Archive for September, 2015

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The First Division Monument

The destination for this lunchtime bike ride was a plaza within President’s Park, west of the White House and due South of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, between 17th Street Northwest and West Executive Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. I rode there because it is the location of the First Division Monument. 

The First Division Monument commemorates all of the soldiers who died while serving in the 1st Infantry Division of the U. S. Army, also known as The Big Red One. Conceived by The Society of the First Infantry Division, the veteran’s organization of the Army’s First Division, it was designed by American architect Cass Gilbert, and sculptor Daniel Chester French, who created the Victory statue that sits atop the monument. French also created the Butt-Millet Fountain, also located in President’s Park.  But he is perhaps best known for the sculpture of a seated Abraham Lincoln at The Lincoln Memorial.

The monument was erected in 1924 and dedicated later that year by President Calvin Coolidge.  It was originally intended to honor the sacrifices made by soldiers of the First Division who fought and died in World War I.  Later, additions to the monument were made to commemorate the lives of First Division soldiers who fought in subsequent wars and conflicts. The World War II addition on the west side was designed by the original architect’s son, Cass Gilbert Jr., and dedicated in 1957. The Vietnam War addition on the east side was added in 1977, and the Desert Storm plaque was installed in 1995.

Another, different type of addition was made to the monument in 1965.  A large flower bed in the shape of a First Division patch was added to the monument as part of Lady Bird Johnson’s landscape plans to beautify the national capital city. The flower bed is located just east of the monument’s south steps.  The symbolism of the flower bed’s shape is clearly visible from the top of the monument’s steps, but less so at ground level, which often results in it being overlooked by visitors.

After obtaining Congressional approval to erect a monument on Federal property, the Society of the First Infantry Division raised all the funds for the original monument, as well as its additions. No taxpayer money was used. However, today the monument and grounds are maintained by the National Park Service.

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Statue of the Prophet Daniel

There are a number of different public works of art on the grounds of the Headquarters of the Organization of American States, located at 200 17th Street (MAP) in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of northwest D.C.  And on this lunchtime bike ride I went there to see a statue entitled The Prophet Daniel, which is located north of the building and behind some trees near the corner of 17th Street and C Street.

The eight-foot statue depicts the prophet Daniel, one of four Major Prophets in Hebrew Scripture, along with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Daniel was the hero and traditional author of the book which bears his name, and nearly all that is known about him is derived from the book ascribed to him, making the book more than a treasure of prophetic literature but also one that paints a picture of Daniel as a man of God.

Daniel was  born around the 6th century B.C.  Although there is not much known about the early years of Daniel’s life, it is thought that he came from an upper class family, perhaps even from a royal family. His lifetime spans the whole of Jewish captivity in Babylon, where as a teenager Daniel was taken, along with other hostages, on the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar.  Daniel and the other hostages were taken into the Babylonian court and the account given in the book of Daniel begins to unfold.

The statue of Daniel was a gift from the Brazilian government in 1962.  The statue is made of concrete, and shows significant signs of weathering and age, with many of its details faded and cracked. It is a replica of a soapstone statue sculpted in 1804 by a prominent Brazilian sculptor named Antônio Francisco Lisboa, also known as Aleijadinho, which translates as “The Little Cripple.”

Aleijadinho was born in 1738, and for the first half of his exceptionally long life was perfectly healthy, and considered a man-about-town and a womanizer, despite his religious upbringing and beliefs. As a talented artist, he was much in demand and set up a workshop with apprentices while still a young man. But in the late 1770s, Aleijadinho’s entire life changed. He began to suffer from a progressively debilitating disease, thought to have been either leprosy, scleroderma or syphilis.

As the progressively severe effects of his disease took its toll, Aleijadinho became a recluse and would only venture out in the dark. His physical condition became so bad that he lost his fingers, toes and the use of his lower legs. It is said that at times the pain would get so unbareable that his apprentices had to stop him hacking away at the offending part of his body with a chisel.

In spite of his physical disabilities he also became increasingly obsessed with his work. In fact, working with hammer and chisel strapped to his wrists by his apprentices, who moved him about on a wooden trolley, he actually increased his productivity.  And it was under these conditions that he sculpted what is widely considered to be his masterpiece, the 12 massive figures of the prophets and the 64 life-size Passion figures for the Basílica do Senhor Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. The Twelve Prophets are arranged around the courtyard and stairway in front of the church.  The statue here in D.C. is a replica of the figure Daniel from that series.

Unfortunately, the series of figures was his swansong, as failing eyesight finally forced him to stop working. Aleijadinho died in 1814 at the age of 76, impoverished, forgotten and a recluse. He is buried in a simple grave in the church he attended all his life, Nossa Senhora da Conceição, in Ouro Preto, the Brazilian town where he was born and spent his entire life. 

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The Story of Daniel in the Lions Den

What is perhaps the best known story about Daniel is that of him in the den of lions, which took place near the end of his life when he was in his 80’s. Through a long life of hard work and obedience to God, Daniel had risen through the political ranks as a one of the administrators of a pagan kingdom.  In fact, Daniel was so honest and hardworking that the other government officials were jealous of him and wanted to remove him from office.  So they tried to use Daniel’s faith in God against him. They tricked the king into passing a decree that during a 30-day period, anyone who prayed to another god or man besides the king would be thrown into the lions’ den.  Daniel learned of the decree but continued to pray and worship God.  So the other government officials turned him in, and at sundown they threw Daniel into the den of lions.

At dawn the king found Daniel still alive and asked him if God had protected him.  Daniel replied, “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.” (Daniel 6:22, NIV).  The king then had the men arrested who falsely accused Daniel, and along with their wives and children, they were all thrown into the lions’ den, where they were immediately killed by the beasts.   Then the king issued another decree, ordering the people to fear and show reverence to the God of Daniel.

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The George Mason Memorial

On this lunchtime bike ride I visited the national memorial to a man who George Washington regarded as his mentor, and who was described by Thomas Jefferson as “the wisest man of his generation.” The memorial honors George Mason, and is located at 900 Ohio Drive (MAP), near the Tidal Basin and The Jefferson Memorial, in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park.

George Mason, one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, devoted himself to achieving American independence, despite being a widower with nine children to raise.  He was the author of the Fairfax Resolves that recommended a “continental congress” to preserve colonial rights.  And in 1776, as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, Mason wrote the Virginia Constitution and the landmark Virginia Declaration of Rights, the seminal document that not only influenced Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, but also France’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the United Nations’ 1954 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Although Mason was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, and took an active role in drafting the United States Constitution, he refused to sign it or participate in its signing ceremony, which occurred on this day, September 17th, in 1787.  The decision not to sign the Constitution would cost him his friendship with George Washington.  He objected with the final draft of the Constitution because, as an Anti-Federalist, he thought that the document did not contain provisions to sufficiently guarantee individual human rights and protect citizens from the power of the Federal government.  He also refused to sign the Constitution because it failed to ban the importation of slaves, an institution which he considered morally objectionable, despite the fact that he was one of the largest slaveholders in the area, possibly second only to George Washington.  In fact, he not only refused to sign the Constitution, but along with Patrick Henry he actively led a fight against its ratification.  For this he would come to be known as “the reluctant statesman.”  Four years later, after the subsequent adoption of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, Mason stated that he could finally devote his “heart to the new Government.”

The George Mason Memorial features a 72-foot long stone wall with a larger than life-sized bronze statue of Mason staring off into the distance.  He is depicted sitting with his legs crossed, holding a book, with his walking stick and hat on the bench to his right and a stack of books to his left.  The statue is situated under a trellis, in a landscaped grove of trees and flower beds set among concentric circles around a circular pool with a fountain. The memorial was designed by sculptor Wendy M. Ross and landscape architect Faye B. Harwell.

Because there were no reliable images of Mason for her to accurately render her statue of him, Ross’s depiction is based on descriptions from Mason’s family and friends, a meeting with Mason’s living relatives, and a single posthumous painting of Mason which is located at Gunston Hall, Mason’s Georgian-style mansion near the Potomac River just 24 miles south of the memorial in nearby Mason Neck, Virginia.

Harwell designed the memorial’s landscaping features to adapt to the site’s history as a formal garden, as well as Mason’s love of gardens.  The site had originally been a Victorian garden in the late 19th century, which was subsequently designated in 1902 as one of the four national gardens established by The McMillan Plan, a comprehensive planning document for the development of the national capital city’s monumental core and the park system.  In 1929, the site was redesigned as The Pansy Garden.  This garden and its accompanying fountain which was used by Harwell in the design of the memorial.

The George Mason Memorial was authorized by Congress in August of 1990, with groundbreaking just over a decade later in October of 2000. It was completed and dedicated in April of 2002, and is managed by the National Park Service.  It is the first memorial in the Tidal Basin area dedicated to an individual who did not serve as president, and among the last to be sited on the grounds of the National Mall.

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Tidal Basin Paddle Boats

The Tidal Basin is a partially man-made reservoir between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park.  And there are a number of memorials and attractions situated adjacent to the Tidal Basin.  Most famous of which are the world-renowned Japanese cherry trees, which are a focal point of the National Cherry Blossom Festival held each spring.  Other attractions include The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the George Mason Memorial.  But on this lunchtime bike ride to the Tidal Basin I went there for another reason – the Tidal Basin Paddle Boats.

The Tidal Basin Paddle Boat Dock is located on the eastern shore of the Tidal Basin, at 1501 Maine Avenue (MAP) next to the National Park Service concession stand.  You can get there from the National Mall by walking west on Independence Avenue to 15th Street, and then turning left and heading south along 15th Street toward the Jefferson Memorial.  There you will find the dock on the right.

Operated by Guest Services, Inc., both two and four-person paddle boats are available for hourly rental between March 15 and Labor Day each year, from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., weather permitting. The last boat rental is at 5:00 p.m.  Now that it’s after Labor Day, they are open between now and Columbus Day weekend from Wednesday through Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.  Again, weather permitting.

The paddle boats are a great way for tourists and D.C. natives alike to experience the 107 acres of the Tidal Basin, and at the same time take in the unique views that being out on the water affords visitors of the nearby memorials and other attractions.  It’s also a great way to spend a lunch hour.

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Victims of the Terrorist Attack on The Pentagon Memorial

There are a number of local memorials and tributes to the victims of the September 11, 2001, series of coordinated terrorist attacks launched by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States.  The most well-known of these tributes is The Pentagon Memorial, located just southwest of The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia.  Other local memorials include ones at Georgetown University Memorial Park, the memorial fountain at National Memorial Park, the Dave Bernard Memorial Garden, the 9/11 Heroes Memorial Highway, the memorial flags and plaque at Westwood Country Club, the Wilton Woods Memorial Garden, the Leckie Elementary School Garden Memorial, the Montgomery County 9/11 Memorial, and one of the more unusual ones, The Lummi Nation Totem Poles.  There are also a number of groves of trees planted as living memorials to the victims of that day, including ones located in Langden Park, Penn Branch Gateway Park, and Historic Congressional Cemetery.

In recognition of today’s 14th anniversary of the attacks, I visited another of the memorials, the group burial site in Arlington National Cemetery, known as The Victims of Terrorist Attack on the Pentagon Memorial.  Located at the southern end of Section 64, near Patton Circle (MAP), this memorial specifically commemorates the victims of the attack on the Pentagon.  It honors the five individuals for whom no identifiable remains were ever found.  A portion of the remains of 25 other victims are also buried at the site.  But the memorial honors all of the victims from that day.  The names of the 125 Pentagon employees, as well as the 53 non-terrorist passengers and 6 crewmembers who were aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the building are inscribed on the memorial.

The Victims of the Terrorist Attack on The Pentagon Memorial was commissioned by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and was dedicated on September 12, 2002, the day after the one-year anniversary of the attacks. It was designed by the Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, John C. Metzler, Jr., who drew inspiration from a memorial to the 253 dead of the United States Coast Guard ship USS Serpens, which is also located in Arlington National Cemetery.  The memorial is a 4.5 feet tall pentagonal marker, which is constructed from granite provided by Granite Industries of Vermont, Inc., the company which is also the sole provider of headstones for the cemetery.  On five sides of the memorial along the top are inscribed the words “Victims of Terrorist Attack on the Pentagon September 11, 2001”. Aluminum plaques, painted black, are inscribed with the names of the 184 victims of the terrorist attack.  There are five plaques, one for each side of the marker.  The names of those aboard Flight 77 are marked with a diamond in front of their name. The names of those for whom no remains could be identified are marked with a star in front of their name. A pentagonal base extends approximately 5 inches out and 5 inches down from the main body of the memorial.

The Victims of the Terrorist Attack on The Pentagon Memorial is one of the more somber memorials simply by virtue of its location within Arlington National Cemetery, considered among the most hallowed grounds in the country.  It’s location is also adjacent to the Pentagon, within sight of the scene of where the terrorist attack occurred.  Combine its location with the fact that the memorial also serves as the final resting place of many of the victims, and it makes this memorial one that should not be missed, especially on a day like today.

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Occoquan Regional Park

I like to take advantage of the opportunities long holiday weekends provide to venture out from D.C.’s city limits and visit some of the places in the metro area which are not as easily travelled to during a workday lunch hour bike ride.  For this Labor Day weekend, I decided to go for an early morning ride and visit Occoquan Regional Park.

Administered by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, Occoquan Regional Park is located at 9751 Ox Road, in Fairfax County, Virginia (MAP).  It is situated on the banks of the Occoquan River, a tributary of the Potomac River, and is directly across from the Town of Occoquan, which is in neighboring Prince William County.  The park is composed of approximately 400 acres of recreational space which is comprised of dense forests as well as open spaces, and includes picnic shelters and gazebos, soccer and baseball fields, volleyball courts, a batting cage, and a marina with a fishing pier, sundeck, boat launch and kayak rentals.  And although it is not mentioned on the park’s website or in any guidebooks, it is one of my favorite places to pick wild blackberries.

The park also contains several attractions of historical significance, including preserved Civil War arsenals, the site of the Women Suffrage Prison at Occoquan Workhouse, and the Lorton Prison Beehive Brick Kiln.  The prison was in operation in 1917, and housed women who dared to speak out in favor of the right to vote for women.  It even house women picketers who were arrested in front of The White House.  And the kiln was in operation from the turn of the century until the late 1960’s, and was a primary local source of the red bricks used in constructing many of the historic buildings which can be seen throughout Northern Virginia.  I hope to visit these places and learn more about them in the future.

And last but not least, the park contains not only a paved cycling trail, but is also one of the few places in the region to serve as a trailhead for and site within multiple routes of regional and national significance.  These include: Park lands, trails and associated waters that are part of the Fairfax Cross-County Trail; the diverse, braided network of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail; an historic journey commemorated by the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail; and the Occoquan Water Trail, recognized as both a National Recreation Trail and part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Network.

With all that is has to offer, Occoquan Regional Park serves not only as a destination in and of itself, but as a starting point as well.

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Protest Van

I never know what kind of protest I might come across when I go for a bike ride in D.C., but I can practically guarantee that I will see at least one protest.  From the hate-filled protests by the Westboro Baptist Church, to people flying the Confederate flag, to groups that gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building whenever a controversial decision is announced, to The White House Peace Vigil, this city always has somebody somewhere protesting something.

One of my favorite kinds of protests are the ones like this van, which I saw on a recent bike ride, that combine advocating for a cause with an unusual vehicle.  These “Rolling Protests” on wheels often travel throughout the city, so you never know when the timing will be just right to happen upon one.

But even after stopping to read the writing that appears all over it, I’m still not quite sure what the owner of this van is protesting.  It is covered with religious writings that mention Jesus, the Holy Ghost and Jehovah, as well as political writings that touch on a number of diverse subjects, including government corruption, outsourcing jobs, hate crimes, and Bain Capital.  There are also phrases on the van which read “God is Jesus a Black Man from Egypt Ham Land” and “The Holy Ghost is Against Kroger Texas.”  The van’s license plate indicates it is from Texas, and reads “7 Jesus”.

If you click on the photos included in this blog post you will be able to see the full size versions of the photos, which make the schizophrenic-like writing on the van easier to read.   So if you do, and you think you understand the van owner’s message, please let me know.

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