FINDING INSPIRATIONEveryone knows about Washington, D.C.’s big statues of the founding fathers and other national figures, but visitors can reflect on many forms of heroism at lower-profile places around the city.
CLARA BARTON PARKWAY: Clarissa Barton made history as a humanitarian and a volunteer nurse — and, not least of all, as a trailblazer for women’s equality. She fought to be on the front lines of the Civil War battlefields, nursing Union soldiers under dangerous conditions. (One patient was killed by a bullet as she worked on him.) After the war, she took her crusade to help the wounded overseas, founded the American Red Cross and lobbied for women’s suffrage with Susan B. Anthony. The delightful parkway that bears her name extends into Maryland; one good reason to drive it is to get to Great Falls Park, a splendid waterfall located just over the border in Maryland, 15 miles from the Capitol.
WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL: The Washington National Cathedral is where American heroes such as Helen Keller are laid to rest. The strength of this towering landmark was tested in August 2011, when a 5.8-magnitude earthquake rattled Washington, D.C. The cathedral suffered damage to its gargoyles, flying buttresses and pinnacles. Masons stabilized the building and are now repairing it, no easy task since everything is done by hand. The Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment donated $5 million to help with the restoration effort, and a fundraising drive in late 2012 netted more than $100,000 from the public. These days, the masons can be spotted on scaffolds on the building’s spires.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT ISLAND NATIONAL MEMORIAL: Teddy’s legacy as a president includes the national parks system, so this seldom-visited park in Washington, D.C., pays appropriate homage to the conservationist. More than just a statue, his memorial is an entire island on the Potomac River. The 88-acre island is as pristine with natural growth as its creators could manage, and miles of hiking trails wind around the site. The heart of the memorial is a 17-foot-tall bronze statue of Teddy himself, hand in the air, surrounded by a fountain and stone slabs bearing some of his famous quotes. Visitors get the feeling he’d approve of his memorial.
FORT STEVENS: Late in the Civil War, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early made a desperate push to invade Washington, D.C. He got as far as Fort Stevens — located now at 13th Street and Quackenbos Street Northwest — on July 11, 1864. The fort was defended by clerks and wounded Union soldiers, but on the night of July 11, reinforcements arrived. Early’s attack, which killed hundreds on both sides, didn’t succeed, but it almost changed history. President Abraham Lincoln arrived to watch the fighting and was almost struck by sharpshooters.