Titan Arum

Three corpse flowers (Amorphophallus titanium), also known as titan arum or the stinky plant, are currently in the process of blooming at The United States Botanic Garden on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building here in D.C.  I have been stopping by daily for the past couple of weeks to monitor their progress.  But on today’s bike ride I was pleased to see that the largest of the three plants is now in full bloom.  Peak blooms for the second and third plants are currently predicted to be between tomorrow and August 30th.

The three plants currently on display, which vary in age from five years up to 12 years old, have never bloomed before.  And this appears to be the first time in North America that an institution has three corpse flower plants all blooming at the same time.

For more information about corpse flowers in general, please see my blog post about the most recent previous bloom at the Botanic Garden, which occurred in 2016.

         

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

The Department of Justice Building

Many people are not aware that eight Nazi saboteurs landed on our country’s shores early during World War II with the intent to commit sabotage.  Their names were George John Dasch, Ernst Peter Burger, Herbert Haupt, Heinrich Heinck, Eddie Kerling, Herman Otto Neubauer, Richard Quirin, and Werner Thiel.  Even fewer are aware that during this week in 1942, six of those saboteurs were executed here in D.C.

Operation Pastorius was a failed German plan for sabotage inside the U.S. during World War II. The operation was staged in June of 1942 and was to be directed against strategic American homeland targets.  In all, eight saboteurs were dropped off near shore by Nazi submarines and were able to make it to the U.S. mainland — four of them near Long Island, New York and the other four near Jacksonville, Florida.  After one of them turned himself in, the largest manhunt in the history of the FBI began for the remaining seven.  Within nine days, all of the saboteurs were captured.

Fearful that a civilian court would be too lenient, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Proclamation 2561 on July 2, 1942, creating a military tribunal to prosecute the German agents under a veil of secrecy.  Lawyers for the accused attempted to have the case tried in a civilian court but were rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that was later cited as a precedent for trial by military tribunal of any unlawful combatant against the U.S., including those currently being held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay as part of the War on Terror.

The military tribunal took place in July of 1942 in Assembly Hall # 1 on the fifth floor of the U.S. Justice Department building on Pennsylvania Avenue.  All eight would-be saboteurs pleaded innocent, denouncing any allegiance to Adolph Hitler or the Third Reich. The prosecution, headed by the U.S. Attorney General, asked for the tribunal, consisting of seven military generals, for the death penalty.  All eight Germans were found guilty.   Exactly one month later, based on the Presidentially approved recommendation of the military tribunal, six of the eight were executed in the electric chair on the third floor of the D.C. Jail.  They were subsequently buried in a potter’s field called Blue Plains in the Anacostia area of D.C.  The other two Germans, George John Dasch and Ernst Peter Burger, were sentenced to terms of 30 years to life at hard labor.

On today’s bike ride, I went by the U.S. Department of Justice Building where the first military tribunal against an enemy combatant was held.  I also rode by the District of Columbia jail, where they were executed in the electric chair on the third floor.  I also rode to the Anacostia neighborhood in southeast D.C., where those who were executed were buried in unmarked graves in a potters field.

A look at the statistics will show how things have changed dramatically over the past 71 years.  During World War II, there were a total of eight enemy combatants charged by the U.S.   All eight were tried, convicted and sentenced, and the sentences were carried out.  There were only 57 days between June 12th when the Germans first landed on U.S. soil with plans to commit sabotage, until their sentences were carried out and they were executed or began serving their prison sentences on August 8th.

By comparison, the statistics for today’s enemy combatants is much different.  In the current military tribunal process, the shortest time between initial capture and conviction was five years, three months and the longest time nine years, seven months.

To date, 779 detainees have been held at the Guantanamo Bay facility since the War on Terror began after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  Of the 779 detainees, roughly 600 were eventually released without charges, many after being detained for years.  The total number of detainees currently remaining at Guantanamo stands at 41, although 5 of the 41 detainees have been approved by the U.S. for release to home or third countries but remain at Guantanamo.  There have been 15 children under age 18 who have been held at Guantanamo.  Nine Guantanamo detainees have died while in custody, six by suspected suicide. Only seven detainees have been convicted in the War on Terror military tribunals.  And of the 41 detainees that currently remain at Guantanamo, 26 have not yet been charged with a crime.

Today’s ride reinforced for me how important it is to know what your government has done, and is doing.

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Above are the FBI mugshot photos for: 1.George John Dasch;  2. Ernst Peter Burger;  3. Herbert Haupt;  4. Heinrich Heinck; 5. Eddie Kerling; 6. Herman Otto Neubauer; 7. Richard Quirin, and; 8. Werner Thiel.

Protestor in Front of the White House

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United States Coast Guard Memorial

The United States Coast Guard was created by Congress on this date in 1790 at the request of Alexander Hamilton.  Originally known as the Revenue Marine, it is the oldest continuous seagoing service of the United States.  And for this anniversary of its creation, I visited the Coast Guard Memorial, which sits atop a hill near the southern edge of Arlington National Cemetery.

The Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the country’s seven uniformed services. It is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the U.S. military branches for having a maritime law enforcement function as well as a Federal regulatory agency function as part of its mission set.  It operates under the Department of Homeland Security during peacetime, and can be transferred to the Department of the Navy by the President at any time, or by Congress during times of war.

Two tragic episodes in Coast Guard history prompted the construction of this national memorial. On September 16, 1918, 19 members of the crew of the cutter Seneca volunteered for a rescue party to help salvage the British steamer, Wellington, which had been torpedoed by a German submarine. Eleven of those volunteers were lost when the Wellington exploded and sank. Only 10 days later, on Sept. 26, 1918, the cutter Tampa was sunk by an enemy submarine in the British Channel, and all 131 on board that ship were lost.  Both the Tampa and the Seneca had been ordered to operate as part of the Navy when the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1918.

The Coast Guard Memorial was designed by architect George Howe and sculptor Gaston Lachaise, and dedicated on May 23, 1928.  The memorial is set upon a rock foundation and contains a prominent pyramid design, intended to symbolize the spirit of the Coast Guard’s steadfastness.  Above the Coast Guard motto Semper Paratus (meaning “Always Ready”), is a bronze seagull with its wings uplifted.  The seagull symbolizes the tireless vigil that the Coast Guard maintains over the nation’s maritime territory.  The names of the vessels Seneca and Tampa and their crewmen, as well as all Coast Guard personnel who lost their lives during the First World War, are also inscribed on the sides of the monument.

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The Oldest Miniature Golf Course in the United States

There are not a lot of choices when it comes to playing miniature golf in D.C. In fact, there is only one miniature golf course in the entire city.  And that is the course in the East Potomac Park Golf Center, located in East Potomac Park at 972 Ohio Drive (MAP), just south of The Jefferson Memorial and north of Hains Point, situated on a peninsula between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River.  And this was the destination of my lunchtime bike ride today, which combined with taking the afternoon off from work, turned into a miniature vacation.

East Potomac Park’s miniature golf course began operating in 1930, and is the oldest continually-operating course in the United States.  As you can imagine based on its age, it is a little more plain in appearance than the typical modern dinosaur or pirate-themed courses, or the fluorescing glow-in-the-dark indoor courses, that are prevalent in seaside resorts, amusement parks, and other tourist destinations.

Each of the course’s holes are simple cement, brick and stone structures with lightly rolling hills and angled turns and corners.  But with varying degrees of difficulty, the overall course is challenging enough to keep the game interesting.  My score made it clear that I was not one of the best players to play the course.  But I think I can safely say that I had as much fun as anyone there.  And a leisurely late lunch at the clubhouse after a full round of 18 grueling holes was a perfect way to top off the day.

The East Potomac Park Golf Center also has two 9-hole and one 18-hole regular golf courses in addition to its miniature version, as well as a covered and lighted driving range, a practice putting green, a FootGolf course (also the only one in D.C.), a retail pro shop, a tennis center, and an aquatic center. There is also a restaurant in the club house, The Potomac Grille, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. And everything is overseen by the National Park Service and, therefore, open to the public.

The center has available on-site parking, as well as an ample number of bike racks.  So regardless of how you get there, I highly recommend going.  For me, it was a great way to end the workday, and begin the workweek.

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

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.”)