We begin our journey into the truly jaded at The Washington Post, right here at 1301 K St NW. The Post has reported on so many scandals over the years...how do you pick just one? Well, we did, and we think it's a good one. Hopefully you'll agree. In the fall of 1989, A D.C.-based Republican lobbyist named Craig J. Spence was found dead from an overdose in a Boston Ritz-Carlton hotel room, in what the police said was most likely suicide. Two weeks earlier, he had hired a production company to record a seven-minute final message to his friends. One of the copies of the video he arranged to be mailed here to the Washington Post. The scandal that plagued Spence and most likely led to his suicide was in his own words, insignificant compared to other things he'd done. Uh...you're kidding? Because these accusations seem horrific enough. In a nutshell, Spence had allegedly brought underage boys and girls from foster homes into the White House for late-night tours and a prostitution ring. Later it was revealed that the underage sex scandal involved kidnapping, mind control, satanic rituals and sexual abuse. Wowsers. When asked who had given him access to the White House, Spence hinted that the tours were arranged by top level people, including a member of the Secret Service he had bribed with a Rolex, and Donald Gregg – the national security adviser to the Vice President (who at that time was George H. W. Bush). Donald Gregg denied any involvement. Hungry for more? Feel free to drop by our next stop for a bite at 14K Restaurant inside the Hamilton Hotel. They have pretty good happy hour deals from 4:00 – 7:00 weekday evenings. So when you are ready, just head west from the Washington Post building. Our next location is at the end of this block on your right.
Here we are at 1001 14th St NW - The Hamilton Hotel. Originally constructed in 1877 on the site of an old private boys school, the original four-story hotel was home to many members of Congress in the 19th century, and reportedly the place to go for political gossip. The current eleven-story, 400-room hotel opened in December 1922, and sported a ridiculously posh interior with custom furnishings, specially designed bed linens, and a lavish menu designed by some swanky chef brought down from the Plaza in New York City. The hotel hosted one of President Franklin Roosevelt's inaugural balls, and supposedly, Hollywood's singing cowboy, Gene Autry once performed with his horse Champion in the hotel's Rainbow Room. I don't envy the cleanup crew after that gig. But oh how times can change. During the 50s and 60s, the area around the former luxury hotel declined dramatically, and the clientele along with it. The elegant Rainbow Room turned into the Purple Tree cocktail lounge, and soon adult bookstores, strip joints and X-rated theaters began to pop up on 14th. Across the street, prostitutes worked Franklin Square, which was no longer a safe place to walk around and take in the sights. Today it's a boutique hotel listed as one of the Historic Hotels of America, but you can grab a burger for about 15 dollars, and a beer at happy hour is only around 5 bucks! Not bad. Another interesting thing about the Hamilton Hotel - If you happen to be an HBO fan of the political satire comedy, VEEP, you’re gonna love me for this one. Hamilton Hotel recently partnered with HBO to replicate different sets from the show VEEP, starring Julia-Louis Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, who is a caustic vice president, working with her team as they try to leave their mark on American politics. If you rent a room on the 12th floor, the lobby is a replica of Meyer’s Oval Office. If you’re lucky enough to rent the suite just down the hall, it has been overhauled to look like the interior of Meyer’s brownstone home. It’s pretty impressive because about 99% of the items and furnishings you’ll see, in the lobby and suite, are from the actual set. Even the bedside table drawers are stocked with her things. Let’s move on. Please cross over K Street. You will be heading south on 14th Street and Franklin Square Park will be on your left.
The statue on your left is of John Barry. Who? Yeah, he’s not very well known so I’ll tell you a little something about him. Barry, known as “The Father of the American Navy,” was an Irish-American officer during the American Revolutionary War. In 1797 President George Washington commissioned him to the rank of Commodore in the United States Navy. That’s not really a scandal, but when he was a young boy, his family was evicted from their home in Ireland by their British landlord. On a scale of 1-10 on scandals that probably only scores around a two and a half, but that’s all I’ve got. Carry on.
The Booz Allen Hamilton office building is to your right, and I have a couple of scandalous stories for you that involve two of their employees. Back in 2016 a Booz Allen Hamilton worker was arrested for stealing Top-Secret hacking codes from the National Security Agency. The 51 year old computer whiz was busted after the FBI searched his home and discovered the classified material on his computer. Oh, by the way, this was only three years after another Booz Allen contractor leaked thousands of classified documents that detailed the NSA’s huge global surveillance system. That guy’s name was Edward Snowden - you may have heard of him. He fled to Russia in 2013 seeking asylum and has been there ever since. Keep walking and cross over 15th Street to get to McPherson Square.
So here’s a mini-scandal for you, right here at McPherson Square. Back in October of 2011 there was a little thing called Occupy DC. It was a demonstration demanding the shift of power from the wealthiest 1% of Americans to the underrepresented 99%. Protesters occupied, meaning basically lived and slept at McPherson Square. By the time the protest was over a few months later, 6 protestors and 1 police officer had been injured and over 135 people had been arrested. The police eventually had to enforce the “No camping” rule here amidst reports of violence and a rat infestation that alarmed the health department. Yup, a rat infestation. Gross. By the way, there is a really cool statue in the middle of this park of Major General James B. McPherson on horseback. Wanna learn more? Awesome. UCPlaces has a Horse Statue tour in DC that will tell you all about some of the amazing equestrian statues in the area, And I’m not horsing around! Did you know that the big white horse depicted in almost ALL of the paintings with George Washington was actually not even his favorite horse? His favorite horse was a chestnut colored horse named Nelson and George Washington adored that horse. Learn even more about that in the UCPlaces Horse Statue tour as well. Keep walking down I Street and take the crosswalk over 15th.
Ahead on your left is the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Even though this is a tour about scandals, after all our veterans have done for us, I think we should simply show them our respect and gratitude for the sacrifices they made on our behalf. Because of them, we’re a free country, which means we are each free to make our own choices, which in some cases are scandalous, which brings us back to the tour we’re on. We love you, Veterans! Keep walking and I’ll meet you at the next intersection.
You are coming up on what is now known as Black Lives Matter Plaza. This two-block-long plaza was renamed by Mayor Murial Bowser as part of the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd. Floyd was killed during an arrest in Minnesota in 2020. White police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly 8 minutes, killing him. George Floyd was black. This sparked the George Floyd protests which spread from Minnesota to over 2,000 cities and towns in over 60 countries. Go ahead and cross over I Street to the south, so you are walking along the left hand side of Black Lives Matter Plaza.
You are getting close to a neat old church on your left. This is St. John’s Episcopal Church and it was built in 1816. Every president of the United States has attended church there at least once since 1816, starting with James Madison. Like any good church, this one has a bell in its steeple. It was made by Paul Revere’s son, and check it out - it weighs almost 1,000 pounds! And here’s another interesting little tidbit about that bell - According to at least two accounts, when the bell is rung because a notable person has passed away, 6 ghosts in white robes appear in one of the pews in the church at midnight, and then vanish. Hmmmm. If a story like this interests you, check out UCPlaces’ Georgetown Ghosts, Murder and Mayhem tour. DC is really haunted. Trust me. Ok, keep walking south toward the next destination. Cross over H Street toward Lafayette Square park.
You’ve made it to the famous Lafayette Square! We are turning left here, but don’t rush! Let’s enjoy the view of this beautiful park, along with the White House in the background, while I tell you about a scandal surrounding a marital affair and a murder. Let me set the scene for you. The year is 1859. New York Congressman Dan Sickles and his wife Teresa have been married for seven years..but Teresa has been having an affair with a guy by the name of Philip Barton Key. He is the son of Francis Scott Key, and if that name sounds familiar it’s because Francis Scott Key wrote the National Anthem. Oh Say can you see… a scandal? Hearing of the affair, Dan Sickles confronts Philip Barton Key on a street right across from Lafayette Square, where we are standing. Sickles, armed to the hilt with a few pistols, shoots Key multiple times. A fatal shot hits Key right next to the heart. A passerby picks him up and carries him into the nearby Washington Club where he dies from his injuries. How about that? And, get this - the very first time in this country’s history that a jury would accept the “insanity defense” was in this case. Yup, Dan Sickles got off scott free… Or should I say Francis Scott free… yeah, bad joke. Anyway, he was acquitted of murder due to “insanity”. Dan Sickles ended up being a general during the Civil War where he did a lot of crazy things. Maybe he really was insane! One of them was while at Gettysburg he lost his leg. It had to be surgically removed. He then packed his leg up and sent it to Washington DC! I wonder what the postage was on that? After the war was over he was known to take his lady friends to see his leg. Weird. But check this out - YOU can actually visit his leg today!! It’s at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington DC. Go give old Dan Sickles leg a visit! But not right now. We have a few more scandals to talk about. Head East on H St NW to get to our next destination. Lafayette Square will be on your right
We are going to turn right on Madison Drive. At the corner of H Street and Madison is the most famous yellow house in DC - The Dolley Madison House. Dolley Madison inspired the term “first lady” as well as a line of snack cakes to competitor Little Debbie, yet this presidential widow lived out her days in this yellow house on Lafayette Square (which was probably not actually yellow at the time) practically penniless. But in her heyday she was the toast of Washington. And although the majority of folks felt admiration and affection for her, she couldn't seem to escape scandal, even though most of it was simply untrue. She was raised on a Quaker plantation in rural Virginia, yet some claimed she tended bar at her father's nonexistent tavern. Uh...nope. Others insisted she slept her way around Washington. It seems some people thought of Dolley as a hottie who inspired lust in men. A local newspaper around 1814 insinuated that she was the unfaithful wife of an impotent husband, possibly because...while she had a child from an earlier marriage, she and James had no children of their own. There's even a rumor that suggests Thomas Jefferson pimped out Dolley and her sister to visiting foreign dignitaries. Um...not true. Just because she was allegedly hot doesn't mean she was loose. Right ladies? Also...she supposedly fled the White House, before the British set fire to it in 1814, carrying a life-sized portrait of George Washington (which still hangs in the East Room of the White House till this day). While she did ensure the safety of the painting, she had the good sense to remove the canvas from its frame first. Nice try, rumor mill. One humorous story alleges that Dolley, taller and larger than her husband James, would sometimes give him piggyback rides around the White House, which I personally hope was a drunken party trick. Whatever you choose to believe, hopefully you'll remember Dolley Madison as a woman with the grace and charm befitting her position. As President Zachary Taylor declared after her death in 1849, she was the “first lady of the land for a century.” Well said. Keep heading south on Madison Place.
Look to your left and find the house with a wrought iron railing and green rooftops. There’s a bronze plaque on the side of the house. Let me tell you about the scandal that went on there. This house was known as President McKinley’s “Little White House.” It was built in 1828 by a man named Benjamin Ogle Tayloe, a businessman, diplomat and political activist in DC during the first half of the 19th century. Located directly across from the white house, this place became a gathering place for the politically powerful and socially affluent. Which brings us to the resident we’re talking about today, Garret Augustus Hobart, 24th Vice President of the United States, serving from 1897 until his death in 1899. Vice President Hobart rented the house while in office, to the tune of $8,000 per year – funny enough, the same cost as his salary (over $200,000 today!). So the cost of living in DC has pretty much always been ridiculously expensive. During the time of his residence here, the Vice President and his wife entertained various political figures, the most notable being then President of the US, William McKinley and his wife, Ida. Ida McKinley suffered from a number of health issues, so the first couple enjoyed low-key entertainment at the Hobart’s, avoiding the strain of formal White House functions. Perhaps the “Little White House” also served as a great place to escape from the President’s shady business dealings? About ten years earlier, while governor of Ohio, McKinley unknowingly had tied himself to an old friend who took big business risks, wracking up some $70,000 in debt (nearly $2 million today!) As co-signer on the loans, McKinley was on the hook for the entire amount, and nearly quit politics to return to practicing law in order to pay the debt. However, to keep her husband on track politically, Ida McKinley used her inheritance to pay back the loans. What a gal! No wonder she had health issues. Keep walking south on Madison Place.
On your left is the Freedman’s Bank Building. With the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, slavery was finally abolished in the United States. Almost overnight nearly 4 million African American men, women, and children were freed. While you might think this would be the most amazing moment for these men, women, and children, you have to remember that this was right after the end of the Civil War. Things were in chaos, the South in ruins, and most of these people had no home, no money, and no work. In an effort to help the newly freed African Americans, the U.S. government created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, or Freedmen’s Bureau for short. They worked on helping with physical needs and building schools. While that was going on, a group of missionaries, abolitionists, and businessmen worked to create a savings bank for these former slaves, African American veterans, and their families. In 1865, by an act of the U.S. government, Abraham Lincoln signed the papers making The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company a private corporation. The Freedman’s Bank was open for business. In 1867, the Freedman’s Bank moved its headquarters from New York City to Washington, D.C., right where we’re standing. What happened next is heartbreaking and what I would call a criminal-like turn of events. A group of local bankers, politicians and businessmen began to take control of the newly relocated bank. At the urging of these new trustees, who should never have been trusted, Congress amended the bank’s charter. With the amended charter they began investing in real estate projects and railroads, made risky loans to friends, some with no collateral. They also took on bad loans from other banks under their charge. The U.S. Congress was supposed to supervise the trustees, but they paid little to no attention, so when the financial panic hit in 1873, the bank was doomed. The trustees, in an attempt to save the bank, asked Frederick Douglass to come on board and replace the current bank president. He accepted the position without knowing how bad the situation really was. Well there’s a shocker - the trustees withheld the truth, lied, and manipulated a man into taking over a bank they knew was doomed? I’m surprised at this point they didn’t change from calling them TRUSTees to EVILees. Douglas later referred to his new position as being “married to a corpse.” In June 1874 the Freedman’s Bank was closed. Our next stop is the White House. Continue down Madison Place and turn right on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Here it is - the White House. Can you smell the scandals? I’ll just list of a few famous White House scandals that you can look into later: President Bill Clinton’s extramarital fling with 22 year old intern Monica Lewinsky President Ronald Reagan’s Iran Contra Affair which involved selling weapons in exchange for hostages. Watergate - You can learn more about this HUGE scandal by taking the UCPlaces Bridges of Arlington County and DC tour So there’s just a few. There are hundreds of scandals to pick from when it comes to the White House, but I decided to tell you about one that you have likely never heard of. The moral of the story of this scandal is probably...don't use questionable tactics when negotiating land treatises. In other words, don't swindle property from native people. Seriously, don't do it. It doesn't end well. Just ask any president elected to office in a year ending in a zero. Well, you pretty much can't ask any of them because they're mostly dead, and all but two died while serving their term. That's precisely what the alleged curse is about. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's back up. The year was 1811 and the government waged a battle against a group of natives in what is now Indiana, who were resisting the westward expansion of the United States. You see, the Native Americans had been somehow duped into giving up large tracts of land two years earlier in the Treaty of Fort Wayne, and they wanted it back. So Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, began a rebellion against William Harrison, who was governor of the Indiana Territory at the time. Harrison would later be elected as President of the United States in the year 1840 (that date is important to this story). While the native people were unsuccessful in their rebellion, legend has it that Tecumseh's brother, who was known as the prophet (and who's name I would no doubt butcher if I attempted to pronounce), placed a curse on the office of the presidency. Well, not the oval office, but rather, the position. Specifically, all presidents who were elected on a year ending in zero, the same ending number as Harrison, are supposedly cursed to die while serving their term. Weird, right? And the curse has more or less held up. The only two presidents to survive were both victims of assassination attempts. Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, survived a severe gunshot wound, and George W Bush, elected in 2000, survived a live grenade attack that oddly failed to detonate. Coincidence? Scandal? You decide. So, I’m pretty hungry now and you probably are too.Let’s go find a restaurant - preferably one with a scandal. Fight your way through the tourists and protesters and toward 15th Street. The White House will be on your right.
I’d like to introduce you to Albert Gallatin. That’s the man depicted in the statue on your right. Swedish by birth, he emigrated to America in 1780 at just 19 years old. Fifteen years later he found himself elected to the House of Representatives and constantly fighting with the independent minded, stubborn, passionate Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, whose statue is on the other side of this building. I guess they needed to be kept away from each other, even in death. Gallatin succeeded Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury, and served under President Thomas Jefferson, and President James Madison. Under the two presidents, Gallatin served as Secretary for just under thirteen years, which is the longest term to date of any Secretary in the Department’s history. Please keep walking. Cross over 15th Street.
You need to turn right here to get to our next stop. But, if you need some souvenirs, the White House Gift Shop right here at the corner is a great place to get them. They have a little bit of everything in there, and if you spend more than $50, you can get your picture taken at their replica of the oval office. How about that? When you are done here, head south on 15th and I’ll meet you at Old Ebbitt Grill.
On your left is Washington D.C.'s oldest saloon - Old Ebbitt Grill. Presidents such as Grant, Garfield, Cleveland, McKinley and Roosevelt all passed through these doors, which stands to reason since it's located mere steps from the White House. The original structure on this site was built in 1800. And the property that was initially 2 Federal style four-story houses, changed hands a bunch of times before being purchased by William E. Ebbitt in 1856, who turned it into a boarding house. The property changed hands again, and the building served as offices for several newspapers at one point, including The New York Times. But eventually, at least the name stuck, and in 1872, a grand hotel was established at this site, known as Ebbitt House. Whatever popularity and prominence the hotel enjoyed was short lived, however, because it began to decline in the early 1900s. In August 1913, a kitchen fire broke out, resulting in thousands of dollars worth of damage. Three months later, the manager at that time, a George R. Shutt, stood accused of selling booze to underage children. Trouble with alcohol continued throughout the prohibition years, and the grill allegedly continued to sell liquor secretly. Probably the most notable scandal occurred in 1977 when Old Ebbitt Grill was identified as the location of a notorious Soviet Spy Ring operation. A key reporter for the Soviet Union's news agency, TASS, was caught in an FBI sting and expelled from the United States in February of that year. Today, you may still be able to order Russian dressing on their Mixed Greens Salad...but maybe consider a vinaigrette instead. We aren’t done yet, by the way. A few more fun stops are waiting for you after you fill your belly at the Old Ebbitt Grill. Make sure to pay your restaurant bill and then come back out and keep heading south. Meet me at the corner of 15th and F Street.
If you don’t know what building is now on your right, (Because you didn’t read the sign), I’ll give you a hint. The first Secretary of this Executive Department of the Federal government has a Broadway play about him and his role in establishing said Executive Department. If you guessed, Alexander Hamilton, you guessed right. This beautiful building is the US Department of the Treasury and Alexander Hamilton was appointed by President George Washington to be the first Secretary of the Treasury. It is even more beautiful on the south facing side, so that’s where we are headed next.
So here on the south side of the US Treasury Building we have a lovely rose garden and a ten foot statue of Alexander Hamilton. He was the first US Secretary of the Treasury. So I assume that’s why he got this statue. He was also one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, a huge promoter of the Constitution, the founder of the nation’s financial system, the Federalist Party, the New York Post newspaper, and the United States Coast Guard. He was a busy, busy man. His story is most definitely one of perseverance. He was born out of wedlock somewhere between 1755 and 1757 in the West Indies. His father abandoned him and his mother passed away all by the time young Hamilton was even a teenager. He had been working as an accounting clerk at age 11 and after he was orphaned, his boss helped him by raising money and sending him to America. He attended private school in New Jersey and then King’s College (which became Columbia University). He quit school to join in the American Revolution and became one of George Washington’s most trusted advisors. After the war ended, Alexander Hamilton became involved in law, politics, and forming a new governent. Years later, when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in the presidential election of 1800, Hamilton had to choose sides. He chose Jefferson. He then continued to speak out against Burr, so Burr got angry and challenged Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton lost. Yes, he was shot and killed by Aaron Burr in a duel. And there you have it. Scandal. After you are done here, continue south on 15th Street and meet me at the corner just past the parking lot.
Take the pathway that heads diagonally into the center of the park. The statue there is of General William Tecumseh Sherman. Not too much of a scandal going on here, but I wanted to tell you a little bit about this statue. General Sherman was a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The horse depicted here is probably Duke, since Duke was Sherman’s favorite horse. Duke was a bright bay color with a white blaze on his forehead and one white sock on his left hind leg. Sherman said Duke was the horse he rode everyday in Atlanta. He also had a portrait painted of Duke after the war, and had it hung in his office. Now, if you want to hear a little bit about General Sherman, here are 8 facts that you might not know: He was named after a Shawnee Indian chief and went by the nickname “Cump” as a child. He married his foster sister. Sure did. I guess that could be considered a bit of a scandal, am I right? He dropped out of the military to become a banker. He played a big role in sparking the California Gold Rush He joined the military again after President Lincoln called for 750,000 volunteers to enlist after the Civil War began. He was best friends with Ulysses S. Grant He had a mental breakdown during the war and was labeled as “insane” by many newspapers in that time. Perhaps also scandalous? William T. Sherman coined the term “War is hell” So there ya go. Hope you learned something. Now take the southern diagonal path back to 15th Street, head south, cross over E Street and meet me at the corner of E and 15th.
Ok, time to wrap this whole thing up and put a bow on it. On your right is the White House Visitor’s Center. In here you will find a large scale model of the white house where you can imagine ALL of those presidential scandals that happened. There are also interactive exhibits, which are always fun, an art gallery, a gift shop and much much more. In case you were wondering, those ridiculously cool looking buildings looming opposite the White House Visitor’s Center are filled with restaurants and a hotel. The architecture is very unique so I thought I’d point them out. And that’s the end of this tour. I’m sure there are hundreds more scandals in this city but I hope you enjoyed the ones I highlighted for you. It has been fun for me! UCPlaces has lots of other tours as well, like a distillery tour, a horse statue tour, and a tour of the National Mall. You don’t want to miss them. To get back to the beginning of this tour, you can keep walking down this street and then turn left on 13th Street. That will take you up to K Street where the fun began. I hope we can hang out again soon. Until then, so long and happy touring!