American Graffiti

It’s been a tough week for D.C.’s historic landmarks.

Beginning on Friday, a vandal armed with green paint splashed a path through the District, defacing monuments, statues, and churches along the way.

I was in San Francisco when I heard the news that paint had been thrown onto the statue at the Lincoln Memorial.

Pretty shocking stuff, but it turned out to not be an isolated incident. Over the weekend there was a steady drip of similar news from D.C.:

Green paint on a statue of Martin Luther and inside the historic Luther Place Memorial Church at Thomas Circle…

Green paint on a statue of Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian, outside the iconic Castle building…

And finally on Monday, green paint inside the National Cathedral, where a pipe organ and two chapels were splashed – one of which served as President Woodrow Wilson’s initial burial site.

The Lincoln Memorial undergoing cleaning to remove green paint.
The Lincoln Memorial undergoing cleaning to remove green paint.

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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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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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Tourist-In-Chief?

Tourists at the Lincoln Memorial this afternoon were surprised to find a very prominent visitor in their midst – President Obama.

Obama made the quick trip from the White House today not to take in the sights, but to make a point.

Obama - Lincoln Memorial - Getty Images
President Obama, Tourist-In-Chief? (Photo: Getty Images)

All of the memorials, Smithsonian museums, and other government-funded tourist attractions would have been closed this weekend if Congress hadn’t compromised on a temporary spending bill.

The District narrowly avoided a government shutdown last night – incidentally on my birthday – when it passed the bill just a couple of hours before a midnight deadline.

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A Farewell to Arms in the District

Frank Buckles
Frank Buckles was only 16 when he bluffed his way into the U.S. Army and World War I.

Yesterday, World War I officially became history for Americans when the last doughboy was buried across the river at Arlington National Cemetery.

Frank Woodruff Buckles died at his home in West Virginia on February 28 at the age of 110 – one of the last three known living veterans of the Great War (the two remaining are a man in Australia and a woman in Britain).

Hundreds of Washingtonians and visitors paid tribute to him by visiting the National World War I Memorial on the Mall, shuffling through the Capitol Rotunda to see his flag-draped coffin, and attending a solemn ceremony at Arlington as he was laid to rest.

Okay, so only one out of three of those things actually happened.

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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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