Confessions of an Evil-Minded D.C. Tourist

Harry Truman reportedly once said that if you want a friend in Washington you should get a dog. Here’s my corollary: if you want someone in law enforcement to stick by your side in D.C., show up at a national monument with a camera and try to appear nonchalant as you ask the park ranger about security arrangements . . . at night. Sure, you know it’s research for a book and you want to get your facts right because readers care about these things. But now you’ve got the undivided attention of someone wearing a uniform and a badge and you can hear the gears whirring because he’s wondering, “Who is she really and why does she want to know how many people guard the Jefferson Memorial at night?”And you’re thinking, “Do park rangers carry guns?”

Let me just say that it’s not the first time I’ve been in a situation like this, so now I’m prepared. I successfully calmed down a Capitol Hill police officer who found me with a map and my camera as I was trying to locate a little-known pavilion on the Senate grounds. I also placated a Capitol tour guide who finally stopped our group in the middle of Statuary Hall and said to me in an ominous voice, “What’s up with all the questions?”

When I ‘fessed up, she seemed disappointed. “Oh,”she said, “I thought you were one of those Dan Brown fans looking for the lost symbol.”

But today at the Jefferson Memorial, I decide I’m going to throw caution to the wind and tell this ranger the truth up front. I hand him my business card, explain that I’m a mystery author researching my next book, and I need to know if it’s possible to get away with murdering someone at the Jefferson Memorial at night, or does someone patrol the grounds at all hours. Unfortunately for me—or fortunately for you, if you happen to be a nocturnal tourist or an insomniac who visits monuments at 3am—it’s not possible. There are lights and guards and patrols and, yes, guns. Twenty-four seven.

Nothing but wide open spaces at the Washington Monument, and you can’t hide a body behind a flagpole.
So now I’m stuck. I’ve already ruled out Hains Point, the southernmost tip of East Potomac Park, a 300-acre man-made island between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel. It’s got great scenery and it’s the perfect place for an edgy late night date to watch the planes fly over your head as they skim across the Potomac and land at Reagan. But the park closes at night.

Well, I’m writing fiction, aren’t I? Don’t I get some latitude, so I can rearrange the facts to suit my purposes? I don’t think so—at least not this time, because it’s the Jefferson Memorial. If I start taking liberties with iconic places you know, love, and more importantly, have visited (and you’ve all been here, just ask us locals), I’m going to lose credibility with readers who say, “If I can’t trust her to get the Jefferson Memorial right, what else did she get wrong in this book?” Maybe you agree with me or maybe not; either way, I’d like to know, so please chime in with your comments at the end of this post.

But back to my story, which has a happy ending because my park ranger has a secret. Once we establish that I’m not a terrorist who needs to be turned over to Homeland Security, he confesses. He’s got an unfinished manuscript at home in a desk drawer. Where it has been gathering dust for years. Now he has questions for me—about publishing and writing and what to do with that manuscript. So we chat and I’m still trying to figure out where to stash a dead body while giving him the best advice I give any would-be author: finish the thing. Afterwards he disappears, but a few minutes later he’s back with a map of the Jefferson Memorial . . . and environs.

“I’ve been thinking,”he says. “There are better places to murder someone. What about the George Mason Memorial?”

I’m a transplanted Virginian and I know all about George Mason, even though he was one of the lesser-known Founding Fathers. But he did write the Bill of Rights, along with James Madison, plus he was George Washington’s good buddy until they had a falling out when Mason wouldn’t sign the Constitution. A university bearing Mason’s name is practically in my backyard in Fairfax, Virginia.

I am dumbfounded. “There’s a memorial to George Mason?”I ask. “Where is it?”

My ranger points vaguely across the street. “Over there, through some bushes. It’s not one of the better-known D.C. monuments. Thomas Jefferson is guarded night and day, but George Mason only gets a drive-by every now and then.”He hands me the map, winks at me, and says, “Think about it.”

Then he takes off to help another tourist. Just as I’m leaving he’s back again and this time he looks pleased.

“I need to thank you for being an inspiration,“ he says. ”When I leave here today, I’m going home to finally finish that book.”

I tell him he’s welcome and head across the street to find those bushes and the previously-unknown-to-me memorial to George Mason. Where I’m also sure to find another park ranger.

Though the odds are probably against me that he or she will have a manuscript in a desk drawer.

Image of George Mason Memorial from Rhodeside & Harwell


This sweepstakes has ended. See our feature page for current opportunities.

Multiple Exposure by Ellen CrosbyTo enter for a chance to win a hardcover copy of Multiple Exposure by Ellen Crosby, the debut of photojournalist Sophie Medina in a thriller of political intrigue, art history, and espionage, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.


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Multiple Exposure Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete entry at beginning at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) July 31, 2013. Sweepstakes ends at 3:59 p.m. ET August 7, 2013. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law.  Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


Ellen Crosby is the author of six books in the Virginia wine country mystery series, as well as Moscow Nights, a standalone mystery based loosely on her time as Moscow correspondent for ABC Radio News. Before writing fiction, she also worked as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post and as an economist at the US Senate. After living overseas for many years in Europe and the former Soviet Union, Crosby, who has an undergraduate degree in political science and a masters in international affairs, now resides in the D.C. suburbs of northern Virginia.


  1. Jim Belcher

    Take some liberties! Aviation based stories never get it all correct even when written by pilots who know better. The story is the thing. If it is better with a few alterations then so be it. Besides, if you get it all correct you may help a crook do it right.

  2. Gordon Bingham

    Absolutely! Anyone who know the Father of the Bill of Rights is uber cool in my books!!

  3. vanessagalore

    I find that research drives my plots forward. So as much as possible, try to get it right, because your readers will see the effort, even if they don’t know if it’s right or not. And after this post, I’d be interested to read this book.

  4. Kris Kaminski

    its still murder!

  5. Albert Tucher

    It’s amazing how often that happens. In researching my fiction I have met more than a few people who were willing to help me because they had manuscripts of their own. Often they had never revealed their secret to anyone before.

  6. Thomas Walker

    really fun article. Probably best to get it right. But introducing the George Mason monument would be a fun change of pace and something not everyone knows. Would love to win the book!

  7. Robin Bartley

    This article is great. I think the idea of having it at the George Mason Memorial would neat, especially since it would draw attention to this lesser known memorial.

  8. Mo Heedles

    Insight into a writer’s research is so interesting. While I like it when an author gets the facts right I will give them the leeway to bend the facts some if it moves the story forward. Just don’t be so wrong it pulls me out of the story.

  9. Megan Brett

    I love the idea of setting it at the Mason memorial! It’s a great location, a fun memorial (you can sit next to Giant George!) and it might get more people to move a little further off the “traditional tourist” path. (I’ve lived in the DC area for 14 years now)

  10. Shannon Scott

    Research is the fun part!

  11. Tom O'Day

    Terrific column. Very insighful into the “new” DC (since 9/11) with a cop and security seemingly on every corner. I say seemingly since it always possible to find a loophole. Like the George Mason Memorial. Love the thought of a dead body next to one of our nation’s founder. Go for it!

  12. Denise Sachs

    This sounds really entertaining and interesting.

  13. L L

    Interesting post

  14. Margit Curtright

    This sounds intriguing. I haven’t been to D.C. in a long time.

  15. Vicky Boackle

    looks great.

  16. lynette barfield

    Interesting. Would love to have a copy.

  17. Starr Greenwell

    Looks like a very good read. 🙂

  18. James P. Pope

    Very cool, it cool to find people to help you out.

  19. Colleen Welander

    Ohhh interesting.

  20. Jacki Robertson

    Loved Ellen Crosby’s winery series. Would like to try this!

  21. Irene Menge

    I can imagine the adventure of doing research of this sort. However, I
    would think that getting things like real locations right or using
    correct terminology (like properly saying anchors aweigh instead of
    anchors away) is somewhat more important than knowing the actual routine of security personnel. I know I am always stopped mid-read when I find a word or phrase used improperly or when I run across something like bear naked instead of bare naked. Too much reliance on spell check, I think.

  22. Susan Robinette

    If I know the real location, I’m pulled out of the story when details are wrong. This book sounds great — would love to win it.

  23. Anne Sroda

    The Lincoln Memorial is also guarded 24 hours, but it still got splattered with green paint! Would love to win your book.

  24. Elise Kress

    Great article, Ellen! Washington is rife with monuments – why not choose one outside the top three? I think that’s better than using your fiction license at such an iconic location as the Jefferson Memorial. Maybe your corpse can end up in G. Mason’t lap? Like the pieta, but different.

  25. Jeffrey Malis

    Enjoyed the article and the insight into your research! Thank you for the opportunity!

  26. Mary Ann Brady

    Enjoyed your article very much. Would certainly love to win.

  27. Joanne Mielczarski

    The article was great – now it’s time for the book!

  28. peter gladue

    looks interesting, I would like to win

  29. Kimberly Hilbert

    Sounds like a great book

  30. Karen Koziczkowski

    I’m really interested in history and political books of our current History, wheather is Fiction of not. AND its a Hardcover Book! I alway buy hardcoverr when ever available. Love to win.

  31. Shirley Turner

    This sounds a little different from the regular who done it.

  32. Patti Goettler

    This sounds fun, I was born in DC, raised in Prince William County, and my Grand Pa lived in Arlington, just across Key Bridge, (Yay Eagle Wine & Beverage Store!!) I love mysteries that happpen in places I’m familar with, so thanks in advance!

  33. Patti Goettler

    This sounds fun, I was born in DC, raised in Prince William County, and my Grand Pa lived in Arlington, just across Key Bridge, (Yay Eagle Wine & Beverage Store!!) I love mysteries that happen in places I’m familiar with, so thanks in advance!

  34. Michele C

    Love to win.

  35. Michele Carvalho

    Love to win

  36. cassandra mccann

    I would love to win

  37. Kari Flores

    This looks like an awesome book would love to win it.

  38. Daniel Morrell

    looks like one my dad would like

  39. Mario Aguilar

    interesting article, would love to read the book

  40. Bob Keck

    I’m all for a tight thriller set in our nation’s capital. Thanks for sponsoring this.

  41. Susan Smith

    Sounds great

  42. Mildred Bromberg

    Sounds like a great read

  43. kathy pease

    Thank you for the great giveaway please count me in 🙂

  44. Ed Nemmers

    I would love to read the work of Ellen Crosby!

  45. Steven Wilber

    Looks interesting

  46. mosaix

    Research and photography! Yes!

  47. patricia gibby

    looks like a book I would like to read

  48. Mary Ann Woods

    Art history still remains one of my major interests (college major) so this book sounds tailor made for me.

  49. Marie-Louise Molloy

    [b]When will I EVER win so I can finish a book~LOL! [/b]

  50. jane

    Love her Lucie Montgomery books so I am sure I would enjoy this one!

  51. Crystal Blackburn

    I would love to win this book.

  52. Deanna Stillings

    I think this one will be a first for Mason! Dee

  53. Jeffrey Tretin

    Sounds great. There are so many monuments to chose from!

  54. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  55. Linda Kish

    I’m guessing, if it’s fiction, it’s okay that there isn’t a guard there at 3 o’clock in the morning when there is a murder. Who would really care. I’d still read it with just as much enjoyment.

  56. Bob Alexander

    I want to read this series so naturally, I want to start with the debut.

  57. sherryann

    I have never been to Washington DC & depend on my authors to describe it to me…..I also loveee murder!

  58. Anna Mills

    These comments; best, by far, of any contest I have entered here.

  59. ron frampton

    looks like it will great reading !

  60. ravensfan

    Great that you discovered the George Mason Memorial, lesser known than the other monuments in DC.

  61. Richard Edmundson

    Sounds fun.

  62. MaryC

    I think if a person knew the timing of the patrols, a murder would be possible. Interesting post.

  63. Katharine Ott

    The book sounds great! Re the first photo posted here, we were just talking about those little paddle boats – we brought our family to DC in the 90s and had a great visit.

  64. Melissa Dials

    Sounds like a great read!

  65. Mary Ann Brady

    There’s nothing like reading a well researched book. Look forward to this one.

  66. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read this book

  67. Allison Moyer

    I’m glad you take the time to verify if your murderous plots have credibility. That says a lot about you as a writer and makes me want to read your books. Thanks for the giveaway!

  68. Brenda Elsner

    Sounds like a great read!! Thanks for the chance to win!!

  69. Donna Bruno

    Sure- a photo-journalist makes for a nice twist!!!!! I’d love to win a copy!

  70. Anita Yancey

    I would love to win this book. Thanks for this chance.

  71. Joanne Mielczarski

    This book is right up my alley!

  72. Betsy Whitmarsh

    Not familiar with this author!

  73. Michael Gonzales

    Using the George Mason Memorial instead of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is great as the Mason Memorial is little known so your book will be a little history lesson along with the main story. Would love to win this book.

  74. Jeanne Agee

    This sounds like a great story. I also think using the George Mason Memorial is a great idea. Thanks for the giveaway and would love to win because this is one of my favorite story lines.

  75. Buddy Garrett

    It sounds like a great book. Thanks for the giveaway.

  76. Heather Martin

    Getting it right is more important. Those little mistakes can ruin a really good book. Plus, I’d rather learn something new. We do appreciate the effort.

  77. Joyce Mitchell

    Enjoyed the article – now I want to read the book. Thanks.

  78. Mihaela Day

    Would certainly love to win.

  79. Lisa Pecora

    This sounds very interesting!!

  80. susan beamon

    I’m going to admit I haven’t been to any of the monuments in Washington DC, and I’m not likely to see them in person any time soon. All my trips through and around the DC area were going from one spot to another on the outskirts of the city. But I have read many guide books and thrillers and mysteries set there. Here comes another one and I want it.

  81. L L

    Sounds intriguing

  82. MARY Mclain

    Our Senior High School Class went to Washington DC as a tour group. It was an exciting time.

  83. Daniel Vice

    This would be great

  84. Karen Terry

    Sounds interesting.

  85. Susan Smoaks

    oh this one sounds like a fun read!

  86. Lisa Garrett

    I love political thrillers. Thanks for the opportunity!

  87. Kat Emerick

    I love reading a powerful mystery/murder/thriller book and this would be one.

  88. Kathryn C

    sounds like a great read! thanks for the chance!

  89. Heather Cowley

    Interesting read, I’m sure. Bring it! 🙂

  90. Tim Moss

    Cool! Count me in!

  91. vicki wurgler

    love to read a political thriller

  92. babs allen

    I’d probably be arrested asking that, but I’m also a firm believer in research. So Go You!

  93. Cindi Hoppes

    What an interesting post…It almost makes me want to do research and write a mystery or two!
    Very enjoyable…
    Thanks for sharing!

  94. Judie McDonald

    An interesting read!

  95. Phoenix

    I’m sure this will be more interesting due to the author’s background in journalism.

  96. Taylor Duncan


  97. Christine LaRue

    I work in the State Capitol Building in Sacramento. The Capitol Protection Section is the largest command within the California Highway Patrol’s Protective Services Division and provides police and safety services to the occupants and visitors of the Capitol building and grounds. Yes, they carry firearms. The mounted patrol is my favorite unit, even though the riders are not thrilled if you ask to pet the horses. I can only imagine the reaction if one were to pose questions of a suspicious nature!

  98. Beth Mills

    Fascinating to read about the research that went into the book. Love Multiple Exposure, by the way–Sophie Medina is a great character and I hope to see more of her.

  99. Kelley Tackett

    “monumental body dump” is not a phrase you hear every day. I can’t believe you weren’t tackled by a SWAT team.

  100. Brenda Tucker

    Glad you found Georgee Mason memorial – sounds wonderful.

Comments are closed.