Rain Gardens of the Environmental Protection Agency

As I was riding around Downtown D.C. on this bike ride, I found myself riding past the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters building, which is located in the Woodrow Wilson Plaza at 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP).  Now, I had never really thought that much about the EPA.  I had heard about it from time to time in the news, most recently in regard to the water contamination and public health crisis that occurred in Flint, Michigan.  But I knew little else.  So I decided to look into it and find out more after my ride.  And I learned the following.

The EPA is an independent executive agency of the Federal government that began in December of 1970 during the Nixon Administration.  The EPA is not a Cabinet department, but the administrator, who is appointed by the president and approved by the Senate, is normally given cabinet rank.  The agency is comprised of just under 14,000 employees, half of whom are engineers, scientists, and environmental protection specialists; while other employees include legal, public affairs, financial, and information technologists.  Employees work at either the headquarters building here in D.C., one of ten regional field offices, or one of the agency’s 27 laboratories located throughout the United States.

The EPA’s mission is the protection of human health and the environment.  They provide technical assistance to support recovery planning of public health and infrastructure, such as waste water treatment plants. The agency conducts environmental assessment, research, and education. It has the responsibility of maintaining and enforcing national standards under a variety of environmental laws, in consultation with state, tribal, and local governments. It delegates some permitting, monitoring, and enforcement responsibility to U.S. states and the federally recognized tribes. EPA enforcement powers include fines, sanctions, and other measures. The agency also works with industries and all levels of government in a wide variety of voluntary pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts.

While I was still at the headquarters building during my ride, however, I saw a sign on the agency’s very small grounds.  So I went over to check it out.  So I went over to check it out,  The sign is for an exhibit entitled, “Landscaping with Rain Gardens.”  So I decided to learn more about rain gardens as well.

A rain garden is a depressed area in the landscape that collects rain water from a roof, driveway or street and allows it to soak into the ground.  Most often planted with grasses and flowering perennials, rain gardens can be a cost effective and beautiful way to reduce runoff from property, especially large properties like buildings in cities or parking lots at malls.  Rain gardens can also help filter out pollutants in runoff and provide food and shelter for butterflies, song birds and other wildlife.  Of course it is a little more complex than simply planting a few plants. So the EPA has some informational resources on its website, and I have provided links to that information below.  

So with Spring just beginning, I encourage everyone to also learn about and maybe even plant a rain garden.  It not only helps make natural areas more attractive, but allows us to help offset the impact that our presence and the presence of our homes and other buildings have on the environment.


The sign reads, “In front of you is a rain garden, also called a bioretention cell, designed to act as a sponge and to filter stormwater runoff. It has specialty selected soils and plants that are both water and drought tolerant.  Rain gardens are designed to mimic natural processes enforce or meadows where rainfall is evaporated, taken up by plans or drained into the soil.  Rain gardens are simple to build and can be installed and residential yards, schools, parks, parking lots, a long roads – almost anywhere.”


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

NOTE:  Information and instructions for rain gardens from the EPA website.

•  Rain Gardens, Green Infrastructure
•  Bioretention Illustrated: A Visual Guide for Constructing, Inspecting, Maintaining and
Verifying the Bioretention Practice
•  Water-Smart Landscape Design Tips
•  What To Plant Database for native plants in your area
•  Woody Shrubs for Stormwater Retention Practices
•  Rain Garden Outreach and Communication How-to-Guide


The Abraham Lincoln Statue at Judiciary Square

Located in front of the old District of Columbia City Hall, now home to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, in the 400 block of Indiana Avenue in D.C.’s Judiciary Square neighborhood (MAP) stands a statue of Abraham Lincoln.  The statue depicts him standing, wearing a long coat with a bow tie and waistcoat. His left hand rests on a fasces while his right arm is by his side.  Lincoln’s partially open right hand points to the ground as he looks to his left.  Interestingly, the right hand was replaced at some point and the new one is considered too large to scale. Also, a sword or scroll previously hung by his right side, but is now missing.

The white marble statue was created by an Irish-American sculptor from D.C. named Lot Flannery, who coincidentally happened to not only know President Lincoln but was also present at Ford’s Theater on the night of his assassination. And on this bike ride I stopped by to see the statue.

Now, there are a number of statues of the 16th President in the national capital city. In fact, there are six different statues.  The most famous of which is Daniel Chester French’s depiction of the President sitting that is located inside The Lincoln Memorial.  Another example is Ivan Schwartz’s statue of President Lincoln standing next to a horse, presumably his favorite horse named Big Bob, that’s located on the grounds of President Lincoln’s Summer Cottage.  There is also Thomas Ball’s The Emancipation Memorial, also known as the Freedman’s Memorial, which has recently been deemed controversial by some activists and for which D.C. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton has introduced legislation to remove, arguing that 19th-century memorial doesn’t do enough to honor slaves’ contribution to their own freedom.  But the marble statue I rode to see during this bike ride is the oldest Lincoln statue in existence.

The statue was dedicated on April 15,1868, on the third anniversary of President Lincoln’s death.  All of the city’s offices were closed at noon for the dedication, and all flags were flown at half-staff that day.  And an estimated 20,000 people, around 20% of Washington’s population at that time, attended the dedication.  Dignitaries at the unveiling ceremony included President Andrew Johnson and Generals Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman and Winfield Scott Hancock.  Supreme Court Justices and members of Congress were not in attendance, however, because President Johnson’s impeachment trial was taking place.  A Masonic ceremony, along with music and prayers, took place at the dedication before the main speech by Major General Benjamin Brown French. Following the speech, D.C. Mayor Richard Wallach introduced President Johnson, who uncovered the statue to a cheering crowd, followed by more music and a benediction to conclude the unveiling ceremony.

The statue has been removed and rededicated twice. The first rededication was in 1923 after a renovation of City Hall.  Some of the city’s residents and officials didn’t want the statue reinstalled after renovations were complete because the much larger and grander Lincoln Memorial was already under construction.  But following an outpouring of support from citizens and a veterans group named The Grand Army of the Republic, the decision was made to restore and rededicate the statue.  But by the time the decision was made the statue was missing. It was later found in crates behind the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  On June 21, 1922, an Act of Congress authorized the rededication, which took place April 15, 1923, 55 years after the initial dedication.

The marble statue originally stood on an 18-foot high marble column.  Flannery explained, “I lived in gloom following the assassination and I resolved to place it so high that no assassin’s hand could ever again strike him down.” However, it was so high it was difficult to see and appreciate.  So when it was removed in 1918 for the city hall renovation, it was re-erected on an two-portion square and rectangular granite base for the rededication in 1923.

The second rededication took place on April 15, 2009, 144 years after the original dedication, after a three-year remodeling of the old City Hall.

The marble statue measures 7.3 feet high and 2.9 feet wide, while the granite base measures 6.4 feet high and 7 feet wide.  An inscription on the rear of the sculpture reads, “Lot Flannery, Sculptor.”  On the front of the base is an inscription that reads, “LINCOLN.”  An inscription on the lower portion of the rear of the base reads, “Frank G. Pierson, Architect.”  And on the upper portion of the rear of the base is an inscription that reads: 

1809 – 1865
APRIL 15, 1868
JVNE 21, 1923”


The Patterson Mansion

On this bike ride in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood, I stopped to take in the one of the last large mansions still remaining directly on the city’s most iconic traffic circle. Located directly northeast of The Samuel Francis Du Pont Memorial Fountain at 15 Dupont Circle (MAP), the Patterson Mansion (also commonly referred to as the Patterson House), is a historic mansion whose appearance harkens back to previous eras.

Designed by architect Stanford White and built by The George A. Fuller Company, the completion of the Neoclassical-style house with exterior Italianate decorative motifs was delayed by when paint cans in the attic of the north wing of the house caught fire.  After fire and water damage was repaired it was finally completed in 1903,. The house was built for Robert Wilson Patterson, who at the time was the editor of the Chicago Tribune newspaper, and his wife, Elinor “Nellie” Medill Patterson. Originally estimated to cost $85,000 (the equivalent of $2,599,556.98 in 2021 dollars), its final cost was actually $200,000 ($6,116,604.65 in 2019 dollars).

It was used by the Patterson family for entertaining when they were in the city, with the inaugural event being a gigantic cotillion ball for social debut of her daughter, Eleanor Josephine Medill “Cissy” Patterson.  The family would go on to hold numerous events over the years, a tradition which Nellie and her staff of livery-clad servants would continue after Robert’s death in 1910.  Over the years, however, Nellie spent less and less time at her D.C. mansion, instead preferring to be at the Chicago home her and Robert had shared.  She vacated the property for good in 1923, never to return, and deeded the property to her daughter Cissy that same year.  However, Cissy also chose to spend more time at her other homes and abroad, so she allowed her daughter, Felicia, and her new husband, Drew Pearson, to take up residence in the mansion.  But the house was only intermittently occupied from for the next several years, as the Pearsons left for Asia and never returned to the home.  

For a short period of time during these years, the Patterson Mansion was the home of President Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace Coolidge.  In 1927 The White House needed extensive renovation, which rendered it unlivable while construction occurred.  So Cissy Patterson offered them the use of her empty home.  The Coolidges stayed in the house from March 4, 1927, to June 13, 1927.  But Mrs. Coolidge was not fond of the home, finding it cramped. So they spent the remainder of the time the White House was being renovated vacationing in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Just before departing the mansion, from June 10 to June 12, 1927, Charles Lindbergh and his mother, Evangeline Lodge Land Lindbergh, were guests of the president and first lady at the Patterson Mansion upon his triumphant return from France after his non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean piloting the Spirit of St. Louis.  During these three days the house was besieged by crowds.  And because of the crowds Charles appeared several times at the second floor balcony to wave and briefly speak to the crowds.  

Two years later, beginning in 1929, Cissy Patterson reoccupied the home full-time, where she remained and entertained until her death in 1948, when the mansion left the Patterson family.  Cissy originally willed the house to her daughter, Felicia. But after a family argument in 1942, Cissy changed her will and asked that the mansion be donated to the League of Republican Women of the District of Columbia.  She changed her mind again in 1946 and left it to the Red Cross.

After a lengthy legal dispute over the will, the Red Cross took possession of the Patterson Mansion.  But the organization had no practical use for the property,  They already the Neoclassical The American National Red Cross Headquarters building.  So the Red Cross put the building and its furnishings up for sale in November of 1949, with a $700,000 asking price ($7,735,705.88 in 2021 dollars).  But the property lingered on the market until the Washington Club, a private women’s club, bought the Patterson Mansion in January of 1951, for just $450,000 ($4,552,165.38 in 2021 dollars).  Subsequently, The Washington Club put the mansion up for sale in the summer of 2013 with a $26 million asking price.  After a pending deal with another company fell through, real estate development company SB-Urban, along with District-based real estate investment firm CBD LLC, bought the property and with the help of Hartman-Cox Architects, turned the Patterson Mansion into a multi-unit apartment building.

The Ampeer Oakwood Suites & Studio Apartments opened in 2017, consisting of 92 mini-apartments with shared living space, an on-site chef providing meals, meeting space, a private wine cellar, and a fully staffed private bar in the mansion’s ballroom.  Today the site is also host to A Landmark Venue, that can host up to 100 guests for both intimate or grand events.  The Venue is also home to the Patterson Mansion Social Club, which provides members with a daily continental breakfast, a 24-hour gourmet coffee bar, an exclusive bar with seasonal cocktail programs, high speed WiFi and cable TV as well as a library and business center with unlimited printing, and access to social spaces and exclusive discounts on hosted events.  

The Patterson Mansion is wholly or in part responsible for three listings on the National Register of Historic Places.  The mansion itself was added to the National Register on December 5, 1972, and is one of two remaining mansions on Dupont Circle, the other being the Wadsworth House.  It is also a contributing property to both the Massachusetts Avenue Historic District (added to the National Register in 1974), and the Dupont Circle Historic District (which was added to the National Register in 1978).

PattersonHouse03     PattersonHouse02
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]


The Grave of John Kinney

After my recent ride to The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) headquarters building and learning that one of the things the DAR does is install markers at the graves of Revolutionary War veterans to indicate their service, I decided to ride by a cemetery to see a soldier’s grave and NSDAR marker. So on this ride I went to one of my favorite cemeteries in the city, Historic Congressional Cemetery, located at 1801 E Street (MAP), in the southeast portion of D.C.’s Capitol Hill Neighborhood.

During today’s visit to the cemetery I visited the grave of James Kinney. His thoroughly aged and weather-worn gravestone in barely legible engraving reads, “Major John Kinney, of New Jersey, an officer in the Army of the Revolution Died in this city July 17, 1832, aged 75 years.” And next to the gravestone was the brass marker placed there in 2009. Beneath the raised relief NSDAR logo on the marker it reads, “Revolutionary War Soldier John Kinney, Lieutenant, Third New Jersey Regiment, Born October 18, 1757 in Morristown, Morris County, New Jersey, Died July 17, 1832 in Washington, D.C., Marker Placed by the Judge Lynn Chapter, NSDAR, April 18, 2009.”

Very little is known about John Kinney. After attempting to research historical information about him, all I was able to discover was that he was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, British Colonial America, in 1751.  He married Phebe Arnold in Washington County, New Jersey on October 21, 1778, and they were the parents of at least 4 sons and 6 daughters, at least two of whom died in infancy.  And he died on July 17, 1832. He began his service in the Revolutionary War as an ensign in the 3rd Regiment of the New Jersey Line on July 29 to November 10, 1776. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on January 6, 1778. And resigned from service at the rank of Brevet Captain, still in in the 3rd Regiment New Jersey Line, on September 26, 1780.

Sadly, much like the vast majority of Revolutionary War soldiers, little else is known about John Kinney.  Who he was and his individual accomplishments are lost to history.  But he has and continues to be recognized, both personally and as a representative of others, as a hero who played a role in establishing America as a the free and independent nation that it continues to be to this day.

[Click on photos to view full size versions]

Memorial Garden Fountain

Patriotically located at 1776 on D Street in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood (MAP), The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution building is headquarters to a non-profit service organization of women who directly trace their lineage to a soldier or other person involved in the United States’ efforts towards independence.  The headquarters buildings also house:  The DAR Museum, that contains over 30,000 historical relics;  The DAR Library, that includes a collection of genealogical and historical publications for the use of staff genealogists verifying application papers for the organization, and; DAR Constitution Hall, a is a concert hall to house its annual convention of membership delegations.  Founded in 1890, the organization currently has over 185,000 current members in the United States and other countries.

The DAR raises funds a number of historic preservation and patriotic endeavors. For example, they began a practice of installing markers at the graves of Revolutionary War veterans to indicate their service, and adding small flags at their gravesites each Memorial Day. Other activities included commissioning and installing monuments to battles and other sites related to the American Revolution. In addition to installing markers and monuments, DAR chapters have purchased, preserved, and operated historic houses and other sites associated with the war. The DAR also recognizes women patriots’ contributions as well as those of soldiers.

As I was riding past the DAR Headquarters on this bike ride, I decided to stop and explore the grounds. And on the grounds I was able to enjoy a number of memorials and monuments. Among them was the DAR Memorial Garden located on the north side of the main building. The garden features a gated entryway leading to a stone plaza, a number of annual and perennial plantings, as well as benches on which to sit and enjoy the beautiful setting. The Memorial Garden also features the beautiful Mississippi blue-tiled fountain, as a lasting tribute to honor the service, sacrifice and accomplishment of those who comprised the organization throughout its history.

Also in the Memorial Garden is a granite monument, known as The Daughters Tribute, which was placed there in honor of the sacrifice and dedication of the nearly one million women who have sustained the Society and its mission of service. The inscription on the monument reads, “To the women whose patriotic devotion has sustained the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, This Daughter’s Tribute Garden rededicated to honor every member in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the NSDAR, October 11, 2015, Lynn Forney Young, NSDAR President General 2013 – 2016.”  The Daughters Tribute also includes an electronic database, accessed via the National Society’s Digital Donor Wall, which allows for the honoring of DAR members.

Springtime in D.C. is a good time to visit gardens.  And I highly encourage anyone desiring to make a visit to enjoy the city’s springtime beauty to plan and make a list of the gardens that shouldn’t be missed, such as The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden and The the Enid A. Haupt Garden – two of my favorites.  And of course, The United States Botanic Garden.  And now, I recommend The Daughters of the American Revolution Tribute Garden be added to that list.


Daughters Tribute Monument

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

CityCenter (1)

Palmer Alley

Located at 825 10th Street in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood (MAP) is CityCenterDC, a mixed-use development covering more than five city blocks and consists of two condominium buildings, two rental apartment buildings, two office buildings, a luxury hotel, and a public park that hosts regularly scheduled features such as a farmers market in the summer, and an annual 75-foot Christmas tree, as well as and other intermittent activities and exhibits such as outdoor exercise classes, evening concerts, and a mobile art museum.

CityCenterDC is made up of several breezeways that make it easy to go from shop to shop.  But Palmer Alley is the main spine through the outdoor destination, and consists of a three-block long pedestrian mall running east–west through the middle of the development.  As D.C.’s only pedestrianized streets, on which motor vehicles are not allowed, Palmer Alley is the highlight of CityCenterDC.  It is a majestic walk decorated with different seasonal features and often displaying artwork throughout the year.  The fixtures, which range from pink Japanese lanterns like now (as reliable a predictor as The Indicator Tree of the impending arrival of the city’s iconic cherry blossoms season) to colorful beach balls in the summer to festive holiday lights at Christmastime, make Palmer Alley a worthwhile side trip when visiting anything else in the city, or a picturesque destination in and of itself.

EOY2017 (67)

NOTE:  CityCenterDC frequently offers events that are free to the public.


I decided to start the new year with a post about public artwork, because you can never go wrong with art. And during this ride I found myself in front of the Pepco Building at 9th and G Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood, where stands a sculpture entitled Epoch. The steel polychrome sculpture with a colorful painted finish was commissioned by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities Art in Public Spaces Program in 2004, and was formed and fabricated by Albert Paley.

Paley has been one of America’s foremost modernist metal sculptors for decades. Based in Rochester, New York, the artist has site-specific works across the United States, more in Europe and Asia, and generally executes three major pieces a year. While he has done private commissions, it’s his public pieces that have defined his career. His breakthrough commission was designing the iron portal gates for the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in D.C. in the 1970s. Also here in D.C., in the early 1980s he designed a series of tree grates and benches for the Pennsylvania Avenue Redevelopment Corporation. Some of his other notable works include the portal gates for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, a series of sculptures on Park Avenue in New York City, and an exterior sculpture entitled Sentinel located at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in Rochester, New York.

Epoch is also a multi-disciplinary piece of art. In addition to its aesthetic component contributed by Paley, the 24-foot tall sculpture is stamped with a poem written by Delores Kendrick. Kendrick was an American poet who was born and raised in D.C. After graduating from Georgetown University, she first taught in the D.C. public school system, where for two decades she taught at Phillips Exeter Academy. In 1999 she was appointed the second Poet Laureate of D.C., succeeding Sterling Brown. Kendrick later worked for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, developing programs for high school and college students, and for established and emerging poets. Sadly, she passed away in 2017.

The poem inscribed on Epoch reads:

“ We are
flesh and blood
steel and skin
struggling within
a linear light
toward one heartbeat
that forges
a sacred space,
an entrance
to our fragile
dreams that rise
upon a muscle
of memory
and wind. ”


End of the Year 2020

This is my final blog post for 2020.  It also happens to be the 624th post to this blog.  When I started a half a dozen years ago I hoped to eventually find and write about 365 different monuments, statues, memorials, and other interesting places and events in and around D.C. so that this blog would be a compilation of an entire year’s worth of attractions for people visiting the DMV (D.C./Maryland/Virginia area).  Now I have reset my goal and look forward to reaching 730 posts and two years worth of places.

As this sixth year is coming to an end, I look back on what was a very unusual year.  Starting in March I was forced to work from home due to lockdowns implemented as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.  What was expected at that time to last approximately two weeks got extended.  And as it turned out I never went back.  I was still working from home when I retired in July from my job after 32 years at the FBI.  And as I understand it from a former co-worker, they are still working from home as this year comes to an end.

The pandemic which caused me to have to work from home also resulted in many other employees and the businesses where they work being ordered to close their doors or implement changes that significantly curtailed their operations.  Between the many retail businesses and restaurants that closed down, some of them for good, and their employees who were or are out of work, the daytime landscape of downtown D.C. became almost like a ghost town, an appearance which is usually relegated to the Friday after Thanksgiving and the week between Christmas and New Years Day.

Additional events that took place this year also added to the unusualness of 2020.  In May, the death of a man named George Floyd caused by police in Minneapolis gave rise to protests and violence throughout the summer across the country, including here in D.C.  And the presidential election in the fall, and the intense political divisiveness associated with it, resulted in rallies and protests from supporters on both sides of the political aisle.  Some of these events also turned violent.  All of this resulted in a city that changed for the worse, and one I barely recognize.

However, one of the positives for me from this past year was my daily bike rides and writing about them in this blog.  Despite being less active and publishing fewer posts, I enjoyed the rides and writing posts for this blog as much as ever.  And apparently some other people liked it as well.  There was a record number of readers in 2020 from a record number of countries throughout the world.  Based on statistics that my online hosting service provides, there have been a total of 226,309 views for this blog from individual readers in 168 different countries.

Those countries, listed in order of the highest to the lowest number of readers, are: the United States, Hong Kong SAR China, United Kingdom, Canada, India, France, Denmark, Germany, Australia, Italy, Brazil, Philippines, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Romania, Israel, Ireland, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, Mexico, Belgium, Sweden, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, South Africa, New Zealand, Croatia, Finland, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Hungary, Pakistan, Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Taiwan, Columbia, Bulgaria, Bangladesh, Czech Republic, Norway, Nigeria, Argentina, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Tunisia, Greece, European Union, Portugal, Chile, Austria, Lebanon, Kenya, Peru, Slovakia, Serbia, Puerto Rico, Egypt, Malta, Saudi Arabia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bermuda, Luxembourg, Bahrain, Venezuela, China, Moldova, Bahamas, Costa Rica, Congo – Kinshasa, Ecuador, Slovenia, Guam, Cyprus, Honduras, Georgia, Albania, Nepal, Suriname, Macedonia, Dominican Republic, Armenia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Panama, Kuwait, Algeria, Bolivia, Oman, Qatar, Iraq, Iceland, Jamaica, Jordan, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Estonia, Uruguay, Ghana, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Myanmar (Burma), Belarus, Palestinian Territories, American Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Belize, Aruba, Zambia, Afghanistan, Liberia, Jersey, Senegal, Kazakhstan, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Angola, Azerbaijan, El Salvador, Brunei, Libya, Benin, Somalia, Gibraltar, Uzbekistan, Barbados, Kyrgyzstan, Gabon, Guyana, Cameroon, Guernsey, Yemen, Seychelles, Chad, Sudan, Laos, Mongolia, Malawi, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Faroe Islands, Rwanda, Åland Islands, Namibia, Timor-Leste, Montenegro, Curacao, Macau SAR China, Tanzania, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Burkina Faso, Martinique, Monaco, Mauritius, Bhutan, and Saint Lucia.

Many people have described 2020 as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.  They say it has been the worst year of their lives.  But it has not been that way for me.  I have been very fortunate.  And I know it.

I hope the coming year will be a good one for everyone.  Be well. And God bless us, everyone.

Gravesite of Mary Randolph

The first person to be buried at what would become known as Arlington National Cemetery (MAP) was not a soldier.  It was not someone unknown, like those buried in the cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknowns or the Civil War Unknowns Memorial.  It was also not Robert E. Lee, who owned the house and surrounding property where the cemetery is now located.  The first person buried there was not even a man.  The first person to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery was a woman named Mary Randolph.  And after encountering her grave on this bike ride to the cemetery, I wanted to learn more about her.  

Mary Randolph was born on August 9, 1762, the oldest of 13 children born to Thomas Mann Randolph, Sr. and Anne Cary Randolph, one of the richest and most politically significant families in 18th century Virginia. Her father was orphaned at a young age and raised by Thomas Jefferson’s parents who were distant cousins. Her father also served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Revolutionary conventions of 1775 and 1776, and the Virginia state legislature. Anne Cary Randolph was the daughter of Archibald Cary, an important Virginia planter. Additionally, one of her brothers, Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., married Martha Jefferson, daughter of Thomas Jefferson, and became a Congressman and Governor of Virginia. And one of her sisters, Harriet, married Richard Shippey Hackley who became US Consul to Spain.  The Randolphs were also descendants of Thomas Rolfe and his wife, the legendary Pocahontas. 

Mary was born at Ampthill Plantation in Chesterfield County, Virginia, and grew up at Tuckahoe Plantation in Goochland County, Virginia. And as might be expected in a family of their wealth, her parents hired professional tutors to teach their children. So Mary learned reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as domestic skills and proper household management practices, qualities expected of upper-class women of that time.

In December 1780, 18-year-old Mary married her first cousin once removed, David Meade Randolph, a Revolutionary War officer and tobacco planter. The newlyweds lived at Presquile, a 750-acre plantation that was part of the Randolph family’s extensive property in Chesterfield County, Virginia. Around 1795 President George Washington appointed her husband the U.S. Marshal of Virginia, and by 1798, she and her family had moved to Richmond. In Richmond they built a house they named “Moldavia”, a combination of Molly, a nickname for Mary, and David, where they settled in and Mary became a celebrated hostess and their home became a center of Federalist Party social activity.  However, David Randolph, as a member of the Federalist Party and an open critic of his second cousin Thomas Jefferson, would soon encounter hard times. After Jefferson’s election to the presidency, he removed David Randolph from office and the family’s fortunes declined.  

Within a few years, despite her husband’s subsequent employment with the Black Heth Coal Mines near Midlothian, Virginia, their family’s financial situation had become critical.  And in 1807 Mary stepped in so that her family could continue to enjoy their accustomed standard of living, an unorthodox step for an upper-class woman.  She opened a boardinghouse in Richmond.  While running the boardinghouse, she was listed on the census as the head of the household. But that was only because her husband was traveling in England on business for his new job.  During her time running the boarding house, Mary continued to enjoy some benefits of the family’s wealth, including an early version of a refrigerator. Mary also began compiling a cookbook during this time.

By 1819, the couple, in advancing years, gave up their boardinghouse and moved to D.C. to live with their one of their eight children, four of whom survived to adulthood.  While in D.C., Mary Randolph completed her cookbook and in 1824 published it. The cookbook was entitled “The Virginia House-Wife.”  And although neither she nor anyone else at that time could have known, it would become synonymous with fine cuisine in Virginia, and Mary’s biggest claim to fame.  

After its initial publication, which was an immediate success, The Virginia House-wife was republished an additional nineteen times before the outbreak of the Civil War. The book was 225 pages long, included nearly 500 recipes, and later versions even included sketches for the early version of a refrigerator that Mary had in her Richmond boardinghouse. Years later an author claimed that Mary invented the refrigerator and that her design was stolen and patented by a Yankee who stayed in her boardinghouse.  But that claim has never been proven. 

The Virginia House-Wife is considered the first regional American cookbook, and exhibited a uniquely Virginian style, featuring recipes for such Southern classics such as okra, sweet potatoes, biscuits, fried chicken, barbecue pork, and lemonade.  However, her occasional explanations of uniquely southern foods she anticipated an audience beyond her region.  And other recipes included in here cookbook were for dishes influenced at times by African, Native American, and European cooking, such as gazpacho, ropa vieja, polenta, macaroni, as well as six curry recipes, which were the first curry recipes published in the United States.  It also included a few recipes for specialties from other parts of the U.S., such as a recipe entitled “Dough Nuts – A Yankee Cake,” as well as the first ice cream recipe published by an American author.  

It should be noted, however, that The Virginia House-Wife was more than just a cookbook.  It was also an overall household guide,  In addition to recipes it also explained how to make such things as soap, starch, blacking and cologne.

After finding out about Mary Randolph and The Virginia House-wife, I checked and discovered that it is still in print.  I was surprised.  It’s been 196 years and it’s still available.  The hardback edition sells for $21.95.  But I also found the Kindle version, and it was available for free. So I downloaded it.  And I’m now looking forward to trying out some of the recipes.  However, to be honest, there are some recipes I don’t anticipate trying anytime soon, such as Knuckle of Veal, Soused Pig’s Feet in Ragout, and Grilled Calf’s Head.  

The epitaph on Mary’ Randolph’s gravestone reads:  
Sacred to the memory of
Mrs. Mary Randolph
her intrinsic worth needs no eulogium
The deceased was born
The 9th of August, 1762
at Amphill near Richmond, Virginia
and died the 23rd of January 1828
in Washington City
a victim to maternal love and duty

The historic marker sign next to her grave reads:  
Mary Randolph, wife of David Meade Randolph, and first person known to be buried at Arlington, was the eldest child of Thomas Mann and Ann Carey Randolph, of Tuckahoe, her maternal grandfather was Archibald Carey, of Ampthill; her paternal grandfather was William Randolph, of Tuckahoe. She was a direct descendant of Pocahontas: a cousin of Thomas Jefferson: of Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, wife of George Washington Parke Custis, the builder of Arlington House: and of Robert E. Lee. Her brother, Thomas Mann Randolph, Governor of Virginia 1819-1821, married Martha Jefferson, daughter of Thomas Jefferson. Her eldest son was William Beverley Randolph, through whom alone her line has descended. Her youngest son, Burwell Starke Randolph, when a midshipman in the U.S. Navy, fell from a mast and was crippled. Her devoted care of that injured son is said to have hastened her death, and would seem to explain her epitaph. 


Matthew Alexander Henson Memorial

Robert Edwin Peary Sr. was an American explorer who made several expeditions to the Arctic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and is best known for claiming to be the first expedition to reach the geographic North Pole.  But why mention Perry?  After all, the memorial I visited on this bike ride is dedicated to Matthew Alexander Henson.  Henson, also an American explorer, accompanied Peary on seven voyages to the Arctic, including the famous 1908-1909 expedition that claimed to have reached the geographic North Pole on April 6, 1909.  The expedition party consisted of Perry, Henson and four Inuit assistants.  And Henson said he was the first individual of their expedition party to reach the pole.

Henson was born in Nanjemoy, Charles County, Maryland, on August 8, 1866, to sharecropper parents who were free Black Americans before the Civil War.  He spent most of his early life here in D.C., but left school at the age of twelve when both of his parents died.  He then went to work as a cabin boy on a merchant ship, having been fascinated by stories of the sea.  He learned to to read, write and navigate while working on the ship.  But at the age of 18 he returned to D.C. and worked as a salesclerk at a hat shop. It was there that he met a customer named Robert Peary, who in 1887 hired him as a personal valet.

Their first Arctic expedition together was in 1891–92. Henson served as a navigator and craftsman, and was known as Peary’s “first man”. But it was during their 1908–09 expedition to Greenland, that Peary and Henson, along with four Inuit assistants, claimed to have been the first to reach the geographic North Pole.  In interviews, Henson identified as the first member of the party to reach the pole.

Henson achieved a level of fame from his participation in the expedition, and in 1912 he published a memoir entitled “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole”.  As he approached old age, his exploits received renewed attention, including being received at the White House by Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

Eighty years later, and decades after Henson’s death, a research paper by an English explorer named Wally Herbert claimed that their expedition records were unreliable, and indicated a that the men could have fallen 30–60 miles short of the pole due to navigational errors.  Nonetheless, Peary and Henson and the expedition has remained famous as one of the great explorations of history.

Henson died on March 9, 1955, at the age of 88, and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.  He was survived by his second wife Lucy Ross Henson. After her death in 1968, she was buried with him. But in 1988, both their bodies were moved and reintered during a commemoration ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.  And that is where I rode on this bike ride to see his memorial.

The memorial at his gravesite features an inset bronze plaque commemorating the North Pole discovery.  At the top sits a large bas-relief bust of Henson in Arctic gear.  Immediately below, an inscription describes his part in reaching the North Pole. And globes of the world, tilted with the Pole in view, sit at either side.  The central image, which was based on a photograph that Peary took at the Pole on April 6, 1909, shows Henson flanked by the four Inuit assistants with the U.S. flag flying behind them atop a mound of ice. The bottom panel on the memorial depicts dogsleds and dramatic ice floes, suggestive of the struggle that Henson, Peary and the Inuit sustained over many years to achieve their goal.  And on the opposite side, an inscription quotes Henson’s book, “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.” It reads, “The lure of the Arctic is tugging at my heart. To me the trail is calling! The old trail. The trail that is always new.”

Peary03     Peary04
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

NOTE:  The monument in the background of the photo at the top is dedicated to Peary.  I will go back to visit it and write about him at some point in the future.