Archive for the ‘Public Figures’ Category

trapezeschool02

The Trapeze School of New York

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day in 1859 that a man named Jules Léotard made his first public appearance as the world’s first flying trapeze artist. He was just 21  years old at the time, but Léotard had been practicing since he was a little boy.

Léotard was born in Toulouse, France, the son of a gymnastics instructor. After he passed his law exams, he seemed destined to join the legal profession. But he had also been experimenting with trapeze bars, ropes and rings suspended over a swimming pool in his father’s gymnasium, and the years of practice paid off. He was the first to turn a somersault in mid-air, and the first to jump from one trapeze to the next.

If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because he was also the designer of the skin-tight one-piece garment which was eventually named after him. Léotard himself called the garment a “maillot”, which is a general French word for different types of tight-fitting shirts or sports shirts. Léotard’s maillot was an all-in-one knitted suit. It allowed freedom of movement, was relatively aerodynamic and there was no danger of a flapping garment becoming entangled with the ropes. Even more importantly, it showed off his physique to its best advantage, making him a huge hit with the ladies and inspiring George Leybourne to immortalize him on the popular song, “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.”

In his memoirs, Léotard vainly wrote: “Do you want to be adored by the ladies? A trapeze is not required, but instead of draping yourself in unflattering clothes, invented by ladies, and which give us the air of ridiculous mannikins, put on a more natural garb, which does not hide your best features.”

The first known use of the name leotard for clothing came in 1886, many years after Léotard’s death at the age of 28. It is still worn today by acrobats, gymnasts, dancers, figure skaters, circus performers, athletes, actors, and exercise enthusiasts throughout the world.

In recognition of today’s anniversary, on today’s bike ride I wore only a leotard.  No, I’m lying.  Not even I would want to see that. Actually, on today’s ride I rode to the D.C. campus of the Trapeze School New York, located near Nationals Park at 1269 New Jersey Avenue  (MAP) in southeast D.C.’s Navy Yard neighborhood.  If you’re thinking of joining the circus, or just looking for a couple hours of unique fun, I recommend giving them a try.

trapezeschool01     trapezeschool03     trapezeschool04
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

trump01

Trump Protestors Get Trumped

Today I stopped by what was formerly known as The Old Post Office Pavilion, located at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), which reopened today as The Trump International Hotel – Washington, D.C.  Based on a 60-year lease from the Federal government, Donald Trump has transformed the building into a 263-room luxury hotel which he proclaims is “one of the finest hotels in the world.”

Beginning today, guests will be able to stay at the new five-star hotel at rates that start at $750 per night and go up to $4,800 a night for the premier “Postmaster Suite”.   After the hotel’s official grand opening, which will take place later this year, room rates will drop to around $472 a night for a “Deluxe Room”, and $9,000 for the one-bedroom “Presidential Suite”.  But the Presidential Suite is not the most expensive accommodations being offered.  For that, guests will have to book the hotel namesake’s “Trump Townhouse”.  For that, guests will have to pay $18,750 per night.

For today’s opening, the Answer Coalition and Code Pink organizations were joined by a few individual protestors to conduct a demonstration in front of the new hotel.  However, when I was there at around noon during the peak of the protest, only about two dozen protestors had shown up to display their signs and banners.  As indicated by a sign-up table and pile of mass-produced signs on the ground next to it, they had been expecting many more people to show up to participate.  It is unknown how many people the organizing groups initially expected to be part of the protest, but most likely they expected many more than I saw while I was there.  In the end, I saw more journalists and  photographers there to cover the event than the people they were there to cover.

Adding insult to injury, the protestors were often drowned out by a street preacher in a red shirt who brought his own bullhorn to their bully pulpit.  Riding around on a bicycle in front of the protestors while simultaneously broadcasting his own personal message, he often drowned out the speakers at the protestors.  At times the speakers even stopped what they were doing while they waited for him to stop talking or, at times, dancing.  But when he did stop it was usually only temporary.

However, despite the protest not being a success in terms of size or getting out their message, the protestors may eventually have the last laugh.  Trump made the deal and broke ground on the renovation before he entered the Presidential race.  At that time his brand was mostly associated with luxury amenities and quality customer service.  But now, after more than a year of campaigning, the Trump name is much more polarizing and off-putting to many people.  And how that will translate into business for the hotel is as uncertain as the outcome of the upcoming election. 

trump02     trump03     trump04

trump05     trump06     trump07

trump08     trump09     trump10

trump11     trump12     trump13
[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

UPDATE (9/12/2016):  I was contacted via Twitter and advised that the protest was planned as an all-day event, and that the number of protestors had increased to approximately 75 participants by early evening.

trumpvandalism01

UPDATE (10/1/2016):  The hotel was the scene of ongoing discontent and protests when it was vandalized today with spray-painted messages of “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice No Peace” near the front entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Tully01

Paul Raymond Tully’s Grave Marker

Earlier this year an obituary for the late Mary Anne Noland of Richmond, Virginia, was published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper. It stated, “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68.” And Noland’s obituary is not unique.  For example, an obituary for Ernest Overbey Jr., also of Richmond, ended with a request to “please vote for Donald Trump.” Similarly, the obituary for Katherine Michael Hinds, of Auburn, Alabama, suggested that “in lieu of flowers, do not vote for Donald Trump.”

Politics being important to someone, even after their death, is also not unique to the current election cycle. This became evident to me on a recent bike ride to Rock Creek Cemetery, located at 201 Allison Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Michigan Park neighborhood. There I saw the unusual grave marker for someone named Paul Raymond Tully. Aside from his name, and the dates of his birth and death, it simply read, “A Democrat.” This, combined with the appearance of the grave marker itself, compelled me to want to look into who he was, and why instead of sentiments like “Loving Husband” or “Devoted Father” or “Faithful Friend”, he was simply described by his political party affiliation.

Tully was born on May 14, 1944, in New York City, the son of working-class parents. He graduated from Yale and received a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania. But he then chose a career in politics rather than the law.  However, he did not run for office himself.  Nor was he the type of man who would eventually take some cushy political appointment in a Democratic administration. His lifelong work involved the political process, and getting a democrat elected president. Obsessed for more than two decades, he pursued this goal, thinking only a Democratic president could do the things he thought were needed to establish equity in American society.

Tully was only 48 years old when he died on September 24, 1992, in a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he had just moved.  The coroner stated that he appeared to have died of natural causes, speculating that it was most likely a heart attack or stroke.  However, it is officially listed as unknown causes because no autopsy was allowed.

At the time of his death Tully was Director of Political Operations for the Democratic National Committee. With his roots in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, he had been closely associated with some of its most prominent figures, including Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Senators Gary Hart of Colorado, Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota and George McGovern of South Dakota, as well as former governor Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts. One of his party’s pre-eminent strategists, Tully had worked in every presidential campaign since 1968. And you may have already deduced from the place and timing of his death, at the time of died he was also key aide in the presidential campaign of Governor Bill Clinton.

The bronze memorial sculpture which serves as Tully’s headstone was designed by his eldest daughter, Jessica Tully. She created the nearly four and a half foot tall bronze and granite memorial, and worked with the Del Sol Foundry in California to cast and assemble the project. It consists of three elements. First, a representation of the wooden work chair from his home. On the chair is a folded copy of the New York Times from November 4, 1992, announcing the election of President Clinton. Lastly, there are two of his ubiquitous coffee cups, one for him and the other for whomever he would have been talking with, usually but not always about politics. The sculpture was not completed until more than a decade after his passing, and was unveiled at event on May 3, 2014, near what would have been his 70th birthday.

When I first saw it I just knew there would be an interesting story behind this unusual grave marker.  And I was right.  And after learning about the man, I can’t help but wonder what he would think of the current election.

Tully02     Tully03
[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

GhostBike01

A Ghost Bike in Anacostia

The summer heat was a little milder today than it has been lately, and with forecasts predicting that temperatures will be increasing to over a hundred degrees within the next few days, I decided to go for my daily bike ride a little early again today, and I made it a long one.  For today’s ride I decided to ride around southeast D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. So I took my favorite route, going past Robert F. Kennedy Stadium and through Kingman and Heritage Islands, and started out today’s Anacostia ride on Anacostia Avenue near Benning Road.

Rather than riding on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, I initially chose to ride on Minnesota Avenue, which parallels the trail and the river, so I could ride through residential areas. The trail has been greatly improved over the past few years, as has the quality of the Anacostia River. But the residential areas provide a better flavor of the historic and unique working-class neighborhood. And it was there that I came across a type of memorial that many people don’t even know is a memorial. I found a “ghost bike.”

By definition, “a ghost bike is a bicycle painted white and left as a memorial, usually by other cyclists, at a site where a cyclist was fatally injured by a collision with a motor vehicle.” And as I would come to find out, the ghost bike I saw on this ride, which is located in the 2600 block of Minnesota Avenue, at the corner of Minnesota Avenue and Burns Street (MAP), marks the spot where a 23-year-old cyclist named Jerrell Robert Elliott was killed by a hit and run driver just last month.

A ghost bike carries with it an extremely personal connection because it memorializes someone at the very location where that person was killed.  And Elliott lived only a few feet from where he was hit and left to die very early in the morning of July 23rd.  He was considered by family and neighbors to be a really good kid with a bright future.  As a child, he was a member of The Young Marines, the Fort Dupont Ice Arena’s youth team and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)/D.C. Police Teen Jr. Police Academy.  And he remained active as an adult.  The 23-year-old loved playing hockey and riding his bike, and is thought to have been on his way home from a local gym when he was hit.

While I was there paying my respects and taking a photo of the ghost bike and memorabilia that had been left at the site, an incredibly nice young woman from the neighborhood named Wanda stopped to talk with me.  She was friendly, and caring, and seemed to embody the best qualities of the neighborhood.  She told me a little about Elliot.  She also told me about how touched his family was by the cyclists who had brought and placed the ghost bike there.  Then she told me about two women who had stopped to help him after he was hit, but that no one had since come forward with any information about what had happened.  She said she had a bike, and we also talked about the neighborhood, and how the cycling infrastructure is not only inadequate overall, but how it has not kept pace with more affluent areas of the city.  Before she left, she stopped to clean up a broken vase and some debris at the base of the ghost bike, further exemplifying to me how thoughtful and welcoming so many people in the Anacostia neighborhood are.

In addition to the personal aspect of a ghost bike memorial, its meaning and appearance also invoke a reminder of the vulnerability of all cyclists.  According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 726 cyclists were killed in this country in bicycle/motor vehicle crashes in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available.  So as I rode back to my office at the end of my ride, I rode with a renewed awareness of the need to always ride defensively on my bike, and to drive cautiously when I’m in a car.  I hope all of you reading this will do the same.

GhostBike02     GhostBike03

GhostBike04     GhostBike05     GhostBike06
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

NOTE: Police are still searching for the driver of the car that hit Elliott. The suspect was driving a gray colored vehicle, possibly a Volvo, according to a release from the MPD. “We’re looking for anyone who may have seen anything—either leading up to the actual crash or even after the crash,” according to Officer Robert Wilkins.  Information can be provided anonymously through The D.C. Crime Solvers Program by calling (202) 727-9099, or you can text your tip to 50411.

Kameny01

The Empty Grave of Frank Kameny

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by Historic Congressional Cemetery, located at 1801 E Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.’s Barney Circle neighborhood, where I visited the gravesite of Frank Kameny. Known as “one of the most significant figures” in the American gay rights movement,” Kameny’s lived an impactful public life. But as was suggested by the title of this blog post, his story doesn’t end there.

Franklin Edward Kameny was born on May 21, 1925 to Ashkenazi Jewish parents in New York City. He grew up in New York City and graduated from high school at the age of 16, and went on to college to study physics. Before he could complete his education he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in the European theater throughout World War II. After being honorably discharged from the service, he returned to college and earned a degree in physics in 1948. He then went on to enroll in Harvard, where he studied astronomy and earned a master’s degree in 1949, and doctorate in 1956.

After a year teaching at Georgetown University, he obtained a civil service job as an astronomer with the U.S. Army Map Service in July of 1957. It wasn’t long afterward that an investigator from the U.S. Civil Service Commission came to question him about reports that he was a homosexual. That fall, only a few months after being hired, he was fired for being gay.  And in January of 1958, he was barred forever from Federal government employment. Kameny formally appealed his firing, first through formal channels, then all the way to the House and Senate Civil Service Committees, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  After not prevailing through those channels, he filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court to get his job back. But he lost that too, as well as a subsequent appeal in the Federal Court of Appeals. Then after being abandoned by his lawyer who declared his cause hopeless, Kameny personally brought and represented himself in a landmark albeit unsuccessful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Although he lost the case, the proceeding was notable as the first known civil rights claim based on sexual orientation pursued in a U.S. court.

For the vast majority of people during that time, homosexuality was seen as abhorrent, sinful, and criminal. Even most homosexuals thought so too. So there were not any gay rights organizations in D.C. for Kameny to turn to. So in a move that would begin a lifelong role as an organizer and an advocate, Kameny decided to start one of his own. He was a cofounder of the Mattachine Society of Washington, and later the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the National Gay Task Force, and the National Gay Rights Lobby, which was the first national political lobbying organization for the gay and lesbian community. He also led the first gay rights protests at the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Civil Service Commission, and at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. He would also become the first openly gay person to run for Congress, help lobby the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness, create the first test case against the military ban on gay service by Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, and be appointed a Commissioner of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, thereby becoming the first gay municipal appointee.

In 2007, Kameny’s death was mistakenly reported by The Advocate, an American LGBT-interest magazine, alongside a mistaken report that he had HIV. The report was retracted with an apology. A little over four years later Kameny died from natural causes due to arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.  He died on October, 11, 2011, coinciding with National Coming Out Day, an annual awareness day pertaining to the voluntary self-disclosure of one’s sexual orientation.  His body was subsequently cremated, and Timothy Clark, his legal heir, took possession of the ashes. Because Clark and the Kameny estate lacked the financial means, a burial plot was purchased by a LGBT charitable group named Helping Our Brothers and Sisters. But Clark would not allow the interment of the ashes to take place until ownership of the cemetery plot was signed over to the estate. And after years of fighting between the Kameny family, friends, and Clark, his ashes have still not been interred in the plot. However, the headstone, along with a footstone bearing the slogan, “Gay is Good,” which Kameny coined in 1968, were placed at the plot last year. Clark subsequently interred the ashes at an undisclosed location, and has asked the public to respect “his wishes and his privacy.”

The area of the cemetery where the Kameny memorial headstone is located has in recent years become somewhat of a tourist attraction, particularly to those in the LGBT community.  Kameny’s plot is located right behind that of Leonard Matlovich, as well as the nearby gravesites of J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson.  A growing number of other out gays, including veterans and couples, have also chosen to be buried in the same once obscure graveyard such as gay rights pioneers Randy Wicker, Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen.  Also, members of American Veterans for Equal Rights have purchased eight nearby adjoining plots to create a LGBT veterans memorial.

Kameny02     Kameny03     Kameny04
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

MarvinGaye01

Marvin Gaye Mural

Change is sometimes good and sometimes bad, but it is always inevitable. And sometimes change has unintended consequences. One type of change that can have consequences that occurs here in D.C. is the construction of new buildings and the renovation of existing ones. An example of this was the mural of Marvin Gaye that was painted by prominent local artist Aniekan Udofia on the side of the building at 711 S Street in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown Neighborhood. Construction of an adjacent eight-story building next door to the mural resulted in the destruction and covering up of this piece of public art.

The mural of one of D.C.’s most beloved native sons was not up for very long, but it made quite an impact on the neighborhood.  Aniekan (the artist who usually goes by just his first name) knew when he undertook the original mural that it would eventually be covered up. So he used that as motivation to make it not just noticeable, but unforgettable.  And he succeeded. In fact, the mural became so well liked in such a short time that after its destruction, he was commissioned to create/recreate a new Marvin Gaye mural nearby in the neighborhood, next to the Hollywood Barbershop at 710 S Street (MAP). It was this replacement mural that was my destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

The replacement mural is similar in its bright, colorful composition, and possesses the same spirit as the original. But according Aniekan, it contains more “soul.” In fact, the artist suggested entitling it “The Soulful Return of Marvin Gaye.” I think many residents of the neighborhood are glad to see the reincarnated mural, as are fans of the artist like me.

MarvinGaye02     MarvinGaye03
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Although most of my posts in this blog are about my weekday, lunchtime bike rides around the city, with an occasional weekend or holiday excursion to local and regional parks in the greater metropolitan area, for this post I ventured out to an evening event on a weekday.

Last night I stood, along with the local community, to pay my respects and honor Prince William County Police Officer Ashley Guindon.  Officer Guindon was killed in the line of duty, and two other officers – Jesse Hempen and David McKeown, were shot and wounded when they responded to a domestic violence call this past Saturday.  It was her first day on the job, having been sworn in just the day before.  So last night, as dozens upon dozens of police motorcycles and cruisers with red-and-blue flashing lights lit up the darkness, we “lined the route” as Officer Guindon’s body was taken to the Hylton Memorial Chapel, located at 14640 Potomac Mills Road in Woodbridge (MAP).  A viewing will take place at the chapel beginning at 10:00am today, and it is open to the public.  The public is also invited to the funeral service beginning at noon, but it should be known that priority will be given to law enforcement and government officials if space becomes an issue.

Police are warning people not to donate to GoFundMe pages that purport to be raising money for Guindon’s family.  It has been determined that at least one fraudulent page was set up in the Officer Guindon’s name.  The Prince William County Police Association has created an official memorial fund, with all donations going directly to Officer Guindon’s family.  Anyone who wishes to donate can leave their donation at any county police station or mail it directly to the police association at: Prince William County Police Association, Officer Guindon Memorial Fund, P. O. Box 1845, Manassas, VA 20108.

Owney the Postal Service Mascot

Owney the Postal Service Mascot

On this bike ride I went to meet a dog named Owney. Also known by the nickname “Globe-trotter,” Owney was a scruffy terrier-mix mutt, who was nation’s most famous canine during his lifetime.

Owney first wandered into a Post Office in Albany, New York in 1888, and eventually went on to become a world-travelling mascot for The U.S. Postal Service.  It is thought that Owney’s original owner was might have been a postal clerk who let the dog walk with him to work.  Then at some point, his owner moved away and Owney stayed on at the post office where he had made a number of new friends, becoming a regular fixture there. Others speculate that Owney was homeless before wandering into the post office. Whatever the case may be, once he wandered in to the Albany Post Office, Owney found himself a new home and a new family.

Owney was attracted to something about the mailbags. Perhaps it was the texture, or maybe the scent. No one really knows for sure. Anyway, he liked them so much that he would come in and make himself at home among them.  In cold weather, postal workers would even bundle him in mailbags to help keep him warm. Owney became somewhat of a guardian of the bags and the mail in them, and would not allow anyone other than mail clerks to touch or handle the bags.  In fact, Owney liked the mailbags so much that he soon began to follow them when they left Albany.

At first Owney accompanied the mail bags onto mail wagons. Eventually, he also began to follow the bags that were loaded onto the Railway Post Office trains. Owney rode the trains across the state, and eventually around the country. Then, in 1895, Owney made an around-the-world trip, traveling with mailbags on trains and steamships from the Tacoma, Washington, sailing for China and Japan and through the Suez Canal before sailing back to New York City.  He then returned to Albany. Over the next decade Owney traveled by train over 140,000 miles, following postal workers and mailbags almost everywhere they traveled.

At a time when train wrecks were all too common, no train on which Owney rode was ever involved in a wreck. So railway mail clerks considered him a good luck charm, and adopted Owney as their unofficial mascot for the next nine years. Clerks along his routes would mark Owney’s travels by placing metal baggage tags with each city’s name on his collar. Each time Owney returned home to Albany, the clerks there would see the tags and find out where Owney had been.

After a while Postmaster General John Wanamaker, who was one of Owney’s many fans, learned that his collar was weighed down by an ever-growing number of tags. So he gave Owney a vest on which to wear and display the “trophies.” Postmaster Wanamaker also declared that Owney was the Official Mascot of the Rail Mail Service.

By the spring of 1897 Owney was in poor health. He had been “retired” from traveling and was living with a postal worker in St. Louis, Missouri.  But the trains and the dog could not be separated for long, and by the summer he was again riding the rails.

On June 11, 1897, a postal worker in Toledo, Ohio was showing off Owney and his collection of tags to a local newspaper reporter. Owney, who was an old dog by then and still in poor health, was agitated and barking. He then turned and bit the postal worker on the hand.  The postal worker spread the word that Owney was mad, and the Toledo postmaster summoned the town marshall, who shot him, thus bringing a sad ending to both the life and the career of the famous little mutt.

Despite his one fatal gaff, Owney was still a beloved dog. Postal clerks raised funds to have Owney preserved, and he was given to the Post Office Department’s headquarters in here in D.C. Owney later made appearances in St. Louis at the 1904 World’s Fair, and the Post Office Department’s exhibit at the Sesquicentennial exhibit in Philadelphia, before returning to D.C.  In 1911, the department transferred Owney to the Smithsonian Institution, where he was put on display in the National Museum of American History.  In 1993 he moved to The National Postal Museum, where he has remained ever since.

After over 100 years, Owney continues to remain popular. In 2011, Owney was deemed worthy of depiction on a U.S. postage “forever” stamp. Owney has also been the main character in five hard cover books, a graphic novel entitled “The Secret Around-the-World Adventures of Owney the Postal Dog,” and an ebook entitled “Owney the Mail Pouch Pooch,” which features Owney’s theme song entitled “Owney — Tales From The Rails,” sung my country music artist Trace Adkins.  Owney also has his own blog, as well as a Facebook and Twitter pages.  Owney even has his own interactive iPhone app which can be downloaded for free at the iTunes store.

Owney can be seen on display in the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, wearing his vest and surrounded by some of the over 1,000 tags that he accumulated on his travels. Many of Owney’s tags did not survive, but museum currently has 372 Owney tags in its collections. The National Postal Museum is located at 2 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP), next to Union Station in northeast D.C.’s Swampoodle neighborhood. The Museum is open from 10:00am to 5:30pm daily except for Christmas. And you can’t beat the price of admission – it’s free.

Owney03     Owney02     Owney05

PostalMuseum01     Owney01a     Owney0a

Memorial to Orlando Letelier

Memorial to Orlando Letelier

It was 38 years ago today that Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean government minister, diplomat and ambassador to the U.S., was assassinated here in D.C. I was only 14 years old at the time, but I remember it happening because of the unusual and audacious method by which he was killed – a car bomb.

Marcos Orlando Letelier del Solar was a Chilean economist, Socialist politician and diplomat during the presidency of Socialist President Salvador Allende. After a military coup d’état led by General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the government in 1973, Letelier was arrested. He spent approximately a year in prisons and various concentration camps, including the infamous Dawson Island, which was used by the Allende regime to house political prisoners suspected of being communist activists. After diplomatic pressure from Venezuelan government prompted his release, Letelier moved to D.C. at the invitation of writer and film-maker Saul Landau to work at the Institute of Policy Studies, a left-wing think tank. He then became the leading voice of Chilean resistance to Pinochet, lobbying Congress and European powers to stop trading with the military dictatorship of American-backed General Pinochet.

Approximately a year after coming to D.C., on September 21, 1976, Letelier was on his way to work like any other day, except that he was giving his assistant, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, and her husband, Michael, a ride because their car had broken down. Letelier was driving, while Ronni was in the front passenger seat and Michael was in the rear behind his wife. As they rounded Sheridan Circle in northwest D.C. at approximately 9:35 am, a violent explosion under the car lifted it off the ground and caused it to collide with another car that happened to be parked illegally in front of the Irish embassy.

Michael was able to escape from the car by crawling out where the shattered rear window. Assuming Ronni was alright when he saw her get out of the car and stumble away, he made his way around the car to check on Letelier, who was still in the driver’s seat. Letelier’s lower torso was blown away and his legs were severed, but he was still alive. Both Ronni and Letelier were taken to the George Washington University Medical Center. Letelier succumbed to the massive injuries suffered in the explosion approximately 20 minutes later.   Ronni’s died a little over an hour later, her larynx and carotid artery having been severed by a piece of shrapnel from the bomb. Michael suffered only a minor head wound.

An FBI investigation determined that the assassination had been orchestrated by agents of the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), the Chilean secret police, led by an American named Michael Townley, who was a DINA U.S. expatriate who had once worked for the CIA, along with right-wing Cuban militants who they had hired to carry out the hit. Townley was extradited to the U.S., and agreed in a plea deal to provide evidence against his co-conspirators in exchange for pleading guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to commit murder and being given a ten-year sentence. Townley’s wife, Mariana Callejas, also agreed to testify in exchange for not being prosecuted. The Chilean government refused to extradite two DINA officials who were involved, but they were tried and convicted in Chile, and sentenced to between 6 and 7 years in prison. The Cubans were tried in the U.S. and sentenced to life in prison. Soon after the trial, Townley was freed under the Witness Protection Program.   General Pinochet, who died in December of 2006, was never charged or brought to trial for the murders, despite CIA evidence implicating him as having ordered the assassination.

On this bike ride, I rode to the Letelier-Moffitt Memorial at the site of the bombing in which they were killed. The memorial is located in the southwest area of Sheridan Circle, near 23rd Street and Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood. The memorial consists of a small brass plaque embedded in the grass between the sidewalk and the curb where they were killed, near the Irish and Romanian embassies.

Letelier01a

Duke Ellington's "Encore"

Duke Ellington’s “Encore”

On this bike ride I rode to Ellington Plaza in the Shaw/Uptown neighborhood’s “U Street corridor” in northwest D.C., to see a statue entitled “Encore.”  Located in front of The Howard Theatre at Florida Avenue and T Street (MAP), the 20-foot stainless steel statue on a granite base depicts Edward Kennedy Ellington, better known as “Duke” Ellington, who was a native Washingtonian.  It was created by sculptor Zachary Oxman, also a D.C. native, who was commissioned to complete the piece by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.  The statue depicts Ellington sitting on a giant treble clef while playing a curved piano.  The site where the statue is located was chosen because Ellington spent his childhood and the early years of his career in the neighborhood.

Ellington got his nickname when childhood friends noticed that “his casual, offhand manner, his easy grace, and his dapper dress gave him the bearing of a young nobleman.” and then began calling him Duke.  Ellington credited his friend Edgar McEntree for the moniker, stating, “I think he felt that in order for me to be eligible for his constant companionship, I should have a title. So he called me Duke.”  The title stayed with him for the rest of his life.

It was not until his teen years, when he began hanging out at Frank’s Billiards next door to the Howard Theater, that Duke Ellington really focused on a musical career that would eventually lead to him being considered one of the best  American composers, pianists and jazz orchestras bandleaders of all time.

In New York, jazz musicians were in demand and by 1923 The Duke moved to Harlem, and formed his first band, the Washingtonians.  Once his career took off, he not only played local venues including the Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall, but toured and played internationally, including Europe, South America and Australia.  But even after achieving success and national recognition through recordings, radio broadcasts, and film appearances, Ellington continued to return many times to D.C. to perform.  One of his most important trips was to give a boost to the re-opening of the Howard Theater that had fallen on hard times in the late 1920s.  At the Howard, beginning on September 29, 1931, Ellington was the top headliner and played to standing-room-only audiences for an entire week.  It was this commitment and dedication to the neighborhood and the Howard Theater that makes it an ideal location for this fitting tribute.

DukeEllington1        DukeEllington2