Historic DC places that don’t live up to their fame

Living in DC, it is easy to take for granted all of the city’s monuments and history. Some are famous and worthy of double-decker bus tours. Some are genuinely beautiful. But others just make you say, “huh.”

The following are three local attractions that just don’t quite live up to all the hype:

Mary E. Surratt Boardinghouse

The plot to kill Lincoln (or ransom him for rebel soldiers, depending on which version of Robert Redford’s history you believe) originated at Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse, 604 H Street NW. Four of the conspirators were eventually sentenced to death by hanging, including the likely innocent Surratt. She became the first woman executed by the U.S. federal government.

Today the original building still stands in the heart of DC’s Chinatown. And I loved it long before I realized its unique place in American history.


Because it’s now one of the best Chinese restaurants in town.

Wok n Roll on H Street offers delicious sushi and sesame chicken, with a side of John Wilkes Booth’s sic semper tyrannis.

Tourists hungry for history, however, might very well be disappointed. A lone plaque on the outside of the building marks it as a National Historic Site.

I’m sure someone much deeper than I would discuss how American the building is for changing with each century. Personally, I’m just saying it’s not that cool to visit, unless you are seriously craving some Dim Sum.

Surratt Boardinghouse in 1890

Present day










But if you really want to know more about Lincoln’s assassination, make sure to visit the Smithsonian American History Museum. The museum currently has an exhibition highlighting the conspiracy. Extra creepy: the actual masks worn during the hangings are on display.

Fort Bunker Hill

In keeping with our Civil War theme, next up on our list is the Fort Bunker Hill National Park. During the war, the Union built a fort on the hill to try to stave off Confederate advances.

Despite its famous moniker, no battle ever took place at Fort Bunker Hill (the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Bunker Hill took place several hours north in Boston).

But my main issue with the Fort Bunker Hill National Park is the false promise of a fort and Civil War era cannon.

There is no fort anymore. There is no cannon anymore. Yet the park’s welcome sign shows pictures of the park during the past and the present, each with a cannon on the hill’s peak.

I raced up the hill excited to reach the historic marker. And all I found was an American flag, tied to a tree, covered in Sharpie rendered Tea Party slogans.

Disappointment, thy name is Fort Bunker Hill.

The White House

Thanks to movies like Dave and The American President I always believed that this was what the White House looks like:

Pretty impressive, right?

But upon moving to DC, I discovered that what I had always thought was the front of the White House was, in fact, the back.

This is actually the front:

Yeah, hi I’m from the South. This is just another boring plantation.

Besides you can’t even go inside anymore, unless you know someone who knows someone (or much more likely, someone’s intern). So, welcome to DC. Enjoy your stay.

If you have any other suggestions of over-hyped or easy to miss DC historic places you’d like us to cover, please leave them below in the comments.

– Actually Had to Look Up Some Stuff Lindsay

About Lindsay Golder

Freelance writer, book-fiend, lover of shamefully bad films regularly featured on TBS or TNT.

7 Responses to “Historic DC places that don’t live up to their fame”

  1. I, like you, always believed the back of the white house was indeed the front. It wasn’t until I was in my THIRD year of college here that someone corrected me. Everyone else agreed with me until that point. Concurred on the boring plantation, Loretta Lynn’s plantation home is more appealing to me.

    Mansion on O St. – Get on it.

    • Glad to know it wasn’t just me on the White House fake-out! Such a game changer.

      And thanks for the O St. recommendation. We’ll be sure to check it out and report back!

  2. Actually, you can still get into the White House. You have to go through your Representative. The few worthwhile things they do: tickets to the White House, Congress and the Inauguration. I think they’ve always been the gatekeepers to White House tickets. And, no, you don’t have to know your Representative personally.

  3. White House: Yes, my first thought when I saw it was “This tiny little thing is the White House?” It looked so much bigger in movies, such as Independence Day. Sad, really.

  4. Hello there, being from England (sorry about that) history is very much rammed down our throats from a very early age…yet I find American history far more interesting, as it’s tangible, in that it can nearly be touched. I’m riveted by the Lincoln Assassination, but moreover the story surrounding the conspirators’. I must wholeheartedly agree that the Mary E. Surratt Boardinghouse is very disappointing. This building should be made into a centre of historical merit and restored into a visitor attraction or museum. Efforts should certainly be put the city politicians/historians/tourism to right this wrong. Today it’s a restaurant – disgraceful!!!!!!

    • The Surratt boarding house should be purchased by the National Parks Department and restored to it’s 1860’s appearance. A shame that this important piece of history is relegated to a restaurant.

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