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With elegant Gothic Revival steeples and a bell tower that peaks above surrounding Capitol Hill row houses, Christ Church prides itself on its history.
Its pews held Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams.
But few know a more scandalous chapter of the church’s past: Its brass altar rails once held stashes of pot. In the 1960s, a liberal minister earned it the reputation of the “hippie church”; he was asked to resign after a parishioner found marijuana in the railing while cleaning.
That’s far from being the Hill’s only scandalous secret. And it’s one of more than 10 that Tim Krepp shares as the guide of a new Capitol Hill scandal tour. He and Robert Pohl, both writers for online news publication the Hill Is Home, launched a tour company called Walking Shtick Tours during the first week of October.
It’s literally a homegrown business. Unlike big-name tour companies such as Tourmobile Sightseeing or DC Tours, there’s no Walking Shtick headquarters, and the two men researched the tours, designed the hourlong walks and launched the website from their homes on Capitol Hill. Customers register for tours online and meet their guides at the Eastern Market Metro stop.
Also unlike large touring companies, Walking Shtick’s tours don’t focus on dry facts about the construction of buildings and monuments. They center on sex, drugs, murder and cannibalism on the Hill.
Tourists will learn, for instance, what happened behind the red brick walls and navy shutters at the rendezvous site of former presidential candidate Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and Donna Rice. The couple’s affair in the late 1980s was the end of the married Hart’s political career.
The guides touch on more recent eyebrow-raising scandals, too.
Another stop is the former home of resigned Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.). Before harassment allegations this year in which Massa was accused of making sexual comments to men in his office, the house reportedly sheltered his young male staffers.
“Our scandal tour has quite a bit of, shall we say, Congressional input,” said Krepp, who also writes the DC Like a Local blog and has been a tour guide for five years with student travel companies.
The tour also visits the controversial “C Street house,” where a conservative Christian organization houses Members of Congress, and the former home of Sgt. William Cross, one of 19 men who died and were allegedly eaten by survivors of the 1881 Lady Franklin Bay Expedition to Arctic territories.
Capitalizing on October’s Halloween fever, Walking Shtick offers a Capitol Hill ghost tour featuring stories gleaned from first-person accounts of ghouls living in neighborhood residents’ homes.
Even doubters who scoff at ghost stories may appreciate the tales of some of D.C.’s most ruthless killings, such as when journalist Charles Kincaid lodged a bullet in the eye of Rep. William Taulbee (D-Ky.) on a Capitol staircase in 1890. The married lawmaker threatened to kill the reporter for naming his Washington mistress, but the tables turned when Kincaid pulled a gun.
Stories such as these took some serious research. Krepp and Pohl, both stay-at-home dads, said their part-time journalistic pursuits inform their tours. Not only do they have muckrakers’ curiosity, they have a knack for sniffing out scandals.