Friday, October 31, 2014

Photos on Friday: Happy Halloween!

Today's Photos on Friday is short and sweet - Happy Halloween! Hope you have a happy and safe evening and a fun weekend as October comes to a close.

A few scenes from Northern Virginia... 

Pumpkinville in Leesburg in 2009

Gunston Hall entrance Oct. 2014


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fall family fun: Last weekend's 'Halloween at Gunston Hall'

Last weekend Gunston Hall held a fun Halloween event. If you haven't been to the museum and enjoy history or architecture, I highly recommend a visit. I'd visited the property a few times, however, what I didn't realize was the site also held various annual events throughout the year.

During one of my last visits to Gunston, the home of George Mason, I was told about its Halloween event, so I put a note on my calendar to attend this year. If you aren't familiar with Mason (not being a native Virginian, I wasn't!), he wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights and was one of the framers of the U.S. Constitution. Anyway, that is another story and another post. 

The event on Sat., Oct. 25 was a lot of fun. Set up to be fun with a splash of spooky, the event included face painting, pumpkin painting, storytelling, mask-making, burying ground tours by lantern and much more. 

Entrance to the mansion
A family fun event - while the kids were getting faces painted, some adults got tattoos.


Who is lurking in the basement - BOO!
Entrance to the Mason family cemetery. There was some unusual stuff going on in there on Oct. 25!
Additionally, regular house tours were available (which of course, I took again as the architecture and inside design is beautiful). The event was held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and a good time was had by all.

Look who was lurking in the pathway to the Mason family cemetery....

The next event will be held on Veterans' Day to honor the men and women who have served. Tours will also explain how George Mason helped create an army and a navy for Virginia. On Sat., Dec. 6 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Gunston Hall will hold "Plantation Christmas". Visitors can ride in a horse-drawn carriage, sip warm cider by a fire and taste Colonial-era food prepared in the property's kitchen. Santa is also going to make an appearance.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Photos on Friday: Fall foliage on Skyline Drive (2014)

Today's Photos on Friday brings us back to Skyline Drive. A couple of weeks ago I posted some images from 2012 in anticipation of this year's beautiful autumn scenery. Our drive last weekend did not disappoint. In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we took the ride from Front Royal, Va. all the way down to the end, near Charlottesville. It took a few hours, and we made several stops at the overlooks along the way.

I hope you enjoy these photos as much as we enjoyed the ride downstate.

Farms and homes in the Shenandoah Valley can be seen with pretty fall foliage (and shadows from the clouds)

Fall foliage as viewed from one of the overlooks along Skyline Drive in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley

Trees growing on the side of a mountain on Skyline Drive

The mountains and fields were bursting with color in some areas. Other (taller) mountains had already passed peak foliage we noticed as we drove south on Skyline Drive.

Some areas were still very much green

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Civil War battlefields in Virginia

Virginia was the center of much Civil War Activity. The American Civil War was a divisive war that changed U.S. history forever, with long repercussions in its aftermath. It also sent the country in a new direction. Many of the battles during the war took place right here in Northern Virginia. Today, many of these hallowed grounds have been preserved and opened to the public. 

According to the National Park Service (NPS), a total of 122 battles were fought in the State of Virginia during the Civil War. I invite you to read more in another article I've written on another platform.

Manassas Battlefield as it stands today. Two different battles took place in this area of Northern Virginia

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Haunted places in Washington D.C.

It's the time of year where the sunny days of summer are long gone and the slightly brisk temperatures of autumn are starting to emerge in the D.C. Metro area.

It is also the season where people turn their attention to fall festivities and haunted locations. And the Washington D.C. area purportedly has a lot of them. Many of the haunted locations are very prominent in the city, yet others are more obscure. Some of the alleged most haunted places are as follows:

White House - Reportedly, the White House is occupied by a few ghosts - Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison. First ladies Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison have also purportedly made themselves known in the presidential home. 

President Lincoln is said to make the most appearances. Although, according to CBS News, several presidents and members of various White House staffs have heard and seen many ghostly appearances over the years.

front view of the White House
Photo credit: Leigh Goessl

The Octagon House - Noted by a number of websites to be haunted, The Octagon House was reported by D.C. Curbed to be the most haunted spot in the District. It is said people have heard "girls screaming, spectres climbing the stairs, bells ringing and even first lady Dolley Madison wandering the premises." The house dates the turn of the 18th century and it seems many of its earliest inhabitants have never left the premises.

Lafayette Square Park - A 19th century shooting is said to be the reasoning behind the park being haunted in the subsequent centuries. Philip Barton Key II, the son of Francis Scott Key, was shot by a friend named Daniel Sickles due to having an affair with his wife. Key is not the only ghost said to be living in the park, President Andrew Jackson is also said to keep a presence.

Ford's Theatre -This was a popular theatre (and still is today), but it landed in history books due to being the location where President Lincoln was assassinated. reports the shooter, actor John Wilkes Booth, can still be heard running up and down the halls. 
Balcony where President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth

Woodrow Wilson House - It is said President Woodrow Wilson, who died in the third floor bedroom in 1924, continues to make himself known in the modern day. People have said they've seen the President in his rocking chair and walking with a cane. 

"Black Aggie" statue - Updated for 2015, I just learned about this one after I was told about a story that aired on TV last week. Reportedly, this statue has a reputation for being "evil" with tales of red glowing eyes, bare ground where no grass would grow in its shadow and even death, to name a few. It originally was on a grave in Maryland and, after being vandalized many times, the family donated it to be displayed in a museum, but it sat in storage. 

Today it sits in a courtyard located in Lafayette Square (behind the Dolley Madison House). One day I'll probably walk by to take a look. This website gives a detailed description of its history, including the fact it was a stolen design from a different grave statue. 

These are a few of the more famous spots that are said to be haunted, but they are far from the only locations. Even the U.S. Capitol is said to have a few ghostly residents, including James Garfield, John Quincy Adams and some U.S. representatives. 


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Smithsonian's Boo at the Zoo to Fright with Delight

The Smithsonian National Zoo is getting ready for its annual "Boo at the Zoo" event; the event is a popular one in the D.C. area. The Zoo says this year it is offering 40 "not-so-spooky" treat stations, animal demos, chats with the zookeepers and decorations galore.

Many of the animals will be awake (note: The panda exhibit will not be open).

Visitors are invited to wear their costumes and numerous treats and goodies will be offered. The event will be held from Oct. 24 through Oct. 26, 2014 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The zoo recommends this event is age appropriate for kids 4 to 12 years of age.  

Tickets are available online through Ticketmaster. Members of FONZ can get discounted tickets (limit of 6 tickets at $20), and non-members ($30) - it looks like there is also a processing fee. For more information, please see the National Zoo's website

Friday, October 17, 2014

Photos on Friday: Post-earthquake repairs on the Washington Monument

On Aug. 23, 2011 the East Coast felt an unusual level of earthquake activity, its epicenter was in Mineral, Va., about 90 miles from Washington, D.C. It really shook the entire Capital region with its 5.8 magnitude, and had caused damage to many landmarks and other properties.

I actually missed it all as I was out in West Virginia that day tubing on the river from Harper's Ferry with family and friends. When we came out of the water, we learned the news that had happened less than an hour earlier. While we missed the actual shaking, the effects in the earthquake's aftermath were very visible. 

Today's Photos on Friday shows the repair work in stages done on the Washington Monument. Work was completed earlier this year and, after almost three years of being fenced off, this past May visitors were allowed back inside.

Taken in March 2013, you can see the scaffolding being erected
Taken in May 2013
Image taken during the Cherry Blossom Festival in April 2014. The scaffolding was removed and the monument would soon be open to the public once again. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Skyline Caverns -- A look at the rare anthodites

A couple of months ago I did a post about Skyline Caverns -- it is located in Front Royal, Virginia, about 90 minutes from downtown D.C. It's a great trip at any given time of the year due to the constant 54-degree temperatures in the cavern.

Over the years I've visited a few different cavern sites and each one is unique in its own way. There are a few things that are special and unique about Skyline Caverns, probably the most being it possesses anthodites, a rare formation that occurs in caves. Anthodites are also referred to as the "Orchids of the Mineral Kingdom."

Defined, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), states, "Aragonite, a calcium carbonate mineral similar to calcite but not as common, often occurs in intricate needles known as anthodites."

Discovered in the 1930s by Dr. Walter Amos and his crew, the anthodites at Skyline Caverns were totally accidental. On the tour visitors learn one of the workers had gotten a shovel stuck in the mud and it took many men to help pull it out. As the men loosened the shovel, an explosion-like force occurred. What they found was astonishing.

Rare Anthodites at Skyline Caverns
Rare Anthodites in various growth stages

Anthodites at Skyline Caverns

Remarkably, the crew had stumbled upon an air vacuum. By yanking the shovel out, that seal had been broken. While common in outer space, it is a rare occurrence on Earth. However, breaking the seal did prevent the anthodites from growing any further. The ones found by Amos and his crew are now eternally preserved in four stages of growth. Really neat to see, especially if you are fascinated by this kind of thing.

rare anthodites
These anthodites are preserved and no longer growing
Truly exquisite in nature, for the most part scientists are puzzled as to how they form. Although, the mystery is said to add to their beauty. Skyline is one of the few places in the world where the public can see them. Seeing the beautiful handiwork of Mother Nature up close and realizing the secrets she holds up is a memorable experience.

The largest of the anthodites at Skyline

For information about tour times, admission and other relevant information, you can also visit Skyline's website.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Photos on Friday: Civil War Cannons at Manassas National Battlefield Park

In the Northern Virginia region (including Maryland and lower Pennsylvania), a lot of battle action took place during the Civil War. The National Park Service (NPS) has done a remarkable job preserving this era in history. Today's Photos on Friday takes a look at the Civil War era cannons on display at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

civil war cannons
Cannon located at the Henry Hill Visitor Center. There are a number of cannons to be seen throughout the grounds

Civil war cannons
A closer view shows a 19th century time stamp

Civil war cannons
Civil War era cannon

Civil war cannons
Another view of a cannon. At Manassas, there were various dates and cities stamped on the cannons located on the battlefield