Archive for June, 2015

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Three Eggs in Space

On this lunchtime bike ride in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, I ran across an odd-looking sculpture on a grassy spit of land near the corner of Mount Vernon and Commonwealth Avenues (MAP). An odd combination of interconnected shapes, I must admit that the piece evoked mixed feelings in me.  I didn’t know what to make of it. I found it both interesting and odd, we well as welcoming yet strangely out of place. And after learning more about the controversial public artwork, named “Three Eggs in Space,” I found out that I am not alone in my reaction to it.

Three Eggs in Space is a 12-foot tall, 30,000-pound marble and limestone sculpture commissioned Stewart Bartley, the developer of an upscale apartment building named Del Ray Central, as a gift to his neighbors in the artsy community of Del Ray. The slightly tilted piece depicts a massive egg-shaped hollow oval of Texas limestone resting on a half-egg base of East Tennessee gray marble, with a smaller egg made of East Tennessee pink marble sitting inside the large oval. The artwork was fabricated by a company named Custom Marble and Design based on a scale model created by the artist, Karen Bailey.

At the time Bailey was commissioned to create Thee Eggs in Space, she was not working as a full-time artist. She was talking with Bartley about the development of his apartment building at their 30th high school reunion in Knoxville, Tennessee. He told her that his company was required to install a piece of artwork near the building as part of the development contract with the city, but that he had no idea what to do. She told her old friend that she’d like to give it a try, and he agreed to let her.

Like my initial reaction upon seeing the sculpture, Three Eggs in Space has received mixed reviews ever since it was lowered by crane and bolted into the ground on June 23, 2010. The artist describes it as both representational – it depicts three actual eggs – as well as expressive of the feminine and motherhood, with the large, concrete egg representing the mother and the marble egg in the center as the baby. But others have alternately described it as looking like an avocado, a teardrop, a toilet seat, a halo, an eyeball, and as a portal to another dimension.

The opinions about the sculpture are not only diverse, but also divided. Neighbors and passers-by, and even local community artists, either love it or hate it. Some people who like it have said it speaks of home, family and nurturing. But others who don’t like it have described it as cold, silly, and an epic fail.  Far from taking offense, however, the artist has said that she’s thrilled with the swirl of controversy around her work. “Even negative comments are good,” she said. “That means people are paying attention.”

So despite its mixed reviews, Three Eggs in Space is getting people’s attention and has them talking. And sometimes, isn’t that what art is really all about?

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[Click on the thumbnail above to view the full size photo]

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Jones Point Lighthouse

Stretching for seventeen miles along the Virginia shore of the Potomac River, from George Washington’s historic family home to the city of Washington, D.C., the Mount Vernon Trail has as much history per mile as just about any other trail in the entire country. And one of the often overlooked highlights along the trail is the Jones Point Lighthouse, which is located on a short peninsula of land just south of Old Town Alexandria, directly west across the river from National Harbor on the Maryland shore, and immediately north of the confluence of Hunting Creek and the Potomac River (MAP) in Jones Point Park.  It was this lighthouse that was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

In August of 1852, the United States Lighthouse Board received a Congressional appropriation to purchase land and construct a lighthouse at Jones Point. Three years later, the money was used to purchase a narrow tract of land, measuring only 30 by 100 feet, from the Manassas Gap Railroad Company.  The building was constructed in 1855, and the Jones Point Lighthouse was first lit on May 3, 1856.  The lighthouse consisted of a small, one-story, four-room house with a lantern on top that contained a fifth order Fresnel lens, the most advanced lens technology available in the 1800’s.  The lens produced a light beam which could be seen nine miles away.  The light was designed to function as a navigational aid to help ships avoid shifting underwater shoals on the river, and originally served primarily naval ships approaching the Washington Navy Yard, as well as the numerous merchant, passenger, fishing ships traveling into Alexandria, which was at the time was one of the largest centers for shipping, manufacturing, and transportation in the nation.

In 1918 a massive shipyard was constructed at Jones Point to build ships for World War I. As a result, the lighthouse’s beacon light was obscured, making it less useful as a navigational aid. It continued to function in its diminished capacity for a few more years, but was eventually discontinued in 1926, and replaced by a small steel skeletal tower located nearby with an automated light to cut the costs of a manned lighthouse. After being discontinued, the house and property were deeded to the Mount Vernon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which maintained the structure as a museum. Then a decade later, in 1936, the Army Signal Corps built a classified communication facility on the former shipyard and closed it to the public. At that time the Jones Point Light went dark, and would remain so for more than half a century.

Although the lighthouse was now closed, the Army reopened Jones Point to the public in 1953. But by that time there was significant damage to the lighthouse from weather, tides, and vandalism. Soldiers had even used the building for target practice during World War II. And after the public was allowed to enter Jones Point again, the damage to the lighthouse only got worse, with vandals further defacing the building, looting it for artifacts and materials, and even burning down part of it. At that point the Daughters of the American Revolution, lacking the funds to restore the lighthouse and not wanting the historic structure to end up being completely destroyed, they chose to deed the property back once again to the Federal government.

With the Jones Point Lighthouse back under the ownership and control of the Federal government, the Daughters of the American Revolution worked with the National Park Service to establish a park on the site and restore the lighthouse. In 1964 Jones Point Park opened, and although the restoration of the lighthouse took longer, it was finally relit in 1995. Today the Jones Point Light is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of only a few remaining riverine lighthouses in the entire country, and it is the last one remaining in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Although it is only a short distance from D.C., the feeling of stepping back in time makes the Jones Point Lighthouse seem much further away.  So even though it was only a lunchtime trip, it seemed like I travelled much, much further.

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Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial

There is no shortage of unusual memorials in D.C., and on this lunchtime bike ride I visited one of them which happen to be dedicated to nuns. Now at first, that might not seem all that unusual. But as the title of the memorial indicates, the context of the nuns being honored gives it an unusual quality. It is the Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial, and it is located at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue, M Street and Connecticut Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial is a tribute to more than 600 nuns who belonged to the 12 orders of nuns who nursed the sick and wounded soldiers of both armies during the American Civil War. It is one of two monuments in the District that mark women’s roles in the conflict, the other being The American National Red Cross Headquarters Building, which was built by the Army Corps of Engineers as a memorial to women of the Civil War.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial not only honors the selfless service of the volunteer nuns during the Civil War, but could also be said to commemorate how that service helped to dispel the anti-Catholic sentiment that existed in America prior to the war. Anti-Catholicism reached a peak in the mid nineteenth century when Protestant leaders became alarmed by the heavy influx of Catholic immigrants, particularly from Ireland and Germany. In fact, nuns and sisters prior to the Civil War would not wear their habits outside of their convents for fear of insult or attack. There was even an instance of an anti-Catholic mob burning down a convent. But as a result of the quality of the nursing they received from these women of God, as well as their general kindness and good cheer, soldiers and others on both sides of the conflict were impressed, and generations of bigotry began to quickly dissolve.

The idea for the memorial originated with a woman named Ellen Jolly, who was the president of the women’s auxiliary branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who said she grew up hearing stories of battlefield tales told by nuns. She initially proposed the memorial to the War Department just after the turn of the century, but the request was denied. After years of gathering additional information in support of the memorial, in 1918 she proposed the idea to Congress, which authorized its construction. However, they refused to fund it. So a committee to raise money for the project was formed by the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. Headed by Jolly, it took six years to raise the money and construct the memorial, which was finally dedicated in September of 1924.

The Memorial was created by Irish sculptor Jerome Connor, who also created the Monument to Robert Emmet, and the Statue of John Carroll on the campus of Georgetown University, both of which are here in D.C.  He is also reported to have assisted in the creation of  The Court of Neptune Fountain in front of the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial consists of rectangular granite slab that sits on a granite base, with a large bronze relief panel on its face. The relief depicts a dozen nuns dressed in traditional habit, representing the twelve different orders of nuns who served. Those orders are the Sisters of St. Joseph, Carmelites, Dominican Order, Ursulines, Sisters of the Holy Cross, Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis, Sisters of Mercy, Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and Congregation of Divine Providence.

On each end side of the slab sits a bronze female figure. The figure on the right side has wings, and is dressed in robes, armor and a helmet, robes to look like an angel representing patriotism. Sitting, she holds a shield in her proper left hand and a scroll in her lap with her proper right hand. She is weaponless to represent peace. The other figure on the left side of the monument is another winged figure, and is depicted wearing a long dress, a bodice and a scarf around her head to represent the angel of Peace.

On the granite above the relief is inscribed: “They Comforted The Dying, Nursed The Wounded, Carried Hope To The Imprisoned, Gave In His Name A Drink Of Water To The Thirsty.” And on the granite below the relief: “ To The Memory And In Honor Of The Various Orders Of Sisters Who Gave Their Services As Nurses On Battlefields And In Hospitals During The Civil War.”

The memorial is part of a group entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city. They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

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The Original Patentees of the District of Columbia Memorial

As I was leisurely riding near The Ellipse and President’s Park on this lunchtime bike ride, I saw a relatively small, nondescript granite shaft near the sidewalk along 15th Street. To the tourists and others walking past it, it seemed as unimportant as an unsolicited opinion. But the fact that they were ignoring it made me even more curious to find out about it. So I stopped to look at it and take some photographs, and found out that it is the Original Patentees of the District of Columbia Memorial.

Also known as the Settlers of the District of Columbia Monument, or the First Settlers Monument, the memorial is an historic feature of President’s Park South. It is located on the eastern side of The Ellipse to the east of the Boy Scouts of America Memorial and on the western side of 15th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.

Until the late part of the 18th century, the Continental Congress met in numerous locations, effectively resulting in several different cities having served as the nation’s capital. These cities included: Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Lancaster and York, Pennsylvania; Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey, and; New York City. Because of this, the Continental Congress decided that the nation’s capital be established permanently at one location. Disagreements quickly rose as to which state it would be a part of. In 1790, Alexander Hamilton proposed a solution that established the new permanent capital on Federal land rather than in a state. President George Washington, who was raised in the Potomac area, was chosen to pick the site. As a result, the permanent capital was established in 1791 in its current location, with both Maryland and Virginia giving up land along the Potomac River to establish the Federal district.

The Original Patentees of the District of Columbia Memorial commemorates the eighteen original patentees who granted land for the establishment of the nation’s new capital city. A patentee is someone to whom a grant is given and, in this case, the grant was ownership of the land that became the District of Columbia. The monument to commemorate these men was given to the city by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and was dedicated during a ceremony on April 25, 1936.

On the east side of the monument facing 15th Street is inscribed “To The Original Patentees/Prior To 1700 Whose Land / Grants Embrace The Site Of / The Federal City. Monument Erected By The / National Society Of The / Daughters American / Colonists, April 25, 1936.” The names of the original landowners, listed on the other three sides, and the date of their land patents, are inscribed in the base of the monument. They are, in ascending order: Robert Troope, 1663; George Thompson, 1663; Francis Pope, 1663; John Langworth, 1664; John Lewger, 1666; Richd and Wm Pinner, 1666; Zachariah Wade, 1670; Richard Evans, 1685; Henry Jowles, 1685; Andrew Clarke, 1685; John Peerce, 1685; Walter Houp, 1686; Walter Thompson, 1686; Ninian Beall, 1687; John Walson, 1687; William Hutchison, 1696; Walter Evans, 1698, and; William Atcheson, 1698.

Each of the four sides of the monument also contains a stone relief panel carved by Carl Mose, a former instructor at the Corcoran School of Art. The panels contain symbols of the early pioneers’ agricultural pursuits. On the east side above the main inscription is a relief depicting a tobacco plant, a major cash crop of the colonies. The relief on the north side of the monument depicts a fish, a food staple in those times. On the west face of the monument is a relief of a stalk of corn, which native Indians introduced to the colonists, showing them how to use as food and fertilizer for other crops. And on the monument’s south face is a relief of a wild turkey, another abundently-available food staple of the time.

So as most people walk past it without a second thought, the monument to the men whose land became the nation’s capital stands silently by to remind us of their names, which may have otherwise been lost over time. And had it not been for these men, the location of our capital, and even the history of our country, may have been different.

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Statue of Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette

After my bike ride at the end of last week to see L’Hermione, the 18th-century French war ship which brought General Lafayette to the American colonies in 1780 with news of the French assistance in the American Revolution, I decided for this ride to go to see a local statue of him, entitled Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette.  The statue is located in Lafayette Square, which is also named after him, and is located just north of the White House, on H Street between 15th and 17th Streets (MAP).

The statue of General Lafayette was commission by the U.S. Congress and created by a French sculptor and painter named Jean Alexandre Joseph Falguiere. It was cast in 1890, and unveiled without ceremony in April of 1891.  The inscription on the base of the north side of the statue reads, “To General la Fayette and his compatriots, 1777-1783, Derville Farbre, by the Congress in commemoration of the services rendered by General Lafayette and his compatriots during the struggle for the independence of the United States of America.” It is part of the “American Revolution Statuary”, a group of fourteen statues scattered throughout D.C., mainly in squares and traffic circles, which are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette was born in 1757 into a wealthy noble family.  Before his second birthday, his father, a Colonel of grenadiers was killed when he was struck by a cannonball while fighting a British-led coalition at the Battle of Minden. At the age of twelve, his mother passed away, leaving him a young and very wealthy orphan. In 1771, at the age of fourteen, Lafayette entered the Royal Army. Then when he was sixteen, Lafayette married Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles, who was related to the King, thus allying himself with one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in France.

But Lafayette was never impressed with status or riches, longing instead for military glory. However, two years after marrying into the royal family, he lost his military commission, like many other noblemen, when the government reduced military spending. This sent his life in another direction, one which would lead him to America.

At a dinner in August of 1775, Lafayette came into contact with the Duke of Gloucester, who spoke with sympathy of the struggle going on in the colonies. He became convinced that the American cause in its revolutionary war was noble. In fact, Lafayette would always remember this dinner as the turning point of his life. “My heart was enlisted,” he later confessed in his memoirs, “and I thought only of joining my colors to those of the revolutionaries.” Lafayette then set about studying the ideals of the American Revolution while making plans to enlist in the Continental Army.

At that time, a representative of the Continental Congress named Silas Deane was sent to France to recruit officers. And even though Lafayette was only nineteen, spoke almost no English, and had no experience in war, Deane offered him a written agreement that he would be commissioned a major general. The King of France, however, issued a decree forbidding French officers from serving in America, specifically naming Lafayette. So Lafayette secretly and against the wishes of the French government, bought a shop named the La Victoire and sailed to America, where he announced himself a volunteer.

Lafayette arrived in America in June of 1777, and by the end of the summer he had met General Washington and a friendship developed between the two men which lasted as long as Washington lived. Their bond became so strong that when Lafayette was shot in the leg during the Battle of Brandywine, Washington sent his own surgeon to care for him, telling the doctor to treat the young Frenchman as if he were Washington’s own son.

Lafayette arrived in America in June of 1777, and by the end of the summer he had met General Washington. A friendship subsequently developed between the two men which lasted as long as Washington lived. Their bond became so strong that when Lafayette was shot in the leg during the Battle of Brandywine, Washington sent his own surgeon to care for him, telling the doctor to treat the young Frenchman as if he were Washington’s own son. (Sharing the same sentiment, Lafayette would years later name his son George Washington Lafayette.) After Lafayette recovered, he became a valued member of Washington’s close-knit military family. At the end of that year, Lafayette went with Washington and the army into winter quarters at Valley Forge.

Lafayette was overjoyed when news of the French alliance arrived in early 1778, but decided to return to France in June in hopes of winning even more military support for the American cause. Lafayette had also hoped to be put in charge of the French army, but Marshall Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau was chosen instead. In 1780 Lafayette returned to America aboard L’Hermione, delivering news to George Washington of full French aid in the colonialists’ cause, helping turn the tide of the American Revolution.

Washington then sent Lafayette to Virginia to stop British raids along the James River. While there, General Charles Cornwallis’ forces arrived in Virginia, Lafayette harassed the British general until Washington and Rochambeau could lay siege to him in Yorktown. In October 1781, there was no prouder soldier than Lafayette at Cornwallis’ surrender to a combined American and French force at the Siege of Yorktown, ending the war.

Still only 24 years old, Lafayette returned again to France after the American Revolution, where he was welcomed as the “Hero of Two Worlds.” Back home, he rejoined the French army and organized trade agreements with Thomas Jefferson, the American ambassador to France. With the country on the verge of major political and social upheaval, Lafayette was named commander of the Paris National Guard. But when violence broke out in 1789, Lafayette’s obligation to protect the royal family left him in a vulnerable position to the factions vying for power. So he fled France in 1792.

Upon his departure from France Lafayette was captured at Olmütz by Austrian forces and imprisoned. He was later released by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. He finally returned to France in 1799, where he largely retired from public life. He settled at LaGrange, an estate near Paris nicknamed the Mount Vernon of France. In 1824, he made one final tour of America and was hailed as a hero.  Six years later, the aging statesman declined the dictatorship of France during the July Revolution, and Louis-Phillipe was crowned king.  He died four years later, May 20, 1834 at the age of seventy-six, following a battle with pneumonia.

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L’Hermione

For today’s bike ride I decided to go across the Potomac River to the waterfront in the Old Town neighborhood of Alexandria. I chose that destination so I could see a ship docked there. It is not a modern vessel, like the USS Barry, which is docked at the southwest waterfront here in D.C.   Rather, I went to see a replica of an 18th-century French war ship named L’Hermione, or The Hermione, which is currently visiting the east coast of the United States. It arrived in Alexandria on Wednesday, and today was its last day before continuing on to its next port of call in Annapolis, Maryland. So I rode to Alexandria today to see the majestic vessel because Annapolis is a little too far away for one of my lunchtime rides.

The Hermione set sail from River Charente, in Port des Barques, France, approximately two months ago. The 3,819-mile transatlantic crossing took 27 days, before stopping in the Canary Islands and Bermuda on its way to making landfall at Yorktown, Virginia on June 4th for the first of its iconic stops on a tour of the east coast of the United States. Its next stop, after the opening of The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge to allow the 185-foot tall ship to pass through and sail up the Potomac River, was at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, which is just a few miles south of where it docked today alongside the pier next to The Chart House. Tomorrow it departs for Annapolis, before proceeding on to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, among other cities. It will then head back to France.

The Hermione’s journey began two decades ago, when a small group dreamed of reconstructing a replica of General Marquis de Lafayette’s 18th-century ship called the Hermione, and then sail it to America to commemorate the historic voyage in 1780 that brought General Lafayette to George Washington with news of full French aid in the colonialists cause, helping turn the tide of the American Revolution. Led by author Erik Orsenna and French Association of Hermione-La Fayette President Benedict Donnelly, the long process of conducting feasibility stides and laying out the construction site at Rochefort, in the Cherente-Maritime began. With cannons, approximately 225 different ropes and some 2,600 square yards of linen, the 177 foot-long ship took $27 million and nearly twenty years to complete. With the architects of the ship closely following the information contained in the original ship’s captain logs and manuscripts, as well as exact line drawings from the Hermione’s sister ship, La Concorde, after its capture, and since stored in the British Admiralty, the completed L’ Hermione is a near exact replica of its namesake.

The ship was initially launched in 2012, with its masting being completed the following year. Then after a period of sea trials and training, her actual voyage finally began in April, leading to my visit to see her today. Unfortunately, she has sailed on, so I can’t recommend that you go to see The Hermione. But I’m sure glad I did.

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Four Mile Run Trail

On this lunchtime bike ride I decided to ride out to the Four Mile Run Trail, which is a relatively short, paved bike trail in Northern Virginia. It connects at the eastern end to the Mount Vernon Trail near the southern edge of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and on the western end to to the Bluemont Junction Trail in the similarly named park in the city of Falls Church (MAP). The trail runs along the Four Mile Run, a stream which empties into the Potomac River at the Mount Vernon end of the trail, and runs roughly parallel to parts of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Trail as it follows Four Mile Run, sometimes on the other side of the stream.

I initially thought that the Four Mile Run Trail got its name because it is four miles long. Even though that would make the name unimaginative, it seemed to make sense. However, it is a 6.2-mile long trail. Since it runs along a stream named Four Mile Run, I then assumed that although the trail was longer, it got its name from the stream, which must be four miles long. However, the stream, whose eastern section forms the boundary of Arlington County and the City of Alexandria, is 9.4 miles long. This fact made me even more curious about how the Four Mile Run Trail got its name.

Although the origin of the name of the trail is not known for certain, the most widely accepted story alleges that it resulted from someone incorrectly reading an old map. The map listed the name of the stream as “Flour Mill Run”, after one of several watermills which used the stream to process flour. But eventually the letters on the map became affected by creases and fading of the ink, and the Flour Mill Run was misread as Four Mile Run. Over time, the new name stuck. And when the trail was created it was named after the name of the stream as it was now known.

In 2009, an extension to the trail was completed near the Shirlington neighborhood of Arlington. The extension not only linked the Four Mile Run Trail with the eastern end of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Trail, but allowed bike riders and other trail users to pass under the Shirley Highway/Interstate 395 and West Glebe Road without having to ride on the usually busy streets of Arlington and Alexandria.

Although relatively short in length, Four Mile Run Trail runs through developed urban areas as well as wetlands, where it crosses the stream in numerous places, and wooded natural areas as well. The trail has many twists and turns, some as much as 180 degrees, and a few short but steep climbs and descents as well.  At times you’re likely to see numerous bike riders, runners, dog-walkers and even families, so it can be crowded.  But at other times you can traverse the length of the trail and see hardly anyone.  So although I can’t tell you what to expect, I highly recommend Four Mile Run Trail.

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Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski

Kazimierz Michał Władysław Wiktor Pułaski was born on March 6, 1745, in Warsaw, Poland, the oldest of three sons born to Count Józef Pułaski and Marianna Zielińska, who were members of the szlachta, an old and influential branch of the Polish aristocracy. Following in his father’s footsteps he became interested in politics at an early age, and soon became involved in the military and the revolutionary affairs in Poland. At the age of fifteen, he joined his father and other members of the szlachta in a conspiracy known as the Confederation of Bar, intended to free Poland from Russian and Prussian interference in Polish affairs.  In 1771 the Polish government implicated Pulaski in a plot to abduct Stanislaus II, the Russian-controlled king.  Accused of treason for his actions on behalf of Polish liberty, Pulaski travelled to Paris and sought protection in France. There he met Benjamin Franklin and Marquis de Lafayette, who induced him to support the colonies against England in the American Revolutionary War. Following a recommendation by Benjamin Franklin, the American ambassador to France, Pulaski emigrated to North America to help in the cause of the American Revolution, arriving in Philadelphia in 1777.

Upon his arrival Pulaski submitted his name to the Continental Congress for an officer’s commission. However, he was initially turned down.  So he unofficially joined General George Washington’s forces, and after saving his life at the Battle of Brandywine, was appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army. Later that year Pulaski went on to fight at the Battle of Germantown, and then briefly stayed at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78. During the following spring, he briefly resigned his commission with the intent of returning to France. After being reinstated and sent to New York, Pulaski experienced a number of setbacks and once again decided to leave America. But events in Georgia kept Pulaski in the army and brought him to the South.

Pulaski distinguished himself throughout the revolution, and of all the Polish officers who took part in the American War for Independence, Pulaski was the most prominent. Of his many accomplishments, Pulaski is best known for having created the Pulaski Cavalry Legion, and reforming the American cavalry as a whole. In fact, along with Michael Kovats de Fabriczy, they are known as the founding fathers of the American cavalry.

At the Siege of Savannah in 1779, while leading a daring charge against British forces, he was mortally wounded by British cannon shot.  Pulaski’s enemies so respected him, however, that they spared him the musket and permitted him to be carried from the battlefield to the American camp.   James Lynah, the physician who treated Pulaski, claimed that he could have saved him if the general had remained in the American camp.  However, Pulaski insisted upon boarding a ship, and was taken aboard the Continental Brigantine Wasp.  Rumors about the exact cause of death and place of burial emerged after Pulaski’s death and continue to exist, but the standard account of what happened comes from Captain Paul Bentalou, who claimed that the general died of gangrene aboard the ship and was buried at sea.

On this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by Freedom Plaza in northwest D.C., to see a bronze equestrian statue of Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, which is located near the corner of 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP). The statue, by Polish sculptor Kazimierz Chodziński and Architect Albert R. Ross, shows a mounted figure of General Pulaski dressed in the uniform of a cavalry commander from his native Poland. It is part of a group of fourteen statues scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles, which are collectively known as the “American Revolution Statuary.” These statues are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski statue was dedicated on May 11, 1910. Just over 99 years later, Congress passed a joint resolution conferring honorary U.S. citizenship on Pulaski. It was sent to President Barack Obama for approval, and was signed on November 6, 2009. Pulaski is only the seventh person to receive the honor.  So the man who wanted to stay in Poland but was forced to leave, became a citizen of the United States, a country which he wanted to leave but where circumstances forced him to stay.  And although he failed to help lead the revolution in Poland, the statue honoring him for his participation in the American revolution depicts him wearing the uniform of Poland.

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Eastern Market

There used to be a city-wide system of public marketplaces in D.C. The system was part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original design plan for the city, which called for an Eastern, a Central and a Western Market. The markets were intended to supplement existing markets in Georgetown, and across the Potomac River in Alexandria, and provide a steady and orderly supply of goods to urban residents. One of those markets is still in operation today. Known as Eastern Market, it is located at 225 7th Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and it was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

In 1805, President Thomas Jefferson issued a proclamation calling for Eastern Market to be set up at 7th and L Streets, near the Washington Navy Yard in southeast D.C. The original market received heavy damage during the British attack of 1814 known as the “Burning of Washington,” when many of the Federal government’s buildings, including the Department of the Treasury Building, the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building were burned. The market was repaired and remained active until a half a century later, when the Civil War caused a disruption in the availability and delivery of supplies. The market resumed normal operations after the war, but continued to struggle and fell into a state of disrepair. By 1871 Eastern Market was nearly abandoned, and was described in a local newspaper account as a “disgraceful shed.”

Eastern Market relocated in 1873 to its present location in a building designed by Adolf Cluss, a German-born American immigrant who became one of the most important architects in the national capitol city by designing dozens of local post-Civil War buildings, among them the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall, Calvary Baptist Church, and the Franklin and Sumner Schools. Enjoying a renewed success as Capitol’s Hill’s population increased in the early 20th century, the market needed to expand. So the city’s Office of Public Works, under architect Snowden Ashford, designed the new addition containing the Center and North Halls in 1908.  Eastern Market was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

In the years since, Eastern Market has had more than its share of difficulties, but it has continued to not only persevere, but thrive. In the early 1900’s, the market had to ward off D.C. Health Department, which had made numerous findings of deficiencies with its sanitation. But Eastern Market survived. In the 1920’s a chain supermarket opened right across the street from the market. It cut into its business, but the market survived. Then in the 1940’s, D.C. bureaucrats proposed transforming Eastern Market into a supermarket. And a decade later, a congressional bill envisioned turning a revamped market into a national children’s theater. Neither of these proposals was successful, and the market survived. In the 1950’s, the city license bureau criticized the market as uneconomical, and in 1960’s the D.C. health commissioner declared Eastern Market “a menace to public health.” But the criticisms of the market were no more successful in shutting down Eastern Market than the proposals to change it. Additional challenges could not bring an end to Eastern Market either, such as vendors having to work without leases when the city refused to renew expired leases, a proposal for a freeway to run through the site, and the urban economic downturn after riots in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Eastern Market’s continued existence occurred in 2007, when the building was badly damaged by an early-morning 3-alarm fire. Part of the roof collapsed, and The Washington Post has described the South Hall as “gutted so badly that birds can now fly in through the front windows and out the back ones.” Following the fire the Mayor vowed to rebuild Eastern Market, and even provided a temporary market annex, known as the “East Hall,” across the street on the grounds of Hine Junior High School to be used during the rebuilding process. After two years of reconstruction work, Eastern Market reopened its doors in June of 2009, ending the only extended hiatus in the market’s 210 years of continuous operation.

The other city markets are now long gone. Center Market, where the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Building is today, was razed in 1931. And Western Market, which was located at 21st and K streets in northwest D.C., was closed in 1961. But when the D.C. government closed the other public markets, Charles Glasgow, Sr., who operated two stalls at Eastern Market, suggested that he assume management responsibility for the market. The Eastern Market Corporation was formed and leased the South and Center Halls, now managed by Eastern Market Ventures. So Eastern Market remains open, and continues to host a thriving farmers’ market.

Everything from finest meats, poultry and seafood, to pasta, delicatessen, baked goods and cheeses from around the world are sold from indoor stalls during the week.  There is also a lunch counter where you can get a bite to eat while you shop.  And on the weekends, recently-harvested produce direct from farms in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia are sold outside along the covered sidewalk.  Artisans and antiques dealers also sell their goods outside the market on weekends, while live music adds some entertainment, making Eastern Market a popular stop for locals as well as tourists.

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The Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial Statue

On this lunchtime bike ride I rode to Lincoln Park, which is the largest urban park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of northeast D.C., as well as one of the oldest parks in the national capitol city. Situated one mile directly east of the United States Capitol Building and four blocks northeast of Historic Eastern Market, it is bounded by 11th Street on the west, 13th Street on the east, the westbound lanes of East Capitol Street on the North, and East Capitol Street’s eastbound lanes on the south (MAP).  I rode to the park to see the memorial to Mary McLeod Bethune, which is in the eastern end of the park, directly across the park’s plaza, opposite The Emancipation Memorial.

Mary Jane McLeod was born on July 10, 1875, in a small log cabin in Mayesville, South Carolina. She was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to Sam and Patsy McIntosh McLeod, both former slaves. At an early age Mary began working, both in fields and by accompanying her mother to deliver “white people’s” laundry. She was also allowed to go into the white children’s nursery, where she became fascinated with their toys. One day when she picked up a book a white child took it away from her, saying that she didn’t know how to read. It was then that Mary decided that the only difference between white and colored folk was the ability to read and write. This inspired her to want to learn, and eventually to want to educate others.

McLeod began attending the local, one-room black schoolhouse. She was the only child in her family to attend school, but each day she would come home and teach her family what she had learned. Her teacher, Emma Jane Wilson, became young Mary’s mentor, and even helped Mary get a scholarship to attend her alma mater, Scotia Seminary, now known as Barber-Scotia College. She later also attended Dwight L. Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago, now the Moody Bible Institute. She had initially hoped to become a missionary in Africa. But after being told that black missionaries were not needed, she began a teaching career that would become a large part of her lasting legacy.

Mary married Albertus Bethune in 1898, with whom she had a son named Albert the following year.  Albertus left the family in 1907 and relocated to South Carolina, but they never got a divorce. Albertus subsequently died from tuberculosis in 1918.  Albert Bethune grew up to become the coordinator of vocational services at Bethune-Cookman College, which was founded by his mother, where he worked until he retired.  He passed away at the age of 90 in 1989.

Mrs. Bethune’s background as a teacher inspired her to open the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1904. After merging with the Cookman Institute, the school became Bethune-Cookman College. She not only proved her expertise as an educator, through her work with the college she also developed skills as an organizer and fundraiser. She would later employ these skills, when in 1935 she founded the National Council of Negro Women. Through research, advocacy, and national and community-based services and programs in both the United States and Africa, the National Council of Negro Women continues to this day as a non-profit organization with a mission of representing the national and international concerns of Black women.

In addition to being an educator and an organizer, she was also a political activist, and the first African American woman to be involved in the White House. She assisted four different presidents during her lifetime, but through her close and loyal friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she had the most significant influence on President Roosevelt’s New Deal Government. She used her access and influence to form a coalition of leaders from black organizations called the Federal Council of Negro Affairs, which came to be known as the “Black Cabinet,” and served as an advisory board to the Roosevelt administration on issues facing black people in America.

In addition to her influence with presidents and others in the government, Bethune also became an employee of the Federal government. The National Youth Administration was a Federal agency created with the support of the Works Progress Administration, which administered provided programs to promote relief and employment for young people. It focused on unemployed citizens between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five who were not in school. Bethune lobbied the organization so aggressively and effectively for minority involvement that she earned a full-time staff position in 1936 as an assistant. Within two years, Bethune was appointed to position of Director of the Division of Negro Affairs, and as such, became the first African-American female division head in the Federal government.

Bethune died on May 18, 1955 at the age of 79.  Approximately twenty years later, on July 10, 1974, the anniversary of her 99th birthday, Bethune became the first black leader and the first woman to have a monument erected on public park land in D.C.  The statue, known as the Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial Statue, was designed by an American sculptor named Robert Berks, who also created hundreds of other bronze sculptures and monuments, including The Albert Einstein Memorial here in D.C.  The statue features an elderly Bethune handing a copy of her legacy to two young black children, as she supports herself with a cane given to her by President Roosevelt.

The memorial honors not only her legacy but her continuing influence through the college and the organization she founded. Bethune-Cookman College currently offers bachelor’s degrees in 26 major areas, and has graduated more than 13,000 students. And the National Council of Negro Women is today comprised of 39 national affiliates and over 240 sections, connecting more than four million women to the organization.

As I sat for a while in the park near the memorial, I watched as people walked their dogs, jogged, played with children, or simply relaxed and enjoyed the warm Spring day.  As I watched them, I wondered if any of them knew anything about the memorial, or who Mary McLeod Bethune was and the influence her life has had.  But now I do, and so do you.

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