Archive for the ‘Public Figures’ Category

The Other Ben Ali Mural

Baltimore has crab cakes.  Chicago has Deep Dish Pizza.  And whether you prefer Pat’s or Geno’s, Philadelphia has the Philly Cheesesteak.  Here in D.C. we have the half-smoke – a half beef, half pork coarsely-ground sausage that is smoked before it’s grilled.  But in D.C., when it comes to this city’s signature food, there is no rivalry or controversy.  The best place to get a half-smoke is the original Ben’s Chili Bowl.

All week I have had a craving for a half-smoke, split and grilled, and served on a warm steamed bun with onions and Ben’s spicy homemade chili sauce, and a side of onion rings and a Cherry Coke.  So to end the week, on today’s bike ride I rode to Ben’s Chili Bowl for lunch.

As I was leaving after my delicious and satisfying lunch, I stopped and spent some time taking in the mural in the alley on the east side of the restaurant’s building.  Over the years the various murals that have graced the west side of the building, in the alley officially recognized by the city as “Ben Ali Way,” have gotten considerable attention from the press.  But the other, less-famous mural, is equally intriguing to me.  It is dedicated to the owners and founders of Ben’s Chili Bowl – Ben and Virginia Ali.  So I decided to find out more about the couple who founded the restaurant where I have eaten so many times.

Mahaboob Ali, commonly known Ben here in D.C., was born on June 13, 1927, in British Trinidad and Tobago.  He was the firstborn of seven children in a Muslim family, and was raised in the town of San Juan, which is located east of the capital city of Port of Spain.  Ben moved to the United States in 1945 as a student, where he enrolled at the University of Nebraska.  At that time he was planning on becoming a medical doctor.  But as the result of a fall down an elevator shaft while at the school he suffered a broken back.  He spent months recovering from the accident. Following his recovery, Ben attended four separate schools before earning his bachelor’s degree from Howard University here in D.C.

Virginia Ali grew up on a farm in rural Virginia and moved to D.C. looking for a job and new opportunities in the big city.  She went to work for one of D.C.’s heralded institutions — as a teller at Industrial Bank, the first African-American-owned bank in D.C.  It was at the bank that she met Ben, the man with whom she fell in love, married, and became lifelong business partners with.

In 1958, newlyweds Ben and Virginia began renovating the building at 1213 U Street.  Built in 1910, the building first housed a silent movie house called the Minnehaha Theater.  Later, Harry Beckley, one of D.C.’s first black police detectives, converted it into a pool hall.   The Ali’s simply wanted to own a business that would give them the means to raise their children.  Ben had worked at a restaurant in college, and they decided to open up their own.  They had no idea it would become such a huge success.  Today, Ben’s has spawned locations all over the local area.  It employs approximately 170 people and has about $8 million in revenue.

Ben passed away in October of 2009 at the age of  82.  Virginia, who was only 24 years old when she and her husband started the restaurant, is now 85, and can still be found working at the U Street location most days – greeting customers and keeping tabs on the business that is now run be her family.  Her three sons Kamal, Nizam and Haidar as well as her two daughters-in-law now run the day-to-day operations.

In August Ben’s will celebrate it’s 61st anniversary.  Over those years people have changed.  I certainly have.  The restaurant, however, has not.  The counter, booths and stools are all original.  And the half-smokes are just as delicious as they’ve always been.  Since the first time I ate there decades ago, I’ve known how good the food is.  And now, I know a little more about the people too.

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

Trivia Fact: Due to Islamic prohibitions against consuming pork, Ben Ali never consumed some of his own restaurant’s popular offerings.

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 Magnolias at the Enid A. Haupt Garden

Today the cherry blossoms here in D.C. begin their “peak bloom.”  Peak bloom is defined by the National Park Service as the day when 70 percent of the cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin are open.  But the best time to see the cherry blossoms, depending on the weather, is four to seven days after peak bloom.  So I will be posting some photos of this year’s cherry blossoms later in the week.

During this lunchtime bike ride, I went out to see one of the cherry blossoms’ seasonal precursors, magnolia blossoms.  There are many places throughout D.C. where there is an abundance of magnolia trees, such as the U.S. National Arboretum, Rawlins Park, and Lafayette Square Park, to name just a few.  But on this bike ride I stopped by the Enid A. Haupt Garden, located at 1050 Independence Avenue (MAP) in the Southwest portion of D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. 

The garden is named after Enid Annenberg Haupt, an American publisher and philanthropist who, as an heiress to a family fortune, was able to make significant contributions to her personal causes and interests, including the arts, architectural and historic preservation, and cancer research.  But foremost among her interests and philanthropic endeavors was horticulture.  Her devotion to restoring and maintaining gardens around the country and the world earned Haupt a reputation as “the greatest patron American horticulture has ever known.”

The garden opened on May 21, 1987 as part of the redesigned Smithsonian Castle quadrangle, which was financed by a three-million dollar endowment Haupt provided for its construction and maintenance.  Initially approached with a request that she finance a small Zen garden within the quadrangle, after a review of the plans Haupt said that she was “not interested in putting money into a Zen garden … I’m only interested in financing the whole thing.”

The Haupt Garden is a public garden in the Smithsonian complex.  It is situated on just over four acres between the back of the Castle and Independence Avenue, and features an embroidered parterre in a geometric design of plants and flowers rotated seasonally, an Asian-influenced garden adjacent to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and a Moorish-influenced garden adjacent to the National Museum of African Art, and wide brick walks, and 19th-century cast-iron garden furnishings from the Smithsonian Gardens’ Garden Furniture Collection line the perimeter.

But it was the saucer and tulip magnolias that I went to the park to enjoy today.  The magnificent trees do not have the same history and fame as do the cherry trees that line the nearby Tidal Basin, but these magnolias are equal in beauty with their more famous counterparts.  And the aroma of the magnolia blossoms filled the air.  It was a great way to spend the first day of the cherry blossoms’ peak bloom.

 

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

Update (4/4/2019):  What a difference a few days make.  The photo (below) is of the same magnolia trees three days after the first photo (above).  So if you’re going to come see them next year, make sure your timing is right.  The brevity of the magnolia blossoms is similar to that of the cherry blossoms.

Howard Theater Walk of Fame

On this lunchtime bike ride, I stopped riding and walked my bike one the sidewalk starting north on 7th Street beginning at S Street (MAP), and rounding the corner onto T Street before ending at The Howard Theatre in northwest D.C.’s U Street neighborhood.  I did this so that I could see the sidewalk medallions that comprise The Howard Theater Walk of Fame.

The concept for the new walk of fame was in development since 2008 by the Shaw and LeDroit Park communities in their passion to preserve and honor the rich history of the historic Howard Theatre, and was subsequently commissioned by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities in partnership with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and Cultural Tourism D.C., a nonprofit that promotes the arts across the city.

After a call for artists in 2016, D.C.-based design firm Hackreative along with sculptors Jay Coleman and Joanna Blake were selected to design the medallions. Their pieces draw design elements from the architecture of the Howard Theatre itself, including the braided arch and banner on the building’s sign, and the block frame around the marquee.

The walk of fame consists of fifteen medallions memorializing and recognizing different artists and musicians that have performed at the Howard Theater since it first opened in 1910, who were chosed by a panel of representatives from the commissioning groups, plus a few Shaw and LeDroit Park leaders.  The medallions honor Pearl Bailey, Chuck Brown, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Cab Calloway, The Clovers, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Hampton, Moms Mabley, Abbie Mitchell, Billy Taylor, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and a combination of Howard Theatre managers and owners.  Upright signs that detail the history of the theater and the artists represented bookend the project.

After today’s ride, I later went home and listened to performances by the artists recognized by the walk of fame.  That music was a perfect way to end the day, and a long workweek.

 

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

Edward R. Murrow Park

The late Edward R. Murrow was the first journalist to have Federal parkland named after him, when a tiny triangle of land on Pennsylvania Avenue just west of The White House was dedicated to him almost 40 years ago. And during today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by the park to see it.

Located on Pennsylvania Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown district, it is just opposite the former U.S. Information Agency (USIA), which Murrow headed from 1961 to 1963. The USIA’s successor, the International Communication Agency, is now headquartered in the same building at 1776 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Edward R. Murrow was born Egbert Roscoe Murrow at Polecat Creek, North Carolina in April of 1908. He was the youngest of three brothers born to Quaker parents. When Murrow was six years old, his family moved across the country to Skagit County in western Washington, just 30 miles south of the U.S.-Canada border. He attended high school in nearby Edison, excelled on the debate team, and was president of the student body in his senior year. After graduation from high school, Murrow enrolled at Washington State College, where he was also active in college politics. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1930, he moved back east to New York.

It was in New York that Murrow joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) as director of talks and education in 1935, and remained with the network for his entire career. He first gained prominence as a broadcast journalist and war correspondent during World War II with a series of live radio broadcasts from Europe for the news division of the CBS. During the war he recruited and worked closely with a team of war correspondents who came to be known as the Murrow Boys.

A pioneer of radio and television news broadcasting, Murrow produced a series of reports on his television program See It Now which helped lead to the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Fellow journalists Eric Sevareid, Ed Bliss, Bill Downs, Dan Rather, and Alexander Kendrick consider Murrow one of journalism’s greatest figures, noting his honesty and integrity in delivering the news.

Regardless of your political persuasion, most people can agree that we could use a lot more honesty and integrity in our current news reporting. I guess you could say that society needs another Edward R. Murrow. Unfortunately, there was only one.

         

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

Two of the most well known murals in the city are located on either side of the iconic restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl, located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  The one on the east side of the building, entitled “Alchemy of Ben Ali,” depicts the restaurant founders, Ben and Virginia Ali.  But it is the other one that became controversial, leading to its removal.

In 2012, the Ali family commissioned its first mural with backing from the city’s graffiti prevention initiative, MuralsDC.  A few years later, however, public pressure to redo it started to grow as sexual assault allegations began to accumulate against one of the prominently featured people depicted in the mural – comedian Bill Cosby, who was accused and has subsequently been convicted of sexual assault.  Last year, the mural was first whitewashed, and eventually replaced.

The old mural featured local disc jockey Donnie Simpson, D.C.’s Chuck Brown – the Godfather of Go-Go, President Barack Obama, and Cosby.  Three of those men returned on the replacement mural.  Cosby, who had been a longtime friend of Ben’s, did not.

The newer mural, entitled “The Torch,” painted by D.C. muralist Aniekan Udofia, who also painted the original mural, celebrates D.C. history and black culture.  The mural depicts abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman holding a lantern that spreads light onto the other figures in the mural.  In addition to the three holdovers from the previous mural, those figures, who were chosen through a public voting process on the restaurant’s web site, are:  boxer and activist Muhammad Ali; former D.C. mayor-for-life Marion Barry; comedian and D.C. native Dave Chappelle; singer Roberta Flack;  comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory; actress and singer Taraji P. Henson; D.C.’s non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton; the late singer Prince; longtime local newscaster Jim Vance; D.C. rapper Wale; local radio disc jockey Russ Parr, and; former First Lady Michelle Obama, who now accompanies her husband.

But Virginia Ali, Ben’s widow, says the decision to repaint was based on the state of the mural alone, which she contended had become so soiled, damaged and weather-beaten.  Which means, years from now the mural may need to again be replaced.  So despite not making the cut for the current mural, I still have a chance.  I’ll just have to be patient and wait.

benaliwaymural01

Original Mural

The Whitewash

The Torch

         

         

         

         

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

Emma G

During today’s bike ride, I stopped to watch a street performer playing music outside of the Metro Center transit system station (MAP), located in Downtown D.C.  I had heard her briefly once before, at Christmastime at the Downtown Holiday Market.  But at that time, despite wanting to stay and listen longer, I had to get back to work.  Today, however, I was able to stay for what for me turned out to be an hour-long beginning-of-the-week concert.  The performer’s name is Emma Ghaemmaghamy, but she is more commonly known as Emma G.

Emma G moved to D.C. almost three years ago from New Zealand, where she was the lead singer with the Auckland-based hard rock band Static Era.  After arriving stateside she worked for a few months or so at various jobs in Massachusetts and Connecticut before moving here.  But since arriving in D.C., she’s been focusing all of her time and energy, and her soul into the reason she moved here, to establish a music career in America.  She now works full time as a singer, songwriter, musician, vocal teacher, and actor.  She plays in various local clubs, bars and numerous community events throughout the city.  For example, just recently Emma G was one of the winners of the 2018 Sing Into Spring competition.  And as a result, along with Summer Pearson and Eli Lev, she sang on national television the opening song at this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, which took place earlier this month here in D.C.  Within the last year she has also played at The Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and Arena Stage.

Her career also takes her far beyond our national capital city.  Since moving here she has also completed two tours of California, as well as a nationwide New Zealand tour entitled “All Roads Lead To Home (not Rome).”

Emma G’s music crosses the confines of individual genres.  She describes her music as “always having had a bit of tug and war between rock and pop”, but more recently also incorporating a whole bunch of funk, hip-hop and rap songs.  Her current sound she describes as “having a hint of aggression and sassiness but with a funky edge – kind of Pink meets Adele meets Tracy Chapman”.

A lot of her music also conveys a social consciousness, and not surprisingly for D.C., a certain political aspect as well.  For example, she has described her recent song “Superhero” as being about “using love as a superpower to win out over hate, bigotry, racism and sexism.”  And her studio single “Sold (Take A Shot)” she has described as her “anthem to women in particular with the messaging of ‘my body my choice’.”

It states on her website that she “is known as the ‘Kiwi girl’ who plays great songs.”  But if you’re not fortunate enough to be able to hear her in person, her music is available on iTunes, AmazonGoogle Play, Spotify, and SoundCloud.  And you can even download a free copy of her recent album entitled “Real Talk – Live in Washington, D.C.”

As I was enjoying her musical performance this morning in front of the metro station, I also watched the commuters as they came off the escalators and passed by her on their way to work.  And I felt sorry for many of them.  They seemed to be so caught up in their rush to get to their destinations that they didn’t pause to enjoy the music.  Many of them didn’t even look up to see her smiling, or hear her intermittently greeting them and wishing them a fantastic day.  They simply zoned out and followed each other like lemmings heading off a cliff or, in this case, to their jobs.

But not all of the passersby were oblivious to her presence.  I saw many of them start smiling once they saw her, or when they first heard the music.  Some waved.  A few even gave her a thumbs up.  And some of them exuded an air of familiarity in their interactions with her, much like regulars in a neighborhood bar.  They are the ones I envision having a good day and being happy throughout the day.

At the beginning of this post I wrote that Emma G is a street performer.  But with all due respect to that genre of entertainer, I would come to find out that she is much more than a street performer.  She emits a personal kind of gravity that draws you in.  Her contagious smile automatically evokes smiles from others.  And her music makes you feel like it’s going to be a good day.  She not only performs, but seems to also possess the power to make other people happy.  Experiencing her perform was a great way to start out my Monday at the beginning of a new work week.  And I think it’s going to be a good week.


The sound quality on these videos is not very good because I took them with my cellphone.  But you can
view and listen to her official videos here!

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

FBI-WFO (5)

The FBI’s Washington Field Office

In honor of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who would have turned 98 years old today, on this bike ride I rode to the FBI Headquarters building, and from there to the FBI’s Washington Field Office, which is located at 601 4th Street(MAP).  Mr. Zimbalist was an actor who is arguably most widely known for his starring role as Inspector Lewis Erskine in the television series “The F.B.I.”, which premiered on September 19, 1965 and closed with the last episode on September 8, 1974. The series was an authentic telling of fictionalized accounts of actual FBI cases, with fictitious main characters carrying the stories.

Mr. Zimbalist developed and maintained a strong personal relationship with J. Edgar Hoover, the real-life Director of the FBI at that time.  Although he was never seen in the series, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover actually served as series consultant. Mr. Hoover requested technical accuracy for the show, and that Agents be portrayed in the best possible light. Actors who played F.B.I. employees were required by Hoover to undergo a background check. Mr. Zimbalist passed his background check with ease. He subsequently spent a week in D.C., where he was interviewed by Hoover, and at the F.B.I. academy in Quantico, Virginia. Hoover and Zimbalist remained mutual admirers for the rest of Hoover’s life. Hoover would later hold Zimbalist up as an image role model for FBI employees to emulate in their personal appearance.

The Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, Inc. honored the character of Lewis Erskine in 1985 with a set of retired credentials. On June 8, 2009, then FBI Director Robert Mueller, presented Mr. Zimbalist with a plaque AS an honorary Special Agent for his work on the TV series.

Other notable people with a connection to the FBI and also share today’s birthday with Mr. Zimbalist are: G. Gordon Liddy (former FBI Agent and Watergate conspirator), who turned 87 today; Dick Clark (host of American Bandstand known as America’s oldest teenager, on whom the FBI maintained a file and conducted investigations in 1962 and 1985 into threats of violence against him), who would have turned 87 today; Abbie Hoffman (political activist who was investigated by the FBI), who would have been 81 today; Richard Crenna (actor who performed on the “This Is Your FBI” radio program) would have turned 90 today, and; Mandy Patinkin (actor who played FBI Agent Jason Gideon on the TV series “Criminal Minds”), who turned 65 today.

         

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

Mayor Marion Barry’s Headstone

After dominating his city’s political life for most of four decades, former D.C. Mayor Marion Shepilov Barry, Jr. passed away on November 23, 2014 at the age of 78.  But for the first couple of years after his passing, there was no public memorial or monument, or even a private headstone at his gravesite in Historic Congressional Cemetery.  On this lunchtime bike ride I rode to the cemetery to see the headstone that was finally installed at his gravesite.

The headstone was designed by Cora Masters Barry, Barry’s wife, and his late son, Christopher Barry, who subsequently died of a drug overdose without seeing the monument completed.  It was created by Andy Del Gallo, who has worked on a number of notable projects, perhaps most prominent of which was chiseling “‘I have a dream,’ words spoken by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.”, into the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the spot where king stood when he delivered the famous speech.  But when it came to creating a suitable grave marker for the “Mayor for Life” of  D.C., the artistic process took some twists and turns.

A spokeswoman for Barry’s family, Raymone Bain, said the process of marking Barry’s grave took longer than expected in part because the original design had to be scrapped for not conforming to the cemetery’s requirements. His son Christopher’s death was another setback.  But finally, one day short of the two year anniversary of his death, a memorial headstone was installed.

The headstone Barry’s gravesite is located amid rows of headstones and obelisks, many of them inscribed with the names of people who lived and died in the 19th century.  Barry’s grave is located in an adjoining section on the same row of the graves as Leonard Matlovich and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

The black stone memorial includes an image of bronze relief of Barry with the words “Mayor for life, beloved forever.”  It also is inscribed with a Bible verse, found at Mark 9:35, which reads, “If any man desires to be first, the same shall be last of all and servant of all.”  It is also inscribed with a statement about Barry by Maya Angelou, which reads, “Marion Barry changed America with his unmitigated gall to stand up in the ashes of where he had fallen and come back to win.”  Lastly, another inscription on the headstone, a quote by Barry himself, reads, “Most people don’t know me … the don’t know about all of the fighting I’ve done to manage a government that was progressive and more oriented to uplift the people rather than suppress them.  That’s what I want my legacy to be.  I was a freedom fighter, and a fighter for the economic livelihood of not only black people but all people.”

And that is indeed part of his legacy.  But it is not his complete legacy, because that is a complex amalgam of good and bad, of success and failure, of a public life and a private life that cannot be easily summed up.  The Washington Post, in an article published shortly after Barry’s headstone was unveiled, described his legacy as “civil rights activism and drug use, job creation and womanizing, part history lesson and part punchline — that defies simple labels.”

The creation of a private monument for Barry underscores how little the city has done to formally memorialize its most famous public figure. City officials have said they have plans for a statue of Barry, although it is not yet clear where it will be placed or when it will be created.  So aside from naming the city’s summer jobs program after Barry, who started it, it has yet to bestow Barry’s name on a school or other significant public structure, and there is still no public memorial or monument to the “Mayor for Life”.  And with the city’s changing demographics, deciding on an apt gesture toward Barry’s four terms as mayor – as well as his additional service as a council member and school board member, and his 1960s civil rights activism – grows more complicated and less likely as time goes on.

         

         
The two photos below show how Mayor Barry’s unmarked grave looked almost two years after his death.
MarionBarry02     MarionBarry03
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Black Rock Star Superhero

During today’s lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding in the 16th Street Heights neighborhood in northwest D.C., I saw a mural on the side of a building at the corner of 14th and Randolph Streets (MAP).  So I rode over to get a closer look.  The eclectic nature of the things in the mural indicated to me that there might be a good story behind it.  So later I researched the mural.  And I was right about there being a story behind it.  The mural has undergone several distinct phases to become what I saw today.

The mural was originally entitled Washington Pizza, and was located on the side of the Washington Pizza restaurant.  It was created by Alicia Cosnahan, also know professionally as Decoy, a local artist who creates a lot of local graffiti and murals.  In its original incarnation it showed a family eating, what looks like a couple of colorized local rowhouses, and an another person eating something.  It was topped off by a scrawled and odd-looking no parking warning.

For the 2014 release of “Mayor of D.C. Hip Hop” Head-Roc‘s album of the same name (which, by the way, contained a song entitled “Mayor for Life” in tribute to former four-term D.C. mayor, Marion Barry), local muralist Pahel Brunis modified the mural, which was then retitled “Black Rock Star Super Hero.” Some graffiti text reading Head Roc covered the family, and a likeness of Head-Roc, covered up the cool pizza-eating person.  Thankfully, he also covered up the scrawled “Washington Pizza parking only!”

Later that same year, on the morning of November 23, “Mayor-for-Life” Marion Barry died.  That same afternoon, Head-Roc, along with other local rappers, performed an impromptu musical tribute to Barry at the vacant lot in front of the mural.  As the music played Pahel Brunis returned and once again modified the mural, this time with a tribute to Barry.  It wasn’t planned.  He just grabbed what supplies he had at home and showed up.  Three hours later he had painted a large portrait of Barry on top of the rowhouses.  And that’s how the mural looks today, at least for now.