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Walking Tours Offer Sense of Hidden D.C.

In Washington, every building, statue and park seems to have its story. Throughout the year, millions of tourists from all over the world pour into our nation’s capital to tour the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. But one local nonprofit group, Cultural Tourism DC, is setting out to remind residents and tourists alike that there is much more to Washington than the National Mall.

Walking Town DC is a biannual event put on by the organization that includes more than 100 free walking tours of Washington sites that might not be so high up on the hotel concierge’s to-see list. Now in its sixth year, the tour series will take place Saturday and Sunday.

The tours will take curious followers all over the city. Some tours will be led on foot, some by bike and some by people clad in 19th-century dress. But what really makes this event unique, according to Linda Harper, Cultural Tourism DC’s executive director, is that these tours aren’t necessarily for tourists at all.

“We want to help the residents here in the metro region get to know their city better,— Harper said. “We really like getting these folks into new areas.—

Some of the most prominent tour spots include U Street, Embassy Row, Georgetown and the museum and grounds of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“Walter Reed has been a part of this community for more than 100 years,— said Andrea Schierkolk, who will lead tours through the National Museum of Health and Medicine, which is associated with Walter Reed. “This is a perfect opportunity to invite our neighbors into the campus and show them that we are a friendly place.—

One of the more eccentric tours on the schedule takes residents back to the mid-19th century, just after the abolition of slavery. Led by a guide dressed as Elizabeth Keckly, Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker, the tour provides a window into the life of this leader of African-American progress. Danielle Drakes, the actor who plays the role of Keckly, is completely bound to her character, even as she leads her audience through a 21st-century city. When faced with anachronisms, Drakes said, she uses humor to stay in character.

“This tour is supposed to give a real understanding of how people lived during that time,— she said. “You don’t know how many times I’ve had the question, How exciting is it to have the Obamas in the White House?’ And I say, Obama?’—

The tour includes historical landmarks along 10th Street, 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. It concludes at the U.S. Navy Memorial. The tour is part of Ford’s Theatre’s regular schedule, where Drakes leads it year-round.

Harper said that these tours are critical to the development of the D.C. metro area and that the reason for that is twofold.

“First and foremost, it’s about pride,— she said without hesitation. “Residents are much more proud of this city than they used to be, and part of that has to do with getting to know the history of these neighborhoods.—

The second reason is the large contribution to the city’s economic development, she said, noting that friends and family of residents make up 30 percent of D.C.’s yearly tourism.

“You’re going to take your friends and family to the places you really enjoy. The first time they come, you’ll take them to the Mall. But where do you take them the second time?— she said. “When we have tourists at these places, they spend money. They buy burgers or postcards to send back to friends.—

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