A Travellerspoint blog

Dead Presidents' Homes

Washington, DC


View RTW:2011 on bradanddeb's travel map.

January 23-26, 2011
Washington, DC

I love what historical homes reveal about the individuals who resided there, how they dealt with the day-to-day practicalities (cooking, bathing) at the time, and what living in the geographic region was like. We've seen a lot of them, some famous, some not, all interesting.

So after our disappointing tour of the White House, we visited two dead presidents', and one leader of the confederate army's (also dead), homes, where it was unlikely our voyeurism would be interrupted by a real, live First Lady: Mr. Vernon, Arlington, and Woodrow Wilson's home.

Mt. Vernon is a lovely farm house with covered walkways on either side leading to the slaves' quarters (on the left) and the kitchen, and other service buildings, such as the laundry, meat smoking house, and stables on the right. It was a real working farm, and Washington considered himself, most of all, a farmer. However, given how many years he was fighting wars and being president, I think Martha deserves equal billing in that department. Beautiful grounds, with lots of vegetable gardens, and a working greenhouse, kept warm by fires tended 24/7 by slaves in the winter. When George died, Martha closed their bedroom door, never to use it again, and moved up to the third floor.

It was freezing cold (in the 'teens) the day we were there. We stood out on the "backyard" lawn overlooking the Potomac and listened to the ice crack on the river below. Another interesting tidbit: in the 1830's a group of women got together to raise the money to buy and preserve Mt. Vernon. I think they called themselves the "Ladies of Mt. Vernon." They had to make land payments during the Civil War and received a special dispensation from President Lincoln to cross from confederate-held land into Washington to pay the bills. Nice going gals! The ladies group still runs the place.

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Mount Vernon from the back side and George Washington's view of the Potomac

We also stumbled upon the Woodrow Wilson House while trying to get our visas at the Indian Embassy (didn't succeed, another story; will try again.) Anyway, in the tony Embassy Row is the house Wilson lived in after his presidency. Fabulous place, every bit, all furnishings, etc. completely authentic due to preservation by his wife (am I sensing a theme about historic homes here?). Anyway, it was another bitter cold day, our tour guide (with a B.A. in diplomacy, really) had a lot of information few visitors, so we got a great tour. Among everything we already knew and learned about Wilson's career and presidency, he owned a baseball signed by King Edward V (personal gift--at that time presidents could keep personal gifts), and by an odd twist of naval fate, he ended up with floral upholstery (and matching curtains) in his bedroom.

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Woodrow Wilson's souvenir base ball and Woodrow Wilson's chair

Finally, we visited Robert E. Lee's home at Arlington, now Arlington National Cemetery. I've read the diary of Lee's daughter, and believe me, the family was very, very bitter that Lincoln turned their home into a cemetery for Union soldiers (originally). Actually, Arlington was the home of Lee's father-in-law, Custis, who was the step-grandson of George Washington. Apparently, it was a beautiful home on a hill overlooking the Potomac (like that of his grandfather), with lovely gardens and over 2,000 acres. Lee's wife inherited it. Lee gave up his commission with the U.S. Army, signed on to lead the Confederate Army, and when the house and land was captured by the Union, it was turned into a hospital and then cemetery, thus ensuring it could never be used as a home again. About 1950, what is called the "Memorial Bridge" was built across the Potomac. By design, the bridge creates a straight line between the Lincoln Memorial and the Arlington House--signifying the joining of the two sides of the Civil War. (Although, interestingly, the statue of Lincoln is turned away from Arlington, but a minor point.)

You might also be interested to know that President Kennedy is buried right below Arlington House, in that straight line between the house and the Lincoln Memorial. Some might think this has to do with his work on civil rights, and that might be why his grave is lined up just so. However, the selection of near to the Arlington House was because Jackie Kennedy remembered that once, when there for a dedication of something, Jack Kennedy had remarked to her that he thought Arlington House was the most peaceful place he had ever seen.

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Brad at the Memorial Bridge and Lincoln Memorial

Posted by bradanddeb 07:56 Comments (0)

What happened at the White House?

Washington, DC

January 21, 2011
The White House

After six months of requests through our congresswoman, including two personal visits to her Palo Alto office, we got tickets to tour the White House. The morning we arrived we showed ID four-plus times (who's counting?) and read the signs that this was a self-guided tour. OK, we're in.

The East Wing sub-level--great views of the garden and the presidents' china.

Up to the first level:--the painting of Washington that Dolly Madison saved from the fire, where Civil War soldiers "camped out," seven presidents have laid in state, and the president of China was entertained the night before.

The formal hallway--with the red carpets (that the president is often shown walking down before making a big announcement), and the Truman stairway: great addition during his remodel.

Into the Green Room--used by Jefferson as a dining room. We examined the view, imagining how many times he might have stood there wondering about Lewis and Clark. We looked at the art. An agitated uniformed guard darted into the back of the room, telling us to "keep moving." (We were, just slowly.) We discussed with the docent a piece of modern art that didn't seem to fit. The agitated guard came in again, "keep moving," this time gesturing too. The docent told us about the modern art. By now our tour group was gone.

On to the Blue Room--the First Lady and Bo? Lights and cameras? (She looks fabulous! So does Bo, by the way, soft fur all fluffed out.) Michelle Obama is a few steps in front of us greeting dignitaries in suits. Oops? Did we stumble somewhere we weren't supposed to be? We step aside and smile at the First Lady. She smiles back and continues with the dignitaries. Phew, that was smooth, and we didn't get tackled by the Secret Service. Now, where are we? A staff person asks us, "Did you meet the First Lady? She's surprising a few visitors to the White House this morning. It's the anniversary of her husband's inauguration." What!? Can we go back and meet her? "Oh no. It's too late." OMG. But I want to tell her, "Nice work with the nutrition and physical activity programs to combat childhood obesity!" Sigh.

Escorted to the Red Room and the State Dining Rooms--I don't remember those.

Out through the front portico with the neat light fixture, from the window above which Lincoln gave a speech once.

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Ouch, but still smiling

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You know where

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The Capitol Rotunda. We'll probably see lots of these, even better, in Europe, but this is beautiful and it's ours.

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Brad on the Capitol tour. Painting of Washington relinquishing his commission as general of the army at the end of the Revolutionary War, demonstrating that in our new democracy the military serves and is accountable to the elected officials (i.e., the citizenry).

Posted by bradanddeb 05:37 Comments (0)

Cold With a Capital C

A view from a afar

snow 31 °F
View RTW:2011 on bradanddeb's travel map.

Jan. 19-28, 2011
After a warm visit to Orange City (relative to Savannah), we landed at BWI on a grey, chilly afternoon. Maybe mid 40's, and that was the warmest it would get for the next 10 days for us. Standing in the back yard of Mt. Vernon, overlooking the Potomac, was an awesome view, even in the mid-teens.
The first full day there, we toured (self-guided) the White House. It is an impressive building, with much to see, but it not the Jackie Kennedy tour. It all happened rather quickly. As I mentioned, we arrived after a warmer spell, I had a rare sighting of:
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Where the sun don't shine; I'm not saying on who's lawn this was sighted.
We find DC a great place to visit, so much to see, but not enough time. One of the advantage of traveling during the off-season is the lack of other tourists, thus on our visit to Arlington Cemetery, we had the place pretty much to ourselves: very peaceful. We took a tour of the Lee house, overlooking the grounds and DC, finding the guide very informative. We didn't know the Memorial bridge was a straight line between the Lee House and the Lincoln Memorial, a symbolic gesture uniting the North and South. Because the Smithsonians close at 5:30, we often went to the National Portrait Gallery at the end of the day. After three visits we still haven't seen it all. We also took two visits to the National Gallery, taking a docent tour of Italian Renaissance Art: now we have an idea of how much we don't know! A very pleasant surprise was the Woodrow House! The guide was excellent, very knowledgable, and a pleasure to listen to and talk with. Woodrow was not the president who championed human and personal rights. Nothing was done for civil rights and freedom of speech was curtailed.
We left DC after a snow fall: 4-6 inches, and arrived in Philadelphia finding 16 inches of the stuff on the ground. The city seemed to shut down, all museums were closed, including the Barnes, which was the reason we were there in the first place :-( I had an outstanding cheese-steak sandwich at Sohos Pizza, great place: stop in if you get the chance.

Posted by bradanddeb 04:41 Archived in USA Tagged philadelphia Comments (0)

The Bottle Hunter

January 18, 2011
Orange City, Florida

The small town of Orange City in central Florida, as you might expect, was an orange-growing region. That ended with the "Big Freezes" of 1914-15. Now Orange City is most well-known for its natural, warm-water springs and the hundreds of manatees that shelter in the spring-fed streams off the St. John's River during witer. While visiting Brad's parents, Jane and Leonard Wood, we are staying, again, at the Alling House, hosted by Gerald and Nan Hill.

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Jane, Leonard, and Brad Wood at Blue Springs

Nan has been spoiling us with delicious three- and four-course breakfasts in their dining room, filled with antiques. Each day we would tell Jane and Leonard "what we had for breakfast today," so they finally said they wanted to see for themselves, and joined us the next day. Nan didn't disappoint, serving quiche, meats, fruits, and muffins.

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Nan in the Alling House dining room

On the shelf in the dining room are bottles that Nan says were found when they dug a ditch for updated electrical lines. That reminded me of more than 30 years ago when an acquaintance, Emon, searched for bottles on our property in Huelo, Maui. The land was an old homestead. One of two in the region, we'd been told by a Hawaiian woman related to the native woman who had married a Scotsman and made their home there a long time ago. Emon showed up one day with old maps from the Bishop Museum. The maps showed the old house location near a cistern for water catchment. Sure enough, four large boulders, probably the cornerstones, were all that remained. Nearby was a depression in the ground, the cistern, now overgrown with banyan, guava, Christmas berry, and java plum trees. The map showed a stable and blacksmith's shop, hence the remnants of rusted tools we'd occasionally find hidden in ferns and tree roots. Emon said he was going to look for bottles down wind from the house. "Why down wind?" we wondered. Emon explained, "When an outhouse hole was almost full, they would fill it with garbage they couldn't burn, seal up the remaining feet with dirt, dig a new hole and move the outhouse to the new hole; and outhouses are always downwind from the home." Emon went out to his truck and returned with a six-foot metal rod, just a quarter inch thick. He started poking it way down into the ground. I was skeptical, "How can you tell whether you are hitting a bottle or a rock or a tree root?" Emon shrugged, "Bottles are different." He tested the overgrown forest floor with his rod finally saying, "Here." He dug a hole about four feet wide. At about six feet deep, Emon miraculously started bringing up bottles out of the dirt, offering commentary as he placed them on a small blanket. Quite a few whiskey bottles: "There were workers on this property." Medicine bottles: "Someone was sick." Perfume bottles: "Had a woman here." Baby bottle: "And a baby." I eventually lost interest and went about doing something else, until I heard yelling from a part of the property that dropped off into a stream gulch. As I got closer, I heard, "Damn Hawaiians! God-damned Hawaiians." "Emon, are you OK?" I called down from the edge of the gulch. I couldn't see him because of all the trees and ferns. "No. God-damned Hawaiians. You know what's down here? Broken glass . . . and bullets. Those damn Hawaiians used bottles for target practice. Now just broken glass and bullets here." Emon climbed out of the gulch, "I'm done." He gave us some of the bottles, kept some for himself, and drove off.

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Nan's bottles

Posted by bradanddeb 18:03 Comments (0)

Alling House, Orange City, Florida

sunny 65 °F

Date of Stay: Jan.13 – Jan. 19
We arrived in Orange City mid afternoon,, warm and sunny. We had taken an early morning train from Savannah to Orlando, then a bus to the Orlando Airport. From there a shuttle to the rent-a-car depot, then a drive to Alling House, located in Orange City, FL. This was our second stay here, having thoroughly enjoyed our stay a year earlier. Alling House is owned and hosted by Nan and Gerald. They helped make our stay an excellent one. The B&B is located in a very quiet residential neighborhood, as is most of Orange City: we were there to visit parents living at John Knox, a retirement complex.
The B&B is a partially remodeled and refurbished 100+ year old house with outlaying cottages. Our room in the main house, the Gold Room had enough outlets to handle our electrical items, and the new bath had space to spare for drying our clothes. The room was adequate size for reading, computer use (excellent wifi reception) and relaxing. The queen bed was comfortable with plenty of quilts and soft pillows.
As mentioned, the owners were great. Nan prepares an extensive breakfast daily, always varied. Both were full of suggestions concerning daily activities and nearby restaurants. We took advantage of the nearby walking areas and the Blue Springs manatee preserve.
Without a doubt, we will return to Alling house, a very peaceful and relaxing respite from our busy life.

Posted by bradanddeb 11:34 Archived in USA Tagged lodging Comments (0)

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