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Update at 3:35 p.m. — The Interstellar Influencer commemorates the Chesapeake Bay impact crater, not the Chicxulub crater 35 million years earlier that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs

Earlier: The asteroid collision 35 million years ago will be the latest public art at Alexandria’s Waterfront Park.

“Interstellar Influencer (Make an Impact)” will be formally unveiled in March and will be on display at the foot of King Street until November. It’s the sixth temporary installation at the site, and is being created by artist Jason Klimoski and architect Lesley Chang of New York City-based STUDIOKCA.

“At the foot of King Street on the shore of the Potomac River, an interstellar collision that took place not too far away and not too, too long ago between an asteroid and our planet is about to re-appear,” the city’s Office of the Arts announced. “Interstellar Influencer uses metal, water, and light to create a 1:1000 scale representation of the asteroid and the 85-kilometer-wide, 1.5-kilometer-deep crater it left behind that helped to shape the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed and the flow of water through its rivers and tributaries in the process.”

The installation will kick off Alexandria’s 275th birthday celebration programming, it was announced at Visit Alexandria’s annual meeting on Monday.

Chang said she wants the installation to “raise awareness of the fragility of our shared existence on this planet and the extraordinary (and sometime extraterrestrial) foundation of our modern cities and waterways.”

Klimoski said that we all live within the history that has shaped the planet.

“Sometimes you have to look at it from the point of view of an asteroid hurtling through space 35,000,000 years ago to appreciate just how incredible it is we’re here at all,” he said.

Alexandria’s 275th birthday, also known as ALX275, will mostly be recognized from April through mid-September.

According to Visit Alexandria:

The opening of waterfront public art installation Interstellar Influencer (Make an Impact)kicks off the 275th anniversary programming in the spring. Then, look forward to special editions of the 2-day Portside in Old Town Summer Festival in June, which features the ALX Jazz Fest, and the Alexandria City Birthday Celebration with fireworks over the Potomac on July 13.

Alexandria’s award-winning Port City Brewing Company will produce an original hoppy Pale Ale called ALX275, brewed with 275 lbs. of hops, that will be served on draft at the Portside Festival, at Port City’s Tasting Room and Old Town Pub Crawl and at more special events from April through September. Also in September, the 275th anniversary festivities include events for the 10th anniversary of the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial and the 50th anniversary of the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

New exhibits include Alexandria Archaeology’s “The Buried Ships of Robinson Landing” with scale models of the three excavated ships at a temporary new waterfront gallery space. The Alexandria Black History Museum’s Moss Kendrix exhibit will honor the nationally significant visionary who revolutionized how African Americans were depicted in the media in the mid-20th century. The special collection of artifacts will demonstrate how the D.C.-based advertising and public relations pioneer transformed the advertising industry, paving the way for the diversity of actors and models who today are featured throughout marketing creative. Meanwhile, Historic Alexandria’s oral history exhibition, “Mapping Alexandria: Stories of a Changing City,” is coming to The Lyceum in June. Interactive features of the exhibition include a story kiosk where the public can record and upload their own oral histories, an interactive map and more.

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Searching for Truth in the Garden from Gonzaga High School in D.C. is a new traveling exhibition at Freedom House Museum until April 15, 2023 (via City of Alexandria)

A new temporary exhibit at Freedom House Museum until April documents the life of a teenager enslaved at Washington Seminary in D.C.

Searching for Truth in the Garden” reveals a story of Gabriel, a 13-year-old boy who was enslaved at the school — later renamed Gonzaga College High School — in 1829.

The research was conducted by seven Gonzaga students and Georgetown University history professor Adam Rothman, who started the project in 2016. Rothman was speaking to students about his work with Georgetown’s Working Group on slavery when a student asked about connections between the school and slavery. Rothman invited students to research the question at Georgetown, which they did in the summers of 2017 and 2018.

“Their work shows how students can be inspired to go beyond textbooks to take a deeper dive into our history and bring to light the untold stories of the American historical narrative,” said Audrey Davis, director of the city’s  African American History Division. “With Gabriel, we learn about the horrors of the domestic slave trade, and tragic life of one enslaved 13-year-old boy.”

According to the city, the group studied accounting books, written histories, enrollment records, and other original documents related to the schools, including the sale of 272 slaves by the Jesuits in 1838.

The project also inspired an ancestry project with Georgetown University.

“According to In 1838, Maryland’s Jesuit priests sold hundreds of men, women, and children to Southern plantations to raise money for the construction of Georgetown University,” Georgetown University said. ” Though they faced incredible hardship, most didn’t perish. They married and raised children. Today, more than 8,000 of their descendants have been located through genealogical research. Use this site to search for an ancestor and to hear the stories of the descendants.”

Gonzaga history teacher Ed Donnellan helped in the project.

“This exploration of what is a very painful past for Gonzaga and for the Society of Jesus is very important,” Donnellan said. “It’s my hope and prayer that this begins something in our community that helps us heal, helps us move forward, and helps us be honest about where we’ve come from and who we are today.”

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Holiday tours at the Lee-Fendall House Museum and Garden (image via Lee-Fendall House Museum and Garden/Facebook)

Candlelight is one of the best ways of exploring a historic home, and staff at the Lee-Fendall House (614 Oronoco Street) are offering unique candlelight tours next month of the home’s Victorian-style holiday decorations.

On Friday, Dec. 15 and Saturday, Dec. 16, tours led by candlelight will explore Victorian-era decorations in the home.

“Celebrate the holiday season with an evening candlelight tour at the Lee-Fendall House,” a listing in the newsletter This Week in Historic Alexandria said. “As you enjoy the museum decorated in Victorian splendor, you will learn how many of our modern celebrations of the season got their start during the Victorian era.”

The tours are offered every half hour starting at 7 p.m. Advance registration is required and tickets are $10 for adults or $5 for children.

Photo via Lee-Fendall House Museum and Garden/Facebook

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With Alexandria’s consumption tax revenues hitting an all-time high in fiscal year 2023, Mayor Justin Wilson says that the city has emerged from the economic spiral created by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

The city’s consumption tax revenues (sales, meals and transient lodging) peaked at $81 million in fiscal year 2023, a 7% increase over the $76 million collected in FY 2022 and 23% more than the $66 million in FY 2019, according to figures presented at Visit Alexandria‘s annual meeting on Tuesday night.

“We’re back,” Wilson told an audience of hundreds at the Westin Alexandria Old Town. “And now it’s not about planning and recovery, it’s not about figuring out what’s next, it’s not about adapting. It’s about putting the pedal to the metal. This is an exciting moment for our community. And we have an opportunity to seize this incredible opportunity for the city in the future.”

Alexandria was also listed in Travel and Leisure’s Best Places to Travel in 2023 and Best Cities in the U.S. 2023, and was voted third in Condé Nast Traveler’s list of best small cities in the country.

Handing out flags at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Old Town, March 3, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Visit Alexandria CEO Patricia Washington said that her success is largely the result of a series of video advertising campaigns, like the “Best Kept Shh!” campaign, where the city is advertised as a best-kept secret. The campaign garnered a reported 60 million impressions, and contributed to a record 186 million total digital marketing impressions in FY 2023, according to Visit Alexandria.

“Our marketing strategy meets people where they are, whether they’re watching a YouTube video on their computer, a streaming app on their TV, or social media on their phone,” Washington said. “We’ve worked hard to gain national recognition and a national reputation and this is the moment to capitalize on it with a new spot that ties together all the accolades with the ‘Best Kept Shh’ campaign.”

Hotel occupancy rose 18% in Fy 2023, according to Visit Alexandria. That resulted in record revenue per available room of $111, a 4% increase from the previous record of $107 set in 2019.

Visit Alexandria is the city’s tourism bureau, and earlier this year City Council approved $2 million for marketing, advertising, printing and web expenses. The allocation, a 4% increase of $149,800, was directed to be spent at Visit Alexandria’s discretion. A majority of the funding, $1.7 million of it, is budgeted directly toward advertising, with $162,000 for website support and $127,000 for printing costs.

Washington said to expect new video campaigns highlighting Alexandria’s neighborhoods, Black heritage and more. She also said that travel inflation and fears of recession will mean that consumers will want to get the most value from their money in the coming year.

“At a time when so much of our life is lived in the digital world, we need to remember that authentic travel is a refuge that provides meaning, magic and connections,” Washington said.

Wilson said Visit Alexandria’s success allows the city to support critical services and protect an attractive quality of life.

“We’re in a joint venture,” he said. “And we’re going to make sure that joint venture is even more successful in the future.”

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The Old Town Alexandria waterfront (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

It’s no surprise that, for the sixth straight year, Alexandria’s in the top five best small cities list in the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards: but this year, Alexandria beat out Aspen and reclaimed its third place ranking.

Alexandria is third place behind Santa Fe, New Mexico and Charleston, South Carolina, which has become a tradition of the annual rankings.

The list does use a recycled version of the description from the previous years:

Washingtonians are all in on the secret, but it’s no surprise the rest of the world is catching up: Alexandria, Virginia, the charming, historic city just across the Potomac River from our nation’s capital, draws travelers and would-be residents alike.

Most folks start to imagine moving there immediately after setting foot in Old Town, once they’ve strolled the red-brick sidewalks, clocking street after street of perfectly preserved rowhouses from the 18th and 19th centuries. When you visit, scope out King Street, packed with boutiques, restaurants, and specialty shops; then land at the waterfront, where you can watch the boats bobbing on the water before touring the Torpedo Factory Art Center, a collective of galleries and artists’ studios. End the day at Gadsby’s Tavern, where some of our founding fathers used to drink—don’t mind the actors in colonial garb.

Santa Fe’s listing praises the art scene in the city as one of the draws, with over 250 galleries, so the Old Town North arts district has a lot of catching up to do.

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Gadsby’s Tavern (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

Alexandria is pretty indisputably the champion of Halloween in the region, and every year, the city’s museums get in on the action.

Two museums around Alexandria are offering special tours in October exploring poisons and death in the City of Alexandria.

Gadsby’s Tavern Museum (134 N. Royal Street) has Death at the City Hotel, an event that uses the death of actress Anne Warren at the hotel in 1808 to explore how Alexandrians at the time would have viewed death and grieving.

The event is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 13 and Saturday, Oct. 14, from 7-9 p.m. Tickets are $45 per person or $30 for volunteers/Office of historic Alexandria members.

According to the Office of Historic Alexandria’s This Week in Historic Alexandria newsletter:

As is per custom, portrayal of grief can include black clothing, armbands, and jewelry, which can include the hair of our deceased friend. Join us in 1808 and learn about the unwritten social guidelines of mourning periods and the “proper attire” wealthy, free Alexandrians would have adhered to and how others would have their expressions of grief suppressed by social and economic status and, even written law. As we explore these topics guests will sip delicious spirits (two drink tickets included) and create their own individualized, wearable mourning pendant (or magnet) using designs inspired by popular death iconography of the time period. 21 and older only.

Meanwhile, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum (105-107 S. Fairfax Street) is hosting its Poisons at the Apothecary Museum. The tour runs Saturdays, Oct. 14, Oct. 21 and Oct. 28 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

According to the newsletter:

Come explore the sinister side of medicine on the Apothecary Museum’s Poisons Tour. This one-hour tour explores several different types of poisons, their historic uses at the Apothecary, and what we know today. Recommended for ages 18 and older.

Lastly, tickets are on sale for an acclaimed Edgar Allan Poe reading returning to the Lyceum on Oct. 30 and Oct. 31.

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Alexandria sometime between 1861-1865 (image via Library of Congress)

Most historic tours around Alexandria take visitors to historic buildings, but a unique set of tours next month offers insight into the buildings that aren’t there.

The Lost Buildings of Alexandria tour examines the historic buildings that, for one reason or another, have been lost to time.

“The City of Alexandria has seen older buildings and spaces being restored, preserved, and reused in different ways,” a release said. “However, there were many buildings that were not preserved and have been lost to time. Through this tour, explore the streets of Alexandria with stops at locations where historic buildings once stood.”

The tour is a joint project from the Lee-Fendall House and Carlyle Historic Park. Tours start at the Lee-Fendall House Museum (614 Oronoco Street) at 10 a.m. every Saturday in September.

“The tour includes walking over many city blocks, so please dress appropriately for the terrain and weather,” the release said. “Tours are limited to 10 people. Tickets are $25 per person.”

Tickets are available online.

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Curtains will be closing this Friday on a temporary tour of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum inspired by the musical “Hamilton” but an encore may already be in the works.

Tickets for the specialty tour, dubbed “Hamilton’s BFFs and Frenemies,” have already sold out for the summer run, which is ending this week, a city spokeswoman said. The city’s Office of Historic Alexandria is making plans to offer the same tour this fall at the museum, located at 134 N. Royal Street, though dates have not yet been set, she said.

The tour explains how George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Aaron Burr each intersected with the historical tavern. It weaves in references to the musical — named for its titular character, Alexander Hamilton, and which suggests he was “frenemies” with Burr.

“Overall, whether [for] fans of the musical ‘Hamilton’ or just really into history, this tour dives into the challenges the young nation faced and how that played out at the local level,” says Michele Longo, the director of education and museum operations for the Office of Historic Alexandria. “You might think you know the story, but there is always more to discover.”

The tour plays up themes that are explored in the musical, too.

The people of color who play white Founding Fathers in “Hamilton” prompt viewers to think about the roles enslaved and free Black people had in the founding. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Burr questions the agency regular Americans had in the Founding when he sings about his jealousy of missing secret dinner table meetings that determined the course of history.

“Alexandria became part of the District of Columbia because of the events that took place in the ‘room where it happened,'” says Longo, borrowing Burr’s famous line from the hit songs, “The Room Where It Happens.”

“Not only did this change the trajectory of the local economy, but it influenced how the free Black community in Alexandria grew,” said Longo. “We dive into all this and more during the tour.”

 

Fans of the musical may also catch guides quoting Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Jefferson. In a song about the 1800 presidential election, which provides a window into the animosity between him and his opponent, Burr, Jefferson asks, “Can we get back to politics?”

“Thomas Jefferson actually spent the night at Gadsby’s Tavern as part of the events leading up to him becoming president,” Longo said. “A few months later, he raised a glass to ‘unity’ during an inaugural celebration in Gadsby’s famous ballroom, right next to his VP Aaron Burr — can you imagine?”

The climax of the musical is the 1804 duel between Burr and Hamilton, when Burr fatally shot his opponent.

Gadsby’s Tavern Museum is composed of a tavern dating back to around 1785 tavern and the City Tavern and Hotel dating back to 1792. Longo says historians know when Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Burr visited the tavern because period newspaper articles provided a “who’s who” of attendees at notable events held there.

The tavern also knows when Jefferson spent the night there because of his “incredibly detailed account books” and when Washington dined there because of a thank you note in his diary, she said.

That these men orbited around the tavern provides another connection between the city and the nation’s founding, which Longo says touched everyone who lived in colonial Alexandria.

“From enslaved individuals to the wealthiest in town, their lives were impacted by the decisions made in this young nation,” she said.

If and when new tours open up this fall, more people may be able to test the tour’s thesis that Gadsby’s Tavern is — to quote a rapping Burr — “the room where it happened.”

Photo 1 via Flickr/AlanStudt

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A few products on display at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum. (Staff photo by James Cullum)

Old Town’s Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum (105-107 S. Fairfax Street) is a fascinating place, and the Office of Historic Alexandria is looking for volunteers to help show it to visitors.

The museum contains a collection of medicinal herbs, shop furnishings, apothecary pottles and more that are largely original to the 141-year-old family business. The museum tells the story of medicine and business as they evolved in Alexandria. The museum has a collection of journals, letters, diaries and more — including a note from Martha Washington.

The museum also features a variety of special themed tours, detailing everything from the herbs referenced in the Outlander books/show to a tour of poisons.

“The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, part of the Office of Historic Alexandria, is recruiting volunteers to lead guided tours,” the City of Alexandria said in a release. “Training begins August 26 with an in-person workshop, continues with virtual evening classes, and wraps-up with a second in-person workshop on September 30. Participants will end the series ready to complete their tour certification.”

Volunteers are needed for both weekends and weekdays, particularly on Sundays and Mondays. Tour guides are required to host at least one four-hour shift per month.

Applications to become a guide at the museum are available online.

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The Alexandria skyline (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Travel + Leisure readers ranked Alexandria as one of the top ten cities in America for the second year in a row — though Nashville, Tennessee bumped Alexandria down from the eighth spot to the ninth spot.

The cities are ranked on a variety of factors, from shopping and food to culture and landmarks. As with last year, Charleston, South Carolina came in at number one.

Both this year and last year, Alexandria ranked just ahead of San Antonio, Texas, but Nashville swiped the number eight spot.

“Just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., Alexandria offers the charm of a small town alongside the buzz of the nation’s capital,” the magazine wrote. “In this ‘living museum,’ as one reader called it, you’ll find red-brick sidewalks, 18th and 19th-century homes and taverns, and the country’s oldest continuously operating farmers market.”

The magazine lauded the city’s ghost tours in particular.

“Family-friendly ghost tours let visitors travel back to the past, but trendy boutiques, luxury hotels, and vibrant nightlife keep the Port City very much in the present,” the magazine wrote.

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