Archive for the ‘Presidential’ Category

A Post-White House Presidential Residence

Unlike when most presidents’ terms in office conclude, when President Obama left the White House in January of 2017 he and his family chose to stay here in D.C.  In fact, the only other former President to live in D.C. after leaving the presidency was Woodrow Wilson, who also has the distinction of being the only former president interred in D.C.

The Obamas’ reason for staying in the national capital city was so that Sasha (the youngest daughter), could stay and graduate from high school.  At the time she was a sophomore at a private high school named Sidwell Friends, where her older sister Malia graduated in 2016.  As President Obama explained, “We’re going to have to stay a couple of years in D.C. probably so Sasha can finish.  Transferring someone in the middle of high school?  Tough.”

So after living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for eight years, what kind of home did the Obama family move into?  On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by to see their current home, located at 2446 Belmont Road (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood, to find out.

While not as impressive as the White House, the Obama family’s current home is newer than it.  The White House has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams in 1800.  The Obamas’ Belmont Road house was built 128 years later, in 1928.  The White House has 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and 6 levels in the residence, while the Obamas’ current house has 13 rooms, eight and a half bathrooms, and three levels.  The Obama family’s previous residence has 35 fireplaces, while their current home has only one.  The White House has formal gardens, vegetable gardens and a rose garden.  Their new home has only a formal garden.  Lastly, the White House is approximately 55,000 square feet and sits on 784,080 square feet of fenced in land, while the Belmont Road house is 6,441 square feet and sits on fenced in lot that measures 11,915 square feet.

The White House also has a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a movie theater, three elevators, butlers and personal assistants, groundskeepers, and five full-time chefs.  The Obamas do not yet have a pool but recently were approved for a permit to build one.  And the Belmont Road house has a lower level au-pair suite for Barack’s mother-in-law.

Although not for sale, the White House is worth $397.9 million.  The Belmont Road house was listed for $5,750,000 in 2008, and then listed and relisted twice in 2012 for $7,995,000.  Having not found a buyer, it was subsequently listed again in 2014 for $5,750,000.  It sold in may of that year for $5,295,000 to former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart and his wife, Giovanna Gray Lockhart.  An Obama family corporation, Homefront Holdings, LLC., then purchased the home from them in 2017 for $8.1 million, which is more than quadruple the price of comparable real estate listings in the area, where the median price is $1,995,000.

Despite the fact that last year’s move from their home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was a substantial step down for Barack, Michelle, and Sasha, their current home is much larger and more valuable than the home they still own at 5046 South Greenwood Avenue in south side Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood, where they lived prior to the White House, and still stay on some visits back home to Chicago.

The Obamas will most likely remain in their current home in the nation’s capital until at least the summer of 2019, after Sasha graduates.  After that, they may continue to reside here, they may return to Chicago, or they may end up somewhere else.

 

NOTE:  Unlike all of the other photos on this blog, I did not take the above photos of the Obama family’s current home.  Those photos were taken from the real estate listing at the time they bought the home.   Because the Secret Service, which guards the former president’s homes here in D.C. and in Chicago have restricted access to the roads on which they are located, the following photos were the only ones I was able to take of what I could see on my bike ride.  They show uniformed Secret Service officers at blockades at either end of the road, and one of the black SUVs I saw while I was riding around the neighborhood in which sat plain clothes Secret Service agents.

 

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

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A Secret Entrance to the White House

Anyone who has been near the White House when the president or visiting dignitaries were arriving or departing have seen the entrances to the White House in use.  Equipped with security gates, ram-proof physical barriers, armed personnel, electronic surveillance equipment, and other unseen security measures, the entrances are obvious.  But there is another entrance to the White House that few people know about.

Located two blocks away from the White House in the 1500 block of H Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood, the secret entrance to the White House looks like almost any other alley in the city.  Thousands and thousands of pedestrians and vehicles pass by it every day, and I doubt any of them know what is hiding in plain site right in front of them.   About the only thing that distinguishes it from any other alley is a small, unobtrusive booth built into the wall of the building on the right side of alley.  I imagine most people who see it assume the booth is for an attendant collecting money for a public parking lot at the other end of the alley.  But it is actually a bullet-proof enclosure manned by Secret Service agents.

The alley leads south past the back of the Federal Claims Courthouse Building, before ending in an unassuming doorway at the rear of Freedman’s Bank, formerly known as the Treasury Department annex, on Pennsylvania Avenue.   From there, according to archival newspaper reports from before security concerns prevented the publishing of such information, the passageway to the White House passes through two subterranean tunnels.

The first tunnel was constructed in 1919 when the Treasury Department Annex was built, presumably to protect the Treasury and its employees from being robbed of the vast sums of cash with which they worked.  The second tunnel was contracted for President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, and lead from the East Wing of the White House to the first Presidential bomb shelter.  The tunnel and bomb shelter were to be a secret throughout the war, but was disclosed to the public in December of 1941 when Congressman Clare E. Hoffman complained about its expense in an open debate in the House of Representatives.

In later years, the tunnel has been used by persons who needed to exit or depart the White House without public or press attention. President Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia Nixon, and her husband, Edward F. Cox, departed the White House via the tunnel after their 1972 Rose Garden wedding.  President Lyndon Johnson also used the tunnel to avoid Vietnam War protesters when departing the White House.  Other uses of the tunnel have either been discredited or, like the stories of Marilyn Monroe using a tunnel to sneak into the White House as part of an affair with President John F. Kennedy, remain unproven.

Once the alley and tunnels were connected to provide for vehicular access to the White House, the passageway was modified to end in the parking garage in the White House basement.  And despite the general public’s lack of knowledge of the access way, or perhaps because of it, it remains in use to this day.

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The General Andrew Jackson Statue

One of my goals for this blog has been to ride to and then write a post for each of the Presidential memorials in the greater D.C. metropolitan area. But in order to do this, it was first necessary to define what constitutes a Presidential memorial. Most Presidential memorials have a physical element which consists of a monument or a statue that is a permanent remembrance of the President it represents. This is evidenced by the city’s most well known ones, such as The Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial and The Jefferson Memorial.

However, some Presidential memorials have no physical presence at all. This type of memorial is referred to as a living memorial. An example of this would be The Harry S. Truman Scholarship, which is awarded to U.S. college students dedicated to public service and policy leadership. Although it has no physical presence, it is the sole national memorial permitted under Federal law to honor President Truman.

Once the definition was established, I was able to determine which memorials I would be able to ride to, and which ones had no physical presence, or were out of the local area and too far away to visit during one of my lunchtime bike rides. So far I have been able to identify 17 official Presidential memorials with a physical presence, as well as a number of other statues, buildings, streets, monuments and one airport which are named after a President but are considered unofficial because they were not authorized by Congress or were privately built. There are also two official Presidential memorials which have been approved and are currently in the planning stages.

On this bike ride I chose to go to one of the memorials that I have not already visited – The General Andrew Jackson Statue.  Located in the middle of Lafayette Square Park, the memorial to our nation’s seventh President is an iconic equestrian statue.

Commissioned in May of 1847,  just two years after his death, the Jackson memorial statue was designed and created by American sculptor Clark Mills.  Mills also created the statue called Freedom that now sits a top the dome of the United States Capitol Building.  The 15-ton statue of the man nicknamed “Old Hickory” was cast in bronze in 1852, making it the first bronze statue cast in America.  It also gained additional fame because it was the first equestrian statue in the world to be balanced solely on the horse’s hind legs.

The memorial statue depicts Jackson as a general, and for accuracy, Mills borrowed General Jackson’s uniform, saddle, and bridle from the Patent Office, where they were kept as relics. General Jackson sits atop his horse, with his sword sheaved on his left side and holding his hat in his right hand as his mount rears back.  An inscription on the side of the marble pedestal reads “Jackson” and “Our Federal Union It Must Be Preserved.”

The memorial also includes four cannons, positioned at the corners of the marble base, that Jackson had captured in battle that were considered historic trophies.  The pair of cannons on the north had been cast at the Royal Foundry of Barcelona in 1748 and were named for two Visigoth kings: El Witiza and El Egica.  The two on the south were cast in 1773 and were named for two Greek gods: El Apolo and El Aristeo. The statue and cannons were later enclosed by an iron fence.

Amid much fanfare, the statue was dedicated on January 8, 1853, with an elaborate parade preceding the dedication.  A distinguished group including General Winfield Scott, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, and the mayor and city council of D.C. marched to the entrance of the White House, where they were greeted by President Millard Fillmore and his cabinet.  Through a crowd of more than twenty thousand, they then proceeded across the street to Lafayette Park for the dedication.  Senator Douglas gave an address on the military accomplishments of Jackson, and then introduced Mills.  However, Mills was so overcome with emotion that he could not speak and only pointed to the statue, which was then unveiled.

The Jackson memorial statue is one of the nation’s most recognizable sculptures, albeit one that might be easily overlooked given its setting among so many other statues and its proximity to the White House.  And although you have more likely than not seen it before in photos and on film, I highly recommend seeing it in person.  However, if you are unable to see the original statue here in D.C., there are other opportunities.  Mills went on to make replicas for New Orleans in 1856 and for Nashville in 1880. A fourth copy was cast in 1987 for outdoor display in Jacksonville, Florida.  For myself, I hope to be able to say one day that I have seen all four of them.

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

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The Lincoln Statue at the Summer Cottage

In northwest D.C., near the Petworth and Park View neighborhoods (MAP), there is a Gothic Revival-style residence known as President Lincoln’s Summer Cottage.  And there is a statue of its namesake resident on the grounds.  On this lunchtime bike ride I rode there to see it.

The 2,500-pound sculpted bronze statue of President Lincoln and a horse, presumably his favorite horse named Big Bob, was created by sculptor Ivan Schwartz of StudioEIS, who spent months conducting research to ensure the historical accuracy and visual aesthetics of this portrayal of Lincoln and Big Bob.  The statue was financed by Robert H. Smith., and dedicated in February of 2009.

The statue depicts President Lincoln standing next to his horse, who he was seen riding around the grounds of the cottage on April 13, 1865, the day before he was assassinated.  He is presumably either about to embark on or returning from his commute to the White House.  Every morning from April or May through November, Lincoln would make the three-mile, 30-minute commute on horseback down the hill into D.C. , and back again in the evening.  In 2011, staff from the summer cottage tried to reenact his horse ride and it took two hours due to traffic and lights.  That’s typical of D.C. traffic.

In comparison to The Lincoln Memorial, the summer cottage statue’s portrayal of President Lincoln is a much more intimate and personal one rather than a strong, serious figure elevated and looking down at the viewer.  The lifelike statue of a standing  Lincoln is exactly six feet four-and-a-half inches tall, which was the actual height of the 16th President.  So visitors are at eye level with Lincoln.  So step right up to it to get an idea of what it might have been like to stand toe-to-toe with Honest Abe. The hat brings him up to seven feet tall.

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The Harry S. Truman Scholarship

There is a long tradition of creating presidential monuments and memorials to honor our country’s past presidents and perpetuate their legacies.  This is especially the case in our nation’s capital.  The most well-known local presidential memorials are the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.  Some presidents even have more than one memorial to them here in D.C.  For example, Franklin Roosevelt’s original desk-sized memorial in front of the National Archives Building and the 7.5 acre FDR Memorial near the Tidal Basin, which are the smallest and largest presidential memorials in the city.

But on this bike ride I went to see one of the most unusual of all the presidential memorials – the one created for Harry S. Truman.  Or to be more accurate, I went to the house where the memorial resides.  Because instead of a statue, the official Federal memorial to our nation’s 33rd President is the Harry S. Truman Scholarship.  And under law, it is the only Federal memorial allowed to honor its namesake president.

The scholarship was created by Congress in 1975 as a living memorial to honor President Truman.  It is a highly competitive $30,000 Federal scholarship towards a graduate education, and is granted to approximately 55-65 U.S. college juniors each year for demonstrated leadership potential and a commitment to public service.

The scholarship is administered by The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, which is an independent Federal executive branch agency.  The foundation is headquartered in a brick rowhouse located at 712 Jackson Place, near Lafayette Square Park, in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.  The building I saw on this ride was not all that interesting.  But learning all about the foundation and scholarship made up for that. 

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James A. Garfield Memorial

Despite serving in office for only 200 days, President James A. Garfield is, in my opinion, one of the most unique and interesting Presidents in history.  For this reason, and because it was on this day in 1881 that President Garfield succumbed to wounds inflicted by an assassin 80 days earlier, for this bike ride I chose to ride to the James A. Garfield Memorial.  It is located on the grounds of the United States Capitol Building in the circle at First Street and Maryland Avenue (MAP ) in the Downtown area of Southwest D.C.

Born in Orange Township, now Moreland Hills, near Cleveland, Ohio on November 19, 1831, James Abram Garfield was the last of the seven Presidents who were born in log cabins.  His father, Abram Garfield, was from Worcester, New York, and came to Ohio to woo his childhood sweetheart, Mehitabel Ballou.  When he got there and found out she was married already, he married her sister Eliza, instead.  His father died when he was still a baby, and he was raised by his widowed mother and elder brother, next door to their cousins, in virtual poverty.

Before eventually entering politics, Garfield first unsuccessfully tried his hand at being a frontier farmer.  Then, after completing his education, he worked teaching Greek and other classical languages for his alma mater in Ohio (now called Hiram College), where he met and eventually married one of his students, Lucretia Rudolph.  Together they had seven children, one of whom lived to be 102 and did not die until the 1970’s.  He also served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

While still serving in the Army in early 1862, Garfield began his political career.  He ran for the U.S. Congress in Ohio’s newly redrawn and heavily Republican 19th District, and won.  During his time in Congress, Garfield supported and voted for the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1866.  Also during his time in Congress, Garfield served on a specially-created Electoral Commission that decided the disputed outcome of the 1876 Presidential election, giving the presidency to his party’s candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes.

Then, while still serving as a Congressman in 1879, Garfield was elected by the Ohio Senate to replace John Sherman as U.S. Senator from Ohio because Senator Sherman resigned his seat to campaign for the presidency.  Garfield then went on, unexpectedly, to beat Sherman in the primaries and then win the 1880 presidential election.  As a result, there was a period of time, following the presidential election, where Garfield was a sitting congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senator-elect, and the U.S. President-elect, all at the same time.

Some other interesting aspects of Garfield include that he was the first primarily left-handed President, but he was also ambidextrous.  It is said you could ask him a question in English and he could simultaneously write the answer in Greek with one hand and in Latin with the other.  Also, as a minister in the Disciples of Christ Christian Church, Garfield is the only President to ever have been a preacher.  Also, as a former professor of languages, Garfield was the first President to campaign in multiple languages. He often spoke in German with German-Americans he encountered along the campaign trail.

On the morning of July 2, 1881, just four months into his presidency, President Garfield went to D.C.’s Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, then located at the corner of Sixth Street and B Street, and the present site of the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.  He was there to catch a train on his way to a short vacation.  As he walked through the station toward the waiting train, a man named Charles Guiteau stepped behind the President and fired two shots.  Guiteau was an attorney and political office-seeker who was a relative stranger to the President and his administration in an era when Federal positions were doled out on a “who you know” basis. When his requests for an appointment were ignored, a furious Guiteau stalked the President, vowing revenge.

In comparison to the enormous amount of security now surrounding the President when he travels, it is incredible to think that when President Garfield was killed he was walking through a public train station with no bodyguard or security detail.  He was scheduled to travel alone, and was being seen off at the station by two of his sons and two friends.  One of those friends was Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of the first President to be assassinated.

Guiteau’s first bullet grazed Garfield’s arm.  The bullet second passed below the president’s pancreas and lodged near his spine, and could not be found by doctors.  Doctors made several unsuccessful attempts to remove the bullet while Garfield lay in his White House bedroom, awake and in pain.  Alexander Graham Bell, who was one of Garfield’s physicians, invented a metal detector to try to find the location of the bullet but the machine kept malfunctioning, apparently due to the metal framework of the bed Garfield lay in.  Because of the rarity of metal bed frames at the time, the cause of the malfunction was not discovered.

By early September, Garfield, who was recuperating at a seaside retreat in New Jersey, appeared to be recovering.  However, he took a turn for the worse and succumbed to his injuries.  He died 80 days after being shot.  Historical accounts vary as to the exact cause of Garfield’s death.  Some believe that his physicians’ treatments, which included the constant probing of the bullet wound with unsterile instruments, may have led to blood poisoning.  His treatment also included the administration of quinine, morphine, brandy and calomel, as well as feeding him through the rectum.  Many believe that the medical treatment he received eventually led to, or at least hastened, his demise. Autopsy reports at the time said that pressure from his internal wound had created an aneurism, which was the likely cause of death.  Garfield’s spine, which shows the hole created by the bullet, is kept as a historical artifact by the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Garfield was the second President to be assassinated, after Abraham Lincoln in 1865.  At 200 days, Garfield’s presidency was the second shortest, behind William Henry Harrison’s presidency, of just 31 days.  Also, Garfield is the second youngest President to die in office, behind John F. Kennedy, who was 127 days younger that Garfield was at the time of their deaths.

This ride was an interesting one, much like Garfield himself was interesting.  And it was not a very long ride, but it was for a President who did not serve for very long in office, and did not live a very long life.  Garfield worked as a farmer, a janitor, a bell ringer, a carpenter, a canal boat driver, a college professor, a lawyer, and a preacher.  He was also a Brigadere General in the Army, a Congressman, a Senator and a U.S. President.  So I guess maybe it’s not about how long you live, but what you do while you’re alive that counts.  

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

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President Lincoln’s Cottage

On this lunchtime bike ride I visited what’s now known as President Lincoln’s “cottage”, which is a national monument located on the grounds of the “Old Soldiers’ Home,” known today as the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home.  Located in northwest D.C. near the Petworth and Park View neighborhoods (MAP), the Gothic Revival-style residence, a style considered particularly appropriate at that time for country cottages, has a very interesting history.

Originally known as the “Corn Rigs” cottage, it was built in 1842 by wealthy D.C. banker George Washington Riggs, at his 250-acre summer retreat.  The word “cottage”, however, is somewhat of a misnomer inasmuch as it is actually a 34-room country home.  Almost a decade later, Riggs offered to sell his property to the Federal government, which was looking for a place to create a home for retired and disabled Army veterans.  An army committee purchased the estate in 1851 and utilized the house to create the Old Soldiers’ Home later the same year.  Six years later, in 1857, the retired soldier residents moved into a newly-built large stone Gothic building near the cottage. 

With the cottage now vacant, the Old Soldiers’ Home invited President James Buchanan to make his summer residence there.  Accepting the offer, President Buchanan spent a few weeks out of at least two summers at the cottage during the remainder of his presidency.

Presumably on the recommendation of President Buchanan, the next president, Abraham Lincoln, first visited the Old Soldiers’ Home just three days after his first inauguration.  Later, President Lincoln and his family would escape to the cottage between June and November in 1862, 1863, and 1864.   The family would almost certainly have returned in 1865 if President Lincoln had not been assassinated in April of that year.  In all, President Lincoln and his family spent over a quarter of his Presidency there. Each summer the White House staff transported some 19 cartloads of the Lincoln family’s belongings to the cottage. Unfortunately, there is no record of exactly what they brought.

With the Civil War officially commencing just a month after he was inaugurated, Lincoln could not escape the Civil War and his burden of leadership, even at the cottage. Every morning the President rode by horseback to the White House to carry out official business, returning to the cottage every evening.  Today, the drive down Georgia Avenue takes just a few minutes, but in the 1860s the commute through what was then a mostly wilderness area was a little slower and more dangerous.  The cavalry units that were to eventually accompanied him on his commute, as well as the encampments, hospitals, and cemeteries he passed on his was to work served, as constant reminders of the war.

It was while staying at the cottage, in fact, that President Lincoln came his closest to the war.  On July 12, 1864, when Confederate General Jubal Early attacked Fort Stevens, the President brashly went to observe the nearby battle, even though his family had been evacuated to the White House for the four days of the battle.  It was during this time that President Lincoln became the only president ever to come under hostile fire while in office.  During the second day of the battle, as he stood on atop the parapet of the fort to witness the battle, the President came under direct fire of Confederate sharpshooters.  Perhaps saving his life, a young officer named Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who would eventually go on to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, shouted to the President, “Get down, you damn fool!”

Other interesting events for which President Lincoln’s cottage served as the backdrop include the fact that the President was staying at the cottage when he wrote the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862.  And in August of 1864, a sniper attempted to assassinate the President as he traveled back to the cottage alone late at night.  The lone rifle shot missed Lincoln’s head by inches, but during the attempt the President lost the hat he was wearing.  The following day, two soldiers went looking for the hat.  They discovered it on the path, with a bullet hole through the side.  Also, in the summer of 1864, John Wilkes Booth, who would later in April of 1865 successfully assassinate President Lincoln, formulated his original plot, which was to kidnap the President during his commute from the cottage to the White House.

President Lincoln reportedly made his last visit to the cottage on April 13, 1865, the day before his assassination.  But he was not the last president to take advantage of the healthy breezes at the cottage.  Rutherford B. Hayes spent the summers of 1877 to 1880 there.  And Chester A. Arthur stayed at the cottage during renovations at the White House in the winter of 1882, and spent summers there as well.

In more recent years, the cottage has been recognized for its historical significance. The Secretary of the Interior designated the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, which includes the pre-Civil War cottage, as a National Historic Landmark in November of 1973.  President Bill Clinton declared the cottage and 2.3 surrounding acres a National Monument in July of 2000.  To this day it holds the distinction of being the only national monument in the country that operates with no Federal funding.  The following year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation began a thorough restoration of the cottage, restoring it to the period of Lincoln’s occupancy according to standards established by the National Park Service. The restoration was completed in 2007.  President Lincoln’s Cottage was then opened to the public for the first time in history on President’s Day in 2008. It remains open today, and is managed through a cooperative agreement between the Armed Forces Retirement Home and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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

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Click on this photo to take a virtual tour of the inside of The Lincoln Cottage.

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The Original Washington Monument

The original Washington monument is not the large obelisk which towers over the National Mall.  That monument was dedicated in 1885. Neither is it the even earlier monument depicting George Washington on horseback. That statue was dedicated in 1860. Both the iconic obelisk and the equestrian statue were created after our nation’s original monument to its first President. The original Washington Monument was commissioned for the centennial of President George Washington’s birth, and was dedicated in 1841, almost two decades earlier than either of those monuments.

In 1832 Congress commissioned American sculptor Horatio Greenough to create a monument to George Washington for the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building. Known as “Enthroned Washington,” the statue is modeled after Phidias’ Statue of Olympian Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  It depicts a seated and sandal-wearing figure draped in a toga and naked from the waist up.  With his right upraised index finger he is pointing toward heaven.  And with his left hand he is cradling a sheathed sword, hilt forward, symbolizing the turning over of power to the people of the newly-formed country at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

However, within the first few weeks after it was installed in the Capitol rotunda, complaints from the public began to flood in.  The complaints centered on President Washington’s semi-nude, nipple-baring state, which many believed to be inappropriate and undignified, especially for an American president.  As a result, the statue quickly became the “butt” of many jokes.  Following their constituent’s lead, many Congressmen also began to voice objections to the statue.  In fact, enough legislators found it to be so risqué and controversial that Congress voted the following year to move it out of the U.S. Capitol Building.  It was initially moved outside, to the east lawn of the Capitol grounds.  The statue eventually became part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection and, in 1908, was moved to the “Smithsonian Castle.”  It remained there until 1962 when it crossed the National Mall to the new Museum of History and Technology, which is now the National Museum of American History (MAP).  It was there that I was able to visit it during this lunchtime bike ride.  And even though I had to leave the bike outside, it was worth going inside to view it.

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

Left – African American school children facing the Horatio Greenough statue of George Washington at the U.S. Capitol.  (Library of Congress Control Number 91482755.  Contributor: Frances Benjamin Johnston. Circa 1899.)
Right – Crowd at the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes, on the east front grounds of the U.S. Capitol, surrounding Horatio Greenough’s statue of George Washington (Library of Congress Control Number 91482755.  Contributor: Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries. Circa 1877.)

Note:  Historic photos obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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Blair House

On this lunch time bike ride I stopped by a late-Federal style, buff-colored limestone townhouse known as “Blair House.” Located across from the White House at 1651–1653 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C., it is directly opposite the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and near the southwest corner of Lafayette Park.

The original townhouse at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue was built in 1824 as the private residence of Dr. Joseph Lovell, who was a member of the Continental Congress and the first Surgeon General of the United States.  After Dr. Lovell’s death in 1836, the house was sold for $6,500.  It was purchased by Francis Blair, who had previously moved to the nation’s capitol at the urging of President Andrew Jackson. It soon became known as Blair House, and has retained the moniker ever since.

Francis Preston Blair, Sr. was born in April of 1792 in Abingdon, Virginia. In 1811, after graduating from Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, he moved to nearby Frankfort, where he worked as a circuit court clerk and a journalist who frequently contributed articles and editorials to a local newspaper. Blair became an ardent follower of President Jackson, and his writings and editorials eventually garnered the attention of the President, who invited Blair to move to D.C. and take over a failing newspaper named The Globe. Blair turned the paper into a pro-administration publication, and became a successful newspaper publisher. He was also an influential advisor to President Jackson as a member of what became known as his “Kitchen Cabinet.”  Blair also continued to be an insider in the administrations of Presidents Martin van Buren and Abraham Lincoln.

Beginning in 1837, seven years after moving to D.C., Blair and his wife Eliza and their three children took up residence in the townhouse, which would remain in the family for over a century. In 1859, Blair built a red brick townhouse next door, to the left of to Blair House, at 1653 Pennsylvania Avenue, for his daughter, Elizabeth Blair Lee, and her husband, Samuel Phillips Lee, a third cousin of Robert E. Lee. In 1942, after being purchased by the U.S. government, the houses were combined, along with two other adjacent townhouses. The complex is sometimes referred to as the Blair-Lee House, though Blair House remains the official name.

Blair House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is now managed by the U.S. State Department and serves as the President of the United State;s official guest house.  However, one President, Harry Truman, actually resided there during an extensive renovation of the White House.  As a side note, during President Truman’s time in residence at Blair House it was also the scene of an assassination attempt in which the first Secret Service Officer killed in the line of duty, and to date the only Secret Service member to be killed while defending the President, occurred.

Today Blair House is primarily used to house foreign heads of state and their delegations, and flies their countries’ flags when foreign leaders stay there. It is also occasionally used for domestic guests, which has included several presidents-elect and their families prior to their initial inauguration.

During the 1980s, Blair House underwent significant restorations, with a new wing added on the north. The combined square footage of the entire complex now exceeds 70,000 square feet, making it more massive than its famous neighbor, The White House, which is approximately 55,000 square feet. And what started as a simple private residence has now expanded to consist of 110 rooms, including several conference rooms and sitting rooms, 23 bedrooms, 35 bathrooms, and 4 dining rooms, as well as several kitchens, laundry and dry cleaning facilities, and an exercise room. It even has a hair salon and a florist shop.

As I visited this house that has long been associated with important events in American history, and in recent times, world history, I couldn’t help but wonder what Francis Preston Blair, Sr. would think if he could see his former residence today.

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The Washington Monument

I most often tend to ride to and then write about the D.C. area’s lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path monuments, memorials and other attractions. But for this lunch time bike ride I chose to do the opposite. I visited one of the most well known and widely recognized monuments in not only D.C., but the entire world – the 555-foot and 5-inch obelisk known as The Washington Monument. But what I find most interesting about the monument are details about it that are not well-known. Not only did the simplistic appearance of the monument turn out significantly different than what was originally envisioned, it is not located in the place where it was originally intended. And it isn’t even the first Washington Monument in D.C.

Just days after Washington’s death in 1799, a Congressional committee proposed that a pyramid-shaped mausoleum be erected within the Capitol which would also serve as a monument to the nation’s first president. However, a lack of funds, disagreement over what type of memorial would best honor him, and the Washington family’s reluctance to move his body from his Mount Vernon home prevented progress on the proposed project.

Years later, on the 100th anniversary of President Washington’s 1732 birthday, the Washington National Monument Society was formed by former President James Madison and then current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall, and began accepting donations to build a monument. Four years later, a renewed interest in construction a monument resulted in a design competition being held by the Society. The winning design came from architect Robert Mills, who also designed a number of Federal buildings in D.C., including the Department of Treasury building, the U.S. Patent Office Building, and the old General Post Office. Mills’ design featured a flat topped obelisk topped, with a statue depicting a Roman-like Washington in a chariot in front of it, along with a rotunda and colonnade, all surrounded by 30 statues depicting the country’s Founding Fathers and Revolutionary War heroes. Excavation and initial construction of the monument began on July 4, 1848.

However, a lack of funding resulted in the need to redesign the monument. In 1876 the current obelisk design was proposed. It was also during that year that President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill for the Federal government to fund completion of the monument, which had been stalled by the Civil War. The monument’s construction took place during two phases, from 1848 to 1856, and from 1876 to 1884. A horizontal line of different colored marble from Massachusetts which was used when marble from the original quarry in Maryland was not available is visible approximately 150 feet up the monument, and indicates where construction resumed in 1876.  There is actually a third, less-noticible shade of marble that was used when the builders, dissatisfied with the Massachusetts marble, switched to another quarry in Maryland for the final marble used in the monument.  Thus, there are actually three shades to the exterior of the monument.

In addition to a change in design, a change in location also occurred. Originally, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the city’s architect, had planned for the memorial to be placed due south of the President’s Mansion (now known as the White House), and directly West of the Capital Building. However, the soil at that spot proved too unstable to provide the necessary support for the massive obelisk that had been proposed. So the planned site was moved. The present day monument is 119 meters southwest of the planned site, which is marked by a stone and plaque called the Jefferson Pier.

Delays in construction of the Washington Monument were due to the halting of construction between 1854 and 1877 due to a lack of funds, infighting within the Washington National Monument Society, and the intervention of the American Civil War. It was finally completed in 1888 after more than 40 years of construction, which had begun in 1848. During the interim, however, a comparatively modest monument in the form of an equestrian statue depicting Washington riding his horse during the Battle of Princeton was constructed.  Now known as The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue, it was completed in 1860, more than a quarter of a century before the completion of the more well-known monument.

Located at 2 15th Street (MAP) near Madison Drive in downtown D.C., there are many other details and things you may not know about the monument that has become a centerpiece of the National Mall. For example, it held the title as the tallest structure in the world at the time it was completed. It lost that title in 1889 with the completion of the Eiffel Tower. However, the Washington Monument remains the world’s tallest stone structure as well as the world’s tallest obelisk. The monument stands as the tallest structure in D.C., and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future because, by law, no other building in the national capitol city is allowed to be taller than Washington Monument.

Some other interesting facts about the Washington Monument include the following.  The Masonic gavel previously used by George Washington in the laying of the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol Building in 1793 was also used in the Washington Monument’s 1848 cornerstone ceremony, that had an eclectic guest list which included three future presidents, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, as well as Dolley Madison and Alexander Hamilton’s widow, Betsey Hamilton and, of course, the then-current President, James K. Polk. Also, there are numerous items and copies of important documents contained in a zinc case in the recess of the monument’s time capsule-like cornerstone, including: the Holy Bible; copies of the Constitution of the United States Declaration of Independence; a portrait of Washington; a map of the city as it was at that time; the 1840 United States Census; all national coins then in circulation including the $10 gold eagle; an American flag; the Washington family coat of arms, and; newspapers from 14 states.

Additionally, the obelisk rests on an artificially constructed knoll that was designed to hide the original foundation. The monument is hollow on the inside, but its inner walls are set with 189 carved memorial stones, which were donated by individuals, cities, states, Native American tribes, companies, foreign countries, and even the pope. There are 897 steps in the staircase that leads to the top of the monument. The walls at the monument’s base are 15 feet thick. The Monument’s 36,491 white marble ashlar blocks, weighing a total of 90,854 tons, are held together by just gravity and friction, and no mortar was used in the process. And lastly, there are lightning rods at the top to protect the structure from lightning strikes, as well as eight synchronized blinking red lights, two on each face, which serve as warning lights to keep aircraft from striking the structure.

So now that you know a little more about the monument that is not quite as simple as it initially appears, I recommend you go see the Washington Monument for yourself.  Whether it is your first time or you have seen the monument before, you may find that you have a new appreciation for it.

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