Robert Todd Lincoln’s Gravesite

On this day in 1926, six days before his eighty-third birthday, Robert Todd Lincoln died in his sleep at Hildene, his Vermont home.  He was the son of President Abraham Lincoln.  And his grandson, “Bud” Beckwith, who died in 1985, is the last person known to be of direct Lincoln lineage.  In observance of the anniversary of his passing, on today’s lunchtime bike ride I went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the sarcophagus, where he is buried with his wife Mary and their son Jack.

Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son and the only Lincoln child to survive into adulthood. While he didn’t make quite the mark on history that his father did, he did have a pretty interesting life.  The following are some of the most interesting and unusual facts about him.

Lincoln was a witness to the assassinations of three presidents, including his father.  The younger Lincoln was there at The Petersen House, where his father was taken after being shot across the street at Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth.  Years later, while serving as Secretary of War to President James Garfield, he was with the president at the Sixth Street Train Station in D.C. when Charles Guiteau shot him.  Garfield died two months later.  Twenty years after that, Lincoln was a guest of President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when the President was shot by Leon Czolgosz. McKinley died just over a week later.  After that I imagine that future presidents were quietly glad that these events caused Lincoln to believe he was bad luck, because thereafter he refused to attend state events or accept Presidential invitations.

Lincoln’s life was once saved by Edwin Booth, a famous actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of his father. The incident took place on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey.  On a crowded platform, Lincoln fell off into the space between the tracks and the platform.  But Booth pulled him by his collar to safety.  The exact date of when this happened is uncertain, but it is believed to have taken place before John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Lincoln.

After having her involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, Lincoln had a strained relationship with his mother.  Mary Todd Lincoln is fairly widely renowned today for being mentally ill, but it wasn’t quite such an open secret when she was still alive. Lincoln, however, realized that his mother needed psychiatric help, so he had her committed following a hearing that declared her insane.  She was eventually able to gain her release.  However, by that point she felt as though she had been publicly humiliated, and never patched up her relationship with Lincoln before her death.

Lincoln was the last surviving member of the cabinets of Presidents Garfield and Arthur.  And he was part of President Grant’s junior staff at Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse to end the Civil War, and was the last surviving witness to that event.

Lincoln was also a graduate of Harvard University, on the personal staffs of three Presidents beginning with Ulysses S. Grant, a successful and eventually wealthy lawyer, peripherally involved in politics, successor to George Pullman as company president and later chairman of the board of the Pullman Palace Car Company, a dedicated amateur astronomer and golfer, and a participant in the dedication ceremonies for The Lincoln Memorial for his father.

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Portrait of John J. Crittenden

I have not been writing as often in this blog recently because several weeks ago I fell and broke some ribs.  So I have been unable to ride.  No, I did not fall while riding a bike.  However, it was related to biking.  I wanted to go mountain biking on a section of the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail near Mount Vernon.  However, not being an experienced mountain biker and having never previously ridden on that particular mixed-use trail, I decided to hike it first to scout it out and see if it is within my skill set to try mountain biking there.  It was while I was hiking that my foot got caught under an exposed tree root and I fell on a rocky part of the trail, breaking several ribs.  So I decided that since I could not even walk it without hurting myself, perhaps I should first get a little more experience mountain biking on easier trails before going back there to ride.

Having given my ribs enough time to heal, I now feel much better.  But since I haven’t ridden in almost a month, I decided to transition back into riding and make sure that I don’t overdo it.  So for today’s lunchtime ride, I rode to the nearby National Portrait Gallery, located at 8th and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, to see a painting of John J. Crittenden. He was a politician from the state of Kentucky, and represented that state in both the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate, and twice served as the U.S. Attorney General.  I went there because tomorrow is the anniversary of Congress’ passage of the Crittenden Resolution, which was named after him.

On July 25th in 1861, just three and a half months after the beginning of the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passed the Crittenden Resolution (also referred to as the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution). The resolution declared that the war was being waged for the reunion of the states and not to interfere with the institutions of the South, including taking any actions against the “peculiar” institution of slavery. The war was fought not for “overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States,” but to “defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union.” The implication was that war would end when the seceding states returned to the Union, with slavery remaining intact.

This meant that for the first year and a half of the Civil War, reunification of the United States was the official goal of the North.  It was not until President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862 that the abolishment of slavery became a goal.  The Crittenden Resolution is sometimes confused with the Corwin Amendment, a proposal to amend the U. S. Constitution adopted by the previous 36th Congress, which attempted to constitutionalize slavery. It was adopted by the necessary two-thirds margin in both houses of Congress and submitted to the states for ratification. It was ratified by three states before the war pre-empted further debate.

Today it is difficult to comprehend American society, as it existed back then, in which the institution of slavery was supported or tolerated by the public, and endorsed by the Federal government. However, as difficult as it is to comprehend, we must try. We must try to understand so we can not only understand our own history, but because slavery still exists in this world.  Currently there are approximately 27 million slaves in the world – people forced to work without pay, under threat of violence and unable to walk away. Since slavery feeds directly into the global economy, it makes sense that we would be concerned by the ways in which slavery flows into our homes through the products we buy and the investments we make. Slaves harvest cocoa in the Ivory Coast, make charcoal used to produce steel in Brazil, weave carpets in India—the list goes on. These products reach our stores and our homes. So think before you buy, because slavery is not just a thing of the past.

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

Nature’s Fireworks

Posted: July 5, 2017 in Gardens, Miscellaneous

Nature’s Fireworks

I took this photograph recently near the Smithsonian American History Museum on the National Mall.  I entitled it “Nature’s Fireworks” because for me it brought to mind fireworks shows like the one that took place in D.C. last night.  I hope everyone had a happy and safe Independence Day.

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Boneyard Studios

To celebrate the end the workweek, I went for a long bike ride today with no particular destination in mind.  And as I was riding through an alley near Glenwood Cemetery in northeast D.C.’s Edgewood neighborhood, I happened upon a small triangular-shaped plot of land located at 21 Evarts Street (MAP) with what appeared to be homes that would be considered part of the “tiny house movement.” After looking into it later, I found out that the owner of the 5,000-square-foot lot is named Brian Levy, and the houses were planned as a commune known as Boneyard Studios.

The tiny house movement, also known as the small house movement, is a description for the architectural and social movement that advocates living simply in small homes. With the average size of new single family homes in the United States increasing significantly over the past few decades despite a decrease in the size of the average family, the movement is a return to houses that are generally less than a thousand square feet. Frequently, the distinction is made between small houses that are between 400 square feet and 1,000 square feet, and tiny houses that are less than 400 square feet, with some as small as 80 square feet.

The Boneyard Studios community was founded in 2012 by Levy, and hosted five tiny houses. The largest of the tiny houses is a Minim House, owned by Levy. It is intended as a showcase for his company’s homes. The Minim House is an 11-foot-wide and 22-feet-long home that has a pullout queen bed, a 5-foot desk and office space and a 10-foot galley kitchen. There’s also a multipurpose table that can be used to draft proposals for work or seat six for dinner, and a projector screen that doubles as a window shade. But it’s more unique features allow it to exist “off the grid.” These features include a rainwater collection and filtration system, an incinerator toilet and a solar array and off-grid electricity system.

Unfortunately, the project lasted only a little over two years before ending in the fall of 2014, mainly due to disputes among the tiny house residents as well as a new zoning regulation proposed by the D.C. Office of Planning, prohibiting any residential use of trailers on any alley lot in the District. So the houses continue to exist at the site to serve as a mini-house showcase, but at the present time are uninhabited.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

May Flowers

There’s an old saying that goes “April showers bring May flowers.”  Actually, the entire proverb goes something like, “March winds and April showers bring May flowers and June bugs.”  It is a lesson in patience.  It means that a period of discomfort can provide the basis for a period of happiness and joy.

Well, I can do without the early cold winds, and June bugs that come later on.  And I’m not all that fond of the rain either.  But I guess the traditionally rainy period in April is necessary to provide the water that nourishes the plants and allows them to subsequently bloom.  And based on the beauty and magnificence of many of the flowers I saw during my lunchtime bike rides during the past month, I’d say this year’s rains were well worth enduring.

As I rode around in some of the city’s various residential neighborhoods, a number of flowers and plants and private gardens caught my eye.  Some were at homes which are very large, and clearly belong to more affluent people.  Some of those homes are even on the National Register of Historic Places.  Others were located on the property of more modest houses.  A few were actually from abandoned properties.  And I even saw some plants and flowers in medians in the road,  or in plantings outside of small, local businesses.

Unlike the early season wildflower blooms I recently saw on a ride to the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this month, all of these flowers were purposefully planted by the property owners.  And none were from places in D.C. where you would normally expect to find such beautiful blooms, such as the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory, the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden, or other similar places.

The photographs in this blog post are some of the ones I took during the month of May.  And I took a lot of photos in the last month.  There are one hundred photos included in this post.  I chose them based on the photo itself, and not just the flower in it.  But I also tried to include photos of a variety of flowers so as to show the diversity and beauty of the gardens and grounds of many of this city’s homes.

I’d also like to remind you, however, that I am not a professional photographer and I do not have a fancy camera.  These photos, like all the ones in this blog, were taken with my cell phone.  I think they turned out fairly well though.  So be sure to click on the thumbnails for the larger versions so you can see the intricacy, complexity and the full beauty of the flowers.  And I hope you enjoy these photographs as much as I enjoyed riding around and taking them.

         

          

         

         

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Homeless Jesus

On today’s lunchtime outing I happened upon a sculpture unlike any other public artwork in the city. It is meant to merge with the environment, so it’s not on a pedestal or made with granite. The seven-foot-long sculpture depicts a person shrouded in a blanket and lying on a park bench. The figure is difficult to see because of being covered by the blanket, but upon closer inspection is identifiable by the crucifixion wounds on his feet sticking out from under the blanket. The sculpture, located outside Catholic Charities Headquarters at 924 G Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, depicts Christianity’s central figure, and is entitled Homeless Jesus.

The work was created by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, who sculpts in the small town of St. Jacobs, outside Toronto. He said the idea to sculpt Jesus as a homeless person came to him while he was walking the streets of Toronto, and witnessed a man or a woman, he wasn’t sure which, covered and on the street.  He was both moved and shocked, and considered that he had just witnessed Jesus.  After creating the piece, which he sees as a visual translation of how Jesus would want us to see him, he initially couldn’t find anyone who wanted it.  So he said at the time, “Jesus has no home, how ironic.”

He estimates that he has made more than thirty of the sculptures, which he sells for about $32,000 apiece. The first was installed at Regis College, University of Toronto, in early 2013.  Since then, the statues have popped up on private property in cities across the country, including Denver, Phoenix and Chicago. The statues are usually financed by an anonymous private donor, as was the case for the sculpture here in D.C., which was subsequently blessed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to commemorate Ash Wednesday in 2015.

I like a statement the artist made at the time the D.C. sculpture was installed. He said, “Hopefully, people think it’s a real homeless person. I hope that when people encounter the sculpture, it will remind people of the gift that Christianity has given civilization: the idea that all humanity is sacred.” But even more, I particularly like the response of the artist to one of the criticisms he received about the work, which has received mixed reviews.  Someone said to him, “Oh, great, now when I see a homeless person, I’ll think of this sculpture.”  To which the artist responded, “That’s the best compliment I could get.”

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

(The statue makes me think of the verse in The Bible which can be found at Matthew 25:40. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”)

Early Season Wildflower Blooms

They are predicting a 70 to 90 percent chance of rain every day for the coming week.  And although it was slightly overcast yesterday, the weather was cool and dry.  So I decided to go for a late afternoon weekend bike ride to the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located approximately 25 miles due south of D.C., at 13950 Dawson Beach Road (MAP), where the Occoquan River meets the Potomac River in Prince William County, Virginia .

Having been there before, it occurred to me as I was initially riding through the refuge that there was very little color compared to the last time I was there.  This is evidenced by the above photo.  The green has returned with the Spring.  But most of the other colors have yet to follow because many of the larger blooming plants do not peak until later in the summer.  But as I continued riding I looked more closely and was intermittently able to find a variety of color in small flowers and leaves along the way.

The small size of the blooms gave me the chance to practice some selective focus photography. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts as shown in the photos below, there is no type of photography can capture their true beauty.  For that I recommend you get out there and see it for yourself.

The whole experience reminded me of how there is always beauty all around you.  It’s just that sometimes it’s not obvious.  Sometimes you have to look for it to find it.

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

National Bike to Work Day 2017

Today is National Bike to Work Day.  The League of American Bicyclists began Bike to Work Day in 1956 as part of National Bike Month, which makes today the 61st annual event.  The metropolitan D.C. area has been participating for over a decade.  It was originally started here in 2001 by The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), of which I am a member, and is now also co-sponsored by Commuter Connections, a regional network of transportation organizations coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Unfortunately, commuting to work by bike is not an option for me due to the proximity of where I live to where I work.  I do, however, attempt to commute to work responsibly by operating a vanpool service.  And to show support for the concept of riding a bike to work, my traditional practice on National Bike to Work Day is to arrive at work, get one of the bikes that I keep at the office to ride during my lunch breaks, and then go out and ride, and hang out with the commuters and other like-minded bicyclists at the Bike To Work Day pit stops.

Each year WABA, along with local bike shops and organizations, sponsor pit stops along many of the commuter routes in the area.  So I first ride to the nearby pit stop at Freedom Plaza.  I am able to have breakfast at one of the stops, where they hand out fresh fruit, granola bars, locally-baked bagels, and all kinds of other items.  They also give away other free items like T-shirts, water bottles, sunglasses, tire repair kits, bike lights and bells, area maps, etc., as well as a chance to win a new bike and other prizes in various drawings.  Then I ride around to some of the other 84 area pit stops that they set up throughout D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.  So I take a little time off from work and make a morning of it.

Bike to Work Day is a clean, fun and healthy way to get to work. But even if you’re unable to commute via bicycle, use can use the day as a spark to getting out there and riding a bike more.  Or maybe riding again if it has been a while since you were on a bike.  Whether it’s for recreation, exercise, running errands, or for any other reason, riding a bike not only has its benefits for both the rider and the environment, but it’s also fun.  As a former resident of D.C. named John F. Kennedy was once quoted as saying, “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”

         

          

         

         

        

         

        
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

National Police Week Tributes (Part 2)

I enjoy various aspects of how National Police Week and Peace Officers Memorial Day are recognized here in D.C.  Things such as The Annual Blue Mass at Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church and the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service provide a level of solemnity.  And the arrival of the Police Unity Tour, and seeing different National Police Week Vehicles on the streets of the city, are also highlights.  But perhaps the most meaningful and poignant aspect of the occasion is the leaving of mementos and tributes by visitors to The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

As I walked through the memorial and took in both the memorial and the tributes people have left there this week, I try to imagine the stories behind the items.  Some of the items are very official looking, and remind me of the honor due to the officer memorialized there, and the debt of gratitude owed to not only that person but all the others who are also inscribed on the walls of the memorial.  Examples of this include plaques, flags and patches.  Other items left at the walls are so personal and intimate in nature, such as photographs, letters and stuffed animals, that I feel almost like I’m intruding.  I was also particularly moved by the helmet for a police bike officer which someone had left, along with blue and white roses which had been laid on top of it.  Regardless of the official or personal nature of the tributes, all of the items left at the memorial add to the experience, and make visiting the memorial during this week especially worthwhile.

Finally, as this year’s National Police Week is coming to a conclusion, I’d like to encourage everyone to please take a moment to remember all of the Federal, state and local law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and protection of our nation, as well as the more than 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers currently serving throughout this country.

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

National Police Week Tributes

There are currently more than 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers serving in the United States, about 12 percent of whom are female.  These are the highest numbers ever.  And according to the preliminary FBI’s Uniform Crime Report from January 2015 to June 2016, an estimated 507,792 violent crimes occurred nationwide, an increase of 5.3%.  So with an increasing number of officers dealing with this much violence, which is also on the increase, the consequences can all too often be tragic.

Since the first known line-of-duty death in 1791, more than 20,000 U.S. law enforcement officers have made the ultimate sacrifice.  As of April of this year there were 21,183 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty whose names are engraved on the walls of The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.  This includes 768 officers from New York City, the police department that has lost more officers in the line of duty than any other. Texas has lost 1,706 officers, more than any other state. The state with the fewest deaths is Vermont, with 23.  In addition to local law enforcement officers, the total number also includes 1,117 Federal officers, as well as 689 correctional officers and 39 military law enforcement officers. These numbers include 309 female officers, six of whom were killed in 2016, including a local female police officer named Ashley Guindon, who was killed in February of last year on her first day on the job.

With this week being designated as National Police Week, and the corresponding activities going on here in D.C. during this time, there has been a significant increase in  the number of visitors to the memorial.  And many of the visitors include families of the fallen as well as fellow police officers who knew or had a close connection to the officers being honored at the memorial.  So with the increased number of visitors with direct connections to the fallen officers whose names are chiseled on the walls of the memorial, the number of tributes being left at the memorial increases during this week.

I wrote in this blog last year about Tributes Left at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, but because of the ever changing nature of the visitors to the memorial and the tributes which are left there, I visited the memorial again this year.  The following photos show some of the thousands of those tributes.  I find them interesting because some are official in nature, such as plaques, uniforms, or even car doors from police cruisers.  Others, however, are very personal.  These include family photos, letters from children, and even stuffed animals.  Cumulatively the tributes show the magnitude of the commitment and sacrifice of the fallen officers, who were more than just names on a wall.  They were people.  And these people truly deserve to be honored.

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Note:  There was such and outpouring of respect, as evidenced by the number of tributes left at the memorial, that when I finished my visit I realized I had so many photos that it would be best to break it up into a couple of days.  So come back tomorrow for  part two of National Police Week Tributes.