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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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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The Douglass-Lincoln Debates

Two iconic Americans – and former District residents – celebrated birthdays in the past few days: President Abraham Lincoln on February 12th, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass on February 14th.

Both men played integral roles in bringing about the ending of slavery. And though they often were at odds, they developed a unique friendship toward the end of Civil War, which began 150 years ago in April.

I recently traveled across the Anacostia River to visit Frederick Douglass’s home, Cedar Hill.

Cedar Hill
Frederick Douglass’s home, Cedar Hill, in the Anacostia neighborhood.

It’s in the neighborhood of Old Anacostia, and I’ve been meaning to take a tour of the house for about as long as I’ve lived in the District.

Cedar Hill is in a part of the city that many Washingtonians and most tourists never visit – east of the river.

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