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The Carousel on the National Mall

On August 28, 1963, during “the March on Washington,” Rev. Martin Luther’s King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  On that same day, just 45 miles away, the practice of segregation was discontinued at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park just outside of Baltimore.  And an eleven-month-old baby named Sharon Langley was the first African American child to go on a ride there when, along with two white children, she rode on the park’s classic, old-time carousel.

The next day, “amid all the news stories about the March on Washington, there were also stories on Sharon Langley’s merry-go-round ride. Three kids – one black and two white – riding together provided an example of the harmony King spoke about at the march, when he hoped that one day black children and white children would regard each other as “sisters and brothers.”

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I went see that carousel.  But I didn’t have to ride all the way to Baltimore to do so.  Today that very same carousel is here in D.C., on the National Mall (MAP) in front of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, where young children enjoy themselves while their parents watch them ride the seemingly benign carousel, unaware that it has a rich history which is much more interesting than its appearance would suggest.

On April 12, 1967, the Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley opened the carousel on the National Mall.  The original carousel was built in 1922 by the Allan Herschell Company, and was accompanied by a 153 Wurlitzer Band Organ.  At that time, rides cost 25 cents.  However, not everyone was happy to see a carousel placed on “America’s front yard.”  Some were concerned that that the carousel, along with the  popcorn wagons and some outdoor puppet and musical performances that were already there at the time, would lead to the Smithsonian developing into what the New York Times termed “an ivy-covered Disneyland.”   But that never happened, and the carousel remains to this day.

Today’s carousel is not the original, though.  Due to wear and tear the original carousel was replaced in 1981 with the carousel from the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, which was forced to close in 1973 after suffering severe damage from flooding when Hurricane Agnes.  The Gwynn Oak carousel is 10 feet larger in diameter and has 60 brightly-painted horses, as opposed to the former which had 33.  It also has a few non-moving seats, and one sea dragon.  And riding on the carousel is not limited to children.  All are welcome, including adults, as long as you’re willing to pay the current ticket price of $3.50.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Georgia Douglas Johnson Residence

You never know what history you’re going to find when you’re riding a bike around this city.  During this ride, as I was riding in the Cardoza neighborhood near U Street in northwest D.C., I happened upon a historical marker on a cast iron fence that surrounded a grey townhouse at the end of the block at the corner of S and 15th Streets.  In turned out to have been placed there to mark the house, located at 1461 S Street (MAP), where Georgia Douglas Johnson once lived.  So naturally, I later researched her to find about the woman who once lived at that house, and was important enough to be recognized.

Georgia Douglas Johnson was an African American poet and playwright.  She is best known for her collections of poetry: “The Heart of a Woman” (1918) (see below), “Bronze” (1922), “An Autumn Love Cycle” (1928) and later, “Share My World” (1962).  In addition to poetry, Georgia also wrote over two dozen plays, and authored a newspaper column for over a decade.  Throughout her life she wrote 200 poems, 28 plays and 31 short stories. For her works, she was considered an important member of the “New Negro Movement,”  an intellectual, social, and artistic explosion centered in Harlem, New York, spanning the 1920s.  The New Nego Movement would later become known as the “Harlem Renaissance.”

Born in Atlanta, Georgia on September 10, 1877, Georgia Blanche Douglas Camp was born to Laura Douglas and George Camp.  Her mother was of African and Native American descent, and her father was of African-American and English heritage.  She grew up and received her education in Georgia, graduating from Atlanta University’s Normal School in 1896.  She then went on to become a teacher, but resigned to pursue her love of music, attending Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio.  After studying at Oberlin, she returned to Georgia and returned to the educational field.

She married Henry Lincoln Johnson, an Atlanta lawyer and prominent Republican Party member, on September 28, 1903.  Henry’s law career brought them to D.C. in 1910, when Henry received an appointment as the Recorder of Deeds from President William Howard Taft.   It was his career that kept them here as well.  So although she was considered an important member of the Harlem Renaissance, she was never a New York City resident, neither when the movement was in full swing in the 1920s or after.  Instead, she and her family continued to live here in D.C.

Georgia and her husband had two sons, Henry Lincoln Johnson, Jr., and Peter Douglas Johnson.  But by the time they became teenagers, her husband passed away, leaving her alone to raise their boys.  This began a difficult period in her life, as she struggled to raise two boys and provide for her family financially.  As a gesture of appreciation for her late husband’s loyalty and service, President Calvin Coolidge, a devoted member of the Republican Party, appointed Georgia the Commissioner of Conciliation, a position within the Department of Labor.  So throughout the last 50 years of her life, Georgia raised and supported her family alone, while continuing and expanding her writings.

Also after her husband’s death, Johnson began to host weekly “Saturday Salons” for friends and authors, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Anne Spencer, Richard Bruce Nugent, Alain Locke, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimké and Eulalie Spence, and many of the other noted women writers of what would become known as the Harlem Renaissance. The S Street House, which became known at that time as the “S Street Salon,” became a satellite of sorts for others who were part of the Harlem Renaissance to meet, socialize, discuss their work, and exchange ideas while they were visiting the nation’s segregated capital. Gloria called her home the “Half Way House” for friends traveling, and where those with no money and no place to stay would be welcome.

Gloria died in 1969 at the age of 85.  And as she lay in her deathbed, one of her sister playwrights and a former participant of the S Street Salon, sat by her bedside “stroking her hand and repeating the words, ‘Poet Georgia Douglas Johnson’.”


[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Heart of a Woman

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

Note:  The house has undergone numerous renovations over the years, during which previous owners divided it into flats, and later turned it into a group home.  It was recently renovated and restored.  And last year, the six-bedroom, six-bathroom, 4,100-square-foot property was on the market for $2.875 million.

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C&O Canal Completion Marker

The Washington Monument is an iconic obelisk that for many symbolizes the city of D.C.   But it is not the oldest obelisk in the city.  That honor goes to the one enclosed by a cast iron fence on the northwest corner of the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge (MAP), located in the city’s Georgetown neighborhood, that commemorates the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.  The C&O Canal’s monument is approximately ten feet tall, and was dedicated in 1850.  While that was two years after construction began on The Washington Monument, enormous structures necessarily take more time to build and the 555-foot Washington Monument wasn’t completed until 1885.

Despite being right next to a sidewalk along one of the busy streets of Georgetown, the C&O Canal obelisk is often overlooked these days by impatient passersby as they hurry along their way.  The canal itself is often overlooked as well, considered just part of the scenery.  But in its heyday the canal, also known as the “Grand Old Ditch,” was one of the primary modes of transporting materials into and out of the city for almost a century, operating from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac River from D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland.

Throughout the canal’s 184.5 mile length the elevation change rises and falls a total of 605 feet, which necessitated the construction of 74 canal locks (a device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels), 11 aqueducts (bridge structures that carry navigable waterway canals over obstacles) to cross major streams, and more than 240 culverts (structures that allows water to flow under an obstacle) to cross smaller streams.  A 3,118-foot-long tunnel, named the Paw Paw Tunnel, was also constructed to allow the canal to bypass the Paw Paw Bends, a six-mile stretch of the Potomac River containing five horseshoe-shaped bends.  An extension of the canal to the Ohio River at Pittsburgh was planned but never built.

While in operation the canal was integral to transporting sand, gravel, clay, paving stones, fire bricks, cement and lumber for construction of the expanding city, as well as bringing slaughtered hogs and meat, fresh and salted fish, flour, oats and grains, corn meal, whiskey and spirits, as well as coal from the Allegheny Mountains and other general merchandise to feed and provide for the city’s burgeoning population.

Without the canal, the city would not be what it is today.  That’s a lot of significance symbolized by a small, overlooked obelisk.

    

    
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  The canal way is now maintained as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, with a multi-use trail that follows the old towpath.  The canal and towpath trail parallels the Potomac River and extends from D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 184.5 miles.  Together with the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage, a rail trail where the extension of the C&O Canal to Pittsburgh would have been if it had been completed, they form a continuous 334.5-mile trail between D.C. and Pittsburgh.

The Other Ben Ali Mural

Baltimore has crab cakes.  Chicago has Deep Dish Pizza.  And whether you prefer Pat’s or Geno’s, Philadelphia has the Philly Cheesesteak.  Here in D.C. we have the half-smoke – a half beef, half pork coarsely-ground sausage that is smoked before it’s grilled.  But in D.C., when it comes to this city’s signature food, there is no rivalry or controversy.  The best place to get a half-smoke is the original Ben’s Chili Bowl.

All week I have had a craving for a half-smoke, split and grilled, and served on a warm steamed bun with onions and Ben’s spicy homemade chili sauce, and a side of onion rings and a Cherry Coke.  So to end the week, on today’s bike ride I rode to Ben’s Chili Bowl for lunch.

As I was leaving after my delicious and satisfying lunch, I stopped and spent some time taking in the mural in the alley on the east side of the restaurant’s building.  Over the years the various murals that have graced the west side of the building, in the alley officially recognized by the city as “Ben Ali Way,” have gotten considerable attention from the press.  But the other, less-famous mural, is equally intriguing to me.  It is dedicated to the owners and founders of Ben’s Chili Bowl – Ben and Virginia Ali.  So I decided to find out more about the couple who founded the restaurant where I have eaten so many times.

Mahaboob Ali, commonly known Ben here in D.C., was born on June 13, 1927, in British Trinidad and Tobago.  He was the firstborn of seven children in a Muslim family, and was raised in the town of San Juan, which is located east of the capital city of Port of Spain.  Ben moved to the United States in 1945 as a student, where he enrolled at the University of Nebraska.  At that time he was planning on becoming a medical doctor.  But as the result of a fall down an elevator shaft while at the school he suffered a broken back.  He spent months recovering from the accident. Following his recovery, Ben attended four separate schools before earning his bachelor’s degree from Howard University here in D.C.

Virginia Ali grew up on a farm in rural Virginia and moved to D.C. looking for a job and new opportunities in the big city.  She went to work for one of D.C.’s heralded institutions — as a teller at Industrial Bank, the first African-American-owned bank in D.C.  It was at the bank that she met Ben, the man with whom she fell in love, married, and became lifelong business partners with.

In 1958, newlyweds Ben and Virginia began renovating the building at 1213 U Street.  Built in 1910, the building first housed a silent movie house called the Minnehaha Theater.  Later, Harry Beckley, one of D.C.’s first black police detectives, converted it into a pool hall.   The Ali’s simply wanted to own a business that would give them the means to raise their children.  Ben had worked at a restaurant in college, and they decided to open up their own.  They had no idea it would become such a huge success.  Today, Ben’s has spawned locations all over the local area.  It employs approximately 170 people and has about $8 million in revenue.

Ben passed away in October of 2009 at the age of  82.  Virginia, who was only 24 years old when she and her husband started the restaurant, is now 85, and can still be found working at the U Street location most days – greeting customers and keeping tabs on the business that is now run be her family.  Her three sons Kamal, Nizam and Haidar as well as her two daughters-in-law now run the day-to-day operations.

In August Ben’s will celebrate it’s 61st anniversary.  Over those years people have changed.  I certainly have.  The restaurant, however, has not.  The counter, booths and stools are all original.  And the half-smokes are just as delicious as they’ve always been.  Since the first time I ate there decades ago, I’ve known how good the food is.  And now, I know a little more about the people too.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Trivia Fact: Due to Islamic prohibitions against consuming pork, Ben Ali never consumed some of his own restaurant’s popular offerings.

National City Christian Church

National City Christian Church is located on 5 Thomas Circle (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood.  It is the national church of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ, often abbreviated simply as the “Disciples of Christ” or “Christian Church”), a mainline Protestant Christian denomination.  And during today’s lunchtime bike ride I visited the church.

The church’s neoclassical building was designed by John Russell Pope and completed in 1930.  It has a “monumental character” typical of Pope’s style and seen in his other works, such as The Thomas Jefferson MemorialThe U.S. National Archives and Records Administration building and the West Building of The National Gallery of Art.  The church’s design was partly influenced by British architect James Gibbs’ Saint Martin-in-the-Fields church, built at Trafalgar Square in London in the early 18th century.   The National City Christian Church building, which is constructed of Indiana limestone, is a contributing property to the Greater 14th Street Historic District, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

The church building also features stained glass windows commemorating the two presidents thus far associated with the church.  The first is President James A. Garfield, who  preached there, and whose family pew is still displayed adjacent to the sanctuary. The other is President Lyndon B. Johnson, who along with First Lady Lady Bird Johnson worshiped there and mingled regularly with other parishioners in Fellowship Hall after services.

However, churches are more than the buildings in which they worship.  The congregation that eventually became the National City Christian Church was organized in 1843.  James Turner Barclay, a physician and pioneering Stone-Campbell Movement missionary, helped to organize the congregation.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the church had a congregation of some 800 regular Sunday worshipers.  However, in 2004, the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Alvin O. Jackson, resigned following a heated acrimonious dispute. The ouster of Jackson followed the resignation or firings of some two dozen church staffers, and the development of a deep intra-congregational dispute.  Attendance declined over time; in 2011, Sunday attendance was about 125, with mostly older congregants.

The church has experienced other recent troubles as well.  It’s chief financial officer, Jason Todd Reynolds, was discovered to have embezzled $850,000 in church funds from 2003 to 2008.  In 2011, Reynolds was convicted of 12 fraud-related charges, and sentenced to eight years in prison.  The losses from Reynolds’ embezzlement scheme caused serious damage to the church’s financial health.  It’s financial health was further exacerbated as a result of the magnitude 5.8 Virginia earthquake on August 23, 2011, which caused tens of thousands of dollars in structural damage to the church building.

Revitalization of the greater 14th Street neighborhood, thriving with an influx of new residents, hasn’t been significantly reflected in the church’s once-large congregation.  The rapidly aging denomination, which has experienced a membership crash of its own, no longer makes membership and attendance figures for individual congregations freely available. But the congregation’s recently released annual report is telling.

It’s financial troubles and declining congregation continued, and in 2017 National City was forced to sell the Campbell Building, a wing of the building that housed the educational  facilities of the church.  According to Church Moderator Jane Campbell, the building was “only partially used, had major maintenance issues, and would have cost millions to bring into usable condition – and then we would have had to find tenants as the activities of National City itself no longer fill the building.”

Currently the under-utilized building and diminished congregation continues to operate.  However, whether the National City Christian Church can reverse the overall decline it has experienced in the last half century remains to be seen.   Only time will tell.

The Cenotaphs at Historic Congressional Cemetery

I have found that cemeteries are often bastions of history, especially here in D.C.  The graves of the many historic figures, politicians and famous people buried here provide a portal to the history that they lived.  But Historic Congressional Cemetery, located at 1801 E Street in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood (MAP), and which happens to be one of my favorite cemeteries in the city, also has a number of cenotaphs that also point to a wealth of history.  And it was the cemetery’s 165 cenotaphs that were the destination and purpose of my lunchtime bike ride today.

Traditionally, the word “cenotaph” is defined as A cenotaph is an “empty tomb” or a monument erected in honor of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere.  As used at the Congressional Cemetery, the term cenotaph includes not only those that fall under the traditional definition, but also to monuments that mark the actual graves of representatives and senators who died in office during the first several decades of the nation’s history. Some congressmen are buried under a cenotaph, some are buried with a headstone instead of a cenotaph in a different area of the cemetery, and for some the marker is a true cenotaph. And one individual, a Revolutionary War soldier and Congressman from North Carolina named James Gillespie, who was reinterred in 1892, has a separate grave and cenotaph.

Designed by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who was then working on the new south wing of the U.S. Capitol Building, the cenotaphs are constructed of Aquia sandstone, as are The White House and the Capitol Building, and were likewise painted white, forming a visual connection with these nearby symbols of Federal government, and a contrast to the cemetery’s surrounding gravestones. They are grouped in rows in the older part of the cemetery near the main entrance, where they dominate the landscape.

A cenotaph was erected at Congressional Cemetery for each congressman who died in office from 1833 to 1876. The first was for Congressman James Lent from New York, who was initially interred in the cemetery. But after Congress appropriated funds and his monument was ordered, his family had his body brought back and reinterred in New York. Congress erected the monument in 1839 anyway, establishing the tradition of erecting cenotaphs.

After the Civil War very few congressmen were buried in the cemetery, as their bodies were commonly shipped to their home states or buried in the new United States National Cemetery System, in cemeteries such as Arlington National Cemetery. And cenotaphs were discontinued for the most part in 1876, after Massachusetts Senator George Frisbie Hoar stated that “the thought of being buried beneath one of those atrocities brought new terror to death.”

Since that time, only two new cenotaphs have been erected at the cemetery. After a 1972 plane crash in which their bodies were unable to be recovered, Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., the majority leader in the House at the time, and Nick Begich, a Congressman from Alaska, share a cenotaph. And the last one to date is for former Speaker of the House Thomas P “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., who was honored with a cenotaph in 1994, although it is not in the style of the Latrobe cenotaphs.

The Poppy Wall of Honor

During today’s last lunchtime bike ride before Memorial Day, I was riding along the National Mall near The National World War II Memorial when I saw some sort of red display in the distance on the southwestern side of The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. So, naturally, I rode over to get a better look and find out about it. It turned out to be a new, temporary monument in honor of Memorial Day called The Poppy Wall of Honor.

Since World War I, more than 645,000 men and women have given their lives in combat to defend our freedom. And the poppy flower serves as a symbol of that sacrifice. Wearing a poppy flower, known as a Remembrance Poppy, is done on Memorial Day and Veterans Day as a way to honor these fallen heroes. I remember my Dad always had a remembrance poppy at both Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

My Dad would also recite a poem from memory entitled “In Flanders Fields,” written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian Physician during the First World War. McCrae was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. According to legend, fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, initially dissatisfied with his work, discarded it.

“In Flanders Fields” was first published on December 8th of 1915. And it became so popular that the poem and poppy became prominent Remembrance Day symbols throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, particularly in Canada. The poem is also widely known in the United States, where it is associated with Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Inspired by the poem, the poppy flower also became an American symbol of remembrance in 1920 when it was brought forward by Moina Michael, an American professor and volunteer for the American YWCA, during the National American Legion Conference.

Sponsored by the USAA Company in cooperation with the National Park Service, The Poppy Wall of Honor is a 133-foot-long, 8 1/2 foot-tall translucent structure filled with more than 645,000 synthetic Remembrance Poppy Flowers, one for each fallen American service member. This year the exhibit also honors the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

The Poppy Wall of Honor is open to the public daily for viewing from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., through Memorial Day. But if you can’t visit it in person, there’s also an online virtual reality experience for viewers to explore.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Poppy Wall of Honor

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you, from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,
In Flanders fields.

Bike to Work Day 2019

Each year the month of May is National Bike Month.  This week, May 13 through 17, is Bike to Work Week.  And today is Bike to Work DayThe League of American Bicyclists began Bike to Work Day as part of Bike Month in 1956.  Over the years, the day has grown into a widespread event with countless bicyclists nationwide taking to streets and trails in an effort to get commuters to try bicycling to work as a healthy and safe alternative to driving a car.

In the greater D.C. region, Bike to Work Day has grown from a small group of just a few hundred participants in 2001 to more than 18,700 riders in 2017.  There was a slight dip in participation last year.  The event is always held rain or shine, and due to thunderstorms that occurred last year throughout the preceding week as well as on Bike to Work Day itself, fewer riders came out.  But this year’s 19th annual event, which was again coordinated locally by Commuter Connections and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), will hopefully top 19,000 and set a new record.

Although I am unable to commute on a bicycle, I celebrated Bike to Work Day by coming to work this morning, getting my bike out of my office building’s parking garage, and went out and rode around for a while on some of the main bike commuter routes in the city.

Each year WABA, along with a number of local bike shops and organizations, sponsor 115 pit stops along many of the commuter routes in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The pit stop which I signed up for was located at Freedom Plaza, the same pit stop where I’ve stopped for the last several years.  By being one of the first 20,000 people to sign up, I was able to pick up a free T-shirt at the pit stop.  And by signing up and stopping at the pit stop I was also entered into a raffle for a new bike.

I also rode by some of the other pit stops this morning.  They were a little less crowded than previous years’ pit stops have been, but I was able to pick up some free leftover T-shirts from previous years’ bike to Work Days.  I also enjoyed a nice breakfast consisting of one of the absolute best bagels I’ve had in a long time, courtesy of Bethesda Bagels, along with a fresh orange and a banana.  Fresh fruit juices, coffee or tea was also available, as well as some granola bars and other snack items, which I picked up for later.  I was also given a coupon for a free lunch at Nando’s, a restaurant that specializes in Portuguese flame-grilled PERi-PERi (also known as the African Bird’s Eye chili) chicken.

After filling up on food, and relaxing and listening to some of the music for a while, I then enjoyed a leisurely ride around the city.  And I filled up on “swag” along the way.  Various sponsors and promotors gave away free items like sunglasses, hats, water bottles, tire repair and changing kits, bike tools, bike lights and bells, bike reflectors and reflective arm bands to be seen better while riding, area maps, cell phone accessories, small bottles of hand sanitizer, and coupons for free bike and scooter rentals.  And at the pit stop in the courtyard of the National Geographic Museum they were giving away surplus items such as decks of cards, games, books, and DVDs.

But Bike to Work Day here in D.C. is more than just 20,000 cool people riding bikes and enjoying music, food and lots of free stuff.  (As if that wasn’t enough.)  The planners help newer riders by organizing bike convoys, which are led by experienced bicycle commuters and travel through popular employment centers.  They provide information about classes and seminars throughout the area for riders with a wide range of skill sets, from beginners to the more experienced.  They also set up online discussion groups to answer any questions people may have.  As I stated previously, Bike to Work Day provides more than just fun.  It provides valuable information and resources to people to help them ride safely in the city year-round.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  Despite it being Bike to Work Day, there were still plenty of drivers out there that think stopping or parking in the bike lanes is okay.  Like the driver of this car.  The city is trying to develop ways to address this, including hiring additional officers to increase enforcement.  But as of today, the problem is still out there.  

Mementos Left at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial

This week is National Police Week, and tomorrow is Peace Officers Memorial Day. And during this time there is no more meaningful place to visit than The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial (NLEOM), located at 450 F Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Judiciary Square neighborhood. And that’s where I went during today’s lunch break.

Engravers Jim Lee and Kirk Bockman are responsible for adding the names of fallen law enforcement officers to the walls of the NLEOM here in D.C. And this year, they are adding the names of 371 officers, including 158 who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty in 2018.

An additional 213 officers who died earlier in history, but whose sacrifice had not been previously documented, were also added to the NLEOM this year. Among them is Chesterfield County (Va.) Sheriff Benjamin Branch; whose end of watch on April 29, 1786, making him the oldest known officer death on the memorial. In total, there are 21,910 officers’ names engraved on the Memorial, representing all 50 states, D.C., U.S. territories, federal law enforcement, and military police agencies.

And as it always is during National Police Week, there are hundreds of personal mementos left at the Memorial. It’s these personal mementos that I find to be one of the most poignant parts of the week. They go beyond numbers and statistics, beyond names engraved on the NLEOM’s walls, and give a glimpse of the actual people represented by the names on the Memorial. The mementos show us that these people are missed by their collegues, families, and other loved ones they left behind.

Pay close attention to the details in these photographs. The mementos and the memorial are not just about how their lives ended, but about how these heroes lived their lives. And this is the true meaning of this week.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Links to Previous Police Week Posts on this Blog

Today’s Blue Mass

On my lunchbreak at work today I attended the Blue Mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, located at 619 10th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood.  Celebrated annually, a Blue Mass is a service held to honor those in the “public safety field” (i.e. police officers, firefighters, correctional officers, 911 operators and EMS personnel), who died in the line of duty during the past year, and to pray for the safety in the coming year of those still serving.  And although held in a Catholic Church, the services are generally considered to be ecumenical or non-denominational.

Rev. Thomas Dade started the tradition as part of his duties with the Catholic Police and Fireman’s Society, and held the first ever Blue Mass on September 29, 1934, to coincide with Michaelmas, the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of police officers and military personnel.  And that first service was held in the very same church where today’s mass was celebrated.

Blue Masses are currently celebrated nationwide, with many of the services still being held in September.  But here in D.C., the service is now held each May, shortly before the beginning of National Police Week, which this year runs from this Sunday (May 12th) through the following Saturday (May 18th).

Before today’s Mass, hundreds of law enforcement officers and public safety officials gathered outside for a solemn processional into St. Patrick’s.  Units from various Federal, state, and local jurisdictions from across the country gathered in formation to pass under a huge American flag proudly hung over the street by two fire ladder trucks.  Also gathered outside were officers on horseback, in color guards, as well as in pipe and drum corps units. The Mass included an honor guard, bagpipers, and concluded with the solemn playing of “Taps” in memory of those who gave their lives in the past year.

The Mass was an opportunity for the community to show its gratitude to first responders and their families.  But that need not be limited to today’s service.  So when you see a first responder, especially this week or next week during National Police Week, let him or her know that you appreciate their service and sacrifice.  And say a prayer for their safety.

 

The Procession Into the Church

 

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Psalm 91:11, “For He will give His angels [especial] charge over you to accompany and defend and preserve you in all your ways [of obedience and service].”

Police Officers’ Prayer to St. Michael, the Archangel

Dear Saint Michael, Your name means, “Who is Like a God”, and it indicates that You remained faithful when others rebelled against God. Help the police officers of our day who strive to stem the rebellion and evil that are rampant on all sides. Keep them faithful to their God as well as to their country and their fellow human beings.  Amen.

Firefighters’ Prayer to Saint Florian

Dear God, through the intercession of our patron, Saint Florian, have mercy on the souls of our comrades who have made the supreme sacrifice in the performance of their duty, and on all who have gone before us after years of faithful discharge of their responsibilities which now rest on ourselves. Give us Grace to prepare each day for our own summons to Your tribunal of justice. Into Your hands O Lord, I commend my spirit. Whenever You call me, I am ready to go. Merciful Father of all men and women, save me from all bodily harm, if it be Your will, but above all, help me to be loyal and true, respectful and honorable, obedient and valiant. Thus fortified by virtue, I shall have no fear, for I shall then belong to You and shall never be separated from You.  Amen.