Category: Washington DC

A Road Trip for the Hamilton Fan

A Road Trip for the Hamilton Fan

Hamilton

Are you a fan of the wildly popular Broadway musical, Hamilton? I certainly am, so I figured it might be fun to do a Hamilton road trip visiting all of the places connected to this founding father. I’m listing them in chronological order; however, I will have a list at the end that organizes the sites by state, and a map to guide you in planning your Hamilton road trip.

In New York you can be a new man

In the first year or two after his arrival on the mainland, Alexander focused on his education. During this time, he came under the influence of William Livingston, a leading intellectual and revolutionary. Hamilton even lived at the Livingston residence for about a year. Livingston’s house, known as Liberty Hall, is now the Liberty Hall Museum of Union, NJ.

Hamilton entered King’s College in New York City (now Columbia University) in the autumn of 1773 as a private student and officially matriculated in May 1774. As a result, if you visit the college today, you will see Hamilton Hall and a large statue of Hamilton in front of it.

alexander hamilton road trip columbia university hall statue
Hamilton Hall at Columbia University (source)

After his education, Alexander Hamilton joined a New York volunteer militia company. He drilled with the company in the graveyard of nearby St. Paul’s Chapel.

You walked in and my heart went BOOM

Hamilton met Elizabeth Schuyler while stationed in Morristown, New Jersey in the winter of December 1779-March 1780.

They were married on December 14, 1780, at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, New York. The Schuyler Mansion still stands, and it is a New York State Historic Site. Between 1763 and 1804, this mansion was the site of military strategizing, political hobnobbing, elegant social affairs, and an active family life. You can tour of the mansion for $5 (students and seniors $4 and children under 12 receive free admission).

alexander hamilton roadt trip albany ny schuyler mansion
The Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY (source)

The Battle of Yorktown … 1781 …

Hamilton was there, and you can be, too.

The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (Virginia) tells the story of the nation’s founding, from the colonial period to the Revolution and beyond. Indoor galleries feature period artifacts, immersive environments, interactive exhibits and films. One film, “The Siege of Yorktown,” has a 180-degree surround screen and special effects. The museum also has outdoor living-history areas, in which visitors can witness artillery demonstrations, or drill with wooden muskets at a re-created Continental Army encampment.

alexander hamilton road trip american revolution museum yorktown
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (source)

After the war, I went back to New York

In July 1782, Hamilton passed the bar and set up law practice in Albany after six months of self-directed education. Unfortunately, I could not find any reference to the location of his law practice.

Back in Manhattan, in 1784, he founded the Bank of New York. The bank opened for business at 326 Pearl Street only a few months after the departure of British troops from American soil. Sadly, that building has not stood since 1881. It is interesting to note, however, that the Bank of New York became one of the longest operating banks in American history. It stayed in business for over 220 years before it merged with another bank in 2007.

I was chosen for the constitutional convention

The Annapolis Convention of September 1786, held at Mann’s Tavern, consisted of twelve delegates from five states. Hamilton played a major leadership role at the convention, where he drafted a resolution for a constitutional convention. As a result, he came one step closer to achieving his longtime desire to have a more powerful, financially independent federal government.

The Constitutional Convention took place in Philadelphia the following year from May 25 to September 17. Delegates met at the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall. After months of work in defining and improving our fledgling nation’s government, they emerged with the Constitution of the United States of America.  Alexander Hamilton was the sole signer from the state of New York.  Today, you can see the Constitution at the National Archives in Washington DC.

alexander hamilton road trip independence hall philadelphia
Independence Hall, Philadelphia  (source)

The New York state Ratifying Convention took place in Poughkeepsie in June 1788. Most delegates to the ratifying convention were anti-Federalists, and they opposed ratification.  However, Hamilton led the Federalist minority in a tenacious and persevering fight for ratification. The original Dutchess County Courthouse where the convention was held later burned down, and a new courthouse was built on the same site. Outside the courthouse, signs mark the historic site of the New York Ratifying Convention. Inside the US Post Office at the end of the street, you can view a large mural of the New York Ratification Convention.

We’ll get a little place in Harlem

Alexander Hamilton owned just one home in his lifetime: a Federal style mansion known as The Grange. Originally built on Hamilton’s 32-acre country estate in upper Manhattan, the home was moved twice, and is now located in St. Nicholas Park in Hamilton Heights, Manhattan. It is maintained by the National Park Service, who restored it to its original 1802 appearance.  The Park Service also provides guided tours daily.

alexander hamilton road trip grange new york
The Grange (source)

Weehawken, dawn.  Guns drawn.

After decades of insults and provocations between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, they met to duel at dawn on July 11, 1804 in Weehawken, NJ. The dueling grounds, located along the west bank of the Hudson River, have a historic marker and a bronze bust of Alexander Hamilton… in Hamilton Park, adjacent to Hamilton Street. Also on Hamilton Street is a large boulder upon which Alexander Hamilton rested after being shot.

Paralyzed by a bullet that struck his spine, Hamilton was ferried to the Greenwich Village home of his friend William Bayard Jr., who had been waiting on the dock. Hamilton died the following afternoon, July 12, at Bayard’s home. According to Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow, “A large bloodstain soaked into the Bayard’s floor where Hamilton expired, and for many years the family refused to expunge this sacred spot.” The house currently at this address is not the one in which Hamilton passed away, but there is a marker to commemorate the place of Hamilton’s demise.

Hamilton’s tomb lies near the southern fence of Trinity churchyard in New York. Eliza is buried next to him, but she outlived him by 50 years.  Also buried in the cemetery are Angelica Schuyler Church and Hercules Mulligan.

alexander hamilton road trip grave site epitaph
Hamilton’s grave site at Trinity Church

Who tells your story

Numerous locations in the United States pay tribute to Alexander Hamilton and his legacy. To name a few:

Hamilton served as one of the first trustees of the Hamilton-Oneida Academy in Clinton, New York. After receiving a college charter in 1812, it became Hamilton College.

It isn’t mentioned in the play, but Alexander Hamilton envisioned using the Great Falls of the Passaic River in New Jersey to power new factories.  While Secretary of Treasury, Hamilton selected the site of the nation’s first planned industrial city. Then, in 1791, Hamilton helped found the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures (SUM), a state-chartered private corporation to fulfill this vision. SUM founded the town of Paterson and today, there is a statue of Hamilton overlooking the falls in Paterson, New Jersey.

The United States Capitol in Washington DC has a statue of Hamilton in the southwest portion of its rotunda.

In 1790, Hamilton created the United States Revenue Cutter Service to help with customs enforcement. In 1915, the service combined with the United States Life Saving Service to form the United States Coast Guard.  So it’s no surprise that the main administration building of the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, is named Hamilton Hall.

In 1880, Hamilton’s son, John Church Hamilton, commissioned Carl Conrads to sculpt a granite statue of his father, now located in Central Park, New York City.

alexander hamilton road trip central park statue new york
The statue of Alexander Hamilton in Central Park, New York. (source)

In 1990, the U.S. Custom House in New York City was renamed after Alexander Hamilton.

The U.S. Army’s Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn is named after Hamilton.

In Washington, DC, the south terrace of the Treasury Building features a statue of Hamilton by James Earle Fraser, dedicated on May 17, 1923.

In Chicago, a thirteen-foot tall statue of Hamilton by sculptor John Angel was cast in 1939. Installation at Lincoln Park did not occur until 1952, however, due to issues with the accompanying structure. The statue underwent restoration work in 2016 and now gleams shiny gold.

A bronze sculpture of Hamilton titled The American Cape, by Kristen Visbal, was unveiled at Journal Square in downtown Hamilton, Ohio, in October 2004. (That link will take you to a site with multiple images – it’s really cool looking, so check it out!)

The Road Trip

Because most of these sites are close together, I think it makes an ideal road trip.  The road trip itinerary below does not include all of the spots, just the most important ones.  I tried to keep it semi-practical, so you wouldn’t be driving an hour out of your way just to see a statue.

  1. Start at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Virginia.  I would allow at least half a day for seeing that.  From there, head toward Washington DC. However, if you want to shorten your tip, you can make Washington your starting point – I included Yorktown because I’ve been to its sister site, the Jamestown Settlement, which is excellent.
  2. In Washington, go first to the Capitol building, then the National Archives, and then the US Treasury. From there, head to Philadelphia.
  3. In Philadelphia, tour Independence Hall.  Again, I would allow at least half a day for this.  Then head to New York City.
  4. In Manhattan, go to Trinity Church and look for the graves of Alexander & Eliza Hamilton, Hercules Mulligan, and Angelica Schuyler Church
  5. As you head north in New York, stop by 82 Jane Street, the site where Hamilton died at William Bayard’s home.
  6. Visit Central Park and look for the statue of Hamilton, located east of The Great Lawn between 82nd and 83rd Streets
  7. Go see Hamilton Hall at Columbia University.  Visit nearby St. Paul’s Chapel, where Hamilton and his fellow militiamen did drills in the cemetery.
  8. Make your last stop in the Big Apple the Hamilton Grange National Memorial.
  9. Leave New York and head to the Weehawken Dueling Grounds and Hamilton Memorial in Weehawken NJ. Be sure to look for the boulder.
  10. Visit the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park in Paterson NJ and look for the statue of Hamilton there.
  11. Head north and stop in Poughkeepsie to see the Dutchess County Courthouse. While you’re there, you can also get a look at the mural in the nearby Post Office.
  12. Finally, you reach the end of the trip at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY, site of Alexander and Eliza’s wedding.

Of course, this is just a suggestion.  You could adapt this trip to include more sites, or shorten it by removing some. I created a custom Google map with these twelve sites pinned to it, and you can see it here. A full list of all the sites mentioned in this article, and their addresses, follows.

New Jersey

  • Liberty Hall Museum – 1003 Morris Avenue, Union NJ
  • Morristown, NJ – Hamilton was stationed there in 1779/1780
  • Weehawken, NJ – Hamilton Street dueling grounds
  • Paterson, NJ Statue – 72 McBride Ave ExtensionPaterson, NJ

New York

  • Columbia University – 1130 Amsterdam Avenue, New York NY
  • St. Paul’s Chapel – 1160 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY
  • Schuyler Mansion – 32 Catherine Street, Albany, NY
  • Dutchess County Courthouse – 10 Market St, Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Hamilton Grange National Memorial – 414 West 141st Street, New York, NY
  • William Bayard’s home Marker – 82 Jane Street, New York, NY
  • Trinity Churchyard Cemetery – Broadway and Wall Street, New York, NY
  • Hamilton College – 198 College Hill Rd, Clinton, NY
  • Central Park Statue – Mid-Park east of The Great Lawn between 82nd and 83rd Streets
  • Alexander Hamilton US Custom House – 1 Bowling Green, New York, NY
  • Fort Hamilton – 101st Street, Brooklyn, NY

Virginia

  • American Revolution Museum at Yorktown – 200 Water Street, Route 1020, Yorktown, VA

Maryland

  • Mann’s Tavern Marker – 162 Conduit St, Annapolis MD

Pennsylvania

  • Independence Hall – 520 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia

Washington, DC

  • National Archives – 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
  • Capitol Building – East Capitol St NE & First St SE, Washington, DC
  • US Treasury Building – 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, D.C.

Connecticut

  • US Coast Guard Academy – 31 Mohegan Ave, New London, CT

Thank you for joining me on this tour of Alexander Hamilton’s life!  Please let me know if you take a Hamilton road trip and/or visit any of these places.  I would love to hear what you thought of them!

Embassy Tours – A Cultural Tourism Annual Event

Embassy Tours – A Cultural Tourism Annual Event

Foreign Embassy Tours

Every year at the beginning of May, Cultural Tourism DC hosts an event called “The Around the World Embassy Tour.”  I have been lucky enough to go in the past, and I went again this year.  I think it is probably one of the coolest free events I’ve ever been to, with the possible exception of the Ceremony of the Keys in London.

On May 6 of this year, 43 embassies representing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America opened their doors and invited the general public in to learn more about their culture and heritage.  The European Union embassies will follow suit and host an open house on May 13.

To give you a better idea of what it’s like, I took a lot of pictures.  Our first stop was the Embassy of Peru.

Peru

Inside, we got to see beautiful Peruvian hand crafted items, sample some Peruvian chocolate, and we got to see the ambassador’s office and conference room.  Peruvian food was available for purchase both inside and outside the embassy, including Pisco sours, empanadas, and Alfajores cookies.

embassy tours peru
Some of the handicrafts in the Peruvian embassy.

Then, outside the embassy, we experienced music and Latin dancing.

embassy tours peru dancers
The dancers outside the Peruvian embassy.

From there we walked up Massachusetts Avenue, aka Embassy Row, and marveled at the beautiful buildings now serving as embassies. The Colombian embassy was ROCKING. Loud party music and bright colorfully-clad dancers attracted everyone’s attention. It also had a line of people that went down the street and around the corner. Having already gotten a late start, we decided to visit the embassies that seemed to have little to no wait to enter. Otherwise, we would have probably only seen two!

The first one we happened upon was Indonesia.

Indonesia

I am not exaggerating when I say it’s the most beautiful house I have seen on this side of the Atlantic. When we walked in, the first thing we saw was the grand entrance.

embassy tours indonesia
The foyer of the Indonesian embassy

(I don’t know about you, but every time I see a place like this, I imagine myself in an evening gown and lots of diamonds, slowly gliding down the stairs to the tune of dramatic-yet-elegant music.  No?  I’m the only one?)

As it turns out, the building is also known as the Walsh Mansion, and it Dates to 1903. At that time, it was the most expensive residence in the city, with a construction cost of $835,000.  The original owner, a Thomas J Walsh, came to this county from Ireland without a penny to his name in 1869. Over the next 25 years, he built up a small fortune through his business pursuits, then lost nearly everything in the Panic of 1893.  In 1896, he took his family to Colorado, and purchased a mine that most thought was of no value. However, it wasn’t long before mine workers struck a massive vein of gold and silver, making Walsh a multi-millionaire.

Walsh’s daughter Evalyn married into the McLean family, which owned The Washington Post.  In 1910, her husband bought the Hope Diamond for her at a cost of $180,000 (that’s $4.6 million in today’s economy).  Over time, rumors developed that the Hope Diamond had a curse on it.  Evalyn Walsh McLean’s first son died in a car accident. Her husband ran off with another woman and eventually died in a sanitarium. The Washington Post went bankrupt, and eventually her daughter died of an overdose, and one of her grandsons died in the Vietnam war. Evalyn never believed the curse had anything to do with her misfortunes.

In 1952 the government of Indonesia purchased the mansion for use as an embassy. Thankfully, they have preserved the beauty of the historic home, including this very large and ornate organ:

embassy tours indonesia
Upper part of the massive pipe organ in the Indonesian embassy.

The pipe organ’s wind system and some of its pipes were located in the basement, making this a two-story pipe organ.  I don’t know what it sounds like, but based solely on its appearance, it is impressive!

The painted ceilings and crystal chandeliers are probably very much like they were before it became the Indonesian embassy.

Embassy tours Indonesia
A doll on the mantle in the Indonesian embassy

A small glassed in walkway connected the residence portion of the house with the offices, which were more modern.  As you enter the office area, you pass by a huge gold bird, the heraldic symbol of Indonesia.

embassy tours indonesia

Our next stop was going to be the Chilean embassy, but the line was incredibly long, so we wandered up the street a little farther and found a performer outside the Korean embassy.

Korea

Just above the heads of the people gathered around to watch, we could see a man walking a tightrope while making jokes via an interpreter. There was also this little statue:

embassy tours korea

This is a Dol Hareubang, which means Stone Grandfather.  They are from Jeju, a small volcanic island off the southern coast of Korea.  Dol Hareubang is a guardian deity, and the people of Jeju erect these statues to ward off danger and harm.

Right next door to Korea was the Kyrgyz Republic, or Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan

I’ll be honest.  I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan, other than that it’s a relatively new country.  It was a very enlightening visit.  First, I learned that Kyrgyzstan shares a border with China. As we made our way through the embassy and looked at the displays, I learned that many people of Kyrgyzstan live in yurts.  We saw scarves and slippers and multiple other woolen items, beautifully made. But their talents do not end there. I thought this painting was just adorable:

Embassy tours Kyrgyzstan

They were also offering shots of a cognac from their country. Nearby, these lovely ladies in traditional native costumes greeted and posed for everyone.

Embassy tours Kyrgyzstan

Haiti

The Haitian embassy was all about art.  Every room we entered had beautiful, brightly colored paintings done by Haitian artists. The one hanging over the fireplace was especially striking.

Embassy tours haiti

And in the back of the house, just before we stepped outside, we saw a beautiful collection of bottles covered in sequins.  Then we exited the house and stepped out onto a gorgeous patio. The biggest wall had an arrangement of metal decorations that was pretty incredible.

Embassy tours Haiti patio

There were tin lanterns hanging all over the place, with designs of dragonflies, and other small animals.

By this time the event was coming to a close, so we started walking back toward the Metro station.  On the way, we passed a stunning display outside the Guatemalan embassy.

Embassy tours Guatemala

 

The white parts were rice, and we guessed that the colored bits were dyed sawdust.  From a distance, it looked like a rug.

After that, we followed the sound of music until we happened upon the embassy of the Dominican Republic.  There were people everywhere – some were in line for food but quite a few were dancing.  It was such an awesome display of living in the moment, anyone watching couldn’t help but smile.

I cannot recommend the Around the World Embassy Tour enough. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about other cultures and see some magnificent art and architecture.  If you’re ever in D.C. on a Saturday in early May, check it out!

60+ Washington DC Free Attractions

60+ Washington DC Free Attractions

Anyone who has been to Washington DC knows that it can be a pretty expensive city to visit.  Most studies rank it somewhere in the top ten list of the most expensive American cities. For someone who is making a non-DC salary and visiting the nation’s capital, the expense of everything can be daunting.

Fortunately, Washington DC free attractions are plentiful.  Here are over 60 places you can explore without paying for admission, listed by neighborhood:

The National Mall Area

Washington DC Free Attractions

  1. Abraham Lincoln Memorial
  2. World War II Memorial
  3. National Museum of American History
  4. National Air & Space Museum
  5. Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden – modern art
  6. National Museum of African Art
  7. National Museum of Natural History
  8. Smithsonian Castle
  9. Washington Monument – currently closed for elevator upgrade – check before you go
  10. National Archives
  11. National Gallery of Art
  12. Multiverse Light Sculpture between National Gallery East & West Buildings
  13. Freer Gallery – Asian art (closed until October 14, 2017)
  14. Sackler Gallery – Asian art
  15. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  16. Korean War Veterans Memorial
  17. Vietnam War Veterans Memorial
  18. Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  19. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  20. American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial
  21. US Holocaust Memorial Museum – free but requires timed tickets March through August
  22. National Museum of the American Indian
  23. National Museum of African American History & Culture
  24. Albert Einstein Memorial
  25. Bureau of Engraving & Printing (free, but reservations required through September 1)
  26. National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden

 

Brookland Area

Washington DC free attractions in Brookland area

  1. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
  2. Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

 

Capitol Hill

Washington Dc free attractions capitol hill

  1. National Postal Museum
  2. Library of Congress
  3. US Capitol
  4. US Botanic Garden
  5. Folger Shakespeare Library
  6. Historic Congressional Cemetery

 

Capitol Riverfront

Washington DC Free attractions capitol riverfront

  1. Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
  2. National Museum of the US Navy
  3. Yards Park

 

Anacostia

Washington DC Free Attractions Anacostia

  1. Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
  2. Anacostia Community Museum

 

Upper Northwest

Washington DC Free Attractions Upper Northwest

  1. National Cathedral

 

Georgetown

Washington DC Free ATtractions Georgetown

  1. C&O Canal Paths
  2. Old Stone House (the oldest home in DC)
  3. Theodore Roosevelt Island
  4. Rock Creek Park

 

Penn Quarter/Chinatown

Washington DC Free Attractions Penn Quarter Chinatown

  1. National Portrait Gallery
  2. Smithsonian American Art Museum
  3. Lunder Conservation Center
  4. Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site
  5. Archives of American Art Gallery

 

Dupont Circle

Washington DC Free Attractions Dupont Circle

  1. Anderson House

 

Woodley Park

Washington DC Free Attractions Woodley Park

  1. National Zoo

 

Foggy Bottom

Washington DC free attractions Foggy Bottom

  1. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts (free tour)
  2. Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center (free performances)

 

Downtown

Washington DC Free Attractions Donwtown

  1. White House Visitor Center
  2. White House tour (request through Congressional representative at least 3 months in advance)
  3. Renwick Gallery – American contemporary art

 

Shaw

Washington DC Free Attractions Shaw

  1. African American Civil War Memorial
  2. African American Civil War Museum

 

H Street NE

Washington DC Free Attractions H Street NE

  1. US National Arboretum
  2. National Bonsai & Penjing Museum – inside National Arboretum

 

Arlington, Virginia (technically not DC, but just across the river)

 

  1. US Air Force Memorial
  2. US Marine Corps Memorial (aka Statue of Iwo Jima)
  3. Arlington House, former home of Robert E Lee
  4. Arlington National Cemetery
  5. National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial

 

As you can see, there are plenty of Washington DC free must-see attractions… and a few that are a little off the beaten path.  With so many choices for things to see and do at no expense, Washington DC can be an affordable vacation destination after all.

 

The World in Miniature: Six Great Dollhouses from Around the Globe

The World in Miniature: Six Great Dollhouses from Around the Globe

It’s All in the Details

Ever since my childhood, I’ve been a little fascinated with dollhouses. There is something magical about seeing a slice of everyday life shrunk down into miniature. And the more details there are, the more magical it becomes. Here are five amazing dollhouses from around the world that are on my bucket list to see, plus one I’ve already seen.

Read More Read More

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Wizard of Oz Road Trip

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Wizard of Oz Road Trip

Are you a fan of the classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz? Well, have I got a road trip for you! (Technically, it may be more of a bucket list than a road trip.  These sites are on both coasts of the USA and a few places in between. It really isn’t practical for driving unless you have a lot of time.)

Start in the northeast with Chittenango, New York.  This town is the birthplace of The Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum, and also the home of the All Things Oz Museum. According to the museum staff, “All Things Oz is more than a tribute to a book series; it is a fascinating trip through the life of its author, his wife, Maud Gage, and all the many experiences that shaped his imagination and his world.” The museum also coordinates a yearly Oz-stravaganza festival.

wizard of oz road trip All Things Oz Museum
All Things Oz Museum, Chittenango, NY

From New York, head south to our nation’s capital and visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington DC.  There you will see one of the four original pairs of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the movie. (Size 5!)

wizard of oz road trip dorothy's Ruby Slippers judy garland
Ruby Slippers, National Museum of American History, Washington DC

From DC, keep heading south. If you’ve scrolled through Pinterest, you may have seen an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park in North Carolina. Well, it was a theme park, and it is in North Carolina, but it is not abandoned. The Land of Oz is a privately owned property that is under 24 hour surveillance, and trespassers are prosecuted. Fortunately, however, the site is open to the public at various times throughout the year.

Wizard of oz road trip Land of Oz NC
Land of Oz theme park in Beech Mountain, NC

In Chicago, visit Oz Park.  Take a stroll through the park and you’ll be greeted by statues of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and everyone’s favorite, Dorothy & Toto.

wizard of oz road trip_park_scarecrow_statue
Scarecrow Statue, Oz Park, Chicago

In Wamego, Kansas, there is the Oz Museum, which features a collection of over 25,000 Oz artifacts. Since the founding of the Museum in April 2004, other small businesses with the Oz theme have opened, including the Oz Winery and Toto’s Tacoz. In addition, on the first weekend of October, Wamego holds its Annual OZtoberFEST, an Oktoberfest-type celebration with an Oz theme. OZfest typically features Hot Air Balloon Rides, Tallgrass Brewery Beer Garden, the Yellow Brick Road Bike Ride, and a local stage or music production.

Wizard of oz road trip Oz Museum Wamego Kansas
The Oz Museum, Wamego KS

And now, head west to the California coast.  We’re going to Hollywood!

Visit the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, and look for the stars of Judy Garland (Dorothy), Ray Bloger (Scarecrow), Jack Haley (Tin Man), Frank Morgan (The Wizard), and Billie Burke (Glinda). The Munchkins’ star, added in 2007, is the most recent Wizard of Oz addition to the Walk of Fame.

Wizard of oz road trip Munchkins Star walk of fame hollywood
Hollywood Walk of Fame

After visiting the Walk of Fame, head over to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  The cemetery contains a memorial to Terry the Cairn Terrier, also known as Dorothy’s dog, Toto.

wizard of oz road trip Toto Memorial hollywood
Toto Memorial in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

And when you’ve finished touring all of these great locations, remember to click your heels three times and say, “There’s no place like home…”

The National Zoo

The National Zoo

The National Zoo is a little panda-intensive.  And with good reason, as there are only four zoos in the United States where you can see pandas.  The National Zoo has four, including Bei Bei, who was just born in August of 2015.  My luck at being able to see the pandas over the years has been hit or miss. The last time I went, I was successful in getting one photo of the cuddly creatures:

National Zoo Panda

He was a little shy.  If you aren’t lucky enough to see the pandas in person, you can take advantage of the zoo’s Panda Cam which allows you to see them real time.

My favorites at the zoo (any zoo) are the big cats.  This was a particularly good trip for catching them alert.  Sometimes I haven’t been so lucky.  Here are the photos I snapped:National Zoo Cheetah

National Zoo Lion

National Zoo Tiger

I think we were there towards the end of the day — somewhere between 3 and 5 pm.  That seems to be a good time for catching the animals when they are alert as it’s probably getting closer to their feeding time.

Exhibits at the zoo include the following:

  • Giant Panda Habitat
  • Elephant Trail
  • Asia Trail
  • Lemur Island
  • Small Mammal House
  • Great Ape House
  • Think  Tank (education)
  • Gibbon Ridge
  • Cheetah Conservation Station
  • American Trail
  • Invertebrate Exhibit
  • Amazonia
  • Great Cats
  • Reptile Discovery Center
  • The Bird House
  • Kids’ Farm
  • American Bison Exhibit

Insider Tip:  If you take the Metro (Washington DC’s subway system), there are two stops you can use to get to the zoo.  The Woodley Park-Zoo stop (which most people use because of the name) is an uphill walk to the zoo.  The Cleveland Park stop is the same distance, but is a flat walk.  If you choose to drive to the zoo, there is limited parking available but there is a hefty charge (as of this writing, $22).

App It: The National Zoo has an app that includes interactive maps, schedules, animal information, and more.

The National Zoo is located at  3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008. Telephone  202-633-4888.  The zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas.  Hours vary by season, so call or check the website when planning your visit.

national-zoo

Diamonds and Bling, They’re Totally My Thing

Diamonds and Bling, They’re Totally My Thing

I cannot adequately express how much I love the Gems & Minerals section of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. I’ve been fascinated with it since I first saw in on an elementary school field trip.  My inner princess still squeals with delight as we approach the room with the Hope Diamond. Every time, without fail.

The Hope Diamond is one of the most infamous pieces of jewelry in history. Its ownership has been documented 400 years back. What makes the gem so special? Well, it is a startling blue color, which is rare among diamonds. Officially, the color is called “fancy deep grayish blue.”

Also, it is big. The diamond weighs over 45 carats, and it was cut from an even larger stone, believed to have been 112 carats in weight.

Its history is impressive as well, from its origins in India to the royal court of King Louis XIV of France, who had it cut down from 112 to 69 carats. It was later stolen and resurfaced in Britain after an absence of 20 years, but it had again been cut down to the current 45 carat size. In England, it became the property of King George IV, then was sold many times until it ended up in the hands of Pierre Cartier. Cartier sold it to a Washington socialite, who enjoyed it for over thirty years. Upon her death, it was sold to Harry Winston, another famous jeweler. Winston was persuaded to donate the diamond to the Smithsonian and in 1958, he mailed it to them – in a brown paper envelope!

Even more intriguing than the list of its rich and powerful owners is the legend that the diamond may be cursed. According to the legend, two former owners of the diamond committed suicide and countless others met with a gruesome death, such as being torn apart by wild dogs, hanged by a mob, and being thrown off a cliff. Many others’ lives ended in ruin and disgrace.

There are plenty of other dazzling pieces of jewelry in the Smithsonian’s collection besides the Hope Diamond. Take, for instance, the Cullinan Blue Diamond Necklace:

Cullinan Blue Diamond Necklace

This light blue diamond (although it appears clear in my photo –  sorry) was presented by Thomas Cullinan, then chairman of the Premier Mine in South Africa, to his wife Annie, around 1910. The gift was to commemorate the largest rough diamond ever mined – the 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond, discovered in 1905. Nine major pieces were cut from the original Cullinan rough; the two largest stones are in the British Crown Jewels, and the other seven stones are in the private collection of Queen Elizabeth II.

The necklace is set with 243 round colorless diamonds and nine blue diamonds. It is believed that the nine blue diamonds represented the nine pieces that were cut from the original Cullinan rough. The blue diamonds highlight the bow and pendant section and have a total weight of 5.57 carats. The Cullinan Blue Diamond is the largest blue diamond in the necklace, a 2.6 carat oval brilliant that is the centerpiece of the pendant.

Then there’s the Hall Sapphire Necklace:

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It was designed by Harry Winston, Inc. and features 36 sapphires from Sri Lanka, totaling 195 carats, set in platinum. There are also 435 pear-shaped and round brilliant-cut diamonds, totaling 83.75 carats.

Next, we have the Hooker Emerald:

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This 75 carat Colombian emerald was once the property of Abdul Hamid II, a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who according to legend, wore it in his belt buckle. Tiffany & Co. purchased the emerald at auction in 1911 and initially set it into a tiara. In 1950, it was mounted in its current brooch setting and was featured on the first page of the Tiffany Christmas catalog. In its platinum setting, the Hooker Emerald is surrounded by 109 round brilliant and 20 baguette cut diamonds, totaling approximately 13 carats.

The Marie Louise Diadem has always been one of my favorites:

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Napoleon gave the Diadem to his second wife, the Empress Marie-Louise, on the occasion of their marriage. Originally the diadem, commissioned in 1810, was set with emeralds, which were replaced in the mid-1950s with turquoise. (Why?!?!?)  The diadem has an elaborate design and contains 79 Persian turquoise stones (totaling 540 carats) and 1,006 old mine cut diamonds (totaling 700 carats) set in silver and gold.

Point of trivia:  A crown encircles the head in a complete circle and can be worn by men and women; a diadem is not a complete circle (usually ¾ way around), it has an opening in the back and can also be worn by men and women; a tiara (semi-circular high crown) is a smaller headpiece worn at the front of the head, by women only.

Another item on display that belonged to Empress Marie-Louise is the Napoleon Diamond Necklace. It’s stunning.

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Like the diadem above, it was a gift from Napoleon to Marie-Louise, on the occasion of the birth of their son, Napoleon II in 1811. It has 234 diamonds.

So, if you also like shiny things that sparkle, check out the gem & mineral collection at the Smithsonian. In addition to these fantastic pieces of jewelry, you can also see a fascinating and very thorough collection of minerals in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors.

The National Museum of Natural History is located at 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560.  Telephone 202-633-1000. Admission is free. The museum is open every day of the year except Christmas, from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.

The Doll’s House at the Smithsonian

The Doll’s House at the Smithsonian

Since 1967, the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History has housed a 29 room dollhouse. The family that calls the dollhouse home is (what else?) the Doll Family. This miniature family consists of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Doll, their 10 children, two visiting grandparents, five servants, and 20 pets.

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Grandfather Doll in the Guest Bedroom

The house consists of 23 rooms, each painstaking decorated by a girl named Faith Bradford, who donated it to the Smithsonian in 1951. The scale of the house is 1 inch = 1 foot, and the time period is turn-of-the-20th-century. Some of the household furnishings were purchased from area toy & specialty stores; others were made by Ms. Bradford.

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Dollhouse Library – Right Side

Everyday items were transformed into miniaturized versions of other items. Buttons became stacked dinner plates in the pantry, and matchsticks became shelved books in the library. Bradford made ceiling fixtures for the nursery and nurse’s room from parts of electric plugs.

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Dollhouse Library – Left Side

Faith Bradford even made a scrapbook about the dollhouse, with fabric swatches and detailed descriptions about what was in each room. The dollhouse was exhibited publicly at a charity toy fair in 1932 and at a Woodward & Lothrop department store in 1933.

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Dollhouse Drawing Room with Woodthrop the Parlor Maid

When I was a little girl, I loved looking at this dollhouse. I still do. When I took my Girl Scout troop to Washington DC and we stopped in at the museum, they all loved it too. I think that the appeal of a dollhouse is timeless – there is just something fascinating about looking into a fantasy world and seeing every aspect of daily life portrayed in miniature. No matter what age the spectator, the dollhouse is sure to be appreciated for its size and scope.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is located at 14th St and Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001.  Telephone 202-633-1000. Admission to the museum is free.  Hours are 10:00 am to 5:30 pm every day of the year except for Christmas.

Hidden Gem: National Postal Museum – Washington DC

Hidden Gem: National Postal Museum – Washington DC

Not all of the museums that make up the Smithsonian Institute are located on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The National Postal Museum is located across the street from Union Station. It’s not as well-known or visited by as many people as its counterparts on the Mall, but it’s just as interesting.

Now, you may be tempted to think that the National Postal Museum is just for stamp collectors. Not so! There were many really fascinating exhibits about the history of mail, the role of mail in historic events, and how mail is handled around the world.

The building itself is, appropriately enough, located in the historic City Post Office Building, which was constructed in 1914 and served as the Washington, D.C., post office from 1914 through 1986. If you’ve ever been in a post office that old, you know that it is a beautiful place. Far from the generic gray laminate countertop and fluorescent light spaces that they occupy today, post offices in that era were elegant.  They were places of importance. Marble countertops, high ceilings, and shiny brass fixtures that gleamed like gold were prominent features. The National Postal Museum has retained some of that elegance.

One of the first exhibits we saw was about The Inverted Jenny.  It was a 24-cent stamp used in 1918 depicting a plane (the Curtiss JN-4). Unfortunately, during the printing process a mistake was made, and one sheet of 100 stamps was printed with the plane upside down. These stamps are highly sought after by collectors today, and a single one of them can sell in the ball park of $1 million.

Then we saw an envelope that had been postmarked in space.

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The astronauts aboard the Apollo 15 mission postmarked this envelope and the new space stamps on the last day of their mission in 1971. Meanwhile, 238,000 miles away on Earth, post offices around the country issued the stamps for the first time.

We also saw a mailbox that had been located across the street from the World Trade Center during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It held up surprisingly well, all things considered.

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We got to see displays of stamps and mail from around the world, then we went into a hands on area. There, visitors could design a stamp on a computer monitor, or sort through bins of the real thing to find a few for a new or existing collection. I loved looking through the stamps. I’m not a collector but I did find that they came in handy as embellishments for my scrapbook pages!

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We learned about Owney, the little dog who served as a mascot for the US Railway Mail Service. He was a stray who wandered into the Albany Post Office and ended up getting adopted by a worker there. Owney usually slept on the mail bags and whenever they were moved, he went with them. He was a faithful guardian of railway mail and the bags it was carried in, and would not allow anyone other than mail clerks to touch the bags.

Owney’s trips grew longer as the Railway Service expanded and became more widely used. The postal workers in Albany became concerned that if anything would happen to Owney on his travels, he could end up lost. They bought a dog collar with a metal tag that read: “Owney, Post Office, Albany, New York”. Other railway mail stations added a tag, and eventually Owney looked like this:

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Bless his heart. In his many years of travel with the postal service, he was given more than 1000 medals and tags to wear! (And in case you are wondering, that really is Owney. They had him stuffed after his death.)

From there we saw the various methods of mail transport used over the years. There was a stagecoach, a tractor trailer, and an airplane.

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There was a great walk through exhibit about the Pony Express, which contained this fascinating bit of trivia:

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Makes griping about the cost of a stamp seem petty, doesn’t it?

The special exhibit when we were there was “Fire & Ice,” which showed how not all of the casualties on the Hindenburg and Titanic disasters were human.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the National Postal Museum and I would highly recommend visiting there the next time you’re in our nation’s capital!

BARGAIN ALERT!  The Postal Museum provides a selection of postcards for free.  You only have to pay for the postage to mail them.

The National Postal Museum is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington, DC 20002.  Telephone 202-633-5555.  Open daily 10:00 am t o 5:30 pm except Christmas Day. Admission is free.  The nearest Metro station is Union Station on the red line.  Use the Massachusetts Avenue exit and as you come up the escalator, the museum will be directly across the street.

 

World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

The World War II Memorial honors 16 million members of the US Armed Forces, the support of countless millions on the home front, and the ultimate sacrifice of 405,399 Americans who perished in the war.

Twenty-four bronze panels flank the entrance to the memorial. These panels tell the story of America’s experience in the war. Lining the circular fountain are granite columns representing each U.S. state and territory at the time of World War I. There are also quotes engraved in the stone at various locations throughout the memorial. Here are a couple of my favorites.

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A wall of 4,048 gold stars reminds all of the price over 400,000 Americans paid to win that victory.

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Visitors can also search the World War II Registry, a computerized database honoring Americans who helped win the war, either overseas or on the home front.

The memorial is just beautiful, and is definitely worth a visit. I was touched to see some WWII veterans there with their families. I don’t know why it took so long for the memorial to be built, but I’m glad that it was before all of our veterans are gone.

The World War II Memorial is located on the National Mall at 1750 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C.  It can be visited any  time of day, 365 days per year.