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Paul Raymond Tully’s Grave Marker

Earlier this year an obituary for the late Mary Anne Noland of Richmond, Virginia, was published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper. It stated, “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68.” And Noland’s obituary is not unique.  For example, an obituary for Ernest Overbey Jr., also of Richmond, ended with a request to “please vote for Donald Trump.” Similarly, the obituary for Katherine Michael Hinds, of Auburn, Alabama, suggested that “in lieu of flowers, do not vote for Donald Trump.”

Politics being important to someone, even after their death, is also not unique to the current election cycle. This became evident to me on a recent bike ride to Rock Creek Cemetery, located at 201 Allison Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Michigan Park neighborhood. There I saw the unusual grave marker for someone named Paul Raymond Tully. Aside from his name, and the dates of his birth and death, it simply read, “A Democrat.” This, combined with the appearance of the grave marker itself, compelled me to want to look into who he was, and why instead of sentiments like “Loving Husband” or “Devoted Father” or “Faithful Friend”, he was simply described by his political party affiliation.

Tully was born on May 14, 1944, in New York City, the son of working-class parents. He graduated from Yale and received a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania. But he then chose a career in politics rather than the law.  However, he did not run for office himself.  Nor was he the type of man who would eventually take some cushy political appointment in a Democratic administration. His lifelong work involved the political process, and getting a democrat elected president. Obsessed for more than two decades, he pursued this goal, thinking only a Democratic president could do the things he thought were needed to establish equity in American society.

Tully was only 48 years old when he died on September 24, 1992, in a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he had just moved.  The coroner stated that he appeared to have died of natural causes, speculating that it was most likely a heart attack or stroke.  However, it is officially listed as unknown causes because no autopsy was allowed.

At the time of his death Tully was Director of Political Operations for the Democratic National Committee. With his roots in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, he had been closely associated with some of its most prominent figures, including Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Senators Gary Hart of Colorado, Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota and George McGovern of South Dakota, as well as former governor Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts. One of his party’s pre-eminent strategists, Tully had worked in every presidential campaign since 1968. And you may have already deduced from the place and timing of his death, at the time of died he was also key aide in the presidential campaign of Governor Bill Clinton.

The bronze memorial sculpture which serves as Tully’s headstone was designed by his eldest daughter, Jessica Tully. She created the nearly four and a half foot tall bronze and granite memorial, and worked with the Del Sol Foundry in California to cast and assemble the project. It consists of three elements. First, a representation of the wooden work chair from his home. On the chair is a folded copy of the New York Times from November 4, 1992, announcing the election of President Clinton. Lastly, there are two of his ubiquitous coffee cups, one for him and the other for whomever he would have been talking with, usually but not always about politics. The sculpture was not completed until more than a decade after his passing, and was unveiled at event on May 3, 2014, near what would have been his 70th birthday.

When I first saw it I just knew there would be an interesting story behind this unusual grave marker.  And I was right.  And after learning about the man, I can’t help but wonder what he would think of the current election.

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

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The YuMe Tree

One of the best aspects of outdoor public art in D.C. is that it’s not limited to places like the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Art in D.C. can be found almost anywhere, and often in some unexpected places. A good example of this is the mural entitled The YuMe Tree, which I happened upon during this hot afternoon bike ride when I stopped at a store to buy a cold drink. On the wall of the north side of a building housing a CVS store, The YuMe Tree mural is located just off Pennsylvania Avenue at 500 12th Street (MAP), near the intersection with E Street, in the southeast area of D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The YuMe (you/me) Tree is a 28 by 14 foot mosaic art project that was literally built by the community as a tribute to community. It was designed by local artist and the founder of The Corner Store non-profit arts studio and performance center, Kris Swanson. Laurie Siegel, a fused glass artist and award winning art teacher who taught at Watkins Elementary School, located across the street from the mural, also contributed greatly to it. The project also included the input and involvement of dozens of friends, hundreds of Capitol Hill neighbors, and more than a thousand children at several elementary schools who sculpted and signed the three-inch names tiles that form the trunk, roots, and branches of the tree. Other tiles form the landscape out of which the tree emerges. These tiles contain messages reflecting some of the thoughts of the community, or are commemorative in nature, and come from various donors.

But one of the most striking aspects of The YuMe Tree is the tiles which make up the leaves of the tree. The leaves of the tree are cut mirror tiles, which reflect the reality of the mural’s surroundings back to the observer. The higher leaf groupings reflect the light and movement of the clouds in the sky. The lower mirror tiles reflect back the garden and other nearby trees, the street, Watkins Elementary School, and cars and people passing by.

The Yume Tree was installed and dedicated in October of 2003. But it remains an ever-evolving work.  It continues to change and grow along with the neighborhood as new name and sponsorship tiles are added periodically. So not only can you see this art project, but you can choose to contribute and be part of it as it carries forward in representing the community and beautifying the neighborhood.

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

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Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church

On this lunchtime bike ride I went back to Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church.  It located at 1908 North Capitol Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, and is situated on hill next to a bridge where T Street passes over North Capitol Street.  I say I went “back” to the church because although it’s been many years, I have been there before.  My first (and current) wife and I were married there almost two decades ago, and this was the first time I’ve been back since.

Saint Martin’s Church was built in phases over time, and embraces an architecturally eclectic mix of neo-classical Greek and Roman styles. Beginning in 1902, a parish hall was constructed to serve the church, which was established the previous year. The original parish hall remains, and now serves as a community center. As the church continued to grow, a basement church was built on the corner of North Capital and T streets in 1913, and the main church was eventually added in 1939.

Martin of Tours was born in in Savaria in the Diocese of Pannonia, in what is now Szombathely, Hungary. Born of pagan parents, his father was a senior officer in the Roman Army who was later stationed at what was known as Ticinum, now Pavia, in northern Italy, where Martin spent much of his childhood. At the age of ten he attended the Christian church against the wishes of his parents, and became a catechumen. As the son of a veteran he was forced to serve in the Roman Army beginning at the age of 15. Then at the age of 18, while still in the Roman Army, he was baptised. This would eventually lead to a conflict of conscience and, at the age of 23, Martin found his military duty incompatible with his adopted Christian faith. He refused a war bonus and told his commander: “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” After great difficulties, he was discharged.

After living as a Catholic for some time, Martin traveled to meet Bishop Hilary of Poitiers, a theologian who would later also be canonized a saint. Martin’s spirituality and dedication to the faith impressed the bishop, who asked the former soldier to return to his diocese after a planned journey back to Hungary to visit his parents. While visiting them, Martin persuaded his mother, though not his father, to join the Church.

Martin became be a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, and was ordained an exorcist. He then became a monk, living first at Milan. Later, he moved to a small island named Gallinaria, now Isola d’Albenga, in the Ligurian Sea, where he lived the solitary life of a hermit. Eventually Martin returned to France and established what may have been the first French monastery near Poitiers. He lived there for the next decade, forming his disciples and preaching throughout the countryside. It was after this time that the people of Tours demanded that Martin become their bishop. A story was devised of a sick person at the church in Tours who was in need of Martin’s assistance. The ruse worked in bringing Martin to the church, where despite the deception he reluctantly allowed himself to be consecrated bishop.

After his appointed as Bishop, Martin continued to live as a monk, dressing plainly and owning no personal possessions. In fact, throughout the rest of his life Martin continued to live an austere life focused on the care of souls. In this same spirit of sacrifice, he traveled extensively as a missionary to places where Christianity was as yet barely known.

During his lifetime, Martin acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, and he was one of the first nonmartyrs to be publicly venerated as a saint.  Saint Martin of Tours has historically been among the most recognizable and beloved saints in the history of Europe.

I enjoyed learning more about the church and the saint after whom it was named as a result of this ride.  But even more, I enjoyed seeing the inside of the church again after so many years.  And it is exactly how I remembered it.

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

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Cultivating the Rebirth

The MuralsDC Project is a program which was originally created by D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham as part of an effort to replace illegal graffiti throughout the city with artistic works, to revitalize sites within the community, and to teach young people the art of aerosol painting. It is now part of a part of a partnership between the one of the D.C. City Council’s committees chaired by Graham, the Public Works and Transportation Committee, as well as D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the D.C. Department of Public Works.

It was as part of this program that muralist Joel Bergner got together in the summer of 2010 with 30 young people from Civic Engagement, a Latin American Youth Center program based in Roosevelt High School.  Together, they spent the summer studying mural art, graffiti art and mosaics.  The program also provided the youths with supplies, and a legal means to practice and perform their newly-acquired skills in a way that promotes respect for public and private property and community awareness. As their final project of the summer program, they then designed and painted a mural entitled Cultivating the Rebirth.

Located in the 700 Block of Columbia Road (MAP) near its intersection with Georgia Avenue in northwest D.C.’s Park View neighborhood, Cultivating the Rebirth is a spray paint and mosaic mural that tells the story of students empowering themselves through education, working together on a collaborative effort to cultivate peace and uplift the community, and beautifying the neighborhood by taking a once old and cracked concrete retaining wall and turning it into a piece of art that I was able to enjoy during this lunchtime bike ride.

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

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A Titan Arum (Corpse Flower)

In this blog I usually write about the rides I take during my lunch breaks during the workweek.  But sometimes the destination of a ride necessitates going on a weekend.  That was the case for this ride, because I was going to go see a rare and unique amorphophallus titanum, also known as the titan arum, but most commonly referred to as a corpse flower, which is getting ready to bloom at the United States Botanic Garden (USBG), located at 100 Maryland Avenue (MAP) in the southwest area of the Downtown neighborhood in D.C.   It is predicted to bloom sometime between today and Tuesday, and when it happens the bloom will last only 24 to 48 hours before it quickly collapses.  So I didn’t want to wait until next week and possibly miss it.

It is the first bloom of this particular plant, which is six years old.  When it first went on display on July 22nd, the plant was only three and a half feet tall.  But since that time it has grown as much as eight inches in just one day.  In the past 12 days this magnificent specimen has grown an incredible four feet three inches, and is now over seven feet tall.

The blooming of a Titan Arum is rare because does not have an annual or even cyclical blooming process.  The time period between flowerings is unpredictable, and can span from a few years to a few decades.  And there have been only 192 recorded instances of cultivated bloomings since records began.  And because the gigantic flower is native to only the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, it is even more rare to be able to see a bloom in the United States.  The plant is also unique because when it is at peak bloom it possesses an odor that many say smells like the rotting flesh of an animal carcass, with its putrid smell being most potent at night into the early morning.

Some people travel around the world hoping to see one at the moment it flowers.  For botanists and the public, being “in the right place at the right time” to see one of these magnificent plants in bloom can be an once-in-a-lifetime treat. But for me, I was able to see one bloom here at the Botanic Garden in 2013, so this will be the second time I’ve been fortunate enough to see one bloom.  So if you’re able to, I highly recommend a trip to the Botanic Garden to see this natural wonder.  However, if you’re unable to make it here, you can still check it out online at the livestream provided by the USBG.

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

UDATE (08/02/2016):  The Corpse Flower bloom began to open this morning, and should be in its full, odiferous bloom by the end of the day.  The Botanic Garden will be extending their hours today until 11:00pm.

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UPDATE (08/05/2016):  The Corpse Flower has collapsed.

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The 10th Precinct Station House and Harry Houdini

From the outside, the 19th-century sandstone building at 750 Park Road (MAP), just off Georgia Avenue in northwest D.C.’s Park View neighborhood, appears to stand out for its architectural excellence and aesthetic beauty. Designed by the architectural firm of A.B. Mullett & Company and completed in 1905, there don’t appear to be any other buildings of similar style and quality in that area of the city.  But as interesting as I found the appearance of the building to be when I happened upon it on this lunchtime bike ride, it’s what happened in the building that gives it even more character.

The building was originally built as the 10th Precinct Station House for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).  And at the time touted by Police Chief Major Richard H. Sylvester as having some of the most modern and secure jail cells in the city.  In fact, Chief Sylvester had so much confidence in his newest jail cells that he invited escape artist Harry Houdini, who happened to be in town performing at Chase’s “Polite Vaudeville” theater for his first ever show in the nation’s capitol, and had been bragging about his escape skills, to come visit the 10th Precinct Station House and try one out.

With a reputation to uphold and welcoming the publicity, Houdini readily accepted the challenge.  And on New Year’s Day of 1906, he turned himself in to be incarcerated, albeit for an indeterminate amount of time, at the 10th Precinct.  Despite attempts to stymie his escape by changing the locks after Houdini had already examined the cell, locking him behind five separate locks, stripping him of his clothing and locking them up in an adjacent cell, and handcuffing him with handcuffs from the Secret Service rather than police handcuffs, Houdini walked out a free man less than twenty minutes later, fully clothed and smirking.

Although Chief Sylvester was surprised and disappointed to see Houdini escape, he could take some consolation in the fact that it was the 62nd jail cell from which Houdini had escaped.  But Chief Sylvester would become more concerned when Houdini went on later that same week to escape from an even-more secure cell in the Fifth Precinct jailhouse, as well as “the Guiteau cell” on Murderers’ Row at the United States Jail, which had formerly housed Charles J. Guiteau, the man who assassinated President James Garfield.  However, Chief Sylvester would learn from Houdini’s escapes, and make his jail cells even more secure in the future.  Houdini was not invited back to test the improved cells though.

Still standing today, the 10th Precinct Station House is listed on the District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.  However, after a number of redistrictings and reorganizations over the years, it is now home to the MPD’s Fourth District Substation, serving the city’s Park View, Petworth, Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods.

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

Note:  After the three successful jail breaks in D.C.’s jails in January of 1906 helped solidify his reputation as the “Handcuff King and Prison Breaker”, Houdini frequently scheduled shows in D.C. during his tours.  Over time, and as his fame increased, he drew larger and larger crowds when he performed here.  Ten years after his escape from the cell in the 10th Precinct Station House, he performed an escape while hanging upside down in a straitjacket outside B.F. Keith’s Theater, which attracted a crowd of over 15,000 spectators.  At that time, it was the largest crowd in the national capitol city’s history aside from a Presidential inauguration.  And another ten years after that, Houdini came back again to testify before Congress on the subject of spiritualism and D.C.’s fortune-telling laws.

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The Argyle House Cat

While riding down Embassy Row in northwest D.C.’s Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood during this bike ride, I saw what appeared to be a cat precariously perched on the roof of the house located at 2201 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP).  Not knowing if it was stuck or just sitting there taking in the view, I decided to take a closer look.  But upon closer inspection it turned out that it wasn’t actually a cat at all. It was a lone, gargoyle-like statue of a cat. Finding this to be unique to the neighborhood as well as interesting, I decided to try to learn more about the cat and the house upon which it sits.

Commonly known as the Argyle House, but also referred to as the Abercrombie-Miller house or Miller House, it is a Beaux-Arts mansion designed by the associate architect of the Library of Congress, Paul J. Pelz. Constructed around 1901, it was originally built for a wealthy, retired Navy Commander named Frederick Augustus Abercrombie-Miller. A few years after Miller passed away in 1908, the house was sold by his widow, and subsequently changed hands several times after that. During most of the 1920s it was owned by D.C. developer Harry Wardman or his business partners, who between 1923 and 1926 leased it to the Costa Rican and Salvadorean Legations. But like many mansions in D.C. at that time, it was divided into apartments during the Great Depression and rented as a boarding house. Today the Argyle House has been converted into a nine condominium units.

An integral part of the original house is the 500-square-foot, semi-detached garage, which is located adjacent to the alley behind the house, which can be accessed around the corner on 22nd Street.  Built at the same time as the house, it’s one of the first local constructions of its kind designed specifically as a garage to store an automobile instead of a stable house for a horse carriage. From 1986 to 2009 the garage was used by Olga Hirschhorn, widow of entrepreneur Joseph Herman Hirshhorn, and founder D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum, to store part of her art collection. Hirschhorn named the structure her “Mouse House”, in a lighthearted reference to the house’s cat statue.

So what about that cat statue? It turns out that because Miller had been a Naval officer, the house includes a number of maritime architectural accents.  Among them is the cat on the ledge facing Massachusetts Avenue, which is intended to depict a ship’s cat.  Ship cats were a common feature on many trading, exploration, and naval ships of that time. The cats not only offered companionship to sailors who could be away from home for long periods, but would catch mice and rats aboard the ship, which could otherwise cause damage to ropes, woodwork and other parts of the ship, as well as damage to the cargo and provisions the ship was carrying. The ship cats could also be integral to preventing the spread of disease, which could be carried by the rats and mice, to other parts of the world.

So the Argyle House cat continues to sit there as it has for over a century, with most passersby oblivious to it.  And of those who do see it, most don’t know anything about it or why it’s there.  But now I do, and so do you.

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