Walking through history

During an Alexandria History Tour, you will meet the George Washington you never knew, the Abraham Lincoln you never heard of, and sides of history you were never taught in school.

You will also meet Steve Doss, your polite and casual tour guide.

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Doss — part researcher, part historian, part storyteller — is the owner of Alexandria’s Footsteps to the Past, a company specializing in guided walking tours. His outfit claims to offer “the real history of the city” and seeks to “take you out of the ordinary” and “to tell you the little-known but revealing stories of our former residents.”

As he politely shares his extensive knowledge of the area, Doss, a native of Virginia with a history degree from George Mason University, will cause you to rethink your view of history, but he is in no way trying to be offensive.

At 1:30 p.m., he begins the tour. 

At first he is frank. “Unless you like history, you are going to be bored out of your mind,” he says on the porch of the Alexandria visitors center, formally known as the Ramsay House. 

Following a brief talk about the initial purchasing of land and other facts about Alexandria’s founding, he turns and looks at a sign on the wall. “The Ramsay House. Built Circa 1724,” it says. 

That’s not right. According to Doss, the house burned down in 1947 and was rebuilt in 1954. The house on the corner of King and North Fairfax streets is actually a replica. 

In fact, the original house was in Dumfries, Va. The original owner had it cut in half and put on a barge, and sent it to Alexandria later.

Doss even points to the wood and painting to show that there is no possible way it could be from that time period. 

The wood is from “probably late, late Victorian period,” he says.

He corrects. He moves on.

Moving past Market Square to the Carlyle House, and then to the site of the Assembly Hall, currently the Alexandria City Hall, on the corner of North Fairfax and Cameron streets, he unloads his knowledge of George Washington.

“The seeds of the Revolution started in this house,” he says, looking back to the Carlyle House. 

But he insists on being “politically correct” as he goes along, at first, not saying too much about that which might offend unsuspecting tourists.

But the temptation to tell the truth about little-known facts about Alexandria proves too tempting. He gives in and begins to bust a few myths along the way.

After explaining the struggles of finding an appropriate title to name the leader of the 13 colonies — as opposed to a royal, British title like “king” — Doss stresses the kind of government the Founding Fathers had in mind.

America is a “democratically elected republic,” he says, stressing that the Founding Fathers had no intentions of creating a democracy — though he adds that most Americans were illiterate and had no idea what a republic was. 

“That’s another thing Americans don’t understand. We have never, ever been a democracy,” he says.

On the next corner, Doss cracks a joke about the first president saying that he could really “cut a rug,” and that only Benjamin Franklin could match his dancing skills.

Even history unrelated to Alexandria gets challenged.

Doss points out that Christopher Columbus, the 15th-century explorer after whom the District of Columbia is named, was not the first to discover America.

“The Chinese discovered America 2,000 years before. In fact, they found some Chinese anchor stones off the coast of southern California over 3,000 years old,” he says bluntly.

By the end of the tour, Doss will stop by a house and point out a worn green and black pipe with the inscription “Alexandria DC” on it, which is no mistake. 

“Most people that even come from here don’t know this, which really shocks me,” he says. “We were never a part of Virginia for very long. This is [George] Washington’s big idea. Washington wanted Alexandria to become part of the nation’s capital.”

As Doss points out, from 1801 to 1847, the “most unknown historical town, ” as he calls it, was part of the District.

Apparently, Doss does more than walk around pointing out signs you could’ve read for yourself. He’ll even give you historical tidbits you were not expecting.

About the film “Remember the Titans,” he says, “I was there. It didn’t happen that way … it happened, but not quite that way.”

By appointment only, Doss’s company also conducts Civil War tours and Black History tours. At night, it features Historical Haunts and Paranormal tours. With the exception of the paranormal tour, which is $15 and suggested for ages 16 and up, the day tour and the night tour are generally low-cost: between $10 and $15 for adults, and $5 for children.

Walk-ins are welcome, but some tours book very quickly and spots are filled weeks in advance, so reserve your spot early.

TOUR PRICES

History Tour — Adults $15, children ages 7-12 $5

Historical Haunt — Adults $10, children ages 7-12 $5

Historical Haunt tour is frequently sold out; it’s suggested that interested parties phone 703-683-3451 to see if space is available.

The following tours are by appointment only for groups of six or more::

Paranormal — Adults $15, not recommended for children.

Civil War — two-hour tour — Adults $20, children ages 7-12 $5

Black History — Adults $15, children ages 7-12 $5