Category Archives: Deals and Steals

An Understated Tribute to Sacrifice: the Women’s Titanic Memorial

D.C. is home to dozens of memorials, many bursting with grandeur and stateliness.  But some of the most poignant moments that our city offers are found in the lesser-known memorials that are more off the beaten path.

One of these is the Women’s Titanic Memorial, located along the southwest waterfront at approximately 4th and P SW.  It was erected by the female survivors of the sinking of the Titanic, to pay tribute to the men who lost their lives in order to save women and children.

The monument is comprised of a figure wrapped in a billowing shroud, with arms up and out (not unlike Kate Winslet’s iconic pose in the movie “Titanic.”)  The inscription notes that the statue is erected by the “Women of America,” and movingly, the back reads “To the young and the old/the rich and the poor/the ignorant and the learned/all who gave their lives nobly/to save women and children.”  Almost all of the 1,514 people who lost their lives in the ship’s sinking were men (1,352 altogether).

Originally located at the southern end of Rock Creek Park, it was funded and built by the Women’s Titanic Memorial Association in 1931.  It was moved to its current location in 1968 to make way for the Kennedy Center, and is one of dozens of memorials across the world to pay tribute to those killed in the disaster of the Titanic.

One of the best things about this memorial is its location.  It is located at the end of the waterfront pathway—technically the Southwest Waterfront Park—which ends just as Fort McNair begins.  It is a quiet, contemplative spot, framed by rows of trees planted when the waterfront was at its heyday as a bustling commercial center.  And the view is across an arm of the Potomac of the green and lovely Hains Point.

Although it was a British liner, the Titanic was carrying many emigrants seeking to call America their new home.  And thus, while a quiet tribute, the Titanic Memorial fits in well with the ethos of our historic city, one that honors and remembers those who helped our nation become what it is today.

To visit:  A 10-minute walk from the Waterfront metro stop, or the red line of the Circulator stops nearby.

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The Congressional Cemetery Offers a Reflective Look at DC’s More Ordinary History

Washington, DC had an interesting beginning, founded not by pilgrims or pioneers, but by an act of Congress in 1790 to establish a “federal city” that would be the seat of government.  Over time, the new city found its character, but almost entirely lost to history are the stories of the people who helped build it into a real, thriving place where everyday life occurred.  Luckily, the Congressional Cemetery preserves theses narratives, and many more.

The cemetery, tucked between the Potomac Avenue and Stadium Armory metro stations along the Anacostia River, has been called “America’s first de facto national cemetery.”  Founded in 1807 as the Washington Parish Burial Ground, the need for a close graveyard was a sign that the young capital had grown into its own.

Today, the Congressional Cemetery, which is still open for new burials, is the final resting place for approximately 55,000 individuals, who lie in 30,000 burial sites and under 14,000 headstones.  Famous figures interred at the site include J. Edgar Hoover and John Philip Sousa.  Others include Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; Robert Mills, designer of the Washington Monument; and Belva Lockwood, who in 1884 was either the first or second woman to run for president (apparently there is debate on this topic, see here).

A number of more “ordinary” interesting characters buried at the Congressional Cemetery who have added their unique flair to DC include Mary Ann Hall, a high-end brothel owner; Marie Claire Fuller, a once famous silent film actress who died forgotten in a mental institution; and Matthew Brady, the father of photojournalism who covered the Civil War.

All of this and much more history can be learned during free Saturday tours at 11am, March through October.  Additionally, Civil War tours are held once a month on the afternoon.

In addition to the vast history that the Congressional Cemetery provides, the 35 acres of grounds are a serene haven in the midst of the bustling city.  Many nearby residents walk their dogs in the park, and birds and squirrels are easily observed in the large oak trees.

Whether you are a history buff or just curious to get a glimpse of the past, the Congressional Cemetery will offer you new insight into both our city and our nation.

To visit:  1801 E Street SE, (202) 543-0539, a few blocks from the Stadium-Armory and Potomac Avenue metro stations, and close to the 96 and other bus lines.  Open every day from dawn until dusk.

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A Bit of Nature Within the City: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Washington, DC is a surprisingly good spot for green spaces.  From Rock Creek Park to the Capital Crescent Trail, our city has many natural havens.  But one of the best and least known of these spots is hidden in Anacostia—Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.

Kenilworth, located on the banks of the Anacostia River, is a 14-acre set of gardens adjacent to 77 acres of marshland.  The park is best known for its unique water lilies, lotuses, and other flowering plants on the garden ponds.

It also has a restored tidal marsh, one of the city’s last tidal wetlands.  A boardwalk out into the marsh provides a glimpse into the unique habitat—on my visit, I saw an osprey with a large fish in its talons alight on a branch across the marsh.

Kenilworth in managed by the National Park Service and therefore has excellent visitor outreach such as a small visitor’s center and binoculars available for loan.  It also provides garden tours and opens early every morning at 7am for birders.  And you’ll be sure to see some interesting avians—I caught a glimpse of a brilliant orchard oriole on my walk.

The history of the gardens dates back to 1882, when Civil War veteran W.B. Shaw decided to use his farmland to create a series of water ponds and gardens.  After his death in 1921, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers threatened to dredge the gardens to deal with the silt that had filled the Anacostia River, but Shaw’s daughter formed a citizen’s activist group that saved the site. She also convinced Congress to buy the gardens for $15,000, which the National Park Service acquired in 1938.  Since then, it has been essentially unchanged.

Kenilworth has different attractions for the different seasons.  As its website says:  “Spring is the best season for wildflowers in the marsh that borders the athletic fields and gardens.  Summer is the season for the Aquatic Gardens.  Winter, when leaves are off the trees, is the best time for birding at any of the sites. “

One of the best things about Kenilworth is that it is metro accessible.  From the Deanwood metro station, it’s about a 10 minute walk to the park entrance.  It’s a special place in our city that is definitely worth losing yourself in for a few hours.  Bring your horticulture knowledge and a birding guide and you’ll forget that the city and highway 295 are less than a mile away.

To visit:  1550 Anacostia Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20019.  Hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.  Metro accessible via the Deanwood station.  The park is also accessible from the back on the river with a canoe or kayak.  Free to visit.

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Teeing Up At The Miniature Golf Course On Hains Point

I’m often surprised by some of the amenities that DC doesn’t have, like cheap bowling (although luckily that can be found just across the pond at Ft. Myer).  Add to that list lots of mini-golf—there are only two spots in the city to get your putt-putt on:  the indoor course at the H Street Country Club and the outdoor course on Hains Point near the Mall.

The East Potomac Golf Course is known best for its nice public golf course, one of three in DC.  But on its grounds is also an 18-hole mini golf course for those of us who prefer putting to driving.  The course opened in 1930, making it one of the oldest courses in the nation.  In addition, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places as the “oldest continuing operating miniature golf course in the country.”

Other than the history, there’s not too much to say about this mini golf, which is fairly standard.  It’s quite old, seen for example in the fact that some of the carpet is warped, some of the features are broken, and there is debris like leaves and sticks on the ground.  But, it all adds to the charm.  And hey, it’s the only place you can play outdoor mini golf in our fine city!

Prices are $6.50 for adults, $5 for kids, and $5.50 for groups of 20 or more.  There was not a crowd when we visited in May, although staff told me that it gets busier later in the summer.  The course is able to host kids’ birthdays and other such functions.

Also on site are a pro shop and a snack bar that serves beer.  After an exhausting game of mini golf, there’s nothing like sitting and cooling off in the afternoon shade with a cold one.

To visit: 972 Ohio Drive SW, (202) 554-7660.  Open April-October, only on weekends during the spring and fall, times vary (see here) but are generally 11am-7pm.  About a half hour walk from the Smithsonian and Waterfront Metro stations.  A car or bike are the easiest options.

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Bahn Mi Bliss at the Eden Center

Every city has its neighborhood cultural hubs, from Little Italy in Boston to Koreatown in New York.  One of D.C.’s best ethnic hotspots is Eden Center, located in Falls Church, Virginia.  This large indoor and outdoor mall complex is home to approximately 120 Vietnamese stores, ranging from restaurants to groceries to souvenirs to salons.  As its website says, it is “the heart and soul of the Vietnamese-American Community for the entire East Coast.”

Because there’s so much going on at Eden Center, especially on weekends, it’s a bit overwhelming to visit and pick a restaurant.  Let me suggest Song Que (“song whey”), a delightful bahn mi shop that also features various grocery/deli items like finger foods to go, hard-to-find fruits, and snacks.

Bahn mi is best described as a French-influenced Vietnamese sandwich, featuring meats, tofu, and pickled vegetables on a baguette.  Options include ground pork, lemongrass beef, and Vietnamese meatballs.  Song Que is somewhat unique in terms of bahn mi at Eden Center and elsewhere in that it has a great vegetarian option—the caramelized tofu skin sandwich.

Also worth tasting are the bubble teas that come in all sorts of flavors, like mango, yellow bean, and jackfruit.  Song Que is nice in that it has table and seats in the back, which many of the other takeout food options at Eden Center do not.

After your sandwich, stroll around the mall, and especially go to the grocery store, called the Eden Supermarket.  It’s a treasure trove of many different ingredients for Asian cooking at amazing prices.  Other great restaurant choices at Eden Center included pho, seafood dishes, and soups.  Here’s a listing of all of the options.

Eden Center, formally the Plaza Seven Shopping Center, started reaching its height when thousands of immigrants settled in the area in the 1970s after the Vietnam War.  Indeed, the clock tower at the Eden Center is an exact replica of that in Saigon.  It’s a great place to step out of America for a couple of hours, and experience the delights and flavors of a different culture.

To visit:  6751 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA (Song Que is located at 6769 Wilson Boulevard), hours vary by store—call for details.  About a one mile walk from the East Falls Church metro, or 1A/1B/1E/1F bus west from the Ballston metro).

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A Moment of Remembrance at the Pentagon Memorial

Washington, D.C. has many memorials, to commemorate both the large and the small moments in history.  One of the most touching of these is the Pentagon Memorial, a tribute to the men and women who died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the structure on September 11, 2001.

What makes this memorial particularly special is how moving it is, due both to its design and what it represents.  It is comprised of 184 stone benches, arranged in order of the birth years of the passengers and Pentagon staff who were killed.  The first bench that visitors come upon is that of Dana Falkenberg, born in 1998 and thus just three years old when she died.  Three of the benches are for children, a fact which becomes starker when seeing the physical divide between the three benches and that of the next oldest passenger, who was born in 1979.

Brochures at the memorial give more information about the subtle features that the architects included in the design. For example, the words “SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 9:37 AM” at the entrance are etched into a piece of limestone recovered from the wreckage.  And, the benches are positioned so that for those who died at the Pentagon, both the victim’s name and the building are in full view, whereas for those who were passengers on the plane, the name and direction of the plane’s approach are both in view.

The design of the Pentagon Memorial was conceived by Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman, and selected from 1,100 submissions.  The memorial was dedicated on September 11, 2008.

Located on the on the southwest side of the Pentagon’s sprawling complex, the memorial is a 5-10 minute walk from the Pentagon Metro stop.  It can also be accessed by car, though see here for details on driving.

To get there:  Pentagon Metro or many buses from Arlington.  Open 24 hours. Free.

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A Colossal Warehouse of Books

Washington, DC is peppered with some excellent used bookstores, though not as many as one would hope.  The best close by is Capitol Hill Books, characterized by floor to ceiling book jumbles, handwritten signs with arrows in every direction, and a delightfully crabby proprietor.  Other good ones (and some of the only others) are Idle Time in Adams Morgan and Riverby Books on Capitol Hill.  But have you ever dared to imagine an enormous warehouse filled with used books lurking just outside our city?  Neither had I, until I was informed of Second Story Books and Antiques in Rockville (which claims the other Second Story Books on P Street in Dupont Circle as a comparatively miniscule offshoot).

The delight of Second Story Books, which truly is a located in a large warehouse, is first experienced by the used-book smell wafting out of the open garage doors upon your approach.  The place is home half a million books, according to its website, and the sheer variety could keep you browsing for days.  It is one of the largest used bookstores in the country, and not surprisingly, a good part of its business these days comes from online buyers.  It also deals with estate sales and individuals looking to sell books (though beware, similar to a consignment shop, you will get only a fraction of what the book appraisers believe they are able to sell the book for—you’re best off selling in bulk).

The buyer who ventures to the warehouse in person will find dozens of categories to choose from:  rare art, cookbooks, fiction, naval history, young adult, foreign languages, the list goes on.  The website has many of the titles available for browsing, if you are looking for something rare or unique.  The Washington Post pointed out one of the best (or most frustrating) features of the store—because of its sheer size, the title you are looking for may be found in one of a handful of sections.  For example, there are no less than three sections for cookbooks.  But this scavenger hunt is what ends up making the trip enjoyable in the first place!

Prices depend on which sales are going on, but there is no doubt that they are great deals, and better than you will find in the city.  Some trade paperbacks were going for as little as $.50 during my visit, but go up to $15,000 for extremely rare books online.  In order to consolidate space, there is currently a 50% off sale for the entire store (though unclear when that will end).

Second Story Books was started in 1973, and both the Rockville and Dupont locations have been in business for over 20 years.  There used to be a Bethesda until it closed a few years ago, and the original warehouse was located in Alexandria, Virginia.

The bookstore also sells posters, videos, CDs, paintings, and other collectibles.  Whatever you’re in the mood for, one thing’s clear—bring a large tote bag, because you won’t be going home empty-handed!

To visit:  12160 Parklawn Dr., Rockville, MD, (301) 770-0477.  Open Sunday-Wednesday 10-8 and Thursday-Saturday 10-9.  A medium walk from the Twinbrook Metro stop, but if you are planning on lugging anything back, a vehicle may be necessary!

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