Archive for March, 2014

Historic Congressional Cemetery

Historic Congressional Cemetery

The cemetery which is located on the west bank of the Anacostia River in southeast D.C. was founded in 1807, but had no formal name for its first four years.  After the property, located at 1801 E Street (MAP), was deeded to Christ Church on Capitol Hill, its name became “Washington Parish Burial Ground.”   Then in 1830, after Congress purchased several hundred sites, built monuments to representatives who died in office and appropriated money for improvements, the public and the members of Congress began referring to it as the “Congressional burying ground”.  Eventually that was shortened to “Congressional Cemetery.”  Today it is officially named Historic Congressional Cemetery.

It is a historic yet active cemetery. Over 65,000 individuals are buried or memorialized at the cemetery, including 806 burial plots which are owned by the Federal government and administered by The Department of Veterans Affairs.  Those interred there include many who helped form not only the national capitol city, but the nation itself, during the early part of the nineteenth century.  Many members of the U.S. Congress who died while Congress was in session are interred at Congressional, as well as other politicians and public figures.  Other burials include the early landowners and speculators, the builders and architects of many of the great buildings of D.C., Native American diplomats, and hundreds of Civil War veterans. Nineteenth-century D.C. families unaffiliated with the Federal government have also had graves and tombs at the cemetery.  In all there is one Vice-President, one Supreme Court Justice, six Cabinet Members, 19 Senators and 71 Representatives – including a former Speaker of the House, buried there; as well as the first Director of the FBI, an American Indian chief, more than one leader in the American gay rights movement, as well as veterans of every American war.  The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

By the mid to late 1970s, however, urban decay, the declining membership of Christ Church, and the declining value of the endowment funded by Christ Church, left the cemetery with minimal funding and in serious difficulties.  Monuments and burial vaults were in disrepair, and general maintenance on the chapel and other buildings had been delayed for too long.  Eventually, drug dealers, gang members and prostitutes began to occupy the cemetery.  Although attempts to restore the cemetery were initiated throughout the 1980s and 90s, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included the Cemetery on its 1997 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.  As a result, many gifts and donations were soon received. Congress provided one million dollars in matching funds in 1999 to create an endowment for basic maintenance, and a 2002 Congressional appropriation helped fund restoration.  Today the cemetery is still owned by Christ Church, but since 1976 it has been managed by the non-profit Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery.

One of the more creative management techniques of the Association was the formation of a dog walkers club at the cemetery. The dogwalkers now play a vital role in the running of Congressional Cemetery.  In addition to making up a major portion of the volunteer efforts to maintain the cemetery, donations by the dogwalking members provide enough income to cover the cost of the grounds maintenance contracts.  Additionally, the presence of dogwalkers at almost every hour of the day constitutes a de facto on site patrol all day long, keeping the grounds clear of drug dealers, prostitutes, vandals, and other undesirable elements that had contributed to its decline in the past.  It’s not all business though.  In addition to being able to walk their dogs off-leash over more than 35 fenced-in acres, the dogwalkers enjoy social activities with their animals like “Yappy Hours” in the spring, photos with Santa at Christmas, and the Blessing of the Animals in October.  Membership is a requirement of dogwalking privileges in the cemetery, but it is so popular that there is a waiting list.

Recently, the Association also employed a creative solution to a unusual landscaping problem.  They partnered with Eco-Goats, a company that uses grazing goats to restore land overgrown with unwanted weeds.  They brought in a herd of more than 100 ravenous billies and nannies, and even a few kids, who “goatscaped” the exterior perimeters of the grounds as an “innovative green project.”  The goats grazed 24 hours a day for six days, and eliminated vines, poison ivy, ground cover and even fallen debris, all the while they fertilized the ground.

The Historic Congressional Cemetery provides a unique blend of the past and the present, and is well worth a visit.

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Click on this photo to take a virtual tour of Historic Congressional Cemetery.

The Petersen House

The Petersen House

Just a short bike ride from the National Mall in downtown D.C. sits a 19th-century Federal style row house, located at 516 10th Street (MAP), which is known as the Petersen House.  It was named after William A. Petersen, a German tailor, and his wife Ana.  The couple constructed the red brick three-story and basement house in 1849, where they lived and operated a boarding house.  The house, however, is more famous for who died there instead of who lived there.

The house is located across the street from Ford’s Theater, where on the night of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd were attending a performance.  During the performance, John Wilkes Booth entered the viewing box and shot the President in the back of the head.  At the direction of doctors who were tending to him, the wounded President was carried out of the theater to the street, where a boarder named Henry Safford, standing in the open doorway of the Petersen House, gestured for them to bring Lincoln inside.

The Petersen family aided as best they could, but could do little to assist the doctors, politicians, and others in the throng that accompanied the dying President.  So the Petersen family and some of the boarders spent that night in the basement.  Over 90 people would come and go through the house during the night, while soldiers stood guard at the front door and were posted on the roof to keep the growing crowds at bay.  At 7:22 am, April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln died in the back bedroom of this humble house.

In 1896, the Federal government bought the house, and since 1933, the National Park Service has maintained it as a historical museum.  None of the furniture is original to the house, but period pieces have been used to furnish three of the rooms and recreate the scene at the time of Lincoln’s death.  The first room is the front parlor, where an anguished Mary Todd Lincoln spent that fateful night with her son, Robert.  The back parlor, where Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton held a cabinet meeting and questioned witnesses, can also be visited.  The remaining room is the bedroom where Lincoln died.  Lincoln died, lying diagonally because he was so tall, on a bed the same size as the one on display in the room.  The bed that Lincoln occupied and other furniture from the bedroom are now owned by and on display at the Chicago History Museum.  However, the bloodstained pillow and pillowcases in the bedroom at the Petersen House are the ones which were actually used by Lincoln.  It was from this bedroom, after the President’s passing, that Stanton announced, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Today, the Petersen House is administered by the National Park Service as part of the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site. Admission is free, but requires a ticket.  The dark, narrow town house looks much as it did on that April night in 1865, and takes only about 5 minutes to tour, so it is well worth taking the time to visit.

The Embassy of Ireland

The Embassy of Ireland

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is a tradition for many, whether you are Irish-American or not.  But if you’re in D.C. and looking to celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, your options may be limited.  The biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in our nation’s capitol usually don’t take place on the day itself.

One option would be to stop by the Embassy of Ireland, which is located at 2234 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) at Sheridan Circle, in the northwest D.C. neighborhood of Embassy Row.  The semi-detached limestone building was designed around a central staircase and built in the Louis XVI manner.   Today, the building includes formal reception rooms which have been maintained in their original style as well as offices for the officials based at the Embassy.  But since it’s a national holiday for Ireland, the Embassy is closed on St. Patrick’s Day.  However, there is an annual open day for members of the public at the Embassy in early May.

Another option to celebrate the holiday is to attend the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which takes place in northwest D.C. along Constitution Avenue between 7th and 17th Streets (MAP).  This two-and-a-half hour special event, known as the Nation’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, includes floats, marching bands, pipe bands, military, police, and fire departments.  Unfortunately, that took place last weekend on March 15th.

Another option for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is to attend The National Shamrock Fest, a street festival with live music, food, drinks, roving entertainers, craft vendors, an Irish Village, carnival rides, games and much more. Shamrock Fest is the largest St. Patrick’s Day party in the D.C. metro area, featuring more than 40 bands and DJs on 9 stages.  The event is held at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, located at 2400 E. Capitol Street in northeast D.C. (MAP), and takes place rain or shine.  But it takes place next weekend, on March 22nd.

I guess the best way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on St. Patrick’s Day is to do it the old fashioned, traditional way – with an Irish pub crawl.  And since it seems like you can’t go for a bike ride or swing a shillelagh in D.C. without hitting an Irish pub, it won’t be difficult to find one.  Erin go bragh.

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Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial

The National memorial to our 26th President is located on an island in the middle of the Potomac River. The Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial is maintained by the National Park Service, and is  part of the nearby George Washington Memorial Parkway.  It is  located near the western end of the Mount Vernon Trail (MAP), and is accessible by a footbridge from Virginia on the western bank of the Potomac River.  The land is generally maintained as a natural park, with various trails and a memorial plaza.

Roosevelt Island is a teardrop-shaped, 88.5-acre island that features various hiking trails and a memorial with a plaza featuring a statue of Roosevelt.  The land is land is generally maintained as a nature preserve.  One of Theodore Roosevelt’s greatest legacies was his dedication to conservation.  Today, this island stands as a fitting memorial to the outdoorsman, naturalist, visionary, explorer, historian, and politician.

In 1931, the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased the island with the intention of erecting a memorial honoring Roosevelt.  Congress authorized the memorial in May of that year, but did not appropriate funds for the memorial for almost three decades.  Funds were finally designated by Congress in 1960.  As with all historic areas administered by the National Park Service, the national memorial is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; the listing first appeared on October 15, 1966.

The memorial was dedicated on October 27, 1967, and includes a 17-foot statue, four large granite monoliths with some of Roosevelt’s more famous quotations, and a water feature with two large fountains.  On the eastern and western ends of the memorial are two arched footbridges that lead over the water feature to 2 1/2 miles of foot trails and boardwalks that wind through the swamp, marsh and forest areas of the park.

The National Memorial includes a 17-foot statue, a water feature with two large fountains, and a central plaza.  On the eastern and western ends of the plaza are two arched footbridges that lead over the water feature to 2 1/2 miles of foot trails and boardwalks that wind through the swamp, marsh and forest areas of the park.

Surrounding the perimeter of the memorial plaza are four large granite monoliths.  Carved into the monoliths are some of Roosevelt’s more famous quotations.  The quotes are divided into four categories entitled Manhood, Nature, The State, and Youth.  The wisdom of the man imparted by these quotes from the memorial (see below) provide an understanding of the diverse and complex nature of the man to whom the memorial is dedicated.

MANHOOD •  A man’s usefulness depends upon his living up to his ideals in so far as he can. (A Letter to Dr. Sturgis Bigelow, March 29, 1898) •  It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. (The Strenuous Life, 1900) •  All daring and courage, all iron endurance of misfortune make for a finer and nobler type of manhood. (Address to Naval War College, June 2, 1897) •  Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die: and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. (The Great Adventure, 1918)

NATURE   •  There is delight in the hardy life of the open. (African Game Trails, 1910)  •  There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm. (African Game Trails, 1910)  •  The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value. (The New Nationalism, 1910)  •  Conservation means development as much as it does protection. (The New Nationalism, 1910)

THE STATE   •  Ours is a government of liberty by, through, and under the law. (Speech at Spokane, WA, May 26, 1903)  •  A great democracy has got to be progressive or it will soon cease to be great or a democracy. (The New Nationalism, 1910)  •  Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive. (Miscellaneous Writings, c. 1890s)  •  In popular government results worth having can be achieved only by men who combine worthy ideals with practical good sense. (Address at Harvard Union, Feb. 23, 1907)  •  If I must choose between righteousness and peace I choose righteousness. (America and the World War, 1915)

YOUTH  •  I want to see you game, boys, I want to see you brave and manly, and I also want to see you gentle and tender. (Address at Friends School, Washington, DC, May 24, 1907)  •  Be practical as well are generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground. (Speech at Prize Day Exercises at Groton School, Groton, MA, May 24 1904)  •  Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to successful life. (America and the World War, 1915)  •  Alike for the nation and the individual, the one indispensable requisite is character. (American Ideals, 1897)

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The Albert Einstein Memorial

Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” In reference to the theory of relativity, Einstein also said, “I thought of that while riding my bicycle.” So to commemorate his undeniable wisdom, as well as today’s anniversary of his birth in 1879, I went to The Albert Einstein Memorial on this afternoon’s bike ride.

The Einstein Memorial is a monumental bronze statue depicting Albert Einstein seated with manuscript papers in hand.  The bronze figure weighs approximately 4 tons, and measures 21 feet from the top of its head to the tip of its feet. The monument is supported by three caissons, totaling 135 tons, sunk in bedrock to a depth of 23 to 25 feet. The statue and bench are at one side of a circular dais, 28 feet in diameter. And embedded in the dais are more than 2,700 metal studs representing astronomical objects, including the sun, moon, planets, 4 asteroids, 5 galaxies, 10 quasars, and many stars in their relative celestial position at the exact time that the memorial was dedicated.

The memorial is situated in an elm and holly grove in the southwest corner on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences on Constitution Avenue in D.C. (MAP).  Einstein was elected a foreign associate of the Academy in 1922 and became a member in 1942, two years after he became a naturalized United States citizen.

By the way, Einstein is known for more than just his quotes about bicycles. He’s also known for his theories of special and general relativity, which drastically altered man’s view of the universe, and for his work in particle and energy theory which helped make possible quantum mechanics and, ultimately, the atomic bomb.

If you go to see the memorial for this genius, keep in mind that it’s said if you rub the nose of the Albert Einstein statue, you’ll acquire some of his smarts.  And judging by the appearance of his nose, a lot of people believe this and have rubbed it.

But today, March 14, is not just the birthday of the famous German-born theoretical physicist and mathematician.  It is also National Pi Day.  National Pi Day is actually a U.S. holiday. The House of Representatives passed House Resolution 224 in 2009, designating March 14 as National Pi Day.

Pi (pronounced “pie”) is the ratio used to compute the circumference, area, and volume of circles, and is a mathematical constant.  It is an irrational number, continuing infinitely without repeating. It is usually estimated to the hundredths place (3.14), but with the use of computers, pi has been calculated to over 2 trillion digits past the decimal.  So today’s date, when expressed in the decimal format as 3.14, is is the rounded-off numerical equivalent of the value of Pi.  Extended out by its next three additional digits of 1, 5 and 9, and you have “Pi minute” at 1:59pm.

So to celebrate today’s double holiday, I first stopped by a restaurant named District of Pi, located at 910 F Street in Penn Quarter (MAP), where I got my order to go.  I got a thin crust pizza pie with mozzarella, Italian meatballs, red peppers, and basil.  It was then that I rode over to the Einstein Memorial, where I enjoyed a pizza pie picnic lunch on National Pi Day while relaxing at the memorial at Pi Minute.

Despite how fun today’s Pi Day ride was, next year’s National Pi Day will be even more exciting.  On that day, we will all get one, shining moment in which we can write the date as: 3/14/15; 9:26:53. Which, as everyone knows, are the first ten digits of Pi in perfect order.

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The Maine Lobsterman

If you go for a bike ride along D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront, you are likely to happen upon one of the most obscure, unusual and seemingly out of place memorials in D.C.  Located adjacent to the Cantina Marina and near Water Street and Maine Avenue (MAP) sits a statue entitled “The Maine Lobsterman.”   The statue serves as a memorial and was dedicated as “a tribute to all Maine lobstermen who have devoted their lives to the sea.”

The original Maine Lobsterman sculpture was cast by Victor A. Kahill, who was commissioned by the state of Maine to create a monument epitomizing the fierce independent spirit of Maine’s people and their contribution to the national economy.  The statue was commissioned to serve as the centerpiece of the Maine exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.  The sculptor decided a lobsterman at work pegging the claw of a newly caught lobster would be an ideal subject, and selected H. Elroy Johnson to pose for the piece.  Johnson lived in Harpswell, Maine, and earned a living as a lobsterman.  He also frequently visited the State House, where he was known to participate in discussions regarding fishing policies, and was well-known throughout the state as a spokesman for lobstermen’s interests.

“The Maine Lobsterman” was supposed to be cast in bronze, but the state failed to raise enough money for its completion.  So the artist just put a coat of bronze paint over the plaster model and shipped it to New York.  After the Fair ended, the fake bronze statue returned to Maine and was placed on display in Portland, where the painted plaster statue eventually fell into disrepair.  No one seemed to want the man and his lobster, so it ended up being put in storage.  It spent the next several decades in a warehouse, where it was gnawed on by rats.

Shortly after Johnson’s death in 1974, renewed interest in the statue resulted in the Maine Legislature appropriating money to cast three bronze copies of the statue. One stood in the entryway of the building housing the State library, museum and archives in Augusta.  Another was on Casco Square in Portland.  And the remaining statue was located at Land’s End, the southern tip of Bailey Island, where Johnson spent his entire life.  Inspired by their leader, Ruth Heiser, the Cundy’s Harbor Camp Fire Girls later raised enough money by selling cookies and soliciting contributions to move the Harpswell statue to D.C.  According to the Senate Congressional Record, U.S. Senators Edmund Muskie and William Cohen subsequently sponsored a joint resolution to authorize the erection of the Maine Lobsterman statue on Maine Avenue, where it has been located ever since.

However, if you haven’t seen The Maine Lobsterman Memorial yet, you may want to do it soon.  Recent approval for the development of the Southwest Waterfront and soon-to-begin construction will result in the removal of the memorial, at least temporarily.  Wording to protect the statue was included in the statute authorizing the waterfront’s redevelopment.  But the memorial will be back in storage again, where it will remain until the multi-billion dollar construction project wraps up in a decade or so.

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Decatur House on Lafayette Square

In 1820, Stephen Decatur, Jr., a U.S. Naval Officer notable for his long and celebrated career, was shot during a duel with another officer, Commodore James Barron.  A long-time rival, Barron bore a grudge against Decatur for his role in Barron’s court-martial and ouster from the Navy years earlier.  Attempting to solve the issue, Decatur accepted Barron’s challenge to a duel. Decatur shot and wounded Barron, as was his intention, and was prepared to let the matter drop. Barron, however, had other plans. He mortally wounded Decatur and exacted his revenge. Decatur was taken to his home, where he didn’t die straight away, however.  It took him two days of agonizing pain to finally succumb to the gut-shot.

It’s notable that their duel occurred during a time period when duels between officers were so common that it was creating a shortage of experienced officers, forcing the War Department to threaten to discharge those who attempted to pursue the practice.

Washington society, as well as the entire nation, was shocked upon learning that Decatur had been killed in a duel with a rival navy captain.  His funeral was attended by Washington’s elite, including President James Monroe and the justices of the Supreme Court, as well as most of Congress. Over 10,000 citizens of Washington and the surrounding area also attended his funeral to pay their last respects to the national hero.

On today’s bike ride I went by Decatur’s former home. Located at 1610 H Street in northwest D.C. (MAP), the house is one of the oldest surviving homes in D.C., and one of only three remaining houses in the country designed by neoclassical architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the “father of American architecture.” In D.C., Latrobe also designed St. John’s Episcopal Church (also known as the President’s Parish) and parts of The White House.  The Decatur House was built with the prize money Decatur was awarded for his naval conquests in the War of 1812.  The couple moved into their grand house in 1819 and spent the first several months cementing their social prominence in Washington by hosting a number of extravagant parties. Prominently located on Lafayette Square just north of the White House, the house was later the home of a number of other famous people, including President Martin Van Buren, who rented it from Decatur’s widow.

Despite leaving her financially well-off at the time of his death, his widow was eventually forced to sell the home due to overwhelming debt.  The subsequent owner built an addition onto the house – a large two-story dependency building at the rear of the property.  This was used as quarters for the numerous enslaved individuals in his household.

Sometimes referred to as a house of slavery and death, Decatur House is considered among paranormal enthusiasts to be one of D.C.’s most haunted. Those who have been in the house frequently claim to have seen Stephen Decatur walking the halls, his expression one of bleak sadness. He has been sighted throughout the house. And though he is often seen looking out windows or walking the halls, he is not the only phenomenon to take place. There are also reports of a mournful weeping and wailing sound that comes from empty rooms or is heard after hours. While no one is certain just who it is, most people believe the voice to belong to Decatur’s widow, Susan. The most palpable phenomenon is the feeling of sadness and heaviness that comes from the room on the first floor where Decatur died.

As with many historical homes, the house is now a museum and houses The Decatur House National Center for White House History, a repository for all things having to do with the home of the President. It is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  It is also open for historic tours of the house as well as self-guided tours of exhibits and even cell phone tours in which visitors are guided by calling the museum’s tour number. Additionally, the house is also available to host weddings and other special events, keeping in the tradition that Stephen and Susan Decatur started almost 200 years ago.

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It was an unseasonably warm day for this time of year.  The kind of day that serves to tease you that spring will be arriving in a few weeks, even though winter may or may not be done with us yet.  But since today was so nice, I used a little vacation time and took a longer than usual ride during my break at work today.

But you just never know what you’re going to see when you’re riding in D.C.  Just as I was getting ready to head back to my office, I saw that the police had blocked off some roads for a group of cyclists who were riding down Pennsylvania Avenue.  Being on a bike myself, I merged into the back of the pack and road with them.

The riders’ jerseys all read “Team 26,” which I later found out was connected to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which was the scene of a school shooting approximately 15 months ago.  In December of 2012, twenty children and six educators were killed in the second-deadliest mass shooting by a single person in American history.  The Team 26 riders, motivated by their connection to this tragedy, rode over 400 miles from Newtown to D.C. in order to raise awareness of the effects of gun violence, and to spark change in the gun-control debate.

The 26 riders, one for each victim of the Sandy Hook shootings, left Newtown four days ago wearing jerseys of green and white, the elementary school’s colors.  In addition to holding rallies in 10 different communities along the way, the riders were greeted by cheering crowds, honking horns and messages of support along the road.  The 400-mile “rolling rally” through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Maryland, concluded with the team’s arrival at the U.S. Capitol Building, where the team held a press conference, along with U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty and other lawmakers from Connecticut, about the need for new gun control legislation.

Team 26 is advocating for a series of measures to help curb gun violence, including requiring all gun buyers pass criminal background checks, instituting a ban of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, making gun trafficking a federal crime, including real penalties for “straw buyers”, and strengthening gun ownership restrictions for people diagnosed with severe mental illness.

Noting that this year was the second annual ride, Congresswoman Esty said that many people ask how long it will take to achieve “common-sense gun laws” in this country.  She replied by asking, “How long did it take to get women’s rights? How long did it take to get African-American rights in this country?”  She added, “We are prepared to stay the course as long as it takes.”

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The United States Air Force Memorial

The United States Air Force Memorial honors the service and sacrifices of the men and women of the U.S. Air Force and its predecessor organizations, including the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps; the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps; the Division of Military Aeronautics, Secretary of War; the Army Air Service; the U.S. Army Air Corps; and the U.S. Army Air Forces.

The Memorial is just a short ride across one of the bridges from D.C.  Located on Air Force Memorial Drive in Arlington (MAP), it sits on a promontory overlooking the Pentagon and adjacent to Arlington Cemetery, and is easily seen on the skyline of D.C. and Northern Virginia.

Featuring three stainless steel spires that soar skyward, the tallest reaching a height of 270 feet, the Memorial’s design is truly representative of flight and the flying spirit of the Air Force. The three spires impart a sense of accomplishment in command of the sky, and evoke the image of the precision “bomb burst” maneuver performed by the United States Air Force Thunderbird Demonstration Team.

The three spires also represent the three core values of the Air Force – integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all that is done – and the Air Force’s total force – active, guard and reserve.

Embedded in granite beneath the three central spires is the Air Force “star,” which has long been emblazoned on Air Force aircraft and serves as the rank insignia of every enlisted member of the Air Force.  Other key elements of the Memorial include a Runway to Glory at the site entrance, a bronze Honor Guard statue developed by the renowned sculptor, Zenos Frudakis, two granite inscription walls located at either end of the central lawn, and a Glass Contemplation Wall that honors fallen airmen.

Interestingly, the view of the Memorial in the larger photo (above) is one that is not usually seen in a photo because I was stopped just after taking it and warned by the police not to photograph the memorial from this angle.  I was told photography was limited to the memorial grounds, and that taking photos from across the street, as this one was, is forbidden due to security reasons.

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The Octagon House

The Octagon House is located at 1799 New York Avenue, Northwest in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of D.C. (MAP), just a block away from the White House.  This three-story brick house was designed by Dr. William Thornton, the original architect of the U.S. Capitol Building, using a plan which combined a circle, two rectangles, and a triangle in order to adapt to the irregular-shaped lot on which it sits.  Why this six-sided building is named the Octagon remains a subject of debate. Some say that even though the main room is a circle, it resembled octagonal rooms common in England; others say it’s for the eight angles formed by the odd shape of the six walls–an old definition of an octagon.  Construction began in 1799, and the house was completed in 1802.  It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Octagon House was initially known as the Colonel John Tayloe III House, after the original owner.  Colonel Tayloe was reputed to be the richest Virginian plantation owner of his time, and built the house in D.C. at the suggestion of George Washington.  For Tayloe, a young entrepreneur with political aspirations, being close to the center of  the Federal government was a powerful incentive to invest in the still-developing national capitol city.  Upon completion in 1802, The Octagon House became one of the most important homes in D.C., welcoming visitors who included Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Stephen Decatur, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, the Marquis de Lafayette, and John C. Calhoun.

During the War of 1812, when British troops were advancing on D.C., the Tayloes approached the French ambassador and offered use of their home as the French embassy. The offer was accepted, and the French ambassador notified the British.  The ambassador also declared the home French territory be designating it as an embassy, and flew the French flag, thus ensuring the house survived intact.

Subsequently, after “The Burning of Washington” by the British in 1814, in which many prominent buildings in D.C. were destroyed, including The U.S. Capitol Building and The White House, Colonel Tayloe offered the use of his home to President James Madison and his wife, Dolley, for use as a temporary “Executive Mansion.”  President Madison used the circular room above the entrance as a study, and signed the ratification papers for the Treaty of Ghent there, which ended the War of 1812.  This treaty still governs relations between the U.S. and Great Britain.

Although Colonel Tayloe died in 1828, Mrs. Tayloe continued to play an active role as a prominent social figure in D.C. and lived in The Octagon until her death in 1855. The Tayloe family sold the house that same year. It was used as a hospital during the Civil War, and as an apartment building in the post-war period.  The Octagon House became the home of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) near the end of the 19th century, which  took ownership of the property in 1902.

The AIA eventually moved its headquarters to a larger building located directly behind it.  Today, the AIA owns the Octagon House, and provides for the building’s continued care and operation through AIA Legacy, Inc.

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