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Welcome to our October 2012 Special Edition Newsletter!

I recently took my first trip to our nation's Capitol, and was so amazed that I wanted to share some of the things that makes Washington D.C. such an inspirational place. Give us a call or send an email if you have any comments or questions.

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Washington D.C.

Dexter S. Augier by
Dexter S. Augier

When my son and his family invited me to go to our nation’s capitol with them, I was delighted. It’s just plain special when your kids WANT to be with you! On top of that, I had never been to Washington, so it didn’t take much more to convince me. It was the first week of August, and my friends all warned me about how hot it would be. In fact, my mother was there for the national DAR convention just one month earlier, and she reported 115 degree weather! However, the Good Lord, knowing how hot it’s been here in Texas, decided that I could use a break, and sent us some delightful weather…. you could even enjoy an ice cream cone in the mid-afternoon without it melting all over you!

All my preconceived notions about DC had to be left in the trash can after our first day. My idea of a crowded, unsafe place, with some criminal type behind every tree, couldn’t have been further from the truth. In short, I had a great time, in a very clean city full of extremely nice people.

The city was designed by a French engineer, Major Peter Charles L’Enfant, who had come to America with the Marquis de Lafayette, and had fought in our Revolutionary War. I had always thought DC was laid out on a system of axis and enfilades inspired by Paris….but I was wrong! The Paris we know today was designed by Baron Haussmann sixty years after Washington was laid out!!! The actual area of DC is a square, 10 miles on each side, however, the DC metro area today is 3957 square miles!

My granddaughter was all in favor of going to the Mall first…(I think she just liked the sound of it). A Mall, in case you were wondering, is a “shaded walk serving as a promenade”, and the word comes to us from an English word that dates back to the early 18th century. Ours is over two miles long and 1000’ wide!!!  The modern sense of an “enclosed shopping gallery" dates only from 1963. 

at the Mall

At the Mall
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The Capitol
The Capitol

The Capitol building sits at one end of the Mall, on what was formerly known as Jenkins Hill. It’s a magnificent structure, as beautiful as it is majestic. It’s even more awesome when you discover it was designed by a medical doctor who was an amateur architect!!! The terraces on the Mall side were not done by an amateur, though…if you’ve ever been to Central Park in New York, or to the Biltmore estate in Asheville NC, then you’ve seen his work…Frederick Law Olmsted!

Ulysses S. Grant Memorial

Ulysses S. Grant Memorial
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This terrace steps down to the second largest equestrian monument in the world…the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial.

The dome represents one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century. It is actually made up of two cast iron domes, one set inside the other, and faux painted to look like marble!!! The original inspiration was Michelangelo’s dome for St. Peter’s in Rome, but the more immediate inspiration was the cast iron dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg! Our founding fathers really got around!

Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace

Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace
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I asked my grandchildren who the statue was of on the top of the dome…George Washington? No…Thomas Jefferson? No…‘Well who then, grandfather?’ It’s a 19 foot tall statue representing not a person, but Freedom…. Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace.



Library of Congress

Library of Congress

We didn’t get to go in the Library of Congress (have to save something for next time, right? But I did learn it’s one of the most sumptuously decorated interiors in all of DC. Did you know there are 350 miles of bookshelves???

Bureau of Printing and Engraving

Bureau of Printing and Engraving
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Monday morning, 6:45, found my son, Stuart, and I waiting in line for tickets at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. The admission is free, as it is at all the Smithsonian museums, but this one requires a ticket, and they go fast. The window opens at 8 and by 8:30 they’re gone! It’s a popular place….even thought they don’t give out free samples….I was struck with how big a stack one million dollars in $20s is!

$10,000 Bill
$10,000 Bill
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And did you know that they used to print $10,000.00 bills?? They stopped printing the $500, $1000, and $10,000 bills in 1945, but they are still legal tender..…of course, the $500 & $1000 bills are usually worth twice their face value to collectors. The $10,000 bill starts at $30,000, and that’s if it’s in poor condition!



National Gallery of Art
National Gallery of Art



Sargent’s Miss Beatrice
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We next visited the National Gallery of Art, (one of the 3 places on my have-to-do list). There were several paintings I wanted to see, and we saw them all….


Edouard Manet
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Modigliani
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Jaques-Louis David
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Van Gogh
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Claude Monet
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Mary Cassatt
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I had the added pleasure of discovering that my grandchildren (who both take art classes) enjoyed the information and background I was able to relate about some of the paintings. Like what makes Mary Cassatt paintings different, and why they are so popular…why her friendship with Degas was so important, how some of her paintings were done because she was mad at Degas’ chauvinism…or who the people in a Renoir painting were, how he posed them, and why…how different artists saw light and shapes differently, and struggled to express it in their art. They especially enjoyed stories about Van Gogh’s struggles (“he was crazy grandfather!” “Yes, a crazy genius~!”) and then there were Gauguin’s island escapades….. and Sargent’s Miss Beatrice has nothing on my granddaughter when it comes to attitude & style!



Whistler
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The kids wanted to visit the Holocaust Museum, because they had been studying about it in school (Hurray!), I declined, and instead visited the Freer gallery by myself. I enjoyed Whistler’s large studies of color and his more intimate, light filled smaller paintings… the largest collection of Whistler’s anywhere. The kids wanted to know if I saw ‘Whistler’s Mother’. I told them yes, but not in Washington. I explained that ‘Whistler’s Mother’ was the most famous American painting not in America; it’s actually owned by the French Government and currently resides at the Musée D’Orsay in Paris. They were disappointed, but very ready for a trip to Paris!


Next I visited the “Smithsonian Castle” … and learned that Mr. Smithson was a naturalized Englishman, who left his fortune to found an educational institution in Washington, DC. Amazingly he never set foot on American soil!

And just as I was about to be won completely over to how insightful and visionary our founding fathers were…I learned that it took congress nine, yes nine years to decide whether or not to accept the gift!


Smithsonian Castle

Ai WeiWei
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Since I was walking right in front, I couldn’t help being drawn into the Hirshhorn Museum…a very un-Washington style building that deliberately doesn’t fit the norm. The Chinese dissident artist, Ai WeiWei’s exhibit of Chinese Zodiac heads, surround the open fountain in the center of the building …

The national Gallery of Art East Building was not on my list, but I decided to see it anyway….and I am SO glad I did! The building was designed by I.M. Pei, the architect who designed the Pyramid at the Louvre, and the JFK Library, among many others. I really enjoyed experiencing the very large pieces of modern art on display. The pieces by Calder and Miro were especially enthralling in their context of this fantastic building. …

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But the real surprise, found in one of the triangular wings labeled “Small French Paintings” was a delightful collection of small (I guess that’s where they got the name for the gallery!) paintings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Quietly nestled among them I found Mary Cassatt’s “Child in a Straw Hat”. My visit to the National Gallery’s website before the trip, showed that this painting was “not on exhibit”. I asked another patron to take this picture of me beside one of Miss Cassatt’s most famous paintings.

Mary Cassatt’s “Child in a Straw Hat”
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My day was a complete success!

For that matter, this one day was worth the whole trip! And day one wasn’t even over yet!


We rendezvoused back at the hotel, had a brief rest, a light supper, and headed out for Foggy Bottom and the Washington Harbor Wharf. (That whole end of town used to be a swamp, and I guess that’s where the unusual name of Foggy Bottom comes from.)

This is a good place to tell about how nice the people were. As we exited the Metro subway, we were looking at maps and signs, trying to get orientated, when a gentleman in suit and tie, stepped up and asked where we wanted to go. He began giving careful directions, and after the 6th or 7th turn, my daughter and I both must have glazed over…he saw our faces, and said, never mind, I’m going in that direction, follow me. Along the way he shared a wealth of information gathered over his almost 25 years residence…he explained that you are not considered a Washingtonian until you’ve been there 25 years.

~~I let him know that was still a newcomer in Texas.~~

As we passed the Watergate complex, he pointed out the former Holiday Inn across the street, now a dorm for George Washington University. He said the room used by the break-in team had been preserved…I guess someday it will be part of a museum!

We made it to the waterfront and had a nice stroll along the water while waiting for our river cruise. It was scheduled for 8 pm, so we could see all the monuments lit up for the night….really beautiful. The Watergate Steps, for which the hotel and complex are named, lead up from the river to the Lincoln Memorial….they wanted to really impress visiting dignitaries arriving by water!

That’s all for Monday, now back to the hotel for a good night’s rest…..


The Pentagon
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Tuesday morning we had pre-arranged tickets for a tour of the Pentagon, where I gave a briefing….

9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon
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Before going inside, we walked around the other side of this huge building to visit the Pentagon Memorial. The site where the terrorists crashed the American Airlines flight #77 into the building on 9/11. It is a very dramatic tribute to the people on board the plane, as well as the people inside the Pentagon who were killed. There are 184 stainless steel and granite benches, each with the name of the victim engraved in the end. The benches rise from the gravel on one end, and gracefully form the bench, with a flowing fountain beneath each one. The benches are set at the angle of the flight path of Flight 77. A sober and respectful tribute.



Inside the Pentagon, we were guided by a marine, who walked backward the entire time, explaining what we were seeing. Of course we didn’t see a lot of the building….it is after all, almost 4 million square feet!....and employs 23,000 people! Do you know why it’s five sided?....no, it isn’t to represent the five branches of the service….it’s because the land had already been chosen, and the building was designed to get the most use of the shape of the site! Something else that will surprise all who have ever built a house…after approval it only took 16 months to complete!


After a quick lunch, we went to Arlington National Cemetery. Before it became our nation’s cemetery, it was the home of Robert E. Lee. When Lee declared that he could not fight against his native Virginia, he had to head South, giving up his home because at that time you had to pay your taxes in person! Ironically, the very first soldiers buried there were confederate prisoners. Now, there are over 300,000 graves, including those of JFK, and Jackie. More importantly, Arlington is the resting place of the Unknown Soldier. Correctly called Tomb of the Unknowns.


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As we entered the colonnaded amphitheater, we all took a collective breath…it is a beautiful space.


Tomb of the Unknowns
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We saw the changing of the guard, and I explained the seriousness attached to that duty. I wasn’t sure the kids believed me, but when they saw an engraved plaque declaring the oath that all the guards take, they came around. We were all struck by the honor and reverence of the place, and I was pleased at the profound effect it had upon my granddaughter.

HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD

The Tomb guards are all from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, and only those guards who have passed the rigid requirements, AND have served for nine months, are awarded the “Tomb Guard Identification Badge”…it is the second rarest award issued by the US Army.



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Never let it be said that my Olivia lacks for theater!

Metro station

We had planned to walk from the cemetery across the Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial, but a thunder storm was just starting, so we took the Metro. Arriving close to the American History Museum, we decided to finish our tour there before going to the Lincoln Memorial.

There’s lots to see here, and a lot of it didn’t seem so old to me…I think they have the lawnmower I used as a kid!....but the exhibits on Viet Nam and 9/11 were overpowering…very serious.


As we left the museum, the kids saw a Good Humor truck and wanted an ice cream…needless to say, but they were disappointed to find it was part of the museum exhibits!



Hillwood House and Gardens
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Wednesday took us to Hillwood House, the former home and collections of Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress of the Post Cereal fortune. She left her house, collections, and gardens as a museum. There are entire books written about her collection of Russian porcelain ….the largest collection outside of Russia! There are also collections of silver, French furniture, paintings, Icons, Fabergé, and more…this proved to be the best part of the trip for the children….getting to see art and treasures in a home setting…even the butler’s pantry was great!


The Butler's Pantry at Hillwood House


The Lincoln Memorial
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We walked the mile through this residential setting back to the Metro and on to the Lincoln Memorial. Mr. Lincoln sits there, 19 feet tall, and his expression seems to quietly demand a response….with one hand clenched and the other open and relaxed, he portrays the strength and gentleness of our country’s greatness.


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After my reaction to the Vietnam exhibit in the American History museum, I almost didn’t go to the “Wall”. It helped a lot, though, when I read what the girl who won the design competition said in answer to the criticism about her design: “Take a knife and cut open the earth, and with time the grass will heal it” If you’ve had the opportunity to see the angled wall, you’ll remember that it doesn’t rise above the level of the grass… My son and grandson both wear a bracelet with a MIA’s name, and they wanted to locate the name on the memorial…I’m so proud of them!


Mary Cassatt
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Diebenkorn
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Colescott
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My son wanted me to see the White House, and how surprisingly small it is in person, so as we walked the roundabout approach, we found ourselves in front of the Corcoran Gallery…the final item on my list!

The Corcoran is not part of the Smithsonian system, it was begun to “encourage American Genius”. The art on display ranges from Cassatt to Diebenkorn to Colescott and the quiet atmosphere makes it easy to spend enough time to enjoy and to learn from wide range of styles set against a beaux art backdrop. There’s also an entire room, called the Salon Doré, which began life in Paris in 1770. It later moved to New York to become the ‘grand salon’ in the New York residence of the ‘copper king’ Senator William Andrews Clark…you may remember just a few months ago, the tragic story and scandal of his recluse daughter named Huguette Clark….


Salon Doré at the Corcoran


The White House
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On to the White House!! We always thought that when the stars and stripes were flying from the center flagpole, in meant the President was at home, however, it is actually flown all the time… in fact, the 24-hour flying of the flag at the White House is mandated by law, and, there are only a select few locations authorized by executive order to fly the flag around the clock.  We started with the back view, including the vegetable garden off to the left, and then around to the front …the obvious presence on the roof of machine gun totting guards was exciting for the kids…..


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After my granddaughter took it upon herself to ask the Secret Service for directions….. we found the closest Metro, and called it a day.


The National Archive
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Our last day took us back to Foggy Bottom, and a walking tour through George Washington University, and onward to the National Archive. I appreciated getting to see our Charters of Freedom. It was just a few years ago, 2001-2003, that they were removed from public view for 26 months, and moved to a top secret location for archival restoration. Today, when you’re standing in the Great Rotunda... awestruck by the importance of the documents, and enormity of the space, it helps to remember that when they secretly moved the documents, they gave the operation a code name: Elvis…yes, Elvis had left the building.


The Great Rotunda



Natural History Museum exhibits
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Our last visit was to the Natural History Museum…and do you know, that big dinosaur isn’t there!?! The 125 foot high rotunda is really home to the largest African elephant ever shot! I couldn’t find Sacajawea, but I did locate dum-dum, the Easter Island sculpture! My daughter wanted to see the Hope diamond, and the kids insisted we see ‘Titanoboa” the 48’ snake….which was swallowing an 8’ alligator whole! Now that’s one critter I’m glad is extinct!..


Titanoboa



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Quite a week, and lots left to go back for. I was impressed with the caliber and respect of the other tourists…Washington D.C. is a very special place.

 

Did you know...?

by Dexter S. Augier

Did you know that sterling silver manufactured in the United States after 1860 will always have the word “Sterling” or the number 925 stamped on it?

The National Gold and Silver Stamping Act makes it illegal to in any way represent an item as sterling if it is not.

And silver plated pieces are not plated with sterling silver but with pure silver, so saying a piece is “sterling silver plated” is deceptive.






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