washington’s only urban farm on Tuesday.

I managed to see him with a few dozen other onlookers, as we gathered behind the fence of the Community Good City Farm to catch a glimpse of British royalty in our back yard.

LeDroit Park isn’t a neighborhood you’d normally expect to find a royal – although it was formerly home to a Duke (jazz royalty Duke Ellington lived here for a year).

It was also one of the first suburbs and exclusive gated communities in Washington.

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Floodgate

It’s often said that Washington, D.C. was built on a swamp – usually in August, when the humidity in the District is unbearable. While that’s not entirely true, the Georgetown waterfront certainly looks like one right now.

The Potomac River flooded after a weekend of heavy rains, and by Monday the river had risen up to 12 feet.

Normally floodwalls are raised to protect Washington Harbour, the restaurant and office complex on the waterfront. The modern floodwalls were part of the original construction, and have been used successfully dozens of times since they were built in 1986.

But this time, a section of the wall wasn’t raised early enough. Muddy water gushed into the Harbour complex, which is conveniently shaped like a crescent bowl.

Washington Harbour Flooding
Washington Harbour flooding (Photo: Alex Greenlee, DCist)

A week later on Earth Day, the Harbour is still closed as a clean-up crew deals with the effects of Mother Nature.

Of course, this all got me thinking about historic floods in the District.

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The Conspirator Theories

The Conspirator Movie Poster
The Conspirator Movie Poster

So I just saw the movie The Conspirator last night, opening in the District on the same day that Abraham Lincoln died – April 15, 146 years ago.

I missed the red carpet premiere at Ford’s Theatre last week – complete with director Robert Redford and all the movie’s stars, including Robin Wright, James McAvoy, and Kevin Cline.

But I did get to see the film just three blocks from Ford’s Theatre, where the 16th president was shot on April 14.

And I was just one block away from the boarding house of one of the alleged conspirators, Mary Surratt, whose trial is the subject of the film.

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