While a lot of the big ticket items will be closed, there's still plenty to do and see in DC. Frankly, some of these less visited venues are more interesting that the high-draw options, and you could plan a perfectly good trip around them alone. So let's take a look at a few:
Entries in Dupont Circle (7)
Fear has been part of American culture for over 300 years by now, so it is hardly surprising that Stephen Colbert picked 'Fear' as a guiding principle for his rally on October 30. Colbert understands what Americans want, and he is giving it to them. But what if the fear on display on the Mall that day isn't enough for you? What if you want to wallow more intensely in this all-American pastime? Where can you go to learn more about the history of fear in our nation's Capital? Fear not, we have a list for you.
I know, I know, I'm supposed to finish up my discussion of African Americans at Arlington. I'll get to it, but for those of you who may not be paying attention, those of us in DC have been a little busy recently. As I write this, the snow has started again here in the Nation's Capital, and supplies of milk and humor are running low. Fortunately, we're still have some reserve stocks of beer, or things could be looking desperate.
I spent the first few days of this white nightmare holed up in my friend's place in Maryland; after staging an impromptu reenactment of the fall of Saigon with my two kids, getting out of here as the storm hit. Thanks to them, I still can make at least a tenuous claim to sanity, but I couldn't avoid heading home forever. After a few days of hanging out with three dogs and five children under five, and passing the time shoveling four hundred feet of driveway; we took advantage of the brief window between blizzards to bust our way back into DC yesterday.
So what's this got to do with visiting DC? I mean, who would be trying to visit us right now? And even if you wanted to, it would be virtually impossible to get here, as my wife has been finding out this last week. But what if you're weekend trip to DC was this week, and you're spending some more time here than planned? This doesn't happen often, but what do you do in DC when all the stuff you came to DC for is canceled?
So, in the off chance some of our visitors are trying to make lemonade out of yellow snow, let me give them a hand.
1. Transportation - You brought it with you! That's right, those two appendages sticking down from your pelvis. Just about everything else is going to be shut down or unreliable. Buses go fairly early, outside some main routes. Metro rail will stay open until we get about eight inches, then the above-ground stations will shut down. Even on the underground lines, be prepared for some serious headways (time between trains). And you have very little business driving in DC in the best of times, much less now. Cabs will still run in most weather, but will be scarce. Watch the meter, they're not allowed to charge more than 25% in a snow emergency. So focus on exploring the area around where you're staying and/or near open Metro stops.
2. What's open? Right now, precious little. In most cases, once the above ground lines shut down, the museums will follow suit, as it's hard to get staff in and out. One exception I've noticed: the Newseum has been persistently open these last few days, and Air and Space and Natural History were open today. Everything else has been more or less shut down since Friday (feel free to let me know if I'm wrong in the comments). The monuments shut down during the heavy winds, but if you're up for a good winter hike, I strongly recommend a stroll down to see them. The Korean Memorial is particularly striking in the snow.
3. So, if all the touristy stuff is shut down, then what? Despite some well publicized problems, I strongly recommend a good snowball fight. If you can't get a pick-up one going, blogs and twitter feeds are a good way to find out where folks are meeting up. This time around, good ones got going at Dupont Circle, the Mall, and Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill. You can also grab a piece of cardboard and go sledding. I personally like Capitol Hill, a traditional favorite. The only trick is avoiding the Capitol Police. Some are cool, some are, well, not.
4. And finally, you'll need a place to warm up. I find that locally operated places tend to do a better job of staying open than chains and such. For example, my personal favorite, Peregrine Coffee near Eastern Market is routinely fueling my habit while the Starbucks a block over might as well board up. So rather than head downtown, try Eastern Market,Dupont Circle, or some other Metro accessible neighborhood where the most of both the clientele and the staff normally walks there (and will to get out of the house!).
Ideally, you're reading this back home in some relatively less snowy place like Buffalo, but if you are stuck in DC, I hope this helps.
Often, as we explore DC's history in our pursuit of the spirit world, our tales peter out with "the house was destroyed, and the ghost was never heard from again". This is unfortunately all too common, as great swaths of our history have been bulldozed, only to be replaced by monolithic chunks of buildings that no self respecting ghost would deign to haunt.
But from time to time we find that the act of destruction itself seems to release the spirits of the past. And so it was in Dupont Circle, where in 1902, the Washington Post noted an unusual phenomenon on the site where "Stewart's Castle" had recently been torn down.
The Castle had been built as Nevada Senator William Morris Stewart's residence in DC by renowned local architect Adulf Cluss. It was among the first of many grand buildings in the wave of construction following the Civil War that transformed Dupont Circle from the dusty outskirts of the city to a thriving high class neighborhood. After a devastating fire in 1879, the house was leased to the Chinese Legation from 1886 to 1893.
Then, in 1899, this crazy-eyed bastard, Sen. William Clark of Montana, purchased the Castle. Somehow, it wasn't quite grand enough for him, and he razed it in 1901 to build something larger. Financing ran thin, as he worked things out, the lot sat vacant.
Which is where our story begins. One summer evening in 1902, a Mr. S. L. Lwehg was walking home to Georgetown, and it being a particularly warm night, decided to stop and rest on a nearby park bench. While there, he noticed the erratic movements of a man dressed in Chinese garments walking upon the newly razed site of Stewart's Castle. At first, it seemed he might be looking for something, but the man simply seemed to be wandering about the site. Finally, as Mr. Lwegh watched, the man vanished completely. Following this sighting, others noticed the spirit, who "at first seems only one of the picturesque figures to be seen in the vicinity of the Chinese legation". However, upon further inspection, "in the glare of the electric light, the flowing sleeves of his dark red jacket appear very filmy, and the gown of light blue looks like mist." What's more, his "feet make no sound as the ghostly saddles pass along the walks."
The Post, being a reputable newspaper, did some investigating and found that when the Castle had been the Chinese Legation, it had been no stranger to dire events:
"It was said that early one morning a passerby was surprised and horrified to see the body of a dead Chinaman hanging over the windowsill in one of the upper rooms. A long black cord tightly twisted and knotted showed the manner in which he had met his death. As the legation building was under international law, as much a part of China as the Celestial empire itself, the authorities of the United States could not trespass in order to learn the cause of the man's death and punish those responsible for it, if punishment was due."
So was the dead attache, haunted with his own ghosts or perhaps searching for those who had sent him onward, the same "Ghost of the Chinaman", as the Post somewhat offensively named the article? The ghost's final action is telling: before he vanishes, he attempts "to loosen the long black cord that is tightly twisted and knotted about his neck."
Perhaps because of the ghost, or more likely Sen. Clark simply lost interest in being a Senator and living in DC, the land remained undeveloped until 1923, when Riggs Bank (now PNC) built their branch on Dupont Circle it feeds into Massachusetts Avenue to the Northwest. So next time you go to the ATM, see if you can spot a lost soul from the Celestial Kingdom.
Sure, Halloween was fun as a kid. But whether you've managed to ditch them with a babysitter, or you are just unencumbered with little ones, you're going to want to experience the ghosts and ghouls of Washington, DC in your own way. Yesterday's post covered lots of great ideas, but let's be frank here. If you throw on a sheet, call yourself a ghost, and walk down East Capitol Street and don't have a kid or two in tow, at best you're going to get a few weird looks.
So let's take a look at a few ideas for adults:
1. Georgetown: This is the traditional place to go for a wild and crazy time in Washington, DC. It will be, as always, a madhouse, especially as this year Halloween falls on a Saturday night. That can either be a selling point or a warning to you. If you're looking for thousands of people decked out in costumes, hopping from bar to bar, with crowds spilling off the sidewalks, than this is for you. If not, go nowhere near it Halloween night (or probably the 30th as well). Keep reading and we'll find something more your taste. Now, I wonder if my wife and kids will notice if I sneak off after they've gone asleep....
2. Embassy Row: If you're looking for a different feel than the packed masses in Georgetown, head over to Dupont Circle and check out the Embassies along Massachusetts Avenue. This is another DC tradition, with most (but not all) of the Embassy's handing out goodies. It's a fun way to get a little culture in before you take advantage of the area's many bars and clubs.
3. H Street: H Street NE is relatively new to the Halloween scene, but it promises to be a good time. They are embracing the Dia de los Muertos theme this year for the week of Halloween. Many of the bars and restaurants are offering specials the week prior, and will be building, I kid you not, shrines to the dead in front of there stores. It culminates in a Thriller on H Street party on Friday, the 30th, at 9 pm. Costume contests, drink specials, and, believe it or not, a haunted golf course, will be on tap for Halloween night. I'm hard pressed to list a "favorite" H ST bar, but let's just say that Palace of Wonders can be spooky any day of the year. More about H ST can be found on The Hill is Home's Halloween round-up.
4. Ghost Tours! - You knew it was coming!. Without shame I'll push my outfit, Ghost Tours DC. We'll be running tours in Dupont Circle and Capitol Hill at 8 pm on the 23rd, 24th, 30th and 31st. If you must, here are a few other ghost tours going on:
- Old Town Alexandria: Alexandria Colonial Tours offers a walking tour of Old Town that ends up in a grave yard! Spooky stuff. Its popular so I would recommend booking early.
- Lafayette Park: Washington Walks, an excellent local tour company that offers a variety of walking tours, features a Most Haunted Houses tour Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights (seasonally). Lafayette Square across from the White House is probably the most ghost-intensive section of the city, and they cover a few of the ghosts of White House as well.
- Congressional Cemetery: Be sure to watch out for more discussion of this incredible place in the future, but for now I'd highly recommend their ghoulish Halloween tour they are giving on the 31st at 11 and 11:30 am. The Cemetery is easy to get to from the Blue and Orange Line. Exit at Potomac Avenue and walk up the Avenue to 18th St. The tours meet at the gatehouse on the corner.
This is just a few of the many offerings DC rolls out for Halloween. If you have any favorites I left out, leave them for others to see in the comments. And join DC Like a Local next week when we embark on a week of ghost stories set in your nation's capital.