July 10, 2014 | by Justin Peligri
STAYCATION: Step back in time
Octagon House, gay news, Washington Blade, step back in time

The Octagon House was the former residence of President James Madison during the War of 1812. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. boasts a burgeoning music, arts and nightlife scene for all generations to step back in time. But the city is also known for its rich history, spanning nearly three centuries. This summer, visit some of the District’s most colorful and time-tested landmarks.

Start at the Congressional Cemetery (1801 E St., S.E.) along the Anacostia River, open every day from dawn to dusk for tourists. There’s also a popular dog-walking club but there’s a waiting list to join. Call ahead and schedule a visit to the 30-acre cemetery, established in 1807 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2011. When you get there, scout out the tombstones of J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI long rumored to be gay, and Leonard Matlovich, the first gay soldier to publicly out himself in protest of the military’s ban on gay members. For more information, visit congressionalcemetery.org.

If you live in the area, chances are you’ve already visited Arlington Cemetery. But this time, make sure you take a tour of the Arlington House (321 Sherman Dr., Fort Myer, Va.), the former residence of Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Schedule some time to tour the house, built by slaves between 1802 and 1818, as well as the flower garden and the slave quarters on the plantation grounds. For more information, visit nps.gov.

If one Civil War-themed outing isn’t enough, head to Ford’s Theatre (511 10th St., N.W.), the site of former President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination shortly after the conclusion of the war. Book tickets in advance for “One Destiny,” a 35-minute reconstruction of the sequences of events the night Lincoln was shot, showing at various times this summer. Walk across the street to the Petersen House, which showcases Lincoln’s deathbed. For details about show times and museum hours, visit fords.org.

For a step even further back in time, visit the Octagon House (1799 New York Ave., N.W.) the temporary residence of President James Madison and his wife during the War of 1812 where they sought refuge after the White House was burned to the ground by British soldiers. The home, designed by the original architect of the U.S. Capitol, now serves as the home of the American Institute of Architects. To schedule a private or group tour, visit theoctagon.org.

Christ Church (620 G St., S.E.), built in the late 1700s, is where presidents including James Madison and Thomas Jefferson and renowned American composer John Philip Sousa spent their Sunday mornings. And you can too: the District’s first Episcopal church hosts Sunday services at 9 and 11 a.m. To learn more about one of the oldest places of worship in the city, visit washingtonparish.org.

The recently renovated Howard Theatre (620 T St. N.W.) has been a Mecca for D.C. black theatergoers for decades. Recently, the performance hall has hosted renowned celebrities including Wanda Sykes and Chaka Khan. The venue has been a community mainstay through the ages, featuring jazz age performers like Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington and Motown legends like Stevie Wonder and the Supremes. Originally built in 1910, the theatre has a jam-packed list of shows and events to choose from, including R&B singer Carl Thomas and weekly Sunday soul food brunch featuring the Harlem Gospel Choir. For information about events and ticket prices, visit thehowardtheatre.com.

Stop by the Heuric House (1307 New Hampshire Ave., N.W.), a Victorian-style house and museum built in the late 1890s by German immigrant Christian Heuric, who ran his own brewing company. Tours of the building are offered Thursdays through Saturday. The house and museum also hosts History and Hops featuring beer from local brewery Devil’s Backbone, Thursday (July 17) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Guests must be at least 21 years old. Tickets are $30. Sign up at heurichhouse.org.

While we’re on the subject of beer, don’t forget to grab a drink at local historic bars, including the Round Robin and Scotch Bar (1401 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.), where civil rights activist Martin Luther King scripted his “I Have a Dream Speech,” and Off The Record (800 16th St., N.W.), the stomping grounds for famous politicians and journalists, located just one block away from the White House. For a slightly younger crowd, visit The Tombs (1226 36th St., N.W.), popular among Georgetown University students since its construction in the 1960s. The dark interior features pictures from the World War I era. The bar is located in the basement of Restaurant 1789, a classier spot with a more expensive menu.

People looking to escape the Beltway for an afternoon should visit former President George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate in Mount Vernon, Va., a 500-acre expanse along the Potomac River. To sign up for a small tour, which also stops in Old Town Alexandria, visit dctours.us.

Tourists who can’t settle on just one historic site should sign up for a walking ghost tour, a historic, theatrical and slightly scary guided trip through D.C. To sign up for a 90-minute Capitol Hill tour, visit scarydc.com. For a tour along Georgetown’s historic cobblestone sidewalks, sign up for a walking tour, starting at the Old Stone House (3051 M St. N.W.) and concluding at the famed steps featured in “The Exorcist” at freetoursbyfoot.com.

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