Thank You for Your Service

A year ago today, I was at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. visiting the memorials.  It was a cold, sunny day and it was a humbling experience to visit the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial.  There was a ceremony honoring veterans at the Vietnam Memorial, and there were many Vietnam Vets in attendance.

To all of our Veterans, thank you.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Vet’s Day Weekend 2017: Where Lincoln Died

Day 5, Sunday, November 12, 2017

My last day in Washington D.C., I was going to be heading to someplace that has been on my bucket list for a very long time, and I was really excited.  Hopefully you don’t think this is too morbid though, because I was going to visit Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen Boarding House.  The sites in Washington, DC where Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth and where he died.  I think anybody who truly admires Lincoln probably wants to see these two sites with their own eyes, so I’m sticking with that…

Admission is free, and you don’t have to have advance tickets, but they are recommended, because the spaces fill up quickly.  The days I was there, they only did the tours (I used the word tour loosely) until about 11 am, because there were rehearsals for a play after that.  Advance tickets only cost $3, which is basically a processing fee for buying them online.  It is worth the small price to have the guaranteed slot!

It is strange to see it up close and in person.  Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen Boarding House have been preserved, but the entire rest of the area around them has been built up with modern buildings.  It is a little like seeing the tiny little house in the animated movie UP, dwarfed by the skyscrapers all around.  After waiting in line for a bit (outside, so be prepared for weather), I was in!


Ford’s Theatre Line

The tour takes you up the back stairs into the upper balcony seating area of the theatre, where you have a great view of the stage, and the Presidential Box.  Only Mary’s chair is original in the box, but the theatre has been restored to the way it looked at the time of Lincoln’s assassination with period replicas.  One day, I would love to see a play there.


When I say I use the term tour loosely, I mean that the docent basically just answered questions – there wasn’t really any information she presented to the group.  Which is fine for me, since I have read about the assassination and know the players and how it all went down.  If you didn’t know the story, you weren’t going to get it there though.  It was interesting to see where Booth jumped from the box to the stage, and where he exited the stage after breaking his leg.  I was a little disappointed, because the “tour” was supposed to be longer, but they were kind of trying to rush us out of the theatre section because of the upcoming rehearsal. I hung back and waited for everybody to file out and was able to get some good photos after most of the people had gone.  The docents didn’t bother me, even though I was one of the last ones there.


Me with the President’s Box

Down in the basement of the theatre, there is a great museum.  It includes artifacts pertaining to Lincoln’s life and family in the aftermath of the assassination, the assassination itself, and the conspirators and the hunt to find them and convict them afterwards.  The museum has the Deringer pistol that Booth used to shoot Lincoln on display.  It was so small – it is hard to imagine such a small implement doing so much damage.  The museum has a lot of good information, so I spend a while there taking it all in.


The Deringer pistol used to kill Lincoln

My last stop was the Petersen House.  There isn’t a timed entry here or an issue with rehearsals, so you can visit any time after your theatre tour.  You might have to wait outside for a little while, if there is a line, because the house is very narrow and doesn’t fit that many people.  Like the theatre, not much inside is original, as the originals were sold off as souvenirs after Lincoln’s death.  The original bed that Lincoln died in is now housed in the Chicago History Museum (note to self: visit Chicago History Museum).


The Petersen Boarding House

The Ranger did point out where Mary Todd Lincoln sat in the sitting room when she was too upset to stay with Lincoln, and where the men discussed what to do outside of the room.  The small back bedroom is where Lincoln lay, diagonally across the bed, because he was too tall for the bed.  He died there at 7:22 am the next day.  The original bloodstained pillows are in the room.


The Petersen house also houses an extensive Lincoln archive; you can tour that too if you are so inclined (I opted not to, as I was getting pretty hungry at that point).  There is a very cool tower of books written about Lincoln in the front room of the archive building. Floor to ceiling Lincoln books, 34 feet in all– this nerd was in heaven!  I was pretty proud of myself, because I had read at least half a dozen of the books included in the tower. I stared at the tower for a bit, thinking to myself, “I’ve read that one, and that one and that one…”

The Tower O’ Lincoln Books


On my walk back to the car, I stopped in at Capitol City Brewing Company.  I had a crab cake sandwich and a beer; so good!  You even get a homemade soft pretzel as a starter…


Capitol City Brewing Company


All in all, I had a really good trip – it was a great long weekend with a good mix of relaxing and sightseeing.  Sadly, it was time to head home, so I made my way back to the Baltimore airport to check in for my flight home.  On the way, I checked out a bit more of D.C. from the car, and saw a bit of Baltimore.  I will have to get back and explore more at some point!  But for now, I boarded the plane and made my way home…  Another wonderful trip had come to an end.

Accidental Airport Selfie – I was taking a pic of the plane hanging above…

Vet’s Day Weekend 2017: Museum of Natural History

Day 4, Saturday, November 11, 2017

After seeing part of the National Mall, I was getting really hungry, and tired of walking, so I headed over to the Museum of Natural History for lunch.  My short time in D.C. meant that I only had time for one Smithsonian museum – I wanted to go to several, but that just means I will need to make another trip.  I had lunch in the museum café, which was pretty good; I had a pulled pork sandwich, tomato salad and a beer.

Museum of Natural History

Then I went upstairs to see the exhibits.  The museum has a lot of cool artifacts.  I saw a tyrannosaurus rex skull, several other dinosaur skeletons including another nearly complete tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, a whole exhibit on different kinds of rocks, minerals and precious and semi-precious gems.  The museum is home to the Hope Diamond.  Let me just tell you, the Hope Diamond has a pretty fascinating history, even if you don’t believe in the curse that it supposedly has.  You can read all about it!

I also saw a great wildlife photography exhibit, a seemingly random collection of jewelry, taxidermied animals and African tribal artifacts.  Did you know the Egyptians used to mummify cats?  And lots of other animals too, including ibis, bulls, and snakes.  However, they also wrapped linens to look like mummies, even though the inside was empty.  Egyptian trickery!  The museum has a large collection of mummies and other Egyptian artifacts.


They also have early hominoid fossils. Taung Child is there, a fossilized skull of an Australopithecus africanus, one of the precursors to homosapiens.  The child is thought at around 3-4 years old, and may have been killed by an eagle, based on damage to the skull.  Another interesting reading foray!

Taung Child Skull (a replica)

I finished off my visit with a viewing of the marine exhibit, including a whole section on Narwhals!  I loved Narwhals as a child, even though I have still never seen one, except on TV.  The exhibit had a couple of Narwhal skulls, so you can see where the tooth erupts from their skull.  It is actually a tooth and not a horn or bone.

In Inuit legend, the tusk was created after a woman was dragged into the ocean with a harpoon rope tied around her waist after the harpoon had struck a large narwhal. When she was transformed into a narwhal; her hair, became the spiral tusk.  Fun facts: only 1 in 500 male narwhals grow two tusks, and only 15% of females even have one tusk.  One female narwhal with two tusks is known; its skull was found in the 1600s.

A rare, two tusked Narwhal skull

Last but not least is the African Elephant on display in the rotunda.  This elephant has an interesting history too!

African Elephant – first displayed in 1959

What a fantastic museum!

After having my fill, I briefed checked out the original Smithsonian building and a small exhibit on Smithson; the man who donated money for the creation of the museum.  He had never even traveled to the United States! Smithson was an born illegitimately in France, and later naturalized as a British citizen; he went to university and became a scientist.  He led a nomadic lifestyle, and never married or had children.  When he died, he left his wealth to a nephew, with the stipulation that if the nephew didn’t died without heirs, the money would go to the United States to create “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”  Through some strange circumstances, Smithson’s body was moved to the Smithsonian Castle in the early 1900s; it is still there under the floor.

By this time it was about 5:30, and I was tired of standing and walking.  My subway ride home was uneventful, and after resting up a bit at the hotel, I ventured out again and had a fantastic pasta dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy.  It had been years since I had a meal there and it was delicious.  It certainly wrapped up a wonderful day.

The End

Vet’s Day Weekend 2017: The National Mall

Day 4, Saturday, November 11, 2017

Today was the day that I was going to get to go to Washington D.C.!  I have long wanted to go, and spend about 2-3 weeks there, touring the many monuments and museums on the mall.  A couple of days in D.C. was going to have to suffice on this trip, but I certainly made good use of my time!  Not only that though; I got to go on Veteran’s Day!

I grabbed a yogurt and granola cup at the hotel to eat on the subway into town.  I made my way the few blocks to the Metro station and found my way to the Mall.  The subway station pops up right in the middle of the Mall – so cool!  And cold – it was freaking cold that day, and sadly, I had forgotten to bring a hat or a scarf with me.  I did have some gloves though.  It had been so much warmer the previous day!

I talked to the lady at the Visitor’s booth, and she explained where I could find my National Parks Passport stamps for the various monuments, and off I went.  I stopped first at the Washington Monument – it is so tall!  It is really neat, with its simple clean lines.  Unfortunately, it is closed for renovations until 2019, so you can’t go inside.

Then I wandered down to the World War II Memorial – the memorial is beautiful and humbling.  It is divided into two sections – Atlantic and Pacific – and has pillars for each State.  The fountain is gorgeous, as well as the field of stars.  There are 4,048 stars on the wall here – each star represents 100 American service personnel who died or remain missing – 405,399 in all.  That is a sobering statistic.  I spent some time taking it all in.

I continued on my way down to the Lincoln Memorial, past the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.  The area is very large – I don’t know if I had ever seen it not completely packed with people; usually when the Washington Mall is on the news on the West Coast, it is because there was a big event there.  It was interesting to see.

The Lincoln Memorial

I had a mission at the Lincoln Memorial, besides just seeing the memorial.  I have been a long-time admirer of Abraham Lincoln, and the opportunity to stand there before his likeness, and read the words from his Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address were all amazing, but there was something else too.

There was something I wanted to see for myself.  A trivia thing…  Did you know that in the chiseled marble of the second inaugural address there is a mistake chiseled in?  Yea.  Some poor worker accidentally chiseled an E that should have been an F.  Instead of starting that whole panel over again, they didn’t outline the bottom leg of the E in the black paint, so it is hard to notice that it isn’t the correct letter – unless of course, you are looking for it.  It was so much fun to find it!  It is completely a nerd thing; right up my alley.

It was so humbling to stand in front of Lincoln’s huge marble statue and take it all in.

Heading back outside, I stood on the steps looking towards the Washington Monument.  These are the steps where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his I Have A Dream speech.  Hearing that speech, seeing Abraham Lincoln’s marble form towering in the background, would have been an amazing experience.

As I was coming down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, there was a Peruvian dance troupe just starting to perform a traditional dance.  I don’t know the significance of the man in the half-woman/half-military man costume, so if you do, please let me know.  It was amazing seeing these women dance on top of the boards!  The dance was very beautiful, and I watched for several minutes.

There was also a group of Vietnam Vets gathered on the steps for a ceremony – the 5th Battalion of the 7th Cavalry.  Since it was Veteran’s Day, there was a ceremony taking place at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, and they were there with their families for a reunion.  I talked to a gentleman about his service for a few minutes and thanked him.   At the memorial itself, vets and their families were lining up and getting seated.  I watched for a little while, humbled to be in the presence of these brave heroes.

The 5th Battalion of the 7th Cavalry – Heroes

I did get some photos at the edges, but the ceremony meant less access to the memorial than there would usually be.  And that’s ok – the 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Wall mean something special to these men and women.  The Women’s Vietnam Memorial is nearby, and it was neat to see.  I didn’t realize that there was a memorial dedicated to the women who supported the troops in the war zone.

A few of the 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial


Walking back down to the Washington Memorial, I checked out a festival that was on the Mall called Catharsis on the Mall; its purpose was to celebrate and promote the empowerment of women.  There were lots of helmets you could wear, and a women’s march for equality, which was not going on while I was there.  When I passed by, there was music and the opportunity to dance on top of a bus that was decorated like a dragon.  It was cool to see, but I’m not really a dancing on top of a dragon bus type – maybe I should be.  The festival also included a women’s march, which was going to be later in the day.

Golden Dragon Dancing Bus

I had already seen so much, and I had barely scratched the surface of the Mall!


Vet’s Day Weekend 2017: Annapolis Wander

Day 3, Friday, November 10, 2017

The next morning, I slept in, and then headed back to Chick and Ruth’s Delly for another fantastic breakfast, with another mimosa – I mean, hey, when you are on vacation!  I was seated with a young couple – the guy was from Tennessee and the girl was from New Jersey – young love!  We talked a bit about travel and champagne vs. sparkling wine (they were having mimosas too).  I couldn’t linger too long though, both because the restaurant wanted to turn the table over, and because I was moving that day, in order to spend a couple days in Washington D.C.  I have been waiting so long to see D.C.!

Chick and Ruth’s Delly

After breakfast, I wandered around Annapolis and checked out the beautiful historic buildings.

The Maryland State House is the oldest U.S. state capitol in continuous legislative use; it was built between 1772 and 1797 (progress was slow due to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War).  The building was designed by Joseph Horatio Anderson and is made in the Georgian style, and has a beautiful wooden dome on top.

The Old Treasury Building is the oldest public building in Annapolis, built between 1735 and 1736 for the commissioners who issued the colony’s first paper money.  It was originally known as the Paper Currency Office (catchy name right?); it got its Treasury Building name in the 1780s.  Currently it is being renovated; it would be interesting to go back and see inside!

The Annapolis Treasury Building

I checked out the Annapolis National Cemetery.  I love to just wander around cemeteries; they are peaceful.  I also tried to find the Naval Cemetery on the Naval Academy grounds.  It is open to the public, but when I inquired at the gate where I thought it was supposed to be, she directed me to another gate.  Upon finding the other gate (somehow not an easy task), I was directed back to the first gate I had been at!  Sigh…  The customer service there left a bit to be desired, and at that point I gave up.  Not everything on road trips is successful…

Annapolis National Cemetery

I drove to D.C. and spent some time checking out embassy row on the way.  Those old buildings are fantastic, and so unique!  Each one is different.

I stayed at a Marriott in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just on the outskirts of D.C. and very convenient to the metro line.  That evening I wandered up to a restaurant called Chatter.  It has a sports bar type theme, but the food was a mix of bar type food and fine dining.  I had a delicious seared Red Snapper with rice and broccolini, and a Champagne Bliss cocktail, with elderflower liqueur and a lemon twist.

The walls at Chatter were covered in sports memorabilia; the restaurant has a radio booth too.  Apparently a sportscaster named Tony Kornheiser broadcasts his show from the booth in the restaurant.  Being the wildly enthusiastic sports fan (cough cough) that I am, I had no idea who he was.

After dinner it was back home to the hotel for an early bedtime – I had a big day tomorrow.  I was going to the Mall!


Vet’s Day Weekend 2017: Naval Museum

Day 2, Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thursday morning, I went over to Chick and Ruth’s Delly (yes, I spelled that the way they do) for breakfast.  I learned what scrapple is, and honestly it didn’t sound very appealing…  In case you don’t know, it is a Pennsylvania Dutch creation; a mush of pork scraps and other trimmings combined with cornmeal, wheat flour and spices.  It is formed into a loaf, then sliced and fried.  So, I guess it is kind of like spam, which when I finally did try, I liked, so maybe I should have tried scrapple, but I didn’t…  I did have a delicious breakfast of eggs and sausage (without scrapple) and a fabulous mimosa for $2.99.

If you visit Chick and Ruth’s, you will undoubtedly notice that that there are bagels hanging from the ceiling… Why?  Well, the answer isn’t nearly as intriguing or mysterious as you might think…  According to an explanation on the wall, in the 1960s, the lights were pulled on and off using strings – but sometimes the strings would get caught up in the lights or on the pipes.  They weighted the strings with the bagels.  Of course, after a while, they became known for it, then throw in a scavenger hunt and pretty soon, the bagels stayed (although if you look, you will notice they aren’t actually hanging from the lights anymore)…  So there you have it…

The Delly – ignore the guy picking his teeth…

After breakfast, I wandered over to the Naval Academy to see the museum on the grounds.  This is a fascinating museum!

The U.S. Naval Academy Museum

The top floor of the museum had a whole bunch of models of historic ships, going back about 400 years.  These are beautiful models!

A model ship at the Naval Academy Museum


The stern of a model ship

The museum also has about two dozen models made almost entirely of bone.  These models were made by French POWs who were held in England during the Napoleonic Wars; they collected the bones from the meals that they ate as prisoners.  They vary in size, as well as the level of detail in each particular model – some are extremely elaborate!  They are really beautiful too.

The first floor of the museum gives a fairly complete history of the Navy.  There are exhibits on how the Navy was established, the activities and campaigns that Naval units have participated in, life in the service, and various significant figures in Naval history.  They have artifacts that range from class rings to sabers, historic flags, items possessed by Naval officers, and pieces of significant ships throughout history.  It is a really good museum, and I spent quite a while there taking it all in.

Naval Swords and Dirks


A stabilized Naval Banner from the 1700s

After the museum, I got a late lunch at a sushi restaurant and wandered around downtown a bit.  And I took a nap!

My sushi lunch!

That evening, I went to a play called 33 Variations, that was being put on by The Colonial Players, the local Annapolis community theater.  The play was about a woman who was researching Beethoven for a book.  The topic was the 33 variations that Beethoven wrote in response to Diabelli’s request to write a variation of his waltz.  Diabelli was a well-known composer and music publisher who sent a request to several Austrian composers, asking them to each to submit a variation on the waltz he had written, which he was going to compile into a book to publish.  In case you were wondering, this part is all true, historically…

The woman in the play examines the reasons why Beethoven wrote the variations, and the emotions they evoke.  She becomes obsessed with the project and begins frantically working on it, even as her body is shutting down due to the effects of ALS.  The play draws parallels between this woman’s frantic struggle to finish her life’s work in the face of her terminal illness, and Beethoven’s obsession with composing before total deafness takes his hearing.  The parallel theme in the play is the woman’s relationship with her daughter, with whom she has a strained relationship.  They both try to come to terms with their relationship as the woman’s death becomes more imminent and her body shuts down.

As with many community theaters, the set design was bare bones – they switched out the stage in the middle of the round theater several times.  They did a great job with it!  The play was very powerful and moving – the pianist evoked quite a bit of emotion with his playing of the variations throughout the play.  I certainly had tears in my eyes a couple of times.

The play wrapped up a little after 11 and I walked down to a pub that was still open for a late dinner/snack.  I had an appetizer of crab balls and a Tröeg’s Harvest Ale, a hoppy ale with hints of citrus; both were delicious!  I talked to the bartender a bit about the area, as well as Washington D.C.  It was a fantastic day!

Crab Balls and Beer – yum!