Since 2006, we’ve made it our mission to tell you about the best of DC, so you can bet we were excited to hear about JoAnn Hill’s new DC guidebook, Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Hill knows DC on a personal level after nearly two decades here — 17 of those years as a teacher in the DC Public Schools. She understands what makes sights interesting, so she made sure to include only the quirkiest, most peculiar, mystical, and hidden spots in her curation of local secrets and scandals.
This guide showcases the rich history of the Capital City and its surroundings, reminding readers that this city is so much more than party politics or the monuments and memorials you remember from that High School field trip so long ago. For example… Did you know that an abandoned dog became the unofficial mascot to the U.S. Postal System at the National Postal Museum? Or that one couple in Eckington created a map of the District on their shower wall made up of 10,000 pennies? Or that the American football huddle was invented at a DC university? WOW!
Hall assures that, even if you think you’re a DC insider, you’ll find new things to explore in this book: “It’s important to be a tourist in your own city and… never take its countless gems for granted.” So while you’re grabbing your copy, we caught up with her to find out more about how she compiled her Secret Washington DC guidebook and what she says you must not miss.
With so much written and so many guides about DC, how hard was it to find new “secrets” to share?
I am fortunate to have several friends who are tour guides/historians, so one of the first things I did when I embarked upon this project was to reach out to them. They were so kind and generous with their time and knowledge and shared a number of hidden and secretive stories as well as off-the-beaten-path locales in and around DC. Those coffee chats really served as excellent launching points into my research for Secret Washington, DC. I then began spending a lot of my free time joining guided walking tours, talking with tour guides and museum docents, and visiting anywhere and everywhere that seemed wonderful and obscure! I had so much fun exploring the other side of DC and learning more about the city I’ve called home for 19 years… One of my favorite aspects of writing Secret Washington, DC was meeting so many interesting people and learning about their unique passions and talents.
Many secrets of DC span the ages. What period of DC history do you personally find the most fascinating?
A number of the historical stories in my Secret Washington, DC occur during the Civil War era. During my extensive research, I became mildly obsessed with this time period! I loved learning and writing about First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s participation in seances during the Civil War in hopes of communicating with her son Willie, as well as delving deeper into the life of Mary Ann Hall, a trailblazer who ran the largest and most exclusive brothel during this time, which now serves as the location of the National Museum of the American Indian. Both of these Civil War era stories, among several others, are prominently featured in my book.
Do you have a favorite secret spot?
This is a tough one, but if I have to narrow it down to one, then I’d be hard-pressed not to choose one of my favorite art installations in the entire city, the Barbie Pond on Avenue Q! I love this Logan Circle neighborhood gem for so many reasons, but mostly because it reflects and promotes activism, inclusion, love, and creativity. The quirky and revered installation often portrays pop cultural trends, seasons and holidays, and of course, DC’s pervasive political scene. I visit the Barbie Pond regularly and I always leave with a big smile upon my face and a feeling of lightness and joy.
Are there any secret spots in DC that you still keep to yourself?
Ha! Well, if I shared them, then they would no longer be secrets, now would they?!? 🙂 There were a few scandals that I came across that were really dark and disturbing. While I love a good scandal (who doesn’t?!), I ultimately chose not to include these particular ones in my book. This past year was tough enough — I didn’t want to add any more darkness to an already challenging year. One of my goals in writing my book was to share the countless treasures in and around DC and to get locals and visitors excited to get outside and explore. I intentionally included many places that are outdoors, family-friendly, and free! I hope this book introduces a bevy of new places to discover with loved ones and serves as a small reminder to all of us just how special and unique our nation’s capital really is.
If you’d like to hear more from JoAnn Hall about Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure tune in for her live book talk at Politics and Prose on May 25th from 8 – 9 pm.