Hidden Gems are Waiting for You!
Sometimes when you live in a city you can forget that you live in…well…a city. Washington DC is full of beauty and interesting details, you’ve just got to get out of your apartment and go find them!
Give yourself time to get to know DC and experience that delicious feeling of really knowing your city!
1. The Space Window
High up in the National Cathedral, embedded in a window unlike the others, is a sliver of moonrock.
How did a stained glass window depicting outer space come to be in the National Cathedral?
It was actually a gift from NASA in 1974, inspired by photographs of the Apollo 11 mission.
In 1986, when the Challenger space shuttle tragedy took place, hundreds of people spontaneously came to lay flowers beneath the window.
Beneath the window is inscribed Is not God in the height of Heaven? (Job 22:12)
2.Darth Vader Gargoyle at the National Cathedral
After gazing at the space window take some binoculars outside and check out one of the gargoyles atop one of the two western towers.
This special oddity is the result of a design-a-carving competition for kids done back in the 80s when the cathedral was under construction
You can actually go on a gargoyle tour for free, May through September, but if you just want to see the gargoyle then just bring binoculars by sometime and see if you can find him!
Turns out you don’t have to go to Europe or South America to explore the underground tunnels of the dead. Turns out that the Franciscan Monastery on 14th and Quincy.
There are actually some bones to be found: a child martyr and second-century Roman soldier have been laid to rest here; both of them saints. Might as well take a tour of their famous (above ground) gardens while you are there!
Oh yeah, and it’s free! Check out their guided tour times here.
Find the Fridge (Follow the Art)
You can follow a pathway of grafitti art that leads you from a Matchbox Pizza on 8th St, deep in the Eastern Market neighborhood in South East DC, to a little alleyway between Belga cafe and Senart’s Oyster & Chop House. Here, hidden from obvious street view, is an art space and community center called The Fridge.
Check out their calendar to see if their exhibits or kid-friendly community events are right for you!
A Secret White House Entrance
This H-Street alleyway has been an open secret since the 1940s when a Congressman complained publically about the cost in a House debate.
It started off as two separate tunnels: one built in 1919 leading from the Treasury Annex to the Treasury Department headquarters and another was a 1941 bunker for FDR, leading from the White House to the Treasury Department headquarters as well.
It’s okay to walk a little bit into the tunnel, but I wouldn’t go too far.
3. J Street
You may find yourself wandering up H street, turning on to Xth and passing I street, K, L…but wait. Where is J street?
Surprise! It doesn’t exist. Neither does X, Y, or Z Street.
Turns out, I and J were just kind of used interchangeably back in the 1700s; according to snopes even the 1740 New General English Dictionary combined the “I” and “J” sections.
When it comes to X, Y and Z however, the explanation is even more utilitarian: the old city borders use to end after V Street.
4. A Haunted Stairway
Hidden deep in the hallows of Georgetown, at the corner of the 36th and Prospect St, you will find stairs built in 1895. These aren’t just any stairs; these are the iconic steps where a death scene in The Exorcist was filmed in 1973.
If you don’t recognize them from the film it would be because they were padded in black and elaborate sets were added around them to capture the effect the directors wanted. In 2015 these stairs were declared a historic landmark…so you can make your own film interpreting them any way that you want to.
5. Underground Tunnels Filled with Art
In 1961 year this underground trolly line was shut down. The 15,000 sq ft space was temporarily converted into fallout shelter during the Cold War and, interestingly, a food court in mid ‘90s. Neither project lasted for long, but now it has become an urban art space like no other, featuring graffiti murals and multimedia, technology-pushing exhibits.
Less than a mile from the White House the Dupont Underground facilities are found at 19 Dupond Circle, NW.
6. Sit with Einstein
This statue was unveiled in 1979 and it depicts Albert Einstein sitting and reading a paper with some of his most important mathematical contributions written on it. He sits around what looks like reflection pool but is actually an accurate map of the night sky.
The space is inviting but also creates a sense of reflectiveness and contemplation. One particularly memorable quote of his inscribed along the steps he sits on:
“The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.”
Look for it at 2101 Constitution Avenue, on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences.
7. “Cartwheel” Tower
During the Cold War and the looming threat of nuclear destruction, this strange tower, nicknamed “Cartwheel,” was the designated communication hub for whatever would be left of the government after an attack. It was built in 1961 and was connected to a series of towers all the way in Pennsylvania. It once housed a crew that worked the electrical generators and lived in the tower 24/7.
This one is actually closed to the public, but it can be seen from behind a fence in Fort Reno, an otherwise public park in the middle of the city.