Get tidbits of Washington history while on the move
By Stephanie Merry
Thursday, June 9, 2011
On a recent drizzly Saturday morning, as the clock approached 8 a.m., the only sound at the Washington Monument grounds was that of flags whipping in the wind. As the sky threatened a downpour, a handful of people in running shoes began to congregate on the monument’s east side.
What motivated them to head out into the rain? The National Park Service’s free, twice-monthly Chit-Chat Run, a jogging tour that promises a side of history on rotating topics. On this particular morning, the theme was iconic first ladies, and Park Service volunteer Jen Ripley guided the group of six.
You don’t have to be an avid marathoner to tag along on the Chit-Chat. The jog, which spans an hour and about 3.5 miles of urban pavement, is punctuated by frequent stops and travels at a leisurely pace.
“I’m no Olympic athlete,” the energetic, pint-size Ripley said before the tour began. She assured the group that it would travel only as fast as the slowest runner.
Ripley’s tour took joggers to the White House to hear about Mary Todd Lincoln’s lavish spending habits and Abigail Adams, who hung her laundry to dry in the East Room; the American History Museum, to discuss first lady fashion (and Jackie’s Chanel suits, naturally); the Tidal Basin to talk about Helen Taft, the first lady who arranged for the planting of the cherry trees; and the FDR Memorial, to hear about the outspoken, down-to-earth Eleanor Roosevelt.
The historical trivia and the friendly conversation with other runners makes it easy to forget that you’re exercising. While traveling to each destination on the tour, joggers chatted about jobs, home towns and family folklore. (Eleanor Roosevelt heroically saved the mother of one participant from the imminent danger of a revolving door.)
Although the group consisted mainly of locals, the jog also appealed to tourists who planned to get outside and see the city despite the rain.
“I figure, I’m going to be out here anyway, miserable [weather] as it is,” Australian Ken Finck said. “I might as well be doing something interesting.”