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Release Your Burdens and Be Free

During this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding through the Bloomingdale neighborhood, I happened upon another of the murals that are so prevalent throughout the city.  Because I have seen his work before, I recognized the artistic style right away as that of Joel Bergner, also known as Joel Artista.  He is a muralist, street artist, and educator.  He is also an organizer of community-based public art initiatives, and is currently the co-director of the international community-based public arts network, the Artolution, which described itself as “an international community-based public arts network founded in creative empowerment through participatory and collaborative art making.”

Release Your Burdens and Be Free is located at the southwest corner of 1st and U Streets (MAP), on the side of a building currently housing a corner neighborhood market.  It features the Hindu deity Ganesha, the “Remover of Obstacles,” and deals with people’s life obstacles that they create themselves by failing to release their personal baggage.  The rest of the symbolism and meaning is up to the viewer to interpret.  To me, the meaning of the artwork is similar to the reasons for my lunchtime bike rides, which allow me to temporarily release my burdens and stress, and feel free.

Bergner has created murals and public art pieces throughout the world, including several other murals here in D.C. which I’ve discovered during previous bike rides.  These include Cultivating the Rebirth, My Culture, Mi Gente, and A Survivor’s Journey.  I don’t know how many other works he has here in D.C., so I can only hope that I will encounter more of his art on future rides.

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

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The Harry S. Truman Scholarship

There is a long tradition of creating presidential monuments and memorials to honor our country’s past presidents and perpetuate their legacies.  This is especially the case in our nation’s capital.  The most well-known local presidential memorials are the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.  Some presidents even have more than one memorial to them here in D.C.  For example, Franklin Roosevelt’s original desk-sized memorial in front of the National Archives Building and the 7.5 acre FDR Memorial near the Tidal Basin, which are the smallest and largest presidential memorials in the city.

But on this bike ride I went to see one of the most unusual of all the presidential memorials – the one created for Harry S. Truman.  Or to be more accurate, I went to the house where the memorial resides.  Because instead of a statue, the official Federal memorial to our nation’s 33rd President is the Harry S. Truman Scholarship.  And under law, it is the only Federal memorial allowed to honor its namesake president.

The scholarship was created by Congress in 1975 as a living memorial to honor President Truman.  It is a highly competitive $30,000 Federal scholarship towards a graduate education, and is granted to approximately 55-65 U.S. college juniors each year for demonstrated leadership potential and a commitment to public service.

The scholarship is administered by The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, which is an independent Federal executive branch agency.  The foundation is headquartered in a brick rowhouse located at 712 Jackson Place, near Lafayette Square Park, in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.  The building I saw on this ride was not all that interesting.  But learning all about the foundation and scholarship made up for that. 

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James A. Garfield Memorial

Despite serving in office for only 200 days, President James A. Garfield is, in my opinion, one of the most unique and interesting Presidents in history.  For this reason, and because it was on this day in 1881 that President Garfield succumbed to wounds inflicted by an assassin 80 days earlier, for this bike ride I chose to ride to the James A. Garfield Memorial.  It is located on the grounds of the United States Capitol Building in the circle at First Street and Maryland Avenue (MAP ) in the Downtown area of Southwest D.C.

Born in Orange Township, now Moreland Hills, near Cleveland, Ohio on November 19, 1831, James Abram Garfield was the last of the seven Presidents who were born in log cabins.  His father, Abram Garfield, was from Worcester, New York, and came to Ohio to woo his childhood sweetheart, Mehitabel Ballou.  When he got there and found out she was married already, he married her sister Eliza, instead.  His father died when he was still a baby, and he was raised by his widowed mother and elder brother, next door to their cousins, in virtual poverty.

Before eventually entering politics, Garfield first unsuccessfully tried his hand at being a frontier farmer.  Then, after completing his education, he worked teaching Greek and other classical languages for his alma mater in Ohio (now called Hiram College), where he met and eventually married one of his students, Lucretia Rudolph.  Together they had seven children, one of whom lived to be 102 and did not die until the 1970’s.  He also served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

While still serving in the Army in early 1862, Garfield began his political career.  He ran for the U.S. Congress in Ohio’s newly redrawn and heavily Republican 19th District, and won.  During his time in Congress, Garfield supported and voted for the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1866.  Also during his time in Congress, Garfield served on a specially-created Electoral Commission that decided the disputed outcome of the 1876 Presidential election, giving the presidency to his party’s candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes.

Then, while still serving as a Congressman in 1879, Garfield was elected by the Ohio Senate to replace John Sherman as U.S. Senator from Ohio because Senator Sherman resigned his seat to campaign for the presidency.  Garfield then went on, unexpectedly, to beat Sherman in the primaries and then win the 1880 presidential election.  As a result, there was a period of time, following the presidential election, where Garfield was a sitting congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senator-elect, and the U.S. President-elect, all at the same time.

Some other interesting aspects of Garfield include that he was the first primarily left-handed President, but he was also ambidextrous.  It is said you could ask him a question in English and he could simultaneously write the answer in Greek with one hand and in Latin with the other.  Also, as a minister in the Disciples of Christ Christian Church, Garfield is the only President to ever have been a preacher.  Also, as a former professor of languages, Garfield was the first President to campaign in multiple languages. He often spoke in German with German-Americans he encountered along the campaign trail.

On the morning of July 2, 1881, just four months into his presidency, President Garfield went to D.C.’s Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, then located at the corner of Sixth Street and B Street, and the present site of the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.  He was there to catch a train on his way to a short vacation.  As he walked through the station toward the waiting train, a man named Charles Guiteau stepped behind the President and fired two shots.  Guiteau was an attorney and political office-seeker who was a relative stranger to the President and his administration in an era when Federal positions were doled out on a “who you know” basis. When his requests for an appointment were ignored, a furious Guiteau stalked the President, vowing revenge.

In comparison to the enormous amount of security now surrounding the President when he travels, it is incredible to think that when President Garfield was killed he was walking through a public train station with no bodyguard or security detail.  He was scheduled to travel alone, and was being seen off at the station by two of his sons and two friends.  One of those friends was Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of the first President to be assassinated.

Guiteau’s first bullet grazed Garfield’s arm.  The bullet second passed below the president’s pancreas and lodged near his spine, and could not be found by doctors.  Doctors made several unsuccessful attempts to remove the bullet while Garfield lay in his White House bedroom, awake and in pain.  Alexander Graham Bell, who was one of Garfield’s physicians, invented a metal detector to try to find the location of the bullet but the machine kept malfunctioning, apparently due to the metal framework of the bed Garfield lay in.  Because of the rarity of metal bed frames at the time, the cause of the malfunction was not discovered.

By early September, Garfield, who was recuperating at a seaside retreat in New Jersey, appeared to be recovering.  However, he took a turn for the worse and succumbed to his injuries.  He died 80 days after being shot.  Historical accounts vary as to the exact cause of Garfield’s death.  Some believe that his physicians’ treatments, which included the constant probing of the bullet wound with unsterile instruments, may have led to blood poisoning.  His treatment also included the administration of quinine, morphine, brandy and calomel, as well as feeding him through the rectum.  Many believe that the medical treatment he received eventually led to, or at least hastened, his demise. Autopsy reports at the time said that pressure from his internal wound had created an aneurism, which was the likely cause of death.  Garfield’s spine, which shows the hole created by the bullet, is kept as a historical artifact by the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Garfield was the second President to be assassinated, after Abraham Lincoln in 1865.  At 200 days, Garfield’s presidency was the second shortest, behind William Henry Harrison’s presidency, of just 31 days.  Also, Garfield is the second youngest President to die in office, behind John F. Kennedy, who was 127 days younger that Garfield was at the time of their deaths.

This ride was an interesting one, much like Garfield himself was interesting.  And it was not a very long ride, but it was for a President who did not serve for very long in office, and did not live a very long life.  Garfield worked as a farmer, a janitor, a bell ringer, a carpenter, a canal boat driver, a college professor, a lawyer, and a preacher.  He was also a Brigadere General in the Army, a Congressman, a Senator and a U.S. President.  So I guess maybe it’s not about how long you live, but what you do while you’re alive that counts.  

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

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Union Row

As with most large cities, there are a lot of alleys throughout D.C.  But some alleys are better than others, and they can vary as drastically as the neighborhoods of the city where they are located.  I often ride through alleys when I’m riding my bike.  But the alleys are usually there to simply to provide a narrow passageway between or behind buildings, or for off-street parking and storage space for trash cans.  But on this bike ride I happened upon an alley which had recently been renovated into some trendy living spaces.  And being able to imagine myself living there quickly made it one of my favorite alleys in the city.  Located at the corner of 14th Street and V Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s U Street corridor in the Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, the residences are known as The Warehouses at Union Row.

Union Row is a contemporary housing and business complex developed in 2007 by the P.N. Hoffman real estate development firm.  The Warehouses at Union Row were previously used for car storage, but were transformed into modern, industrial-looking three-level town homes that feature open floor plans with high ceilings and oversize windows to maximize natural light, and include private terraces on two sides of the home.  European kitchens with stainless appliances and granite countertops flow into spacious living and dining areas.  Additional amenities include a concierge, elevators, a courtyard, community meeting and party rooms, and off-street parking for cars (or bicycles).

The Warehouses at Union Row are within walking distance of the U Street Metro Station, and is conveniently located near a number of neighborhood cultural attractions.  These include the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, the Howard and Lincoln Theaters, Meridian Hill Park, as well as some of the city’s best jazz clubs and dance halls, the 14th & U Streets Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings, and a wide variety of shops and restaurants, including Busboys and Poets across the street, and the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl.

As I wrote earlier, I could easily imagine myself living in one of town homes that make up the Warehouses at Union Row.  However, for two reasons I am fairly certain that changing my address to Union Row will not be happening anytime soon.  First, there are no units available at the present time.  And the other reason is because units can sell in the half a million to million dollar range.  So absent winning the Powerball lottery, I think there are a lot of other alleys I could wind up living in before I become a resident of Union Row.

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Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

Arlington House, also known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial, and formerly named the Custis-Lee Mansion, is a 19th-century Greek revival style mansion located atop a rolling hill in what is now Arlington National Cemetery (MAP), in Arlington County, Virginia.  And on this lunchtime bike ride I ventured over the Arlington Memorial Bridge to Virginia to see and find out more about the historic house.

The mansion, overlooking the national capital city landscape across the Potomac River, has a long and storied past.  Construction began in 1802, but was not actually completed until 1818. It was owned by his adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, son of John Parke Custis who himself was a child of Martha Washington by her first marriage, and a ward of President Washington.  It was originally intended as a living memorial to President George Washington. To design the estate Custis hired George Hadfield, an English architect who came to D.C. in 1785 to help construct the U.S. Capitol Building.

Custis began living in the house in 1802, in the north wing, which was the first part completed. Two years later he married Mary Lee Fitzhugh, and she moved in with him. Construction of the house continued around them for the first sixteen years of their marriage, and they lived in Arlington House for the rest of their lives .  They were buried together on the property after their deaths in 1857 and 1853, respectively.

Their only child, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, took ownership of the property upon her father’s death. She moved in and lived there with her childhood friend and distant cousin, who she had married years earlier. His name was Robert E. Lee. They would have seven children, six of whom were born at the estate.

Contrary to popular belief, Lee never actually owned the Arlington estate.  However, as Mary’s husband he did serve as custodian of the property, which by that time had fallen into disrepair. Although it would take several years, Lee returned the property and its holdings to good order by 1859. But that would only last a couple of years. It would not be long until Lee would leave Arlington Mansion, never to return again.

On May 24, 1861, just hours after the Commonwealth of Virginia ratified an ordinance of secession, thus joining the Confederate States of America, over 3,500 U.S. Army soldiers, commanded by General Irvin McDowell, streamed across the Potomac River into northern Virginia and captured the Arlington estate.  It would soon be seized by the U.S. government when Mrs. Lee failed to pay, in person, taxes levied against the estate.  It was then offered for public sale, at which time a tax commissioner purchased the property for “government use, for war, military, charitable and educational purposes.”

It wasn’t until 1864, when the increasing number of battle fatalities was outpacing the burial capacity of D.C. cemeteries, that 200 acres of Arlington plantation were set aside as a cemetery. Upon the authority of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, General Montgomery C. Meigs, Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army, appropriated the grounds for use as a military cemetery.  Meigs believed Lee committed treason in deciding to fight against the Union, and denying Lee use of the mansion after the war was politically advantageous.  So he decided that a large number of burials should occur close to Arlington House to render it unlivable should the Lee family ever attempt to return.  And he was successful.  The mansion never again served as the Lee family’s, or anyone else’s, home.

Throughout the war, the Arlington estate also provided assistance to the thousands of African-Americans slaves fleeing the South.  The U.S. government even dedicated a planned community for freed slaves on the southern portion of the property, which was named Freedman’s Village.  The government granted land to more than 1,100 freed slaves, where they farmed and lived until the turn of the 20th century.

Neither Robert E. Lee, nor his wife ever attempted to recover control of Arlington House. However, after Lee’s death in 1870, his son, George Washington Custis Lee, brought an action for ejectment in the Circuit Court of Alexandria (today Arlington County).  Custis Lee, as eldest son of the Lees, claimed the land was illegally confiscated and that, according to his grandfather’s will, he was the legal owner.  In December 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, returned the property to Custis Lee, stating that confiscation of the property lacked due process. The following year Congress purchased the property back from Lee.

In 1955, Congress enacted Public Law 84-107, a joint resolution that designated the manor as the “Custis-Lee Mansion”, and as a permanent memorial to Robert E. Lee. The resolution directed the United States Secretary of the Interior to erect on the premises a memorial plaque and to correct governmental records to bring them into compliance with the designation, “thus ensuring that the correct interpretation of its history would be applied”.  Gradually the house was furnished and interpreted to the period of Robert E. Lee as specified in the legislation.  In 1972, Congress enacted Public Law 92-333, an Act that amended the previous law to designate the manor as “Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial”.  It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in October of 1966, and is currently administered by the National Park Service.

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

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The view from the front porch of Arlington House

 

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Trump Protestors Get Trumped

Today I stopped by what was formerly known as The Old Post Office Pavilion, located at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), which reopened today as The Trump International Hotel – Washington, D.C.  Based on a 60-year lease from the Federal government, Donald Trump has transformed the building into a 263-room luxury hotel which he proclaims is “one of the finest hotels in the world.”

Beginning today, guests will be able to stay at the new five-star hotel at rates that start at $750 per night and go up to $4,800 a night for the premier “Postmaster Suite”.   After the hotel’s official grand opening, which will take place later this year, room rates will drop to around $472 a night for a “Deluxe Room”, and $9,000 for the one-bedroom “Presidential Suite”.  But the Presidential Suite is not the most expensive accommodations being offered.  For that, guests will have to book the hotel namesake’s “Trump Townhouse”.  For that, guests will have to pay $18,750 per night.

For today’s opening, the Answer Coalition and Code Pink organizations were joined by a few individual protestors to conduct a demonstration in front of the new hotel.  However, when I was there at around noon during the peak of the protest, only about two dozen protestors had shown up to display their signs and banners.  As indicated by a sign-up table and pile of mass-produced signs on the ground next to it, they had been expecting many more people to show up to participate.  It is unknown how many people the organizing groups initially expected to be part of the protest, but most likely they expected many more than I saw while I was there.  In the end, I saw more journalists and  photographers there to cover the event than the people they were there to cover.

Adding insult to injury, the protestors were often drowned out by a street preacher in a red shirt who brought his own bullhorn to their bully pulpit.  Riding around on a bicycle in front of the protestors while simultaneously broadcasting his own personal message, he often drowned out the speakers at the protestors.  At times the speakers even stopped what they were doing while they waited for him to stop talking or, at times, dancing.  But when he did stop it was usually only temporary.

However, despite the protest not being a success in terms of size or getting out their message, the protestors may eventually have the last laugh.  Trump made the deal and broke ground on the renovation before he entered the Presidential race.  At that time his brand was mostly associated with luxury amenities and quality customer service.  But now, after more than a year of campaigning, the Trump name is much more polarizing and off-putting to many people.  And how that will translate into business for the hotel is as uncertain as the outcome of the upcoming election. 

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

UPDATE:  I was contacted via Twitter and advised that the protest was planned as an all-day event, and that the number of protestors had increased to approximately 75 participants by early evening.

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A September 11th Memorial Grove

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I chose to ride to a local September 11th memorial.  On past anniversaries of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, the World Trade Center in New York, and United Flight 93 which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I have observed the occasion by riding to memorials to those killed on that day.  I have been to the National 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, as well as The Victims of the Terrorist Attack on The Pentagon Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.  But the anniversary this year falls on a weekend.  So on today’s ride to end the workweek I rode to one of a number of local memorials here in D.C. – the September 11th Memorial Grove, located in Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP).

Within the cemetery, the grove is configured as an alley, originating across from the gravesite of John Phillip Sousa and continuing southward down a hill to the far edge of the cemetery near the Anacostia River. Because the Sousa grave is the most visited area of the cemetery, the grove draws people in and leads them on a short walk through the memorial site.

The purpose of the memorial at Congressional Cemetery is threefold. First, as a cemetery, it was a logical place to memorialize. And the trees were especially fitting for the cemetery, fitting into its memorial tradition of the use of cenotaphs, or empty tombs. The second reason is because the memorial helps in creating a renewed awareness of the cemetery, to bring more people onto the site, thus continuing the tradition of a cemetery as a gathering space. The third reason for placing the memorial grove within the cemetery was to be part of a landscape plan to re-tree the cemetery.

At the entrance to the grove is a maker containing a poem entitled, “Remembrance”.  It reads,

“For those who no longer hear noisy leaves
shimmering in the summer breeze …
For those who might have sought shelter from the
mid-day sun under a nave of gnarled hornbeams …
For those who would grieve in the quiet space
amid a grove of flowering trees …
For those who perished on September 11, 2001.”

The September 11th Memorial Grove at the cemetery is the first of a series of nine memorial groves planned for the city, with one central and eight ward-based neighborhood memorial tree groves created both to remember September 11 and to celebrate the community that surrounds it.  So I guess I know where I can go on the next eight anniversaries of that terrible day.

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