Six D.C. Sites to Visit During a Government Shutdown

I was just in the nation’s capital gathering audio for our daily broadcasts.  For tourists, the government shutdown means many of the sites they planned to see are now closed.  However, there is still plenty to see and do in the D.C. area.  Here are my ideas for a great visit to the city.


guardsArlington National Cemetery, which is operated by the military, remains open. That means a visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns should be on any visitor’s list of planned activities in Washington. The Changing of the Guard ceremony is held every hour on the hour at this time of year.   You can get more information about a visit to the cemetery at its website. And the cemetery even has a mobile app that allows visitors to locate specific grave sites on the grounds during their visit.


220px-The_Octagon_House_-_Washington,_D.C.Two Executive Mansions.  Let’s face it, the chances of you getting inside the White House were slim anyway, so go to Lafayette Park (on the north side of the White House) and enjoy the view.  The last time I was there, I watched the arrival of a visiting head of state.  Just a couple of blocks to the southwest, you can visit the Octagon House, the executive mansion used by President Madison after the British burned Washington in 1814.  The American Institute of Architects owns the building, but call ahead and they can usually give you a tour. And for an added bonus, the Octagon House is supposedly one of the most haunted in the Washington DC area.


Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.09.50 AMMt. Vernon is privately owned and still open.  When I spent more time in D.C., I actually had an annual pass to Washington’s home.  I loved to go there and simply walk the grounds.  The home on the Potomac and its museum are great to see anytime of the year.

You might have seen that the parking lots at Mt. Vernon were briefly barricaded by overzealous federal employees, even though the site isn’t owned by the federal government. Mt. Vernon has gone to great pains to make sure everyone knows that was just a fluke — updating their website to include the words “We’re Open!” right on the front of the page.


Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.19.11 AMThe International Spy Museum provides a glimpse at the secret world of espionage.  There are lots of artifacts, hand-on displays and you can even play the role of a spy and compete against others in your group to successfully complete your mission.

The museum isn’t just about real-life spies, either. Right now, they have an exhibit called Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains, where you can learn more about the bad guys who’ve squared off against James Bond on the Silver Screen.


Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.24.07 AMAlexandria, Virginia is an easy metro ride from the city.  Get off at King Street station and walk around Old Town.  Many sites in this city are still open.  Log on to get maps for walking tours and hours of these sites.  It’s also a great place to catch lunch or enjoy a nice dinner along the Potomac. The local tourism bureau even has a list of free things to do in Alexandria.


10111735546_74f4f01349_qThe main sites are closed but…remember places like the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and the Washington Monument are, after all, outdoors.  So while there are fences keeping people from going “inside” the site, you can still get a great view, albeit from a bit farther back.  It’s also a great time to take a bus tour of the city, or a boat tour on the Potomac.  The guides will help fill in the pieces you can’t currently see.


Remember, some of these sites do charge admission, others are free, but ALL are open and are worth a visit, even when the government eventually does reopen for business.

The Willard Hotel

The round bar at the Willard Hotel has been the places where generations of politicians, celebrities and power brokers have forged deals, shared conversations or simply relaxed.  The portraits here share the stories of the many notables who have sat in this very bar and made history…..

A Place For the President To Stay

The President, of course, lives in the White House.  But over the decades, when a president or president-elect has needed another place to stay the night in Washington, this hotel has often filled the role.  It’s history is nearly as old as this city…..

Pioneers of Flight: Stratosphere Balloons

Before men could go into outer space, they first had to make it into the stratosphere. Many people don’t know that some of the pioneers of high altitude flying were actually pilots of balloons. We take a look at a high flying record that stood for 21 years…..

Pioneers of Flight: Cal Rodgers

Today a transcontinental flight from New York to L.A. might take about five hours. But do you know how long the first such flight took? We celebrate the 100th anniversary of flying coast-to-coast…..

Pioneers of Flight: Charles Lindbergh

You may recall that it was Charles Lindbergh who flew the Spirit of 76 on the world?s first transatlantic flight. But do you know what he flew and who his co-pilot was when he began to explore his many other transoceanic routes?

Lincoln’s Aide – William Johnson

Few people know that on Abraham Lincoln’s return to the District of Columbia from delivering the Gettysburg Address, he contracted a mild case of smallpox. The president recovered, but one man in his party did not.  The story of that loyal aide is today’s edition of the American Countryside.

The Women’s Astronaut Program

In the early 1980’s, the United States put its first woman into space, a full two decades after space travel began. So why didn’t women get their chance even though they had undergone astronaut testing as early as 1961?

The Mercury Training Program for Women

The first man in space? The first man to orbit the earth? The first man to walk on the moon? You may know those pioneers and you may have never have given a second thought to the fact they are all men. This U.S. researcher thought it should perhaps be the other gender who made those missions…..

Election Day 2010

Today we may not think much about the way we vote, unless a close contest causes us to have to recount ballots and determine a winner. But the way people vote today is much different that what was experienced in the early years of this country.

The Last National Convention

“Being older than the rest of you I’m asked to advise you from time to time as the need arises…..” It’s the beginning of the advisor’s part in the FFA Opening Ceremonies. This man will recite the part for the final time as National Advisor. He says it’s about much more than words spoken to a huge audience…..

Dr. Larry Case’s Most Memorable Day

Dr. Larry Case became National FFA Advisor in 1984, but perhaps his most memorable day as an advisor at any level came n January of 1967. That day is still etched in the memories of all who were there…..

“Here By the Owl…”

The National FFA Convention is in Indianapolis this week, and this will be the last such event for Dr. Larry Case as National FFA Advisor. After reciting his advisor’s part for 27 years at the national level, he will retire at year’s end. We visit with him about his road to the position…..

Restoring Masterpieces

To say Joe Newell restores pool tables is like saying Michelangelo was just a painter. The work Joe does is a masterpiece itself, taking them to points across the country and bringing hundred-year old tables back to life…

Honoring America’s Heroes

Every independence day we celebrate our freedom. This soldier is reminded of the cost of that freedom as he protects the resting place of America’s heroes…

A Uniform of Perfection

Some jobs require you to wear a uniform. Imagine a job where that uniform had to be worn with perfection…where a deviation of 1/64 of an inch could cost you your position…

Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 27

Although most visitors to Arlington National Cemetery simply see the Tomb of the Unknowns and perhaps the JFK grave site, there are many interesting areas of these grounds, including what is perhaps the most historic spot–section 27…

A Historian for Arlington National Cemetery

Tom thought he was coming here simply to fill a summer job. Over 30 years later, he’s still here, but that’s fine with him. It’s a role that has him sharing history and making history every day…

The Army Arlington Ladies

On Memorial Day we remember our loved ones, but these ladies recognize our fallen soldiers this weekend and every day of the year…

Frederick Douglass

frederickdouglassMartin Luther King Jr. Day is a national holiday, but this man is noted by some to be the grandfather of the civil right movement…