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Imbuing Washington with Life

Potomac author and tour guide, Anthony S. Pitch discusses his work.

Anthony S. Pitch will not recite rote facts, like the height of the Washington Monument (555 feet) or orientation of Vietnam War Memorial Walls (they run from East to West) on his specialty tours of Washington, D.C.

Instead, Pitch will tell his tour groups that Thomas Jefferson offered Congress his private, hand-picked European library as a replacement for the Library of Congress, which was burned by the British during the War of 1812. He will tell his tours that Congress bought the 6,487-book collection for $24,000 and it took two weeks and 20 wagons to transport the entire library from Monticello to Washington.

Pitch will describe the items he has seen left at the foot of the Vietnam War Memorial — a half-empty Jack Daniel's bottle, with a note written from a solider to his friend who did not come back. “Your half, Earl, love you, Mike.” A letter that read, “I was your best friend, you were a good father, faithful husband. I wasn’t there the day you were killed, I found out the next day, and it sent me into shock. I couldn’t remember your name for thirty-seven years, then I went to a reunion and your name came up and it all came back to me. Now, I’ve come to ask your forgiveness.”

Such anecdotes not only imbue Washington’s sites with humanity, but are also Pitch’s signature style.

“HE HAS MANAGED to develop stories that get to the heart of telling about different people, people you’ve heard about through your passing through history and maybe you didn’t know that well,” said Bill Owen, of the Illinois-based travel agency, Franklin Travel. “Often we view the government as them and us; they are the big shots, and we are the peons. [Pitch] gets across that these are fundamentally ordinary people that have managed to do extraordinary things, who have given a lot of themselves to be in government,”

Nichole Vasquez, the program coordinator for Smithsonian Associates, echoes Owen’s sentiment.

“Tony is just great. He’s got a great personality and he’s a wonderful story teller and a very knowledgeable historian,” she said.

Pitch not only gives specialized tours of Washington D.C., two of which have been filmed by C-SPAN, but he is also a former journalist and current author. His books, which include “The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814” and “Congressional Chronicles” have been selected by the History Book Club and the Military Book Club, and have been taken along on vacation by former President Bill Clinton.

“Congressional Chronicles,” published in 1990, came from Pitch’s research of previously unpublished anecdotes and memories of former congressmen and senators, stored in the Library of Congress. It documents the idiosyncratic and often erratic behavior of congressmen.

Pitch is currently working on a book about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

“The reason I’m writing about Lincoln’s assassination is because I think it’s the saddest story in American history. And it’s never been told as a sad story, in my mind. A lot of academics have written books on the assassination, and, there’s good and bad, like any other book. But I’ve never felt the human drama, the pathos, the real sadness of the story, and that’s why I’m writing it,” Pitch said.

PITCH, 67, grew up in the former Rhodesia, modern day Zimbabwe, and in England. For Pitch, a career in journalism and writing was a natural and instinctive choice. As a former correspondent for the Associated Press, Pitch covered events like Congo’s independence from Belgium, the Six-Day War in the Middle East, and Zambia’s independence from the United Kingdom. Having lived all over the world, Pitch moved to the Washington, D.C. area “to be in the middle of [everything],” Pitch said.

Pitch worked for the U.S. News and World Report book division in 1980 until it folded during the recession that decade. Pitch, losing work for the third time, switched to writing books, vowing that he would never work for anyone but himself.

About 12 years ago, in addition to writing, Pitch started giving walking tours of Washington, opening them to the public on Sundays. Although the tours are now motorized and no longer public, Pitch never gets tired of telling people about Washington.

“I get on well with strangers, and I really love to show off the city. It’s such a wonderful city, it’s my favorite city and I never get tired of talking about it,” Pitch said.

Save Anderson, vice president of sales for Building Champions, an executive coaching company in California, arranged Pitch’s tour for some of the company’s clients in Washington.

“I think that, from my standpoint, it was very interesting to me that this guy was so passionate about American history and he was British. It’s both a fun thing to see and a sad thing to see — I’ve never seen an American who is as passionate about my country as he was,” Anderson said.