A Titanic Fascination

Titanic Memorial

99 years and 364 days ago, the approximately 2200 people aboard the RMS Titanic were four days into their trans-Atlantic voyage from Southampton to New York City and having a grand old time. That all changed the night of April 14, 1912, when an iceberg tore open her starboard side, and the unthinkable happened. Within just two and a half hours, in the early morning hours of April 15, the “unsinkable” ship had cataclysmically broken apart and plummeted to a watery grave 12,540 feet below. And the rest, as they say, is history.

*  *  *

Fast forward to a few weeks ago on the Washington, DC waterfront. An early twenty-somethings couple was sitting on the wall of the Titanic Memorial when we approached. Intrigued by the fact that Tavish the Intrepid Pup was being photographed, the young woman in the duo struck up a conversation and inquired about Tavish. Upon explaining to her that this was the latest monument in a growing list of ones he’s visited, she seemed thoughtful. “Hmm,” she said, “the Titanic. Yeah. I saw the movie.”  And then, a few moments later:  “So, what’s up with this memorial, anyway? Did the Titanic sink here?”

Aside from the egregious incongruity of her remark, she had actually made a good point:  why is there a Titanic Memorial in Washington, DC?  The Titanic most assuredly did not strike an iceberg in the nation’s capital, and DC’s Southwest Waterfront couldn’t look any less like the cold expanse of the North Atlantic. Indeed, there are other places with far more direct connections to the Titanic, like Belfast, where the ocean liner was built, or Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, where 121 of the victims are interred.

The reason, quite simply, is that a group of wealthy women, the Women’s Titanic Memorial Association, raised the funds in response to congressional authorization of a national monument. The winning design selected by the Fine Arts Commission consisted of a robed male figure designed by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942, of Whitney Museum of Art fame) standing amidst a granite exedra designed by architect Henry Bacon (1866-1924, of Lincoln Memorial fame). The memorial was completed in 1918, but it wasn’t until 1931 that it was installed and dedicated at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue, NW and Rock Creek Parkway, on the riverbank. The base of the sculpture bears the inscription:

TO THE BRAVE MEN
WHO PERISHED
IN THE WRECK
OF THE TITANIC
APRIL15, 1912
THEY GAVE THEIR
LIVES THAT WOMEN
AND CHILDREN
MIGHT BE SAVED

Erected by the Women of America

Kirk Savage’s compelling book Monument Wars (University of California Press, 2009) includes a 1936 photograph of the memorial at this location, partially and disturbingly submerged during Potomac River flooding. In 1968 the memorial was relocated to its present location on the southwest waterfront near Fort McNair, as it had been removed two years before to make way for construction of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

In departing the Titanic Memorial and continuing our walk along the waterfront that afternoon, we encountered an older woman and her dog. We exchanged pleasantries and learned that she lived in the nearby Riverside Condominium complex. She’d observed that we’d come from the memorial and offhandedly remarked, “You know about the men in tuxedos, don’t you?” With a sly smile, she then launched into a seemingly apocryphal eyewitness account of a group of men who, since 1979, appear every year on April 15th at 12:30 a.m., dressed in formal wear, to place flowers at the memorial and offer up a champagne toast to the men who’d sacrificed their lives.  Haunting, but—as it turns out—absolutely true. The tuxedoed group is none other than the Men’s Titanic Society, which started out as a group of friends who wanted to honor the spirit and intent of what they saw as a forgotten memorial.

Though the DC memorial may have fallen off the public’s radar, the Titanic itself never did. In this 100th anniversary year, towns and museums far and wide are leveraging any Titanic connection they have, whether it’s a hometown family lost in the tragedy or a single artifact. And while this list is not exhaustive, there are currently substantive Titanic-related exhibits at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Mystic Aquarium, National Geographic Museum, Titanic Belfast, Widener University Art Gallery, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Ocean Science Exhibit Center. RMS Titanic, Inc., the company that controversially conducted salvage operations on the wreck site, has Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition on view at 8 distinct venues throughout the country, including a semi-permanent installation at the Luxor in Las Vegas. Separately, there are permanent Titanic Museum Attractions in Branson, Missouri, and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Alas, you’re too late to join the “Titanic Memorial Cruise” of the MS Balmoral that’s already underway, but you can catch the re-release of James Cameron’s 1997 film “Titanic” in 3D. Or you can read National Geographic’s newly-published e-book single about the Titanic. Prefer television? You have your choice this week of a History Channel documentary, two National Geographic specials, or an ABC mini-series. It all adds up to a somewhat macabre fascination of, well, titanic proportions. Why does the Titanic story still resonate after 100 years? For one, the Titanic was a cruise ship, and we still have those. It’s not an abstraction in the way that, say, a sunken 17th-century galleon might be. Secondly, in the grand scheme of things, 100 years isn’t really that long ago. The last survivor from the Titanic only died in 2009. There are people alive today who can tell of grandparents and great-grandparents aboard the ill-fated ship. One can relate, and the stories are all the more palpable. Third, positively identifying the wreck site in 1985 reignited interest and gave tantalizing hope to those seeking answers to Titanic’s multitude of unanswered questions. Your author (and one half of Team Tavish) grew up in the community that’s home to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the entity that backed the fabled 1985 exploratory expedition of Bob Ballard and crew. The frisson of excitement that rippled ’round the world upon the discovery of the Titanic was amplified locally; not only was the news historic, but also chances were you that your neighbor, your dad, or your friend’s parent had somehow been involved with the effort. Finally, when the Titanic sank, it violently intruded upon a cold and inhospitable world, introducing humanity—people, lifetimes, names, memories—where none had previously existed. This alone will be what perpetuates the Titanic’s legacy another 100 years.

Dogging the Details 38°52′18.90″N,  77° 1′9.68″W


Titanic Memorial, Washington, DC

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter meansThe Titanic Memorial is located where P Street, SW dead-ends into the channel; once you’re in the vicinity, blue way-finding signs point you in the right direction. On a weekday, it’s pretty easy to find nearby parking either at meters by Arena Stage or in 2-hour spaces along 4th Street, SW. If traveling by Metrorail, the nearest stop is the Waterfront-SEU station at the intersection of M and 4th Streets, SW.

Visiting the memorial scores a “1” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter for the easy, flat walk. The memorial is usually fairly deserted, although the  Titanic 100th anniversary fanfare is bound to raise its profile. The Southwest DC Heritage Project is holding an elaborate TITANIC 100 commemorative event at the memorial on April 14, 2012. The program will feature 50-foot archival images projected onto a nearby building, luminaries lit in memory of the 1,500 people who died, and a live performance of “Nearer My God to Thee,” the last song that the Titanic’s onboard musicians played before the ship sank.

One final note on the subject of the Titanic: research into nearly every conceivable angle of the voyage continues to turn up the occasional new tidbit. Among the latest is that there were apparently 12 dogs aboard the Titanic; only 3 survived.

Play Ball!

 

Pups in the Park 2011It’s Opening Day for Major League Baseball 2012! For many, it signals a prelude to summer with baseball being the quintessential pastime, as American as Mom and apple pie. But did you know your dog can get a piece of the action, too? For the 2012 season, a record 16 MLB  franchises are welcoming dogs to their ballparks as part of regular season, individual game promotions. Kudos to the Astros, Athletics, Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants, Indians, Marlins, Mets, Nationals, Padres, Pirates, Rangers, Reds, Royals, and White Sox for embracing dogs and dog lovers among their fan bases!

Depending upon the stadium, the concept of ballparks going to the dogs gets billed under various monikers (Bark in the Park, Dog Days, Puppypalooza…you get the idea), but since Tavish the Intrepid Pup‘s home team is the Washington Nationals, we’re featuring Pups in the Park.

This is the Nationals’ fourth year catering to dogs, and the club has increased its number of Pups in the Park games to four for the 2012 season. Although all of Outfield Reserved sections 140-143 are designated for dogs and their human companions, don’t delay in securing your seats as they do tend to sell out quickly. It’s no wonder. It’s a great event in a classy stadium—the first major pro stadium LEED Silver Certified by the U.S. Green Building Council—where cherry trees line the concourse, President mascots race, and the left field backdrop is the U.S. Capitol dome.

For everyone’s safety and enjoyment, a few basic rules apply for Pups in the Park. Dogs must be on leash and can’t outnumber the people in your party, and you’ll be asked to sign a waiver with proof of your dog’s current vaccinations in order to enter the ballpark. Stadium staff and event volunteers really do seem to have anticipated the dogs’ needs. What is usually set up as the Family Picnic Area near Section 143 is converted to a water station and “relief” area for the dogs. Yes indeed, there’s really a giant patch of artificial turf on which your dog can do its business. Sharing an Xtreme Loaded hot dog with your pup is your call, but since your dog can’t accompany you to any of the concessions beyond the Pups sections, you can either leave your dog to enjoy the game in the stands with another member of your group or enlist temporary help from the legions of official Pet Sitters stationed at the landings. You’ll absolutely kick yourself for leaving your camera at home, but if you do happen to forget, FanPhoto photographers roam the stands throughout the game. When they snap your photo for free, they’ll hand you a card with a link to where you can review the photos afterward in an online gallery. Like what you see? With just a few clicks, you can order and pay for prints and other products imprinted with your game day images.

Just being in the stadium with hundreds of dogs is a blast. Given the sheer numbers, they’re surprisingly quiet and well-behaved. They come in all shapes, sizes and breeds. Many sport their “Natitude” with Nats bandannas, jerseys, and other team-inspired red and white gear. As you might expect, there’s  “pup”-ular dog-centric scoreboard entertainment and no shortage of  “Who Let the Dogs Out?” snatches played over the PA system. And you can’t help but smile when you look out and see the backs (okay, and often the fronts) of dog heads intermingled among the rows of fans.

Pups in the Park 2011

Tavish meets Steve Garvey!

The extent of the Nats’ Pups in the Parks promotions varies by game and sponsor, so check the listings to see what might be happening during your game. Our first Pups outing was a Nats-Marlins match-up last May. We were treated to the pre-game antics of Tillman the skateboarding bulldog and Norman the scooter-riding dog. Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods® was a sponsor (yes, the same Dick from Eight is Enough fame), so all the dogs received reusable totes filled with Natural Balance treats and swag. While we were waiting in line to enter, Natural Balance’s spokesman, ten-time All Star and National League MVP Steve Garvey, put in an appearance and made an impromptu call for dogs from the crowd to show off their tricks. Tavish ended up being one of four dogs to perform for the future Hall of Famer (see photo)! Adding to the fun was that this was the one Pups game of the season to include a Pup Parade. There was no additional fee beyond the ticket price to participate; it simply meant getting to the stadium earlier than we would have otherwise. But it was well worth it to be ushered en masse through the tunnel onto the outfield warning track to circle the field before the game. With officials making sure we literally stayed on track (no rogue dogs tearing up the infield, please!), this was a view that relatively few outside baseball ever get to see or experience.

Look for the Intrepid Pup in the stands at one of this season’s games. He’ll be there. Go, Nats!

Pups in the Park 2011

Dogging the Details

38°52’21.57″ N,  77° 0’26.09″ W
Nationals Park, Washington, DC

3 on the Wag-A-Meter Pups  in the Park maxes out the Intrepid Pup’s Wag-A-Meter at a rare “3” for being uniquely fun for canines and humans alike. This is a real treat!

When purchasing tickets online, don’t just navigate to an advertised Pups in the Parks game date, select any seat, and assume you can bring your dog. Nope, it doesn’t work that way. Though it might seem a bit less intuitive for first-time users, Pups tickets are actually sold under the web banner of GROUP tickets/Group Theme Games. In 2012 you’ll be purchasing a $22 ticket for yourself and a reduced-price $8 ticket for your dog, the latter of which benefits the Washington Humane Society. Once you’ve purchased tickets online for one Pups game, chances are you’ll be on the Nats’ email list to receive updates about future ones.

Some extra tips:

  • Pups in the Park 2011Parking is ample, but fees directly correlate to proximity to the ballpark and can get pricey. The clear message here is to walk, bike (yes, there are numerous bike racks outside the stadium!), take Metro to the Navy Yard stop, board a bus, or hop a DC water taxi or one of the special Baseball Boats running a 35-minute cruise from Alexandria, Virginia. But if you’re bringing your dog, you’ll find that many of these either don’t allow pets or require that they be crated, so you pretty much have to find a place to park and then walk. The Nationals website highlights the options, the least expensive of which (for an individual game, i.e. not part of a package deal of games/parking) are $10 and $15 parking lots about a mile away. Note that pre-paying for parking via the website does allow for the convenience of printing out your voucher at home but does carry an additional service fee.
  • Remember that DC summers are hot and, above all, humid. If your dog doesn’t tolerate the heat well, select from the available Pups dates accordingly.
  • If you happen to be attending one of the Pups games that is preceded by a Pup Parade, note that you’ll be lining up outside the stadium well beforehand. Be sure to have poly bags and plenty of water on hand. It can get warm standing in line with tons of other people and dogs.
  • Dogs of all sizes are welcome, but Team Tavish did observe a few of the larger breeds finding it a bit harder to get comfortable in their seats.

 

Ode to a Duke

Duke Ellington Memorial

Word had it there was a new statue in town. It was no April Fool’s Day joke, so Tavish the Intrepid Pup was on the case. Our trek on Sunday, April 1, 2012, took us to the intersection of Florida Avenue and T Street, N.W. in Washington, DC, where we found the recently-installed memorial to DC native son and jazz legend Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899 – 1974). Entitled Encore, the 20-foot stainless steel sculpture on a granite base is the work of artist Zachary Oxman, whom DC’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities selected in a design competition. A work crew had gingerly craned the sculpture into place on Ellington Plaza just a few days earlier on March 29th. It depicts Duke Ellington at a piano, the keyboard of which soars upward like a melody itself. Ellington is perched on an oversized treble clef adapted from Ellington’s own handwritten musical scores.

Ellington’s childhood was spent in several different family homes all in the vicinity of Howard University. He began taking piano lessons at about age 8. As a teenager he worked as a soda jerk, and at age 14, he composed his first original score, Soda Fountain Rag. Because Team Tavish can’t resist a good canine reference, we have to add that this song became more commonly known as Poodle Dog Rag, taking its name for the Poodle Dog Cafe, a Georgia Avenue establishment where Ellington often played. Ellington left DC for New York in 1923 but frequently returned for performances, contributing to a vibrant African American music and theater scene in DC that also featured the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, Pearl Bailey, and Cab Calloway. In his lifetime Ellington composed more than 3,000 songs (think Take the “A” Train, It Don’t Mean a Thing, and Mood Indigo) and gave some 20,000 concerts in the United States and abroad. For a city that proudly claims Ellington’s roots and has several things Ellington—among them: the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a robust Ellington collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and many references along Cultural Tourism DC’s Georgia Avenue/Pleasant Plains and Greater U Street Heritage Trails—it’s high time there’s a statue for him, too.

Dogging the Details

38°54′55.96″N,  77°1′14.37″W
Duke Ellington Plaza, Washington, DC

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter meansAfter viewing Encore, we continued on our walk eastward down the block into the LeDroit Park Historic District, an architecturally and historically significant subdivision dating to the mid 1870s. The excursion earns a “1” on the Wag-A-Meter as it’s pleasant and easy to take everything in within a short distance. An unexpected bonus on the return was that we discovered Bistro Bohem at the corner of 6th Street and Florida Avenue, N.W. Drawn by the Czech flag flying above the entrance (a member of Team Tavish has Czech heritage), we stopped to take a look at the menu posted outside. Much to our surprise, a man burst through the door moments later and enthusiastically rushed to pet Tavish, who loved every minute of it. Turns out that this vizsla-phile is a former vizsla owner and none other than Bistro Bohem founder Jarek Mika. We happened to catch Mika in the gap between the lunch and dinner shifts on just his 10th day in business offering a modern twist on classic Eastern European cuisine. We plan to return to the restaurant sans the Intrepid Pup, but in the meantime, it was refreshing to see that Mika had completely renovated a rundown, vacant building. When we said we’d just been to see the Ellington statue, Mika agreed that it’s already proven to be a nice addition to the streetscape. As sculptor Oxman noted in his original concept for the Ellington Encore piece “[The treble clef] is used as the entry to a musical score, just as this sculpture represents the gateway to this community.” Truly this is neighborhood experiencing a rebirth. Nearby Shaw’s Tavern has recently re-opened under new ownership. A block of condominiums is being developed incorporating the brickwork facades of the original storefronts. And, finally there’s the historic 1910 Howard Theatre. Once the “largest colored theatre in the world” drawing to its stage such icons as Booker T. Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, the Duke himself, and later, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Brown, Aretha Franklin and others, this arts landmark had languished in neglect upon shuttering in the early 1980s. In the wake of a $29 million restoration begun in 2010, the Howard Theatre will be celebrating its grand re-opening on April 12, 2012. Indeed, as Ellington might say, it’s enough to get you “in a sentimental mood.”

“Knowledge is the Prime Need of the Hour”: Women’s History Month and Mary McLeod Bethune

 

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House

Every March the United States officially observes Women’s History Month—an outgrowth of both  International Women’s Day and, in 1981, a congressional resolution for a “Women’s History Week.”  In recent years the month has been ascribed a theme, with March 2012’s being “Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment.”

One who personified this theme through her own works was Mary McLeod Bethune (1875 – 1955), daughter of former slaves, educator, key political influencer, and founder of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in 1935. The Intrepid Pup recently visited two sites, both in the nation’s capital under the aegis of the National Park Service, to learn more.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House is tucked within a row of stately townhomes in a residential section of northwest Washington off Logan Circle. For the price of $15,500 in 1943, the property became not only Bethune’s residence but also the official headquarters for the NCNW. The site has been administered by the Park Service since 1994. On the day of our visit, we were welcomed by a college undergraduate serving in the Park Service’s Student Career Experience Program. She invited us first to listen to a recording of Bethune speaking at an event in 1955 just a few months prior to her death. Hearing Bethune’s actual voice was a good introduction to someone we previously knew very little about, and it gave us the impression of a strong yet humble woman with a commanding presence. The ranger gave a brief orientation on the highlights of the home’s history, encouraging us to explore the rooms and interpretive displays on the first two floors. She checked on us several times to answer our questions. We had the house to ourselves that weekend afternoon. Just beyond the reach of the tour bus throngs on the National Mall, this historic site is not a high-traffic destination. Yet contributing to its appeal is the very fact that in providing a personal, intimate experience it is in marked contrast with its crowded counterparts. Our knowledge and appreciation of Bethune expanded exponentially as we uncovered details about her upbringing in poverty and perseverance in starting Florida’s Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls (now Bethune-Cookman University)  in 1904 fueled only by desire and $1.50. It seems fitting that today the university offers a master’s degree program in transformative leadership. It was also fascinating to learn of Bethune’s role in championing African American women’s involvement in the war effort and of her official capacities in the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman administrations.

Mary McLeod Bethune memorial in Lincoln Park

About a mile and half away from the Council House as the crow flies is Bethune in monumental form. Sculpted in bronze by New York artist Robert Berks (1922-2011), the statue grouping emphasizes Bethune as educator, literally and figuratively imparting her legacies to a boy and girl. Around the base are inscribed excerpts from her last will and testament which Bethune also holds in her outstretched left hand. The oft-repeated refrain “I leave you…” is completed by such powerful concepts as “hope”, “a thirst for education,” and “racial dignity.” The monument itself has an interesting history. It’s located in Lincoln Park 11 blocks due east of the U. S. Capitol Building. Book-ending the rectangular plot of open space maintained by the Park Service are the Bethune memorial and, sited directly opposite, the famous Freedmen’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln (also known as the “Emancipation Grouping”) which was paid for entirely by freed slaves and sculpted by Thomas Ball in 1875.  The original intent had been for the dedication of a Bethune memorial to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1963, but the entire project was delayed. With funding from the NCNW, the Bethune monument was ultimately unveiled in 1974 on what would have been Bethune’s 99th birthday. Adding the Bethune memorial to the park also resulted in turning the Freedman’s Memorial 180 degrees so the two groupings would face each other.

If the Bethune memorial’s roughly faceted, somewhat abstract style looks familiar, it’s because Robert Berks sculpted several high-profile pieces. In DC alone, one can most readily see other examples of his handiwork in the 22-foot seated Albert Einstein memorial (1979) outside the National Academy of Sciences and in the 8-foot, 3000-pound bronze bust of John F. Kennedy (1971) gracing the Grand Foyer of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In a city dotted with literally hundreds of statues, monuments, and memorials, Berks’ Bethune sculpture represented the first honoring a woman (let alone an African American woman) installed on public park land in the nation’s capital.

Dogging the Details

38°54′29.31″N,  77° 1′50.29″W
Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, Washington, DC

38°53′23.19″N,  76°59′21.13″W
Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial, Lincoln Park, Washington, DC

wag-a-meter set at 2There is no fee charged to explore the Bethune Council House. While dogs understandably aren’t allowed inside, the neighborhood itself has sidewalks and is great for dog-walking.

Lincoln Park is exceptionally dog-friendly and what earns this Bethune-themed expedition a “2” on the Wag-a-meter.  In fact, the park’s entire center concourse is basically one big unfenced and very popular dog run. So long as your dog plays well with others, it’s among the top spots to rub noses with the canine denizens of Capitol Hill. During our visit,  Tavish encountered 3 weimaraners, a doberman, a rottweiler, a basset hound, a Wheaton terrier, a miniature greyhound, a Boston terrier, and a shepherd mix.

Important to note is that Lincoln Park is not an officially-designated city dog park. There are trash cans, but bring your own your poly bags to clean up after your dog.

A Blossoming Tradition

100th anniversary cherry blossoms

Think spring in Washington, DC and it’s synonymous with cherry blossoms. For a fleeting few days the frothy, confectionery splendor of more than 3,700 blooming cherry trees transforms the already-stunning National Mall and Memorial Parks. What makes 2012’s vernal display all the more special is that it marks the centennial of the gift of 3,020 trees from Japan. With this 100th anniversary comes an unprecedented five weeks (March 20 – April 27, 2012) of celebratory events throughout the city, ranging from concerts, special exhibitions, and performances highlighting Japanese culture, to fireworks, a kite festival, and the annual parade. The Cherry Blossom Festival, which has been an annual event in some form since 1935, today partners with the National Park Service, which in turn is offering its own activities and special ranger talks from March 24 – April 15, 2012.

The trees themselves are likely among the most scrutinized and closely monitored in the country. Tracking green buds, florets, and peduncle elongation, the National Park Service keeps meticulous data on the five stages of blossom development. While there are multiple types of cherry trees in the park, the most prevalent is the Yoshino, so the Park Service defines peak bloom as specifically being “when 70% of the blossoms of the Yoshino Cherry trees are open.” The historical average predicts the peak bloom date to be April 4th, but Mother Nature is notoriously fickle. A cold snap or a warm spell can move that date significantly in either direction, and once the blossoms are out, all it takes is one good gusty thunderstorm to toss all the pink petals from the trees.

Seeing the blossoms with the Intrepid Pup has become an annual tradition, but getting to the trees can be an adventure unto itself. The Metrorail system or biking are by far the best bets, but if you’re bringing your dog along, you’ll have to find an alternate means of transportation. Parking anywhere close to the Tidal Basin during the peak of the blossoms is a fantasy, so consider parking further away and walking back. Pedicabs seem to be a viable option, as we saw a lady and her pug zip by in one on our own most recent walk en route to the blossoms.

Bear in mind that while the outdoor venues of the National Mall and Memorial Parks are dog-friendly, you must keep your dog leashed at all times and prevent your dog from entering the Tidal Basin waters or any of the pools or fountains. As a general rule, dogs are not allowed in the inner sanctum (i.e. where the statue is) of any memorial, but Team Tavish has found that simply asking a park ranger for clarification on the boundaries is both appreciated and avoids any unnecessary confusion. And, as it turns out, many of the rangers really like dogs. The ranger we met at the Jefferson Memorial last week has been with the National Park Service for more than 20 years and was genuinely pleased to see us out exploring the monuments and blossoms with Tavish. Though the ranger regretted that she couldn’t permit him past the exterior columns on the façade, she went out of her way to give the Intrepid Pup a commemorative 100th anniversary cherry blossom pin bearing Paddles the beaver, a Park Service cartoony “mascot” that otherwise cautions visitors not to pick the blossoms. Opportunistic beavers have long tried to gnaw on the cherry tree trunks, but the ranger confided that the mesh barriers one sees around the cherry trees are good deterrents and that she had seen more raccoons and foxes than beavers so far this spring.

Dogging the Details

38°53′06.39″ N, 77°02′11.27″ W
National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, DC

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter meansAs mentioned above, if you don’t already live in the DC area, timing your visit to see the blossoms at their peak can be an inexact science. And be prepared to do miles of walking to fully appreciate them. For these reasons, the festival gets a “2” on the Wag-a-meter.

The Yoshino cherry trees concentrated around the Tidal Basin seem to attract the greatest flocks of blossom-gazers, and the narrow 2.1-mile walkway encircling the water’s edge can become quite congested. If you or your dog aren’t fond of pedestrian traffic jams, you have a couple of choices. Either plan your walk for the early to mid morning or late afternoon hours on a weekday (the lunch hour and nice weekends bring out tourists and locals) or stray off the well-beaten path. The Washington Monument grounds are much more open, absorb a lot of people, and boast numerous cherry trees representing yet another gift from Japan, this one to Lady Bird Johnson in 1965. Or, just a short distance east of the Jefferson Memorial you’ll find access to Ohio Drive, SW. This road and adjacent sidewalk loop 4.1 miles around East Potomac Park and Hains Point, and the whole way is lined with cherry trees! While your vistas from here won’t be of the monuments, you will have lovely views of the Washington Channel and the Virginia banks of the Potomac River. It’s on this route that you’ll discover completely different species of cherry trees: Kwanzan, Japanese weeping cherries, Takesimensis, Yama-zakura, and a single Okame cherry tree. There’s also an interesting grove of cherry trees on the golf course—land once a research area for the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—that likely represent the oldest anywhere in the park. Although 1912 is commonly cited as the year of the gift of the celebrated trees, Japan actually first sent 2,000 trees to Washington two years earlier in 1910. Sadly, those trees arrived with infestations, and after unsuccessful treatments, President Taft—at the recommendation of the USDA—ordered that they all be burned. It appears, however, that the precious few in this outcropping miraculously survived.

Finally, be sure to bring a camera. Pale pink cherry blossoms against granite memorials and a clear blue sky ought to be on your “bucket list” of backdrops for great family photographs.