Jay & Todd's Excellent Capitol Adventure!

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This page contains some 18 pictures to peruse. Each picture is represented on this page by a scaled-down icon version which must be clicked on in order to view the normal photo. I did this to shorten loading time, of course.

This page amounts to a comparison between the Washington, D.C. of 1906, and the Washington, D.C. of 1994-recent, in pictures.

The pictures from 1906 were taken by my late grandfather, Jay W. Sterner (d. Apr. 1972) during his visit to the Capitol City with his best friend Ed Glass on April 14, 1906. On a couple of occasions, as you'll see, you may stop to wonder about my grandfather.

The pictures from 1994 were taken by me during my first ever visit to Washington, D.C. in mid-October of 1994, right after Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis's grave had been opened to the public; or about two years after the Berlin Wall had been torn down, for the historians.

The Purpose Behind the Idea.
The whole purpose of my trip was to try to retrace my grandfather's footsteps as closely as possible, and to try to take photos which mirrored his in order to contrast the differences which time had brought to the surrounding landscape and architecture, and to some extent document the chronology of the changing history of this place. As well, I marvelled at the fact that - in many of the places where I stood, so did my grandfather nearly a century ago.

Unfortunately, my time was very limited, since I was travelling with someone else, too - and my whole exploration commonly amounted to something on the order of about two seconds worth of standing in one place, looking up, going "huh, wow!", and then moving on - no...running on. I wish I could have enjoyed it a LITTLE bit more than that. (grin) At any rate, I'm almost SURE I had some security guard in some room, somewhere, watching a monitor, tearing his hair out as I rushed about, wondering what the heck I was "up to" on the two days that I was there.

My Grandfather: The `Juvenile Delinquent' of 1906!
...if such a thing really existed back then. When compared to the "juvenile delinquents" of today? There IS no comparison. THIS? This was innocence, by comparison.

Though my grandfather had come to observe the sights of our nation's capitol, while he was there, he and his friend couldn't resist certain "opportunites" made available to them. One included scaling some unattended scaffolding in the Rotunda which lead to the very top of the Capitol Bldg.'s dome, walking around, outside, beneath the statue on top...and then taking pictures, no less, of the surrounding city! Of course, hard as I tried to obtain the permission in 1994, I was repeatedly denied the ability to duplicate the particular photos Grandpa took from the top of the Capitol Building dome. Obviously, this was due to security issues and probably to the fact that they don't want anyone having any intimate knowledge of the rooftop layout. You wouldn't want a sniper to know such things, I suppose. I guess I can understand that. (Sigh!) ...A sad, starke example of the differences now between Grandpa's world and mine. Its a shame. Or perhaps it was due to a safety concern. How would one explain a tourist who had fallen from up there. "What was this one tourist even doing allowed up there," would be the cry. I so wish I could have duplicated that, and imagined sitting up there, perhaps next to my grandfather's spirit in a way.

Of course, if the real reason was that they were really worried about me slipping and falling off of the top of the Capitol Building, they need not worry. You see, borrowing from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures, all I'd have to do is just remember to use a time machine and come back right before I slipped and fell - leaving myself a note saying, "Hey Todd! Watch out for that bird-doo to your right, Dude!...Signed, Future Todd! -- P.S. Party on, Dude!" - and then I'd be okay! See?

Sigh. [Rolls his eyes.] No. I'm not on drugs.

I hate to admit it, but in some really odd, strange way, I guess I'm kinda proud of my grandfather....Not because he was a rebel and he disobeyed some some pretty obvious legal and/or etiquette-related rules, but because he actually seems to have accomplished something not so many people can say they ever had a chance to. And so, in that way, he becomes a part of the historic background of a place so common and integral to the history of us all...be that history well-known or uncommon knowledge.

Gawd. I wish I could have been a camera in someone's hands, back then... taking a photo of my grandfather standing up there, underneath the statue of Freedom - where none (aside from the architects and contruction workers) had gone before. (chuckle)

A Plea...
Anyway, I'd STILL like to get a chance to take those duplicate photos if it is at all possible - without having to go to the mischievous lengths my grandfather went to in order to get them. 8-) And you know?...that's a request to anyone reading this who might have the power to effect an actual excursion to the Capitol Dome. [`Hint-Hint!', Most-Excellent Sir Capitol Architect Type Dude!]

And while we're on the subject of the Dome, here's something for the Capitol Historians to chew on for me, too, if they would: Just how many civilians are known to have actually BEEN to the top of the Capitol Dome - without excuseable reason? Is there any way of checking security records or the like? This would, of course, exclude counting those who are Senators, Representatives, or their Guests, Capitol Security, any contractors who may have had to go up there for reason of effecting repairs, etc., Sharp-shooters, Secret Servicemen, birds, bugs, etc. Which pretty much narrows it down to just "Juvenile Delinquents," I guess.

How Did Grandpa Do This?
The way that my grandfather was able to effect this little adventure was like this, in his own words, from his book, THE STERNERS:

          "On November 24th, 1963 I sat before my T/V and watch-
     ed the silent crowds shuffling past President Kennedy's
     coffin there in the Rotunda beneath the Capitol's dome.
     And, as I sat there, long forgotten memories of the last
     time I had been in that Rotunda fifty seven years earlier
     came surging back to life."
          "Things were so much simpler in 1906 - no guards, no
     security precautions - the Capitol belonged to us people
     and who would think of harming it?  We were two sixteen
     year old boys who had casually strolled in, quite unescor-
     ted, to visit our nation's Capitol.  Both houses were in
     session and we had watched them again in action from the
     visitors' gallery and on our way out we passed, naturally,
     through the Rotunda."
          "Painters had been working there on the ceiling but
     had gone to lunch perhaps; at any rate the place was quite
     deserted, no one in sight.  There was a scaffold under the
     ceiling and a ladder reaching up to the base of the dome.
     Another minute and we had scaled the ladder and were thro'
     a little hatchway into the eerie gloom of the great dome.
     Then up a long spiral iron staircase till we stepped thro'
     another door into the blinding sunlight and found oursel-
     ves on a narrow circular walk with a marble balustrade
     surrounding the base of the statue which surmounts the
     very peak of the dome.  I do not now remember what that
     statue was (an Indian girl, I think, not Columbia as I
     had expected).  [It is the statue of `Freedom'. --Todd]
     The view was magnificent and it was from here that I took
     the pictures, in case you have wondered.  We were so
     exhiliarated by the view and the height that we mounted
     the balustrade and walked all around it - it was more
     than a foot wide.  Imagine two teenagers achieving such
     a thing undetected today."

And now, The Photos...
Two of the photos Grandpa took from the top of the Capitol Building are viewable here.

The scans of the pictures themselves do not do them justice at all. Most of the pictures are very sharp and clear. But the scans were made using my el-cheapo Logitech hand-scanner in 400dpi mode. All scans are B/W (the pictures Grandpa took were in B/W anyway).

Here now are the pictures - with descriptions of each immediately following:


The view from the top.

On the left, looking north towards the Library of Congress bldg., from the top of the Capitol Dome, in 1906. On the right, looking west, out Pennsylvania Ave., from the top of the Capitol Dome in 1906.

See? Told yuh he was there! (grin)


The picture on the left is the East Face of the Capitol Building as it appeared in 1906. Note the two horse and buggy carriages in the foreground. The picture in the middle is the East Face of the Capitol Building as it appeared in 1994. I tried to get `fancy' and took this `panoramic' shot. Looks okay in color; but when scanning in black and white, well...the scanner just doesn't take very well to the drastic differences in the light between the three photos, unfortunately. But I tried. It was an interesting attempt for a Novice anyway. 8-) The picture on the right is a close up of the statue of `Freedom' borrowed from the Government Printing Office publication, THE CAPITOL: A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE CAPITOL AND OF THE CONGRESS, 1981, GPO.


On the far left, Lee's Mansion (Arlington House), 1906. A good, close-up view. Grandpa talks about this picture:

          "Here I must pause for a moment to elaboate a bit.
     To take the picture opposite, I had to back some distance
     down the slope to a point which, from the pictures I have
     seen, must have been quite close to what is today the
     Kennedy Plot."

The other two photos are Lee's Mansion (Arlington House), as it appeared from the base of the hill, in 1994. I know...lousy, distant shots. But these were the best views that I could obtain of the face of the Mansion today without actually breaking the law and walking over the chain protecting the grass - which apparently did not exist when Grandpa went in 1906. So, I was a good boy, and stayed off the grass - cursing the sign. I had a lousy 110-camera, so I couldn't take the pictures from the top of the hill because the field of view of the camera just wasn't wide enough, and there wasn't enough room at the top of the hill to back up far enough to get the whole house in my pictures - at least, not without tripping over the chain guarding the grass, falling over backwards, rolling down the hill uncontrollably to the accompaniment of hideous caterwallings of pain in various musical pitches and tones, and finally, possibly even hitting my head on poor ole Kennedy's gravestone! Had this actually happened, this might probably very well have been a pictorial about the inside of a particular jail cell located somewhere in Virginia, instead.

The mass of people fretting about in the foreground of the middle photo make a never-ending blocked view of the Kennedys' grave site. Note that these pictures were taken in mid-October, just a few months after the grave site had been reopened to the public - following modifications made to place Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis's (as she decided to label her stone) grave at the site next to her first husband. I literally had to beg and plead in order to get people to clear enough for me to take a simple close-up of the individual foot-stones; and then they didn't part for much more than a few seconds, regardless of whether they heard a "click" or not. If you took what they thought was "too long", I guess, they moved in front of you, blocking your shot. I was tempted to place a photo up here of the shot I took where someone actually jumped in front of me just as I hit the button. I even thought about offering a $250 reward to the person who could absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt, PROVE conclusively that he was the very Most-Heinous Jerk obstructing my picture of the gravestones, AND of course, if he was willing to waive all of his rights to suing me over my criticism of him on the Oprah Winfrey Show. However, I then thought of 500 or so people all calling in and saying that they were the person in the picture. :) Thus, I changed my mind. At any rate, I had to try a few times for each stone. Be prepared for this should you be planning a visit to the site yourself. I felt like I was in a day-care center full of little brats at times.

[MON1906.GIF] [MON1994.GIF] [MON1994B.GIF]

The Washington Monument, looking up the south face. The photo on the far left was taken by my grandfather in 1906. The photos in the middle and on the right were taken by me in 1994.

I'm kinda proud of these two pictures, myself. A rank Novice taking such a basic picture and seeing them come out looking so beautiful. You can't see it as well in these scans because of the scanning process, but the face of the Monument is a golden color, reflecting the late afternoon sunlight, while the surrounding sky is a BEAUTIFUL dark blue! These are worth enlarging to poster size and mounting on the wall. 8-)

You know...you do get dizzy easily looking straight up like that. I don't recommend it if you've got a neck ache, either. You might look kinda silly if your neck were to get stuck.

These two color scans were made for me by Steve King, KC6WCH, to whom I'm grateful.


View from the top of the Washington Monument, looking north. On the left, the view in 1906. On the right, the view in 1994. Note and compare the DRASTIC changes in the landscape from 1906 to 1994. Note also that the "Mall" - that long, wide stretch of grass between the Monument and the Capitol - which appears here in the 1994 photo, did not exist in 1906; nor did many of the buildings now seen in the background. In fact, if you didn't know what you were looking at, you might think that the circular pattern in the middle of the 1906 photo was the "Ellipse" (the mile-long circular walk in front of the White House). But do not be confused. In other photos I have seen of near the same time period, these circular roads seemed to be commonly about the capitol city. The only buildings still present between both photos that I can recognize are the Capitol Bldg. and the Smithsonian Institution.


George Washington's Mt. Vernon home in Virginia in 1906. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time in my 1994 trip to go and see this site; and so, I was not able to take a like photo, myself.


Union Station in 1906. Note the trolley in the foreground. Unfortunately here, would you believe I DID visit Union Station; but it was at night, and so I couldn't take a comparative photo.


George Washington's Crypt in 1906. Standing, from left to right in front of the bars, we finally get to meet the Perpetrators, Jay W. Sterner and his best friend, Ed Glass. [Guess the bars were just too close together, eh boys? --Todd] Again, since I was unable to visit the Mt. Vernon home, I could not take a comparative photo.

[WELL1994.GIF] [WELL94-2.GIF]

The Well into which Grandpa (or his friend Ed Glass - it is not known who exactly) accidentally knocked Ed's bell jar full of craw-fish `friends' (gathered from the nearby Rock Creek during an earlier exploration of their's) off of the well's rim. The photo on the right is simply a close-up of the top of the well to show how it appears today with the top boarded up. Grandpa elaborates on their meeting with the well, and ponders the possible future implications of their little `oopsie':

          "Behind Lee's mansion we found a well with a wheel,
     a "green, mossy bucket" from which we brought up cool,
     sweet water that tasted very good after all that tramping
     through the Virginia heat in the quiet cemetery.  We set
     our jars of craw-fish on the stone curbing and, somehow,
     Ed's was pushed off and fell down into the cool, deep
     darkness whence presently rose the faintest of echoing
     splashes.  Perhaps Ed's specimens have since become the
     progenitors of a race of blind craw-fish which will
     cause some future ichtyologist to scratch his head and

[...if Ole' General Lee didn't roll in his grave at the sound of the splash, too. So much for the uncontaminated water of the Well. --Todd]

As you can see, my grandfather's life was...well...interesting. And that's...to say the least.

Download these pictures - with descriptions. [Recommended if you are using a lower-res VGA card with which to view this site. Downloading these scans and viewing them offline will allow you to see the pictures with a little more detail offline. --Todd]
Some External Sites Relating to Washington, D.C. and the sights:

  • The U.S. Capitol Home Page
  • Washington, D.C. Tourist Map - for maps of DC and some pictures of the sites

  • And now, it's off to Grandma's house to find that photo album with the two pictures of the Hindenburg that Grandpa took as the great craft meandered over some town on its way in to Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, NJ on May 12, 1936. This craft exploded there in 1937 while attempting to dock. (My grandmother insists that Lakehurst Naval Air Station had been "laid out" by my late great grand uncle, Rear Adml. Luther Elwood Gregory. However, this is what is known as "family legend" and, so far, I have not been able to find anything which might tie him to such a task. But that is how family legends go. They are often embellished exaggerations. Just don't try telling that to "Uncle Bob" or "Auntie May," who of course always know better. Right? On the other hand, if someone has an actual photo of Uncle Luther holding pen to the unfinished plans for the yard...I'll be all that happy to take that into consideration.)

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    Created: March 12, 1996.
    Last Updated: October 17, 2000, November 12, 2010.

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    Mail to: Todd L. Sherman (afn09444@afn.org)
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    by Todd L. Sherman. All Rights Reserved.