- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

Ever wonder why there is a lock-keeper's house just off Constitution Avenue? Or what the National Mall looked like in the mid-19th century? Or why construction on the Washington Monument stopped for a while? The answer to these and other esoteric questions can be found every Tuesday in the "I've Got a Secret" tour, a backstage view of downtown Washington offered by Washington Walks.
"There are so many hidden stories here," says Carolyn Crouch, a trained actor who launched Washington Walks three years ago with a couple of friends after encountering neighborhood walking tours while on a visit to London. "We can stump people who think they know everything there is to know about Washington history."
The lock-keeper's house, Miss Crouch will tell you, is a relic from when the Washington City Canal coursed down what is now Constitution Avenue. In the mid-1800s, the National Mall was filled with trees, serpentine paths and even a meadow. And construction on the Washington Monument stopped in the 1850s, after a group of anti-Catholics called the Know-Nothings stole a memorial stone that had been donated by the Vatican.
These are just some of the secrets revealed on this, one of a score of tours offered in Washington this season by a range of entrepreneurs under the auspices of the D.C. Heritage Tourism Coalition. If you have always speculated about that old building you pass on the way to work or the statue in your neighborhood square, these tours are for you. You can take a trip back in time to Civil War Washington or have tea and cookies at Woodrow Wilson's S Street home. You may even encounter a few ghosts in Lafayette Park, just across from the White House.
Lasting just 60 to 90 minutes, the tours some on bus, some on foot, some a combination take you out aware from the monuments and into the neighborhoods or the old downtown. Unlike other tours, these don't require advance reservations. All you have to do is show up. Many walking tours meet at nearby Metro stops, providing easy access for those on foot.
"Most residents haven't taken the time to explore their own city. They have heard of places but don't know how to get there or what to look for once they arrive," says Kathryn S. Smith, executive director of the D.C. Heritage Tourism Coalition.
"And now many of these places are in the news. U Street is experiencing a renaissance. The D.C. Planning Office is focusing on neighborhoods east of the river and in Southwest. It's a great time for Washingtonians to get out of their own neighborhoods and see what's happening around the city."
That's why many "tourists" are Washington area residents.
"I'm finally putting the pieces of the puzzle together," says Tina Cuplan, who works nearby at the American Association of University Women, on 16th St. NW. "I've always wondered about that building or this building."
Her tour, of Jacqueline Kennedy's links to Lafayette Square, is designed by the D.C. Preservation League and Washington Walks to complement the Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery. A similarly themed tour is offered in Georgetown, where the Kennedys lived before moving to the White House in 1961.

Come to Lafayette Square on Friday nights, though, and Miss Crouch will tell you an entirely different tale. That's when she leads the Capital Hauntings tour, a compendium of murder and mayhem that centers on the ghostly goings-on at Lafayette Square. The tour attracts a diverse audience of ghost-hunters, curious residents and high school students in town for the more traditional visit to Washington.
Who knows what the wary traveler will encounter once the sun goes down? Perhaps the shade of Dolley Madison, who moved to the house at the northeast corner of the square after her husband died and her son, an inveterate gambler, squandered the family fortune. From 1886 to 1952 It served as headquarters for the Cosmos Club; it is now part of the federal Court of Appeals complex at 717 Madison Place.
"Even after she died in 1849, people have seen her sitting on a rocker on the front porch," Miss Crouch tells her group. For the rest of the tour, a few people keep glancing back toward the house.
On this misty Friday evening, such a sight is all too believable.
Of course, Miss Crouch doesn't miss an opportunity to work in a bit of Washington history. She easily weaves information about the 19th century city through her tales, including the story of James Wormley, proprietor of the nearby Wormley Hotel at the southwest corner of 15th and H streets NW.
"He was considered the most successful black businessman in America," she tells the group. "When he died, hotels throughout the city flew their flags at half mast."
It was at the Wormley Hotel that the "secret deal" that resulted in naming Rutherford B. Hayes the winner of the squeaker of the presidential election in 1876. The deal became known as the Compromise of 1877, which ended Reconstruction.
Then there is Daniel E. Sickles, a congressman from New York who lived on the west side of Lafayette Square. He killed his wife's lover, was found not guilty on a temporary-insanity plea and went on to distinguish himself at the Battle of Gettysburg. And there's Secretary of State William H. Seward, who, unable to move or call out because of an iron brace he wore after a carriage accident, was attacked in his bed by one of the Lincoln conspirators in the old Rodgers House at 17 Madison Place, now the site of the Court of Claims building.
"I didn't know any of this," says Tarik Pierce, 15, from Northwest. "Not the ghosts, not anything. It's amazing that in just a 500-yard radius so much happened."

What makes a good tour? Of course, the facts have to be right. So does the weather. But a good tour guide can conjure an image along with information. Licensed guide Alice Stewart leads her Civil War tour through downtown Washington in a swinging hoop skirt and poke bonnet. She even assumes a character, that of Civil War widow Evelina Delaney Reed, as she walks her group past Daniel Webster's old house, at 545 D St. NW, or buildings that once housed army field hospitals.
"Now watch out for those wild horses," she cautions as the group attempts to cross a particularly highly trafficked street near the Superior Courthouse, the old City Hall, at 451 Indiana Ave. NW. "We've been having a lot of problems with them here lately."
Miss Stewart takes her charges through the Civil War years as she proceeds, spicing up her commentary with bits of information about her fictional family, as well as contemporary photographs and engravings.
"I can't look," she says in character, turning her head from a photograph of the interior of one of the area's many Civil War hospitals. "I can't stand the sight of blood."
By the time she has reached 511 10th St. NW and Ford's Theatre, the scene of President Lincoln's assassination and a popular tour destination, it doesn't really matter that the street and sidewalk are clogged with hundreds of T-shirted tourists and idling buses. For members of Miss Stewart's group, the year is 1865.
"I really like the style of the tour," says Gillian Zinsser, 17, who lives in Dupont Circle. "It's so much better than people simply reeling off facts. You almost feel like you were there."

Tour guides like Miss Stewart and Miss Crouch are careful to include regular mention of the contributions of groups often ignored by some of the more traditional tours, such as blacks and women. Still, the plethora of new tours poses a problem.
Suppose they give a walk and nobody comes? The scenario is one encountered frequently by guides, particularly in May, between the spring rush and when schools let out in June. It's an unintended consequence of the no-reservations system and means that Miss Crouch and the other tour guides can find themselves waiting at the Metro for company that never comes.
"People here are so distanced from their history," says Suzanne Pierron, a consultant for marketing and public relations at D.C. Heritage. "Most people think of Washington as only the monuments and the Smithsonian. We'd like them to realize there is a whole city here."
It isn't for lack of trying.
"They worked so hard to get me the information, I felt like I should go," says Jennifer Oros, a student from Atlanta, who came along on a three-hour bus tour, "Art and Opulence in Dupont Circle and Kalorama." By the end of the morning, she's glad she did. Alone in the city, she was taken to lunch by a couple of the other tour participants.
"Art and Opulence" takes participants along the main arteries from the central city, which were developed during the "gaslight era" of late 19th-century Washington. Led by Miss Stewart, this time not in costume, the tour stops at important sites along the way. Each site contains its own expert.
At St. Matthew's Cathedral, 1725 Rhode Island Ave. NW, visitors marvel at the building's collection of mosaics, which are being restored. Among the oldest Roman Catholic congregations in the city, the 1894 edifice features windows of onyx and alabaster as well as a new Lively-Fulcher organ.
Nearby on N Street NW is a collection of late 19th-century row houses, including one, at 1733, occupied by Franklin D. Roosevelt while he was secretary of the Navy. The house, described by Roosevelt biographer Joseph P. Lash in "Eleanor and Franklin" as a red-brick residence with a "postage stamp of a lawn" and a little garden in back with a rose arbor, belonged to Theodore Roosevelt's older sister Bamie, who rented it to the Navy secretary.
But the real draws are the grand mansions that once rimmed Scott, Thomas, and Dupont circles, built by late-19th-century newcomers who wanted a winter residence in Washington. They were not afraid to show their wealth.
Miss Stewart particularly relishes the tale of Martha Wadsworth. The diminutive redhead who lived here during only the winter and imposed her will on just about everything, from the design of her mansion at 1801 Massachusetts Ave. NW (now home to the Sulgrave Club) to the conduct of the Alaska-Canada border survey.
"She actually helped survey the Alaskan-Canadian border," Miss Stewart says. "And she made trips to record the creation of the Panama Canal as well."
The bus stops for an interior tour of the Christian Heurich house at 1307 New Hampshire Ave. NW. The imposing Washington brewer's mansion is home to the Historical Society of Washington, at least for a short while longer, before the society moves to the old Carnegie Library downtown. The 1894 Heurich House is one of the last intact interiors from the late 19th century, and features a marble staircase and chandeliers equipped for gaslight and electricity.
After the buse weaves up to the Kalorama neighborhood, a tour of the Woodrow Wilson house at 2340 S St. NW, with tea and cookies, awaits.
"This house has a great feel to it," one woman says, making her way down the servant's staircase to the kitchen on the basement level. "Even after all these years, you can still feel it."
But Woodrow Wilson's house is not the only place with the same sense of the past. There are other places, other tours, just waiting all around the city.
"If you have nothing to do, we'll be the thing to do," says Miss Crouch. "It's such a nice way to spend a summer evening."


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