Posts Tagged ‘Alexander Graham Bell’

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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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James A. Garfield Memorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Franklin Square Park

Franklin Square Park

Franklin Square is a park in northwest D.C., which is bounded by K Street to the north, 13th Street on the east, I Street on the south, and 14th Street on the west (MAP).  The downtown park slopes uphill from I Street to K Street, and is partially terraced.  Franklin Square Park also contains sufficient old growth trees to provide ample shade to visitors, a geometric system of concrete pathways for traversing the park in almost any direction, and a flagstone plaza with a large fountain in its middle.

The 4.79-acre park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is maintained by the National Park Service.  And while it is often assumed that it was named after Benjamin Franklin, there are no records or definitive proof to establish this.  However, Franklin Square is surrounded by a rich history, regardless of the origin of its name.  Across 13th Street on the east side of the square is the historic Franklin School, a National Historic Landmark, which was the scene of Alexander Graham Bell’s first wireless message.  On June 3, 1880, Bell sent a message over a beam of light to a window in a building at 1325 L Street using his newly invented Photophone.   Also, Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross maintained a residence adjacent to the park at 1326 I Street, where she held the first official meeting of the relief organization in May of 1881.

Today the park is located in a lively and bustling area of downtown, and often hosts a nearly overflow crowd of employees taking a short break from their responsibilities, or enjoying a lunch obtained from one of the nearby eateries or the many food trucks that surround the park during the middle of the day.  The eclectic crowd utilizing the park can also include anyone or anything, from tourists who have strayed off their usual path, to older people practicing tai chi, and even a service for the homeless and others by the Church of the Epiphany every Tuesday.  There are also the many pigeons who will flock to anyone who purposefully, or sometimes unwillingly, feed them.  The entertainment value of the park makes it a good destination for a bike ride, and an ideal location for a mid-day respite.

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

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Volta Laboratory

In 1876, 29-year-old Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for a revolutionary new invention – the telephone.  On one of my recent bike rides I went to the Volta Laboratory, which he founded using money he received for his invention  The laboratory is located at 1537 35th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood of D.C

As early as 1865, Bell conceived the idea of transmitting speech by electric waves. By March 7, 1876, his apparatus was so far developed that he received a patent. Three days after filing the patent, the telephone carried its first intelligible message – the famous “Mr. Watson, come here, I need you” – from Bell to his assistant.

Bell’s patent filing beat a similar claim by Elisha Gray by only two hours. Not wanting to be shut out of the communications market, Western Union Telegraph Company employed Gray and fellow inventor Thomas A. Edison to develop their own telephone technology. Bell sued, and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld Bell’s patent rights. In the years to come, the Bell Company withstood repeated legal challenges to emerge as the massive American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) and form the foundation of the modern telecommunications industry.

Bell subsequently received the Volta Prize for inventing the telephone. The Volta Prize was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to honor Alessandro Volta, an Italian physicist noted for developing the battery. Since that time, the French government has awarded the prize for scientific achievement in electricity. Bell received the third Grand Volta Prize in 1880, with its purse of 50,000 francs (approximately $10,000 at that time, about $250,000 in current dollars). Mr. Bell used the prize money to create institutions in and around D.C., including the Volta Laboratory Association (in 1880, also known as the ‘Volta Laboratory’ and as the ‘Alexander Graham Bell Laboratory’), with his endowment fund (the ‘Volta Fund’), and then in 1887 the ‘Volta Bureau’, which later became the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf.

Considering the above, I found it interesting that the photos I took while on this ride I took with my phone.  I wonder what Mr. Bell would have thought.