Archive for the ‘Historic Sites’ Category

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Georgia Douglas Johnson Residence

You never know what history you’re going to find when you’re riding a bike around this city.  During this ride, as I was riding in the Cardoza neighborhood near U Street in northwest D.C., I happened upon a historical marker on a cast iron fence that surrounded a grey townhouse at the end of the block at the corner of S and 15th Streets.  In turned out to have been placed there to mark the house, located at 1461 S Street (MAP), where Georgia Douglas Johnson once lived.  So naturally, I later researched her to find about the woman who once lived at that house, and was important enough to be recognized.

Georgia Douglas Johnson was an African American poet and playwright.  She is best known for her collections of poetry: “The Heart of a Woman” (1918) (see below), “Bronze” (1922), “An Autumn Love Cycle” (1928) and later, “Share My World” (1962).  In addition to poetry, Georgia also wrote over two dozen plays, and authored a newspaper column for over a decade.  Throughout her life she wrote 200 poems, 28 plays and 31 short stories. For her works, she was considered an important member of the “New Negro Movement,”  an intellectual, social, and artistic explosion centered in Harlem, New York, spanning the 1920s.  The New Nego Movement would later become known as the “Harlem Renaissance.”

Born in Atlanta, Georgia on September 10, 1877, Georgia Blanche Douglas Camp was born to Laura Douglas and George Camp.  Her mother was of African and Native American descent, and her father was of African-American and English heritage.  She grew up and received her education in Georgia, graduating from Atlanta University’s Normal School in 1896.  She then went on to become a teacher, but resigned to pursue her love of music, attending Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio.  After studying at Oberlin, she returned to Georgia and returned to the educational field.

She married Henry Lincoln Johnson, an Atlanta lawyer and prominent Republican Party member, on September 28, 1903.  Henry’s law career brought them to D.C. in 1910, when Henry received an appointment as the Recorder of Deeds from President William Howard Taft.   It was his career that kept them here as well.  So although she was considered an important member of the Harlem Renaissance, she was never a New York City resident, neither when the movement was in full swing in the 1920s or after.  Instead, she and her family continued to live here in D.C.

Georgia and her husband had two sons, Henry Lincoln Johnson, Jr., and Peter Douglas Johnson.  But by the time they became teenagers, her husband passed away, leaving her alone to raise their boys.  This began a difficult period in her life, as she struggled to raise two boys and provide for her family financially.  As a gesture of appreciation for her late husband’s loyalty and service, President Calvin Coolidge, a devoted member of the Republican Party, appointed Georgia the Commissioner of Conciliation, a position within the Department of Labor.  So throughout the last 50 years of her life, Georgia raised and supported her family alone, while continuing and expanding her writings.

Also after her husband’s death, Johnson began to host weekly “Saturday Salons” for friends and authors, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Anne Spencer, Richard Bruce Nugent, Alain Locke, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimké and Eulalie Spence, and many of the other noted women writers of what would become known as the Harlem Renaissance. The S Street House, which became known at that time as the “S Street Salon,” became a satellite of sorts for others who were part of the Harlem Renaissance to meet, socialize, discuss their work, and exchange ideas while they were visiting the nation’s segregated capital. Gloria called her home the “Half Way House” for friends traveling, and where those with no money and no place to stay would be welcome.

Gloria died in 1969 at the age of 85.  And as she lay in her deathbed, one of her sister playwrights and a former participant of the S Street Salon, sat by her bedside “stroking her hand and repeating the words, ‘Poet Georgia Douglas Johnson’.”


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

The Heart of a Woman

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

Note:  The house has undergone numerous renovations over the years, during which previous owners divided it into flats, and later turned it into a group home.  It was recently renovated and restored.  And last year, the six-bedroom, six-bathroom, 4,100-square-foot property was on the market for $2.875 million.

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C&O Canal Completion Marker

The Washington Monument is an iconic obelisk that for many symbolizes the city of D.C.   But it is not the oldest obelisk in the city.  That honor goes to the one enclosed by a cast iron fence on the northwest corner of the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge (MAP), located in the city’s Georgetown neighborhood, that commemorates the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.  The C&O Canal’s monument is approximately ten feet tall, and was dedicated in 1850.  While that was two years after construction began on The Washington Monument, enormous structures necessarily take more time to build and the 555-foot Washington Monument wasn’t completed until 1885.

Despite being right next to a sidewalk along one of the busy streets of Georgetown, the C&O Canal obelisk is often overlooked these days by impatient passersby as they hurry along their way.  The canal itself is often overlooked as well, considered just part of the scenery.  But in its heyday the canal, also known as the “Grand Old Ditch,” was one of the primary modes of transporting materials into and out of the city for almost a century, operating from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac River from D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland.

Throughout the canal’s 184.5 mile length the elevation change rises and falls a total of 605 feet, which necessitated the construction of 74 canal locks (a device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels), 11 aqueducts (bridge structures that carry navigable waterway canals over obstacles) to cross major streams, and more than 240 culverts (structures that allows water to flow under an obstacle) to cross smaller streams.  A 3,118-foot-long tunnel, named the Paw Paw Tunnel, was also constructed to allow the canal to bypass the Paw Paw Bends, a six-mile stretch of the Potomac River containing five horseshoe-shaped bends.  An extension of the canal to the Ohio River at Pittsburgh was planned but never built.

While in operation the canal was integral to transporting sand, gravel, clay, paving stones, fire bricks, cement and lumber for construction of the expanding city, as well as bringing slaughtered hogs and meat, fresh and salted fish, flour, oats and grains, corn meal, whiskey and spirits, as well as coal from the Allegheny Mountains and other general merchandise to feed and provide for the city’s burgeoning population.

Without the canal, the city would not be what it is today.  That’s a lot of significance symbolized by a small, overlooked obelisk.

    

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

Note:  The canal way is now maintained as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, with a multi-use trail that follows the old towpath.  The canal and towpath trail parallels the Potomac River and extends from D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 184.5 miles.  Together with the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage, a rail trail where the extension of the C&O Canal to Pittsburgh would have been if it had been completed, they form a continuous 334.5-mile trail between D.C. and Pittsburgh.

The Original Founding Church of Scientology

Scientology is a body of beliefs and practices originally conceived and launched by American science fiction author Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, more popularly known as L. Ron Hubbard.  He initially developed a program of ideas he called Dianetics, which was distributed through The Dianetics Foundation.  However, the foundation quickly entered bankruptcy, and Hubbard lost the rights to the program’s foundational publication, entitled “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.”  He then rebranded the program as a “religion” and renamed it Scientology, retaining the same terminology, doctrines, the E-meter, and the practice of auditing from Dianetics.  Within a year, he regained the rights to the book and combined both under the umbrella of the “Church of Scientology.”

On this bike ride I stopped by Hubbard’s former residence here in D.C., located at 1812 19th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.  Formerly the residence of Senator James Jones of Arkansas, and of Virginia Congressman Claude Swanson, the house is now officially known as the L. Ron Hubbard House and is listed that way on the National Register of Historic Places.  The house was interesting, and made me want to learn more about L. Ron Hubbard, and the “church” he founded.

The 19th Street house was not Hubbard’s first residence in the city.  He also lived in D.C. while briefly attending George Washington University in the 1930’s, before dropping out to focus on his career as a science fiction novelist.  But the house is where Hubbard lived in the mid to late 1950’s, during which he incorporated the Church of Scientology, and the house as its first official “church.”  It is also where the first Scientology wedding ceremony took place.

Additionally, the house was the site of a raid in 1963 by the Food and Drug Administration that resulted in the seizure of more than 100 electropsychometers, or “E-meters.”  These devices are used as part of the church’s “auditing” process in which auditors measure the electrodermal activity of a prospective new member, referred to as a “preclear,” in order to identify “engrams,” or detailed mental images or memories of traumatic events from the past that occurred when the person was either “partially or fully unconscious.”  According to Scientology, the auditing process “lifts the burdened individual from a level of spiritual distress to a level of insight and inner self-realization.”

The 1963 Federal raid at the house would be a sign of things yet to come.  Scientology is seen as one of the most controversial and secretive “religions” in the United States.  But its mysterious and paranoid character, combined with its connection to celebrities like Tom Cruise, make it an inherently intriguing entity.  The following are just a few of the beliefs, events, scandals, and other unusual and interesting facts about Scientology and its founder:

  • According to L. Ron Hubbard, 75 million years ago an evil alien named Xenu was the dictator of the Galactic Confederacy.  Xenu brought millions of immortal disembodied spirits, or “thetans,” to “Teegeeack” (a.k.a. Earth), and placed them around volcanoes.  Thetans have had innumerable past lives, including in extraterrestrial worlds and cultures.  The thetans remained trapped on Teegeeack, and jumped into newborns’ bodies.  Xenu then implanted the newborns with false images of historical events, which Hubbard claimed never occurred like the death of Jesus Christ.  These thetans, according to Hubbard, are human souls.
  • Scientologists believe mental illness doesn’t exist and, therefore, do not believe in psychology and are vehemently against using psychiatric medication.  Hubbard believed that psychiatrists were evil and even characterized them as terrorists.  According to Hubbard, multiple thetans crowded in our bodies are the source of our anxieties and fears.
  • The Church of Scientology believes that there is no set dogma on God and everyone can have one’s own understanding of God. There is more of an emphasis on the godlike nature of people and to the workings of the human mind.
  • Scientologists also celebrate holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and many other diverse religious holidays depending on other religious beliefs, as Scientologists very often retain their original affiliations with faiths in which they were raised.
  • When Sara Northup, Hubbard’s second wife, threatened to leave him unless he got psychiatric help, he reportedly kidnapped their daughter Alexis. According to written accounts from Northup, Hubbard told her he “cut [Alexis] into little pieces” and dropped her in a river. Then he would call back and tell Sara that their daughter was alive.
  • On July 8, 1977, the FBI raided Scientology’s Los Angeles, Hollywood and D.C. offices, which at the time was the biggest raid in the history of the Bureau.  The raids were part of “Operation Snow White,” in which Scientology operatives infiltrated, wiretapped, and stole documents from government offices, most notably those of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, in an attempt to protect their public image.  Eleven highly placed Church executives, including Hubbard’s wife and second-in-command of the “church,” Mary Sue Hubbard, pleaded guilty and were convicted in Federal court of obstructing justice, burglary of government offices, and theft of documents and government property.
  • In furtherance of protecting Scientology’s public image, the church tried to censor Wikipedia by repeatedly attempting to remove information critical of it.  Because of this, the website has banned any organization affiliated with Scientology from editing its articles.
  • The Church of Scientology engages in what’s called “Dead Agenting” to combat any negative comments about the Church of Scientology and Scientology itself. The church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, created the church’s “Dead Agent” Doctrine with rules on how to govern and retaliate against negativity.
  • One of the Church’s longtime goals was to be recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a fully tax-exempt religion.  It is alleged that in pursuit of this goal, Scientology members filed approximately 2,400 total lawsuits against IRS employees, and private investigators were sent to IRS conferences and conventions to dig up information.  Eventually, in October of 1993, the church and the IRS reached an agreement under which the church discontinued all of its litigation against the IRS and paid $12.5 million to settle a tax debt said to be around a billion dollars, and the IRS granted 153 Scientology-related corporate entities tax exemption as well as the right to declare their own subordinate organizations tax-exempt in future.
  • Many other countries, including Germany, France, Canada, and the United Kingdom, have rejected Scientology and its applications for tax exemption, charitable status, and recognition as a religion.
  • The Cult Awareness Network listed Scientology as the number one most dangerous cult. The Church of Scientology responded to this “label” by suing the Network into bankruptcy and now owns the Network. 
  • Believing that if it gets celebrities to endorse Scientology then the public by and large will follow suit, the church has a long history of seeking out actors, writers, artists, and musicians, stating that it can improve their careers and lives.  Hubbard developed a program in 1955 called ‘Project Celebrity’ which governs celebrity recruitment and offers rewards to Scientologists who recruit targeted celebrities.  The Church of Scientology also runs special “celebrity centers,” with the main ones being in Los Angeles, Florida, Paris, and Nashville.
  • Famous people who are or have previously been involved in Scientology include: actors Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Kelly Preston, Anne Archer, Catherine Bell, Priscilla Presley, Jenna Elfman, Giovanni Ribisi, Bijou Phillips, Juliette Lewis, Alanna Masterson, and Laura Prepon; musicians Sonny Bono, Beck, Chick Corea, Isaac Hayes, Edgar Winter, and rapper Doug E. Fresh; TV show host Greta Van Susteren, and; cult leader and mass murderer Charles Manson.
  • After L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, a Scientology publication was released which stated that he invented music three million years ago, making him the original musician.
  • Scientologists are obsessed with the apocalypse and are constantly preparing for it by building secret bunkers deep in the woods. These bunkers have huge vaults with footage and images of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, and nuclear-proof shelters.
  • L. Ron Hubbard has written over 275 published books in topics ranging from science fiction to romance, making him a Guinness Book of Records holder for the most published and translated books by one author.
  • The works of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, are protected in a huge vault built into the side of a mountain. His writings, engraved on stainless steel tablets, are safely stored in thousands of heat-resistant titanium boxes. The tablets are even playable on a solar-powered turntable. The mountainside where the tablets are stored, called Trementia Base near Trementia, New Mexico, is guarded by the Church of Spiritual Technology, a division of the Church of Scientology that manages the church’s copyright affairs. Hubbard’s other writings, films, and recordings are also archived here for future generations.
  • L. Ron Hubbard claimed that he was many people before he was born on March 13, 1911. He told his associates he was once Cecil Rhodes, the British businessman and diamond mining magnate. Hubbard also once said, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.”  According to an estate filing after his death in 1986, Hubbard was worth $26 million.

The Original Founding Church of Scientology

The White House – South Portico

I have taken lunchtime bike rides to, and subsequently written in this blog about, a number of things that are either part of or in some way connected to the White House.  I’ve written about Blair House, the White House’s guest house.  I’ve written about the White House’s annual gingerbread exhibit.  I’ve written about the White House Peace Vigil in Lafayette Square Park adjacent to the White House.  I’ve written about the post-presidential residences of former presidents Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama.  I’ve also written about a secret entrance to the White House.  I even have a page about presidents and other politicians riding bikes.  But despite having been there countless times, I have never written about the actual White House itself. 

So during today’s lunchtime bike ride I rode by the building (MAP), which at various times in history has been known as the “President’s Palace,” the “President’s House,” and the “Executive Mansion.”  It wasn’t until 1901 that President Theodore Roosevelt officially gave it its current name.  And then after I got back I learned more about what is now known as the White House.

President George Washington chose the site for the White House in 1791. The cornerstone was laid in 1792 and construction began soon after.  Irish-born architect James Hoban, who won the right to design it by winning a competition in 1792, designed the neoclassical architectural-style building.  He modelled his design on Leinster House in Ireland, which today houses the Irish legislature.  It took eight years to construct the building, with completion occurring in 1800.  However, President Washington died in 1799, meaning he never set even set foot in the completed building.  Its first residents were President John Adams and his wife Abigail, and they moved in before the house was actually finished. His term in office was almost over by the time they moved in, and only six rooms had been finished.

The White House has changed significantly over the years.  When President Thomas Jefferson moved into it in 1801, he had the building expanded outward, creating the two colonnades that were meant to conceal stables and storage.  Then in 1814 (during the War of 1812) the interior was destroyed and much of the exterior was charred by the British Army, necessitating that it be rebuilt.  In 1817, during President James Monroe’s administration, the south and north porticos were added.  The West Wing was added in 1901 during President William McKinley’s presidency, and during President William Howard Taft’s administration, the Oval Office was first constructed in 1909.  Other expansions, additions and remodeling projects took place under Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft.  And during the administration of President Harry S. Truman, it underwent a complete renovation, at which time all of the interior rooms were completely dismantled and a new internal load-bearing steel frame was constructed inside the walls before the interior rooms were rebuilt.

Although the original White House was completed in 1800, it wasn’t until 1833 that President Andrew Jackson had indoor plumbing installed. And it took another 20 years, until 1853 during President Franklin Pierce’s administration, that all of its bathrooms had hot and cold water running to them. And the White House didn’t have electricity until 1891, nearly a century after it was first built.  Electric lighting was still a fairly new concept when President Benjamin Harrison had it installed.  And because he was worried he would be shocked if he touched a light switch, he never once personally turned a light on or off himself.  In fact, he and his family were so scared of touching the switches that they would leave the lights on all night.

Today the White House measures 168 feet long and 85 1/2 feet wide without porticoes, or 152 feet wide with porticoes.  The overall height of the White is 70 feet on the south and 60 feet 4 inches on the north.  The building totals 55,000 square feet of floor space on six levels, two basements, two public floors, and two floors for the First Family.  This makes President Donald Trump’s current primary residence more than five times the size of his 10,996 square-foot penthouse that occupies sections of floors 66 through 68 of the Trump Tower skyscraper on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, but smaller than his 62,500-square-foot mansion named Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. 

The White House is comprised of 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, and contains 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, and three elevators.  It has two dining rooms, the larger of which can comfortably seat 140 people.  And its other amenities include a movie theater (officially called the White House Family Theater), a billiard room, a music room, a jogging track, a tennis court, and a putting green, as well as a bowling alley, a flower shop, a chocolate shop, a carpenter’s shop, and a dentist’s office in the basements.  It also has indoor and outdoor swimming pools.  But only the outdoor pool is currently in use.  The indoor pool, which opened in 1933 for use by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was filled in by President Richard Nixon and is underneath the floor of what is currently the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.

Other interesting facts about the White House:

  • The White House was accredited as a museum in 1988.
  • The grounds of the modern-day White House complex, which includes the Executive Residence, West Wing, East Wing, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (which houses offices for the President’s staff and the Vice President), and Blair House, a guest house, and The President’s Park and The Ellipse, covers just over 18 acres.
  • The White House was the biggest house in the United States until the Civil War.  It is currently tied with two other homes for the 34th place. The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, is now the largest house in the country.  And at 175,856 square feet, The Biltmore is well over three times the size of the White House.
  • The initial construction of the White House is reported to have cost of $232,371.83, which would be equal to $3,279,177 today.  A recent appraisal valued the White House building and its property at just under $400 million.
  • The White House is ranked second, coming in behind the Empire State Building, on the American Institute of Architects list of “America’s Favorite Architecture.”
  • The White House requires 570 gallons of paint to cover its outside surface and keep it white.
  • Each week the White House receives up to 30,000 visitors and 65,000 letters, plus nearly 3,500 phone calls, 100,000 emails, and 1,000 faxes.  It receives up to 30,000 visitors each week.
  • The White House never advertises staff positions.  All employees of the White House are found via word-of-mouth or recommendations. As a result, many employees belong to families that have been working in the White House for generations.
  • In addition to numerous dogs and cats, the White House has been home to a number of unusual pets of presidents and their families. Some of the more unusual animals include: two opossums named Mr. Protection and Mr. Reciprocity, kept by President William Henry Harrison; a pair of tiger cubs that were gifted to President Martin Van Buren; President Zachary Taylor’s horse, named Old Whitey; a mockingbird named Dick, which President Thomas Jefferson’s allowed to fly freely around the house; a snake named Emily Spinach that belonged to President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter; President John Quincy Adams’ alligator that lived in one of the bathrooms, and; two other alligators that belonged to President Herbert Hoover’s sons and sometimes roamed free within the residence.  In addition to the above, a raccoon was sent to President Calvin Coolidge to be eaten for Thanksgiving dinner, but he instead named it Rebecca and kept it as a pet.  The raccoon was in addition to President Coolidge’s other pets, that included a bear cub, two lion cubs, a bobcat, a wallaby, and a pygmy hippopotamus.
  • Because President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was paralyzed below the waist due to polio, he added elevators and ramps in 1933, making the White House one of the first wheelchair accessible government buildings in D.C., a full 57 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated it.
  • President Lyndon Johnson drove White House plumbing foreman Reds Arrington to the point of being hospitalized with a nervous breakdown over his constant demands for more water pressure in his unusual White House shower.  Mr. Arrington spent five years working on getting the White House shower up to the president’s standards, adding nozzles, upping water pressure and making the water piping hot.  The next president, Richard Nixon, took one look at the shower and said, “Get rid of this stuff.”
  • George Washington is the only president to never have lived in the White House, but his wife, Martha Washington, grew up and lived at an estate named White House Plantation.
  • Room is free for residents of the White House, but board is not.  At the end of each month, the president receives a bill for his and his family’s personal food and incidental expenses, such as dry cleaning, toothpaste, and toiletries, etc., which is then deducted from his $400,000 annual salary.
  • Eighteen couples have gotten married at the White House, the most recent of whom tied the knot in 2013, when White House photographer Pete Souza was married to Patti Lease in the Rose Garden.
  • To date, a total of 10 people have died within the White House walls.  Presidents William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor both died in the White House. Three First Ladies, Letitia Tyler, Caroline Harrison, and Ellen Wilson, passed away there, too.  Willie Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Dent, First Lady Julia Grant’s father, Elisha Hunt Allen, Minister of the Kingdom of Hawaii to the United States, and Margaret Wallace, First Lady Bess Truman’s mother all died there.  And one employee. Charles G. Ross, White House Press Secretary to President Truman, died there as well.
  • Like many other buildings and places in D.C., The White House is reported to be haunted.  Many stories persist.  But of all the haunted White House anecdotes out there, the one that really sticks involves Sir Winston Churchill.  He refused to ever again stay in the Lincoln Bedroom after President Lincoln’s ghost appeared to him beside the fireplace as he was emerging from a bath, fully nude.

This blog post contains just a small fraction of the vast amount of information and copious number of stories about the White House and its occupants.  Entire books, many of them, have been written about the famous and historic residence.  But I hope you found the information in this post interesting, and maybe learned some things you didn’t know before about the house located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

The White House – North Portico

Types of Cherry Blossom People

While I was spending time at the Tidal Basin again this afternoon I couldn’t help but notice there were almost as many people there today as cherry blossoms. And while some people were there to truly appreciate the beauty of the annual diva-ish spectacle, others in the crowd seemed to be there for other reasons. Some of these people probably saw it as the “in” thing to do, and they didn’t want to feel left out. Some were students on school field trips, and were simply glad to be outside of the confines of their classrooms. Some were members of out-of-town tour groups who seemed to be there so they could check it off their bucket lists.  And many seemed to be there just for a quick photo-op, so that they could then post a photo of the blossoms or, better yet, themselves with the blossoms, on social media.  They seemed like they were in such a hurry.  And instead of being present in the moment, these people mostly looked at the blossoms through camera lenses and cell phone screens, like they probably do with most events in theirs and their children’s lives.

But as I said, some people who were there seemed to truly appreciate the beauty. There were artists with their easels set up just off the beaten path, using paint and their imaginations to put their interpretations on canvasses. There were writers and poets lazily jotting down their impressions in leather-bound journals. There were musicians performing for others, or for just themselves, enjoying the setting in which they performed. There were also older couples on benches holding hands, and younger couples on the grass under the trees, sitting quietly with each other and simply gazing at the blossoms. Still others were leisurely strolling around and taking in the beauty that surrounded them before slowly moving on to take in even more. These are the kind of people who I saw there previously, witnessing the future promise of the emerging green buds, or the gnarly beauty of the trunks of the aged trees before they got all dressed up in their white and pink early-spring attire. They are the people who also enjoy the lesser-known but equally beautiful local sites like the colorful azaleas at the U.S. National Arboretum, the bright tulips near the Netherlands Carillon, the seasonal offerings available at The National Park Service’s Floral Library, and the flowering dogwood trees on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building. These people added to the atmosphere rather than just adding to the crowd. They were there to contemplate and be captivated by the beauty, and not just there to attend an event.

While every person had their own story and reason for being there, the people seemed to fall into two general categories. And these two types of people usually go through their entire lives in the same way they spent their time today at The Tidal Basin. One type will have temporary memories that fade into obscurity as quickly as the cherry blossoms and crowds disappear. At best they will end up with just photographs that capture the opportunity they missed to actually experience in real time the true beauty that was right in front of them.  The other type of person takes with them the memories of the moments they spent today, moments that they experienced rather than moments they chased. And it is these moments that added together make for a beautiful and appreciated life well lived.  What type of person are you?  And is it the type you want to be?

Tips for Taking Photos of D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms

There are lots of tips and tricks out there for taking great photographs of the cherry blossoms here in D.C.  Some say the lighting is the most important element, and that nothing can replace being there during the times of day when the light is best – sunrise and sunset.  Photographers have a name for this kind of light – the golden hour.  Other photographers insist that the composition of the photo is most important.  They say that it’s necessary to envision the shot in advance so that you can line things up and get the shot that you want “in camera.”  Still other photographers will advise you to switch it up.  Take some photos in more traditional ways, and then break the rules and do the opposite.  An example of this would be to use front lighting to illuminate the main subject of the photograph, and then also use backlighting with the sun in front of you so that the light streams through the pedals of the flowers.

These and other bits of advice can be helpful.  So don’t ignore them.  But my personal advice is, “don’t overthink things.”  Be mindful of what is around you, and then take photos of what interests you most.  Try to simply capture what you see if you think it’s interesting or worthwhile enough for you to want others to see it.  Unless you’re a professional photographer trying to complete an assignment for National Geographic, just show up and enjoy yourself.  And take lots of photos.  If you do this, your enjoyment will show in your photos, and others will enjoy them too.

The photos in this post were ones I took during the past week.  Some are better than others.  The worst ones you won’t see because I deleted them.  I hope you enjoy these photos.  I know I enjoyed taking them.  But even the best photos can’t capture the actual cherry blossom experience.  So more than enjoying the photos, I hope they inspire you to want to come to D.C. next spring and see the cherry blossoms in person.  That’s the only way to truly experience and appreciate just how incredibly beautiful they are.

 

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

Note:  Here are some links to past years’ posts about D.C.’s cherry blossoms:
•  Cherry Blossom Buds (2019)
•  Photo Gallery of this Year’s Cherry Blossoms (2018)
•  Cherry Blossom Stages of Development (2018)
•  The Indicator Tree (2018)
•  This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch (2017)
•  The Amur Cork Tree (2017)
•  The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin (2017)
•  Sunrise with the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Peaking of the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Annual Cherry Blossoms (2015)
•  The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin (2014)
•  The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum (2014)

The Assassination Site of President Garfield

President James A. Garfield was the 20th president of the United States, serving from March 4, 1881, until his death by assassination six and a half months later while waiting to catch a train at the Baltimore and Potomac rail station.  The site where it happened s just a few hundred yards from the 20th President’s official Presidential Memorial in an area of the city that has gone through many changes since the train station’s building and tracks were demolished in 1908 during a redesign of the National Mall.  The National Gallery of Art’s West Building is now located there (MAP).  But one thing stayed the same at the site for the first 137 years after President Garfield’s assassination.  That was the absence of a plaque or historical marker to indicate what happened there on July 2, 1881.  But that recently changed.  So on this bike ride, I went there to see the new historical marker.

When President Garfield was elected in 1880, a man named Charles Julius Guiteau falsely believed he had played a major role in his victory.  He also thought he should be rewarded with a consulship for his efforts in electing the new President.  So he submitted applications to serve in Paris or Vienna, despite the fact he spoke no French or any other  foreign language.  But when the Garfield administration rejected his applications, he decided it was because he was part of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party, and President Garfield was affiliated with the opposing Half-Breed faction of the party.  Guiteau was so offended at being rejected for a consular position that he decided President Garfield had to die so that Vice President Chester A. Arthur, who was a fellow Stalwart, would succeed him.  He thought this would not only end the war within the Republican Party, but would lead to rewards for fellow Stalwarts, including himself.

As difficult as it is to imagine in today’s political world, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was seen as a fluke due to the Civil War, and Garfield, like most people, saw no reason why the president should be guarded.  In fact, the President’s plans and schedule were often printed in the newspapers.  Knowing his schedule and where he would be, Guiteau followed Garfield several times.  But each time his plans to kill the President were frustrated, or he lost his nerve.  Then in the summer of 1881, when the President had been in office for only four months, Garfield decided to take a train trip to New England to escape the swampy summer heat of D.C.  Right after he arrived at the Baltimore and Potomac rail station, Guiteau emerged from where he had been hiding by the ladies’ waiting room and walked up to Garfield and shot him twice, once in the back and once in the arm, with an ivory-handled pistol, a gun he thought would look good in a museum.  Guiteau was quickly apprehended, and as he was led away, he stated, “I did it. I will go to jail for it. I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be President.”

The wounded President was taken upstairs to a private office in the train station, where several doctors examined him.  There they probed the wound with unwashed fingers, another thing that is difficult to imagine today.  At Garfield’s request, he was then taken back to The White House.  The physician who took charge at the train station and then at the White House was Willard Bliss, an old friend of the President’s.  About a dozen physicians, led by Dr. Bliss, were soon probing the wound, again with unsterilized fingers and instruments.

Although in considerable pain despite being given morphine, the President did not lose his sense of humor.  He asked Dr. Bliss to tell him his chances, which Bliss put at one in a hundred. The President then replied, “Well, Doctor, we’ll take that chance.”  In addition to his treatment, Garfield was also being given oatmeal porridge and milk from a cow on the White House lawn for nourishment.  However, he hated oatmeal porridge.  So when he was told that Indian chief Sitting Bull, a prisoner of the U.S. Army, was starving, Garfield initially said, “Let him starve,” but then quickly changed his mind and said, “Oh, no, send him my oatmeal.”

During the President’s treatment, Alexander Graham Bell attempted to locate the bullet with a primitive metal detector.  (The use of X-rays, which likely would have helped the President’s physicians save his life, would not be invented for another fourteen years.)  However, he was unsuccessful.  But they were able to help keep Garfield relatively comfortable in the stifling heat that he had been trying to escape with one of the first successful air conditioning units, which reduced the temperature in the sickroom by 20 degrees.

During the weeks of intensive care after being shot, Garfield would alternately seem to get better and then take turns for the worse.  He developed an abscess around the wound, which doctors probed but most likely only made worse.  He also developed infections that cause him to have a fever of 104 degrees, and he lost a considerable amount of weight.  Eventually, Dr. Bliss agreed to move him to Elberon, part of Long Branch, New Jersey, where his wife had been recovering from an illness at the time her husband was shot.

There, Garfield could see the ocean as officials and reporters maintained what became a death watch. Garfield eventually succumbed to a combination of his injury and his treatment.  On September 18, Garfield asked Almon Ferdinand Rockwell, a friend and business associate who was at his bedside, if he would have a place in history. Rockwell assured Garfield he would, but told him that he still had much work to do.  The President responded, “No, my work is done.”  He died later that night.

According to many medical experts and historians, Garfield most likely would have survived his wounds had Dr. Bliss and the other doctors attending to him had the benefit of modern medical research, knowledge, techniques, and equipment.  In fact, much like President Ronald Reagan after the assassination attempt at The Washington Hilton here in D.C., Garfield would probably also have survived being shot.  Instead, the treatment he received at least contributed, and most likely caused his death.  It is thought that starvation also played a role in President Garfield’s death.

Four presidents have been assassinated while in office.  And two of them occurred here in D.C.  President Lincoln was killed at Ford’s Theater in 1865, and just 16 years later President Garfield was shot by Guiteau less than a thousand yards away from where President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Boothe.  There were already official markers for President Lincoln at The Petersen House in D.C. where he died, President William McKinley in Buffalo, New York, and President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.  Now all four sites have been properly recognized.  I’ve now been to the two sites here in D.C.  The other two, however, are a little too far away for a lunchtime bike ride.

   

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

Battle Hymn of the Republic Ride

The “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, frequently known outside of the United States as “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory,”
is a lyric by the American writer Julia Ward Howe using the music from a song entitled “John Brown’s Body.”  Howe’s more famous lyrics were written in November of 1861, and first published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862.  And to end the week, on today’s lunchtime bike ride I went by The Willard Hotel (MAP), which is the site where she composed the song.

Julia Ward Howe was married to Samuel Gridley Howe, a nineteenth century American physician, abolitionist, and a famed scholar and advocate for education of the blind.  The couple were active leaders in anti-slavery politics and strong supporters of the Union.  Samuel Howe was a member of the Secret Six, the group who funded John Brown, who advocated for armed insurrection as the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States.  John Brown later lead a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia) in an attempt to arm slaves and start a slave liberation movement.  However, the raid failed, he was tried for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as the murder of five men including three black men, and inciting a slave insurrection.  He was found guilty on all counts and hanged, becoming the first person convicted of treason in the history of the country.  However, this did not deter the Howes’ abolishionist beliefs.

Howe first heard the song “John Brown’s Body” during a public review of Union troops outside D.C., on Upton Hill, Virginia. The Reverend James Freeman Clarke, who was accompanying Howe at the review, suggested to Howe that she write new words for the fighting men’s song.  It was at his suggestion that on the night of November 18, 1861, Howe wrote the verses to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Of the writing of the lyrics, Howe remembered, “I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, “I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.” So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.”

When she was done, these were the lyrics she wrote:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.

[The chorus, which is repeated after each verse:]
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps,
His day is marching on.

I have read His fiery gospel writ in rows of burnished steel!
“As ye deal with my condemners, so with you My grace shall deal!
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel, ”
Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free!
While God is marching on.

A sixth verse also written by Howe, which is less commonly sung, was not initially published at that time. The lyrics are:

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.

The song links the judgment of the wicked at the end of the age, as depicted in the 63rd chapter of the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament and the 19th chapter of the book of Revelation in the New Testament, with the American Civil War. And I had heard this extremely popular and well-known patriotic song many times during my life.  I’ve even heard it sung as a hymn in church.  But it wasn’t until today’s lunchtime bike ride that I learned about it, and where it was written.

Bluestone Sidewalk Along Seventeenth Street

During today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped to rest on a bench on 17th Street, near President’s Park, just south of The White House. As I sat there for a few moments watching the tourists go by, I noticed that the sidewalk seemed different than what I usually see. In fact, I didn’t recall seeing anything similar here in D.C. Sidewalks throughout the city are typically formed walkways made out of cement. But the sidewalks where I was sitting were made of stone. So when I had a chance later I looked into it, and my research confirmed that they are both unique and historic.

The sidewalk is significant as the last remaining segment of an original streetscape feature used throughout President’s Park. While President’s Park South was filled and completed in the late 1870s, the side of the park along 17th Street was a low, badly drained area until new fill was added to bring it up to grade in the early 1880s. Then beginning in 1887, bluestone flag sidewalks were constructed along the front of the park bordering B Street, since renamed Constitution Avenue. While no date of construction can be firmly ascertained for the bluestone flag sidewalk on Seventeenth Street, it likely dates from this period or soon afterwards. A grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street was later added in the 1920s.

Most of the bluestone sidewalk surrounding President’s Park was eventually replaced with ones constructed with cement forms. As the stones cracked or fell into disrepair, it was decided that it would be cheaper to simply replace them with the same type of sidewalk that is present throughout the rest of the city. This was done everywhere except, for some reason, along 17th Street.

What stone sidewalk remains consists of rectangular bluestone slate flags, six-feet square, and extends along the east side of 17th Street from opposite C Street to opposite E Street (MAP). The sidewalk is separated from the granite curb by what was once a three-foot wide grassy strip, which is now filled in with granite pavers.

The sidewalk is not a tourist attraction. In fact, I doubt anyone walking on it even noticed it was different, let alone had any idea of its history. But I enjoyed seeing it, and thinking back about the way things were at the time when the bluestone sidewalks were constructed. The Civil War had been over for not all that long, and Grover Cleveland was the President.  The Washington Monument was almost completed and would open the following year.  The Catholic University of America was founded, and the first Woodward & Lothrop department store was built. Alexander Graham Bell built his Volta Laboratory in Georgetown. There were no automobiles, so the streets were used by horses and carriages. And form and quality were considerations in public building projects, not just price and practicality.

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

Frelinghuysen University

If someone were to mention a university in northwest D.C. that was founded to serve African Americans, it’s likely that 99 or maybe even 100 out of every 100 people would think of Howard University.  But on this bike ride I visited the site of another, lesser-known university, named Frelinghuysen University, which beginning in 1921 was housed in a two-story residence located at 1800 Vermont Avenue (MAP), formerly known as the Edwin P. Goodwin House.

Frelinghuysen University was founded in 1906 when a group of local African-American educators and leaders met at the home of Jesse Lawson, a Howard University educated African-American attorney, educator, and sociologist, and his wife Rosetta C. Lawson, an advocate for temperance and low-income housing, to organize a branch of the Bible Educational Association, with Kelly Miller as president. They also established the Inter-Denominational Bible College, naming Jesse Lawson, as president.  Eleven years later the two groups were combined and renamed Frelinghuysen University, in honor of New Jersey Senator Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, who had worked to promote civil rights during Reconstruction with Senator Charles Sumner, for whom The Sumner School, one of the earliest schools for African Americans in D.C., was named.

Frelinghuysen University provided academic programs, vocational training, social services and religious education for working-class African-American adults.  It was accredited and conferred degrees from 1927 until 1937.  But after losing its accreditation, and with the racially motivated laws increasingly limiting the future of the institution, in 1940 the school became the Frelinghuysen Group of Schools for Colored Working People, and Anna J. Cooper became its registrar.  The institution finally dissolved in the late 1950s.

The historic building eventually fell into disrepair until it was purchased by it’s current owners in 1992 for $90,000, and subsequently renovated back into a private residence.  The Queen Anne-style home follows a triangular plan with an octagonal corner tower, and includes such architectural features as corbelling, a patterned slate roof, and intricate iron finials.  It was designated by D.C. as an historic site, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in 1995.

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