Our Nation’s Capital of the Hidden & the Odd
The land of the free, the home of the brave, and the city of the bizarre. Seems like a perfect way to describe our nation’s capital.
Sure, you can visit the Washington Monument, the Air & Space Museum, and the White House, but if you ever went on a family vacation to DC, you’ve done all of that. Here’s your chance to visit the places that are usually not part of any overeager dad’s itinerary. Let’s pay a visit to a hidden Washington DC.
2500 Linden Lane
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Hours – 10 am to 5:30 pm, daily
Admission – FREE!
While at the first this museum may seem boring – health?! medicine?! Naptime?! — this rather odd institution located right outside of DC holds some of the most macabre, grotesque, and bizarre artifacts found anywhere in the DC area.
Originally founded in 1862 as the Army Medical Museum with the initial directive of collecting, “specimens of morbid anatomy together with projectiles and foreign bodies removed.” Yup, this meant gunshot wounded torsos, amputated limbs, and other body parts with horrific injuries. Soon, the museum turned to cataloging and researching cases of yellow fever, typhoid fever, and sexually-transmitted diseases in the army.
Today, the museum houses many of these artifacts, which is completely open to the public. For example, they have the bullet that went through his head and, subsequently, killed President Lincoln. Or a perfectly preserved skull of a Civil War soldier, save for the giant, gaping hole resulting from the blunt force of an iron cannon ball. Or a whole exhibit on the dangers of, no joke, hairballs in both animals and humans. All in the name of medical research, of course.
1362 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
Hours – 24/7
Admission – FREE!
For all those who remember the 70s (considering the “habits” common to the era, there probably aren’t that many), Sonny Bono was the Sonny in the famed singing duo, celebrity couple, and variety show host team Sonny & Cher. Less well-known and later in life, he was also the mayor of Palm Springs and a California congressmen. Tragically, he passed away in a skiing accident in 1998.
But like all pop stars turned Congressmen, a small eight hundred foot park in the middle of Washington DC was dedicated to him.
Situated at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue, 20th Street, and O Street right near Dupont Circle, the park was purchased only months after Bono’s death by developer and good friend Gerry Simon for twenty five thousand dollars. Simon planted trees, pulled weeds, and installed a sprinkler system, all in the name of Bono’s legacy. He added a plaque that reads, “In memory of my friend Sonny Bono. 1935-1998. Entertainer. Entrepreneur. Statesman. Friend.”
And here’s the coolest part: Under that plaque in the ground is a time capsule holding some of Bono’s personal effects, including his Congressional cufflinks and the sheet music to the 1967 Sonny & Cher hit “And the Beat Goes On.” If you are lucky, you may just see Simon there himself, who said in a recent interview, “I still manage to get by two or three times a month to sit with my buddy.”
1801 E St SE
Washington, DC 2003
Hours – 9 am to 5 pm, Daily
Admission – FREE!
Cemeteries are great for those who want to get close to history. As in six feet.
Established in 1807, Congressional Cemetery, near the Anacostia River, is the final resting place for such American notables as J. Edgar Hoover (first and famed director of the FBI), Mathew Brady (Civil War photographer), and David Herold (co-conspirator of the assassination of President Lincoln), not to mention many, many other famed historical figures.
And this cemetery loves dogs, like really loves them. Every August, they host the “Day of the Dog,” a day exclusively for our canine friends with games, food, and classes. How many cemeteries have that?
To be buried here, you don’t have to be a member of Congress, despite the name. As the cemetery so eloquently states:
Q. Do you have to be a Member of Congress (or any other requirement) to be buried there?
A. No. You just have to be dead.
The National Postal Museum
2 Massachusetts Ave., N.E.
Washington, DC 20002
Hours – Seven days a week, 10 am to 5:30 pm
Admission – FREE!
Before there was Lassie, Benji, or Air Bud, there was Owney, America’s most beloved dog. One rainy night in Albany, New York in 1888, an adorable stray, who would later go by Owney, found the city’s post office door slightly ajar. So, he slipped inside and made his bed out of the mailbags. The next morning, when the mail bags were moved, so did Owney. The postal workers were charmed and clipped tags on his collar signifying his status as “mail dog.” With most mail traveling by train in the late 19th century, the post office allowed Owney to be the “guardian of railway mail.”
It’s been said Owney traveled to all 48 states and was given a tag for his collar at every place he stopped. It’s estimated that he had over one thousand tags jingling from his collar at one point. Owney was cheered, honored, and photographed throughout the late 19th century as the unofficial mascot of railway mail.
When Owney passed away in 1897, mail clerks from around the country raised money to have him preserved and forever protecting the mail.
Today, Owney and over three hundred of his tags are on display at the National Postal Service Museum. For a dog that’s been dead for nearly 120 years, he doesn’t look too bad.
For more information on all of these unique locations, please visit Atlas Obscura, the online guidebook to the world’s most wondrous places!
Matt Blitz is the person you want to take on a road trip with you. He knows every obscure, odd, and downright awesome stop to make while traveling America. Based out of Los Angeles, he’s written for CNN, Atlas Obscura, Nickelodeon, The Smart Set, and Today I Found Out. He will also insist on stopping at every diner and waffle house on said road trip.