Saturday, August 31, 2019

Hiking in the Adirondacks

Last century we hiked a fair amount in New York, but this century most of our hikes to date have been in New England. Nancy and I returned to New York this week with two days of day hiking out of Keene. The town of Keene is home to many of the Adirondack High Peaks including Mount Marcy (5344'), the highest mountain in New York.

On Thursday, August 29, we hiked Table Top Mountain (4427') and Phelps Mountain (4161'). Both mountains are a short ways off the Van Hoevenberg Trail which is the most popular route to Mount Marcy. We parked at the High Peaks Information Center adjacent to Adirondak Loj (not far from Lake Placid).

The photo below shows a spider's web that we saw early in our hike.

Table Top Mountain is a so-called "trailless peak." There is no official or maintained trail from the Van Hoevenberg Trail to the summit of Table Top, but there is a well-used "herd path." We had no difficulty navigating, and we were on Table Top before noon. The photo below shows Mount Marcy from the summit of Table Top:

Phelps Mountain is a mile from the Van Hoevenberg Trail via the Phelps Trail. The photo below is from the summit of Phelps and shows Mount Marcy (the highest peak to the right) and Table Top (the rounded mountain in front of and to the left of Marcy) where we had been earlier in the day:

The photo at the top of this post was taken as we left the summit of Phelps. The mountain on the horizon in the center of that photo is Mount Colden.

Thursday's hike: 12.5 miles, elevation gain 3570'.

On Friday, August 30, we hiked Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain (4175') via the W. A. White Trail. This trail begins in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve owned by the private Ausable Club. We parked in the hiker parking lot at the intersection of NY-73 and Ausable Road in St. Huberts, a hamlet in the town of Keene.

It had rained earlier, but the rain stopped by the time we were on the trail. Like the day before, it was a pleasant day, mostly sunny, with temps in the 60s. The photo below is from the summit of Lower Wolf Jaw and shows Mount Marcy to the left and Algonquin Peak, the second highest mountain in New York, in the distance to the right:

Friday's hike: 10.2 miles, elevation gain 2825'.

Nancy has now hiked 21 of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. Will she become an Adirondack 46er? Stay tuned. My 46er number is 3056W.

Trailhead parking can be a problem in the Adirondacks. See this article dated 8/26/19 in the Burlington Free Press about overuse in general, and this article dated 7/17/19 in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise about parking in particular. Nevertheless, we did not see overcrowding. We had no trouble parking. While we met numerous people on the Van Hoevenberg Trail, it was not overly busy, and we met few people on any other trail. The summits we visited had from zero to two other people on them while we were there. Hiking on a weekend would undoubtedly be different.

We stayed two nights at Dartbrook Lodge in Keene, and enjoyed two dinners at the Forty Six restaurant next door. We recommend both. The most overcrowding we saw during our trip to New York was at the restaurant. It was deservedly popular, and reservations were needed even on a weeknight unless you wanted to eat very early or very late.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Rokeby Museum

Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont, was the home of the Robinson family from 1793 to 1961. Four generations of Robinsons lived at Rokeby, so named after the poem Rokeby by Sir Walter Scott.

The museum includes the main house, pictured above, various outbuildings, trails, and a visitor center constructed in 2012. Foundations are visible of three other major buildings that were once part of the complex: a sheep barn, a dairy barn, and a school called the Brick Academy.

Nancy and I visited Rokeby today. This museum is well worth a visit. I encourage you to include a house tour in your visit. Reservations for the house tour are recommended. Check the website for times.

Following are brief comments about a few of the Robinsons in each of the four generations.

First generation

Thomas Robinson (1761-1851) and Jemima Fish Robinson (1761-1846) were Quakers from Newport, Rhode Island. They moved their young family to what is now called Rokeby in 1793. In 1810 Thomas purchased some of the first Merino sheep that were imported from Spain, and eventually the farm had more than 1500 sheep. (Sheep in Vermont peaked in 1840 at 1.6 million. See The Spanish Sheep Craze That Forever Changed Vermont.)

Second generation

Rowland Thomas Robinson (1796-1879) was born at Rokeby. He married Rachel Gilpin (1799-1862). Rowland T. and Rachel Robinson were abolitionists who made Rokeby a stop on the Underground Railroad and sheltered dozens of fugitives from slavery.

Third generation

George Gilpin Robinson (1825-1894) and Rowland Evans Robinson (1833-1900) were sons of Rowland T. and Rachel Robinson. They transitioned the farm from sheep to dairy.

George never married. Rowland E. Robinson married Ann Stevens (1841-1920). He was an artist, but turned to writing when he began to experience problems with his vision. Although blind in his later years, he continued to write with Ann's help.

Fourth generation

Rowland Thomas Robinson (1882-1951) ("Rowlie") was the son of Rowland E. and Ann Robinson. He married Elizabeth Donoway (1882-1961). They continued the dairy farm operation, and also took in tourists when travel by automobile became popular in the 1920s. (One of the outbuildings is the Tourist Cabin.) Rowlie and Elizabeth had no children and when Elizabeth died in 1961, she left the site, buildings, and contents to be operated as a museum.

Other children, relatives, friends, and employees also lived at Rokeby at various times.

Elizabeth Robinson believed that the most important legacy of Rokeby, to be preserved as a museum, was the work of her father-in-law, Rowland Evans Robinson, probably the most popular Vermont author of his day. (For more information about Rowland E. Robinson see Wikipedia or this recent column by historian Mark Bushnell. Books by Rowland E. Robinson can be purchased in the gift shop at the visitor center.)

But today much of the interest in Rokeby concerns the second generation and the abolitionist work of Rowland T. and Rachel Robinson. The visitor center includes the permanent exhibit Free & Safe: The Underground Railroad in Vermont which features the stories of Simon and Jesse, two fugitives from slavery who were sheltered at Rokeby in the 1830s.

Rowland T. Robinson was a leader in the Vermont Anti-Slavery Society. In 1843 anti-slavery societies across the northern United States held 100 conventions "to examine the question of American Slavery." Below is the announcement for the convention in Ferrisburgh, organized by Rowland T. Robinson, which included Frederick Douglass as a speaker:

Rokeby was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1997. (Only 3% of the places in the National Register of Historic Places are designated as National Historic Landmarks.) Both nomination forms contain interesting information: the 1974 nomination form includes information about Rowland E. Robinson (the author in the third generation); the 1997 nomination form includes considerable information about Rowland T. Robinson (the abolitionist in the second generation).

The Robinsons apparently never threw anything away. The house is much the same as when they lived there, and its rooms are crammed with housewares, furniture, art work, books, and other "stuff." (The guided house tour is recommended.) New discoveries are still being made. In 2017 a small, wooden boat in rough shape but with the legible name of "Lucy" was discovered in one of the outbuildings. The 150 year old boat was restored and "Lucy" is now on display in the house. See Rokeby's tiny boat poses historic puzzle.

In addition to the site, buildings, and artifacts at the museum in Ferrisburgh, more than 15,000 Robinson family letters from Rokeby are kept in the Middlebury College Special Collections.

Sunday, August 11, 2019


Our backyard is becoming a veritable wildlife refuge. On Monday it was two bears, today it is two bucks! We often have deer in our backyard, but it is not common to see a buck, and this is the first time I have seen two bucks together.

Photo taken from inside our house at 7:04 AM today. They took off as soon as I opened a door.

Friday, August 9, 2019


In Vermont this year we are swamped with bears. (Black bears, which are the only kind of bears in this part of the world.)

Earlier this week my wife and I were sitting on our back deck just before noon when we heard noises in the woods. We expected to see deer, or possibly people since there are houses on Vanat Road not far through the woods. Instead we saw two bears come barreling out of the woods, running as fast as they could, charging straight toward us!

One bear was chasing the other. They did not appear to be playing. We jumped up, and I waved my arms and yelled. The first bear never slowed down, but veered slightly to our right, and ran by us. It ran between the house and the car which was parked in the driveway, and disappeared into the woods below the driveway headed toward Greystone Drive. The second bear stopped on our lawn, looked at us for a few seconds, then turned around and walked back into the woods from where it had come.

The photo at the top of this post shows the second bear. The photo below shows where the first bear ran between the house and the car.

Both photos were taken from our back deck where we were sitting. The first bear ran within 24 feet of us. The second bear stopped 110 feet away. It is 190 feet from where we were sitting to the edge of the woods where the bears emerged.

Bear sightings have become more common in recent years. Towns in Vermont have a social media platform called Front Porch Forum. In my town of Cambridge, people have posted on Front Porch Forum about bear sightings 14 times this summer.

In May the Cambridge selectboard saw a bear at a selectboard meeting! Granted, it was not a regular meeting at the town office. It was a special meeting, a site visit to inspect a road issue. We all saw a very large bear across a field about 300 yards away.

In June a bear visited the garage of our next door neighbor who took the following photo from her house:

These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. Nearly everyone you meet in Vermont has a bear story, or several.

There have always been bears in Vermont, but not as many as today. I grew up in this town in the 1950s-1970s on a farm where I spent much time in the fields and woods. I started driving Vermont roads in the 1970s. Beginning in the 1980s I spent considerable time hiking and backpacking in Vermont's beautiful mountains. I did not see a bear in the wild in Vermont until I was middle-aged, perhaps around 2000 or later.

In recent years I have seen several bears, usually from a car while driving. Seeing two bears explode out of the woods in the middle of the day and run toward me while sitting on my own back deck was certainly a new experience!

Vermont's black bears have made a strong comeback. Their numbers are higher today than they have been in 200 years.


More information:

Living With Black Bears by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department

Bears Are Back by Jane Lindholm, "Vermont Edition" on Vermont Public Radio, July 3, 2019, audio, 9 minutes

If you are planning to visit the Green Mountain National Forest in southwestern Vermont, take note of this Food Storage Order issued on July 23, 2019 requiring approved storage of all food and food waste items because of bears.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A Previous Trip to Washington

Our recent vacation in Washington, DC caused me to reminisce about a previous trip to Washington some eight years ago, especially in light of current events.

I worked for most of my career for the Farm Credit System, a creation of Congress. When I was CEO of Yankee Farm Credit, I went to Washington typically once a year with two members of the board of directors to visit with Members of Congress (or their staffers) from our territory – Vermont and parts of New Hampshire and New York.

We seldom did much sightseeing on these trips, but in 2011 we arrived in Washington early on the afternoon of July 27th with nothing scheduled until our Congressional visits the following day. We went to the Capitol Visitor Center (new in 2008). It was not busy, and we inquired at the information desk if either the House of Representatives or the Senate was in session that afternoon. Yes, they both were. We inquired if we could obtain tickets. Yes, which chamber did we want? We chose the Senate.

(The person at the information desk said: "You are supposed to obtain tickets from your representative or senator, but I just happen to have a few extras here.")

The Senate was mostly empty when we sat down in the gallery, but there was a senator speaking. Who was it? Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, whom we had an appointment to see the next day.

Senator Leahy was speaking in favor of a nomination that President Barack Obama had forwarded to the Senate. When he finished, the Senate proceeded to a roll call vote.

That was interesting. The Senate Chamber gradually filled as senators wandered in for the vote. It took a while, perhaps 20 minutes, as the presiding officer went through the list of senators again and again until all 100 senators had arrived and voted. No one sat down. The senators milled around visiting with each other, the men in black suits, the women in colored suits or dresses. It looked very congenial.

It was not a controversial nomination. The vote was 100 to 0.

Who was the nomination for? Robert S. Mueller III as director of the FBI. Mr. Mueller was already director of the FBI, having been nominated by President George W. Bush in July 2001 for a ten year term. President Obama had nominated Mr. Mueller for an additional two years.

When we met with Senator Leahy in his office the next day, we told him that we had seen him in action on the Senate floor the previous afternoon. He seemed pleased.

The Congressional Record for the Senate on July 27, 2011 details what we witnessed (PDF, 12 pages). The nomination of Mr. Mueller begins on page 1. Senator Leahy's closing remarks that we heard start on page 11 and the roll call vote is on page 12.

Mr. Mueller is scheduled to testify before two committees of the House of Representatives later this month about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump. News reports here (NYT) and here (WSJ).

There is no "scoop" in this post, nothing that will help you evaluate Mr. Mueller's report or testimony. There is no "philosophy" in this post, which is why it is here on my Switchel Traveler blog instead of on my Switchel Philosopher blog. It was just fun to reminisce.

The photo at the top of this post is Senator Leahy with Nancy and me on Mount Mansfield near the top of the gondola on October 3, 2015. Background here.

Monday, July 1, 2019

My Parents in Washington

Our recent vacation in Washington, DC prompted me to reflect on the times my parents visited Washington in their youth. My mother visited Washington in the summer of 1932 at age 16, and my father visited in June 1933 at age 18.

My mother went to Washington with her father who was working on his Ph.D. at American University. He was a professor at Norwich University and the family was living in Northfield, Vermont. She wrote in the family history:

During the summer after my Junior year of high school he succeeded in receiving an assignment of an office in the Library of Congress for research on his doctoral thesis. He had been blind in one eye most of his life, and reading tired him, so he took me to Washington, D.C. for six weeks.

She worked mornings in the dining hall on the campus of American University to earn her room and board, and in the afternoons she read to her father at the Library of Congress.

More from the family history:

The thesis was about the German theologian Schleiermacher, one perhaps lesser known. The reading was dry at times, except that he fell deeply in love and wrote some beautiful love letters which appealed to a sixteen year old!

My mother wrote about touring the Washington area on the weekends, specifically mentioning the Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, District of Columbia War Memorial, White House, Washington National Cathedral, Folger Shakespeare Library (new that year), National Zoo, Ford's Theatre, and Lincoln Memorial – her favorite along with the Library of Congress.

In 1932 the Library of Congress, now three buildings on Capitol Hill, consisted of just one building, what is now called the Thomas Jefferson Building. The Jefferson Memorial, Supreme Court, National Gallery of Art, and many of the Smithsonian museums were not yet built.

In an amusing coincidence, the Librarian of Congress at the time was Herbert Putnam, full name George Herbert Putnam. My mother would marry into a distant branch of the Putnam family.

My father visited Washington a year later. He was active in 4-H as a youth, and in 1933 he was one of four 4-H club members who were
named delegates to represent Vermont at the National 4-H Camp to be held on the mall in front of the United States Department of Agriculture buildings, Washington, D.C., June 15 to 21.

(Source: newspaper clipping. Interestingly, the clipping says my father was from Cloverdale, which was only a neighborhood and not a town – see this. He lived in the town of Cambridge.)

Those were the years of the Great Depression. When my mother visited Washington in the summer of 1932, Herbert Hoover was president, but he lost his bid for re-election to a second term that fall. By June 1933 when my father visited, Franklin Roosevelt was president and he was just finishing up his famous First 100 Days in which more than a dozen major laws were passed by Congress. What a time to be camping on the National Mall in Washington!

In an interesting twist of history, the Farm Credit Act of 1933 was enacted on June 16 while my father was in Washington. This law significantly expanded the mission and structure of the Farm Credit System, where I worked for most of my career.

My father just missed being in Washington at the same time as his future in-laws. My mother's parents were in Washington for my grandfather's graduation from American University on June 5, 1933.

The photos above are my mother in 1933 when she graduated from Northfield High School and my father in 1932 when he graduated from the Vermont School of Agriculture.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Washington, DC Trip

We recently returned from a trip to Washington, DC. There is so much to see and do in Washington! We didn't begin to see everything, and the following posts cover only a portion of what we did see. The emphasis in these posts is on history, architecture, and art. We also saw three live performances: a military band and parade, a symphony, and a Shakespeare play.
Following is a brief history of the founding of Washington.

It took a few years after the American Revolution ended in 1783 for the Thirteen Colonies to develop an effective national government. The Constitution of the United States was drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1788. The first president and the first members of Congress elected under the new Constitution took office in 1789 in New York City, the seat of national government at the time.

The Constitution authorized a "District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States" – but it left the details up to Congress.

Congress passed the Residence Act in 1790 which said that the national capital would be created on the Potomac River, and that the federal government would temporarily move to Philadelphia for the decade 1790-1800 while the new capital was being built. This led to the creation of a new federal city, Washington, in a new federal district, Columbia. The federal government moved to Washington from Philadelphia in the fall of 1800.

The District of Columbia was originally ten miles square (100 square miles), oriented like a diamond, on land along both sides of the Potomac River donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia. In 1846 the federal government returned to Virginia the portion of the district on the west side of the Potomac River, leaving 68 square miles shown in this satellite photo (source):

The city and district are divided into four quadrants centered on the Capitol Building. Our hotel was in the southwest quadrant, within walking distance of District Wharf where there is much new development (still ongoing) along the Potomac River. We had several good meals in the Wharf area.

The photo at the top of this post is the Washington Monument, 555 feet tall. Construction began in 1848, but was interrupted by funding issues and the Civil War. (Notice the change in color of the marble where construction was halted for 25 years. When construction resumed, a different kind of marble was used.) The monument was opened to the public in 1888. In recent years the monument has been temporarily closed numerous times for repairs and renovations. It was closed when we were there, reopening in August 2019.

We were in Washington from May 28 to June 3. The photo above was taken before noon on June 1, and the flags around the base of the Washington Monument were at full-staff. When we went by the monument again on June 2, the flags were at half-staff to honor the victims of a tragic shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on May 31:

Memorials in Washington

I will close out this series of posts about our trip to Washington, DC with a brief review of selected milestones in our nation's history by way of memorials on the National Mall and around the Tidal Basin immediately south of the Mall.

George Washington, hero of the American Revolution, was our nation's first president 1789-1797. He died in 1799, before the federal government moved to Washington in 1800 from its temporary home in Philadelphia, but he helped to plan the city that was named for him. The Washington Monument is by far the tallest structure in the city. George Washington was "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial honors the primary author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and our nation's third president 1801-1809. Jefferson nearly doubled the size of the country in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase.

From the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

The Jefferson Memorial sits on the Tidal Basin in a straight line south from the White House and the Washington Monument.

Lincoln Memorial

While Washington and Jefferson helped to create a new nation, Abraham Lincoln helped keep it together. Lincoln was our nation's 16th president 1861-1865, the same years as the Civil War. Inside the Lincoln Memorial is a seated statue of Lincoln and the following inscription:

In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.

Also inscribed in the memorial are the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.

The Lincoln Memorial sits at the west end of the National Mall, facing the Washington Monument (approximately in the middle of the Mall) and the Capitol at the east end.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The United States became a world power in the decades following the Civil War, yet did not avoid the global depression and war of the 1930s and 1940s. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial honors our nation's 32nd president 1933-1945 who led the country during both the Great Depression and most of World War II. The words inscribed in the rock wall above are from Roosevelt's famous "Four Freedoms" speech in January 1941 before the United States entered the war.

Both the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (below) sit on the Tidal Basin in line between the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.

Three War Memorials

The World War II Memorial pays tribute to "the greatest generation" who lived and fought the greatest war the world has ever known. Some 16 million Americans served in World War II and more than 400,000 died. The photo above shows granite pillars and an arch arranged in a semicircle around a plaza and pool. The triumphal arch celebrates victory in the Pacific. Behind me was a similar semicircle and arch celebrating victory in the Atlantic.

Yet all was not peaceful following the end of World War II in 1945. A Cold War persisted between the Soviet Union and the United States, and soon led to two regional hot wars.

At the Korean War Veterans Memorial (above): "Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met." The Korean War was fought 1950-1953 and cost more than 36,000 American lives. The fighting ended with the signing of an armistice, but no peace treaty was signed.

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Memorial Wall lists the names of more than 58,000 Americans who lost their lives in that conflict, and the "Three Servicemen Statue" (above) depicts three soldiers purposefully identifiable as European American, Hispanic American, and African American. The site also includes a Vietnam Women's Memorial dedicated to the American women who served in the Vietnam War, primarily as nurses. American involvement in Vietnam began in the 1950s, escalated dramatically in the 1960s, and ended when we left Vietnam in 1973. Saigon fell in 1975.

These three war memorials are located on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial honors the legacy of perhaps the most prominent leader of the American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The statue shown above is called the Stone of Hope from a line in King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech: "out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope."

Dr. King delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Dr. King spoke about the unfilled promise for citizens of color of both Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and Jefferson's Declaration of Independence:

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

Washington, DC Trip: Click here for the introductory post about our trip to Washington which lists all of the posts in this series.

Getting around in Washington

How did we get around in Washington? Mostly by walking. Washington is a great city for walking. It is mainly flat, sidewalks are wide, and around much of the National Mall one has a choice of walking on pavement, gravel, or grass.

Walking was enjoyable. The architecture and landscapes are interesting everywhere one turns. And there are no skyscrapers. The "feel" of the city for a pedestrian is much more enjoyable than a city with tall skyscrapers.

Distances are considerable, however. There is a lot of walking to be done. Consider the triangle formed by the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, and the White House:
  • the Washington Monument is 1.4 miles west of the Capitol
  • the White House is 0.6 miles north of the Washington Monument
  • the White House is 1.6 miles west-northwest of the Capitol
For longer distances, the Metro worked well. We took the Metro between Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and our hotel, and on other occasions when we were traveling far from our hotel. The photo above shows a sign for the McPherson Square Metro Station near the White House.

Sometimes we rode the free "Circulator" bus which has several routes that are useful for tourists.

Streets are laid out simply. Lettered streets run east and west. Numbered streets run north and south. Sequencing begins at the Capitol Building in all directions. In other words, there are two I Streets – one north of the Capitol and one south of the Capitol, and there are two 8th Streets – east and west of the Capitol. It is important to keep in mind the four quadrants centered on the Capitol. (The satellite photo here may help to visualize the city and the four quadrants.) 8th and I Streets SE is Marine Barracks, while 8th and I Streets NW is in Chinatown.

Avenues named after states run at an angle. For example, Vermont Avenue (see the photo above) runs north-northeast from Lafayette Park near the White House, while Pennsylvania Avenue runs diagonally between the Capitol and the White House (and beyond in both directions). The address of the White House is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (i.e., 1.6 miles from the Capitol).

Electric scooters have become popular in recent years in some cities. There were many scooters of various brands in Washington. We tried them out on a Sunday morning when there were fewer people out and about. (There are countless school groups in Washington at this time of year.) We rode scooters from near our hotel to the Lincoln Memorial, stopping for pictures:

That trip was 2.3 miles and it took us 36 minutes (with stops).  Top speed on the scooters was 15 mph.

In the photos above, the Reflecting Pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial was dry. We did not learn why.

We flew from Vermont to Washington. At no time after leaving Vermont were we in a car. We did not rent a car (parking rates at the hotel were high), nor did we ever take a taxi or Uber. Plenty of other people, however, were on the roads which were congested with cars and tour buses.

For us, walking – with occasional use of public transit and one time on electric scooters just for fun – was perfectly satisfactory for getting around in Washington as a tourist at this time of year.

Washington, DC Trip: Click here for the introductory post about our trip to Washington which lists all of the posts in this series.

Folger Shakespeare Library

The Folger Shakespeare Library is a wonderful institution in Washington that I did not know about before this trip. It contains the world's largest collection of Shakespeare materials, as well as major collections of other rare Renaissance books, manuscripts, and works of art. Scholars from all over the world come here to study original materials.

The library was built by Henry and Emily Folger in 1930-32 as a gift to the people of the United States. Henry Folger was president and chairman of the board of Standard Oil of New York (later Mobil Oil). He and his wife lived simply, had no children, and spent their spare time and money collecting Shakespeare materials around the world. Emily was a Shakespeare scholar.

The photo above shows scaffolding around much of the building as it undergoes a $69 million renovation. Starting early next year, the library will be closed to the public for two years, although it will remain open to researchers.

The library was built on Capitol Hill next to the Library of Congress. In the year that the library was completed, construction began on the Supreme Court building nearby. The Folger building is unique. On the outside, the modernized classical architecture is harmonious with other government buildings in Washington. Inside, the style is English Renaissance. The photo below shows the Great Hall.

The building includes a 260-seat Elizabethan Theatre, shown below, where we saw a delightful production of Love's Labor's Lost. (And before the show, we had a nice dinner at the nearby Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar.)

Click here for more information about the Folger building and grounds, including a virtual tour of the Great Hall, Reading Room, and Elizabethan Theatre. The Reading Room was not open to the public at the time of our visit.

There was a close relationship between the Folgers and the Librarian of Congress at the time, Herbert Putnam. His daughter Brenda Putnam was a noted sculptor who created a statue of Puck, from A Midsummer Night's Dream, for the fountain in the west garden. The original 1932 marble statue, damaged by weather and vandalism, was restored and moved inside in 2001. It was used to cast an aluminum replica for the outdoors fountain, shown below.

(Click here for a photo via Wikipedia that shows the full garden and fountain, without scaffolding.)

The inscription below the statue says: "Lord, what fooles these mortals be!" (Act III, Scene II, line 115)

The Folger Shakespeare Library has extensive digital collections. Online researchers can start here: Online Resources.

There are two Shakespeare theatre companies in Washington: the Folger Theatre Company at the Folger Shakespeare Library; and the Shakespeare Theatre Company, which had its origin at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 1986 and now performs at the Harman Center for the Arts.

Washington, DC Trip: Click here for the introductory post about our trip to Washington which lists all of the posts in this series.

NSO at the Kennedy Center

The National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and Washington National Opera (WNO) both make their home at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on the Potomac River in Washington. We saw an outstanding performance of the NSO in Concert Hall on May 30.

The concert was part of a month-long series of music and dance events at the Kennedy Center titled Unexpected Italy: A Celebration of Italian Culture. This festival was organized by the Kennedy Center in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy (news release) and the Italian Institute of Culture (news release).

The Kennedy Center's description of the concert we heard:
Music Director Gianandrea Noseda continues the Kennedy Center’s spring celebration of his home country! In his NSO debut, superb Swiss-Italian pianist Francesco Piemontesi lends his depth, intensity, and sincerity to Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Rachmaninoff’s well-loved homage to extraordinary Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini. The program also features Respighi’s charming “Ancient Airs and Dances” and Casella’s Symphony No. 2—one of Noseda’s favorite symphonies of all time.

Pianist Francesco Piemontesi was amazing. He played without sheet music. You can watch the concert here. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini begins at 27:30.

Before the concert, we had a delightful dinner at the Roof Terrace Restaurant.

Washington, DC Trip: Click here for the introductory post about our trip to Washington which lists all of the posts in this series.

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution is one of the treasures of Washington. It is huge, consisting of "19 world-class museums, galleries, gardens, and a zoo," the majority on or near the National Mall. The photo above shows the headquarters, the Smithsonian Castle. In the foreground is the Enid A. Haupt Garden, one of many beautiful Smithsonian Gardens.

British scientist James Smithson bequeathed his estate "to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge." Smithson died in 1829; in 1846 President James Polk signed legislation establishing the Smithsonian Institution. Construction of the Castle began in 1847 and was completed in 1855.

We visited the Castle and four Smithsonian museums plus the National Gallery of Art (not part of the Smithsonian). We saw only a fraction of each museum, and could have spent hours more in each. To keep this post to a reasonable length, I'll mention only one item from each museum.

National Museum of the American Indian

At the time of European contact with the Americas, the greatest empire in the Americas was the Inka Empire. It started around 1200 AD and grew rapidly until by the early 1500s it stretched along the Andes Mountains of western South America from Columbia to southern Chile. The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire is a special exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian that tells the story of this empire and the remarkable road system that connected its far-flung regions to the capital of Cusco (in present day Peru). The Great Inka Road or Qhapaq Ñan included some 20,000 miles of roads.
A vast complex of roads, bridges, and other structures, the Qhapaq Ñan was the largest construction in the Western Hemisphere when Inka power was at its height.

Suspension bridges were made of grass. Watch a 3-minute video, narrated by a professor of civil engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, about the annual rebuilding of the last surviving suspension bridge of this type: Weaving the Bridge at Q’eswachaka. More info here (scroll down).

The Inka were a mountain people. Although their empire extended along the west coast of South America for nearly 4,000 miles, they apparently never took to the sea.

"The Great Inka Road" exhibit nicely complemented the "Exploring the Early Americas" exhibit in the Library of Congress. "The Great Inka Road" exhibit has run since 2015 and will continue until June 2020.

The National Museum of the American Indian has public museums in both Washington and New York City. Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii was instrumental in the creation of the Washington museum and he spoke at its opening in 2004. See: A Warrior Chief Among Warriors: Remembering U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the newest Smithsonian museum, established by Congress in 2003. Groundbreaking was in 2012 and the museum opened to the public in 2016. President Barack Obama spoke at both ceremonies.

Below ground are three levels of History Galleries that tell the story of African Americans from the transatlantic slave trade to today:

The History Galleries conclude with a Contemplative Court (shown above) and this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:
We are determined … to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.

The phrase "until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream" is adapted from Amos 5:24 in the Bible.

National Museum of American History

Perhaps the premier exhibit at the National Museum of American History is The Star-Spangled Banner, which showcases the actual (very large) flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814 and which inspired our national anthem. I have already written about the Star-Spangled Banner in my earlier post Evening Parade at Marine Barracks, so I will write here about a different exhibit.

The first automobile trip across the United States was completed in 1903 when H. Nelson Jackson drove from California to New York in 63 days, accompanied by mechanic Sewall Crocker and their dog Bud.

As shown in the diorama above, they spent considerable time pulling the car out of mud holes. The exhibit includes the actual car from this adventure, a Winton touring car. Jackson spent $8,000 to win a $50 bet, but he made headlines all across the country. More info here: Crossing the Country.

H. Nelson Jackson was a doctor and businessman from Burlington, and the car was named "Vermont."


The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, together called the Freer|Sackler, specialize in Asian art. We toured the special exhibit Empresses of China's Forbidden City, 1644-1912 organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, the Freer|Sackler, and the Palace Museum in Beijing, China. This exhibit told the story of the empresses of the last Chinese dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, which ruled China for more than a quarter millennium (1644-1912).

Most of the people in China are Han Chinese, but the rulers of the Qing Dynasty were Manchus. In the Qing Dynasty, the empresses (wife of the emperor) and the empress dowagers (mother of the emperor) wielded considerable power.
Arguably the most powerful empress in Chinese history, Empress Dowager Cixi (pronounced tsz xyi) [1835-1908] dominated the court and policies of China's last imperial dynasty for nearly fifty years.

The exhibit included elaborate garments and artworks. Many of the objects have never been shown outside of China, but the painting of Cixi shown above belongs to the United States:
As a way to polish her image outside China, Cixi invited American artist Katharine A. Carl to create this commanding portrait for display at the 1904 World's Fair held in St. Louis, Missouri. In a strategic diplomatic move, Cixi had this portrait presented to President Theodore Roosevelt, who in turn had it transferred to the Smithsonian.

Quotes are from a sign near the painting. This extraordinary exhibition is only at the Smithsonian March 30-June 23, 2019.

National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art includes two buildings: the neoclassical West Building and the modern East Building. The NGA is on the National Mall and looks like it is part of the Smithsonian Institution, but it is not. It was a gift to the United States in 1937 from Andrew W. Mellon, a banker who was Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.

Below is a photo of the Alexander Calder exhibit in the East Building.

Washington, DC Trip: Click here for the introductory post about our trip to Washington which lists all of the posts in this series.

Old Post Office Tower

When the Washington Monument is closed, the best view in town is from The Old Post Office Tower at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, shown above.

The Old Post Office was built in the 1890s, about the same time as the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, as the headquarters of the U.S. Post Office Department as well as the city post office for Washington. The building is located in Federal Triangle, an area bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Constitution Avenue NW, and 15th Street NW. Federal Triangle contains ten major federal and city buildings, most of which were constructed in the 1920s and 1930s.

This view from the tower is looking southeast along Pennsylvania Avenue NW toward the Capitol:

The view below is looking south to the National Mall. The domed building to the left is the National Museum of Natural History. Note the skylight on the Old Post Office in the foreground.

Looking southwest toward the Washington Monument:

Today most of the Old Post Office is the Trump International Hotel, but access to the tower is maintained by the National Park Service. The photo below is inside the building, looking down into the hotel. The skylight allows natural light into the central atrium.

The photo below is of a poster in the hallways, showing an aerial view of the Old Post Office in September 2016 when the Trump Hotel was completed.

Washington, DC Trip: Click here for the introductory post about our trip to Washington which lists all of the posts in this series.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 members of the armed services and their families. The cemetery covers 624 acres on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, not far from the Pentagon. In the photo above, the Washington Monument is visible in the distance between the trees.

The land was in the original District of Columbia, but was returned to Virginia in 1846. See this post. The property once belonged to George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and step-grandson of George Washington. Custis willed the property to his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who was married to Robert E. Lee. The Lee family left their home at the beginning of the Civil War, and federal troops occupied the property as a camp and headquarters. As Civil War casualties mounted, the property became a burial ground beginning in 1864.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is at Arlington National Cemetery, guarded 24 hours a day every day by the 3rd Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army (The Old Guard).

The changing of the guard takes place every half hour during the summer, otherwise every hour. Below are photos of this ceremony.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was made by the Vermont Marble Company which has an excellent exhibit at the Vermont Marble Museum in Proctor: The Story of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas served as a member of The Old Guard in 2007. Last month he published a book about Arlington National Cemetery, The Old Guard, and his experience there: Sacred Duty: A Soldier's Tour at Arlington National Cemetery (review).

Two presidents are buried in Arlington National Cemetery: William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy. Below is a photo of the Kennedy Gravesite where President Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis are buried. The Eternal Flame burns next to their graves. President Kennedy's brothers Robert Kennedy and Edward "Ted" Kennedy are buried nearby.

On a hill in the cemetery lies Arlington House, originally the Lee family residence and now a National Memorial to Robert E. Lee. It was closed for renovations, reopening in January 2020.

Below is the view from Arlington House looking across the Potomac River to Washington where the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building are clearly visible.

Arlington National Cemetery includes many memorials and notable graves. For example, there are memorials for the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall is buried there. Many of the grave markers are beautiful works of art. We could have spent several more hours in the cemetery and the visitor center.

Washington, DC Trip: Click here for the introductory post about our trip to Washington which lists all of the posts in this series.