Archive for the ‘Roadside Attractions’ Category

Golden Haiku Is Back

Today’s lunchtime bike ride felt like I was riding through a book of springtime poetry.  It was near McPherson Square Park that I first began to encounter the poetry on signs along the sidewalk.  And as I continued to ride I encountered the signs for several blocks in every direction.

Each sign contained a haiku, a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey an experience.  They were placed in sidewalk tree and garden boxes by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, and will remain through the end of March.  They are part of the annual Golden Haiku Contest.  The theme of the short poems is Spring, even though Spring doesn’t arrive officially for over a week.

The signs contain the award winning haiku and judges’ favorites from among this year’s 1,675 submissions from 45 countries and 34 states, and D.C.  The contest judges chose their top three haiku, a D.C. winner, honorable mentions and dozens of judges’ favorites to share with the public and, in their words, “bring a smile to commuters and visitors alike and brighten the winter landscape as flowers begin to bloom.”

I took the following photos of the signs I saw, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.  Which one is your favorite?

[Click on any thumbnail to view a gallery of full-size versions]

NOTE:  The Golden Triangle Business Improvement District is comprised of a 43-square-block neighborhood that stretches from DuPont Circle to Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP).

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Georgetown’s “Swords Into Ploughshares” Fence

A while back I heard a story about an iron fence in Georgetown which was supposedly built using hundreds of rifles as the pickets.  Wanting to see for myself, I rode to Georgetown during today’s lunchtime bike ride and personally examined the iron fence in question, which surrounds the property at 2803 and 2805 P Street (MAP).

The story goes that in 1859, Hall M1819 rifles were being stored at an armory in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, while preparations were being made to ship some of them out west to San Francisco.  However, a famed abolitionist named John Brown and his militia, consisting of 21 men (16 white and 5 black),  had been watching the arsenal and planned to seize the shipment of firearms and use them to supply an army of abolitionists.  On October 16th of that year, the Brown militia marched into Harpers Ferry and took both hostages and control of the armory, and established what was briefly known as “John Brown’s Fort.”  However, Brown’s insurrection did not end well, to say the least, for the abolitionists.  A bloody battle ensued and U.S. Marines, led by Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee and his aide J.E.B. Stuart, recaptured the Amory.  Brown was subsequently hanged for treason.

For whatever reason, the raid prompted the military to cancel the shipment of Hall Rifles.  Instead they were auctioned off instead.  A Georgetown merchant and landowners named Rueben Daw purchased the guns and used the barrels to build a fence.  Census records from that time indicate that Daw had also worked as a gunsmith, making it tempting to think that he might have enjoyed constructing the fencing around his property with gun barrels.

So do do I think the story is true?  Well, on one hand there are other stories about the fence.  But none of the stories began until a half a century after Daw passed away.  So it’s really impossible to know for sure.  On the other hand, while I was unable to definitively determine for myself the accuracy of the story, the Harper’s Ferry arsenal one is the most plausible.  Additionally, when I examined he fence there were some signs that to me indicated that the fence was constructed using old rifles.  For example, there are cracks in some of the pickets that not only reveal that each picket is hollow, but also that the walls of the pickets are far thicker than is structurally necessary for a perimeter fence.  And the gun barrel fence is significantly more robust than other neighborhood fences, with each picket measuring about an inch in diameter.  Additionally, some of the pickets have small protrusions which, to me, very much resemble gun sights.  Finally, the pointy spiked tops are clearly separate inserts rather than wrought from the same piece of metal as the tubes.

So given my opinion that the fence is, in fact, made from recycled old rifles, and taking into account that the other stories contain inconsistencies or factual inaccuracies, I tend to believe the most plausible story about the Georgetown’s gun barrel fence.  And at this time in our country’s history, in which our society is in the midst of a heated debate about the 2nd Amendment and gun control, I think we could use more “swords into ploughshares” stories like it.

         

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

Season’s Greenings: Railroads and Roadside Attractions

On this lunchtime bike ride I was fortunate to see some of the most unique and beautiful holiday decorations here in the D.C. area.   I returned to the United States Botanic Garden to see more of their decorations, including their main holiday exhibit entitled “Season’s Greenings: Railroads and Roadside Attractions.”

Each year the Botanic Garden decorates for the holidays with a different themed showcase.  Last year’s theme was national parks.  This year’s holiday showcase is built around a theme of “Roadside Attractions.”  It includes a model train show, with various trains chugging around, below, through, and above recreations of iconic sights from across the United States.  Like the recreations of D.C. Landmarks , all of the features in the Roadside Attractions showcase are made out of a variety of plants.

You can explore classic attractions like Texas’ Cadillac Ranch, Colorado’s hot-dog-shaped Coney Island Hot Dog Stand, South Dakota’s Corn Palace, New Jersey’s Lucy the Elephant, and many more.

During a visit to the Botanic Garden you can also view thousands of blooms throughout the Conservatory, including a seasonal showcase of heirloom and newly developed poinsettia varieties.  And the orchid room, which is incredible throughout the year, is particularly beautiful at this time of year.  So if you can, go there before the holiday decorations are taken down at the beginning of the year.

 

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

List of roadside attractions and the state(s) in which they are located.

1 – Boll Weevil Monument (Alabama)
2 – Cadillac Ranch (Texas)
3 – Coffee Pot and Cup Water Towers (Iowa)
4 – Coney Island Hot Dog Stand (Colorado)
5 – Corn Palace (South Dakota)
6 – Dinosaur Park Dinosaurs (South Dakota)
7 – Ear of Corn Water Tower (Minnesota)
8 – Elwood, The World’s Tallest Concrete Gnome (Iowa)
9 – Golden Driller Statue (Oklahoma)
10 – Hollywood Sign (California)
11 –  Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue (Georgia)
12 – Jolly Green Giant Statue (Minnesota)
13 – Leaning Tower of Niles (Illinois)
14 – Lucy the Elephant (New Jersey)
15 – Mr. Potato Head Statue (Rhode Island)
16 – Mt. Rushmore (South Dakota)
17 – Niagara Falls and Maid of the Mist Boat (New York)
18 – Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (Minnesota)
19 – Peachoid Water Tower  South Carolina, Alabama)
20 – Pineapple Water Tower (Hawaii)
21 – Randy’s Donuts (California)
22 – Route 66 Diner (New Mexico)
23 – Santa Monica Pier (California)
24 – Sapp Bros. Coffee Pot Water Tower (Nebraska)
25 – See Rock City Barn (Tennessee)
26 – Spoonbridge and Cherry (Minnesota)
27 – Teapot Dome Gas Station (Washington)
28 – The Big Chair (Washington, D.C.)
29 – The Big Duck (New York)
30 – The Blue Whale (Oklahoma)
31 – Twistee Treat (Florida, Texas, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois)
32 – Volkswagen Beetle Spider (Iowa, Alabama, California, Nevada, Idaho, Pennsylvania)
33 – Watermelon Water Tower (Texas)
34 – Wawona Tree Tunneled Sequoia (California)
35 – “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” Sign (Nevada)
36 – Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower) (Illinois)
37 – World’s Largest Basket (Ohio)
38 – World’s Largest Bat (Kentucky)
39 – World’s Largest Chili Pepper (New Mexico)
40 – World’s Largest Pecan (Texas)
41 – World’s Largest Pistachio (New Mexico)

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The Oldest Miniature Golf Course in the United States

There are not a lot of choices when it comes to playing miniature golf in D.C. In fact, there is only one miniature golf course in the entire city.  And that is the course in the East Potomac Park Golf Center, located in East Potomac Park at 972 Ohio Drive (MAP), just south of The Jefferson Memorial and north of Hains Point, situated on a peninsula between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River.  And this was the destination of my lunchtime bike ride today, which combined with taking the afternoon off from work, turned into a miniature vacation.

East Potomac Park’s miniature golf course began operating in 1930, and is the oldest continually-operating course in the United States.  As you can imagine based on its age, it is a little more plain in appearance than the typical modern dinosaur or pirate-themed courses, or the fluorescing glow-in-the-dark indoor courses, that are prevalent in seaside resorts, amusement parks, and other tourist destinations.

Each of the course’s holes are simple cement, brick and stone structures with lightly rolling hills and angled turns and corners.  But with varying degrees of difficulty, the overall course is challenging enough to keep the game interesting.  My score made it clear that I was not one of the best players to play the course.  But I think I can safely say that I had as much fun as anyone there.  And a leisurely late lunch at the clubhouse after a full round of 18 grueling holes was a perfect way to top off the day.

The East Potomac Park Golf Center also has two 9-hole and one 18-hole regular golf courses in addition to its miniature version, as well as a covered and lighted driving range, a practice putting green, a FootGolf course (also the only one in D.C.), a retail pro shop, a tennis center, and an aquatic center. There is also a restaurant in the club house, The Potomac Grille, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. And everything is overseen by the National Park Service and, therefore, open to the public.

The center has available on-site parking, as well as an ample number of bike racks.  So regardless of how you get there, I highly recommend going.  For me, it was a great way to end the workday, and begin the workweek.

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On my lunchtime bike ride today I happened upon a number of signs containing poetry. When I looked into it, I found out that they were from a recent contest called the 2016 Golden Haiku Contest. The theme of the short poems pertain to Spring.  And even though today was warm and Spring-like, it doesn’t arrive officially until next week.

I took a photo of a dozen of them, but there are 125 different haiku posted around the the Golden Triangle area of the city, which is the heart of D.C.’s business district, stretching from the front yard of the White House to Dupont Circle. If you are nearby and want to see them for yourself, you can find a map of them here.  But if you’re too far away to see them in person, you can read them here, on the Golden Triangle website.

I found it interesting that as I took a photo of each new one I found, the people walking by were oblivious to them. There is so much to see and enjoy in D.C. Unfortunately, many people in the city are too preoccupied to slow down for a moment and enjoy what is all around them.

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The Lindens

I’ve found that if you remain alert when riding a bike around D.C., you’re almost always guaranteed to happen upon something interesting and out of the ordinary. And on today’s lunchtime bike ride, I chose to ride around with no particular destination in mind hoping to find something new.  I wasn’t disappointed. I was riding around the historic Kalorama Heights neighborhood in northwest D.C. when I happened upon an “Art On Call” installation. Art On Call is a city-wide effort, lead by an organization named Cultural Tourism DC, to restore the city’s abandoned roadside police and fire call boxes and turn them into neighborhood artistic icons. (Note: I plan on writing a future blog post on this subject.)

The Art on Call piece I discovered on this ride was about a house known as The Lindens.  Located nearby at 2401 Kalorama Road (MAP), the house is also known as the King Hooper House.  But it is more than just a house. The elegant Georgian-style house is also the answer to a riddle.  So if anyone ever tells you that there is a house in our nation’s capitol that is the oldest house in the city, even though some houses have been in city longer. And then asks you what house it is, you will know the answer is The Lindens. And after reading this post, you’ll know why.

The house known as The Lindens was built in 1754, more than two decades before America declared its independence, making it the oldest house currently in D.C.  However, it has not always been here.  It was originally built in Danvers, Massachusetts by Robert Hooper, an English Loyalist and wealthy shipping and business tycoon.  It was Hooper, whose nickname was King, who hired an architect named Peter Harrison to build him a summer home for property he owned in Danvers.  It got its name, The Lindens, as a reference to the linden trees that lined the property’s original driveway.  It remained in Massachusetts for nearly 200 years, and had many illustrious owners over those years, including Henry Adams, descendant of President John Adams.  As the American Revolution drew near in 1774, the house even temporarily  sheltered General Thomas Gage, the Massachusetts colony’s last British governor.

However, it become run down over the years and by the time the Great Depression hit the house was in a sad state of affairs. Then in 1933, it was rescued by Israel Sack, founder of the Sack Gallery based in Boston, and Leon David, a Boston real estate and antiques dealer.  At that time Sack used the house for storage and as a showroom. He also brought in a team of architects from the Historic American Buildings Survey in D.C. to make a set of measured drawings and photographs of the house. Those drawings and photographs would soon come in handy.

In 1934, George Maurice Morris, a lawyer who eventually became president of the American Bar Association, and his wife, Miriam, a fertilizer heiress, bought the house for $10,000.  They then had it moved to its present location on Kalorama Road.  Under the supervision of Walter Mayo Macomber, the architect of reconstructed Colonial Williamsburg, the house was painstakingly taken apart and transported on six railroad cars to its new home.  Using the drawings and photographs, it was reassembled beginning in 1935, and took 34 months to complete.  The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.  So even though there are numerous homes in the city that predate The Lindens tenure at its current location, the house itself is, nonetheless, the oldest house in D.C.

And if this house sounds interesting to you and you think you might want to own it, you’re in luck.  It is currently for sale.  The 262-year old, 8,820 square-foot house boasts six bedroom suites, and seven full and two half baths on five separate levels. It also includes banquet and embassy-sized principal rooms, a reception hall, a library, a spa with sauna, a billiard room, a tavern room, and eleven fireplaces. The Colonial-style home has all of this, as well as a patio and three-car garage, all on a majestic half-acre, landscaped and fully fenced-in yard.  The Lindens was featured in Architectural Digest in January of 2014.  The house most recently sold for $7.165 million in February of 2007 to retired hedge fund manager Kenneth Brody, but is now on the market again and could be yours for a mere 8.75 million dollars.  I looked over my budget and worked out the math, and found out that I’d have to sell some of my bikes to be able to afford it.  So I decided to pass.

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Little Free Library

During today’s lunchtime bike ride I ran across a “Little Free Library.” It is located in the 400 block of 13th Street, near the intersection with D Street (MAP), in the southeast section of D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and is part of a burgeoning global literary movement which began in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin, when  a man named Todd Bol built a model of a one room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher who loved reading.  He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard.  Everyone loved it so much that he built several more and gave them away.  And thus, a movement began.

Little Free Libraries first began popping up in the D.C. metro area a couple of years ago. It has since spread throughout the city and to the suburbs. There are currently 31 Little Libraries in the city, 140 in Maryland, and an additional 180 in Virginia. Worldwide there are over 30,000 Little Free Libraries. In addition to the United States, these little libraries are also providing access to free literature all around the globe, in such countries as Tanzania, India, Brazil, Italy, Ghana, Spain Vietnam, and Guatemala, to name just a few.

Little Free Libraries relies on people to build and fill their own little libraries so that the movement continues to expand. Library creators are called Stewards, and it’s up to them to choose what their libraries look like. Some look like fancy mailboxes, while others look like birdhouses, or even doll houses. The creativity is limited only be the imagination of the Stewards. Stewards also choose what initially goes in them. But that can quickly change as people add and subtract from the offerings available. Stewards can also register their Little Library on the website and add it to the online Interactive World Map of libraries.

The libraries don’t require membership cards, nor do they have late fees or time limits on the books that anyone can “check out.” In fact, if you like the book, it’s okay to keep it. So next time you’re going down the street, keep an eye out for a Little Free Library. You may just find a great novel waiting for you there.

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

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Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The McClellan Gate

“On fame’s eternal camping ground their silent tents are spread, And glory guards with solemn round, the bivouac of the dead.” These words, taken from the first verse of Theodore O’Hara’s poem entitled “Bivouac of the Dead”, are inscribed in gold atop the front of The McClellan Gate, which was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

Contained within the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, located across the Potomac River in Arlington County, Virginia (MAP), The McClellan Gate was constructed in approximately 1871 on Arlington Ridge Road, which formed the eastern boundary of the cemetery at that time. The cemetery was enclosed by a wall with four additional gates, which included Fort Myer Gate, Treasury Gate, Ord-Weitzel Gate and Sheridan Gate,  These gates provided pedestrian and vehicular access to the cemetery, with the McClellan Gate serving as the main entrance.  It served as the cemetery’s main entrance until 1922, when it was rendered obsolete by Congress’s authorization of construction of the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  As part of the bridge project, Congress also approved a wide avenue known as Memorial Drive to link the bridge to the cemetery, and a new entrance to the cemetery, known as the “Hemicycle”, to replace the old entrance gates.

The McClellan Gate is the only gate constructed on the cemetery’s eastern boundary in the 1800’s that remains.  Subsequent expansion of the cemetery eastward in 1971 left The McClellan Gate deep inside what is now designated as Section 33 of the cemetery.

The 30-foot high McClellan Gate is a triumphal arch constructed of red sandstone taken from Seneca Quarry in Maryland. The interior of the structure is in the form of an arch, while the exterior is rectangular with a rusticated facade. On both sides of the arch, a sandstone column with Doric capitals support an entablature. The structure has been described as Victorian in architectural style, although the entablature is Neoclassical. In addition to the verse from the Theodore O’Hara poem, the upper portion of the cornice of the arch is inscribed with the name “McClellan” in gilt capital letters. The lower portion of the cornice is inscribed: “Here Rest 15,585 of the 315,555 Citizens Who Died in the Defense of Our Country From 1861 to 1865”.  Brigadier General Montgomery C. Meigs, who was Quartermaster General of the United States Army and founded Arlington National Cemetery, also had his last name inscribed on the east side of the gate’s south column.

Also sometimes referred to as The McClellan Arch, The McClellan Gate was the first memorial in the D.C. area to honor Major General George B. McClellan. An equestrian statue, known as The Major General George B. McClellan Memorial, was later built in 1907 to honor the former General-in-Chief of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Both sides of the McClellan Gate are inscribed with lines from O’Hara’s poem. Atop the back, or the west face of the gate’s arch, is inscribed, “Rest on embalmed and sainted dead, dear as the blood ye gave, no impious footsteps here shall tread on the herbage of your grave.”

Bivouac of the Dead is believed to have been a favorite poem of General Meigs. In fact, Meigs was so impressed with the poem that in addition to ordering the inscriptions on the McClellan Gate, he also had lines from the poem inscribed on wooden plaques and placed throughout Arlington National Cemetery. The wooden plaques were replaced with either bronze or iron ones in 1881. Further, in his position as superintendent over all Army cemeteries, he also had similar plaques placed in Antietam National Cemetery, Fredericksburg National Cemetery, Gettysburg National Cemetery, and Vicksburg National Cemetery, among others.

Interestingly, O’Hara originally write the poem in 1847 in memory of the Kentucky troops killed in the Mexican War, did not give his permission for his poem’s use to commemorate Civil War dead at Arlington National Cemetery. His family learned of the inscriptions only after the gate became nationally famous in the years after its construction.

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The Watergate Steps

Ever since the infamous 1972 illegal break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in D.C.’s Watergate complex, and the Nixon administration’s attempt to cover up its involvement in it, the word “Watergate” has become synonymous with the scandal and the office complex where it originated. But almost half a century before the scandal that took down a president began, a staircase between The Lincoln Memorial and the Potomac River (MAP) was built.   That staircase is named the Watergate Steps, and it was my destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

Designed in 1902 by the architectural firm of McKim, Meade & White, the Watergate Steps were built in 1930 as part of the Arlington Memorial Bridge and Lincoln Memorial approachway. The 40 granite steps are approximately 230 feet wide at the base near the Potomac River, and rise 50 feet to the level of the nearby Arlington Memorial Bridge.  The steps become narrower as they rise, and are approximately 206 feet wide at the top. The steps are also divided into two tiers by the Rock Creek Parkway.

The steps were initially intended to be used for ceremonial arrivals of heads of state, government officials and other dignitaries arriving via the Potomac River. Their boats would pull up to the steps, and there to greet their arrival would be the new memorial, which was less than a decade old. Unfortunately, the steps were never used for their intended purpose.

Eventually, someone realized that the steps would make an excellent venue for music concerts, and a proposal was approved to moor a barge with an orchestra shell on the water at the base of the steps as a stage for summer concerts. The first concert was held there on July 14th, 1935, at which the National Symphony Orchestra performed. These “Sunset Symphonies” became quite popular, and over the next three decades crowds as large as 12,000 were entertained each summer at a series of concerts. Within the first ten years, the National Park Service, which sponsored the concerts, estimated that two million people had attended symphony performances there, as well as concerts by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Forces bands.  Performers as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Paul Robeson also appeared there.

Alas, the concerts were discontinued in 1965 when jets started flying into Washington National Airport, and the noise was just too loud and would drown out the concerts. Failing to be used for their intended purpose, and with the discontinuance of the waterside concerts, the steps now serve mainly to provide tourists and other pedestrians with access to and from the Rock Creek Park Trail, which runs along the bank of the Potomac River. It is also a favorite location for local runners, who sprint up and down the steps for exercise.

So next time you hear the word Watergate, remember that it is more than just an office complex which was the site of a political scandal.  Not only did the Watergate Steps come first, but it is widely thought that the office complex was actually named after the steps.

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