Archive for October, 2015

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Monument to Guglielmo Marconi

On this lunchtime bike ride I rode to northwest D.C.’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood to see a memorial to Guglielmo Marconi. The art deco monument is a public artwork by American sculptor Attilio Piccirilli and architect Joseph Freedlander, and is located at the intersection of 16th and Lamont Streets (MAP).  It stands as a tribute to Italian inventor and electrical engineer Guglielmo Marconi, and was erected in 1941.  The artwork is listed on both the District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.

The sculpture features two bronze pieces. In the front is a bust of Marconi which sits on a rectangular granite base. Behind the bust is the second bronze figure resting on another granite base. The second bronze is an allegorist female figure sitting on a globe with her legs stretched out behind her. She points her left arm straight in front of her while her right arm is raised and bent at the elbow. She is naked with a small piece of drapery on her lap.  According to Piccirilli she is “the Wave”, representing “Marconi’s contribution to science.”

Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy, on April 25, 1874, the second son of Giuseppe Marconi, an Italian country gentleman, and Annie Jameson, daughter of Andrew Jameson of Daphne Castle in the County Wexford, Ireland. He was educated privately at Bologna, Florence and Leghorn.

At the age of 21, he began conducting laboratory experiments at his father’s country estate at Pontecchio, where he succeeded in sending wireless signals over a distance of one and a half miles. When his first transmissions in 1895 did not interest Italian authorities, he went to London.  There he formed the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company in 1896.  He demonstrated his system successfully in London, on Salisbury Plain and across the Bristol Channel.  And later that year he was granted the world’s first patent for a system of wireless telegraphy.  In July of the following year he formed The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company Limited, which he later re-named Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company Limited.  He went on to make millions off his inventions and businesses.

Marconi went on to a number of different endeavors later in life.  He became an active Italian Fascist and an apologist for their ideology. He enlisted in the Italian Army as a Lieutenant, and was later promoted to Captain, and eventually to Commander in the Navy.  For his military service during World War I he received the Italian Military Medal.  He was even appointed to represent Italy at the Paris Peace Conference after World War I.  Later, Marconi invented a wave gun device, which he demonstrated for Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The gun could disable electrical systems, which he demonstrated by disabling a number of automobiles. Marconi was also one of ninety-eight scientists who were reported to have gone to South America, where they built a city in an extinct volcanic crater in the southern jungles of Venezuela.  In their secret city, financed by the great wealth they had accumulated during their lives, they continued Marconi’s work on solar energy, cosmic energy, and anti-gravity.

Marconi and his inventions also had a role in helping to save some of the passengers of the RMS Titanic when it hit an iceberg and sank on the night of June 15, 1912.  Jack Phillips and Harold Bride, the two radio operators aboard the Titanic, were not employed by the White Star Line, but rather by the Marconi International Marine Communication Company.  After the sinking of the ocean liner, radio contact was made with the RMS Carpathia, which rescued and took aboard the passengers who survived.  Then when the Carpathia arrived in New York, Marconi went aboard to talk with Bride, the surviving radio operator.  Marconi later gave evidence to the Court of Inquiry into the loss of Titanic regarding the marine telegraphy’s functions and the procedures for emergencies at sea. Britain’s postmaster-general summed up, referring to the Titanic disaster, “Those who have been saved, have been saved through one man, Mr. Marconi … and his marvelous invention.” Ironically, Marconi had been offered free passage on Titanic maiden voyage, but was not aboard because he had taken a different ship, the Lusitania.

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Westboro Baptist Church Protestor

Westboro Baptist Church Protestors

Westboro Baptist Church is an unaffiliated Baptist church, at least technically. In actuality, it is one of the most abhorrent and rabid hate groups in the United States.  And on this lunchtime bike ride I stopped to watch a couple of its members, who were here in D.C. actively protesting on the sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in front of the White House.

The church originated in 1955 as a branch of the East Side Baptist Church in Topeka, about three miles west of the Kansas State capitol. East Side Baptist Church initially hired a man named Fred Phelps to be an associate pastor, and then promoted him to be the pastor of their new church plant, Westboro Baptist, in a residential neighborhood on the west side of Topeka. Soon after it was established, Phelps broke all ties with East Side Baptist. Since that time it has basically been a family-based cult of personality built around its patriarch, Fred Phelps. And despite Phelps’ death in March of 2014, the church continues to remain focused on the hatred he cultivated.

Typified by its slogan, “God Hates Fags,” the Westboro group is best known for its harsh anti-gay beliefs, and hate speech which is usually directed against LGBT people, Jews and politicians. The hateful rhetoric can often be seen in the crude signs its members carry at their frequent protests, like this one. The group began its “picketing ministry,” meaning their practice of holding controversial protests to raise awareness of the church and its beliefs, in 1991 in a nearby park in Topeka, alleging it was a den of anonymous homosexual activity. Soon their protests had spread throughout the city, and within three years the church was traveling across the country.

The group claims to claim to have picketed more than 40,000 times, and claims to conduct an average of six protests in different locations every day. Many of the targets of the group’s protests seem to be chosen at random. Examples of places where the group has picketed include Kansas City Chiefs football games, the Indianapolis 500, Broadway musicals, the headquarters of Twitter, President Obama’s daughters’ schools, Comic-Con, public appearances by Bob Dole, and Justin Bieber concerts.

But it was in 1998 that Westboro came into the national spotlight, when they were featured on national news programs for picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man from Wyoming who was beaten to death by two men because of his homosexuality. Since that time the Westboro group, also sometimes referred to as “Phelpses,” have made a point of picketing at funerals for the publicity and notoriety in generates. They have conducted protests at: the funerals of three students who were killed in a house fire at the University of Wisconsin; the funerals of the victims of the Sago mine disaster in West Virginia; the funeral of former Mormon Church president Gordon B. Hinckley in Utah; the Arizona funeral of Christina Green, a 9-year-old victim of the 2011 Tucson shooting in which Representative Gabrielle Giffords was also shot; the Sandy Hook School shooting victims’ funerals in Newtown, Connecticut, and; recording artist Michael Jackson’s funeral in California.  And as if protesting the funerals of tragic deaths of gay individuals and celebrities were not extreme enough, the group expanded to include protesting at the funerals of American military members killed in the service of their country.

I guess I can sum up my thoughts and impressions of the protestors I watched and the group they represent by saying that they enabled me to find the only thing on which I can say that I side with the Ku Klux Klan.  The Klan, the white supremacy hate group which has been known to use terrorism aimed at groups or individuals whom they oppose, recently felt the need to repudiate the Westboro Baptist Church and its beliefs and activities.  The Klan even participated in a counter-protest when the Westboro group held a protest at Arlington National Cemetery.  Exactly how evil does your organization have to be to have the Ku Klux Klan say, “Ummm … yeah … they’re too extreme and evil for us.”

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Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

On this three-day Columbus Day holiday weekend I ventured to the outer areas of the D.C. metro area, where I visited the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located approximately 25 miles due south of the city, at 13950 Dawson Beach Road (MAP), where the Occoquan River meets the Potomac River in Woodbridge, Virginia .

Up until the 1940’s, the site was a popular tourist spot known as Dawson Beach. Then in 1950 the U.S. Army purchased the site. Named Harry Diamond Laboratories, the Army initially used the area for a radio transmitting station. In the 1970s, the base’s mission shifted to top secret research. Electromagnetic pulse testing and sight lines for security kept the vegetation low, primarily in grasslands. The base was eventually closed in the 1990s, and ownership of the 644-acre site was transferred to the Department of the Interior’s United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Originally referred to as the Marumsco National Wildlife Refuge, the refuge was officially established in 1998 and renamed the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.   Today it consists of a mix of wetlands, native grasslands and forest areas that provide a diversity of habitats for wide variety of species. The wetland habitats cover about half of the refuge and include wet meadows, bottomland hardwoods, open freshwater marsh, and tidally influenced marshes and streams. Upland meadows and mature forest comprised mostly of oak, hickory and beech trees are interspersed among the wetlands.

The unusual number and interspersion of habitats provides visitors an opportunity to view a wide variety of wildlife species and habitats in a relatively small area. The plant diversity of this refuge is outstanding in that over 650 plant species are known to be present. The refuge also boasts being able to documented over 220 different types of birds which are either native to the area or are migratory birds passing through, many of which are uncommon or rare in the region.

The refuge has approximately four miles of old roads are reserved for foot traffic, overlapping among three circular routes. It also has two miles of roads which are reserved for motor vehicle and bicycle access. Information is posted at the visitor contact station and at trail heads.

The highlights for me included seeing white tailed deer, a red fox, a turkey, more than a dozen rabbits, wood ducks, migratory geese, painted turtles and a nesting bald eagle.  As much as I enjoyed seeing all of the wildlife, it made me sorry that I only had my cell phone with which to take photographs. On my next visit I will definitely be taking along a good camera.

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

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Tomb of the Unknowns

Although it is one of the most universally recognized of the numerous monuments and memorials located within the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery (MAP), the memorial I rode there to see on this lunchtime bike ride does not have an official name. It is most commonly referred to as either the Tomb of the Unknowns, or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but it has never been officially named.

In March of 1921 the United States Congress approved the burial of the unidentified American soldier in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery. So an unknown soldier was exhumed from an American military cemetery in France, and transported back to the United States, where he laid in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Armistice Day of that year. Then, in a ceremony presided over by President Warren G. Harding on November 11, 1921, the unknown soldier was laid to rest and the Tomb of the Unknowns was dedicated as a monument to all those who had fallen during World War I.

Over the years the monument has changed a number of times in regard to both its appearance and purpose. In July of 1926, five years after its dedication, Congress authorized and appropriated money for the completion of a superstructure on top of the Tomb. A design competition was held and won by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones. The Tomb was completed without formal ceremony in April of 1932. But the biggest change to the Tomb took place in August of 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill to select and pay tribute to the unknown soldiers of World War II and the Korean War. Finally, on Memorial Day in 1984, President Ronald Reagan presided over the internment of an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War.

Interestingly, with subsequent improvements in DNA testing, the remains of the unknown from the Vietnam War were identified as those of Air Force Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Lộc, Vietnam, in 1972. The identification was announced in June of 1998. The following month, Blassie’s remains were sent home to his family in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Today, the slab over the crypt that once held the remains of the Vietnam Unknown has been replaced. The original inscription of “Vietnam” and the dates of the conflict has been changed to “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen” as a reminder of the commitment of the Armed Forces to the fullest possible accounting of missing service members.

One of the most distinctive and unique features of the Tomb of the Unknowns is that it is guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in any and all kinds of weather.  In fact, there has been a Sentinel, as the guards are known, on duty in front of the Tomb every minute of every day since 1937. Sentinels, all of whom are volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the U.S. Army. Also known as The Old Guard, the Sentinels are headquartered at nearby Fort Myer, which is adjacent to the cemetery. It is considered one of the highest honors to serve as a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

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Statue of Sir Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill is a widely-known historic figure. When asked, a majority of people would be able to tell you who he was – the Prime Minister of England during World War II, and one of the greatest world leaders of the 20th century. But most people know relatively little about the man himself, despite the fact that he was one of the most diverse, interesting and admired men in recent history.

The following are some examples of the little-known facts that even people who know of Churchill don’t know about him.

  • Like his father, Churchill was a citizen of England. However, his mother was an American. And late in his life, Churchill became an American citizen when President John F. Kennedy made him the first person to be made an honorary American citizen, an honor that has been conferred on only two people during their lifetimes. The other was Mother Teresa.
  • As a young man he was often bullied and teased mercilessly by other children. Churchill struggled with a stutter and a lateral lisp, and was mocked for his red hair, for which he was given the cruel nickname “Copperknob”.
  • Churchill was extremely accident prone. In fact, he was so accident prone that the world is fortunate he survived into adulthood. During his lifetime Churchill fell off a bridge, fell several times from horses, nearly drowned in a lake, dislocated his shoulder while disembarking from a ship, crashed a plane while learning to fly, and was hit by a car when he looked the wrong way while crossing New York’s Fifth Avenue. None of these incidents, however, left him too worse for wear.
  • For Churchill it was not the third, but rather the fourth time that was a charm. Churchill proposed to three different women during his twenties. But all three said no.  It wasn’t until he proposed to his future wife, Clementine Hozier, that his proposal was accepted.  He and his darling Clementine remained married for 57 years, and the bond between the Churchills remained strong throughout. The couple would often send one another affectionate letters during long periods of absence – sometimes decorated with handdrawn illustrations. The pair also had pet names – she was his “Kat” and he was her “Pug”.
  • Much like the soon-to-be-former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, Churchill was an incredibly emotional man. He would often breakdown into sobs during meetings when he was given bad news, and he can even be heard trying to hold back tears in some of broadcasts and recordings of his speeches.
  • Like many Englishmen, Churchill often enjoyed his afternoon tea. But far from being a teetotaler, Churchill also frequently enjoyed a drink, and particularly Champagne. He once was quoted as saying, “I could not live without Champagne. In victory I deserve it. In defeat I need it.”
  • He also enjoyed good cigars, and was so notorious for his smoking that there is a Cuban cigar named in his honor.
  • Churchill claimed to have witnessed Abraham Lincoln’s ghost walking the corridors of the White House.  He is not the only one to make this claim though.  Both Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, also claimed to have encountered President Lincoln’s ghost in the White House.
  • When Churchill retired he moved to the South of France to concentrate on his writing. Under the pen name “Winston S. Churchill”, he wrote about 20 books over the course of his life, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • Churchill could be tactful, but didn’t always choose to be.  He once defined tact as “the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”  But in response to a British politician named Bessie Braddock, who accused him of being drunk, he is quoted as saying, “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”
  • Using the pseudonym “Charles Morin”, Churchill was a prolific and accomplished painter. Not only did he use this creative outlet to derive great pleasure, but in it he found a haven to overcome his clinical depression, which he referred to as his “black dog”, a condition from which he suffered throughout his life. He produced almost 600 works of art during his lifetime.
  • In addition to being an artist and a writer, Churchill was, oddly enough, also an amateur bricklayer, and was at one time a member of the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers.  In his retirement he constructed brick buildings and garden walls and at his country home.
  • Lastly, Churchill was also a passionate breeder of butterflies. As a young man, he was a serious butterfly collector on his travels across the world. In fact, his interest in butterflies can be traced back as far as the age of six, when he wrote to his mother, “I am never at a loss to do anything while I am in the country for I shall be occupied with ‘butterflying’ all day.” In his later years, he built a butterfly habitat garden, complete with a brick breeding house, at Chartwell, his country home in England. He even attempted to bring back an extinct species, the black-veined white, by breeding imported caterpillars.

So on today’s lunchtime bike ride, I decided to go see a local statue erected in honor of this joint-citizenship-holding, red-headed, stuttering, clumsy, emotional, clinically-depressed, alcohol-drinking, cigar-smoking, ghost-seeing, book-writing, sometimes-tactless, artistic, bricklaying, butterfly-breeding, world leader.

The statue of Sir Winston Churchill is located at the British Embassy, which was the first embassy built in an area of D.C. now known as Embassy Row.  It is located at 3100 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP), in the Woodland-Normanstone Terrace neighborhood of northwest D.C.  The sculpture was created by an American sculptor named William Mozart McVey, and rests on a granite base.  Underneath the base is a time capsule and soil from England’s Blenheim Palace, from his rose garden at Chartwell, and from the Brooklyn home of his mother. The time capsule will be opened in the year 2063 to celebrate the centenary of the date on which Churchill was given honorary U.S. citizenship.

Churchill is depicted making the “V” for Victory sign with his right hand, and holding a cigar and a cane at his side with his left hand.  He is dressed in a suit, vest, and bow tie.  And symbolically, Churchill is positioned striding forward, with one of the cast bronze statue’s feet on British soil inside the marked embassy grounds, while with the other foot he is stepping into D.C., and thus in the United States.  This was done to symbolize Churchill’s Anglo-American parentage, his dual citizenship, and his work towards the maintenance of the Anglo-American alliance.

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The plaque at the base of the statue reads, “Sir Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965 This statue, by William McVey (1902-1995), was erected in 1966 by public subscription, on the initiative of the English Speaking Union. One foot stands on United States soil, one on British Embassy grounds: a symbol of Churchill’s Anglo-American descent, and of the Alliance he did so much to forge, in war and peace.”