See the financial crisis on this unusual Wall Street tour

It’s rare that you get a guided tour through still unfolding carnage. Imagine walking through Aceh right after the tsunami or New Orleans while the rains from Katrina still fell. Lower Manhattan‘s financial crisis tour doesn’t involve as much bad weather or physical danger, but it does give you the chance to learn about the most profound financial disaster in decades in the place where it all started.

This is “The Wall Street Experience.”

Guided by a former Wall Street insider, you’ll spend the 90 minute tour learning how some traders raked in billions in profits while entire banks came to an end. Also, you’ll be introduced to a “shadow banking system” that the government ignored until it was too late.

It’s not all mayhem down on the Street, though.

The tour will give you an overview of the history, architecture and trivia for this part of the city. The culture of the trader is wrapped up in these walls and streets – and you’ll hear all about it. But, did you know that this was once the political center of the United States? A statue of George Washington stands in front of the building from which he governed the country, staring across the street at a world of financial engineering he’d probably never be able to understand.

The tour guide, Andrew Luan, is a former Deutsche Bank vice president and traded what are now called “toxic assets.” He charges $40 a person, though children are free. Part of the proceeds goes to increasing financial literacy. Financial illiteracy is at crisis levels right now, so I applaud Luan for this. If you have become a victim of the financial crisis, The Wall Street Experience does offer weekly tours for those who can’t afford to pay.

See how the presidents live away from home

There’s more to the presidency than the White House. From Camp David to presidential libraries across the country, there are plenty of portals into the lives of those who have held the most powerful office in the world. In fact, the real insights may come not from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue but from these other homes. A recent article on CNN offers five prime locations.

Lincoln’s Birthplace: Run by the National Park Service, you can soak in the spirit of our 16th president through exhibits and walking tours. You can even explore a replica of Lincoln’s birth cabin.

Reagan Library: Start at the 40th president’s final resting place, in Simi Valley, CA. In addition to holding President Reagan’s official documents, you can peek into his history, including his college letter sweater and memorabilia from his earlier career in Hollywood.

Mount Vernon: Our first president, George Washington, spent most of his adult life on this estate, which has been open to the public since 1860. Since then, nearly 80 million visitors have passed through. Go on Presidents’ Day, and admission is free.

Hermitage: Stroll through President Andrew Jackson‘s mansion, enjoy the gardens and even enjoy the original log cabin where he lived for a bit with his family. See a piece of “Old Hickory” that rarely makes it into the public eye.

Check out a video of Lincoln’s Birthplace following an ice storm after the jump.

[Via CNN]

Washington’s birthday–a virtual tour of Mt. Vernon

Earlier this week I headed to Mt. Vernon. Not physically, but via Mt. Vernon’s Web site. I see lots and lots and lots of Web sites. Web site hopping is a great way to pass writing time. Mt. Vernon’s Web site is the Rolls Royce of sites. There is so much material that it’s easy to get lost in the wandering.

Details range from the reconstruction of a slave cabin to how to make Martha Washington’s Great Cake to every detail about George Washington’s house and gardens and his life, including before and after his presidency. In each section there are links that lead to more details. For example, when you go to the house and garden link there are other links to specific buildings. Each building has other links to more information. If you head to the Virtual Mansion Tour, you’ll find links to specific rooms in the main house. Each room of the house has more links. In the Large Dining Room, you can find out about the molding, the artwork, the furniture and the room’s purpose.

If you can’t make it to Mt. Vernon in person, spend some time at the Web site and you’ll think that you spent a week there. Besides that, you’ll know more about 17th and 18th century life in the U.S. than most people do. Did you know the Great Cake takes 40 eggs? I do now.

Each month there are special events. For Black History Month programs center around the contributions of the slaves who lived at Mt. Vernon and the lives they led. Here’s the page that details the history of slavery where George Washington was concerned.

The Wall Street District is Officially Historic

Every day I pay a bit of attention, not much, to what Wall Street is doing. I generally have a vague notion of what it means when I hear the Dow is up or down. Up is good. Down is bad. I think. Regardless of my fuzziness about finances, Wall Street’s placement on the National Register of Historic Places is something I can understand.

Consider this. Wall Street, the street not the district, was once a cow path the Dutch used when they first showed up in the 17th century to make a settlement next to the East River. Sometime in the district’s history, slaves were used to build a wall to keep out the Indians who were creating a ruckus by raiding. Once that was settled, and it was determined America was here to stay, this is where the Bill of Rights was adopted and George Washington was sworn in as the first president. If you head to Wall Street, besides listening for the sounds of fortunes being made or broken, look for the statue of Washington at the spot of his inauguration. Nearby, at 23 Wall St., J.P. Morgan’s old digs where he sat in his counting house counting out his money, so to speak, you can see evidence of the bomb that exploded there on September 16, 1920. Some people must not have been too happy with J.P. Morgan since the explosion was large enough that it killed 38 people and injured folks in the hundreds. There several other buildings of various styles that helped put this part of NYC on the historic places map.

For some more Wall Street information and details of America’s financial path, check out “Wall Street and Stock Market History” in A to Z Investments. Considering the state of the market this past week, I kind of think this photo by Alexander Marc Eckert on Flickr is apropos.