Posts Tagged ‘Arlington Memorial Bridge’

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Funerals at Arlington National Cemetery

One of my favorite destinations during my lunchtime bike rides is Arlington National Cemetery, which is located in Arlington County, Virginia (MAP), directly across the Potomac River from D.C. via the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  I choose to ride there fairly frequently because there is so much to see and take in there, and there are always funerals, ceremonies or other events going on.  On this ride, I was privileged to witness an honors funeral, and it was a emotional and meaningful ceremony.

The primary mission of Arlington National Cemetery is to function as the nation’s premier military cemetery and shrine honoring United States soldiers, marines, sailors or airmen who died in battle, or is a veteran, or a prominent military figure or a U.S. President.  Families come from all over the country to bury their loved ones at Arlington.  And in addition to the fact that it is some of our nation’s most hallowed ground, one of the reasons they come to Arlington is because of the rich history of military honors that makes the services there so special.

The most common service, referred to as standard military honors, is available to any enlisted service member or officer. The standard honors consist of a six-man honorary detail to serve as pallbearers, a rifle party consisting of an odd number of service members of between 3 and 7 members depending on the rank of the deceased, and a bugler to play taps, as well as a chaplain.  The casket is transported via a horse-drawn limbers and caissons, or a hearse.  The pallbearers carry the flag draped casket to the grave and hold the flag over the casket while the chaplain speaks.  Following the committal service the firing party is called to attention and fires a three-volley salute.  Fighter jets from the Air Force may also perform an aerial flyover known as the missing man formation.  The lone bugler then plays taps, at a distance 30 to 50 yards from the grave site while a “Final Salute” is given.  This is followed by the pallbearers folding the flag and presenting it to the deceased’s next of kin.

Arlington National is the only military cemetery in the United States that offers on a regular basis a full military honors funeral. This type of funeral is available at the family’s request to officers and warrant officers, and may consist of a procession to the gravesite that may include a marching band, a marching escort of troops, and a four-man color guard.  Included in this type of service may also be a caparisoned horse, without a rider, with boots reversed in the stirrups. The horse follows the caisson carrying the casket.  The chaplain joins the procession as well, in front of the limbers and caissons, and behind the escort, band, and color guard. Once at the gravesite, the service is identical to the standard honors service described above, with the exception that the band plays while the casket is taken to the grave and while the flag is being folded, the entire element that makes up the full honors ceremony remains throughout the service.

Arlington National Cemetery currently serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families.  And that number continues to grow.  The cemetery remains active with funeral services Monday through Saturday, conducting between 27 and 30 services each week day and between 6 and 8 services on Saturdays.  Funeral services are held from Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays, between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.  Saturday services are held from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for placements and services for cremated remains that do not require military honors or military chaplain support.  Services are not scheduled on Saturdays that precede a Federal holiday on Monday.

So if you are privileged enough to be able to visit Arlington National Cemetery, keep in mind that it continues to be an active military cemetery, and display the proper respect that is due.  And if there is an opportunity to view an honors funeral while you are there, the experience is very much worth it.

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The Arts of War

“The Arts of War” and “The Arts of Peace” are two distinctly different yet interrelated sets of sculptures located on Lincoln Memorial Circle (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park. Framing the eastern entrances to Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, respectively, the works were commissioned in 1929 to complement the plaza constructed on the east side of The Lincoln Memorial.  Due to budgetary constraints brought on by the stock market crash beginning on Black Tuesday in October of that year, the completion of the sculptures had to be delayed.  Then when they were finally completed a decade later, they had to be placed into storage, again due to a lack of funding.

Then in 1949, some members of Congress suggested that a European nation be asked to cast the statues as part of the Marshall Plan. At the time the Italian Ambassador to the United States, Alberto Tarchiani, was looking for a way to express his country’s gratitude to the United States for America’s assistance in rebuilding Italy after World War II. And after learning of the models in storage, he decided that Italy would use Marshall Plan funds to take on the responsibility of casting and gilding the four statues as a gift and gesture of good will to the people of the United States. The statues were finally cast in 1950, at the A. Bruni Foundry in Rome and the Fonderia Lagana in Naples. After casting, one of the statues was sent to Milan, and another was sent to Florence, while the remaining two remained in Rome and Naples. The cases were then gilded with approximately 100 pounds of 24-karat gold before being returned to the United States and erected in September of 1951. Almost 64 years later, I rode there on this lunchtime bike ride to see them.

Flanking the entrance to Arlington Memorial Bridge, the bronze, fire-gilded statuary group entitled “The Arts of War” was sculpted by an American sculptor named Leo Friedlander. The group consists of two art deco-style statues entitled “Valor”, which is located on the left if facing the bridge from D.C., and on the right, “Sacrifice”. “Valor” depicts a bearded, muscular male nude symbolic of Mars, the ancient Roman god of war. To his left is a semi-nude female striding forward, holding a shield with her left arm. “Sacrifice” shows the same figures. But the nude male is holding a child in his arms, and is bowing his head. The semi-nude female is to his right, her back to him and the horse.

“ The Arts of Peace”, created by American sculptor James Earle Fraser, also consists of two separate statuary groups, entitled “Aspiration and Literature”, which is on the left, and “Music and Harvest” on the right. These Neoclassical statues frame the entrance to the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. Both statues feature Pegasus, the source of inspiration and poetry in Greek mythology. “Aspiration and Literature” consists of a nude male on Pegasus’ right with a toga over his left shoulder and holding an open book, symbolic of literature. Another nude male on Pegasus’ left, dressed in a toga over both shoulders, is depicted aiming a bow backward, which is symbolic of aspiration. A serpent is also portrayed behind the personification of literature, representing wisdom and knowledge. “Music and Harvest” consists of a nude male on Pegasus’ right holding a sickle and carrying a sheaf of wheat , symbolizing of harvest. A semi-nude female holding a harp, symbolic of music, is on Pegasus’ left. A turtle, symbolizing the belief that art is long and time is fleeting, is also present.

The massive statues are the largest equestrian sculptures in the United States, with each weighing 40 tons, and measuring 19 feet high, 16 feet long and 8 feet wide. Each is mounted on a hollow granite pedestal which has 36 gilded bronze stars at the top, representing the number of states in the United States at the time of the Civil War. The Arts of War and The Arts of Peace are maintained by the National Park Service, and are considered contributing properties to the East and West Potomac Parks Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

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The Arts of Peace

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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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Joseph Darlington Fountain

During today’s lunchtime bike ride I went by Judiciary Park, which is located at the corner of 5th and D Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Judiciary Square neighborhood. A small park located between the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the focal point of the park is fountain featuring a gilded bronze statue. It is named the Darlington Memorial Fountain, and is a memorial to a lawyer named Joseph Darlington.

Joseph James Darlington was born on February 10, 1849, in Abbeville County, South Carolina, the third of four children born to Henry Dixson Darlington and Charlotte G. Blease. He came to D.C. as a young man to attend law school, where he lived for the rest of his life. He opened an office on 5th Street near where the memorial was later built, worked there for his entire career, eventually becoming known as a leader in the legal community, as well as a teacher and author.

Shortly after his death on June 24, 1920, friends and colleagues proposed to have a memorial built in his honor. Three years later, a committee was formed under Frank J. Hogan, who was named the head of the Darlington Memorial Committee. The duties of the committee, which consisted of approximately 100 people, some who were lawyers who had studied under Darlington was to take charge of the dedication of the memorial later that year.

The Darlington Memorial Fountain was designed by a German-born American sculptor named Carl Paul Jennewein. It was approved by the United States Commission of Fine Arts in 1921, and installed in November 1923. However, because it features a nude Greek nymph, the memorial’s statue caused a bit of public outrage when it was initially put on display. And that controversy has never really gone away. As late as July 3, 1988, a story in The Chicago Tribune reads, “The voluptuous nymph in Judiciary Square, honoring Joseph Darlington, one of Washington’s most prominent 19th Century lawyers, could easily grace the centerfold of Playboy.”

A prolific artist, Jennewein is also the sculptor responsible for a number of other statues in the D.C. area, including statues at the entrance to the Rayburn House Office Building, and monumental eagles at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, and another on the Arlington Memorial Bridge. He also created more than 50 separate sculptural elements of the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Department Building, as well as a statue in the building’s Great Hall, named the Spirit of Justice. Like the statue in the Darlington Memorial Fountain, the Spirit of Justice has also been the source of public controversy.

The Spirit of Justice is a semi-nude depicting Lady Justice, which stands on display along with its male counterpart, Majesty of Justice. The statue and the controversy surrounding it first became well known with the help of Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2002. It was then that the department spent $8,000 on curtains to hide the semi-nude statue from view during speeches and other events. Critics derided then-Attorney General Ashcroft, and President George W. Bush’s administration received widespread criticism for covering up the naked Lady Justice. Ashcroft’s successor as Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, removed the curtains in June 2005, making the statue visible again during public events.

But the controversy resurfaced again last year when the Obama administration reversed that practice, and curtains are once again being used to hide the Spirit of Justice’s nudity from public view. So at this point in time, if you want to see one of Jennewein’s nude statues in D.C., your only current option is the Darlington Memorial Fountain.

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B Street

B Street

During a portion of this two-wheeled outing I rode up and down Constitution Avenue, which is a major east-west street located on the north side of the National Mall, running parallel to Independence Avenue on the Mall’s south side. Constitution Avenue spans the northwest and northeast quadrants of D.C., with its western half extending from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. Its eastern half continues through the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and Kingman Park before it eventually terminates at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

Constitution Avenue was not always known by its current name, however. And had it not been for a traffic jam, it might still be known today by the name it had under the structured naming convention of the city’s original architectural plan developed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant. That name was B Street.

Back in November of 1921, President Warren G. Harding was travelling to the dedication ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery when he was caught in a three-hour traffic jam which resulted from the inability of the existing bridges at the time to handle traffic. Resolving to prevent that from happening again, President Harding sought an appropriation to fund the work to design and build a more adequate bridge. Congress subsequently approved his request in June of the following year, which would eventually result in the construction of Arlington Memorial Bridge.

However, B Street was a smaller, narrower street at the time, and extensive widening and reconstruction was needed to accommodate the traffic. Eventually, after years of planning, the vision for B Street had expanded for it to be a ceremonial gateway into the national capitol city from the magnificent new bridge, as well as one of the city’s great parade avenues, similar to Pennsylvania Avenue. And as the nature of the B Street project became apparent, there were calls to rename the street. But nothing is ever easy in D.C., and renaming B Street was no different.

In early 1930, legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives to rename the street L’Enfant Avenue. City officials opposed the name, however, advocating instead for Lincoln or Washington Avenue. Congressman Henry Allen Cooper then introduced legislation to rename the street Constitution Avenue. The proposal met with strong support from city officials, but was rejected by the House of Representatives. The bill was resubmitted the following year. During discussion on the floor of the Senate, it was suggested that the street be named Jefferson Avenue in honor of President Thomas Jefferson. Representative Cooper opined that the name Constitution Avenue in a way paid tribute to our third President as the author of the Constitution, and that a national presidential memorial to President Jefferson should be built.  By the end of the decade, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of The Thomas Jefferson Memorial. This time the legislation renaming B Street passed both the House and Senate before being signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in February of 1931, and it has been known as Constitution Avenue ever since.

The Wreathes at Arlington National Cemetery

The Wreathes at Arlington National Cemetery

For the past 23 years, one of the most iconic annual holiday traditions in the D.C. area has been the placing of hundreds of thousands of evergreen Christmas wreathes with red bows at the white headstones marking the rows and rows of gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery.  This past Saturday, December 13th, volunteers descended on Arlington National to help an organization named “Wreathes Across America” continue the tradition, now officially known as National Wreathes Across America Day, by placing wreaths again this year. In recognition and in support of this event, I rode across the Arlington Memorial Bridge and down The Esplanade to Arlington National Cemetery (MAP) on this lunchtime bike ride.

Wreaths Across America is not affiliated with any religion or political view. Their mission is to remember all of the fallen, honor their families, and teach children about the freedoms for which so much was sacrificed. Because they are a guest at the more than 900 participating cemeteries they visit each year, they abide by each cemetery’s rules when it comes to the placement of wreaths on veterans’ headstones. At those cemeteries without a formal policy, they do not place a wreath on the headstones of those graves marked with the Star of David, out of respect for Jewish custom. Instead, they simply pause and pay their respects. The only exception is when families of the deceased request a wreath, and then their wishes are honored.

The wreathes placed at the graves in Arlington National, as well as 544 other cemeteries and locations in all fifty states and overseas, are made in Maine by The Worchester Wreath Company, whose president, Morrill Worcester, started the annual event in 1992.   The wreathes left Maine last Monday in a convoy of eleven trucks that was escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders, an organization whose members, at the invitation of a decedent’s family, attend the funerals of members of the military, as well as firefighters and police. They form an honor guard at military burials, which helps protect mourners from harassment, and fill out the ranks at burials of indigent and homeless veterans. The Patriot Guard Riders also greets troops returning from overseas at homecoming celebrations and performs volunteer work for veteran’s organizations.

Wreathes Across America expects to exceed last year’s shipments of 540,000 wreaths, all of which adorn veterans’ graves. Of that number, over 230,000 of them were place at Arlington National.  For the 150th anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery, Wreaths Across America met its goal of having a wreath for every headstone of each veteran buried there.   It should be noted that organization receives no government funding for this annual tradition. Until 2009, The Worcester Wreath Company did not accept donations and funded the project itself. The organization has since expanded to include fundraising groups throughout the country representing more than 900 cemeteries, military memorials and other locations, along with Arlington National Cemetery. To sponsor a wreath and help Wreathes Across America fulfill its mission, I encourage you to send a donation to: Wreaths Across America, P.O. Box 256, Harrington, Maine 04643.

The wreaths will be at Arlington National Cemetery for approximately four weeks.  So if you haven’t already, you should consider making a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, and adding it to your family’s annual holiday traditions.

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Arlington Memorial Bridge

Arlington Memorial Bridge

Widely regarded as D.C.’s most beautiful bridge, Arlington Memorial Bridge spans the Potomac River and is one of nine bridges that connect the National Capital City to the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is located at the western end of the National Mall (MAP), and in part constitutes a formal terminus of the Mall.

A masonry, steel, and stone arch bridge with a central drawbridge, Arlington Memorial Bridge was designed in the Neoclassical architectural style. Except for the draw span, the bridge is of reinforced concrete construction faced with dressed North Carolina granite ashlar. The draw span is of the double leaf, underneath counterweight type and is faced with pressed ornamental steel made to blend with the masonry spans. At the time it was built, the draw span was the longest, heaviest and fastest in the world, although it is now sealed and inoperative. The bridge is 2,163 feet long, carrying a 60-foot-wide roadway and 15-foot sidewalks on either side.

Arlington Memorial Bridge also contains some ornamental characteristics typical of the “City Beautiful Movement” which was taking place in D.C. at the time it was designed. This reform philosophy of North American architecture and urban planning flourished during the 1890s and 1900s with the intent of introducing beautification and monumental grandeur in cities. However, it promoted beauty not only for its own sake, but also to instill moral and civic virtue among urban populations. The northeastern entrance to the Arlington Memorial Bridge features “The Arts of War” sculptures, Sacrifice and Valor, which were completed by Leo Friedlander in 1951. On the pylons of each pier of the bridge are large circular discs with eagles and fasces designed by sculptor Carl Paul Jennewein.

Congress first proposed a bridge at the site of the current structure on May 24, 1886. However, the bridge went unbuilt for decades thanks to political quarrels over whether the bridge should be a memorial, and to whom or what. Then in November of 1921, President Warren G. Harding was travelling to the dedication ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery when he was caught in a three-hour traffic jam because the existing bridges at the time could not handle the traffic. Resolving to prevent that from happening again, President Harding sought an appropriation to fund the work to build a bridge. Congress subsequently approved his request in June of the following year. Construction finally began in 1927, and took six more years to complete. The dedication ceremony was on January 16, 1932, headed by President Herbert Hoover. Arlington Memorial Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Today Arlington Memorial Bridge is a major entryway and commuter route into the city. But the years of heavy use have taken their toll, and although the bridge has received various relatively minor repairs over the years, it has never had a major overhaul or restoration. In a report two years ago, the Federal Highway Administration called for a complete overhaul of the bridge. And after a major inspection of the bridge, the National Park Service transportation division head Charles N. Borders, II, stated “The bridge … is really at the end of, and beyond, its life cycle.”

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The Custis Trail

The Custis Trail

There are a large number of bike trails in the D.C. metro area that are used for both recreational and commuting purposes.  Connecting two of the area’s longest and most popular trails is the Martha Custis Trail, which was named using the maiden name of the wife of George Washington, the first President of the United States.

The Custis Trail was built alongside Interstate 66, which is named the Custis Memorial Parkway in Virginia east of the Capital Beltway.  But concrete barriers provide a safety barrier and keep the traffic noise down for those on the trail.  The trail opened in the early 1980s at the same time that the highway did.

The Custis Trail is a point-to-point paved bike trail in Arlington, Virginia (MAP).  It is considered a difficult trail, containing a few winding curves and blind turns, as well as moderate climbs, more so if you are traveling east to west.  So it is not recommended for beginners.  The trail is 4 miles long, and connects at its east end to the 17-mile long Mount Vernon Trail, which continues east and south along the Potomac River to Mount Vernon.  At its west end it connects to the 45-mile long Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Trail, which continues northwest to Purcellville, Virginia.  It is in this area that you can also cross the W&OD to go to the Four Mile Run Trail.   All together, these linked trails providing a continuous 70-mile vehicle-free route through the Northern Virginia suburbs.

Used most popularly as a commuter route, the Custis Trail connects to the Key Bridge leading into D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, and to the Mount Vernon Trail, which provides access to three other Potomac River crossings into downtown D.C. – the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, the Arlington Memorial Bridge and the George Mason Memorial Bridge.

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