Hello fellow adventurers and virtual crew members!
Captain John Smith here reporting on the shore excursions in Washington D.C. and Mount Vernon. The problem with visiting D.C. for only a few days is trying to decide on what to visit and what to skip. Sooooo many choices.
The crew decided to visit the zoo on Sunday, the Mall on Monday, a few museums on Tuesday, and finally Arlington Cemetery on Wednesday. On Thursday the crew motored south and anchored across from Mount Vernon. On Friday, they weighed anchor and tied up on the Mount Vernon wharf.
Panda Mania at the Zoo
The first challenge of the day was getting to the zoo on the Metro (DC subway). After getting help from an attendant, the crew received a free pass on the metro from the guy. They started on the green line and had to make one exchange to the red line. After several stop and goes, making sure they were in the right place, and headed in the right direction, the crew finally arrived at the zoo. First order of business was to check out the giant pandas.
Giant Panda Mei Xiang gave birth back in August and the zoo was all a buzz about the new arrival. The new unnamed male cub will not be put on display until sometime in November. However, there is a panda cam link that you can catch a view of the new cub before the formal coming out party.
The zoo did have the baby panda’s dad on display and the crew got to watch him for about a half hour entertain the crowd.
The trip to the zoo was only surpassed by a visit from Al Darelius. Al is the guy who introduced the crew to the idea of the Great Loop. Al was on his way to the Surry Nuclear Power Plant and took a large detour to come visit. The skipper and Al swapped stories until it was late. Al still needed to get to his hotel on the west side of Richmond, so the visit was cut short so Al could go do his J O B. The skipper failed to get Al’s picture, so if you would Al, send a picture of you and your boat in response to this post.
Walking the National Mall
The skipper likes to refer to Trip Advisor to review the top ten things to do in the areas they visit. One clown gave the mall a poor rating because the reviewer could not seem to find the shopping center. The reviewer even went as far as suggesting they rename the area to prevent further confusion.
As far as our crew was concerned, they used the National Park Service National Mall app and did the One-Day Tour. The tour takes you to 19 monuments and/or memorials. The app also provides much additional information on each of the stops.
The crew was really impressed with the “new” WWII memorial. While visiting the memorial, a bus tour of WWII veterans from Colorado and Oklahoma arrived. It was obvious they were moved by the memorial as they drifted to the theater of war that they were personally involved with.
One memorial that was a surprise to the crew was the George Mason Memorial. Thomas Jefferson called him the wisest man of their generation. Mason left the Constitutional Convention in 1787, refusing to sign the document because they did not prohibit the continued importation of slaves or guarantee individual liberties dearly won during the Revolutionary War.
The crew opted for the Botanical Gardens, the Castle, and the Holocaust Museum for this trip.
The jewel here was the Castle. This is actually the Information Center for the Smithsonian Museum complex, but has a small exhibit for the founder of the museum. A fascinating story unfolds in the Castle as they explain how the Smithsonian came to be.
The short story follows here:
James Smithson was born, raised, and lived in Europe, and never visited the United States. James inherited his wealth from his mother’s estate. James never married or had children. His will left his estate to a nephew when James died in 1829. The nephew died in 1835 with no heirs.
There was a codicil in the will that stipulated that if the nephew died without children, then the property would be donated to the United States, “to found in Washington D.C., under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”
Richard Rush was sent to Europe to claim the estate on behalf of the Nation. It took about two years to settle the estate. Richard Rush then liquidated the assets of the estate, converted the cash into gold bars. The gold bars filled 11 cases. Then Rush shipped the bars back to the US with a hope and prayer that the ship would not sink with the $508,318.46 of gold bars.
As usual, it took congress a year to figure out what to do with the money and honor the will. But finally in 1847 they authorized building the Castle as the beginning of what we now know as the Smithsonian Institution.
The crew took the metro to Arlington Cemetery in the afternoon and opted for the bus tour of the grounds. I suspect the bus tour idea was the skipper’s since he decided to ride his bike from the marina to Mount Vernon in the morning, about a 23 mile trip – one way.
After arriving at Mount Vernon, he took a short rest and then rode the Mount Vernon Trail back to the marina. He made some comment that riding a mountain bike 45 miles on 3 inch tires is much harder than riding his road bike where only 1/8 inch of rubber meets the road.
The bus tour made seven tour stops, but the most fascinating was the Arlington House from which the place gets its name. George Washington Park Custis (grandson of Martha Washington) acquired the land in 1802 and began construction of the Arlington House.
The estate passed to his daughter, Mary Anna who eventually married Robert E Lee. The Lee’s evacuated the estate at the beginning of the Civil War, and the union troops occupied the high ground overlooking DC on May 24, 1861.
By 1863, the federal cemeteries were almost full so congress passed a bill to purchase more land for burial of the war dead. The federal government began burying the war dead at Arlington House in part to prevent the Lee’s from ever regaining their property following the war.
The government refused to accept the tax payments of $92.07 because they were not paid in person and seized the property. Following the war, the Custis estate began the legal process of reclaiming their land. In 1882, the Supreme Court ruled that Arlington had been confiscated without due process and returned the property to the family.
In March 1883, Custis Lee sold the property back to the US for $150,000 with a signing party with Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln.
Another interesting story line is the Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam War. It took until 1984 to find an unknown to represent the Vietnam era. However, in 1998 the remains were disinterred and identified as Air Force 1st Lt Michael J. Blassie. The crypt remains empty of a Vietnam soldier. With modern technology, I wonder if there will ever be another unknown from any conflict.
Fun Fact: The soldier guarding the unknowns takes 21 steps and pauses 21 seconds while marching back and forth. This tradition was established because a 21 gun salute is the highest military honor.
The wharf at Mount Vernon is first come first serve, so the skipper decided to leave DC and motor down closer to ensure a spot at the dock. The crew anchored out across the river from Mount Vernon. On Friday morning they pulled anchor and idled over to the Mount Vernon wharf.
The crew spent the majority of the day touring the grounds. The education center had a wonderful exhibit on the life of George Washington. The center started with his early life and chronicled his life story as a surveyor, war years fighting for the British in the French and Indian War, life on the farm at Mount Vernon, call to duty as leader of the Continental Army, call to be President, and return to Mount Vernon.
After the exhibit, the crew ran into Mrs. Washington and sat spell bound as she answered questions and told stories of her and the General’s life. The skipper got to ask how George became owner of Mount Vernon. Short story is that he acquired it from a nephew after his half-brother died.
The mate got to ask Martha how she met George. This questioned brought a big smile on her face as she launched into the long story. But basically she first met George while she was married to her first husband. Six years later, following the death of her husband and two of her children, they were re-introduced by a mutual friend and neighbor. She said that what she most admired about George back then was how kind he was to her two living children.
The crew could have stayed all day and listened to stories, but it was time to find the boat and head back down river.
The crew stopped at Gilligan’s again and stayed at the dock for the night. The next morning it was time to make way for Chesapeake Bay and bring this side trip to its end.