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Reloaded

Murals revitalize neighborhoods with nothing but a little spray paint and imagination.  And an initiative named MuralsDC is spearheading this form of revitalization here in the national capital city.  Sponsored by the D.C. Department of Public Works and conducted in partnership with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the non-profit Words Beats & Life, MuralsDC works with business owners in places that have been affected by illegal graffiti, and replaces the graffiti with free-of-charge artwork.  And that’s is exactly what happened to create the mural that I saw on this lunchtime bike ride.  It is entitled “Reloaded”, and is located on the side of the building located at 312 Florida Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Truxton Circle neighborhood.

“Reloaded” was created by one of D.C.’s most active mural artists, Aniekan Udofia, whose other local murals include:  a portrait of Marvin Gaye surrounded by streams of color; one featuring a mermaid-like girl swimming in a sea of color at the William Rumsey Aquatic Center on Capitol Hill, and; a brightly striped mural featuring President Barack Obama and Bill Cosby that up until recently was featured on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl.

One of D.C.’s most eye-catching murals, “Reloaded” shows a curvy woman pointing a sharp pencil from her hips, almost like a weapon. And the pencil-as-weapon imagery seems to jump out of the wall, much like it jumped to the attention of the public when it was first planned.  The Department of Public Works was cautious about the implication of a weapon, but nonetheless supported the choice of mural at the urging of Nzinga Damali Cathie, who works at Kuumba Kollectibles , the art gallery, gift store, and sweets shop located in the building that is home to the mural.  Damali Cathie asserted, “We want people to focus on the true meaning of the weapon, the pencil, which is knowledge and literacy.  [It’s] not a weapon that destroys at all, but more of a tool for building.”  It has since become a neighborhood landmark, and received only positive feedback from visitors to Kuumba Kollectibles.

Captain Nathan Hale Statue

On this lunchtime bike ride I went to see a statue of Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale, which is located outside of the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, located at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in the city’s  Downtown neighborhood.  I went for two reasons.  First, to see the statue itself.  But the other reason I went to see the statue was to try to determine why it was located where it is.  As far as I know, Hale was not a lawyer or connected in any way to the Justice Department or the Federal government.  And he didn’t even have any known connections to D.C.  So I was curious why the statue was placed where it is.

Nathan Hale was born on June 6, 1755 in Coventry, Connecticut.  In 1768, at the age of 14, he attended Yale College along with his older brother Enoch.  Hale graduated with first-class honors in 1773 at age 18 and became a teacher in Connecticut, first in East Haddam and later in New London.

When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, Hale joined a Connecticut militia unit.  His unit participated in the Siege of Boston, but Hale remained behind.  It has been speculated by some that he was unsure as to whether he wanted to fight.  On July 4, 1775, Hale received a letter from his classmate and friend Benjamin Tallmadge, and the letter was so inspiring that, several days later, Hale accepted a commission as first lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut Regiment.

In September of the following year, General George Washington was desperate to determine the location of the imminent British invasion of Manhattan Island. To that end, he needed a spy for the Continental Army behind enemy lines.  Hale was the only volunteer.

During his mission, New York City fell to British forces, and Hale was captured.  Hale was convicted of being a spy, and according to the standards of the time, was sentenced to be hanged the next day as an illegal combatant.  While waiting for the sentence to be carried out, Hale requested a Bible, but his request was denied.  Sometime later, he requested a clergyman.  Again, his request was denied.  The sentence was carried out the next morning, and Hale was hanged.  He was 21 years old.

Hale is best remembered for a speech that he gave just prior to being executed.  It is almost certain that his last speech contained more than one sentence, but it is for the following sentence that he is best remembered.  His last words before facing the gallows were famously reported to be, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  Subsequent to his execution, Hale’s body has never been found.

The original statue honoring Hale was created by American sculptor Bela Pratt in 1912, and stands in front of Connecticut Hall where Hale resided while at Yale.  The statue located at the south façade of the Justice Department building near the corner of 10th Street and Constitution Avenue is a copy of this sculpture.  The D.C. statue is also part of the “American Revolution Statuary”, a group of fourteen statues in D.C. that are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

Unfortunately, despite visiting the statue and researching it later, I still have no idea why it is located where it is.  So if you know why, or have a theory, please feel free to share it in the comments section below.

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

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Beirut Barracks Memorial

It was great early-spring weather for a bike ride today.  There was no longer any sign of the recent cold, rainy conditions that took away the cherry blossoms.  Instead, the skies were clear.  There was a slight breeze.  And the temperature was just warm enough to hint of summer’s approach.  So on this lunchtime bike ride I rode over to Arlington National Cemetery (MAP), and went for a long walk on the grounds.  And it was during this walk that I visited the Beirut Barracks Memorial.

The Beirut Barracks Memorial honors the 241 American servicemen, comprised of 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers, who were killed in the October 23, 1983 terrorist bombing of the Marines barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The bombing occurred during the Lebanese Civil War, when two truck bombs carrying what the FBI called the largest non-nuclear bomb in history, detonated by suicide bombers affiliated with a splinter group of the Iranian-and Syrian-supported Hezbollah organization, struck separate buildings housing United States and French military members of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon killing the U.S. servicemen, as well as 58 French peacekeepers, six civilians, and the two suicide attackers.

The memorial consists of a Lebanese cedar tree and a stone marker which reads, “‘Let Peace Take Root’  This cedar of Lebanon tree grows on living memory of the Americans killed in the Beirut terrorist attach and all victims of terrorism throughout the world.  Dedicated during the first memorial ceremony for these victims.  Given by: No Great Love. October 23, 1984.  A Time of Remembrance.”  And it is located in the green expanse of Arlington National’s Section 59, near the final resting place of some of the first Americans to shed blood in the fight against Middle East terrorism.  Twenty-one service members who lost their lives in the Beirut Barracks Bombing are also buried in Section 59 near the memorial.

BeirutBarracksMemorial02[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Amur Cork Tree

Perhaps the National Capital City’s biggest attraction in early Spring is the blooming of the historic cherry trees surround the Tidal Basin, the National Mall, and the Potomac waterfront. Visitors come from all over the world to witness this annual spectacle of nature.  However, the blooms last a very short time.  Any given tree may be in full bloom for only about a week.  And it has now been more than a week since the blossoms peaked.  During the intervening time the remaining blossoms continued to fall off the trees.  And then almost all of those that were left succumbed to the rain and wind over the past weekend.

But just because we will have to wait until next year for the cherry blossoms to return, visiting the trees near the Tidal Basin is still worthwhile.  The twisted and gnarled trunks of the 3,750 cherry trees are ornamental in and of themselves.   And like their blossoms, flowering cherry trees themselves are fairly ephemeral too, at least as trees go. Most cultivars live only 30 to 40 years.  But quite a few of the trees surrounding the Tidal Basin were originally planted more than 100 years ago, and their age only contributes to their beauty.

There are other trees mixed in with the more famous cherry trees that are worth seeing too.  Flowering trees include dogwood, holly, magnolia, and crabapple trees. Other trees include American Elms, Red Maples, River Birches and pines.   But perhaps the most interesting of the other trees is an Amur cork tree on the south side of the Tidal Basin (MAP), between the water and The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  Having been planted over 80 years ago, these trees are old enough to have witnessed the construction of the nearby The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and its dedication back in 1943.

The Amur cork tree, or the Phellodendron amurense, is a species of deciduous tree in the family Rutaceae named for its thick corky bark.  Native to eastern Asia; northern China, northeast China, Korea, Ussuri, Amur, and Japan.  The tree is a major source of huáng bò, one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.

What I find most interesting about the Amur cork tree, however, besides its unusual appearance, is that it is considered invasive and even an ecological threat in North America.  The National Park Service, who overseas the area around the Tidal Basin, originally introduced it to the environment.  However, the Park Service’s own guidelines state, “The best way to control Amur corktree is not to plant it in the first place.”  It’s a contradiction that seems typical for the Federal government.

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

The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin

On this bike ride I rode back to the Tidal Basin (MAP) in West Potomac Park to enjoy the remaining cherry blossoms that haven’t yet been ruined, but soon will be by the rain storms that are being predicted to arrive soon.  And as I was walking around the Tidal Basin and passing by The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial on the southwest bank of the water, I saw a rough-hewn stone structure about the size of a man located just a few feet off the sidewalk that surrounds the water’s edge.  When I went over to get a closer look and find out more about it I learned that it is a pagoda.

A pagoda is a tiered tower with multiple eaves, built in traditions originating as stupa in historic South Asia and further developed in East Asia or with respect to those traditions, common to Nepal, India, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia.

The pagoda at the Tidal Basin is a Japanese one, which is directly derived of the Chinese pagoda, itself an interpretation of the Indian stupa.  Japanese pogodas can be built in many forms.  Some are built out of wood, and are frequently buildings.  But the vast majority of pagodas carved out of stone, like the one at the Tidal Basin.  Stone pagodas are nearly always small, and as a rule offer no usable space. If they have more than one storey, pagodas are called tas.

Like The Japanese Stone Lantern directly across the Tidal Basin, the pagoda was similarly a gift from Japan to the city of Washington.  According to a small plaque on the pagoda, it was presented by the Mayor of Yokohama and dedicated on April 18, 1958, to “symbolize the spirit of friendship between the United States of America manifested in the Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce signed at Yokohama on March 31, 1854 .”

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

This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch

On of the favorite local early-spring pastimes in the D.C. area is the “cherry blossom watch.”  This involves observing the progress of the Yoshino cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin as they approach “peak bloom.”  Peak bloom is traditionally defined as the day when 70 percent of the blossoms are open on the famous trees.  But because approximately half the blossoms on the trees were killed when unseasonably cold weather returned just as they were about to reach peak bloom, that didn’t happen.  Instead, this year definition had to be slightly altered.  Officials defined peak bloom for 2017 as the day 70 percent of the remaining blossoms were open.  And that occurred a few days ago.

As expected, the bloom this year was a little more subdued than usual simply because of the diminished number of buds that survived the weather.  However, the trees put on a beautiful show nonetheless.  Over the past few days since the peak bloom the blossoms have gradually been going from white to their iconic pale pink.  But the blossoms are also becoming quite fragile.  And with a prediction of one hundred percent chance of rain tomorrow, the rain will most likely knock the remaining petals off and blanketing the ground with so many petals it looks like blossom snow.

If it’s possible for you to get down here to the Tidal Basin by the end of the day today, you will still be able to see the last part of this year ‘s blooming cycle.  Otherwise, I hope you will enjoy the following photos that I took this year.  You can also see  my blog posts with photos of the cherry blossoms from previous years.

          

         

          

         

          

         

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

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The Brodhead-Bell-Morton Mansion

On this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding near Scott Circle in northwest D.C., I saw what looked like commemorative brass plaques on the side of a building.  Wanting to find out more about the plaques and the building, I stopped to look into it.  According to the plaques, the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and once belonged to Alexander Graham Bell.  Whetting my appetite to find out more about the house, I researched it later when I got back from my ride.

Originally designed in the Victorian style by John Fraser, with construction finishing in 1879, the house was built for John. T. Brodhead and his family.  Based on a subsequent series of prominent owners, it has come to be known as the Brodhead-Bell-Morton Mansion, and is located at 1500 Rhode Island Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.

The Brodhead family did not live there long, however,  In 1882, just three years after construction was completed, Brodhead sold the home to lawyer and financier Gardiner Green Hubbard, the father-in-law of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell.  According to the home’s National Register of Historic Places registration form, the Hubbards “offered the house to the Bells as an inducement to relocate from the Boston area, and Bell allowed himself to be persuaded.”

However, the original house was not large enough for Bell and his wife Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, so they added a two-story addition on the northeast corner and then a third floor with a steep slated roof.  Bell also made other changes to the house, the most interesting of which was the installation of the city’s first electric burglar alarm system.  It was composed of an elaborate system of wires and bells that connected every door and window in the house to a room Bell referred to as the “central office.”  Indicators in the central office would show instantly whenever a door was opened or shut, or only partially opened.  And if anyone tried to enter the house at night, bells would sound.

It’s too bad that Bell installed a burglar alarm system rather than a smoke detector, however, because a fire destroyed much of the building in 1887. Although it was insured, the damage from the fire was more extensive than what the policy covered.  Bell was able to have the mansion restored anyway.

Then in 1889, just a couple of years after the fire, Bell sold the mansion to Levi Parsons Morton just prior to Morton’s swearing in as Vice President under President Benjamin Harrison.  Morton immediately had the building enlarged with a new east wing, that was designed by John Fraser, the home’s original architect.  Some years later, Morton remodeled the house, converting it into the neoclassical Beaux-Arts architectural style that was all the rage at that time.  Under the hand of prominent American architect John Russell Pope, who later designed The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, The National Archives and Records Administration Building, and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, among other important buildings, Morton had the house transformed into its present-day form.

The mansion would go on to have a number of additional prominent owners and residents, including the Embassy of Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Elihu Root, Massachusetts Congressman Charles Franklin Sprague, and Count Arturo Cassini, the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.  It then became home to the National Democratic Club, who sold it to the National Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association.  Finally, in February of last year, it was purchased by the country of Hungary, which moved the Embassy of Hungary there late last year.

I’m glad I noticed the house during this bike ride, and then looked into it later.  The house turned out to have quite a history.  Of course, D.C. is full of history and interesting stories, if you just take the time to look for them.

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

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The Lincoln Statue at the Summer Cottage

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

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

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

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

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Saint Ignatius of Loyola Statue

A statue of Saint Ignatius of Loyola is located in front of White-Gravenor Hall (MAP) on the campus of Georgetown University.  And as I was riding around the sprawling campus on this lunchtime bike ride I stopped to check it out.

Born Inigo Lopez de Loyola, the man who would become known as Ignatius of Loyola entered the world on October 23, 1491, in Loiola, Spain.  At the time, the name of the village was spelled “Loyola,” hence the discrepancy in spelling.  Loiola is a small village at the southern end of Azpeitia, in northern Spain, and is where Inigo came of age.  Inigo was the youngest of thirteen children. His mother died when he was just seven, and he was then raised by Maria de Garin, who was the wife of a local blacksmith.  At about the age of eighteen Inigo began to refer to himself as Ignatius, a variant of Inigo, because he thought it sounded more dignified and would bring him wider acclaim and recognition.

During his lifetime he was many things, including a member of the aristocracy in a Basque noble family, a knight, and a hermit.  He was also an officer in the Spanish Army.  It was during this time in the military that he was struck by a cannonball in the leg.  Oddly, he thought that his leg had been set poorly after the cannonball incident and that, as a result, he wouldn’t look good in his courtier’s tights. So he had a doctor rebreak his leg and start over.  Eventually part of his leg had to be amputated and caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.  It was during his time recuperating from his injury that he became a devout Christian.  And by the spring of the following year, Ignatius had recovered enough to leave bed.

On March 25, 1522, he entered the Benedictine monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat.  And beginning in 1537 he became a priest and theologian who would eventually go on to found the religious order called the Society of Jesus. Some people did not appreciate the Society of Jesus and dubbed them “Jesuits” in an attempt to disparage them. While the name stuck, by virtue of their good work the label lost its negative connotation.  The Jesuit Order served the Pope as missionaries, and they were bound by a vow of absolute obedience to the Pope.

The Jesuits would soon find a niche in education. Before Ignatius died, it established 35 schools and boasted 1,000 members. Today, the Jesuit Order is known for its work in educating the youth around the globe. Several universities have been founded in the name of Ignatius and in the traditional Jesuit spirit, including  Georgetown University, which is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit-affiliated institution of higher education in the United States.

Ignatius was beatified in 1609, and then canonized, receiving the title of Saint on March 12, 1622.  Saint Ignatius is venerated as the patron saint of educators and education, Catholic soldiers, the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Jesuit Society, all spiritual retreats, the Basque country, and various towns and cities in his native region.  He died on July 31, 1556, his feast day in the Catholic Church, as a result of the Roman Fever, a severe case of malaria that recurred in Rome, Italy, at different points in history.

However, Ignatius was not always very saintly.  During much of his young adult life he was vain, with dreams of personal honor and fame. According to one of  Ignatius’ biographers, he was a fancy dresser, an expert dancer, a womanizer, sensitive to insult, a gambler, and a rough punkish swordsman who was arrested but used his privileged status to escape prosecution for violent crimes committed with his priest brother.  One time, upon encountering a Moor who denied the divinity of Jesus, he challenged him to a duel to the death and ran him through with his sword.  Another time, he allowed the donkey on which he was riding to determine whether he should follow and murder someone he thought had insulted the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fortunately, the donkey chose the path that led away from the insulter.  Ignatius is said to have dueled many other men as well, gaining a reputation in his time.  As some have noted, having been arrested for nighttime brawling with intent to inflict serious harm, he may be the only saint with a notarized police record.

Shh!

Riding around the national capital city it’s hard to miss the painted walls that dot D.C. and color each ward.  During this lunchtime bike ride I encountered a large, three-story mural entitled “Shh!” which is located on the northwest exterior wall of the building located 8 Florida Avenue (MAP), at the southwest corner of the intersection of North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue in northwest D.C.’s Truxton Circle neighborhood.

Shh! was created in 2013 by artists James Bullough and Addison Karl.  Through a creative partnership entitled JBAK, which is currently based in Berlin, Germany, each artist brings his unique vision and style to their combined body of work.  Bullough’s main focus is photo-realism, with attention to ambient and deep space, layers, and geometric forms.  He combines contemporary street art techniques and materials with those of realist oil painters, creating pieces of vivid color, as is evidenced by Shh!

In “Shhh,” three playful and lifelike giants mischievously crouch behind a wall.  The models for the painting were students from the neighborhood who collaborated on the artwork’s design.  Through their participation the mural project also taught the young artists the ability to spray paint pieces that are beyond graffiti tagging by providing supplies and pairing youth with artists they admire.  The collaborative effort between the students and artists was coordinated through Words, Beats and Life, a non-profit organization whose aim is to serve as a vehicle to transform individual lives and communities through Hip-Hop.

The mural is part of the MuralsDC Collection, which is a project funded by the D.C. Department of Public Works, in cooperation with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and the Humanities.  The aim of the project is to revitalize neighborhoods, provide permanent graffiti abatement to those properties that have experienced or are at risk of this type of vandalism, and to boost local businesses. 

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