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TOURIST GUIDE: Myths and mysteries abound in the District
Ready to take on some D.C. myths and mysteries on your own? Here’s where to find a few:
• Old Stone House, 3501 M St. NW, www.nps.gov/olst/ - Georgetown’s Old Stone House is the oldest standing structure in the District. Rumor has it that female visitors sometimes feel a strange pull around their ankles as they ascend the stairs, thanks to the active spirit of a misogynistic former tenant.
• International Spy Museum, 800 F St. NW, www.spymuseum.org - What better place for a mystery than the International Spy Museum, which allows visitors to try to solve a few mysteries of their own? Ironically, the museum’s Spy Cafe is housed in the old Atlas building, which was home to District 4 of the American Communist Party from 1941 to 1948.
• U.S. Capitol, First and East Capitol streets Northeast, www.visitthecapitol.gov - Along with the statue on the dome, the Capitol contains a number of interesting stories, including the “blood-stained” steps leading up to the House gallery and the famous “whisper spot” in Statuary Hall.
To download a PDF of Tourist Guide 2009, click here.
• Temperance Fountain, Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest - That strange statue of a crane surrounded by dolphins is a monument to the temperance movement. Donated in 1882 by Dr. Henry Cogswell of San Francisco, the memorial at one time provided fresh, iced water to tourists and others strolling by.
• United Church, 1920 G St. NW, www.theunitedchurch.org - Why is this modest church in Foggy Bottom conducting some of its services in German? Because its Foggy Bottom neighborhood, previously called Hamburg, was once the center of Washington’s German community.
• Washington hotels - Washington’s older hotels offer plenty of myths and mysteries. The Willard InterContinental Washington on Pennsylvania Avenue claims to have popularized the term “lobbyist,” thanks to Ulysses S. Grant’s penchant for enjoying an after-hours sit-down in the hotel’s imposing lobby with a brandy and cigar. Once word got out, potential office seekers and others knew where to find him. (Alas, the current hotel was built in 1901 - Grant was president from 1869 to 1877 - and a variant of the term had been used as early as 1829 to describe assorted hangers-on of the New York state Legislature.)
Connecticut Avenue’s Mayflower Hotel has long played host to a variety of mysteries and eccentric characters. President Franklin D. Roosevelt penned his “only thing we have to fear is fear itself” speech there. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ate lunch there nearly every day for 20 years. And German spy George Dasch made his way from a submarine to the Mayflower in June 1942 before contacting the FBI and revealing a plot to sabotage U.S. factories and power plants.
• Various Smithsonian buildings have been home to some strange characters and even stranger mysteries over the years. The Museum of Natural History even hosted one employee in the early 20th century who was so frugal that she refused to live in a hotel while her Northern Virginia home was under construction. Bemused watchmen reportedly saw her wandering the halls in a nightgown or came upon her bathing in a lab sink. Since her sojourn, all museum employees are required to vacate the premises at midnight.
The American Art Museum offers interactive, multimedia scavenger hunts that require players to decipher clues, follow treasure maps, send text messages and answer questions, all with an eye toward saving the museum. Suitable for visitors 12 and older, it is held on select dates. The hunt takes about 90 minutes, and a text-messaging cell phone required. See http:// americanart.si.edu/calendar/activities/ghosts/ for more information.
By Donald Lambro
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