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Tim Russert’s headstone at Rock Creek Cemetery

After recently reading “Big Russ and Me, Father and Son: Lessons of Life”, the critically-acclaimed memoir written by Tim Russert, I found myself nostalgically remembering NBC’s Meet the Press when Tim Russert was the moderator.  While it was a nationally broadcast show, it was based here in D.C. And Russert was the moderator of the Sunday morning political news talk show for 16 years, until his death in 2008.  I also thought about how he was considered one of the most trusted and admired figures in American television newscasting.  But now the words trusted and and admired and news don’t seem to go in the same sentence much anymore.  A lot has changed in the world since he passed away.    

So, on this bike ride, I chose to ride to Rock Creek Cemetery, in northwest D.C.’s Brightwood Park neighborhood (MAP), to visit the gravesite where Russert is buried.  

Born Timothy John Russert in Buffalo, New York (about an hour from where I was born), he was the second of four children and the only son of Timothy Joseph “Big Russ” Russert, a sanitation worker, and Elizabeth “Betty” Seeley Russert, a homemaker. He received a Jesuit education from Canisius High School, before earning a bachelor’s degree in 1972 from John Carroll University and a Juris Doctor with honors from the Cleveland State University Cleveland–Marshall College of Law, in 1976.

After completing his education and before becoming moderator for Meet the Press, Russert’s career highlights included running one of U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s five major law offices based in Buffalo. Within five years he became a special counsel and chief of staff to Moynihan, a Democrat from Hell’s Kitchen, New York. He then became a top aide to New York Governor Mario Cuomo, also a Democrat.  

He left politics in 1984 to become a journalist when he became the senior vice president of NBC News’ Washington operations. Four years later, in 1988, he was promoted to Washington bureau chief of NBC News. And in 1991 he took the job as moderator of Meet the Press. Throughout his time on Meet the Press, Russert also moderated numerous political debates between candidates in U.S. Senate races, governor races in various states, and between presidential candidates. The candidates in those debates included politicians ranging from David Duke to Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Russert met Maureen Orth at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. They were married three years later at the Basilica de San Miguel in Madrid, Spain. Maureen was also a journalist, and still works as a reporter, author, and a special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine. Together they had one child, a son, named Luke. Luke is a former NBC News correspondent, and was an intern with ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Luke currently hosts the XM Radio show 60/20 Sports with political consultant James Carville, who has made numerous appearances on Meet the Press.  

In June of 2008 Russert returned from a family vacation in Rome, Italy, where they had celebrated Luke’s graduation from Boston College. While his wife and son remained in Rome, Russert had returned to prepare for his Sunday show. On June 13th, at the offices of WRC-TV where he was recording voiceovers for his show, Russert collapsed from a heart attack. A co-worker immediately began performing CPR on him while 911 was called. The D.C. Fire and Rescue service received the call at 1:40 pm and dispatched an EMS unit which arrived four minutes later.  Paramedics attempted to defibrillate Russert’s heart three times, but he did not respond. Russert was then transported to Sibley Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was 58 years old, the same age I am now. 

As I sat on the bench at Russert’s gravesite, I thought about how much more vitriolic and divisive politics have become since he passed away.  In 2008 Donald Trump was a celebrity TV star who hosted “The Apprentice” and co-hosted “The Celebrity Apprentice”.  And that year Donald Trump backed Hillary Clinton for president and stated that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi should impeach President George W. Bush.  And as I sat there I wondered what Russert would have thought of the fact that Donald Trump was now the President, who beat Hillary Clinton to become President, and was later impeached by Speaker Pelosi.  And I wondered if, considering how different the world is now, things could ever get back to the way they were when Russert hosted Meet the Press.   

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Some additional interesting aspects of Russert’s life include: 

  • Although he wasn’t the first to use the terminology, Russert is credited coining the phrases “red states” and “blue states”. However, when Russert used the phrases Republican states were blue, and Democratic states were red. The colors have since switched places, and how the colors got switched is not clear.
  • Russert once told a story on Meet the Press about how he went to Woodstock “in a Buffalo Bills jersey with a case of beer.”
  • While in law school, an official from John Carroll University called Russert to ask if he could book some concerts for the school as he had done while a student there. One concert that Russert booked was headlined by a then-unknown singer named Bruce Springsteen, who charged $2,500 for the appearance.
  • During his coverage of the 2000 presidential election, Russert calculated possible Electoral College outcomes using a whiteboard, and that whiteboard is now in the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Russert was an enthusiastic sports fan. He grew up as a New York Yankees fan, but switched his allegiance to the Washington Nationals when they were established in D.C. in 2005.
  • Russert held season tickets to both the Nationals baseball games and the Washington Wizards basketball games.
  • Russert was also a lifelong fan of the Buffalo Bills football team, and often closed Sunday broadcasts during the football season with a statement of encouragement for the franchise. The team released a statement on the day of his death, saying that listening to Russert’s “Go Bills” exhortation was part of their Sunday morning game preparation.
  • After he passed away, the route leading to the Bills’ Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, was renamed the “Timothy J. Russert Highway”.
  • Russert was also a fan of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team and appeared on an episode of Meet the Press next to the Stanley Cup during a Sabres playoff run.
  • Russert, when he was a student at the Cleveland–Marshall College of Law, attended Ten Cent Beer Night, a promotion by the Cleveland Indians which ended in a riot at the stadium. “I went with $2 in my pocket,” he recalled. “You do the math.”
  • Russert was elected in 2003 to the board of directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
  • Russert was friends with Fred Rogers, host of the iconic PBS children’s program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”.
  • During his career, Russert received 48 honorary doctorate degrees.
  • Russert’s favorite beer was Rolling Rock. And, at his funeral, friend and fellow NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw brought and raised a Rolling Rock in Russert’s memory.
  • Russert received an Emmy Award for his news coverage of the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan.
  • Russert was a lifelong devout Catholic, and shortly before his death he had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.
  • In 2008, the same year in which he would later pass away, Time magazine named Russert one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
The Constitution Room at the National Archives

On today’s bike ride I stopped by to see the United States Constitution at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Building.  To find out why you’ll have to keep reading all the way to the end.

On this date in 1787, 39 of the 42 men who were gathered together in Philadelphia signed a document. That four-page document is now located down the street from my office displayed in temperature and environmentally controlled cases behind protective glass framed with titanium. And on today’s lunchtime bike ride I not only rode there, but also went inside to see the actual document that was present 226 years ago at that meeting in Philadelphia.

Today is the anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pensylvania. (Yes, I know Pennsylvania is spelled incorrectly in the previous sentence, but it was also spelled wrong in the Constitution.)

As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 states. Beginning on December 7, five states–Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut–ratified it in quick succession. However, other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve undelegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In February 1788, a compromise was reached under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789. In June, Virginia ratified the Constitution, followed by New York in July.

In addition to Pensylvania being spelled incorrectly, here are some other interesting facts about the Constitution:  

  • The Constitution contains 4,543 words, including the signatures and has four sheets, 28-3/4 inches by 23-5/8 inches each. It contains 7,591 words including the 27 amendments.
  • The U.S. Constitution is the oldest working and shortest written Constitution of any major government in the world.
  • The word “democracy” does not appear once in the Constitution.
    Benjamin Franklin made a suggestion at the Constitutional Convention that the sessions be opened with a prayer. The delegates refused to accept the motion stating that there was not enough money to hire a chaplain.
  • Thomas Jefferson did not sign the Constitution. He was in France during the Convention, where he served as the U.S. minister. John Adams was serving as the U.S. minister to Great Britain during the Constitutional Convention and did not attend either.
  • The Constitution was “penned” by Jacob Shallus, A Pennsylvania General Assembly clerk, for $30 ($726 today).
  • Patrick Henry was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, but declined, because he “smelt a rat.”
  • There was a proposal at the Constitutional Convention to limit the standing army for the country to 5,000 men. George Washington sarcastically agreed with this proposal as long as a stipulation was added that no invading army could number more than 3,000 troops!
  • James Madison, “the father of the Constitution,” was the first to arrive in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention. He arrived in February, three months before the convention began, bearing the blueprint for the new Constitution.
  • Because of his poor health, Benjamin Franklin needed help to sign the Constitution. As he did so, tears streamed down his face. Franklin, at 81 years old, was also the oldest person to sign the Constitution. The youngest was Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey, who was 26.
  • Of the forty-two delegates who attended most of the meetings, thirty-nine actually signed the Constitution. Edmund Randolph and George Mason of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts refused to sign due in part due to the lack of a bill of rights.
  • A proclamation by President George Washington and a congressional resolution established the first national Thanksgiving Day on November 26, 1789. The reason for the holiday was to give “thanks” for the new Constitution.
  • George Washington and James Madison were the only presidents who signed the Constitution.
  • At the time of the Constitutional Convention Philadelphia was the most modern city in America and the largest city in North America. It had a population of 40,000 people, 7,000 street lamps, 33 churches, 10 newspapers, and a university.
  • As Benjamin Franklin left the Pennsylvania State House after the final meeting of the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787, he was approached by the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia. She was curious as to what the new government would be. Franklin replied, “A republic, madam. If you can keep it.” .

And finally, Constitution Day is celebrated on September 17, the anniversary of the day the framers signed the document. That’s today, so Happy Constitution Day!

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Building

NOTE: They do not allow photography of any kind inside the National Archives building, which is why I don’t have a photo of the Constitution.. However, I surreptitiously took the above photo of the Constitution Room on my way out. .

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Grace Murray Hopper Park

I rode over to Virginia during this daily bike ride, and during my ride I happened upon a small park tucked in among the massive apartment and office buildings of Crystal City.  It is located on South Joyce Street in Arlington (MAP), and named Grace Murray Hopper Park, who was a rear admiral in the United States Navy.  Finding a park named after a female rear admiral piqued my curiosity.  So I did some research to find out what I could about her when I got home.  And I found out that she was a very accomplished and interesting person.

Grace Brewster Murray was on December 9, 1906.  That same year, Xerox, a digital office machine brand, was founded in Rochester, New York. Albert Einstein had just published his “Theory of Relativity.”  And the Women’s Suffrage movement was soon to receive major-party support and worldwide attention. An era of scientific and social innovation and eruption was about to begin. Change was on the horizon. And Grace would eventually contribute greatly to that change.  

Grace was born in New York City, the eldest of three children born to Walter Fletcher Murray and Mary Campbell Van Horne. She attended private school at the Hartridge School in Plainfield, New Jersey. At the age of 16, Grace applied for early admission to Vassar College, but was initially rejected because her test scores in Latin were too low.  She reapplied the following year and was admitted.  She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar in 1928 with a bachelor’s degree with a double major in mathematics and physics. She then went on to earn a master’s degree in 1930, and a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1934, both from Yale University. Hopper began teaching mathematics at Vassar in 1931 and was promoted to associate professor ten years later.

She was married to New York University professor Vincent Foster Hopper from 1930 until their divorce in 1945. They did not have any children.  And she did not marry again, but chose to retain the surname of Hopper.  

The Navy had always played an important role in Grace’s family because her great-grandfather served in the Civil War as a Navy admiral.  And when World War II broke out while Grace was still teaching at Vassar, she attempted to enlist in the Navy.  But she was rejected because of her age of 34, her low weight, and the importance of her work as a mathematics professor.  Therefore, she continued to teach at Vassar and was promoted to the position of Associate Professor in 1941 – the year of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Two years later Grace left Vassar to join the U.S. Naval Reserve, also known as WAVES.  But even for that she would need to get an exemption because she was 15 lbs. under the Navy’s minimum of 120 lbs.  But she received a waiver, and went on to graduate first in her class at the Naval Reserve school in Northampton, Massachusetts. 

Grace was commissioned a lieutenant and was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance’s Computation Project at Harvard University, where she worked on Mark I, the first large-scale automatic calculator and a precursor of electronic computers. After the war, she remained at the Harvard Computation Lab for four years as a civilian research fellow. In 1949, she joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, where she helped to develop the UNIVAC I, the first general-purpose electronic computer. Throughout her postwar career in academia and private industry, Hopper retained her naval commission.

Grace initially retired from the Navy in 1966. However, one year later, she was recalled to active duty for a six-month period that turned into an indefinite assignment directing the Navy Programming Languages Group in the Navy’s Office of Information System Planning, standardizing computing languages.  She retired again in 1971, but was once again asked to return to active duty in 1972.  She was promoted to Captain in 1973, and finally Commodore (later renamed Rear Admiral), the highest peacetime military rank possible, by Presidential appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.  She remained on active duty for several years beyond mandatory retirement by special approval of Congress.  In 1986, when Rear Adm. Hopper retired for the third and final time from the Navy at the age of 79, she was the oldest officer on active U.S. naval duty.  

Following her retirement from the Navy, she was hired by Digital Equipment Corporation.  She proposed in jest that she would be willing to accept a position which made her available on alternating Thursdays to be exhibited at their museum of computing as a pioneer, in exchange for a generous salary and unlimited expense account. Instead, she was hired as a full-time senior consultant. In this position, Grace represented the company at industry forums, serving on various industry committees, along with other obligations.  She retained that position until her death.  She died at home in her sleep of natural causes at at age 85 in 1992.  At the time of her death she was a resident of River House Apartments, which is adjacent to the park named in her honor.  

Throughout her career she was a computer pioneer, and she came to be known as “Amazing Grace” for her groundbreaking achievements. Some of her achievements and other interesting facts about this amazing woman include:

  • Grace was an especially curious child. At the age of seven, her mother discovered she had been dismantling alarm clocks to figure out their inner workings. She had taken apart seven clocks before her mother intervened and limited her to a single clock to tinker with.
  • The clock in Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Hopper’s office ran counterclockwise.
  • After a moth infiltrated the circuits of Mark I, she coined the term bug to refer to unexplained computer failures.
  • The famous quotation “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission” is often attributed to her. 
  • A minor planet discovered by Eleanor Helin is named “5773 Hopper” in her honor. 
  • Women at Microsoft Corporation formed an employee group called Hoppers and established a scholarship in her honor.
  • During her lifetime, Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities across the world.
  • Hopper College, one of the residential colleges of Yale University, was named after her.  
  • She was awarded The Data Processing Management Association’s Inaugural “Man-of-the-Year” Award.  
  • She was awarded The National Medal of Technology.
  • The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper was named for her. 
  • Also named after her is he Cray XE6 “Hopper” supercomputer at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.  
  • The U.S. Naval Academy also owns a Cray XC-30 supercomputer named “Grace,” hosted at the University of Maryland-College Park. 
  • Hopper was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat decoration awarded by the Department of Defense.
  • She was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery
  • On November 22, 2016, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

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

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The Castle (front)

One of the most iconic and recognizable buildings in D.C. is the Smithsonian Institution Building.  Colloquially known as “The Castle,” it is located just off the National Mall at 1000 Jefferson Drive (MAP).  I’ve passed by it during bike rides literally thousands of times over the years.  And I’ve visited some of the many gardens surrounding it, such as The Enid A. Haupt Garden, The Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden, and my personal favorite, The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.  But I’ve never researched it or featured it in this blog.  But with it appearing to be so picturesque on this ride, I decided it was about time I did.

The Castle was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., whose other works include St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, also in D.C.  It was the first Smithsonian building.  There are now 20 Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries, 11 of which are at the National Mall.  The Castle was designed and built in the Norman Revival style, a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs, which causes it to stand out among D.C.’s other architectural styles.  And it is constructed of Seneca red sandstone from the Seneca quarry in nearby Seneca, Maryland, which causes it to further stand out in contrast to the granite, marble and yellow sandstone from the other major buildings in D.C.  Construction began in 1847 and was completed in 1855.  It was designated added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1965.

The Castle initially served as a home and office for the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Joseph Henry.  And until 1881, it also housed all aspects of Smithsonian operations, including research and administrative offices; lecture halls; exhibit halls; a library and reading room; chemical laboratories; storage areas for specimens; and living quarters for the Secretary, his family, and visiting scientists.

Currently, The Castle houses the administrative offices of the Smithsonian. The main Smithsonian visitor center is also located in The Castle.  In the visitor center you can get a grasp of the scope and scale of the Smithsonian with an exhibit entitled “America’s Treasure Chest”, that displays items from collections across the Smithsonian.  There are also interactive displays and maps, and computers that can electronically answer most common questions.  There are volunteers and in-house experts as well, who can answer other questions and provide information about what to see and do based on what’s currently going on at all the Smithsonian museums.  Additionally, docent tours highlighting The Castle’s 19th-century architecture and history are available.

The visitor center is also home to a museum store featuring a myriad of souvenirs, and the Castle Café, where visitors can enjoy specialty sandwiches, soups, pastries, organic salads, antipasti, a coffee, espresso/cappuccino bar, teas, bottled beverages, beer, wine and, when in season, ice cream.

Finally, just inside the north entrance of The Castle is a crypt that houses the tomb of James Smithson.  Smithson was an English chemist and mineralogist who never married and had no children.  Therefore, when he wrote his will, he left his estate to his nephew, or his nephew’s family if his nephew died before him.  If his nephew were to die without heirs, however, Smithson’s will stipulated that his estate be used “to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men”.  Smithson died in Genoa, Italy in June of 1829, at the age of 64.  Six years later, in 1835, his nephew died without heir, setting in motion the bequest to the United States.  In this way Smithson became the founding patron of the Smithsonian Institution despite having never visited the United States.

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The Castle (back)

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The Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknowns

Since 1937 the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery (MAP) has been guarded every minute of every day, 365 days a year, even when the cemetery is closed and in any kind of weather. It is guarded by Tomb Guard sentinels, who are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” headquartered at Fort Myer, Virginia, which is adjacent to the cemetery. Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military.

Because it is considered such a high honor, the process to become a sentinel is incredibly difficult. Members of the Old Guard must volunteer for the position. Volunteers who are accepted are then assigned to Company E of The Old Guard. Each soldier must be in superb physical condition, possess an unblemished military record and be between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet, 4 inches tall for males or 5 feet, 8 inches and 6 feet, 2 inches tall for females with a proportionate weight and build. An interview and a two-week trial to determine a volunteer’s capability to be trained as a sentinel then is required.

During the trial phase, would-be sentinels memorize seven pages of Arlington National Cemetery history. This information must be recited verbatim in order to earn a “walk.” A walk occurs between guard changes. A daytime walk is one-half hour in the summer and one hour in the winter. All night walks are one hour.

And each walk performed by a tomb sentinel is identical, with the steps the sentinels perform having specific meaning. Everything the sentinels do is a series of 21, which symbolizes the 21-gun salute, the highest military honor that can be bestowed, and is reserved for the President and foreign heads of state, but also for the Unknowns.

The sentinel marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.

The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change Ceremony begins with the appearance of a relief commander, who will approach and salute the Tomb. The commander then turns to the crowd and asks everyone to rise and remain silent during the ceremony. As the Commander is speaking, the relief sentinel will report. The commander will walk over to the relief sentinel and conduct a full inspection of the new sentinel, inspecting the weapon and the sentinel himself. This is a real inspection and the relief sentinel can be sent away, leaving the current sentinel in place till the next scheduled Changing of the Guard. If approved, both the commander and relief sentinel will walk to the middle to meet with the posted sentinel, all the while keeping in step with each other. At this point, the ceremony concludes when the posted sentinel step off of the mat and faces the relief sentinel. Both sentinels will acknowledge each other with orders. All three will salute the Tomb, then the relief sentinel will step onto the mat and take over where the now relieved sentinel left off. Both the commander and the relieved sentinel will then walk off in step with each other and exit to the right, concluding the ceremony.

Duty time when not “walking” is spent in the Tomb Guard Quarters below the Memorial Display Room of the Memorial Amphitheater where they study cemetery “knowledge,” clean their weapons and help the rest of their relief prepare for the Changing of the Guard. The guards also train on their days off.

If a soldier successfully passes the training during the trial phase, “new-soldier” training begins. New sentinels learn the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans. They learn the guard-change ceremony and the manual of arms that takes place during the inspection portion of the Changing of the Guard. Sentinels also learn to keep their uniforms and weapons in immaculate condition, a meticulous process that by itself can take up to eight hours each day.

After several months of walking and serving, sentinels are then tested to earn the privilege of wearing the silver Tomb Guard Identification Badge. First, they are tested on their manual of arms, uniform preparation and their walks. Then, the Badge Test is given. The test is 100 randomly selected questions of the 300 items memorized during training on the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The would-be badge holder must get more than 95 percent correct to succeed.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Sentinels are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over.

The Sentinel’s Creed

My dedication to this sacred duty is total and whole-hearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect, his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

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NOTE:  Due to the coronavirus pandemic Arlington National Cemetery is closed to visitors until further notice.  Funerals, however, are proceeding as scheduled albeit with certain limitations.  Please check their website for specific and updated information.

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The Newseum

On this bike ride I stopped by the Newseum building, located at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.  But that’s not anything new.  I have done that hundreds of times before over the years.  That’s because the Newseum had an exhibit entitled “Today’s Front Pages Gallery,” in which it displayed the front pages of dozens of newspapers along the front of its building each day so that passersby on the sidewalk could stop and read them.  So I used to frequently stop and read the headlines and a story or two.  Also, being able to see all the different newspapers together is something I’ve always found it interesting because of how different newspapers from different parts of the country, as well as foreign newspapers, cover the same story so differently.  For example, the way the different newspapers reported the election of Donald Trump in November of 2016 were vastly different.  Similarly, the coverage of the killing of Osama Bin Laden back in 2011 was covered quite differently by different newspapers, especially foreign ones.

After today’s visit, however, I decided it was about time I wrote about it.  I figured if I don’t write about it now, it might soon be too late.  Because the building will soon be known by another name.  Sadly, The Newseum is closed.  And not just temporarily because of the pandemic.  Last December, citing financial difficulties, the Newseum closed down permanently.  However, on May 15, 2020, the Newseum began searching for a new location.  So while the building, purchased by Johns Hopkins University for $372.5 million, will change, hopefully the Newseum won’t when it opens in its new location, wherever that turns out to be.

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D.C. Jazz Heroes Mural

During this bike ride, as I was leisurely riding around in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, I stopped to admire the mural on the side of the Right Proper Brewery, located at 624 T Street (MAP) next to The Howard Theatre.  Sadly, the brew pub was not yet open for the day.  But the mural made the ride worthwhile nonetheless.

As I would find out later, the mural is entitled D.C. Jazz Heroes, and was created in 2017 by artists Kate Decicco and Rose Jaffe with the sponsorship of Murals DC and the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities.  The colorful and vibrant mural combines painted wood cutouts on the painted brick wall, and features some of the significant jazz musicians who have shaped both the past and present of the city’s jazz scene.

In the piece Duke Ellington is pictured as a mentee – learning from the local jazz heroes Mahalia Jackson, Billy Taylor, Shirley Horn, Ron Holloway, Meshell Ndegeocello and Davey Yarborough.  The various musicians are depicted singing, or playing a piano, guitar, flute, and saxophone.  Interestingly, the mural is in the former location of Frank Holliday’s pool room, where future jazz great Duke Ellington spent much of his youth.

Sometimes researching what I saw on a bike ride is almost as interesting and fun as seeing it.  That was the case for this mural. And what I found out was that the artists behind the mural are particularly interesting.

Kate Decicco was previously based in D.C., but has sincere relocated to Oakland.  And murals have become a cornerstone of her practice, although she continues to have a multi-dimensional approach to her art.  She has said her work is “driven by [her] interests in equity, mental health, humor, community building and of course a passion for the activity of art-making.”  In addition to murals, she also participates in making art with people in locked spaces like mental institutions, prisons and juvenile detention centers.  She also works with young people.  But beyond just fostering their creative and artistic development, she sees arts education as a tool for coping, improving self-esteem, developing confidence and connection for those young people.  Decicco sums up her artistic approach and process by stating, “Any chance I have to support another person to discover their inherent creativity and the joy of making something with their hands brings me great satisfaction.”

Rose Jaffe remains local and loyal to D.C., and without any shade to Kate Decicco’s decision to relocate, she says, “I love D.C. and I think that we need artists to stay here.”  In addition to murals, her prolific career also specializes in ceramics and paintings while working in her Petworth studio.  But her studio provides her with more than just a space to work on her art.  She has sectioned off a large part of her studio and uses it as an events space.  This portion of her studio, which calls The Stew, has become an all inclusive art gallery, yoga studio, Zine workshop and whatever else she wants it to be.  And it is through both public and private events and get togethers at The Stew that she supports the local art scene and provides a space that can foster discussion about art.

Both Decicco and Jaffe purposefully connect with other people, both through their art, and the processes by which they create their art.  And I find that just as interesting as the mural they created together.

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The FBI Academy

On this weekend bike outing I went to the Marine Corps Base Quantico, on the grounds of which the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) Training Academy is located.  Situated on 385 acres of woodlands approximately 36 miles south of D.C. near the town of Quantico in Stafford County, Virginia (MAP), the FBI Academy is a full-service national training facility, with: classrooms and conference rooms; dormitories; indoor and outdoor firing ranges; a gym and aquatic pool; a library; a dining hall; the Tactical and Emergency Vehicle Operations Center, which teaches safe, efficient driving techniques to FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) personnel and other government and military personnel, and; Hogan’s Alley, a training complex simulating a small town for carrying out practical exercises and training.

The FBI Academy was first opened in 1972, the year in which J. Edgar Hoover, the man who was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, became its first Director, and then lead the organization for the next 37 years.  The Academy is operated by the Bureau’s Training Division, and was initially where new FBI Special Agents received their first training after being hired. One of the many changes after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 was the development of additional and specialized training for Intelligence Analysts.  Over time the training of FBI Special Agents and Intelligence Analysts became integrated into an expansive integrated curriculum currently known as the Basic Field Training Course (BFTC).

The BFTC was developed by the Training Division to meet the Bureau’s ambitious goal of training new Agent and Intelligence Analyst candidates in a way that prepares them for their collaborative work in the field.  Previously, Agents and Analysts had completely separate training.  The BFTC replaced these two distinctly separate programs with an integrated, collaborative course that uses a dedicated field office team approach mirroring the environment that they will experience in their field assignments.

And although new Agents are still typically synonymous with the FBI Academy, the Training Division also instructs many other diverse groups of people.  In addition to Intelligence Analysts, those who currently receive training at the Academy include: people in a wide variety of professional staff positions at the FBI; law enforcement officers from other Federal agencies as well as state, local and tribal police and law enforcement entities, and; appropriate individuals from the private sector.  Elite units such as the Hostage Rescue Team, Evidence Response Teams, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), and law enforcement leaders from across the world also attend the Academy and utilize its training facilities to improve on skills.

In addition to the Training Division, the Academy grounds are also host to a number of other divisions and entities.  They include the Hostage Rescue Team Complex, the Operational Technology Division and its engineering research facility, the FBI Laboratory, the Forensic Science Research and Training Center, and the DEA’s Justice Training Center.

This ride was longer and different, but just as interesting as the shorter rides I used to take during my daily lunch break at work in D.C.  And it’s this kind of ride that I hope to take often now that I’m retired.

 

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

1.  Hoover Road, named after the FBI’s founding and long-time Director, J. Edgar Hoover.
2.  A sign at the East Gate Security Entrance, which is the main entrance to the FBI Academy.
3.  The Academy’s Jefferson Building,which houses administrative offices and the student check-in and visitors center.
4.  A view from a distance of the Madison Dormitory building.
5. The intersection of route MCB-4 and J. Edgar Hoover Road, near the west gate entrance to the FBI Academy
6.  The sign at the West Gate Security Entrance to the FBI Academy
7.  Welcome sign at the entrance to the mock town named Hogan’s Alley
8.  Mock businesses, including a laundromat and pool hall, in Hogan’s Alley.  Interestingly, the outsides of the buildings in Hogan’s Alley simulate a small town for carrying out practical exercises and training. But the insides contain offices for Training Division personnel.
9.  A mock movie theater in Hogan’s Alley named The Biograph, named and modelled  after the theater in Chicago where FBI Agents attempted to arrest but ended up
killing gangster John Dillinger on July 22, 1934
10.  The Firearms Training Support Facility building that houses the Training Division’s Firearms Training Unit
11.  One of several outdoor firing ranges
12.  The indoor firing range

NOTE:  Due to security concerns there is currently very limited public access to Marine Corps Base Quantico and no public access to the FBI Academy grounds or facilities.

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Statue of Taras Shevchenko

In addition to numerous statues that pay homage to famous Americans, D.C. is also home to many that honor foreign heroes.  Some examples I’ve already visited are well-known, such as The Nelson Mandela Statue in Front of the South African Embassy and the Statue of Sir Winston Churchill.  Many others are less well-known, such as the Statue of Crown Princess Märtha, the Statue of Elefthérios Venizélos, and the Statue of Brigadier General Thaddeus Kościuszko.  But I haven’t yet visited many of the city’s hundreds, if not thousands of these statues.  And I think I better start prioritizing them during my bike rides so I can see them before angry mobs of rioters eventually tear them all down.

On this bike ride, I saw one of these statues that I hadn’t visited before – the Taras Shevchenko Memorial, which is located in the 2200 block of P Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.  It is the 83rd statue to be profiled in this blog.

Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko was a Ukrainian poet, writer, artist, public and political figure, as well as folklorist and ethnographer.  His literary heritage is regarded to be the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature and, to a large extent, the modern Ukrainian language. Shevchenko is also known for many masterpieces as a painter and an illustrator.

The idea of a U.S. monument honoring Shevchenko began with the American Shevchenko Society, founded in 1898. The society did not achieve its goal of erecting a monument, but the idea did not die out, and many Ukrainian-Americans continued to pursue the creation of a Shevchenko monument.

The inscriptions on the memorial best describe the man and the reasons for the statue.  The inscription on north face of statue base reads:

Dedicated to the Liberation, Freedom and Independence of all Captive Nations

This monument of Taras Shevchenko, 19th century Ukrainian poet and fighter for the independence of Ukraine and the freedom of all mankind, who under foreign Russian imperialist tyranny and colonial rule appealed for “The New and Righteous Law of Washington,” was unveiled on June 27, 1964. This historic event commemorated the 150th anniversary of Shevchenko’s birth. The memorial was authorized by the 86th Congress of the United States of America on August 31, 1960, and signed into Public Law 86-749 by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States of America on September 13, 1960. The statue was erected by Americans of Ukrainian ancestry and friends.

And an inscription on reverse face of the relief sculpture of Prometheus reads:

“…Our soul shall never perish. Freedom knows no dying.
And the greedy cannot harvest
fields where seas are lying.”

“Cannot bind the living Spirit
nor the living Word.
“Cannot smirch the sacred glory
of Th’Almighty Lord.”

 

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

NOTE:  A second Ukrainian monument was approved by the U.S. Congress in 2006.  The monument honors the millions of Ukrainians who died as a result of the 1932–1933 Holodomor, a famine-genocide caused by the Soviet Union.  The memorial site is located on a triangular lot on Massachusetts Avenue near Union Station.  On December 2, 2008, a dedication ceremony was held at the future site for the Holodomor Memorial, with Ukraine’s then-First Lady Kateryna Yushchenko among the speakers.  Formally dedicated on November 7, 2015, it is also the second memorial in D.C. to honor victims of Communism, the other being the Victims of Communism Memorial, also located near Union Station.

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Barcroft Park

On this bike ride I went back to Virginia and rode on the Four-Mile Run Trail, which can be accessed from the Mount Vernon Trail just south of Reagan National Airport.  Instead of the north section that meets up with the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail, I stayed on the south end of the trail.  That portion of the trail goes through Barcroft Park, which is located at 4200 South Four Mile Run Drive in Arlington (MAP), and is adjacent to the Barcroft Sports & Fitness Center.  I’ve lived in Arlington in the past, and even been to the area where the park is located – but I unfortunately didn’t know about it back then.

Barcroft Park is a 65-acre public park featuring a baseball field, a softball field, batting cages, basketball courts, a sheltered picnic area, charcoal grills and playgrounds, a stream for fishing, and excellent bike and walking trails with ample shade for warm sunny days.

The park’s baseball venue, known officially as Tucker Field at Barcroft Park Field #6, is home to the George Washington University Colonials baseball team of the NCAA Division I Atlantic 10 Conference. The field holds a capacity of 500 spectators, and includes a new turf field laid in 2019 by FieldTurf, bullpens, enclosed dugouts, stadium seating, concessions, lights, a scoreboard, and a pressbox.

Also located within Barcroft Park is the Phoenix Bike Shop.  In March 2007, Phoenix Bikes opened its doors in Barcroft Park as a nonprofit organization. Phoenix Bike’s mission is to empower youth to become social entrepreneurs through direct participation in a financially and environmentally sustainable nonprofit bike shop that serves the community. Their vision is to provide a fun, safe, and challenging environment for local youth through building & running a great community bike shop. They believe this is a unique way for young leaders to learn teamwork, explore social entrepreneurship, develop business and leadership skills, and serve others.

It’s a great park with an excellent trail, and is easily accessible from D.C. by bike  And there are so many things to do there that you won’t become bored even if you have the luxury of being able to spend the entire day there like you would if you’re a recent retiree like me.  The park is open daily from sunrise until 11:00 p.m., and if you’re not going there via bike there is ample parking available as well.

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