Now the Memorials Are in Neighborhoods

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 25, 2001 | Go to article overview

Now the Memorials Are in Neighborhoods


Byline: Lisa Rauschart

"A lot of people ask why we're not on the Mall," says Frank Smith, director of the new African American Civil War Memorial and Museum in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest. "But actually, we like having things right in our neighborhood."

Thanks to the National Capital Planning Commission's decision to locate new memorials outside the old monumental core of the city, new interest and new life are coming to Washington's neighborhoods. In addition to new and refurbished memorials, neighborhoods from Anacostia to the Palisades are offering their own treasures, places and museums off the beaten path that reveal a smaller, more intimate town.

Traveling with children? Washington's offbeat attractions offer some of the best chances for hands-on history, serendipitous learning and just plain fun. Ever thought of practicing mental math in a cemetery? How about seeing the 19th-century world in miniature in a dollhouse featured in a mystery story?

Find out more about the Civil War, walk through one of the best-preserved examples of 19th-century architecture and learn what it was like to grow up in the District. All it takes is a quick Metro ride from downtown.

Located at Vermont Avenue and U Street NW, the African American Civil War Memorial is a short trip up Metro's Green line from downtown Washington. Inscribed on its base are the names of 209,000 individuals, black and white, who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

"People need to see what has been left out of history," Mr. Smith says. "The landscape of America is dotted with monuments, markers and other things that don't tell the whole story."

Starting late this month, a new African American Civil War Museum opens at 1200 U St. NW in the old True Reformer's Hall building (202/667-2667). At the museum, researchers and other interested parties have an opportunity to search for relatives on the museum's database. Youngsters are assigned their own soldier, whose name and regiment they can locate on the memorial wall. Each of the Howard University students that Mr. Smith hopes to interest in the project will get his or her own personal soldier to remember.

"If they're feeling depressed or too sleepy to study, I'd like them to remember the people who fought for them to be in the place that they are now," he says. "Each of us has the responsibility to go back into our community to inspire others to do better."

The Shaw neighborhood surrounding the museum, once considered the heartbeat of black Washington, is home to the historic Lincoln Theatre, the Center for the Preservation of Jazz and Blues and some of the most diverse restaurants in town. Ben's Chili Bowl, at 1213 U St. NW, has been a neighborhood institution since 1958. Around the corner, at 1940 11th St. NW, Jinny French's Fine Southern and Southwestern Cuisine features fish fried the old-fashioned way, crisp and clean-tasting, without a trace of grease.

A cemetery may not be the first destination you have in mind when venturing off the National Mall. But Congressional Cemetery, on the edge of Capitol Hill at 1801 E St. SE, has plenty to offer the history-minded family. (Meanwhile, its 32 acres offer a chance for everyone to walk off some energy.)

Founded in 1807, the cemetery is the final resting place for some of the nation's leading citizens, including Civil War photographer Mathew Brady and the Choctaw Chief Push-Ma-Ta-Ha. John Philip Sousa and J. Edgar Hoover are there, as well.

Congressional Cemetery also features great diversity in stone styles. Its name, incidentally, comes from the cenotaphs, sandstone monuments erected to memorialize senators and members of Congress buried elsewhere.

Reading the old stones, many of which are deteriorating, is much like piecing together a puzzle. Children tend to be fascinated by the process of parsing out the words, in part because their generally superior vision often allows them to read the more delicate writing better than their parents. …

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